Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Leaders Develop Good People - Even in Bad Times

Whenever the economy turns bad, and that seems to happen on a regular basis, many companies start looking for ways to cut their costs. One of the very first things that some companies cut are any costs associated with human development. Coaching, training classes, and even brown-bag lunches are viewed as a “soft cost” that have no direct impact on the bottom line.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

On the surface, wringing out any excess costs seems to make a lot of sense. But great leaders know that wringing out all the costs might also mean wringing out all of the energy, excitement and creativity from a company as well. And, when things are tough, you need your team to crank up the energy and creativity, not bury it under a blanket.

Imagine a scenario where one of your top customers places a big order that is going to require the very best from your team to complete the delivery. Your team, suffering the blahs after having their overtime cut, all of the plants removed from the office, the coffee service removed from the office, and all personal development eliminated, can’t figure out how to deliver this order on time with the correct content.

Of course, Jack could have led his team to get this done, but Jack left 6 weeks ago to join a competitor. Sally was another manager who could probably have pulled it off as well, but she left about 3 months ago and changed careers entirely. Their replacements came from in house and, while they are excellent technically, they lack the skills to lead the team on a project of this size.

You meant to develop more managers with the appropriate team leadership skills, but with times being tight, you cut back on hiring, stopped training both your technicians and your managers and hunkered down to wait out the downturn.

Now that downturn may last much longer than expected. And you may lose your best client for screwing up this order. But that’s ok because you were able to wring out all of those excess costs that don’t really add to the bottom line.

Great leaders understand the difference between unnecessary costs and the costs of keeping your managers and staff excited, motivated, and most importantly, on your team. Great leaders understand that developing people is not an unnecessary cost, but an investment in the business itself. Staff development can have the very same payoff and ROI that an investment in new equipment can have. And an investment in your staff has the added incentive of making your team more valuable over time.

And that can get you through a lot of tough times.

Until next time....

ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Thinking About the Boss

In my last post I took a few minutes to recall a couple of the many really great bosses that I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. But when it comes to bosses, we all know there are two sides to the equation. For every good boss we’ve experienced there is at least one, and sometimes several, bad bosses.

Bad bosses come in a variety of flavors, much like ice cream:

• The Incompetent (Vanilla)
• The Screamer (Chocolate)
• The Politician (Strawberry)

But once you get past the basics, the flavors get much more exotic. For instance, I once had a boss who had an interesting strategy he used to show his boss that he was on top of things. Let’s refer to him as “Rocky Road.” Rocky Road would look at his staff, identify the “weak link,” and then begin the process of “coaching” that employee. Strangely, no one who was coach ever improved and each was, in turn, terminated. How did he determine the “weak link?” The only thing we knew for sure was that it had nothing to do with actual performance. But as soon as the target was identified we all knew it. And we could all predict when that person would have their “final coaching session."

I had another boss who I will refer to as “Peppermint Surprise.” This boss was so prone to mood swings that her secretary developed an alert system for the management team. The secretary kept a shark magnet on her filing case. When the shark was in the middle things were “normal”. When the shark was on the left, the boss had a good date the night before and you could bring in any problem or issue you wanted. But if the shark was on the right, you didn’t go near the office. And if you were summoned, you did not respond. This went on for 3 years and Peppermint Surprise never caught on.

Do you have a favorite flavor for your bad boss? We’d love to hear your stories and we’ll have a special gift for the best “worst boss.”

Until next time....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thinking About the Boss

I was sitting here today just thinking about some of my old bosses. Some of those old bosses were really great. I enjoyed working for them, learned from them, and would work for them again in a second.

Of course, there were other bosses who were not so great. I not only wouldn’t work for them again, I would go to great lengths to avoid seeing them in public.

So I thought I would take the next two entries to talk about good bosses and bad bosses and to get your thoughts and stories about our old bosses as well.

Let’s start with the good bosses.

When I think about my very best bosses, a few names and stories come to mind.

Jim was a great boss. We were working on construction projects where timing was everything. When Jim first took over the organization we had a problem with missing our completion dates. Sometimes we missed by a few weeks. Other times we missed by months. These delays were costing the company millions of dollars.

Jim’s charge to us was simple. “Once we give a date for completion, we will meet that date. Once the date is set, the date don’t change.”

He posted “the date don’t change” on every wall in our building and, with that statement as our overriding goal, we got focused on a single clear goal. And, for the two years Jim was our boss, we didn’t miss a single construction date.

The date didn’t change.

Another boss named Ed impacted me in an entirely different way. He was one of my favorites because of the way he helped me grow. Often Ed would stop by my office after a big meeting and discuss what happened and why it happened. We would review what others in the room had done and what I had done. We also discussed explicitly, but in gentle terms, what I could have done better. Ed mentored me in ways that no other boss ever did. And he made me a better person for it.

So those are a couple of quick stories from me about some of my favorite bosses. Who were some of your favorite bosses, and what did they do that made them special to you?

We’d love to hear your stories.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Your Fairy Tale Life

"Every man’s life is a fairy tale, written by God’s hand." - Hans Christian Andersen

I love that quote. It inspires me. It makes me think of all the things that can happen on our journey through life and of all the possibilities that lie before us.

And every fairy tale follows a few key themes:

There is a handsome prince.

There is a fair maiden who will become his princess.

And there are obstacles; often major obstacles that must be overcome before the story can have a happy ending. Sometimes the obstacles are magical in nature, like the poison apple that put Snow White to sleep. Other times the obstacles involve humans, like the wicked stepmother and stepsisters in Cinderella. Or maybe the obstacle is an animal, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.

In any case, the obstacles are often huge and seemingly impossible to overcome. This forces the character to live in constant fear or unhappiness, beneath its crushing weight.

But how do we get to the happy ending?

In every story with a happy ending you’ll find that the main character suddenly faces a choice. It’s never an easy choice, but a difficult choice that holds much risk as well as much reward. It’s only when they take the risk to do something different, and often frightening, that they are finally able to overcome the obstacle and create their own “happily ever after."

And the same is true of our lives. We face obstacles that seem insurmountable from a variety of sources. Some of us let the size of those obstacles scare us, forcing us to live in fear or unhappiness for most of our lives. Some of us never break the yokes of our obstacles and so our story never has a happy ending. To change your life, to find the happy ending that you so richly deserve means doing something different, stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking a risk.

Are you ready to write the next chapter in your own fairy tale? Are you ready to create the happy ending that you so richly deserve? There is no time like the present to create the happy ending to your fairy tale.

Until next time…..

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC