Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where is this “new place we are going?”

As leaders, every so often one of your team members asks you an honest question that makes you stop in your tracks and reconsider exactly what messages you are sending. Most of our LiaV community knows that I recently accepted a new executive assignment on the East Coast. It’s a great chance to use all I’ve learned in the last 30 years of aerospace manufacturing, supply chain and program management.

I arrived on the scene asking many questions, listening, meeting people and internalizing what I was hearing. These are all the things we talk about so often. After a fair amount of time, I came to conclusions of what was needed and started to point a vector in that direction. While we worked hard to find and deploy tools and processes, I also talked about the journey we are about to start. Progress was slow, but acceptable. That was until one of my long-time leaders, Tim, walked into my office very frustrated and said, “John, we understand that you are here to take us to some new place and we accept that, but can you just tell us what you expect from us?”

In a flash, it occurred to me that I was working hard within the organization on the detailed mechanics and with the leaders on the vision, but I was not as clear as I could be on what I expected differently on a day-to-day basis. It was an easy thing to correct by writing out some top-level expectations and having a team discussion. Thank goodness I took the time to build trust with Tim early so he knew he could share his frustration without risk.

Have you ever been “leading” so fast and hard that when you looked back, the team was not as close behind you as you thought? What did you do?


Anonymous said...

Call a time out and regroup.

Mimi Meredith said...

I did have a similar experience. And I was leading 20-somethings that see corporate priorities and systems differently to begin with. It could have been a disaster. Luckily, sitting down with expectations in writing--just as you did--led us to a higher level of teamwork, engagement and trust than we otherwise would have experienced. Clarity. It's so easy to think you've mastered it until you stop to say, "so, do you all see what I mean?"


One way I dealt with this issue was to put the team through a Mission and Vision exercise, which helped define and crystalize expectations. More importantly, since they helped put it together, they also "owned" it as opposed to having it cascaded down to them.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bishop, sounds like you were so focused and excited to move the organization forward that a friend (Tom) was nice enough to pull you back a step so you could see a flaw/weakness in the process. This has happened to all of us humans at one point in time. Thank goodness for solid relationships. Too often, I see leaders/managers who surround themselves with (yes) people. Diversity in the workforce also applies to who we surround ourselves with in my opinion.

Congratulations on your new position. Sounds like your making positive inroads and moving the business forward.

Good luck and God Bless.

Damodaran SUBRAMANIAN said...

Thanks for this discussion. I had the similar experience but I discoverd late, I wondered why Misson-Vision-Strategy was not taking off ! and went back and reworked.

Thanks again for the Mind(eye)opener !! , it is such a simple clue , I never thought about this

Rick Shousha said...

You need to remember that you've forgotten most of the stuff that your followers still need to learn including, as you mentioned in your question, the original goal. Not only do you have a communication problem, you also have a content problem. The real difficulty is figuring out exactly what to say and why, not just that you need to say something. Retracing your steps through your own learning process, in order to properly communicate the original goal, is the real challenge of creating teams. Then, even more interesting, is allowing your team to look carefully at the process you took and change it to make it better. Finally, the goal becomes clear and everyone knows where they are going, including yourself.

David Herriott said...

Many times, a daily stand up or huddle meeting with the team can help establish a daily norm and develop expectations and needs from both directions. It has really helped to set up a two way feedback loop of communication.

Anthony Etherton said...

Hi John,

Leading 'fast and hard'. That's a classic description of a leadership style born in the 19th Century and developed during the 20th.

It's one strategy, on any given day that one might need to employ to get 'it' done.

In our experience, hard and fast leaders tend to get get results quickly, however; those results tend not to be sustainable in the long run, because however one leads... it's the 'followers' that actually deliver the widgets.

Widget movers don't generally tend to 'like' being fast and harded... so, in our world, long term sustained change, delivery or whatever outcome you're looking for, tends to emanate from flexible leadership. Leadership which comes from the front, middle. back, centre and any other latitude or longitude on, and even in, the sphere of leadership'.

