Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler

Lessons Learned as an  Organization Remodeler

Part 1


Before I share with you the lessons I learned as an “Organization Remodeler,” I need to share with you my experiences so you will understand why I chose to call myself an “organization remodeler.”

 Early in my career, I made a decision to never accept a position that had been vacated by a great leader.  While it would be easier to manage an organization that had been finely tuned and was running like a well-oiled machine, I knew I would have always been compared to my predecessor and it would be very difficult to measure up to the high standards he or she had set.

When I was selected for my first supervisor position, I began reading everything I could find on leadership and management and I began seeking advice from people I knew who had been successful as supervisors, managers and leaders. I also made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I decided to use those mistakes as learning experiences. 

After I began to rise up through the ranks from front line supervisory to mid-manager positions, I made another decision that served me well in my career.  I decided that not only would I not accept a position vacated by a great leader/manager, but I would deliberately seek out positions in which the previous person in the position had been a terrible leader or manager and the unit, division or organization for which I was to be responsible was experiencing difficulties. That decision brought two results: (1)  Every time I accepted a new job, I had a tremendous challenge ahead of me, and (2) there was no way I could look bad. Anything I did would be an improvement over what my predecessor had done.

Shortly after making that second decision, I was offered a position as the director of a detention center from which there had been 37 escapes during the previous 12 months,  which had very little programming, and which room confinement was the primary tool for dealing with behavioral problems.

In addition, to dealing with the problems of the detention center, I was charged with establishing a residential program for status offenders a few miles from the detention center.

It was at that point that I realized I needed to not only learn as much about leading and managing people, but also about developing effective organizational structures that helped me more effectively address the needs of the organization.  The structure of the portion of the department for which I was responsible had to be remodeled to accommodate the adding of a different facility and additional programming.

Later I accepted a position in Montgomery County, Texas as “Director of Juvenile services.” I inherited a department  in which the previous director was a former sheriff and which was staffed with certified peace officers whose duties con-sisted of investigating crimes committed by or against youth. It functioned much like the youth division of every law enforcement agencies in the county. 

If, in the investigating of a crime, local law enforcement officials discovered either the perpetrator or the victim was a juvenile, the case was turned over to the juvenile department for investigation. 

The  former sheriff was the only one in the department who actually supervised offenders and supervision consisted of the juvenile reporting to the office once per month, filling out a form and answering questions such as, “Are you behaving yourself?” “Are you minding your parents?” “Are you going to school?” The department had no case management system and children who were detained were in cells in the adult jail which was located on the top two floors of the courthouse.

A little less than five and a half years later, with the detention facility fulfilling its functions and the “juvenile department” having been converted from a law enforcement agency to a probation agency, I applied for a position as Director of a much larger juvenile probation department which was experiencing problems.

During the first five and a half years I had been Director of Juvenile Services, the adult probation department had been under the leadership of three different  directors and the pos-ition was vacant again.

The judges offered to match the salary of the position for which I was applying if I would stay and run both the juvenile and adult probation departments. I accepted that challenge only to find out that there was a history of employee distrust of management that had to be resolved before employees would be willing to buy into what needed to be accomplished. While I eventually earned their confidence, it was not something that happened overnight.

Approximately five years later, the judges asked me to also assume responsibility for the county’s Pre-Trial Release Pro-gram, which I did.  

In addition to the merging of the three departments into a single organization, the adult and juvenile arenas were also adding new programs and establishing satellite offices to better serve the 1,077 square miles the county covered.

Eventually, I had responsibility for Juvenile Services (juvenile court intake, Juvenile detention, juvenile probation super-vision, a juvenile justice alternative school, and through a con-tract with the state,  we  also  assumed  responsibility  for supervision of juvenile parolees in our county), Adult Community Supervision (pre-trial supervision, court services, and probation supervision, offender employment Program) and Adult  Community  Corrections (a residential treatment facility with two different in-house treatment programs).

As the organization was repurposed, grew in size, merged with other organizations, began providing more diverse services, and increased its locations, the structure of the organization was “remodeled” a number of times. 

Lessons Learned

The reason I think of myself as an “organization remodeler” is that I had to redesign the organization nearly everywhere I have been employed. 

The lessons I learned as I remodeled organizations led me to the conclusion that the keys to having an effective organization are the development of:

The correct organizational design,
A clear and compelling vision and mission,
A well-coached team of talented and highly motivated individuals,
A culture based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
A strategy for developing each of the above.

Organizational Design is Important – Organization Design is more than just drawing boxes on paper. Organizational design is a systematic process for establishing the principles and structures that guide an organization toward achieving its goals. 

