Last week I had very similar conversations with general managers at two very different businesses.
They both had teams that seemed to be less focused, productive and efficient the more time they had.
One is a seasonal business where everyone works overtime for 4 months and then have very little to do during the off-season. Yet despite the “extra” time, the wish list of improvement projects never seems to be completed.
The other business sells short-term consulting solutions to clients, so they are “all hands on deck” for 1-2 months and then may only have smaller tasks to fill in between the big installations. Yet during a slower schedule, clients wait a bit too long for response to their smaller requests.
You may see this in your own business, or in your own week. I know that I sometimes don’t have a large list of “done” items when I have a whole day to work on them, but can check off 1-2 proactive items in a few hours between client meetings.
The cause: What you are witnessing is an actual documented sociological principle I learned in college:
“Work expands to fill the time.”
The solution: plan, develop work habits, and track for accountability
- make a list of what needs to be accomplished – whiteboard on the wall or online tool such as asana.com
- plan the week with your big 3 (projects, not just ongoing work)
- begin each day tackling the next priority item
- end each day re-prioritizing what to focus on the next day
- review regularly, track progress and expect results
- remember that deadlines are motivational– pre-schedule a time to review a specific outcome
These steps will improve your own focus on activities that achieve results.
They also work well to focus your team members, build their work habits and hold them accountable.
The key is planning with progress reports in a weekly coaching conversation.
Perhaps take this Friday afternoon to plan out a few items on your “wish list” and then assign one 90 minute task to each day next week to make progress on the first one.
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Last week I was speaking with a small business owner who told me “you aren’t telling me anything I don’t know…
but HOW do I get my team working together to grow the business..
HOW do I get out of overwork and overwhelm?”
In a sentence, his firm lacks Accountability.
But what can/ should he do?
To quote an owner who has made this transition: “Knowing doesn’t make the difference.. it is Doing that matters.”
We talk about Accountability as if it is a “thing” that other companies have but we can’t seem to find, an elusive dream, a pink elephant.
Accountability is not something that is “done” to people but a contract between you (as coach) and your team member.
They know the Right Things to do, how and when to do them, what Right looks like, and agree to Get’r Done (said in your best Jeff Foxworthy voice).
It’s a process of being clear, getting people to commit, and then coaching with feedback, re-direction, praise, follow-up and sometimes tough love. It’s the proverbial “holding someone’s feet to the fire” or “inspecting what you expect.”
It’s also important that you have process to setup, agree to and expect Accountability.
The aforementioned owner thought his main problem was “finding better people”– yet a “better employee” will not be much more effective in a team who lacks accountability as a system.
Here are two quick videos from leaders on the accountability front to explain more:
From the Zenger Folkman group’s author Kathleen Stinnett, Accountability Success in Coaching
Great overview from Roger Connors of the Oz Principle: Steps to Accountability- Above the Line and Below the Line
Many organizations realize that “prior job experience” is only one element that determines success in a job role.
Since 82% of managers are in the wrong job— mid-size and large employers are looking toward other indicators to use for selection, career paths, training and development.
A client was mentioning his frustration with a fairly new employee, when these words were uttered “He seems disorganized, after one year.“
This person had 5 years of experience in a similar role and was hired with high expectations to come onboard, quickly learn the job, and start taking on more client work and responsibility to free up the owner’s time.
But you may have been in this situation before.
The person takes a bit more time than expected to “learn” the job (or at least your systems and procedures). And he does the activities of the job adequately, but doesn’t achieve the results you expected. Or take on a larger role or more responsibility that you would like.
So you spend more time monitoring and coordinating work, and feel like you still can’t delegate anything off your to-do list.
He is a stable employee in the role but the growth and impact is not what you wanted at one year.
So you are questioning the root cause of the performance gap:
- Are the expectations clear?
- Does this person want the role I thought I hired him for?
- Will training help?
- Is this even the right person?
This is a challenge for even the most seasoned People Coach.
To uncover the true cause of the gap between what an employee is doing and what you expect in the role, you need to “evaluate for job fit.”
To assist in this detective work, I have created an article and template to guide you.
Download the “Job Fit Performance Maximizer” here.
A new software for small business owners is called “17 hats” – and I think this accurately reflects the roles of a small business owner. You are chief everything officer (sales, people, operations, marketing, accounting, customer service), cheerleader and spokesperson, and as my family says “chief bottlewasher!” (if it needs to get done, you will do it.)
So it is no wonder you feel like you don’t have time to coach your team members monthly (much less weekly).
And no doubt some people on your team are easier to coach than others, so you tend to procrastinate in delivering feedback or talking about what would challenge and motivate them.
The data is clear—employees don’t just want daily task discussions (called “Managing by Wandering Around” by Tom Peters)—
Employees want to know how they can contribute, what is the purpose of their work, feedback on results, and that there are opportunities to develop and maximize their strengths at your organization.
This means you need a development plan for each person, coupled with regular two-way discussion on their aspirations and challenging assignments that meet their desired career path. (That is what we mean when we say “coaching.”)
If all of your conversations center around “what are you working on today” then they feel ignored, and will lose interest, commitment, and engagement in your job. (Reminds me of the joke – “I feel like a mushroom, left in the dark and fed manure.”)
Ultimately these unnoticed people will seek employment elsewhere where they can feel appreciated, a sense of accomplishment and contribution.
Or worse, stay in your job as “actively disengaged” working against your team. (Read my article—Want Employees to Tune Out? Ignore Them to find out the huge cost of the disengaged).
Every small business owner or manager can be a motivational, positive, and appreciative leader and implement a rhythm of weekly coaching conversations.
You just need a blueprint and training, and the willingness to learn and get outside your comfort zone to start having real conversations with your staff.
The average manager has 2-3 weeks of paid vacation each year, but most do not use every day off.
Time Magazine cover article for the 6/1/15 edition asked “Who Killed Summer Vacation?”
In fact, this has become so prevalent, there is a commercial featuring kids asking “can we just have one more day?” Pretty heartbreaking!
Do we love our jobs so much that we can’t possibly get away for 5 days at a time? Or are we creating conditions at the office where our teams and colleagues can’t function without our genius and brilliance?
I have a global client with multiple locations in Europe. Last summer we were working on a high priority sales compensation project. I was struck by the attitude of the sales manager from France and the regional operations Director in the UK. They simply mentioned “I am on holiday those two weeks (or month)”—no apologies, no offer to call into the meeting from the beach. And somehow their divisions seemed to survive the summer, and re-emerge in the fall with plenty accomplished.
If you own the company, you truly have no excuse.
What are you doing that can’t wait 5 days?
Who can you train to make decisions while you are gone?
My mother’s wisdom applies here – she used to say “I became a manager when I opened my second store. I had to put systems and people in place, since I couldn’t be there to handle everything.”
What can you do? I say book a 10 day cruise or vacation without email or phone access, and prepare as best you can. Then leave! You would be surprised by how your team can “hold down the fort” without you.
(In fact, have everyone keep a list of things they normally would have discussed with you, but they somehow figured out … then add these things to your training plan for next quarter).
Need some tips for taking charge of your schedule?:
Read my article about how delegation actually leads to more engagement: Engagement Driver 4- Training and Development
Entrepreneur Magazine article- 12 Habits for a Better Work-Life Balance