Imagine a ball, then imagine leadership springing from any point on its surface and from any point under the surface, even down to its core.

Flexible leaders can lead from any position required, and through self knowledge, and can maintain authenticity from any of those positions they choose to get the job done, at any particular time.

It's our philosophy and we're proving it works every day.

'Animals' need training, people need something else... and we're something else.



Michael Upton said...

Interesting discussion and on another outlook you must remember that in a lot of organisations, especially in manufacturing things are done repetitively, so a lot of fellow workers knowledge and skill is rope learnt. By rope learnt I refer to repetitive actions/ tasks. They know how to get the job done the way they have been taught. So to get every one on the same page you need some really good communication (as Rick mentions) and I don't mean once a month. Weekly meetings to communicate your visions until it finally sinks in and your fellow workers can almost say word perfect exactly your core aims. Pin it every where, notice boards, canteens etc. Eventually it will sink-in, in a much quicker process than of the standard and eventually, people will start adapting because they have been told too on a very regular basis. How you approach this is down to you and how much info initially you feed down again is down to you.

Let me know how it goes.

Kind regards


Jeff Pfouts said...

Not knowing the situation but hearing the question, I have to think that the roles of your leaders have or will change as the tools and processes are implemented?

Your man Tom has realized this and now wonders what is in it for him and where does it take him. Unfortunately, it is possible that the focus on the big picture has left the individual wallet shots fuzzy? I would suggest that you need to spend time with your team as a group and individually and work on defining their roles and goals within the new framework that has been created. Then as leaders they need to work with their team members to create the culture needed to take the shift to the grass roots level.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts, and I can particularly identify with today's. For many years I drove a program with the theme "Simplify, Standardise, Aggregate, and Leverage". It became a mantra in the department, and we were getting great least in certain countries. During a training session (perhaps 3-4 years into the program) with all of our European Logistics Service Coordinators, I returned to the four elements...and was asked by a participant from Germany: "What does leverage mean?" I was dumbfounded...I had overlooked that basic rule when working in an international environment: make sure they understand the words that you take for granted. I don't subscribe to the wartime adage that you can only move as the slowest ship in the're going to get blown out of the water. What it means you have to invest more time up front, in order to go faster later.
Good luck in your new assignment

Robert Schaefer said...

Move the cheese?

Johannes (Hans) Verboon said...

Unfortunately in smaller companies, not everybody is working on the same team nor in the same direction. No matter how well you communicate your goals and explain your process for open critique; others may just give lip-service and go their own way. When the new goals and processes mean a certain level of increased risk, there is even more dis-incentive to change.

Michael Upton said...

Good comment Johannes and a fair point. This normal opposition generally comes from the staff that have been with an organisation for a long time.
People like this are generally scared of change to a point where it will block their mindset into excepting change. Getting to know these people closer will only develop the relationship and hopefully with a lot of reassurance and coaching then they will drop their barriers/ defences, call them what you will and eventually begin to see the bigger picture. I think with the way technology is advancing and the amount of extreamly highly skilled individuals in the market also contribute to the barriers that are shown in certain individuals as they may fear being left behind.
I am not compare people to animals, but if strip back everything then at the end of the day we are all animals and all revert back to basic instincts when we fear something. In this instance then that fear is change. Understanding why people fear that change would be your first challenge in overcoming said barriers.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sre you have been leading fast and hard. I think you have been patient, I think you've been looking to see if your team has ideas about what they should be doing. But they are also communicating back, probably because of how they were managed previously, that they are conditioned to follow (do what they are told). So, in my terminology, you have a reasonable 'leadership 'potential' (like potential energy) at this moment because your referrent and expert power is quite high and now you have to use that to focus the group on the 'right work'. Do you know what the right work is? Or are you looking to collaborate with your team to establish that? Your intuition is telling you the sitaution is 'ripe' and I would agree with that. So buy-in, the key to the transformation (which is what I expect you were hired for) and comes working with them so that they help you establish where you are going. Imagine if this group told you where it should be going and you saw that it connected with the mandate that you have been given...much easier sell possibly than you telling them and then having to uncover hidden fears and resistance.


