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putting_out_fire_on_paper_plane

     –now’s not a good time to overreact!

Leaders must be intentional about creating a culture where employees aren’t afraid to identify situations that need correcting and where they feel empowered to suggest improvements.  That kind of climate doesn’t develop by accident, especially in an operating environment that can be a little (or a lot) chaotic from time to time.

An inexperienced pilot, unable to diagnose a complex engine malfunction, offered this solution to the problem:  I’ll let it run until it’s on fire, because I know what to do for a fire.”

I’ve worked for bosses like that.

Don’t get me wrong…the ability to coolly manage a crisis is a valuable skill, and it feels great to be recognized for saving the day. But, if your organization’s reward system is biased towards those who are best at putting out fires, you’ll end up with a bunch of corporate arsonists working for you–people who are perfectly willing to watch small problems grow into the crisis du jour while they make sure their super-hero cape is ready for wear.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Let’s review some of what we already know about solving problems:

People tend to view problems either as opportunities to improve, or as negative experiences to be avoided at all cost. Which way your folks view them depends on you. Do they trust that you’ll stay calm in the face of calamity, or do they dread your overreaction to simple inconveniences? Don’t tempt them to ignore or hide issues because it’s too painful to tell you. Bad news doesn’t disappear just because you stop receiving it.

The best solutions usually come from a team that’s given the resources (like time) and tools (like a simple problem-solving methodology) to be innovative in creating ways to improve performance and results. If you’ve made them comfortable with the tools, they can apply them equally well during critical times and during less hectic times for making continuous process improvements. Battlefield reactions are honed through peacetime training, and solutions developed collaboratively in a practiced manner go beyond mitigating the situation at hand to identify and address the root cause(s).

And, make sure you’re not undermining teamwork by favoring or rewarding only the “go to” people; they might be closer to the problem than they are to the solution. If you’re leading a team that always seems to be in crisis management mode, chances are good someone knew about a situation that needed to be fixed before it became a real problem.

So, what kind of problem-solving culture have you created in your organization? Are you the kind of leader that waits until a problem becomes a crisis, or are you able to thoughtfully choose between the potential solutions your high-performing team brought you for consideration?

It’s up to you, leaders…

You have the stick.

 

 

Person Celebrating Success - Atop Words

–if you don’t have it at the top, don’t expect it at the bottom

Regardless of what a company says, how a company deals with ethics and integrity issues directly reflects actual senior management values and loudly communicates those values to its employees.

It was announced this month that Wisconsin-based manufacturer Johnson Controls, Inc.’s board of directors cleared its CEO of unethical behavior (Johnson Controls Dismisses Management-Consultant Firm) after it was revealed he was having an affair with one of his executive management team’s consultants.  The board determined that there was no conflict of interest but terminated the long-time consultant’s contract, anyway.

Really?

Indecision Kills

–And you’re holding the murder weapon.

Leaders need to engage periodically in some serious introspection and decide whether or not their decision-making style or the culture they’ve created is mortally wounding organizational performance.

I learned that lesson as a by-product of a traumatic experience over three decades ago.  Early in my flying career, in close proximity to another airplane also traveling at 400+ mph, I heard a magical phrase from my instructor that’s stuck with me ever since:  indecision kills.

First, though, he said, “I have the stick.”

That meant he was going be in control of the airplane for a few minutes while giving me instruction and advice, and in this case, saving my life.  It was clear to him (but not to me) that if I didn’t hurry and decide which course correction to make, my indecision would result in a catastrophic mid-air collision.

While not normally fatal in the corporate world, leadership and management indecision still kills.  Among other things, it kills employee morale and motivation, productivity and project momentum, and causes our customers to lose confidence that we can be responsive to their needs.

Indecisiveness is caused by a number of factors, primarily fear of failure.  Much has been written about decision-making processes and steps that those who have trouble being decisive can take.  But I’ve yet to find a magic pill that managers can take that makes them less hesitant to make a “good enough” decision in an environment where imperfect decisions are frowned upon.

I have the stick for a minute.

Several years ago, our director called his senior managers together and boldly announced, “We take too long to make decisions.  We’re going to start making decisions faster so we can make more decisions, and if we make a bad decision, at least we’ll have time to make a better one.”  Heresy in a bureaucratic institution with an entrenched, hierarchical decision making process.  But he was a leader, and we did start making better decisions without getting bogged down in staff morass.

I’m not suggesting all decisions need to be made quickly and neither was he.  What I am suggesting is that leaders need to continually evaluate the effect their decision-making style is having on the organization, and the decision-making culture they’ve created for their managers.  When leaders create an environment where employees feel empowered and decision-making has been appropriately delegated, managers are more willing to make timely, good decisions without waiting for perfect information.

And that reduces the mortality rate for employee morale, keeps promising projects from getting bogged down, and increases customer responsiveness.

Leadership is an activity, not a position.  That activity includes making sure you foster an environment where the decision-making process doesn’t paralyze the organization and mistakes aren’t always professionally fatal.

Back to you, leaders…

You have the stick.