Posts Tagged ‘Management’

In business, we seem to focus less on management skills than the more glamorous and exciting work of leadership. However, while leaders may bring us vision, inspiration and challenge, these things need proper support and efficient implementation. That’s what the practice of management is about.

Managers are responsible for making sure things are done right. Therefore, effective management is an essential complement to effective leadership – and is vital for organizational success.

How Good Are Your Management Skills? Are you getting the best out of your team?

And, just as the importance of management is wide ranging, so is its scope. Managers must have an extensive set of skills – from planning and delegation to communication and motivation. Because the skill set is so wide, it’s tempting to build skills in the areas of management that you’re already comfortable with. But, for your long-term success, it’s wise to analyze your skills in all of the areas related to effective management – and then challenge yourself to make improvements in all areas.

This quiz helps you quickly identify areas of strength and weakness, so that you can capitalize on the former and manage the latter. We then direct you to resources that you can use to develop your skills still further.

How Good Are Your Management Skills?

Take this test online by visiting http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_28.htm, or on paper by circling the number in the column that most applies. If you take the test online, your results will be calculated for you automatically.

Statement Not
at all
Rarely Some
times
Often Very
Often
1. When I have a problem, I try to solve it myself before asking my boss what to do. 1 2 3 4 5
2. When I delegate work, I give it to whoever has the most time available. 5 4 3 2 1
3. I follow up with team members whenever I see that their behavior has a negative impact on customer service. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I make decisions following careful analysis, rather than relying on gut instinct. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I let my team members figure out for themselves how best to work together – teams are a work in progress! 5 4 3 2 1
6. I wait before disciplining a team member, so that people have a chance to correct their behaviors for themselves. 5 4 3 2 1
7. Technical skills are the most important skills that I need to be an effective manager. 5 4 3 2 1
8. I spend time talking with my team about what’s going well and what needs improving. 1 2 3 4 5
9. In meetings, I take on the role of moderator/facilitator when necessary, and I help my team reach a better understanding of the issue or reach consensus. 1 2 3 4 5
10. I fully understand how the business processes in my department operate, and I’m working to eliminate bottlenecks. 1 2 3 4 5
11. When putting together a team, I consider the skills I need – and then I seek people who best fit my criteria. 1 2 3 4 5
12. I do all that I can to avoid conflict in my team. 5 4 3 2 1
13. I try to motivate people within my team by tailoring my approach to motivation to match each individual’s needs. 1 2 3 4 5
14. When my team makes a significant mistake, I update my boss on what has happened, and then I think of it as an important lesson learned. 1 2 3 4 5
15. When conflict occurs within a new team, I accept it as an inevitable stage in the team development process. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I talk to team members about their individual goals, and I link these to the goals of the entire organization. 1 2 3 4 5
17. If I’m putting a team together, I select people with similar personalities, ages, time with the company, and other characteristics. 5 4 3 2 1
18. I think that the statement “If you want a job done well, do it yourself” is true. 5 4 3 2 1
19. I talk with team members as individuals to ensure that they’re happy and productive. 1 2 3 4 5
20. I brief my team members so that they know what’s going on around them in the organization 1 2 3 4 5

Score Interpretation

Now add up the scores you’ve circled.

My score overall is: out of 100

 

Score Comment
20-46 You need to improve your management skills urgently. If you want to be effective in a leadership role, you must learn how to organize and monitor your team’s work. Now is the time to start developing these skills to increase your team’s success! Find out how below.
47-73 You’re on your way to becoming a good manager. You’re doing some things really well, and these are likely the things you feel comfortable with. Now it’s time to work on the skills that you’ve been avoiding. Focus on the areas where your score was low, and figure out what you can do to make the improvements you need.
74-100 You’re doing a great job managing your team. Now you should concentrate on improving your skills even further. In what areas did you score a bit low? That’s where you can develop improvement goals. Also, think about how you can take advantage of these skills to reach your career goals.

Effective management requires a wide range of skills, and each of these skills complements the others. Your goal should be to develop and maintain all of these skills, so that you can help your team accomplish its objectives efficiently and effectively. Read on for ideas and resources that you can use to do this.

A Model of Effective Management

Our quiz is based on eight essential skill areas where managers should focus their efforts. By covering these basics, you’ll enjoy more success as a team manager:

  • Understanding team dynamics and encouraging good relationships.
  • Selecting and developing the right people.
  • Delegating effectively.
  • Motivating people.
  • Managing discipline and dealing with conflict.
  • Communicating.
  • Planning, making decisions, and problem solving.
  • Avoiding common managerial mistakes.

We’ll explore each of these in more detail.

Understanding Team Dynamics and Encouraging Good Relationships
(Questions 5, 15, 17)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 5
Statement 15
Statement 17
Total Out of 15

Good management means understanding how teams operate. It’s worth remembering that teams usually follow a certain pattern of development: forming, norming, storming, and performing. It’s important to encourage and support people through this process, so that you can help your team become fully effective as quickly as possible.

When forming teams, managers must create a balance so that there’s a diverse set of skills, personalities, and perspectives. You may think it’s easier to manage a group of people who are likely to get along, but truly effective teams invite many viewpoints, and use their differences to be creative and innovative.

Here, your task is to develop the skills needed to steer those differences in a positive direction. This is why introducing a team charter and knowing how to resolve team conflict (members) are so useful for managing your team effectively.

Selecting and Developing the Right People (Questions 11, 17)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 11
Statement 17
Total Out of 10

Finding great new team members, and developing the skills needed for your team’s success is another important part of team formation.

You can improve your recruiting skills with our Recruiting Skills Bite-Sized Training pack (members), and with our articles on Hiring People – Questions to Ask (members), InBox Assessment, Using Recruitment Tests (members) and Aptitude Testing (members).

And you can develop people’s skills with our articles on, among others, Successful Induction (members), Understanding Developmental Needs (members), Training Needs Assessment (members), and the GROW Model. You’ll also find our Bite-Sized Training session on Mentoring Skills (members) useful.

Delegating Effectively (Question 2, 18)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 2
Statement 18
Total Out of 10

Having the right people with the right skills isn’t sufficient for a team’s success. Managers must also know how to get the job done efficiently. Delegation is the key to this. Some managers, especially those who earned their positions based on their technical expertise, try to do most of the work themselves. They think that, because they’re responsible for the work, they should do it themselves to make sure it’s done right.

Effective managers recognize that by assigning work to the right people (not just those with the most time available), and clearly outlining expectations, teams can accomplish much more. But it’s often difficult to trust others to do the job. As a manager, remember that when your team members have the right skills, training and motivation, you can usually trust them to get the work done right.

Find out your strengths and weaknesses related to delegation by taking quiz How Well Do You Delegate?

Motivating People (Question 13, 19)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 13
Statement 19
Total Out of 10

Another necessary management skill is motivating others. It’s one thing to motivate yourself, but it’s quite another to motivate someone else.

The key thing to remember is that motivation is personal: we’re all motivated by different things, and we all have different levels of personal motivation. So, getting to know your team members on a personal level allows you to motivate your people better. Providing feedback (members) on a regular basis is a very powerful strategy to help you stay informed about what’s happening with individual team members. You can test your motivation skills with our quiz, and use your answers to develop your skills further.

Managing Discipline and Dealing with Conflict (Questions 3, 6, 12)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 3
Statement 6
Statement 12
Total Out of 15

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there are problems with individual performance. As a manager, you have to deal with these promptly. If you don’t discipline, you risk negative impacts on the rest of the team as well as your customers, as poor performance typically impacts customer service, and it hurts the team and everything that the team has accomplished. It’s very demotivating to work beside someone who consistently fails to meet expectations, so if you tolerate it, the rest of the team will likely suffer. In our article on team management skills (members), we explore this issue in further detail and give you some examples.

