Tag Archives: management

Three Keys to Successful Crisis Management

By Lucien CantonLucien Canton

When the first hijacked plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001, Robert Scott, president and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley-Dean Whittier, was at 3 World Trade Center addressing 400 members of the National Association of Business Economists. Scott evacuated the building just in time to watch a second aircraft slam into the South Tower which he knew housed his company offices and several thousand employees. By 9:30 he and his senior executives had convened at a backup site that became their command center. The decisions made by Scott and his team that day would make Morgan Stanley a case study in successful crisis management and would enhance Scott’s reputation as a leader.

What is the difference between a Morgan Stanley and less successful companies? Why do some organizations come out of crisis with enhanced reputations while others may not even survive as a business? While the reasons are many and varied, it frequently comes down to three main areas:

  • Failure to consider the human factor
  • Failure to gather adequate information to support decision-making
  • Failure to act quickly and decisively

These failures are so common that they suggest three keys to successful crisis management:

1. Recognize that you are your own worst problem. Too often in preparing for crisis one tends to ignore the human factor. Understanding human nature and how people react to crisis is one of the fundamental keys to crisis management.

  • No matter how much information on risks they are given, people do not believe that a crisis will happen to them. They may understand it intellectually but viscerally they do not believe it will happen. This hampers their willingness to prepare for crisis.
  • When confronted with a crisis, a person’s first reaction is denial – they often do not recognize that a crisis is occurring. This leads to a hesitation to act.
  • There is a tendency to normalize crisis, that is, to see what one expects to see rather than what is actually occurring. It is easy to misinterpret or completely miss indicators that a crisis is imminent or occurring. These indicators may be obvious after the fact but are easily missed during the crisis.

2. Good information is essential to good decision-making. The second phase that people experience when confronted with a crisis is to deliberation – the need to seek corroboration about what has occurred or is occurring and to consider courses of action. There are, however, problems inherent in this process:

  • Most information available in the early stages of crisis is fragmentary, contradictory, and unreliable. There can also be a considerable volume of information available, most of it not really helpful. Sorting through this mess requires an understanding of what information is important and why it is needed by decision-makers.
  • A common failing in crisis is the tendency to seek only information that confirms what the crisis team thinks is happening or expects to see happening. The problem with this is that the team misses the true nature of the crisis and makes decisions that can be counter-productive or flat out wrong.
  • The paradox of information collection is that while the better the information the better the decision-making, there will never be a situation where one has all the information needed. At some point, you will have to make decisions based on incomplete information. Information collection cannot become an end in itself that delays decision-making.

3. Act Decisively. Overcoming denial and moving through deliberation leads to action. In most cases, the quicker you are seen to act and to provide information on the crisis and your actions the more likely you are to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Effective action depends on a number of elements:

  • Isolating the crisis by identifying a crisis management team and dedicating them solely to the crisis. Other parts of your organization can work be devoted to business as usual but your crisis management team must be focused exclusively on the crisis and must have the authority and resources necessary to act.
  • Speed is essential, particularly in crisis communications. Depending on the nature of your organization, you may have only minutes to get your story out. Even if it’s just acknowledging that the crisis has occurred and that you are assessing the situation it is critical that the public, your employees, and your shareholders hear from you.
  • Acting quickly, demonstrating empathy with anyone affected by the crisis, and, above all, being honest can go a long way to countering the negative effects of a crisis.

Surviving a crisis requires that you quickly recognize and accept that a crisis is occurring, gather sufficient information to make decisions regarding the crisis, and move quickly to implement those decisions. Incorporating these three keys into your preparations for crisis may not guarantee success but they will certainly go a long way to preventing failures.

Lucien G. Canton, CEM is a consultant specializing in preparing managers to lead better in crisis by understanding the human factors often overlooked in crisis planning. A popular speaker and lecturer, he is the author of the best-selling “Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs.” For more information email Info@luciencanton.com.

Counting Chickens: Lessons in Managing Employees

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In my office is an evocative black and white aerial photo of my grandfather’s chicken farm, circa 1960. Grandpa and Dad ran the farm, along with a revolving assortment of hired help. The farm consisted of five barns, in two interconnected groups. Together they accommodated 15,000 hens.

