Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are you the smart, hardworking one?

Sunday’s Orange County Register provided a nice summary of all the President-Elect Obama’s cabinet position selections to date. Twenty years ago I would have looked at the names and pictures and perhaps tried to just remember them. Sunday was somewhat different. I felt like I knew some of these people. In fact, I had met one of them (sort of). General Eric Shinseki (US Army - Retired) has been nominated to lead the Office of Veterans Affairs. I had the opportunity to listen to Gen. Shinseki speak on the topic of leadership in 2008.

The discussion that evening explored the concept of categorizing people under your command across two continuums – from smart to slow and from hardworking to lazy. The theory was that:
When you need something important accomplished but you have few resources, give it to the smart & lazy folks – they will finds the easiest way to get it done। They do not need much help and are always successful.

The bulk of all the hard work was accomplished by the hardworking & slow teammates. They carry the load and should be rewarded and recognized for this.
The smart & hardworking teammates need to be identified and given especially difficult assignments to help develop their leadership skills.
We must embrace our slow & lazy subordinates, help them find their strengths and move them to areas they can excel.

While I am not in full agreement with the General, I do respect his ability to quickly determine who to use your limited time and resources to help people. While I have found that web 2.0 technology has allowed me to expand my mentoring reach, time is still a valuable resource.

What are some ways you determine how to allocate your scarce coaching and mentoring time?


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a great discussion topic. I like the categorical breakdown of the types of employees. My challenge has always been to not overwork the smart and hardworking employees because you do not want them to burn out...avoid creating the feeling of "why should I work harder if it means I'm just going to get more work piled on?".

The best way I have found is to spend a little quality time with these "all-stars", communicate that I appreciate their effort and that I look to them to help me educate and inspire the rest of the team. Sometimes a subordinate who believes in you and can communicate that to his or her co-workers is even more effective than your most inspirational speech. Even if there is no immediate return (monetary or otherwise) for them, they know that they are valued and will be remembered when it comes to review time.

Next I go with the urgent vs. important theory. First to the employees that need work in the most immediate way, whether they are new to the organization and need to learn their first set of tasks, or (in the sales world especially) if they have an important meeting very soon I want to give them a quick dry-run to make sure they have everything they need.

From there I find that I try to give as many employees at least some of my time in any given week. The employees who need the most help should get it, but not all at once such that the others feel ignored.

I'm also a list maker, so I start my day with a list of tasks. I do my best to assign an amount of time to each one, and then try to piece together my day. Does it always go exactly according to plan? Of course not. But if you have a plan in place, you have something to fall back on when you lose track of your day.

The bottom line is always to take care of yourself first. When you need other people to help you succeed, you need to make sure that you are giving them the resources to do so.

Anonymous said...

Your insights to motivate the employees and to build a successful team are very helpful. Often I found that the supervisors spent more time with hardworking employees rather than the smart ones. Because they are reliable. As you said that the bulk of all the hard work was accomplished by the hardworking & slow teammates. They are recognized. However, it is very challenging to motivate the smart ones without the proper compensations. More often, the smart employees may not fit the supervisors' interests.

Anonymous said...

I agree that motivation is the key to successfully managing a team. Unfortunately, the methods that are needed as key motivators vary from person to person. Some factors that add even more complexity to the pot is that these motivators don't align with the work characteristics/styles discussed above, hence it is crucial for the manager to spend the time with enough tact and finess to understand his employees, and understand the key to their productivity.

James T. Parsons said...

Great post. Glad you connected to me in Linkedin since I have spent some time reading your work and I think it is insightful.

I do somewhat agree with the General and recognize that his experience is probably worth taking in (given what his leadership has done). What I have found, though, is that there are not necessarily "slow" workers completely (some are) or "dumb" workers (although some are) - or however else you want to minimize some workers. I also think there is an aspect that people all have different skill sets. A primary job of a good manager (whether they are a true "leader" as well) is as much about helping assess people's strengths and weaknesses and make sure they have each person in the best position on the team.

An example. A former co-worker of mine at the Attorney General's office was a former court reporter and incredible "detailed." In many settings she was inclined to be so "precise" that when left idle she would tend to get pissy with other co-workers about detailed issues that had no work benefit. In time most employees hated her. Because the team manager believed that the objectives (legal work) just needed to be divided up among all secretaries in the same fashion, she was quickly turned into a "bad" secretary. I always thought it was somewhat a waste of a resource, since she could have easily been used to proof a large amount of legal briefing that needed to go out - regardless of the attorney who generated it - and found a different way to use her skills.

In contrast, as an attorney I was horrible at spelling issues, but was a leading theorist on constitutional defense. One of my managers felt it was a productive use of my time to have me proof my own work for spelling mistakes, and if I left one in there, I was supposed to spend more hours trying to spot them. She was highly critical of me for "spelling" - although she had no ability to oversee my constitutional theory. A later manager, instead, realized that was not the most efficient use of my time, and instead had me second chair or assist other attorneys in many informal settings and helped them develop their theories of the case, including constitutional defenses, evidentiary arguments, etc. In that skill set, I was able to help the State of Texas develop its defense in 5 cases that had billion dollar fiscal impacts, and helped on a handful of other high-profile cases - where other highly capable attorneys missed the most important arguments, and the most important weaknesses in their own arguments.

I give these examples since I think often managers think that all players on the field ought to be interchangeable as if they were cogs. However, what good football coaches would tell you is that often success is matching each player to the position that suits them best, and then match the plays the team is running on the field to the team on the field - to help them win. If you have a lot of great wide receivers, you might have to shift your plays to take advantage of them - from plays that require rushing. If you have a huge player who isn't as fast but has great hands, don't have him play as a wide-out, but maybe shift him to tight end, or even to running back.

While I think often there are good and bad players in some sense, more often you might have good players put in bad positions for their skills - who then play badly. A good manager's job is about ensuring that people are put into positions where they can succeed, modivate them to win, and then getting out of the way as much as possible.

Tom Powers said...

Time is a struggle at times:) But you sacrifice some of your time because you believe that you are making a difference. Keep yourself in good health and you will have the energy to help others.

Kids Hope USA is an excellent mentor program for elementary students. Get them while they are young before the habits are REALLY hard to break. Those kids need character builders and many just need a friend who will listen and understand.

This probably is not the type of mentoring you are talking about but it is one of the most important to much of the youth in our schools. I believe paragraph 1 holds true to the “working” generation as well.

If you do not have enough time to do justice for the new mentee, then promote one of your mentees to be a mentor to someone else. Assist the mentee turned mentor on a regular basis, until such a time they can go it alone. Offer the mentee/mentor to call or email anytime for advice.

Beyond that if you do not have enough time - spend a little time trying to help them find a mentor.

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Sometimes is it not necessary that if the employee is hard working, he gets the promotion or even the salary in time. That happens because of the poor accounting services.

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