Successful  organizational design consists of the following elements:

Strategy – A detailed plan of action or policy designed to achieve major or overall goals,
Structure – How people are organized hierarchically,
Systems – The processes for submitting departmental re-ports, rewarding employees, or allocating resources,
Processes – The methods and technologies people use to get their work done,
People – The type of talent that should be hired across departments in order to meet organizational goals, and
Culture – Communication, collaboration, values, and  managerial styles

Ineffective, nonexistent, or outdated organizational  structures often lead to:

Rigid silos caused by too much structure and not enough systems or cultural practices to counter-balance them,
A culture where people don’t feel empowered to take responsibility, resist doing tasks outside their job descriptions, or defer decision making for fear of stepping on someone else’s toes, and
Inefficient operations and redundancies caused by poorly designed systems.

One of the problems I have observed in most of the organizations in which I have worked is that administrators did not rethink and redesign their organization as the environment in which they worked changed.

The recent pandemic caused every organization to deliver their services in new ways.  Any administrator who assumes that when the pandemic is over that we can return to doing business as usual is deluding him or herself. We must apply what we learn from that experience.

Another problem I have observed is that many times when  administrators move from one organization to another, they try to transplant the structure from their former organization to their new organization.

That never works.  Each organization is unique. Organizations need to be designed to meet their unique circumstances, cultures, environment, needs and purpose.

Leaders who able to rethink and redesign their organization’s structure based upon the vision, mission, culture, and environment can see these high-level benefits.

Increased innovation supported by a holistically designed organizational structure, efficient resource allocation, and a culture of collaboration.
Increased efficiency and productivity thanks to customer-centric innovations combined with faster production cycles.
Happier and more engaged employees who thrive in a culture of collaboration and feel their efforts aren’t wasted on inefficient processes.
A clear vision and roadmap for the organization’s future, which is understood by everyone at every level of the organization.

In next  month’s column, we will explore how to develop:

Correct organizational designs,
Clear and compelling visions and missions,
Well coached teams of highly motivated individuals,
Cultures based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
Strategies for developing each of the above.

The Art of Managing Virtual Teams

The Art of Managing Virtual Teams

During the last few months, the operations of probation and parole agencies have been greatly impacted by the “Stay-at-Home” orders issued by governors as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic (also referred to as the Coronavirus Pandemic).

The requirement of having offenders report to the office of the supervising officer and the practice of having officers conducting home visits were both discontinued. In most cases, officers began to meet with offenders through the use of video conferencing software such as Zoom or GoToMeeting.

Surprisingly, officers in many jurisdictions have reported that offenders appear more relaxed and more open about what is happening in their lives than they are when they report to the probation or parole office or when the officer conducts a home visit. Officers are reporting that there is a totally different relationship developing between the officer and the offender. Many offenders are beginning to see the officer not just as someone to whom they have to report and who oversees the conditions of their probation, but as someone who is trying to help them.

Pre-sentence Investigation officers are discovering that it is easier to obtain from offenders the information they need for the Pre-sentence Investigation Reports (PSI) prepared for the courts and that it takes them less time to prepare the PSIs because they are not interrupted by telephone calls, other officers stopping by their office to chat and other activities that accompany working in an office environment.

Some agency administrators are looking at these positive results and realizing that supervising offenders after COVID-19 is going to be different than it was before. This will mean that not only will the way the officers supervise offenders change, but if agencies continue the practice of allowing staff to work from home (WFH) the supervision of employees and management of probation and parole operations will also have to change.

Tips for Managing a Virtual Workforce

Some administrators may already have managerial and leader-ship techniques for staff in remote locations, such as satellite offices and institutions and some of those skills may also work with leading and managing the virtual work force, but some will not.

Just as we had to develop new methods of leading and man-aging staff when we established satellite offices and residential facilities, the same will prove true with leading and managing WFH employees. Simply put, we cannot lead and manage the virtual workplace the same way we lead and managed before. We must learn new and better ways to lead and manage in the new environment. As Eric Hoffer pointed out, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some tips to improve your effectiveness in the art of managing virtual teams.

1. View it as an Opportunity to Grow

Regardless of your comfort level in managing a virtual team, view it as an opportunity to increase your leadership and management effectiveness. Embrace early disruptions and focus on implementing the infrastructure, revised processes and new rituals that will enable your team’s success. As the world moves towards more remote and virtual models, your efforts won’t be wasted.

2. Understand the Challenges of Managing a Virtual Workplace

To lead a virtual team well, managers may discover they need to loosen their reins a little while finding ways to continue to hold employees accountable.

Without the ability to continuously monitor employees in a shared office space, they may find success by focusing more on what gets done and whether it meets well-defined quality standards than whether they are working the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. In managing a virtual team, the manager should establish two measurements for work to meet: (1) quality, which should be defined as the completion of a task or responsibility in a manner that meets all standards of excellence for that task or responsibility, and (2) timeliness, which should be defined as completing a task or responsibility on or before the stated deadline for that task or responsibility.

It’s helpful, too, to be willing to experiment a little with technology and how meetings are conducted.