Four buildings housed “layers,” with eggs being the farm’s principle product. Each building was staged, with the hens’ age being staggered by four months. When egg production for a building would taper off, those hens would be sold, ending up in cans of condensed chicken-noodle soup. (The ratio of cans per chicken intrigues me to this day.) The fifth building was the “pullet” house; think of it as the nursery.

The farm had a predictable seasonal cycle to it. The hens from the oldest building would be sent to market, the vacated coop cleaned, disinfected, and refurbished. Then the maturing hens from the pullet house would move in. Then the pullet house would be similarly prepped. (A window of opportunity existed, between the disinfect and repopulate stage, when I was permitted to roller skate in that building.)

It was exciting for me when the hatchlings were delivered. They would arrive unassumingly, transported in cardboard cartoons, with 100 per, and delivered via station wagon. The shrill cacophony of their combined chirping was surely deafening to the driver; even in the open space of their new abode, their peeping was overwhelming. I took great joy in my small role of liberator, watching their cute, yellow, fluffy bodies scurry in all directions, from the gently upturned box.

The farm also had a daily rhythm. Aside from the feeding, cleaning, and ongoing maintenance, there was the gathering and processing of the eggs. Each hen house was an open space (there were no caged chickens), with condo-like rows of open nests. How most hens knew to lay their eggs in the nests and not on the floor remains a mystery to me.

As a pre-schooler, I would sometimes get to go with Dad to gather eggs; it was great fun – for the first few minutes. I quickly learned to avoid nests with hens in them; they would peck the back of your hand. Even the jersey gloves with cut-off fingers that Dad wore seemed to be inadequate protection. I resorted to gathering eggs from empty nests, in the lower rows that I could reach. Once I needed to rest and sat on a little stool. Only it wasn’t a stool; it was a basket of eggs. I broke half of them before I could extricate myself. I was mortified. Dad patiently cleaned me off; I think Grandpa laughed.

The baskets of eggs were put on carts, which hung from an elevated rail. The rail system snaked through the barns, terminating at the farmhouse, where the eggs were brought to the basement for processing. Once cleaned, the eggs were put in the “candling” machine, where each was individually checked by shining a light through it. The machine sorted the eggs by size. The extra-large, large, medium, and small sizes were sold; the “pee-wee” and “jumbo” eggs made it to the family table. (One morning, I ate three pee-wee eggs; another morning, a jumbo fed three of us.)

Unfortunately, due to health issues for Dad and a sudden desire by Grandpa to retire, the farm was shut down and the hens sold. The next day, as I took my usual shortcut to school though the back of the farm, I spotted a wayward hen who had escaped deportation. My cousin Steve and I tried in vain to catch her. I knew we needed expert help and ran to get Grandpa. Although skeptical of my tale, he immediately went to help; alas, neither chicken nor Steve could be found. Grandpa suggested I get to school and I later learned that Steve had caught the skittish hen and at a loss of what to do, put her in the cab of the Grandpa’s old dump truck.

“Can I keep it?” I plied Mom and Dad. Dad couldn’t say no. My hen garnered me a private supply of eggs, producing one every 27 hours. (The exact laying cycle varies with breed, age, diet, environment, and season.) This was a bit short of my hope for an egg a day, so I considered a second hen. That would be more eggs than I needed, so I would share with my family. Why stop at two, my young mind reasoned. Six hens would produce enough for everyone, with some left over. A dozen hens would mean eggs to sell. How far could it grow? Soon my elementary-school entrepreneurialism envisioned me helping feed and support my family.

I’m not sure if I shared any of this vision with Dad, but when I asked for a second hen, it was soon granted. Dad, picked a strong, robust hen; she was a fine specimen and I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, my two hens didn’t get along, with the new one dominating and attacking the original. Even with a larger pen, the abuse continued, production dropped, and soon my cherished pet was dead, killed by her associate and ostensibly by my desire for more. That day, my dream died, too.