Team performance will also suffer when differences between individual team members turn into outright conflict, and it’s your job as team manager to facilitate a resolution. Read our article on Resolving Team Conflict (members) for a three-step process for doing this. However, conflict can be positive when it highlights underlying structural problems – make sure that you recognize conflict and deal with its causes, rather than just suppressing its symptoms or avoiding it.

Communicating (Question 8, 9, 16, 20)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 8
Statement 9
Statement 16
Statement 20
Total Out of 20

An element that’s common to all of these management skills is effective communication. This is critical to any position you hold, but as a manager, it’s especially important (you can test your communication skills with our quiz here). You need to let your team know what’s happening and keep them informed as much as possible. Team briefing (members) is a specific communication skill that many managers should improve. Also, develop the ability to facilitate effectively, so that you can guide your team to a better understanding and serve as a moderator when necessary.

Planning, Problem Solving and Decision-Making (Questions 4 and 10)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 4
Statement 10
Total Out of 10

Many managers are very comfortable with planning, problem solving and decision making, given that they’re often skilled specialists who’ve been promoted because of their knowledge and analytical abilities. As such, one of the most important issues that managers experience is that they focus so intensely on these skills when they think about self-development that they fail to develop their people skills and team management skills. Make sure that you don’t focus on these skills too much!

However, if you need to develop these skills, see our major sections on Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Project Management. You’ll find many rich skills improvement resources in these areas.

Avoiding Common Managerial Mistakes (Questions 1, 7, 14)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 1
Statement 7
Statement 14
Total Out of 15

Good communication helps you develop facilitation skills, and it also helps you avoid some of the most common problems for managers. Some of these common mistakes are thinking that you can rely on your technical skills alone, asking your boss to solve your problems, putting your boss in the awkward position of having to defend you, and not keeping your boss informed. Our article on Team Management Skills (members) highlights what to do to avoid these, and other managerial problems that you should be aware of.

As we said earlier, management and leadership are closely linked, and each complements the other. To learn more about leadership and to assess your leadership skills, complete our quiz How Good Are Your Leadership Skills?

Key Points

You need to develop and improve your managerial skills on an ongoing basis as your career develops and as you meet new managerial challenges.

Whether you manage a department or a project team, it’s important to know how to get the work done right. When you’re asked to achieve something with the help of others, it’s complex – and you spend much of your time managing relationships instead of doing the actual work. So, you must develop not only your technical skills, but your management skills as well.

Delegating, motivating, communicating, and understanding team dynamics are some of the key skills needed. With those skills, along with patience and a strong sense of balance, you can become a very effective manager.

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Mentoring from a Mentor’s Perspective

Building a high-performing team is a key part of being an effective leader. And this includes helping individuals within your team learn, grow, and become more effective in their jobs; which is why mentoring is such an important leadership skill.

But what does mentoring involve? And what do you need to consider before setting up mentoring relationships? In this article, we’ll highlight some things a mentor does and doesn’t do, and we’ll help you decide how far mentoring is right for you and your team.

Motivate yourself! Mentoring is a key element in developing your people

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The “mentor” is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience and advice with a less experienced person, or “mentee.”

Mentors become trusted advisers and role models – people who have “been there” and “done that.” They support and encourage their mentees by offering suggestions and knowledge, both general and specific. The goal is to help mentees improve their skills and, hopefully, advance their careers.

What are the Benefits of Mentoring?

Mentoring can be rewarding for you, both personally and professionally. Through it, not only can you build a stronger and more successful team, but you can also improve your leadership and communication skills, learn new perspectives and ways of thinking, and gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction.

For potential mentees, the benefits of mentoring can be huge. They get focused coaching and training from a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced individual, and they also get assistance and advice in navigating the many tricky situations that can arise in the workplace. This can help them work more effectively, overcome obstacles, and break through blockages that would otherwise slow or stall their careers.

But even if you understand the benefits of mentoring and it sounds like a great idea, you have to decide whether this sort of time-consuming, in-depth relationship is right for you and for the person you’re thinking of mentoring. If the mentoring relationship has arisen informally and spontaneously, then the chances are that things are fine. However, if you’re taking a more formal approach to mentoring, it’s worth exploring your reasons for mentoring and asking yourself whether you want to take this type of commitment further.

To do so, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is mentoring the best way of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes the potential mentee needs? Or would other approaches be quicker or more effective?
  • How will mentoring contribute toward your own career goals, and to the goals of your team and your organization?
  • Is mentoring a particular individual a good use of your time? And are you comfortable that you’ll be able to devote time to him or her on a regular basis?
  • Do you have knowledge, skills and experience that the mentee is likely to find helpful?
  • How much personal satisfaction are you likely to get from the relationship? Does this justify your involvement? And do you like the individual enough to want to invest time in mentoring him or her on a regular basis?
  • In what areas are you willing to help? Are there any areas that you don’t want to go near?

What You Should Consider

Although you may want to jump right in with both feet, make sure that you also think about these practical considerations:

  • Formality of approach – Do you want to take a relaxed, ad hoc approach to mentoring, or do you want to approach sessions in a more structured, formal way?
  • Frequency of contact – How much time can you commit to this relationship?
    • Can you meet (however you do that) weekly? Biweekly? Once a month?
    • How long can you spend in each meeting? Half an hour? An hour? More?
    • Do you want to be available between “formal” sessions?
  • Method of contact – Would you prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or emails? If you were to use phone calls, who places the call?
  • Duration of partnership – Do you want to limit the length of the mentoring partnership? Do you want to set regular intervals to review whether you’re both happy with the relationship, or do you just want to informally review progress on an ongoing basis?
  • Confidentiality – How will you approach confidential business information? Think of ways to speak about general concepts and situations while maintaining confidentiality.

Where to Draw the Line

When developing a mentoring relationship, make sure you have clear boundaries of what you can and cannot do for the mentee.

Answer the above questions to help yourself define the boundaries for the relationship. Then, when you’re meeting, you’ll better understand your own mindset – what areas you’re interested in covering, and what you will and will not do.

Take the lead on where you’ll allow the mentoring relationship to go and what ground you’ll cover. As a general guide, focus on your expertise and experience. If anything is beyond your skills and abilities, refer the mentee to another expert.

For example, if a discussion about human resources issues raises a concern about employment law, consider sending your mentee to an internal expert or attorney. If conversations about work problems lead into personal or family problems, the mentee may need more focused professional help from a psychologist or therapist.

As a mentor, you can become the mentee’s confidante and adviser. You may be called upon to be a “sounding board” for all sorts of issues and concerns. So know in advance how you’re going to deal with difficult situations.

Key Points

By mentoring effectively, you can do a lot to improve the performance of key individuals within your team, thereby helping yourself reach team and organizational goals. Mentoring can also give you a great overall sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that you’re helping someone else learn and grow on a professional and personal level.

Before you begin a mentoring partnership, it’s useful to think about your reasons for becoming a mentor and the practical considerations and logistics of such a relationship. If you decide that mentoring is right for you, the time and effort that you put into it can reap great rewards that far exceed your expectations.

Identifying sources of short-term stress

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Log your stress events.

You’re tired. You’ve had a hard commute. The office receptionist was grumpy and curt when you arrived at work, and you’ve already dealt with two minor crises today. Then a member of your team spills his coffee over some important work.

Should you have snapped at him? Probably not, but it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” at a time when you were really stressed.

So how can you reduce the levels of stress you experience, so that you can deal with problems in a calm, gracious way; and improve the quality of your life at the same time?

This is where Stress Diaries are useful for understanding the causes of short-term stress that you experience. They help you target and manage the most significant sources of stress in your life, and they help you think about how you handle stress, so that you can learn to deal with it better.

Introducing Stress Diaries

The idea behind Stress Diaries is that, on a regular basis, you record information about the stresses you are experiencing, so that you can identify repeating patterns and then manage them. This is important because these stresses often flit in and out of our minds without getting the attention and focus that they deserve.

As well as helping you capture and analyze the most common sources of stress in your life, Stress Diaries help you to understand:

  • The causes of stress in more detail.
  • How much stress you can tolerate before your performance starts to suffer.
  • How you react to stress, and whether your reactions are appropriate and useful.