Adopt New Ways of Communicating

While most leaders/managers are aware that communication will be an obvious challenge with managing the virtual workplace, some challenges aren’t so obvious. Not only do you lose some of those hallway conversations, and quick in-office chats, but it goes deeper than that. When you don’t have enough face-to-face communication, it can become difficult to sense intent in messages between you and the person you are supervising. It’s harder to understand a message when it’s only text, or you don’t know the employee as well as other in-office employees.

When you first begin managing a virtual workforce, it will quickly become obvious that people have different preferences when it comes to communication. Some people prefer to be contacted by text, some by a phone call, some by email, some by instant messaging, and some prefer video conferencing even if it is a two-person meeting.

The most effective administrators will establish ways to effectively manage the communication styles of your entire team and create a structure that supports collaboration.

The most important things the manager of a virtual team can do is to establish clear expectations of team members which should begin with effectively communicating the team’s vision and mission. The manager’s focus should be on creating a shared purpose by engaging the team in answering the following questions: “What should be our contribution?”, “What are our objectives?”, “How are others depending on us as a team?” and “What are the key activities for successful performance as a team?”

In clarifying expectations, the manager should clearly define each team member’s role and responsibility, the specific tasks and outcomes to be accomplished and the standards by which performance will be measured.
It is also important that the manager establish clear check-in times for the team as a group and for one-on-one meeting between the manager and each team member.

Benefits of Having a Virtual Workforce

Considering hiring an employee and allowing them to work virtually could improve the pool of candidates when filling positions within your organization. For example, if you were interviewing for a Pre-Sentence Investigation Officer, an applicant with excellent interviewing and writing skills might be the best candidate for the position even though they did not live in your jurisdiction.

This would not be a totally new concept. Dr. Kelli Martin, who was employed by the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, accepted a position as a researcher for the Taylor, Bexar, and Hidalgo County CSCDs, but continues to live in Tarrant County.

A few years ago, El Paso County CSCD allowed an employee whose husband was transferred to move with her husband without giving up her position. She did all the visits to the state facilities for the other officers who had State Jail caseloads, which mean the other officers did not have to travel from El Paso to the locations where the State Jails were, thus reducing the travel costs of state jail visits.

Allowing some employees to continue to work at home would also reduce the amount of office space needed by the department even if employees were allowed to work from home only part of the time. Schedules could be arranged to accommodate the sharing of offices.

Once we adjust to having a virtual workforce, we may find that, with the right technology and the right management and leadership techniques, having a virtual workforce is not significantly different from leading and managing employees located in satellite offices.

The question we should be asking is not “Should we consider adopting components of the virtual workforce environment?”, but “How can we capture the advantages the virtual workforce provides and still effectively fulfill the organization’s vision and mission?”

What is your answer to that question?

It’s Time to Make Lemonade

It’s Time to Make Lemonade

It’s Time to Make Lemonade

With the arrival of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we were all faced with a crisis that has reshaped the way we live our daily lives. Restaurants have been forced to cease dine-in services and serve meals for “take out” or “delivery” only. Well-stocked shelves at grocery stores have been replaced with rows and rows of empty shelves because of “panic buying.” Who would have ever thought that toilet paper would be a prized possession? Schools have either closed entirely or are now providing educational services on-line only. Many states and local governments have issued “shelter in place” orders. Others have encouraged citizens to only leave their homes when necessary. Most churches have replaced congregational worship with on-line worship services and I know of one church which built a stage outside to provide worship services for people who call to get the radio frequency so they can attend worship services much like we used to go to drive-in movies. Sports addicts are being forced to watch reruns of previous games since all sports events have been cancelled. The contents of emails and posting on various social media are now filled with tales of frustration and boredom.

As I was contemplating various topics for this month’s column, it occurred to me that since all of us are faced with the same dilemma — how are we going to deal with this crisis – I decided I would share with you my perspective on dealing with this crisis. I decided the things I will do are:

Realize that dealing with crisis is not something new: In fact, dealing with crisis is a rather common occurrence for all of us. We have all dealt with numerous crises. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, during my life time, some of the crises that have occurred are the bombing of Pearl Harbor (12/07/41)which resulted in the United States’ participation in World War II which had begun in 1939, the “Recession of 1949,” Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953), Vietnam War (11/1/1955-4/30/75), Cuban Missile Crisis (10/16/62-10/28/62), assassination of John F. Kennedy (11/22/63), assassination of Malcolm X (2/21/65), assassination of Martin L. King (4/4/68), assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (6/6/68), Energy Crisis of the 1970s, AIDS epidemic (1981), Black Monday (1987), Columbine High School Massacre (4/30/99) and numerous other school shootings that followed, “Y2K”, “9-11” (2001), Enron Scandal and Crisis (2001) and a host of others which I cannot recall at the moment.