But this isn’t a story about chickens; it’s really about people. It’s not a commentary on greed or rant against capitalism, but rather a call for balance and pragmatism:

Bigger is Not Always Better: Sometimes less is more; enough said.

Increased Scope Produces Increase Challenges: I was a successful farmer of one chicken. I wrongly assumed that if I could raise one, two would not be a problem, after all, it’s a scalable concept. I never dreamed that I would have “labor” issues to deal with – it never came up in a one chicken operation!

All too often, business people expand their operation without considering the ramifications. They forget that with a bigger operation will require more support and add new and unforeseen challenges. This often occurs when a successful, one location business, opens up a second site. Suddenly neither is doing well. It might be they have the wrong management style, maybe the owners became distracted, or perhaps the requisite infrastructure was lacking.

Value What You Have: I took my hen for granted. When a better one came along, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve done the same with employees; maybe you have too. You have people whose work may not be stellar, but who have been steady, faithful, and dependable for years. Then a bright-eyed, eager-to-please applicant arrives and the next thing you know, the new employee has chased the proven one away. It’s only then when you realize that the newer model wasn’t the solution you thought; you long for the “good ole” days with your trusty assistant, before things got messed up with a new hire and your longing for something better.

Be Content: We live in a society that is seldom satiated and always lusts for more. It’s not bad to have dreams and set goals; in fact, it’s good to do so and is detrimental to lack aspirations. However, when the push for more becomes the focus, the best parts of life begin to obscure, going unnoticed and unrealized.

The first step is to truly distinguish between needs and wants. So many things that we think we need are in reality not necessary and merely a nice extra. In the big picture, how important is a bigger house, a newer car, a grander vacation, or more “toys?” Will they bring joy and satisfaction or just make you more tired, with added pressures? Ask yourself, “When was the last time that I actually wore out an article of clothing, as opposed to merely getting bored with it or it becoming too tight? This is starting to get at the crux of the issue. Being content with what we have is a good place to strive for; learning to be content with less is even better – and still leaves us ahead of the majority of people on the planet.

Don’t get so busy counting your chickens that you miss out on what you have.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Steps to Sustainability from Upper Management to the Bottom Line

By Steve RichersonSteve Richerson

Big companies like GE, IBM, Wal-Mart, and many smaller companies like Tenant, Centiva, and Stonyfield Yogurt have recently locked their GPS coordinates on to a really intriguing destinationmarket profitability through ecological sustainability.

These companies have set their company GPS on a target that’s not just a sustainable destination for the company’s longevity, but for reaching that destination while using our planets resources wisely.

Ecological sustainability refers to the way we choose to use the Earth’s natural resources.  If we use resources in a way that doesn’t harm future generations’ ability to use those resources, that use is considered sustainable for generations to come. If we harm future generations’ ability to use those resources, it’s not sustainable. There are really excellent business reasons why these innovative companies have chosen this destination.

Why Destination: Sustainability?

  • Allows companies to cut overhead costs for everything they take, make, and waste. These savings can go directly to the bottom line.

  • Allows companies to build a successful enterprise they can be proud of. This leads to increased employee productivity, retention and attraction, which goes straight to the bottom line.

  • Allows companies to build a reputation for being a good corporate citizen. This results in loyal consumers and possibly loyal fans that can determine questions of zoning, taxes and community support.

So, what are the steps we have to take to get our GPS pointing toward sustainability?

Step 1 – Get “Buy-in” from the top. You’re going to have to make a pitch, presentation or proposal to convince upper management that sustainability is good for the bottom line of your company. Simply making the “feel good” argument that going green is the “right thing to do” won’t cut it. You need to make the business argument for it.  Make the case in dollars and cents.

Step 2 – Engage everyone on the team. Now that you know the front office has your back, it’s time to engage the team. Build a group of mid and senior management from all departments (sales, HR, facilities, retail manufacturing) that will focus on efforts to save the company money through saving resources and preventing pollution.Even members of the team that are “environmentally agnostic” (global warming skeptics, recycling is a waste of time, etc.) can understand that waste equals inefficiency. Inefficiency costs your company money. Wasted money means raises and promotions are less likely for them. They’ll understand this argument. Saving the company money through saving resources is the goal. Try to align your goals with two these two principles of sustainability and you’ll be well on your way:

  • Is it renewable?

