Monday, June 25, 2012

Improving Front Line Supervisors Effectiveness - part #2

Last Monday, we began exploring how to improve front line supervision.  When ever this topic surfaces, we need to remember The Law of the Whole, namely that change in one part influences and changes all other parts. 

Our goal as a leader is to help front line supervisors to achieve clarity in the following three areas, namely role clarity and definition, individual and team expectations, and organizational systems, processes and metrics. We also need  to remember that if we change any of these three things, we have impacted, if not changed, the other two. We also have to realize that our understanding of each of these three things might not be the same as the supervisor, their direct reports, or the customers.  Therefore, we need to spend more time creating clarity rather than simply telling supervisors what to do.

Furthermore, Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees), Jossey-Bass 2007, wrote that there are three core problems that many people experience at work. They are as follows:

- Anonymity: People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known.
- Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone.
- Immeasurement: Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.

Whenever, I read this list, written by Lencioni in 2007, I think back to what James Belasco and Ralph C. Stayer wrote much earlier in their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring To Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (Time Warner, 1994). These two authors believed that creating the environment for ownership and responsibility was mission critical to success. The foundation of this environment revolved around four key concepts:

- Transfer ownership for work to those who execute the work.
- Create the environment for ownership where each person wants to be responsible for his/her own performance.
- Coach the development of individual capability and competence.
- Learn fast.

When it comes to improving front line supervision, the above list is a great place to start.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, June 18, 2012

Improving Front Line Supervisors Effectiveness - part #1

During past From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables, we have discussed the roles, responsibilities and challenges of senior leadership and middle management. At the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, those gathered also discussed the roles, responsibilities and challenges of being a front line supervisor.
In the beginning, we have to ask a simple but important question: How many of us remember being a front line supervisor? As senior executives, we, at times, forget that front line supervisors are dealing with entry level staff, the people who make the brand real, and often the people with the least experience. We also forget how hard and frustrating this work can be on a day to day basis. We can even forget the struggles to manage the people and the diversity of systems that are constantly changing.
The first step to improving front line supervisors’ effectiveness is to remember what they are actually expected to do each day. Here is a short list:
- keep people safe
- focus people on the work that needs to be done
- build and maintain a team
- teach people what they need to need to know
- reward good outcomes and behaviors
- balance the needs of the company vs. the needs of their direct reports
On top of the above, we also need to remember that many front line supervisors are often supervising their former peers!
Given the current economy and the speed of desired change in many companies through out the country, we have to add to the above list these “new” expectations:
- clarify direction, expectations, and what is non-negotiable
- make the right decisions
- participate on teams over which they have no control and little influence
- do performance management including coaching and employee evaluations
- participate in hiring and orientation
- maintain boundaries with former peers related to HR issues
- handle complaints
All of a sudden the job of a front line supervisor starts to look like the job that many mid-level managers were expected to do 10 to 15 years ago. In this economy, more and more senior leaders need to realize that the expectations of front line supervisor are becoming more complex and difficult than they were many years ago.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Building a Learning Organization - part #2

David Ulrich and Norm Smallwood in their article called “Building a Leadership Brand”,  in the July-August 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, ask a most unusual and thought-provoking question: What do you want to be know for by your customers? They then follow up with another wonderful question: To achieve that brand identity, what leadership and management skills do people need to know?
As we explored earlier this week, more and more organizations need to become learning organizations in order to be more competitive and more flexible in this time of constant uncertainty and volatility in the markets. However, I believe there are five challenges to this process that few executives are recognizing.
First, many people forget that learning is a dangerous activity. It challenges status quo by calling into question many core practices and systems. Furthermore, in-depth learning can cause the organization’s “immune system” to shut down or discount any new ideas because it again calls into question core assumptions or methods of working.
Second, once an organization does commit to learning new ways of doing things, it must realize that there will always be more than one way to achieve a particular outcome. However, right now, I am witnessing more and more senior teams stuck debating whether or not there is only one right technique and only one right way to do something. We as leaders and learners need to understand that there will always be many paths to the same destination. Part of becoming a learning organization is to educate people to make smarter choices and better decisions along those paths.
Third, part of becoming a learning organization is to build learning communities more than hierarchies of control. Collaboration over individualization, i.e. me first and looking out for #1, requires us to have common language and commit to the overall success of the company. The best learning communities that I have seen are mission centric learning communities.
Fourth, we, as leaders and learners must realize that the more important a relationship and the more time spent developing that relationship to a greater degree of understanding and “health”, then the less skill matters. I have witnessed and understand that building these relationships is as vital as the content that is being learned. It takes healthy relationships and healthy learning to become a learning organization.
Fifth, the more experienced and constantly learning a manager or leader is, the more likely they trust their gut or intuition. Never under estimate the value of years of experience and perspective. It molds people and provides for them an internal sense of what to do. These kinds of managers and leaders often look to the people on the ground, not outside experts, for real improvements.
When we commit to becoming a learning organization, we commit to a wonderful process of in-depth reflection and re-evaluation, and new perspectives.  
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, June 4, 2012

Building a Learning Organization - part #1

“When both the destination and current reality are clear, and the staged objectives have been defined,” writes Judy Rosenblum, an advisor at Duke Corporate Education, “managers next need to answer the question: “What does the organization need to be able to do to execute the strategy and reach the destination?” 
Individual competencies refer to a specific person’s knowledge and skills required to fulfill specific role requirements.  
Organizational capabilities are collective abilities of the firm required to execute the business strategy.  
Even the most brilliant strategy will not succeed if the firm lacks the organizational capability to execute it. It is striking how much time is spent in corporate business planning on “what we are going to do” and “what that will do for growth and profit” and how little time is spent on “what we have to be able to do” in order to make any of it happen.” 
The development of capability becomes an integral part of the plan as the manager thinks about what has to happen in terms of people, process, knowledge, measurement and environment for the strategy to be executed.” 
When building a learning organization, start by understanding how different people learn. We explored this topic at the Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. As we all know, people learn in different ways, and no one has a better learning style than anyone else. Basically, there are three types of learning: Analyzing learners, Doing learners, and Watching learners. The Analyzer understands a task by taking it apart, examining its elements, and reconstructing it piece by piece. They craves information, and needs to know all there is to know before they are comfortable with it. The best way to teach them is with ample classroom time and post-mortem through analysis. These learners do like mistakes and do not like to wing it. On the other hand , Doers learn best by throwing themselves into in a new situation and just going for it. Analyzers learns before something happens; Doers learns during the actual event. For them, mistakes are the raw material for learning. Finally, Watchers learn through imitation. They need to see the total performance done by the most experienced performers. 
To understand how people learn on your team, ask the following questions: When in your career do you think you were learning the most? Why did you learn so much? What’s the best way for you to learn? For more information, I recommend reading the following book: Buckingham, Marcus. The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005.
Also, remember that there is a difference between proficiency and learning. Learners are not proficient as experts. If you want to get better at something “new” or “different,” then you need to pay the price for people to become proficient. However, many leaders and managers are truly afraid to make mistakes. Still, learning means making mistakes and tolerating people who fail. Recognizing that a learner is a beginner and not very good the first couple of times around, we must realize that orderly work environments do not support people who make mistakes. Therefore, we must focus on and consider the implications if a work environment is filled with fear or disrespect. Learning is difficult even in the best environment.
Finally, we as leaders most focus on “better than”, not optimal when it comes to performance and learning. We must send the message that our job is to do something today that's better than what we did yesterday. And to do something tomorrow that's better than what we did today. Learning is always a challenge. Having the support of a great leader makes a world of difference.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257