Stress Diaries, therefore, give you the important information that you need to manage stress.

Using the Tool:

Stress Diaries are useful in that they gather information regularly and routinely, over a period of time. This helps you to separate the common, routine stresses from those that only occur occasionally. By targeting repeating or major sources of stress, you can hopefully significantly reduce overall stress levels with a minimum amount of effort.

Download free Stress Diary template and make regular entries in your Stress Diary, for example, every hour. (If you have any difficulty remembering to do this, set an alarm to remind you to make your next diary entry.) Also make an entry in your Stress Diary after each incident that is stressful enough for you to feel that it is significant.

Aim to keep the diary for several days or a week. Every time you make an entry, record the following information:

  • The date and time of the entry.
  • The most recent stressful event you have experienced since the last entry.
  • How happy you feel now, using a subjective assessment on a scale of -10 (the most unhappy you have ever been) to +10 (the happiest you have been). As well as this, write down the mood you are feeling now.
  • How effectively you are working now (this is a subjective assessment, on a scale of 0 to 10). A 0 here would show complete ineffectiveness, while a 10 would show the greatest effectiveness you have ever achieved.
  • The fundamental cause of the stress (being as honest and objective as possible).

You may also want to note:

  • How stressed you feel now, again on a subjective scale of 0 to 10. As before, 0 here would be the most relaxed you have ever been, while 10 would show the greatest stress you have ever experienced.
  • The symptom you felt (e.g. “butterflies in your stomach”, anger, headache, raised pulse rate, sweaty palms, etc.).
  • How well you handled the event: Did your reaction help solve the problem, or did it inflame it?

Analyzing the Diary

At the end of the period, analyze the diary in the following ways:

  • First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. List the types of stress that you experienced by frequency, with the most frequent stresses at the top of the list.

    Next, prepare a second list with the most unpleasant stresses at the top of the list and the least unpleasant at the bottom.

    Looking at your lists of stresses, those at the top of each list are the most important ones to deal with.

    Working through these, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stressful event. Do these show you areas where you handled stress poorly, and could improve your stress management skills? If so, list these.

  • Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List these.
  • Finally, look at how you felt when you were under stress. Look at how it affected your happiness and your effectiveness, understand how you behaved, and think about how you felt.

Having analyzed your diary, you should fully understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life. You should also know the sort of situations that cause you stress so that you can prepare for them and manage them well.

As well as this, you should now understand how you react to stress, and the symptoms that you show when you are stressed. When you experience these symptoms in the future, this should be a trigger for you to use appropriate stress management techniques.

Tip:
You will reap the real benefits of having a stress diary in the first few days or weeks. After this, the returns you’ll get for each additional day or week will diminish.

If, however, your lifestyle changes, or you begin to suffer from stress again in the future, then it’s worth using the diary approach again, as you’ll probably find that the stresses you face have changed. If this is the case, then keep a Stress Diary again – this will help you to develop the approach you need to deal with the new sources of stress.

Taking Action

There’s no point knowing these things unless you take action on them. Make a plan for dealing with the most important sources of stress that you identify, and put the first actions in this plan onto your To Do List or Action Program. And where you find that you need to improve your stress management skills, make sure these are on the plan too.

Also, don’t feel that you’re being self-indulgent by working on this plan as part of your job: If you’re happier, your team will be happier, people will be more motivated, and everyone will be more effective and more productive.

Summary

Stress Diaries help you to get a good understanding of the routine, short-term stresses that you experience in your life. They help you to identify the most important, and most frequent, stresses that you experience, so that you can concentrate your efforts on these. They also help you to identify areas where you need to improve your stress management skills, and help you to understand the levels of stress at which you are happiest, and most effective.

To keep a stress diary, make a regular diary entry with the headings above – it’s often best if you do this every hour. Also make entries after stressful events.

Analyze the diary to identify the most frequent and most serious stresses that you experience. Use it also to identify areas where you can improve your management of stress.

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Soft skills enhance your technical skills.

In almost all jobs, your people skills – also known as “soft skills” – have as much of an impact on your success as your technical skills. That’s especially true when you’re in a management or leadership role.

The importance of having solid people skills transcends industry and profession; so, whether you lead people, aspire to lead people, or work within a team of professionals, you need to apply people skills to achieve your objectives.

So, how good are your people skills? Take this short quiz to assess your current skill levels. Once you’ve answered these questions, we can then point you toward specific tools and resources that you can use to develop and improve this important area of competency.

How Good Are Your People Skills?

Statement Not
at all
Rarely Some
times
Often Very
Often
1 I ensure that I display the same standards of behavior that I expect from other people. 1 2 3 4 5
2 When providing feedback, I wait until I’ve observed enough incidents of a behavior to make a generalized statement that is accurate. 5 4 3 2 1
3 I go along with others’ decisions rather than inject my ideas into the mix. 5 4 3 2 1
4 I say “thank you” to the people I work with. 1 2 3 4 5
5 During times of conflict I think about how to preserve the relationship and still get my needs met. 1 2 3 4 5
6 While actively talking with someone, I have composed my answer before they have finished speaking. 5 4 3 2 1
7 I look out for myself at work and do what is necessary to get ahead. 5 4 3 2 1
8 I think about how others perceive a problem or issue. 1 2 3 4 5
9 I speak first, and think later. 5 4 3 2 1
10 I collaborate with others to solve problems using a variety of problem solving tools and techniques. 1 2 3 4 5
11 I cause more harm than good when trying to resolve a conflict. 5 4 3 2 1
12 When someone gives me feedback, I ask him or her to provide examples so that I can better understand the issue. 1 2 3 4 5
13 I pay attention to other people’s body language. 1 2 3 4 5
14 Where team agreement is necessary, I figure out the best solution to a problem and then explain why it’s the right decision. 5 4 3 2 1
15 I study my audiences’ needs, decide what I want to say and then figure out the best way to say it. 1 2 3 4 5
16 I make sure everyone knows about my contribution to a positive outcome. 5 4 3 2 1

Score Interpretation

Now add up the scores you’ve circled.

My score overall is: out of 80
Score Comment
16-36 Your technical skills may have taken precedence over your people skills in your career to date. You aren’t making the most of the relationships you have at work, and this may be limiting your career growth. It’s time to assess how you can work better with others in the workplace and develop a more collaborative, understanding, and open approach to getting your needs met – while still achieving team and organizational objectives.
37-58 You recognize that working well with others in the workplace is important; and you are trying to work collaboratively while still making sure your needs are met. There is room for improvement, however, as old habits may creep in during times of stress and pressure. Make a plan to work actively on your people skills so that they form the natural basis for how you approach workplace relationships.
59-80 Your people skills are good. You understand the give and take involved in working well with other people. You might not always approach situations perfectly, however you have a sufficiently good understanding to know when and where you need to take steps to rectify things. Keep working on your people skills, and set an example for the rest of your team. And take some time to work on the specific areas below where you lost points.

The quiz assesses your skills according to the four main themes below. Review your scores for each theme, and read more where you need to.

Interpersonal Communication Skills (Statements 6, 9, 13, 15)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 6
Statement 9
Statement 13
Statement 15
Total Out of 20

Very many people spend more time working with other people than they do working on their own. This means that they need to communicate well with others, and this means that communication skills are some of the most important skills in the workplace.

