Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wacky Wednesday

Necessity is the mother of all invention. So... I have 5 beers... how will I drink them all? Maybe take lessons from this guy:

But I guess the real question is: How do you place this accomplishment on your resume?


Monday, October 25, 2010

Channels of Communication

The Project Management Book of Knowledge offers a formula to determine how many channels of communication exist in a project. The formula is: N(N-1)/2. N is the number of stakeholders involved in the project. So if you have 5 people involved, then you would have 10 channels of communication [5(5-1)/2]. Seems like a lot. As your team grows the number of channels increases exponentially.

So, I was in charge of a platoon of 16 people in Iraq, so 120 lines of communication. Within the platoon, not including communication to Company and Battalion. How do you manage 120 lines of communication. Largely with a plan. I had sergeants who were responsible for 3-4 people each. I would communicate with them, they would push the information below to their people. They would handle anything they could, and pass the more difficult stuff on to me. In turn, I told them what needed to be accomplished, and trusted them to accomplish it (Ronald Regan once said "Trust but verify," so I would go onsite and make sure that everything was up to snuff). It was an effective communication plan, so long as you can trust your people.

There are many books out there about getting the "right" people on the bus. In some cases it takes time, however you need to identify the people you can trust and put them in the proper place for control and communications. In almost every company there is middle management (the sergeants) that you have to trust to push the right information to the team. A leader cannot be everywhere. He/she can mitigate risk, can give detailed instructions, and can even be standing over most of them a lot of the time. But at some point you need to trust your managers, then go back and verify that they told the right thing... maybe during your lunches with the staff/troops/whatever.

So when you are figuring out your staff, as a leader, you need to have a communication plan. You need to know how information gets from place to place. You also need to make sure that everyone else knows what the communication plan is. Otherwise, channels get muddles, lines get misused, and people can get hurt, or projects can fail.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and communications is just another plan that needs to be thought out and executed. Sometimes its given to you, sometimes you have to figure it out. Either way, take the time to review it, because it may not be what you need it to be. Good Luck.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wacky Wednesday: Uhmmm.... Safety First?

In my travels, I have seen many interesting things. I was at one plant where a large valve hung on a crane over the head of a man grinding a cylinder. The valve was waiting to be installed in that cylinder. The man doing the grinding had no hard hat (not that it would have helped if the valve fell off the pallet the crane was holding), no safety glasses, and no mask for the grinding. I thought that was interesting...

at least until:

Thankfully, I didn't take these pictures. But isn't it bad enough that somebody did? As a leader, you take care of your people. Somehow I think the bosses of these yards missed the mark. What do you think?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where are you?

Can you be a leader in absentia? What happens when a leader isn't visible, present, and/or in the right place to make decisions. I am reminded of a particular event in my past life as a Tank Platoon Leader:

My platoon was responsible for the outer perimeter of a house search, as well as the immediate response team if the house clearing team got into trouble. I instructed the sergeants where to place their personnel and once secured, signalled that the house clearing team could move in. Then I went to each of my guard points and checked on the men. Good idea right? Well, not really. About half way around the perimeter, I realized that if the "fit hit the shan" NOBODY KNEW HOW TO GET IN TOUCH WITH ME, OR WHERE I WAS. I was literally jumping from checkpoint to checkpoint. Good for soldier morale, BAD for control and communication. I immediately grabbed my radio operator, and an extra body from the checkpoint I was at. I sent the extra body back to the previous checkpoint to grab another "extra body" there and report to me at the car port of the house still being cleared. I then established a command point at the car port, where I could see most of my perimeter, had communications with my higher and support elements (through the radio operator), and had runners to send messages to the checkpoints. As soon as the two extra bodies arrived (now runners), I sent one out to tell all my checkpoints were to find me. I kept the other runner close by, just in case. I know was in a position to make decisions, and EVERYBODY knew where I was and how to get ahold of me.

Thankfully, that night the worst we had to deal with was a drunk man who stumbled into one of my checkpoints before he realized he was surrounded by camouflage. He was quickly searched and hustled to the back of a HMMWV so that he wouldn't compromise the search. He was released later that day, no worse than some of the college students I've seen coming out of the "drunk tanks."

But I learned a very valuable lesson. I was expected to lead and make decisions. In order to do that, I needed to be where people could find me so that I could make the decisions. I needed an established line of communication (either through the radio or the runners). And, I needed to be somewhere the troops could see me. I accomplished all three by setting up in that car port. But what does this mean to the business world?

In a previous post I talked about managers (notice I didn't call this person a LEADER) who show up and close their door. I also mentioned the positive affect of spending time with your subordinates. Now here is the catch. If the fit hits the shan (as it so often can), then you as a leader need to be at a known location, with clear paths of communication, and visible to your subordinates. If you are out with a particular subordinate, and nobody knows where that is, you need to get visible and established. With iPhones, Crackberries, and regular cheap cell phones, communication really isn't a problem today; but you still need to be established, and preferably visible. A leader in absentia is no leader at all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wacky Wednesday - Boss is Out of the Office

Have you ever wondered what happens when the boss (you?) are out of the office:

I would hope that the office had some other indicators before this actually happened (and maybe an employee with a bruised forehead afterward). Pretty funny, so long as it isn't your office (or you aren't the one who fell down). Of course.... the instigator could be considered a leader too. Hmmm.......

