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How to improve time management: It’s Worth Doing Poorly … At First

How to improve time management:
It’s Worth Doing Poorly … At First

- by Bryan Emmerson -

High standards are not only a wonderful thing but are necessary for long-term success in business. But like most things, a strength taken to extremes can be a weakness.  While attention to detail can be a tremendous trait, perfectionism can be sometimes as much a curse as it is a blessing.

One day I was in the office of one of my managers inquiring as to the status of a project that one of his supervisors was working on that was behind schedule. As he was giving me the update, he mentioned that the project would take another three weeks, tripling the original time estimate of two weeks. When I inquired as to the reason for the delay, he said that the supervisor had the project mostly completed but wanted to get it “just right”.

If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I prefer to use questions whenever possible. Sometimes I like to use statements, but only if they will “jolt” the listener to make him/her think.  My response was, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly”. After pausing for several seconds he said, “This sounds strange coming from you as you are always talking about excellence.” I responded, “When it comes to final outcomes that is true; excellence is the standard.  But not so with process changes as they are the means to the end. Let’s look at two different scenarios. Scenario number one is when a project takes six weeks because the project manager tries to imagine every conceivable issue and gets it 90% right. The reason he can only achieve 90% is because it hasn’t been tested in ‘the real world’.  The military has an expression: no strategy can survive contact with the enemy. The seventh week is then spent getting the process to a workable 95%.

“Scenario number two has the project manager rolling out the new change in two weeks and is only 70% of where it needs to be. He’ll take the next week tweaking the process to get it to the same 95% effectiveness (under both scenarios, the last 5% might take months).  Which scenario do you think is better?”

He responded, “Well I suppose the second one would be better since we would be getting the benefit of a non-optimized improvement for one week and the optimized process an additional three weeks sooner as compared to the first scenario.  Also, the supervisor would be spending less overall time on the project and able to move on to something else that would be a better use this time.”

I told him that he was correct in this instance, but as with most things there are exceptions. The idea of doing something poorly at first only applies to workflow processes and only if it can be done without costing money. An example where this approach would not work is when it comes to computer programming. A company can spend a lot of money and time if computer changes aren’t well thought out and documented.  I have seen cases where the original programming needed to be scrapped completely because it didn’t take into account requirements that only came out after significant work had been completed.

Another big exception to “doing it poorly” is in the area of human resources. As Stephen Covey says in The Speed of Trust, “The source of all (or almost all) human conflict is due to unrealized expectations”.  If you’re going to make changes to somebody’s position or compensation you need to get it right the first time.  These kind of changes should be performed in the context of a larger HR plan. In family businesses the stakes are even higher as wrong moves with family members can have devastating effects to the business owner’s most important relationships.  

Used correctly, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly … at first” is a time management mindset that can help both the individual and the organization optimize effort.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

 
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It’s Their idea!

It’s Their idea!

- by Bryan Emmerson -

One of the most powerful skills to learn as a manager is to help others create ownership of ideas. This was taught to me by one of my mentors, Jerry.

Prior to becoming plant manager (my first senior management job) my role was that of extrusion supervisor. So when I became Plant Manager, my experience in the printing department (our largest department) was minimal. At that time Jerry was the VP / general manager (my boss’s boss). His background was in the printing industry, so any time that I was in his office I tried to avail myself of the opportunity and “pick his brain” on the topic.

Occasionally he would mention meetings that were coming up, some of which I would attend. I noted that he had his thoughts very well organized prior to going into the meeting in that he had identified the problem as well as the solution.  When I would attend these meetings; however, I noted a completely different tactic on his part. He would present the problem to the group but would not share what he thought to be the solution. He would ask questions (see my previous blog on this) and prompt conversation. When the conversation was moving in the direction that he thought it should go, he would encourage it by asking questions like, “What did you mean by that” or “tell me more about that”. When the conversation was straying from where he thought it should go, he would redirect by asking a different question to someone else.

The result of this was that about half the time everybody left that meeting with the same conclusion that Jerry had come to prior to the meeting. The rest of the time the solution was better than what he had come up with himself. Regardless, everybody in the group was energized and had ownership of the process.