Some of the key communication stumbling blocks to be aware of include:

  • Message barriers:These occur when the person communicating fails to communicate clearly.If you find that you often confuse people, then a good starting point for fixing this is to figure out what you want to say. Do you want to persuade? Are you trying to motivate? Are you simply informing? Or are you attempting to build a relationship? The purpose of your communication will largely determine what you say and how you say it, and   article on Communications Planning shows you how to prepare for a variety of communication exchanges.
  • Receiving barriers:These barriers occur on the receiver’s end of the communication, and they typically result from ineffective listening. We hear and understand faster than we speak, and this can lead to boredom and a wandering mind when on the listening end of communication.To combat this you should try to listen actively to what the speaker is saying. When you engage in active listening, you respond in a way that makes it clear that you understand the feelings and intent of the speaker. In article Active Listening, you’ll find some useful guidelines to follow when you are on the receiving end of communication.
  • Decoding barriers:Here the real message is not fully grasped or translated because of misperceptions, misinterpretations or missing information.The most common problem here is with mismatched non-verbal communication. A lot of non-verbal communication is unconscious – meaning that the sender isn’t aware of the messages he or she is sending, yet these messages can reveal a great deal about the way that someone is thinking.If you can learn to understand people’s non-verbal communication, you can improve your people skills significantly. Article on Body Language will show you how to understand other people’s non-verbal communication – and manage your own.

Managing Differences (Statements 3, 5, 8, 11)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 3
Statement 5
Statement 8
Statement 11
Total Out of 20

People can seem to disagree about almost anything – what caused a problem, how to solve it, what values are right, what values are wrong, what goals should be pursued; the list goes on! On top of this, you have the personal, non-job-related differences between people that lead to obvious differences in outlook and approach.

Because of this, respecting and managing the differences between people can be one of the most important skills you can develop! Indeed, it can be a huge advantage if you can learn to celebrate and enjoy differences, and make them work to your advantage.

Key to this is recognizing that, in many cases, conflict is not “bad”. In fact, conflict often causes significant, positive change. It spawns creative and novel approaches to problem solving, and can actually improve organizational performance if managed properly. In article Resolving Team Conflict, we discuss how you can build stronger teams by facing and embracing personal differences. And then, with article Conflict Resolution tool, we outline how to use the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach for solving interpersonal issues. Both of these articles outline how you can emerge from conflict with strong and healthy relationships.

When resolving conflict, it helps a lot if you can understand other people’s needs and points of view – this can often help you find solutions that may otherwise not have occurred to you. And when you take the time to understand another person’s perspective, you are demonstrating your willingness to work together to find a solution. Articles on Empathy at Work and Perceptual Positions can help you develop this aspect of people skills.

Finally, you need to be appropriately assertive if you’re going to manage differences effectively. Aggression is clearly counter-productive if you’re trying to resolve conflict, but also, if you fail to recognize your own needs in a situation, you run the risk of agreeing to a solution that works against your own interests. Again, it’s important to remember that differences aren’t necessarily negative, so suppressing your thoughts and ideas just to come to an easy agreement isn’t efficient. You can read more about assertiveness in the article here. And Yes to the Person, No to the Task is a useful approach to use in everyday situations where you need to manage differences assertively and effectively.

Managing Agreement (Statements 2, 10, 12, 14)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 2
Statement 10
Statement 12
Statement 14
Total Out of 20

While managing differences may be an obvious application of people skills, managing agreement may not seem to be. However, helping people come to agreement is important, and it needs a great deal of skill!

“Synergy” is one of the most important things that you’re looking for with teamwork. This is where the team’s output is better or greater than the sum of each individual’s input. To achieve synergy, you need to get people working together collaboratively.

If you’ve ever participated in a team decision-making process, you probably realize that reaching a decision by yourself can be much more straightforward! The problem with individual decision-making, though, is that you miss out on all of the insights that other people can give. With strong people skills, you don’t need to back away from collaborative situations: you can approach team meetings with a genuinely positive attitude!

Tip:
When you’re engaging in group decision-making, make sure you avoid the common pitfalls. See article on Groupthink for more!

Part of this involves feeling comfortable with different kinds of questions, and with when to use them, and how. In article on Questioning Techniques, we look at open and closed questions, as well as other common types of question that you can use to keep conversation flowing and get the specific information you need.

As well as this, it’s useful to have a good selection of  Problem Solving Tools in your arsenal. When you are confident in your ability to find solutions you will be more likely to participate in these conversations and add value to your team. In  article Opening Closed Minds, we can see how to get your point across effectively, so that you can reach the agreement you are seeking. These types of tools will give you the confidence you need to confront differences, knowing that you can also manage the agreement side of the equation.

Another aspect of managing agreement relates to feedback. When given poorly, people reject feedback: it’s viewed as destructive criticism, and it can damage relationships. Delivered well, however, feedback can lead to an improved understanding of one another’s needs and perspectives, as well as improving performance and productivity. Look at this in detail in article, Giving and Receiving Feedback. Also, in article looking at the Johari Window we outline a great technique for increasing interpersonal understanding through self-disclosure.

The bottom line is that, to develop strong people skills, you need to be able to accept what others are saying and learn from this. Not only will this help you personally, it will help you relate openly and honestly with others.

Personal Integrity (Statements 1, 4, 7, 16)

For statements in this category, fill in your scores in the table below, and then calculate your total.

Score
Statement 1
Statement 4
Statement 7
Statement 16
Total Out of 20

Integrity is the cornerstone of people skills. Integrity means basic honesty and truthfulness when dealing with others. It also means working with people openly, and in such a way that people’s interests aren’t compromised for the sake of the team or the organization.

Basic courtesies like saying “thank you” often, and giving credit where it is due, are the types of people-oriented behaviors that can make all of the difference to other people. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, recognizing your teammates’ contributions and acknowledging their efforts will go a long way towards creating a positive, harmonious, and productive team climate.

Articles on Rewarding Your Team and  Leading by Example are great resources that help you learn how to behave with integrity on a daily basis.

Key Points

With well-developed people skills, you can communicate effectively on an interpersonal level; manage conflict positively; work productively with others to find solutions and reach agreement; and work with integrity and ethics to motivate and inspire others.

These are all skills that can be learned and developed. As such, even the most technically-oriented worker can begin to incorporate people skills in his or her work setting.

Best of all, people skills are not limited to the workplace. When worked on actively, they will enrich all aspects of your professional and personal life.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

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Can people see that the alternative would be better?

Traditionally, “change projects” have often been driven by technology implementations or upgrades, with business processes and working practices being changed to fit in with the new system.

In today’s turbulent economy, however, change is just as likely to be driven by something else: a long-established competitor unexpectedly going bust, for example, or your bank calling in a loan, or a layer of middle management being made redundant.

Whatever the situation, when change looms on the horizon, chances are that you’ll hear things like:

“I can’t believe that restructuring the sales force is really going to increase sales.”

“Upgrading the system is such a disruption. I just don’t see why we need to go through all that work.”

“Our current system isn’t great, but what’s so wonderful about the new one? How will that be any better?”

“I know that Corascon going under should be good news for us, but I can’t work out what I should be doing about it.”

With comments like these flying around, how will you get everyone to agree with the changes you have in mind? After all, you can’t do this without them!

This is where Beckhard and Harris’s Change Equation can help. In this article, we’ll look at this equation, and see how you can use it to roll out successful change in the future.

Explaining the Change Equation

Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris first published their change equation in 1977 in “Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change”, and it’s still useful today. It states that for change to happen successfully, the following statement must be true:

Dissatisfaction x Desirability x Practicality > Resistance to Change

This seems to be a simple statement, but it’s surprisingly powerful when used to structure a case for change. Let’s define each element, and look at why you need it:

  • Dissatisfaction: Your team has to feel dissatisfied with the current situation before a successful change can take place. Without dissatisfaction, no one will likely feel very motivated to change.Dissatisfaction could include competition pressures (“We’re losing market share”) or workplace pressures (“Our sales processing software is crashing at least once a week”). Dissatisfaction can be any factor that makes people uncomfortable with the current situation.
  • Desirability: The proposed solution must be attractive, and people need to understand what it is. If your team doesn’t have a clear vision of what things will be like after the change, and why things will be better, then they probably won’t be willing to work to deliver it. The clearer and more detailed you make this vision, the more likely it is that your team will want to agree with the change and move forward.
  • Practicality: Your team must be convinced that the change is realistic and executable.
  • Resistance to change: Resistance to change includes people’s beliefs in the limits of the change (“A new system won’t fit with our unusual business process”), stubbornness toward any change (“I don’t want to have to learn how to use a new system”), and general inertia or lack of interest at the beginning.