Control what I can Control – I cannot control the virus, but I can control my reaction to it. I can decide to take all the necessary precautions recommended by the World Health Organization, such as practicing social distancing, washing my hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or if soap and water are not readily available using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily.

I can also remember that crises come and go and I do not have to sit around and let this crisis control my every thought. I can choose not to be overcome by boredom, fear and frustration.

Make Lemonade: There is an old adage that says, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That is what I decided to do.

During the first few months of 2020, MBA was experiencing less business of almost any year in the nearly 14 years since we started the company. However, it looked as if everything was going to change beginning in the middle of March. On the calendar we had training events in Denton (March 17th-18th), Midland, (March 23rd-24th), Angleton (25th-26th) Corpus Christi (30th -31st) and Tyler (June 17th-18th). I was scheduled to speak at a National Leadership Institute in Annapolis, Maryland the first week in June. A group in Oregon had contacted us about providing them some technical assistance. Things were looking bright, then the Coronavirus arrived. All the March trainings as well as the National Leadership Institute in Annapolis had to be cancelled or rescheduled.

It became glaringly obvious that for the next few months, MBA’s “outgo” would be exceeding its “income.” While nothing will be going into MBA’s coffers, the utility bills (gas, water, electrical, telephone, etc.), payroll, and office expenses will continue to result in withdrawals. All of a sudden, MBA was transformed from a job I love to an expensive hobby I love.

Rather than becoming frustrated and overcome with worry, I am choosing to look at it from a different perspective. First of all, we have dealt with crises before and we managed to survive. Why should this time be any different?

As I began to look at the situation differently, I realized that most of the events we had on the calendar are not being cancelled but rescheduled. We may have to work harder to fit them into our schedule, but most of the projects are still there. Finances may be tight for a while, but we will survive. I have decided I am not going to let this get the best of me. I am going to make lemonade.

I am using the extra time I have available as a result of the coronavirus to do a variety of things: Among them are cleaning and reorganizing my office (which should have been done a long time ago), developing some new workshops, reading some books I have been wanting to read, but have not gotten around to reading and which I hope will also contribute to the development of the new workshops, writing more, and doing some marketing to secure projects for when the crisis is over. Even though my calendar does not look as crowded as it was at the beginning of the month, I feel more productive.

Another impact of the virus is that the Bible Study group I teach at our church on Sunday mornings has been suspended. Most of the people in the group are older than I am. Most are in their 80s & 90s. I am now reaching out to them each day, checking on them by email to find out if they need assistance with something, to encourage them and even share a little humor from time to time. All of that is less time consuming than the six to eight hours a week I spent preparing to teach the Bible Study before the virus caused us to suspend our meetings.

I have friends across the county who are either retired or are near retirement, some of whom are wrestling with some serious illnesses. I decided to call each of them and catch up with what is happening and to try to provide them some encouragement. We shared memories, laughed at some of the things that have happened over the years and in trying to be a blessing to them, they became a blessing to me. What a great time I have had with them. Not sure I would have had that experience if my schedule had not been interrupted by the coronavirus.

As I penned the paragraphs above, a memory bubbled up to the surface of my mind. In 1998, I was driving back from Austin late at night after having been there to testify before the legislature. It was late. I was tired and things had not gone as well as I would have liked. I was afraid that what the legislature was about to do would have a negative impact on the field of criminal justice and especially on probation. As I drove along with my negative thoughts, I began to focus on other areas of my life and the negativity began to permeate my feelings about every aspect of my life. I got to thinking about having kids so late in life and how that was going to affect my retirement. I was thinking, “I’ll be 65 when my oldest child finishes high school and 67 when my youngest finishes, and then I will still be facing college expenses. My children will be going to college on Social Security Scholarships.”

As I was driving and feeling sorry for myself, I began to think about the good things about those situations. As an older parent, I have had more time to devote to my children than I would have had when I was first starting my career. Hopefully, I became a wiser parent for having waited to have children. Financially, I was able to do so much more for my children than I would have been able to do if our children had been born when my wife and I were younger. When I got home, I began to write the following poem:

Aging Gracefully

© 1998

by Mel Brown

Lord, remind me when I whine

of all the things that are mine.

Make me grateful for what I’ve got

and for all the things that I am not.

My knees – they creak and they crack

and I always have a pain in my back;

but when I hurt with each step that I take,

I can know I’m alive, because I still ache.

My eyesight’s not what it used to be

and that’s not all that’s failing me.

My hearing gets worse as each year passes,

but I still have ears to hold up my glasses.

The teeth I have now are all fake;

But, as a result, they don’t ache.

So Lord remind me when I whine

of all the things that are mine

and make me grateful for what I’ve got,

and for all the things that I am not.

And please help me to always recall

halitosis is better than no breath at all.

The question I would like for my readers to answer is, “How are you making lemonade?”

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment, Are They the Same?

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment,  Are They the Same?