If he had taken a more common tack and simply identified the problem and what his solution was, everyone would have left the meeting and merely complied with the boss’s request. If things had started to go sideways, they would have let it do so with the idea that “well I guess the boss was wrong”. With Jerry’s tactic, however, if things started to go sideways, they had ownership and they made it work.

Once I understood what he was doing, I asked him about it. He told me that one of his mentors had told him that former President Ronald Reagan had in his office a plaque which read “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”. He told me that he as General Manager was accountable for the results of the company, and that if he “checked his ego at the door” he could accomplish those ends more effectively.  

Jerry’s bonus was based on the bottom-line results of the company which ties into my previous blog on pride and selfishness. In this case Jerry realized that if he allowed his selfishness (superior company results and the rewards that went with it) to override his pride (wanting to be seen as the leader with all of the answers), he would be better off ... and so would everyone else.

This tactic does not come naturally to most people. Most of us have a prewired disposition to be “large and in charge”. It strokes our ego to be seen as a person with all the answers. The irony is that as a manager we will be perceived (and usually compensated) not on our own abilities but on the success of our team.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

 
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The Three Ways to Learn Things

The Three Ways to Learn Things

- by Bryan Emmerson -

One of the conclusions that I have made over the years is that there is a high correlation between management skills and parenting skills. I need to be careful where I say this and in what context because I am not implying that employees are like children. Rather that there is a high degree of correlation in the application of leadership to both groups.

One example of this is that I believe there are three ways to learn things:  the Easy Way, the Hard Way, and the Really Hard Way. The Easy Way is to either listen to the wisdom of those that have gone before or watch the mistakes of others and learn from them. My attitude growing up was, “I’m going to make enough of my own mistakes, I don’t have to make yours.” This sounds pretty straightforward. In fact most of us would wish this kind of learning on ourselves and everybody we know. After all, mistakes are painful and/or embarrassing so if we can avoid them, why not? And most of us do learn some things the Easy Way.  Unfortunately we all have to learn some things the Hard Way - making a mistake and then realizing and learning from our mistake.

What we really want to do is avoid learning what I call the Really Hard Way.  The Really Hard Way to learn something is when the consequences are permanent and life-changing. We all have had situations where someone we know has married the wrong person or experienced an unwanted pregnancy. I had a friend in high school that was in a car accident paralyzing him from the waist down. Another friend was in a car accident and has permanent scarring on her face. An example a lot closer to home was when I was show boating on the basketball court when I was 16 years old. Two knee surgeries and over three and a half decades later I bear the consequence of that decision.

When my son was little, we would take walks together. I remember a time when he was about four or five years old and he was jumping and skipping beside me. When I noticed the sidewalk up ahead was uneven, I pointed out the danger but did not take his hand. He ignored my warning, and predictably, his toe caught the edge and he fell down skinning his knee. He wasn’t badly hurt, and he tried to be a "tough guy" in front of his dad as a tear rolled down his cheek. I use this as a teaching opportunity as to the benefits of listening well. There was another time when he was running out into the street and I shouted for him to stop. He immediately stopped just as a car raced by. These are two extreme examples where in one case I deliberately allowed him to be hurt to teach him and the other not allowing him to be hurt because the consequences would be too great. This is a distinction that millions of parents make every day. It’s easy when the line delineating what’s too far is pretty straightforward. It gets a lot harder when they are 19 years old; it’s also harder with employees.

I believe it’s helpful to be mindful of two things. First, we are all learners as we go through life. Sometimes, “stuff happens”.  Circumstances fall in our lap over which we have no control. There are times, however, where we do have a choice. If we make a conscious effort to learn things the Easy Way whenever possible, our journey becomes much more pleasant.

Secondly, when we find ourselves in the position of authority (supervisor, parent, mentor, etc.).  The choice here is a little different. Do we force our knowledge on the other or let them learn the hard way? This is where judgment comes into play. And it’s hard! It’s hard to let somebody skin their proverbial knees when we could have prevented it even though we know that the experience of doing so may be the best for them.

So how do we know? To this I have two observations. First, no one strikes the right balance every time. That is, it takes practise to know when to let someone fail and when to throw them a lifeline.  And second, if trying to strike the right balance is front of mind, your frequency of doing so will continue to improve.