Dana Musser said...

I think we often do this without realizing it. I am very guilty. Until reading the book "How did that Happen?" I did not realize how often. The book gives very easy solutions to the problems.
Some that I am trying to adopt are rather simplistic due to the nature of my most challenging groups, but in the end are very worth while. Constant communications about where I am headed and if the individuals involved are okay and understand how I am getting there specific to their positions. I make sure they understand and have very clear direction and expectations, and all communications are forwarded to the entire group.
Your last point is so very important and so very often not the case. Making sure that the group is comfortable with you and trusts you can make or break a project. That often entails a lot of different things to different people but can be as simple as an open door and a smile.

Mike Osborne said...

When a leader realizes that nobody is following, it is time to ask a few questions. First, why is nobody following? Is it because they are not sure where you are going? Or perhaps they know something that you don't. Or maybe you've not given them clear and compelling reasons to follow. It may be that you are leading them at high speed towards a washed out bridge.

David L. Cain said...

Mr. Bishop, I totally understand your situation, because I have been there and I've found that so many people are afraid of change. Many are willing to adapt to a new direction, and strategy, but only if and I mean only if Senior Level Management (VP's and above) are commited. Totally behind the Direction, they thenselves have set forth. However, in your case, having the insight and understanding of the Big Picture. To get your (Team) on one page and on board, be a Straight Shooter "Tell them like it is" and share the Vision. That is where the "Rubber Hits the Road"!

Alex Kersha said...

More importantly John, I would argue that indeed your team (particularly Tom) was right behind you but not seeing the end of the tunnel. As leaders we naturally surround ourselves with those we can trust, those that we can depend on to think about something differently and offer different perspectives and finally to keep us honest about our goals and aspirations. I don't see an issue at all with the situation. Tom did exactly what you as a leader in that space would've expected from a member of your inner circle.

'Fast and hard' leadership isn't an issue so long as the members of your team are on the same express train. If they aren't, you've chosen the wrong people to be with you.

Alex Kersha

Rod Satre said...

I made sure the ones remaining bought into the "program" and wished those that did not well in their new carreers, elsewhere. They would self "filter out."

You give folks a shot, hope and encouragement, but don't think everyone needs to love you. Keep the ones that share the excitement!

John Bushling said...

Actually, you hit the first keys exactly right.

1) Go in and discover. What has worked, what hasn't, what's in process. Watch, ask, listen, learn. (Virtually no one will follow the 'know it all' who hasn't taken the time.) It's a TPS principle.

2) Build trust via openess and communication.

Most leaders have been or perceive that they have been successful doing what they have always done. When a 'newbie' comes in with 'the plan', they will almost always push back. This becomes especially hard if they feel the plan intimates that they have been unsuccessful.


3) Make sure the leadership team knows the plan, and knows how they fit. What are they going to bring to the table? How are their strengths going to come into play?

4) Outline their training going forward so that they are their as part of the new process rather than inspite of it.


Jimmy Estrada said...

Although I am not a leader in corporate America, I am a leader in my campus community. I believe that in order for someone to become an effective leader, one of the most important characteristics they must have is that connection with people, which is trust. An effective leader is able to building a level of comfort with those around them so that even though their peers recognize them as a leader, they are able to approach their leader like they would any other person. Communication is one of the simplest skills in the world but not a lot of people know how to communicate very well.

In my past experience as Program Coordinator for a tutoring program, I worked with a team of students to run a marketing campaign in the surrounding school districts. It was one of my first leadership positions. I quickly learned that in order to be an effective leader, it takes a lot more than just giving orders and bossing people around. In the beginnings of the marketing campaign there wasn't a lot of teamwork and progression. Then after sitting down and talking to one of my team members, who also happened to be one of my closest friends, I learned that everyone did not really know what to do. After this I had a meeting with everyone about the situation. I started to check up on my team members more and talk to them more on a friendly basis. The greater connection I had with my team the more progress and success we seemed to be making in our campaign. I also noticed that my team members approached me more rather than talk to my closest friend. This experience showed me how important communication can be.