And because there’s a multiplicative relationship between Dissatisfaction, Desirability and Practicality, if one element is missing, that variable will have a value of zero – meaning that this whole side of the equation will equal zero.

How to Use the Tool

Beckhard and Harris’s change equation is most useful as a checklist in the planning and communication stages of a major change. When you’re planning your change process, consider each variable to make sure your team (a) feels dissatisfied with the current situation and (b) believes the future state is both desirable and practical.

Consider the sales processing system we touched on earlier, which is crashing regularly. Right now, the system might crash only once a week – this is inconvenient, but it’s not painful. So overall, your team may be reluctant to go through the all the work involved in an upgrade.

When you use the equation, you see that the number of crashes doesn’t cause the team members to be dissatisfied enough to make the change. It’s your job to give them a clear vision of what their lives would be like if they don’t make the upgrade.

For example, let them know that even though the system currently crashes only once a week, it will eventually start crashing every day – and then multiple times every day. When that happens, the team will get behind on their work, and they’ll have to stay late to get it finished. A picture like this will probably increase their dissatisfaction with the current system. (Of course, it’s always possible that they’re satisfied with the existing approach, that the change doesn’t deliver sufficient benefits, or that the plan isn’t practical – in this case you need to revisit the case for change!)

Also, make sure you share enough details about the technical aspects of the change to help people understand how things will be better. Suppose the new system, in addition to fixing the current problems, also has the capacity to handle 500 times more transactions simultaneously. If people don’t know this, they may not be convinced of the desirability of the upgrade!

And finally, be clear about what you, and your team, will need to do to make the change from the current state to the desirable new state. In particular, identify first steps that will help you increase people’s confidence in the practicality of the proposed change.

Key Points

Implementing change is no small task. But using Beckhard and Harris’s change equation during the planning process is a quick but effective way of ensuring that your team understands why change is necessary, why your proposed “to be” state will be better, and what they need to do about it now! When all of this is in place, you will greatly improve the likelihood that your change will be successful.

Fixing Unbalanced Processes

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Where’s the bottleneck in your area?

Consider this scenario: You own a trucking company, and you’ve recently had problems in the delivery process for one of your clients. The loading at their factory goes smoothly, but once your trucks arrive at the client’s warehouse, efficiency seems to fall apart. The trucks typically wait six to eight hours before workers unload the cargo. Every minute that your trucks are parked and waiting costs your company revenue.

You investigate to find out why the trucks are forced to wait, and you discover something surprising: The reason they wait is because no one notifies the warehouse in advance of their arrival. As a result, when a truck arrives, the forklift that’s needed for unloading is often being used for another task. So your truck has to wait until the forklift is free.

Now you begin to wonder why the warehouse isn’t notified, as it should be, that trucks are on their way. You investigate more and learn that the person who used to call the warehouse left the company a few months ago, and the task wasn’t reassigned. So you delegate the phone call to another team member, and you persuade the warehouse to purchase a second forklift – and your problem is solved.

This bottleneck was pretty easy to fix. But have you ever discovered a bottleneck in your business processes? These can be harder to resolve, mostly because they’re harder to identify.

What Is a Bottleneck?

A bottleneck in a process occurs when input comes in faster than the next step can use it to create output. The term compares assets (information, materials, products, man-hours) with water. When water is poured out of a bottle, it has to pass through the bottle’s neck, or opening. The wider the bottle’s neck, the more water (input/assets) you can pour out. The smaller, or narrower, the bottle’s neck, the less you can pour out – and you end up with a back-up, or “bottleneck.”

There are two main types of bottlenecks:

  1. Short-term bottlenecks – These are caused by temporary problems. A good example is when key team members become ill or go on vacation. No one else is qualified to take over their projects, which causes a backlog in their work until they return.
  2. Long-term bottlenecks – These occur all the time. An example would be when a company’s month-end reporting process is routinely delayed because someone has to complete a series of time-consuming tasks – and he can’t even start until he has the final month-end figures.

Identifying and fixing bottlenecks is important. They can cause a lot of problems in terms of lost revenue, dissatisfied customers, wasted time, poor-quality products or services, and high stress in team members.

How to Identify Bottlenecks

Identifying bottlenecks in manufacturing is usually pretty easy. On an assembly line, you can see when products pile up at a certain point. In business processes, however, they can often be harder to find.

Start with yourself. Is there a routine or situation that regularly causes stress in your day? These frustrations can actually be a significant indicator that a bottleneck may exist.

For example, imagine that you’re responsible for reviewing a report that another team member creates each week. Once you’re done, you give it to another team member, who has to post the report on your company’s intranet. Due to your workload, however, the report often sits on your desk for hours – so the next person down the line sometimes has to stay later at the end of the day to post it on time. This causes a lot of stress for you as well as your colleague. In this scenario, you’re the bottleneck.

Here are some other signs of bottlenecks:

  • Long wait times – For example, your work is delayed because you’re waiting for a product, a report, or more information. Or materials spend time waiting between steps of a business or manufacturing process.
  • Backlogged work – There’s too much work piled up at one end, and not enough at the other end.
  • High stress levels.

Two groups of tools are useful in helping you identify bottlenecks:

1. Flow Charts:
Use a flow chart to help you identify where bottlenecks are occurring. Flow charts break down a system by detailing every step in the process in an easy-to-follow diagrammatic flow. Once you map out a process, it’s much easier to see where there might be a problem. Sit down and identify each step that your process needs to take to function well.

For example, in the trucking scenario we mentioned earlier, a flow chart might look like this:

  • Step 1 – Goods are manufactured at the factory.
  • Step 2 – Goods are loaded onto the truck.
  • Step 3 – The warehouse is notified about the truck’s arrival time.
  • Step 4 – The warehouse schedules a forklift for the expected arrival time.
  • Step 5 – The truck arrives at the warehouse, and unloading starts.
Tip:
Where bottlenecks seem to be occurring at interfaces between groups of people, Swim Lane Diagrams can help you map out the situation clearly. An alternative approach which explicitly brings time into the analysis is Value Stream Mapping.

In this case, the delay occurred because Steps 3 and 4 were missing, and this led to a long wait between Steps 2 and 5. Creating the flow chart before investigating the problem would have helped you quickly see where your process broke down.

2. The Five Whys Technique:
The Five Whys technique can also help you identify how to unblock your bottleneck.

To start, identify the problem you want to address. Then, working backward, ask yourself why this problem is occurring. Keep asking yourself “Why?” at each step, until you reach the root cause.

Consider our trucking example again. Go back to the beginning, and imagine that you have no idea why the trucks are delayed.

Trucks are forced to wait for hours at the warehouse.

Why?

Because the forklift isn’t ready to unload the trucks when they arrive.

Why isn’t the forklift ready?

Because there’s only one forklift, and it’s used for other things. The warehouse doesn’t know the trucks are arriving, so the forklift isn’t scheduled to unload cargo.

Why doesn’t the warehouse know the trucks are coming?

Because no one has called to tell them.

Why has no one called the warehouse?

Because the team member whose job was to call the warehouse left months ago, and no one else was assigned to make the calls.

Tip:
The “Five Whys” help you zero in on a problem quickly, but sometimes this is at the expense of a thorough analysis. For more complex problems, consider using Cause & Effect Analysis or Root Cause Analysis.

And there’s the solution. You’ve identified the root cause: a missing team member. The easy fix is to delegate the task to someone else.

By working backward and identifying the root cause, you can clearly see what you need to change to fix the problem.