Failure is defeat only when we cannot or refuse to get back up.  It is part of learning and as John Maxwell put it, we need to fail forward.  While we all need to have the freedom to fail and learn the Hard Way, I recommend surrounding oneself with people to help prevent us from learning the Really Hard Way.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

 
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Introvert vs. Extrovert

Introvert vs. Extrovert

by Bryan Emmerson

 

The first thing I typically do with a new coaching client is what is called a DISC assessment. The DISC assesses one’s temperament and is similar to other such tools (e.g. Myers-Briggs, OMS/OAD, PI, McQuaid, colours, animal systems, etc.).  DISC is a little different whereas most of these other systems focus on behaviour, the DISC focuses on communication style. I’m not going to go into great detail, but there is one aspect of this assessment that is helpful to understand. That is in the area of introvert versus extrovert.

Generally speaking, I have difficulty with these words. The reason is that they tend to bring to mind the extremes. We tend to think of the extrovert as the life of the party dancing on a table, and the introvert sitting in the corner too shy to ask the girl to dance. While this is true the extremes, most of us are somewhere in the middle.

Some have tried to differentiate between these two types of individuals by explaining that extroverts are energized by being around people and introverts find people tiring and are energized by having some “alone time”. While this may be generally true, the closer you get to that middle ground, it ceases to be so. That is, an introvert can still have a great time with friends and feel energized, and an extrovert may need some alone time.

I find that a better way of understanding this is to examine how a person processes information. An introvert processes information internally. That is, they keep their own thoughts, think about an idea and then come out with a conclusion. An extrovert on the other hand processes externally. That is they need to talk it out. Not surprisingly, this means that extroverts tend to talk more than introverts. This explains why when you see a couple usually one is in introvert and the other is an extrovert. This ends up being a comfortable arrangement. From time to time, two introverts will pair up. This works because if each of them only wants to talk (for example) 40% of the time, they are both okay with 20% silence.  Two extroverts pairing up is much less common as they would both be competing for “stage time”. I have known a few couples like this and they tend to “lock horns” pretty regularly.

The challenge that most of us have then is that we tend to be paired with somebody that is our opposite in this regard. The main issue is perception. When the introvert processes internally and then comes out with a conclusion, the extrovert says, “don’t you want to talk about it?” When the introvert says, “No, not really, I’ve already thought about it”, the extrovert concludes that he is stubborn. Conversely, when the extrovert is processing the information and talking it out, the introvert looks on and says, ”Will you make up your mind? You’re waffling. You’re here, and there … Just make up your mind.”  By the time I finish explaining this to a client, there is usually some chuckling as light bulbs start to come on. “Well that explains …” is a typical response.  

So whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I trust this has shed light on how the other half thinks.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

 
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Human Nature

Human Nature

by Bryan Emmerson

Several years ago I was on a business trip with some employees for a convention. We had arrived the night before and we had some time to kill. Most of the guys wanted to go on a “pub crawl”. One of them (a factory shift supervisor) knowing that I wasn’t into that asked me if we could have dinner together. I could tell that something was on his mind so I agreed.

After we ordered our meals, I asked him, “What’s up”?  “Human nature”, he said. “What about it?” I responded. “I just don’t get it. I watch people and just shake my head. I don’t understand why they do the things they do. I watch you, and you seem to handle people so well. You even know what they’re going to say before they’re going to say it. I want that. Can you teach it to me?”

“Human nature is simple”, I said, “Not easy, but simple. In fact, I can boil all human actions down to just two words and I can describe all human conflict using the same two words. Do you know what those two words are?”  “I have no idea“, he said.

“Pride and selfishness”, I said. “Typically we get ourselves into trouble due to selfishness, and we stay there because of pride. ‘I’m not apologizing to him‘”. He had a bit of a questioning look on his face so I asked him, “Would you like me to show it to you?” He said, “Yes, please do.”

“Okay, let’s look at some behaviour that is polar opposite. Do you know what a philanthropist is?” I asked. “Sure”, he said,” That’s someone who gives away a lot of money.” “Well imagine a guy like that and compare him to a thief.  That’s opposite behaviour, right? The thief is pretty straightforward. He is selfish and wants what he wants. There is a values tie-in but I’ll touch on that in a moment. The philanthropist is a little more complicated. Maybe he feels guilty about how he got his money and is trying to appease that guilt by giving money away. Or maybe he just enjoys it. $100,000 to him is like dashboard change to you and me. He has more money than he can ever spend, and he will never miss it. He just likes how he feels when he watches people do good things with his money. That desire for that good feeling is selfish. Or maybe he enjoys the spotlight. That’s pride.