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment, Are They the Same?

While providing some technical assistance to an organization a few years ago, it became apparent to me that a very pleasant employee, who had been  with the organization a very long time and who seemed to be liked by nearly everyone on staff, had learned to do just enough to fly, unseen, under the performance issues radar and really contributed nothing to the organization.

Later, in a conversation with the organization’s chief executive, I asked him to tell me about the employee, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as Joe.  He described Joe as “a great guy,” “very likeable,” and “very loyal.”

My follow-up question was, “Tell me how Joe has demonstrated his loyalty.” The ensuing conversation between me and the “Exec” went something like this.

His response was, “We have had an extremely high turnover for a number of years, but Joe has stayed with us when so many have not.  He could have taken a job somewhere else, but he has remained loyal to us.”

Me: “Has he told you he has had opportunities to work other places or do you know of specific places that he had the opportunity to take a job and did not?”

Exec: “No, not really.”  I just know that with the high turn-over rate we have had, he has chosen to stay with us.”

 Me:    “Could it be that Joe is just not motivated enough to apply somewhere else?’

 Exec: “That’s what I am saying.  He is loyal to us and does not want to go anywhere else.”

 Me:    “Has Joe ever done anything here that would make you think he is the best employee on your payroll?”

 Exec:  “Not really.”

 Me:    “Has he ever gone out of his way to make another employee successful?”

 Exec:  “I don’t recall him ever doing something like that.”

 Me:    “Does he volunteer to take on tough assignments.”

 Exec: “I don’t believe so.”

 Me:    “Has he ever offered solutions to problems the organization was experiencing.”

 Exec: “Hmmm, not that I remember.”

Me:    “Does he ever do anything for the organization that is not in his job description?”

 Exec: “Now that I think about it, I am not sure.”

Me:    “Has he grown in his current job over the years?”

Exec:  “Not really.”

 Me:    “If every employee you have did their job the way Joe does his, would you think your organization would be the most outstanding organization in the state?”

 Exec:  “No.”

 Me:    “Is there anything about Joe other than he is likeable and he is still on the payroll that makes you think of Joe as a loyal employee.”

 Exec:  “I am beginning to think that maybe Joe is not as loyal as I thought he was.”

 Me:    “I think you are right.  I think you have been confusing loyalty with comfort, lack of motivation and long-term employment. I think Joe is just comfortable, not loyal. He doesn’t seem to be contributing anything significant to this organization and he lacks the motivation to apply for a higher job here or to apply for a job somewhere else.” 

This is a rather long introduction to this month’s column, but I wanted to make a strong point — loyalty has nothing to do with length of employment, blind obedience, or unthinking devotion. The things that demonstrate an employee’s loyalty are:

Integrity – Employees who consistently seek to do the right thing are not just following a personal credo – They are also looking out for the long-term interest of the organization in which they work. Such employees are faithful to the company; possess strong feelings of care, responsibility, and bonding. They have a powerful willingness to make an investment in the organization and sometimes make personal sacrifices for the good of the organization.

Doing Their Best to Make the Organization a Success – Loyal employees make sure they do quality work.  They per-form as if they own stock in the company.  My Administrative Assistant who actually runs the office ensures that it runs smoothly. When making travel arrangements or purchasing supplies, she treats our company’s money as if it were her own.  She makes sure we get the best price for everything we purchase.  

Loyal employees are not limited by their job descriptions.  When they see something that needs to be done, they do it. They volunteer for difficult assignments.  They also become the “go to” person in the organization.  Other people in the organization seek them out for advice.

Dissenting and Disagreeing – Loyal employees do not blindly accept every idea presented by the organization’s executive.  As pointed out by Patrick Lencioni in his book,  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,   members  of  cohesive  teams  engage  in unfiltered conflict around ideas.  Loyal employees weigh the positives and negatives of a decision, sharing conflicting opinions and play the devil’s advocate.  They create stimulating conversations that lead to better decisions.

 Talking Positively about the Organization – When loyal employees talk to people outside their organization, they talk positively about where they work.  After a decision is made, loyal employees get behind that decision even if they privately disagree. They don’t just pay the decision lip service; they support the decision as if it were their own and work toward its successful implementation. Truly loyal employees put aside their feelings and actively try to make every decision the right decision – instead of undermining it or wishing it would fail so they can prove themselves right.

 Asking Questions Others Will Not — Many employees hesitate to voice their opinions or feelings whether in a group set-ting or in a private meeting.

During a meeting, I once had an employee ask me a question about a new initiative I had just announced to the group. After the meeting, I pulled her aside and ask her why she had raised the question since she had been on the planning committee that developed the initiative.

Her response was, “I was not asking for me.  Some of the people in the room had expressed some concern about it and yet they were not asking questions in the meeting, so I thought I would give you an opportunity to explain it and answer the questions they had, but were hesitant to ask.”