Anonymous said...

HI John,
(I am a firm believer in the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: ‘Do not follow the beaten path; go where there is no path, and leave a trail). I am a true believer that a manager or executive is only good as the people he hires below him. Several things that I have noticed in Manufacturing over the last decade are as follows:
(1).Very High % of Manager's or Executives does not know how to perform the duties of their subordinates. Just because one knows how to manage a business or department does not necessarily mean they know how to manage people. How well do your managers manage their staff?
(2). Several Managers and Executives I have encountered are afraid to make a decision. They depend on to many factors, and are unsure of their own capabilities. Try to fit the square peg in the round hole. Meaning the people they manage are afraid! (This is why my clients enjoy working with me; I can see the big picture).
(3). There is the creative, the risk takers, the entrepreneur’s. and the out of the box thinker's, than there are those who are close minded, and don't like change, and don't know how to communicate. What level is your Management staff at? Sometimes cleaning house is necessary.

I wish you the best

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Bishop,

you're the new shepherd and were walking and looking for the most wonderful green meadow for your flock until you found it. But somehow you were moving quicker than your old dogs could chase the sheep behind you.

So what are you going to do? You know where you are!

So, just go back and tell the dogs and sheep how wonderful green that meadows is and that you're going now all together and maybe make that one old dog to the mission/vision leader.

Concerning day-to-day business: If you're leading dog now does not know now how to get the flock to that meadow you have probably to shoot him.

With kind regards,

Curt Farrell said...

You've identified what I believe is one of two the most common problems associated with leadership""...but can you just tell us what you expect from us?”. Everyone needs to understand what they are expected to provide, the acceptable quality, and when it must be provided.

The second problem is related to your comment "..when you looked back, the team was not as close behind you as you thought?" This often results from inadequate attention to the 3 things identified above. But it can also result because people don't know how to do what they are expected to do and wind up on a track that diverges from an acceptable approach. I think any successful leader must make sure the expectations are consistent with an individual's capabilities. If not you may find yourself getting too involved in the day-to-day activities. Also, leaders should not assume the only way to do something is the way with which they are familiar.

Focus should first be on expectations and then on facilitating (not mandating) the "how"

Anthony said...

A common mistake I thik the majority of strong leaders make is as you describe in your scenario. My assessment over time is that when leaders surround ourselves with a strong team we trust we fall into the mindset that because of the trust and time together, that they know what we want or what our long term strategy is; without us communicating it. I find myself doing it every day with my manufacturing team. I know where I want to go and be by end of shift, they are experienced in this (some as long as 40 years), but they still need me to tell them where I want to be.

Commanders at all levels in the military (in my experience) write the Commander's Intent into operations orders. This clearly defines, for the staff and subordinant commanders, what the intent is and what the end state is. When assuming command we issue a Command Philosophy, again, clarifies for your unit your own philosophy of command, how you intend to command, and how you expect your subordinate leaders to do the same. For me, it was an opportunity to fill in between the lines so my leaders didn't have to figure out how I think, then they can plan 1 to 2 levels up knowing (in general) what my follow on question would be or what my macro view was in order to help them work through the decision making process.

At the end of the day, communicate what's in your head because even your most trusted team members can't read your mind.

Anonymous said...

It was been a while since I have had a dialogue with you. (I hope that you are enjoying Philli). It is interesting that I should see your post today (although you posted it 3 weeks ago). Just today we had a discussion of "Theory X" Vs. "Theory Y" employees and management styles. Perhaps I am the glass half full optimist, but I had initially taken the approach that myself and most of my peers are in the Y category...(Possessing the ability for creative problem solving, and given the proper conditions employees will learn to seek out and accept responsibility and to exercise self-control and self-direction in accomplishing objectives to which they are committed. Given the right conditions, most people will want to do well at work).