Monday, October 11, 2010

Twenty Tips for First-Time Managers

I came across this link at Business Week's website, and thought it was worth sharing. Although this is a blog about leadership, sometimes we do have to talk about managing. And yes they are different! However, in this case the advise is sound in both arenas. Take a look at them, and let me know your comments. Some notes from my side:

Number 2: Meet your People Individually - Just last week I wrote about one-on-one lunches to get to know your people. Seems similar? I thought so.

Number 4: Make a Memorable Gesture - This is one I just had a conversation with a co-worker about. He works out in California and we were talking about how to make an impact. My advice was to find some "low hanging fruit" that could impact either a process or customer's relationship. No process is perfect. Once identified, improve it. In general paperwork is an easy target: either there is too much (redundant) or what is filled out is so ambiguous it is useless (some shipping documentation I use to have to work around!).

Number 6 - Develop Each Person - Again, sounds familiar. Once you get to know your staff, you need to help them grow into their next job. Seems familiar.

I could go on and on, but this blog is young, and I want people to draw their own conclusions and comment. I am not perfect... and I can always use another opinion. Let me know what you think!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday's Food For Thought

"He who fails to plan is planning to fail"
Sir Winston Churchill 

There are many quotes that are constantly changed/misinterpreted. This is one of them. Usually it gets paraphrased to "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Either way the statement is correct. A plan is a necessity for a leader. As well as a "plan B" for when the inevitable happens and something goes wrong. In Project Management (and the military) there is a Risk Assesment Matrix that is also part of the plan. The plan should be detailed, should be in chronological order, and should be made available to everyone who will be impacted by it. At the very least the plan is an exercises to identify the tasks necessary to complete the project, and in what order they need to occur.

The plan can be a writeup in a notebook, a checklist in Outlook, a detailed project plan in Primavera, or anything in between. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that if you don't plan you will miss something and then have to scramble to fix it (that isn't to say that you won't miss something; but with a plan you will miss less).

Of course, no plan is perfect. Things will happen and the leader needs to know how to adapt. A quote to talk about later will be "No plan lasts past first contact."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Team Building - 1

Many Leaders feel they need to remain aloof from their team. In fact I know many leaders that treat their teams like they are resources to be used and discarded. People come in, do their time/their work and go home; with no interaction with their peers, and most likely, no contact whatsoever with the person who is in charge. But what is the alternative?

Your team is comprised of PEOPLE! If you are the leader you have to interact with them, you have to learn about them, and you HAVE TO SHOW YOU CARE! Why? Because even the most Analytical person is still a person! He/she will have interests and a life outside of work. In many cases they will have ambitions and a need to learn. Or they might be completely content in the job they currently hold and don’t want to move, EVER!

But how do YOU as a leader know this? You can’t send out a survey asking these questions, HR would have a fit! If you don’t believe me, go ask HR. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about your team. If you are the leader, then once a week take a member (or two) from your team out to lunch. During the lunch, ask questions about them, use the opportunity to learn more about them. Ask where they went to school. How are the wife and kids? Ask how long have they been together? How old are the kids? Do they play any sports? etc. etc. etc. Now, here is the hard part… after the lunch, write down what you learned about the person. Take that information and make use of it. If you learned about a kids' birthday, put it in your outlook calendar with a reminder. When the reminder comes up, go past the person’s desk and tell them to wish their kid a happy birthday. Do the same for anniversaries. If you think a card is appropriate, then get a card (or better yet, keep a supply in your desk). The team member will know you care because you remembered what they told you.

But this is just a trick. It cannot replace actual caring for your team. It has to be REAL; otherwise people will know when you are faking it. You can manage the trick for a while, but without REAL CONCERN members of your team will doubt if you actually care for the team, or just your own goals and progress. So what else can you do? How do you show your concern?

First, DO NOT hide in your office. Too many managers walk into their office and sit down at the computer. They work on spreadsheets and reports; trying to keep ahead of the curve. They claim to have an open door policy, but don’t want to interact with anybody and the team knows it. So how do you keep this from happening (or correct it while it is happening)?

Set-up the computer, and while it boots, head out to the pits and interact with your team. At least say good morning to the more Analytical, trade stories with the Amiables and Expressive, and ask the Drivers how the latest project is going (If you aren’t familiar with People Styles at Work, by Robert and Dorothy Bolton, I would suggest picking up a copy). Now you are showing you care and that you might actually work with them rather than see them as resources to be utilized and pushed aside.

After that, do your work at your desk, and then work on your team. Do the lunch trips, check for statuses, and make sure progress is happening. And when the day is done, say good night to people! Don’t just bolt for the door. That too sends the message that you don’t care.

There are other things you should do with your team and we will talk about them in future blogs. One thing would be identifying what people need to move on in their career. You also need to identify your successor. How about determining where your team spends the most time and how to make it easier? These are all worthy pursuits that need to be addressed, and will be in future blogs.