  • Does it create pollution?

Step 3 – Get it on the company map. Get an official sustainability statement from your team on the Corporate Strategy Map. This will allow your integrated sustainability to be an aligned priority at every level of your company. You’ll get “buy-in” from everyone because it’s on the map. Employees up and down the corporate ladder want to know that sustainability is important to the company and they’ll be rewarded for spending work time on it.

Step 4 – Take, Make and Waste. Have the team focus on areas of take, make and waste. Create a list of opportunities for each of these areas. Waste is inefficiency. If you can cut down on inefficiency, you grow your bottom line and you help reduce impact on the planet. Here are a few questions that should be asked:

  • Can transportation costs be reduced by getting smaller vehicles or can they be eliminated completely?

  • Can we cut our waste removal costs by recycling?

  • Can we choose an option for shipping that uses less packaging?

  • Is it possible to innovate a completely new product that is within our core competencies but has a lesser impact on resources?

  • Can we source raw materials closer to our factories to cut down of shipping costs?

When everyone gets focused on the TMW (Take, Make and Waste areas), the result is that good ideas for profits and the planet come flowing out.

Step 5 – Measure immediately. Once you’ve found the areas to focus on, begin to measure them. If possible, integrate automated measurements of all inputs and outputs.  Even very competent managers and front line employees can get it wrong. It’s easy to over or underestimate how much energy, how many raw materials used, how much water is wasted or how much trash is being hauled away if there’s no real data on it. Collect the data right away.

Step 6 – Set goals. Now that you have the data, set your goals for sustainability. Make these goals specific, measurable and make sure they are of strategic bottom line value to your company.

Step 7 – Execute. You’ve set your goals. Now go for it.  Remember to make small steps towards this goal every day. Continue to ask yourself, “How can I make this just a tiny bit better?”

Step 8 – Share progress. Be honest with shareholders and stakeholders about the results.  The public will appreciate your honest attempts to be more sustainable (even if you’re not totally successful). Be honest about results and you’ll be better off.  They want to know you’re on the right road and will support you for that.

Step 9 – Conduct an annual review. Have the team review the improvements that were made over the year. Ideas that worked in one area may spur improvements in other areas. Keep going; there’s always room to do a little better.

Many of the world’s smartest companies are locking their GPS destination on sustainability. It’s good for people, planet and most importantly, it’s good for profit.

Steve Richerson is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant. Steve utilizes his distinct presentation style to speak on the importance of sustainability and actionable guidelines to enact eco-friendly practices in business. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, National Recycling Coalition and the North American Environmental Education Association, Steve is spearheading the campaign to reduce wasteful corporate procedures and promote environmentally sound business methods. To learn more about Steve’s speaking, call 256-710-7216.

Micromanaging vs. Coaching: Micromanaging is a Tactic, Not a Style

By Nathan JamailNathan Jamail

One of the greatest misunderstandings in leadership and coaching is the term “micromanaging”. Most leaders never want to be thought of as a micro manager. In fact, it could be considered an insult or weakness of any manager. When micromanaging is used as a coaching or leadership style it will most likely deliver bad results, stifle creativity, limit employees’ self-worth and without a doubt limit productivity. On the other hand when a coach or leader must deal with a bad performer it is imperative to help the employee either become a better performer or help them find a job that is a better fit. Leaders should strive to be a coach who when necessary, uses micromanaging activities to improve specific areas, but uses coaching skills when getting the team ready to win.

Why micromanaging and coaching are often confused: Micromanaging and coaching are often confused because from the surface, the activities and the leader’s involvement look very similar. The key difference is the leader’s intent and desired goals of their action. Both require the involvement of the leader; setting clear expectations, well defined activity management, accountability and a huge time commitment from the leader as well as the employees. The difference lies in the purpose of these activities. For example: a leader is setting expectations to ensure there is complete understanding of what they  expect from each employee in order to maximize productivity and limit confusion:

  • A micromanager does this with the intent to set boundaries and rules. A coach shows his commitment to the team by holding everyone accountable.