Some of my peers were complaining that they are not getting clear signals from their management. While I've always preferred the approach of getting (or giving) directional input (with minimal specifics),... and then stand back. (I have always felt that managements role is to remove obstacles, and not create them; so that the staff is better able to do what they are good at). The managers have more important things to do besides micro-manage.

So, I'll admit that it is a bit disheartening to hear you say that even at the Sr leadership level the message signals get crossed. I keep forgetting that our leaders are human too...not super-human

Mathew Anderson said...

Daily stand up meetings provide an excellent channel for day to day status. Emphasis must be placed on each team member's contributions to short and long term goals. Maintaining an open and easily accessible "Big Picture", ideally something visual with periodic updates from daily stand ups, provides long term guidance for the team and a potential forum for comments. This maintenance may even be delegated, creating at least one other person with a deep understanding of the team's vector.
In the software world, "Agile Programming Methods" fulfill these requirements. Through daily stand up meetings, each team member becomes aware of what their colleagues are doing and how their own work contributes to the project. "Agile Programming" also encourages team members to become mutable, teaching them to rapidly develop new (and reuse existing) solutions. Daily meetings and weekly reviews quickly highlight strengths and weaknesses of all team members; revealing the "go-to" people for various situations and decentralizing execution to a large degree without compromising the "Big Picture".
Adopting "Agile Programming Methods", although shocking at first, improved productivity and morale. It would be interesting to see the underlying concepts extrapolated and formalized beyond the Software discipline.

Anonymous said...

Hi John, This is a smattering of things I needed to ensure success with my executive team. Good Luck... I'm now enjoying retirement.

My PMO was rated “red” when I arrived on-site; removal of the Executive Team was imminent.

Acted decisively by establishing key relationships with the client’s VP of IT and all project sponsors; consolidated multiple projects by business to ensure that each client Program Manager interfaced with one and only one member of my staff. Client rating of my PMO went from “red to green” within four (4) months of my tenure.

I Developed a quantitative methodology for prioritizing 77 projects under consideration; factors included project timing, risk, infrastructure fit, business strategy fit, and the potential for process improvement.

Business Capture. Brought on board by the division president to capture the B-52 Infrared Camera Program. In addition to my functional duties I routinely facilitated weekly Program Reviews, mentored to the capture team, and provided periodic briefings to Senior Management. B-52 IR Camera Program successfully captured. As assigned by the Division President I also successfully captured the Army’s TOW III Program for a sister division in Pennsylvania.

Openly engage others in transformation initiatives. Formed and led Corporate Steering Committee to improve enterprise-wide business processes. Appointed by the division president to lead Engineering Process Improvement.

Lead transformation by visualizing the future and engaging others. When I joined Loral Electronics I was aghast at the poor quality that existed in the RF Supplier community. Reject rates for RF components were as high as 90% and I was under intense pressure to succeed. I proposed instituting thermal shock and random vibration on all RF components.

The first instincts from my senior management team were to oppose my initiative.

I presented the experience learned stemming from my reliability consulting work with the Joint Logistics Commanders, which enabled them to visualize the end game.

Over the course of the next several years the yields on RF components rose dramatically. But it took more than screening, I also had to improve business operations and build a strong committed top team.

Improving business operations. Further complicating matters at Loral was geography; many RF suppliers were on the west coast; and our US Air Force customer was conducting flight testing in the Florida pan-handle. To improve business operations I put in place a state-of-the-art failure analysis laboratory in our New York facility and simultaneously opened a west coast field reliability office aimed at improving the quality from our RF component vendors, and opened a quality and reliability program management field office in Florida to customer support flight-testing.

Business capture. As assigned by SVP, I mentored to Business Capture program team successfully capturing ALR-56M Radar Warning Receiver Program. Good Luck, enjoy, smell the coffee and pay attention to your family . Lou Nevola, Defense Industry Exec...

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