Loyal employees have a great feel for the issues and concerns of the people around them, and they ask the questions or raise the important issues when others won’t. They know that if the organization is going to function well, the executive needs to know what employees are thinking and employees need to know what the executive is thinking.

Preparing You When They are Going to Leave —

As you have realized, truly loyal employees are not your aver-age employees.  They are usually your best employees – the ones you hate to see leave. However, they often do.  They leave for a variety of reasons – a better opportunity, their spouse is being transferred, or to do something entirely different that they have always wanted to do.

When it is time for them to leave, they will tell you. They will help you in any way they can to fill the hole they create by leaving. 

When that time comes, be as loyal to them as they have to you. Wish them well and remain a resource for them as they begin a new adventure. 

The Art of Delegation – Part 2

The Art of Delegation
Part 2

At the end of April’s column, “What Are Your Leadership Priorities,” I suggested:

When you finish reading this column, ask yourself, “what is required of me?” “what gives me the greatest return?” and “what brings the greatest reward?” Then make a list of the things you do that do not fit into one of those categories. Those are the things you need to delegate or eliminate.

In May’s column I pointed out: (1) “Anyone taking that advice needs to ensure that when they delegate, they do it effectively. There is a difference between delegating responsibilities and abdicating responsibilities. Delegation is when a leader assigns a personally held task, project or responsibility to someone else while maintaining accountability. Your responsibility is to see that the job is accomplished in a way that meets all standards for quality and in a timely fashion,” and (2) effective delegation involves a process that includes the following components:

• Preparation for delegation
• Assignment
• Confirmation of understanding
• Confirmation of commitment
• Ensuring accountability.

“Preparation for Delegation” was explored in last month’s column, and if you followed the suggestions in part one, you have selected the person to whom you are going to delegate the task for one of two reasons: (1) The person is the best qualified and can deliver the best results or (2) the person is the one who will most benefit from the learning experience that comes from doing the job. Now, it is time to make the assignment.

Assignment: For delegation to be successful, the employee to whom the task is assigned must be provided the “big picture.” The employee should be given enough information to see how what he/she will be doing contributes to the overall operation of the organization. When making the assignment, you should describe what success looks like so that the employee has a clear picture of what you want accomplished.

Delegation is most effective when we are delegating responsibility, not just work. You should focus on the results not the process. The effective delegator focuses on the result and allows the employee to exercise initiative and to develop the methodology for achieving the desired result.

When assigning the project, it is essential the employee has the necessary resources to successfully complete the task. Point him/her in the right direction if the work involves other people or resources are needed to get the job done.

Let the employee know that you are available for guidance and advice and point out any roadblocks they may encounter.

Establish the parameters, conditions and terms before you delegate and do not impose controls after you have delegated. Conditions must be stated up front.

Confirmation of understanding: Delegation should be accomplished through a dialogue and in an environment that is conducive to fully explaining the project with a minimum of disruptions. Encourage the employee to ask questions and offer suggestions. Instead of asking “do you understand?” which almost always receives a “yes” answer, ask questions such as “at this point, do you have any ideas about what you will do to accomplish the result we have discussed?” or “What resources do you think you will need to get this done?” This will enable you to see whether or not the employee has a clear picture of what you have asked him/her to do.

Confirmation of commitment: This is the part of the delegation process that most managers overlook. Instead of confirming the employee’s commitment, they often just assume that employees have accepted the assignment.

Runners know that the most important part of a relay race is the handing of the baton to the next runner and they spend a huge amount of time learning this skill. Just as in running, the delegation process cannot be successful unless the employee takes the assignment he/she has been handed and successfully carries it to the finish line.

It is the delegator’s responsibility to confirm that the employee to whom the task has been delegated is committed both to the expected results and to the process that has been set out (including the schedule, budget, and tools) and that their overall goals for the task are aligned with the goals of the organization.

Ensuring Accountability: Accountability is key to the process of delegation. Finding out at the completion date that an assignment hasn’t been completed or has been done unsatisfactorily is the nightmare scenario of delegating.

To ensure accountability, you should establish deadlines and check-in dates when making the assignment. Make sure the employee clearly understands the due date for completion of the assigned task. By also assigning check-in dates, you can be aware of the status of the project without hovering and micromanaging and can offer guidance and advice without interfering. Two-way communication is an essential ingredient of the delegation process if accountability is to be achieved.

Once you have delegated the task, it belongs to the employee. Do not let them delegate it back to you. If the employee comes to you for guidance and advice, listen without assuming responsibility for the problem. If the employee asks you what you think, turn the question around and ask the employee what he/she thinks or what he/she recommends. Help the employee solve the problem. Give the guidance needed without taking the project back. There is a difference between rescuing an employee and providing guidance and support.