“Let’s look at another example.  Let's compare someone who is lazy to someone who is an over-achiever.  The lazy person is quite simple. He wants to minimize his effort. The overachiever is a little different. Perhaps she has a longer field of view and is like the ant versus the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable. That is, she knows that if she works hard now, she will have a better / easier future.  Or perhaps she likes the accolades of others (pat on the back from the boss, employee of the month, etc.). Again, that’s pride.

“That’s it?”, he asked. “Well, almost”, I said,” there area couple of caveats. The first is the human conscience. The conscience does four things: 1) it prompts us to do the right thing, 2) it affirms us when we done the right thing, 3) it warns us against doing the wrong thing, and 4) it makes us feel guilty when we’ve done the wrong thing. And it has two parts. The first part is what I call the moral warehouse. It’s the suppository of all values that we have learned, primarily early in life. For example, if you and I were in a crowded room and we got the last two seats, and an older gentleman walked in. Your conscience would be pricking you and telling you to stand up and give the man your seat because you were taught to respect age. If I learned no such lesson, then my conscience would be clear. My attitude would be ‘you snooze you lose. You should’ve been here earlier.’ The second part of the conscience is the activator. I think of it like a forklift accessing the lessons in the moral warehouse. Sometimes this can be damaged. For example, the stereotypical young man from the country going into the big city and doing things that he knows he shouldn’t do. After a while, his conscience ceases to work ... the wheels have fallen off the forklift. The lessons are still there in the warehouse, but they are no longer accessible. That is, his conscience no longer bothers him.

“The second caveat to pride and selfishness is that I believe there is what Blaise Pascal called a God-shaped hole in every human heart. We try to fill it with all kinds of things, but nothing else seems to fit.  The bottom line is that 99% of all human behaviour can be explained and understood through the lens of pride and selfishness.”

Although we didn’t go into it at the time, my mind had gone back to a situation where that supervisor’s boss came to me with a situation that provides a real-life practical example to this lesson. It was during the time that I was Plant manager and about 30 years of age. My printing manager came into my office and said, “We have a problem”. “What’s going on?”, I said. “You know Gary (not his real name) on the #2 machine?”, he said.  I said, “Yes, what about him?” “Well, instead of going upstairs to the smoking room or outside to take his smoke break, he is smoking in the stairwell. How do you want me to handle it?” Notice that the employee’s behaviour is being dictated by his selfishness - it was too much effort to go upstairs and too cold to go outside.

“Try this”, I said, “Take him aside to a quiet place, either your office or the supervisors’ office. Tell him that you have been hearing that there are people smoking in the stairwell, and although you would rather not make a ‘federal case’ out of it, you are going to get to the bottom of it. Tell them that you are more concerned about the behaviour stopping than going on a ‘witch hunt’. Tell him that he is a highly respected employee among both his peers and management and ask him to use that influence to steer people in the right direction.”  Frank (the manager) said with a smile, “Are you serious?” I said, “Let’s give it a try and see what happens.” About a week later, Frank was in my office for our regular meeting. I said, “By the way, what happened about the smoking thing with Gary?” With a chuckle Frank said, “Problem solved!”

Most of the time, human nature leads us to the “dark side”. It’s rewarding when we can use it for good.  In this case, Frank used both pride and selfishness to correct Gary’s bad behaviour. Selfishness took effect when Gary realized that he was "dodging a bullet" by not getting caught. Pride was used when he was told that he was up on a pedestal and greatly admired by both employees and management. This meant that he had a long way to fall if he were found out. Therefore, he was highly motivated to change his behaviour.

Understanding and using human nature is simply a matter of defining how pride and selfishness are causing particular behaviours and how they can be used to motivate others in a better direction.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

 
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The Power of Questions

The Power of Questions

- by Bryan Emmerson -

If the purpose of communication is to communicate thought, are some methodologies better than others?  More specifically, is it better to make statements or ask questions? Let’s take a look.