How to Unblock Bottlenecks

You have two options for unblocking your bottleneck:

  1. Increase the efficiency of the bottleneck step.
  2. Decrease input to the bottleneck step.

In our trucking example, the clear solution was to increase efficiency by notifying the warehouse. How you might increase efficiency in other situations will depend greatly on the nature of the process concerned, but here are some general ideas:

  • Ensure that whatever is being fed into the bottleneck is free of defects. By doing this, you ensure that you’re not wasting the valuable bottleneck resource by using it to process material that will later be discarded.
  • Remove activities from the bottleneck process that could be done by other people or machinery.
  • Assign the most productive team members and technology to the bottleneck process.
  • Add capacity in the bottleneck process.

For more on how to increase the efficiency of processes, see article on Kaizen: Gaining the Full Benefits of Continuous Improvement.

The other option, decreasing input, may sound silly at first. But if one part of a process has the potential to produce more output than you ultimately need (or can manage), it’s an appropriate response. You may have a situation where you keep increasing the amount of work-in-progress inventory immediately after a step that’s working too efficiently.

For example, speed cameras can “catch” a large number of drivers who exceed the speed limit. However, each speed violation has to be processed, and this incurs a cost. The cameras can catch far more drivers than the processing departments can handle. So, many cameras are programmed to identify only those drivers who go a certain amount over the speed limit, or to operate only at certain times of day or certain days of the week. As a result, the number of inputs to the system is reduced to the level that it can process.

Key Points

Bottlenecks can cause major problems for any company, and identifying their root causes is critical. Look for the typical signs of bottlenecks – such as backlogged work, waiting (by people, materials, or paperwork), and high stress relating to a task or process. To make sure you identify the root cause (and not just one of the effects), use a Flow Chart, the Five Whys technique, or one of the other techniques recommended.

Apply This to Your Life: Are there bottlenecks in any of your processes at work? Do you produce things that sit in a colleague’s inbox for hours or days before they’re processed, or do things sit in your inbox for days because you’re too busy?

Think about this and, for each bottleneck situation, identify who – or what – the bottleneck is. Is it you, or someone else, or even an automatic process?

Then determine if the process would flow better if inputs to the bottleneck step were reduced, or if efficiency were increased. That done, make changes appropriately!

Leading – and Succeeding – in a Downturn

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Don’t leave your team stranded.

The truth is that no one factor makes a company admirable. But if you were forced to pick the one that makes the most difference, you’d pick leadership.

Warren Bennis, Organizational Consultant and Author

As organizations adapt to changing business environments, the need for effective leadership is especially critical.

When times are good, leading a company or a team is exciting. Resources are plentiful, customers are satisfied, and opportunity is everywhere. However, when the economic conditions are challenging, this excitement and positive energy tend to weaken. People often feel the pressures of work, and they fear for their job security. These worries and fears present a major challenge for leaders who want to keep their teams on target and productive.

Good leadership is good leadership, regardless of the economic climate. However, during difficult times, top-notch leadership skills become even more important. Second-rate leaders might be able to keep a company going in a strong economy, but you need high-performing leaders to succeed in tough times.

Of course, you need leaders who can control costs and conserve cash. However you also need leaders who see opportunity – and who will strive to seize that opportunity – despite all the negativity. You need leaders who remain committed to their people. And you need leaders who can transfer their own positive outlook to the people around them.

Create New Opportunities

In an economic downturn, you need to conserve your resources so that you can survive. However, you also need to position yourself to benefit as competitors falter, and to be ready when the economy recovers. An economy in decline is often an opportunity to regroup, rethink, and renew. To take advantage of new opportunities, consider doing the following:

  • Review your strategy – Figure out which objectives you’re meeting, which ones need more emphasis, and which ones you should reconsider or drop as the environment around you changes.
  • Lead by example – Now, more than ever, you have to lead ‘from the front’ by setting an example. Take personal responsibility for customer care and contact. Actively pursue new business. Show that you’re willing to make extra effort to commit to the organization’s success.
  • Add value – One of the ways that leaders can gain greater market share and improve operations is by really listening to their customers. Look for innovative ways to add value without adding costs, and win customers who aren’t being well served by your competitors.
  • Use market conditions to create a stronger business model for the future – If you’re a senior manager, consider looking for bargains, in terms of mergers and acquisitions, which will improve your company’s future competitive position. Whatever level you’re at, negotiate keener rates with suppliers, which you can continue to enjoy after the economy recovers.
  • Take the opportunity to trim costs – Encourage cost-consciousness within your team or organization. Now is a great time to do this – everyone knows that times are tough, and people will be more willing than ever to cut unnecessary costs.
  • Implement a continuous improvement plan – Look at your systems and processes to find efficiency opportunities. Lead the way in building a culture of continuous improvement. You can use these savings to pursue the numerous opportunities created by the downturn.

Commit to Your People

Negative messages are all too common during economic downturns. People are losing their jobs, unemployment rates are going up, and personal and corporate bankruptcies are increasing. This can weaken morale, both in the workplace and in society as a whole, and it can tip people into panic, severely damaging their productivity.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t abandon your people. Use this time to reinforce how important they are, and build the skills they need to help the company survive.

  • Invest time in leadership skills training – Leadership is key to success. The better your leaders are, the better it is for you, your team, and the organization. OK, you may not want to spend a lot of cash on leadership training, however, when times are slow, you may be able to invest much more time than before in management and leadership development.
  • Retain your best people – Part of good leadership is keeping costs under control. However, profits are made by your people. Don’t cut back on attracting quality people, and make every effort to retain your best team members by treating them with dignity and respect.
  • Be creative with recruitment and retention – Salary increases may not be possible, but you can do lots of other things to create attractive work conditions.
     
  • Build a motivating workplace – It’s easy to focus too much on specific tasks and the bottom line, especially at a time when resources are limited and “cash is king”. As a leader, however, you can’t let that stop you finding ways to motivate your workforce. Sirota’s Three-Factor Theorysuggests the following:

    • Treat people fairly – When you can’t avoid layoffs, give people as much warning as you sensibly can. Talk honestly about what’s happening, and how cutbacks will affect them. And if you’re cutting people, try to cut the volume and scope of the work you do so that you don’t overload those who are left.
    • Provide useful work for which people are recognized – Be careful about reassigning the workloads of people who have been laid off. Take time to determine who is best suited for which tasks, and remember to give lots of praise. Match people’s skills and interests with the work you need done.
    • Foster good relationships at work – If you have to stop the Friday company-sponsored lunch at a restaurant, replace it with a low-cost potluck event. Try to avoid cutting it entirely.

For more ideas on building motivation in the workplace, and improving individual motivation and performance, see Herzberg’s Motivators and Hygiene Factors.

Project Positive Energy

Good leaders provide hope and vision. These two qualities can keep a workplace going, even during tough times. People need someone they can trust – someone who is inspiring, and knows how to get things done. As a leader, make it a priority to do the following:

  • Expect great things from your people – Within reason, the more you demand, the more opportunity you give people to perform, which can be highly motivating. However, don’t push too hard, and remember to communicate your expectations.
  • Keep in touch with your people – Use the MBWA (Management By Wandering Around) technique (members only) to find out what’s going well, and what needs your attention. Remember to recognize and praise success. Staying connected builds relationships and trust. In tough economic times, you need your staff to perform especially well. The more they know you care, the more likely they are to respond to your call for action.
  • Be visionary – Leaders with vision, passion, energy, enthusiasm, and real engagement with their staff, are the key drivers of economic growth. Stay focused on the big picture, and manage to the best of your abilities.
  • Take care of yourself – Respect your own feelings and emotions during difficult times. Where appropriate, share your concerns with people you trust, and build a network of people you can talk to, however work hard to remain upbeat – if you’re constantly worried, others will sense this. Get enough rest to keep yourself fresh, and manage your emotions to keep your creativity and self-confidence high.

Key Points

Leadership during good economic times has its challenges. But those challenges increase when the economy is tough, and staff are worried about keeping their jobs and paying their bills.

In these conditions, leaders and managers must keep a sharp eye on their environment, prepare for recovery, support their people, and project enthusiasm and energy. By remaining positive, supporting your people, and looking for new business opportunities, you can help your company survive – and succeed – through the difficult times. Leadership performance is critical to organizational success, so use all of the assets available to you.