One other piece of advice (which was not included in the original outline for this article but which you should consider in delegating) is that when the job is done, give full credit and recognition to the employee who did it. However, if the employee was unsuccessful, take the blunt of the blame yourself. Do not use the employee as a scapegoat. Ultimately, as the manager, the responsibility for getting the job done is yours. Use the failure as a learning experience so you can become more effective in the delegation process.

By becoming an effective delegator, you enable yourself to tap into the strengths of others, free you up to do the things you are required to do or can only be done by you, and you enable others to grow and expand their capabilities.

Happy Delegating.

How High is Your Lid

MBA’s mission is to equip individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions and goals and every service we offer our clients – regardless of whether the client is an individual or an organization – is designed to equip them to accomplish their visions, missions and goals.

Because leadership has such an impact on both individuals and organizations, leadership development is something in which we encourage all readers of this column to be involved.

With that introduction, let me return to the title in this month’s column: How high is your lid?

The first Law in John C Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is “The Law of the Lid.” This law states, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.” As Maxwell points out, “Leadership is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness. If a person’s leadership is strong, the organization’s lid is high; but if it’s not, the organization is limited.”

In other words, the more effective you want your organization to be, the more leadership ability you need. The effectiveness of your organization is determined by your ability to lead others.

I love the story about a sales manager who was having a meeting with all of his sales representatives. His division had the poorest sales record in the company and he was determined to get his team to perform better.

He began the meeting by showing the group charts that re-flected the sales made by each of the sales teams in the company, He made them keenly aware that their team was the poorest performing team in the company, and told them that had to change.

He began to berate them for their lack of sales and threatened if the team did not perform better during the next six months there would major changes in personnel. He then turned to one of the sales representatives who had been a professional football player and asked, “that’s what happens in professsional football. Isn’t it?”
The former pro player said, “That’s true. If a player did not perform well, he was cut from the team. However, if the whole team was performing poorly, we usually got a new coach.”

Lou Holtz, the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games, said “You’ve got to have great athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is. You can’t win without good athletes, but you can lose with them. This is where coaching makes the difference.”

As Maxwell points out in his book on the laws of leadership,

“Unity of vision doesn’t happen spontaneously. The right players with the proper diversity of talent don’t come together on their own. It takes a leader to make those things happen. It takes a leader to provide the motivation, empowerment, and direction to win.”

This is true whether you are an executive, a division manager, or a unit supervisor. When an organization is not performing well and is committed to doing better, there are only two choices – the leader can change or the organization can change leaders.

The great news in that statement is that an organization does not have to change leaders if the leader is willing to change.

Is your leadership lid as high as you would like? If not, what are you willing to do about it? What would you need to do to raise your lid?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Being a part of the John Maxwell Team as a JMT certified independent coach, teacher and trainer, I have the opportunity to participate and interact with John a few times every month through his podcasts, webinars and blogs. 

In one of those recent interactions, he asked the question that is the title of this month’s Contemplation Corner – “your team is facing a challenge: do you step back or step up?” 

Before you read any farther, take the time to ask and answer that question for yourself.  As a leader, which do you do?

Now that you have asked and answered that question for yourself, let me ask you another question. “Did you do as I did?  Did you think, ‘Of course, I step up to the challenge?’”

As John pointed out to us, “We’ve all been there. There’s an obstacle at work and you think to yourself: ‘I really need to step up and perform.’ And while that attitude may have served you well as a member of a team, when you become a leader, that same attitude can become a defeating prospect. As a leader, sometimes it’s more important to step back than step up.”

With that statement, he now had my rapt attention! I was thinking “Step back? There is a challenge to be faced, a problem to be solved.  What do you mean step back?”

He then pointed out, “While this may seem like a paradigm shifting without a clutch, it actually makes perfect sense when you examine it further.”

If you are familiar with The John Maxwell Company’s Five Levels of Leadership, you will recall that when people become “Level 3” leaders, they drive productivity, but they don’t accomplish this simply through their own productivity.

As John pointed out to us, “It’s critical that a team’s productivity goes up as a result of the team’s efforts, not because their leader is simply working harder. And this only happens if a leader is willing to step back and focus on their leadership skills, instead of trying to do everything on their own. If a leader ‘steps up,’ it can mean that the team is unable to step up on their own and grow. Without the ability to produce on their own, the team can lose momentum, stagnate and underperform.”    

That raises the question “How does a leader step back to let the team step up?”

John says, “To be an effective leader, you must take all the productivity skills you have worked so hard to build up to that point and work to imprint those skills on your team. By stepping back and focusing on the productivity of others, you will help them to thrive on their own. That’s being a true leader.”

“To make a real difference, this effort must be intentional. You should track progress to see if there’s real improvement due to your leadership efforts. Ask yourself: Is the team relying on you or are they working to solve their own challenges? And don’t be afraid to let your team fail. Learning from failure is how you can create the right environment for their ultimate victories. Almost every great success comes on the other side of a roadblock that needed to be overcome.”