  • A micromanager uses accountability to ensure the employee is earning their paycheck (oftentimes focusing on single employees versus the team). A coach manages activities to ensure the employees are on the right track and that they are in the best position to succeed.

  • A micromanager uses the activities to justify effort or discipline. The micromanaging method is proved wrong when a coach understands it is not the amount of time an employee contributes as much as it is the focus and effectiveness of the time they contribute. The intent of coaching is to develop and prepare the employees to succeed using the leader’s knowledge and experience to guide the employees, not to justify actions.

Action item: Don’t afraid of being a coach because you don’t want to micromanage. Get involved and share the intent of your actions with your team so they understand your goals for not only yourself, but for them- which ultimately is the goal for success.

Every great coach must use micromanaging tactics: As stated, the main issue with leaders and managers is they misunderstand what “micromanaging” is and is not. Micromanaging is a tactic of coaching (or should be); it is not a leadership style. Micromanaging should be used as a consequence of those employees that are not meeting expectations or are bad performers. A bad performer does not necessarily mean a bad employee (and definitely does not mean a bad person).  There are many employees that are not performing well because they are in the wrong job, not because they are bad people, or they are not doing what they are passionate about in general, thus have no desire to be successful.  By micromanaging the details of such an employee it allows the leader and the employee to make the best decision of what action should be taken next.

When to micromanage and how long: Let’s say there is an employee who appears to be unhappy and their activity and results are not meeting expectations. The leader should get involved early to determine if the shortcoming is a lack of desire or ability, or both. To help determine the issue, the leader should implement more disciplined expectations and activities and explain to the employee why this action is being taken as well as the desired outcome.   The desired outcome should be to either help the employee reach the expected activities, attitude and results or help them find a role that is a better fit. These micromanaging activities should be short-term activities.

The leader needs to make assessments quickly and take on the continued shortcomings, which results in moving the employee out of the position. In turn, the leaders should also take quick action to recognize great efforts and achievements as warranted. A leader should not have to implement a micromanaging activity for an employee for more than 90 days and can be stopped in as little as 30 days depending on the level of involvement, improvement and accountability, as well as overall attitude and commitment of the employee.

Action item: Micromanaging is a tactic, not a style. When you have a poor performing employee, implement a performance plan of daily and weekly activities and micromanage those activities to help them move up in performance or out of the position that does not fit them. You owe it to them as their leader and coach.

Why most leaders don’t like to coach: All leaders, or at the least the majority of leaders, prefer to avoid confrontation. This is unfortunate as only in constructive confrontations and discussions can progress be made. It is all in the intent of the confrontation. If the intent is to just belittle, or point out all the obvious issues with an employee, then yes that is a destructive and useless conversation and understandable as to why one would want to avoid it. However, in order to be an effective coach, a leader must approach confrontation with the intent of helping the employee.

It is absolutely impossible to coach without confrontation and discussion regarding areas of opportunity. When an employee is confronted by a leader who expresses the desire to help them achieve success, points out areas of opportunity for improvement and suggests a game plan to help them achieve such improvement, the confrontation just took the route of establishing a plan for success. It is a win-win for both parties. Of course at this point it is up to the employee to demonstrate their desire for success and jump on board, but it is also the leader’s job to micromanage through the issues until a satisfactory ending is in sight. Is this hard to do? It is, only if the intent is wrong. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

Final thought: Not every hire is the right hire and not every job is the right job, but accepting either one just because it is easier is wrong. Micromanage through the issues by helping your employees either become great at what they do, or helping them to find something they will be great at. Outside of issues with poor performing employees, your job as a leader is to coach your entire team to success.

Nathan Jamail, president of the Jamail Development Group and author of “The Sales Leaders Playbook,” is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. As a former Executive Director for Sprint, and business owner of several small businesses, Nathan travels the country helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum success. His clients include Radio Shack, Nationwide Insurance, Metro PCS, and Century 21. To book Nathan, call 972-377-0030.