Making Better and More Consistent Decisions

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Don’t leave decisions to chance

As a valued team member in your organization, you probably make decisions every day. Some decisions are relatively straightforward and simple: Who should serve on the quality assurance committee? Others are quite complex: To improve quality, should we switch to a new manufacturing process?

The first decision will impact people’s workloads, and some people might be disappointed when they aren’t chosen. However, you know the strengths of individual members of your team, so you can put together a good committee.

On the other hand, changing a manufacturing process is a very complicated decision. You will have to consider what new processes are available. How much will the change cost? When will you see a return on your investment? How large will that return be? How long will it take to train people to use the new system? What impact will there be on our customers? And how will this affect our supplier relationships?

Simple decisions usually need a simple decision-making process. But difficult decisions typically involve issues like these:

  • Uncertainty – Many facts may not be known.
  • Complexity – You have to consider many interrelated factors.
  • High-risk consequences – The impact of the decision may be significant.
  • Alternatives – Each has its own set of uncertainties and consequences.
  • Interpersonal issues – It can be difficult to predict how other people will react.

With these difficulties in mind, the best way to make a complex decision is to use an effective process. Clear processes usually lead to consistent, high-quality results, and they can improve the quality of almost everything we do. In this article, we outline a process that will help improve the quality of your decisions.

A Systematic Approach to Decision Making

A logical and systematic decision-making process helps you address the critical elements that result in a good decision. By taking an organized approach, you’re less likely to miss important factors, and you can build on the approach to make your decisions better and better.

There are six steps to making an effective decision:

  1. Create a constructive environment.
  2. Generate good alternatives.
  3. Explore these alternatives.
  4. Choose the best alternative.
  5. Check your decision.
  6. Communicate your decision, and take action.

Here are the steps in detail:

Step 1: Create a constructive environment

To create a constructive environment for successful decision making, make sure you do the following:

  • Establish the objective – Define what you want to achieve.

  • Agree on the process – Know how the final decision will be made, including whether it will be an individual or a team-based decision. The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model  is a great tool for determining the most appropriate way of making the decision.

  • Involve the right peopleStakeholder Analysis is important in making an effective decision, and you’ll want to ensure that you’ve consulted stakeholders appropriately even if you’re making an individual decision. Where a group process is appropriate, the decision-making group – typically a team of five to seven people – should have a good representation of stakeholders.

  • Allow opinions to be heard – Encourage participants to contribute to the discussions, debates, and analysis without any fear of rejection from the group. This is one of the best ways to avoid groupthink (member only). The Stepladder Technique is a useful method for gradually introducing more and more people to the group discussion, and making sure everyone is heard. Also, recognize that the objective is to make the best decision under the circumstances: it’s not a game in which people are competing to have their own preferred alternatives adopted.

  • Make sure you’re asking the right question – Ask yourself whether this is really the true issue. The 5 Whys technique is a classic tool that helps you identify the real underlying problem that you face.

  • Use creativity tools from the start – The basis of creativity is thinking from a different perspective. Do this when you first set out the problem, and then continue it while generating alternatives. Our article Generating New Ideas will help you create new connections in your mind, break old thought patterns, and consider new perspectives.

Step 2: Generate Good Alternatives

This step is still critical to making an effective decision. The more good options you consider, the more comprehensive your final decision will be.

When you generate alternatives, you force yourself to dig deeper, and look at the problem from different angles. If you use the mindset ‘there must be other solutions out there,’ you’re more likely to make the best decision possible. If you don’t have reasonable alternatives, then there’s really not much of a decision to make!

Here’s a summary of some of the key tools and techniques to help you and your team develop good alternatives.

  • Generating Ideas

    • Brainstorming is probably the most popular method of generating ideas.

    • Another approach, Reverse Brainstorming, works similarly. However, it starts by asking people to brainstorm how to achieve the opposite outcome from the one wanted, and then reversing these actions.

    • The Charette Procedure is a systematic process for gathering and developing ideas from very many stakeholders.

    • Use the Crawford Slip Writing Technique to generate ideas from a large number of people. This is an extremely effective way to make sure that everyone’s ideas are heard and given equal weight, irrespective of the person’s position or power within the organization.

  • Considering Different Perspectives

    • The Reframing Matrix uses 4 Ps (product, planning, potential, and people) as the basis for gathering different perspectives. You can also ask outsiders to join the discussion, or ask existing participants to adopt different functional perspectives (for example, have a marketing person speak from the viewpoint of a financial manager).

    • If you have very few options, or an unsatisfactory alternative, use a Concept Fan to take a step back from the problem, and approach it from a wider perspective. This often helps when the people involved in the decision are too close to the problem.

    • Appreciative Inquiry forces you to look at the problem based on what’s ‘going right,’ rather than what’s ‘going wrong.’

  • Organizing Ideas

    This is especially helpful when you have a large number of ideas. Sometimes separate ideas can be combined into one comprehensive alternative.

Step 3: Explore the Alternatives

When you’re satisfied that you have a good selection of realistic alternatives, then you’ll need to evaluate the feasibility, risks, and implications of each choice. Here, we discuss some of the most popular and effective analytical tools.

  • Risk

    In decision making, there’s usually some degree of uncertainty, which inevitably leads to risk. By evaluating the risk involved with various options, you can determine whether the risk is manageable.

    • Risk Analysis helps you look at risks objectively. It uses a structured approach for assessing threats, and for evaluating the probability of events occurring – and what they might cost to manage.

  • Implications

    Another way to look at your options is by considering the potential consequences of each.

    • Six Thinking Hats helps you evaluate the consequences of a decision by looking at the alternatives from six different perspectives.

    • Impact Analysis is a useful technique for brainstorming the ‘unexpected’ consequences that may arise from a decision.

  • Validation

    Determine if resources are adequate, if the solution matches your objectives, and if the decision is likely to work in the long term.

Step 4: Choose the Best Alternative

After you have evaluated the alternatives, the next step is to choose between them. The choice may be obvious. However, if it isn’t, these tools will help:

  • Grid Analysis, also known as a decision matrix, is a key tool for this type of evaluation. It’s invaluable because it helps you bring disparate factors into your decision-making process in a reliable and rigorous way.

  • Use Paired Comparison Analysis to determine the relative importance of various factors. This helps you compare unlike factors, and decide which ones should carry the most weight in your decision.

  • Decision Trees are also useful in choosing between options. These help you lay out the different options open to you, and bring the likelihood of project success or failure into the decision making process.

For group decisions, there are some excellent evaluation methods available.

When decision criteria are subjective and it’s critical that you gain consensus, you can use techniques like Nominal Group Technique and Multi-Voting. These methods help a group agree on priorities, for example, so that they can assign resources and funds.

The Delphi Technique uses multiple cycles of anonymous written discussion and argument, managed by a facilitator. Participants in the process do not meet, and sometimes they don’t even know who else is involved. The facilitator controls the process, and manages the flow and organization of information. This is useful where you need to bring the opinions of many different experts into the decision-making process. It’s particularly useful where some of these experts don’t get on!

Step 5: Check Your Decision

With all of the effort and hard work that goes into evaluating alternatives, and deciding the best way forward, it’s easy to forget to ‘sense check’ your decisions. This is where you look at the decision you’re about to make dispassionately, to make sure that your process has been thorough, and to ensure that common errors haven’t crept into the decision-making process. After all, we can all now see the catastrophic consequences that over-confidence, groupthink, and other decision-making errors have wrought on the world economy.

The first part of this is an intuitive step, which involves quietly and methodically testing the assumptions and the decisions you’ve made against your own experience, and thoroughly reviewing and exploring any doubts you might have.

A second part involves using a technique like Blindspot Analysis to review whether common decision-making problems like over-confidence, escalating commitment, or groupthink may have undermined the decision-making process.

A third part involves using a technique like the Ladder of Inference to check through the logical structure of the decision with a view to ensuring that a well-founded and consistent decision emerges at the end of the decision-making process.