There is an old axiom that says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same is true of leadership.  We may create positive results through our own efforts, but if we develop the leaders around us, those results can be multiplied exponentially.

Our most important job is the development of others; then step back and let them do what we have equipped them to do.

Are you willing to step back in order to move ahead?

How to Postpone Procrastination

How to Postpone Procrastination

How to Postpone Procrastination

For years I have jokingly told my friends, “I am writing a book on The Positive Use of Procrastination; but for some reason I keep putting it off.”

I guess one of my friends got tired of the joke and told me that I really should write something about dealing with procrastination and I am taking up his challenge.

As I began to examine the problem of procrastination, I learned two important things: (1) everyone procrastinates sometimes, but it is a much larger problem for some people than for others, and (2) people have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so old that ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle even wrote about it.

With that information in my mind and my fingers already on the keyboard I began to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t write this article after all.  Maybe I should put it off until I have done more research on the topic.” 

While my mind was telling me to procrastinate, I decided that I was not going to procrastinate while attempting to write an article on procrastination.


What is Procrastination?

As I was contemplating how to begin a column on procrastination, the words of one of my former college professors kept echoing in my ears – “operationally define your terms;” “operationally define your terms.”

In order to quiet the voice of my former professor, I decided to begin with defining exactly what procrastination is. Dic-tionary.com defines procrastination as “to put off until another day or time; to defer; to delay.”

As used in this month’s column, procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones to the point that it becomes counterproductive.

Effects of Procrastination

Letting ourselves put things off can have greater implications than may be obvious to us.  Procrastination not only causes personal stress and the guilt that comes with it but may include other consequences such as gaining a bad reputation with coworkers, family and friends.  It can also cause individuals to lose their ambition to succeed and keep them from accomplishing their dreams.  Procrastination can even be health threatening if we know we should see a doctor but keep putting it off.

Reasons for Procrastination

If procrastination is counterproductive, has all the negative impacts just described, and keeps a person from accomplishing the tasks he or she should do or wants to do, why do people procrastinate?

If you were to read the numerous articles written on the subject, each with its own list of the reasons people procrastinate, two things would quickly become obvious: (1) there is no single reason for procrastinating, and (2) some people are habitual procrastinators while other people’s procrastination is based upon the tasks itself.

Some of the most common reasons identified for procrastination are:

Lack of motivation,
Lack of skill,
Fear of failure,
Fear of Success,
Lack of Interest,
Sense of rebellion.
Regardless of what reasons drive us to procrastinate, if we are going to continue postponing things anyway, why not postpone procrastination.  That raises the question, “How do you postpone procrastination?”

Steps to postponing Procrastination

Begin the task – The first step to stop procrastination is to start the task. While we may not be motivated to accomplish the task, we should start anyway.   Making the first move is an evidence-backed strategy for beating procrastination.
Tim Pychyl, a psychologist and director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, says that his group tested this approach in a small study and “found that once students got started, they appraised a task as less difficult and less stressful, even more enjoyable than they had thought.”  He explains in an email, “They said things like ‘I don’t know why I put it off, because it’s not so bad’ and ‘I could have done a better job if I got started earlier.”

We often stop ourselves from starting because we think we are not ready yet.  We do not know enough yet, still have to do all kinds of things first, etc.; but is that really true?  What stops us is really our own attitude about the task.  When we think too much about something, it tends to become an incredible obstacle as all kinds of rationales for postponing the task pop into our heads.  We need to just quit thinking of reasons not to do whatever it is we are postponing and make the first move.  Often the next steps flow automatically from just doing. 

It’s easier to keep going with a task after you’ve overcome the initial hesitancy of starting it in the first place.  That’s because the tasks that induce procrastination are rarely as bad as we think. Getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work and we find that the actual task is not as difficult or as boring or as threatening or whatever other reason we have for not doing it. 

That is what happened when I started this month’s column.   Once I started writing and wrote a few paragraphs, I began to get motivated to complete the task.

Set goals with deadlines – When you have a task to do, set a goal for its completion. As Tony Woodall stated, “A goal without a deadline is just a wish.”  It is easy to keep putting a task off if there is no deadline for its completion.

After waiting for some time to write this column, I decided one night that I would complete it before the end of the workday the following day.  I got up that day determined to do that and did it.

Remember the feeling of accomplishment – Think about how good you felt the last time you completed a task that you had been putting off for quite some time. Seize the opportunity to feel that way frequently by completing the tasks that you have been putting off. When you start the task use the feeling of completing a long-postponed task as the motivation for doing it again.
I feel really good about completing a column on the topic of procrastination.  It has been long overdue and it feels so good to have finally written it.  I am going to remember that feeling the next time I feel myself procrastinating on a task.

I have already decided that the next thing I am going to postpone is procrastinating on a task.