Ways to Manage High and Low Performers

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

People who invest their money wisely spend more time focusing on the investments with the greatest chance of turning out to be winners.  Do you do the same when managing the performance of your employees?  If you are like most managers, sadly the answer is that you get caught up spending too much time with low performers who have a fair chance of being acceptable, but not stars.  What would happen if you dedicated more time to your employees who are acceptable performers yet exhibit clear signs of being high performers? The answer is that many of these acceptable performers will move into the ranks of high performers.

So, as a manager, CEO or business owner, how do you identify the employees you should focus on, and how can you make the most of your lower performers?

Be Selective About Who to Focus Upon: The first lesson is to carefully select who will be important for you to invest time, energy, and other resources in to developing their performance.  This decision is incredibly important; if you choose a low performer, then your likely payoff will not be as great as if you had selected a high performer.  This may seem at odds with what you have learned in the past, or it may even seem to go against the grain of democracy or fighting for the underdogs.  But, if your goal is to maximize performance, then this approach is more likely to yield greater results quickly.

As humans, we can only really improve 2-3 things at a single time, no matter what multi-taskers tell you.  Deliberate practice on 2-3 things is what drives high impact gains in performance and productivity.  Deliberate practice can be enhanced with explicit, targeted feedback from managers.  It is far easier, more rewarding, and more effective to leverage strengths, rather than solely focusing upon weaknesses.  The key is to find strength in one area and get the performer to use that strength in an area that requires improvement.  Real, sustained improvement takes time. This requires patience on your part as a manager focusing upon the long term and not just the quick fix. The quicker the fix, the less sustainable the result.

Keep Hope Alive for All Performers: The second lesson is keep hope alive for all performers, even those who are chronically low.  What does this mean?  As a manager or CEO, you want to make investments, though not equal investments, in all performers.  But, do not potentially waste too much time, energy and other resources in your employees who, at their very best, will only be an average or acceptable performer.  This does not mean that they are not a good person, that they are not worthy of their salary or that they are a slacker.  It may simply mean that they are comfortable in their current position and have no desire to become the company superstar, or that they are a bad fit for your organization.  A manager that wants to improve performance should demonstrate what psychologists call “Unconditional Positive Regard.”  This means that you accept where your staff begins their performance improvement journey. For some, they may begin behind, for others at the right place, and some are even ahead. Assess the starting place but do not judge.  Then, you can identify the signature strengths of all of your staff, even chronic low performers; it is unlikely that they are not doing well in all aspects of their job.

Watch out for the “Pygmalion Effect.”  This means that your staff rises or falls to your expectations.  In other words, if you have low expectations, then they will move to meet your low expectations.  The opposite is also true; if you have high expectations, then your employees will move to meet your high expectations.

Focus on making progress toward a longer term goal, and reward that progress, even if it is only one baby step after another.  By rewarding small steps to the larger performance goal, you will also feel less frustration because you know your efforts with the low performers are paying off.

Reassign or Fire Chronic Low Performers: The third lesson is to cut your losses relatively early.  Our country’s goal is to increase employment, but as a manager or CEO you also have a responsibility to your boss or stockholders, to your company, and your customers.

There are two ways to address chronic low performers.  First, if after setting clear expectations, monitoring their performance, giving feedback about their performance, coaching them, and then letting them know about the consequences of underperforming, you see no improvement, you should let them go.

Second, if your company cannot afford to let any employees go in order to keep the operation running, you should reassign the chronic low performers.  When you reassign an employee, you protect the majority of those that are performing well from a smaller group that could persuade them to lower performance across the board or distract the higher performers.

Picture yourself three to six months from now after experimenting with these three recommendations.  Not only will you have a plan for all performers but you will have dedicated more time, energy and resources to those performers with the greatest payoff.  Your time is precious; you can only focus on so much.  You have to be selective about what you focus upon. You have to prioritize. Be sure to do this when you are managing performance in your company and feel confident that your investment will pay off for you, your company and your customers.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.