If I make a statement, there really are only two responses to it. You either agree or disagree with it. If you agree, we have created a little clarity. If you disagree, how much energy you have behind it is proportional to the wall that I have just created between us.

On the other hand, if I ask a question it does several things:

  1. It forces you to listen. We all have been in a situation where we have listened to somebody drone on and on.  Sometimes they begin to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher (wah-wah-wah …).  If you are asked a question, you are much more likely to pay attention as it requires a response and you don’t want to be embarrassed (arguably a good side of human pride – more on this in my next blog).
     
  2. It forces you to think. Again your pride comes to your rescue. That is, you want to give a thoughtful answer so as not to appear stupid or foolish.
     
  3. It shows respect as it says your answer is important and has value to me. Someone once said, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

I find the best way to explain something is to use real-life examples. In 1998, I was promoted from plant manager to VP of operations. After finishing his orientation, my replacement as plant manager came to me and asked me what the company’s policy was in responding to employees concerns and issues. I informed him that we have an open door policy and any employee could come and talk to any manager. If somebody came to my office, the first words out of my mouth after they described the issue was “have you talked to your supervisor about this?” And then, “Have you talked to the next person in the chain of command?” And so on. If the answer was “no” anywhere along the way then my response would be, “I will make two promises to you. First I will listen intently to everything you say. Second, I would do absolutely nothing about it.  You need to allow the appropriate person to address your problem. I’m not going to undermine the chain of command and cut the legs out from under any manager.” I then explained that if the answer was that they had gone through proper channels then I would listen to their issue and respond appropriately. The plant manager said that he like that process, but asked if an employee got to him, could he bring him/her into my office to watch how I dealt with the situation so that he could better understand how I wanted things done? I thought that was a good suggestion, and I agreed.

The process was straight forward. The plant manager would come into my office and explain the situation (as he understood it) prior to the employee joining us. We would go through the meeting with the employee and then the plant manager and I would debrief afterwards. After the second time doing this, the plant manager looked at me, smiled and said, “You’re stealthy”. I asked him what he meant. He said, “When the first employee that came through, I couldn’t figure what you were doing, but this time I think I figured it out. You asked them questions and painted them into a corner using their answers and their own logic patterns.” I told him that he was absolutely correct. “You’re stealthy” he repeated.

One principle of communication is that the person that asks the questions, controls the conversation. This does not imply that you should continuously bombard somebody with questions. That is just irritating.  What it does mean is that some well-thought-out questions can guide the discussion.  A well considered question communicates intelligence and analytical ability.

Another powerful concept related to this is the power of silence. Sometimes you ask a question and the other person is aware of where you are taking the conversation and doesn’t want to give the answer. In this case, many times the person is saying I don’t like the question and I’m not going to answer it. It is basically a passive-aggressive way of avoiding an unpleasant (for them) conclusion. When this happens, most people will move on. Don’t do this! What you’ve essentially done is given them back control of the conversation. You need to wait them out. This is uncomfortable in Western culture as we tend not to like silence, and the other person is counting on that. Those next few seconds are very uncomfortable and the person will most likely feel compelled to respond.

Occasionally they are prepared to wait you out. In that instance, you can force the issue by saying, “Would you like me to repeat the question?” This implies they were not listening to you. Or you could say, “Would you like me to rephrase the question?” This implies they didn’t understand you. I have found that it doesn’t take very long for classical conditioning to kick in and they will begin to be more forthcoming in answering questions as nobody wants to be seen as not paying attention or not smart enough to understand what you’re saying.

I know that this may sound overly simple, but it does work. I had a client that was having difficulty with a long-term employee. The employee took the above described passive-aggressive non-answering posture. When my client told me about using these techniques, his eyes were sparkling and he was excited. “It worked. Just like you said. I couldn’t believe it.” I had another client that use the same technique on their teenage daughter. “It was unbelievable”, he said,” I was able to have a conversation that didn’t end up in shouting, and we were actually able to communicate with each other”.

My final advice would be twofold. First, assess your own conversation. Are you asking questions or are you making a lot of statements?  Second, I would encourage you to try asking more questions. This takes a little practice at first. You may have to think of the questions ahead of time for a specific situation. After a while, like most things, it will become more natural and just a part of your new way of doing things.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember … 

Your success matters!

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