Step 6: Communicate Your Decision, and Move to Action!

Once you’ve made your decision, it’s important to explain it to those affected by it, and involved in implementing it. Talk about why you chose the alternative you did. The more information you provide about risks and projected benefits, the more likely people are to support the decision.

And with respect to implementation of your decision, our articles on Project Management and Change Management will help you get this implementation off to a good start!

Key Points

An organized and systematic decision-making process usually leads to better decisions. Without a well-defined process, you risk making decisions that are based on insufficient information and analysis. Many variables affect the final impact of your decision. However, if you establish strong foundations for decision making, generate good alternatives, evaluate these alternatives rigorously, and then check your decision-making process, you will improve the quality of your decisions.



Leading With Generosity

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Good leaders help others shine and grow.
© iStockphoto/Andy445

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

– Nelson Henderson

I am holding in my hand a graceful, inspirational book entitled “Ramban’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It is Necessary to Give” by Julie Salamon. The book is based on the teachings of Ramban, a physician and philosopher who, more than a thousand years ago, developed Ramban’s Ladder, which outlines the various forms of giving from the lowest – handing out money begrudgingly, as one might to a panhandler – to the highest, helping someone become self-reliant. I have long been meditating on the whole issue of generosity as an important quality of leadership: observing leaders who had it, and those who lacked it.

When we think of generosity, our thoughts automatically drift to gifts of money or charity. In the context of leadership, there are other gifts that don’t have a monetary value, but whose value is beyond price. These include giving someone a chance; giving someone the benefit of the doubt; and giving others a reason to want to work for you. It entails giving others latitude, permission to make mistakes, and all the information that they need to do the job. It’s giving them the authority that goes with responsibility – it’s giving them due credit for their ideas. In a nutshell, all of this translates to generosity of spirit, a quality we admire in leaders.

Generosity, a word which once meant ‘of noble birth,’ used to be associated with members of the aristocracy who, by virtue of their privileges, were expected to show generosity towards those in lesser standing. A leader too, by virtue of her position, and the power and privileges that she holds relative to those she leads, has the same expectations and obligations. A prime obligation is to lead with a generous heart, and to be guided by a nobility of mind. A leader’s generosity has a positive spreading effect – conversely, its absence has a series of negative consequences that, if a leader paused to reflect on them, may stop her in her tracks.

I am a firm believer that people need more than just ‘a nice job close to home.’ Most people want to find meaning in their jobs – they want to feel that they are a part of something bigger and something better. They want to know that what they do matters. A leader with a generous spirit understands this need, and connects the dots for people – the dots that help them see how the work they perform, no matter how small it may be in the scheme of things, has a bearing on the ultimate vision of the company.

There is a well-known anecdote that is related by Tom Peters about a hospital in the US that treats cancer. During a series of staff interviews, an interviewer asked the housekeeper what her job entailed. She responded, “I help to cure cancer.” Somewhere in that hospital, a leader connected the dots for this individual, and made her feel that she was an integral part of the hospital’s mission. Do you do that for the people who do the work in your unit or organization?

There is a lot of talk these days about lack of engagement in the workforce. Imagine how engaged people are when their leader makes them feel that they are a fundamental part of the success of the organization; that everyone, from the receptionist or mail clerk to the Vice President of Product Development, constitutes a binding thread, tightly interwoven into the company fabric – each equally doing its part to give the fabric its strength.

A leader with a generous spirit delegates not just routine work, but understands about delegating worthwhile work that becomes a gift of development and growth for someone else. How we love those leaders! These are the leaders that make us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work to give that person the very best that we have to offer. These are the leaders who get our discretionary effort, every day.

And what about gifts of information? In a survey on effective motivation published by 1000 Ventures, one of the top items that individuals want in the workplace is the ability to be ‘in’ on things. This was rated 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Managers ranked this item as 1! This is a large chasm in understanding. The quickest way to satisfy this need in constituents is to share information. We have all come across some leaders who are inclined to hoard crucial information as the currency of power. Leaders with a generous spirit give employees a chance to get under the hood and to be a part of the inner circle. Freely and generously sharing know-how, expertise, and ideas is not only beneficial for employees – it’s a smart way of doing business.

Albert Camus said: “Real generosity toward the future consists in giving all to what is present.” How often, as leaders, we are so focused on future achievements, on realizing the vision of the organization, that in the process, we neglect the people who are there. A leader of a successful software firm confessed to me once that she woke up one day realizing how much she had disconnected emotionally from the people who did the work in her organization, while focusing on the strategic imperatives of the company. Today, we have a tendency to be too self-absorbed. We become self-involved to the point where, without intending it, we exclude others; and we often only consciously notice that we have excluded them when they have become disengaged. Self-absorption inherently prevents generosity. Once in a while, it helps to stop and ask oneself: “Am I giving enough to the people around me?”

There is an African village where the greeting words for ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ are: “I am here if you are here.” Imagine the gift we give others when we are fully present with them – when we truly see them. Perhaps this is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said: “The only gift is the gift of thyself.” Bill Clinton recently ended a speech to a 6,000-member audience with an exhortation to “see more people.” This preceded his reference to all the people who do the clean-up work behind the scenes after the audience leaves. Do we give a thought to the people who are unnoticed in our organizations, those who quietly work in the background?

While generosity in its pure sense is altruistic, you do still get something back from it: surprise dividends in the form of a recycling of goodwill, a surplus of cooperation, and the sheer satisfaction of seeing another benefit from our giving of ourselves, our time, our attention, our knowledge, and the very best that we have to offer those who cross our paths at work or life. We will never know what opportunities we may have missed in life by showing up tight-fisted. It is hard to receive anything if we don’t open our hands to give.

As a leader, giving people the gift of not just our appreciation for good work, but our genuine admiration for their talents, is generosity of spirit at its pinnacle. This is the difference between saying to someone: “Great job” versus “This was pure genius;” or “I appreciated your help” versus “I couldn’t have done it without you.” When it comes to genuine praise, like the sun at high noon, give resplendently. When you see good work, say it, and say it from the heart, just as you thought it. Free up the thought, and let it breathe – let it fly out there in the form of generous words, and watch what you get back. Giving is ultimately sharing.

Here are some practical tips to enhance our generosity of spirit:

  1. Give people a sense of importance
    In Adele Lynn’s book, In Search of Honor: Lessons from Workers in How to Build Trust, we learn that 55% of workers value “giving people a sense of importance” as the number one item for building trust in the workplace. Consider what small actions you could take intentionally today to make people feel that the work they do is important, and that they themselves, as people, are important to your team.
  2. Give feedback, not criticism
    If giving frequent criticism is your style of management, consider some of these questions: Is your motivation genuine, or is it to gain points? Are you picking the right moment? Are you stopping to reflect how you might deliver the feedback while still honoring the other person?
  3. Give people visibility
    Giving people visibility in your organization is a special gift we bestow to help others shine and grow. I encourage you to think how you might give people more access to senior executives, and more access to your boss. Consider as well that people like to know that their boss’s boss knows the great contributions they made to a project, or about their significant effort in writing a report that does not bear their name. Knowing that our leader is representing us well to upper management is a high-octane motivator, and engenders fierce loyalty.
  4. Give anonymously
    Real generosity of spirit is doing something for someone without their knowledge. Think of one or two deserving people in your organization that you can help by planting a career-enhancing seed on their behalf – perhaps saying something positive about their work to someone in authority?
  5. Know when to forgive
    Martin Luther King said that “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” Consider how harboring vindictive thoughts, even though so compelling at times, is nothing but violence to oneself. A characteristic of a generous person is a total lack of resentment – it’s in effect being too noble, too big for that. Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to let go?
  6. Give encouragement
    Look around you and pick someone who needs encouragement, and resolve to give them that. Consider that some people have never received encouragement in their life – not from teachers, not from bosses, not even from parents.
  7. Give opportunity
    One of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is giving them a chance. Is there someone right now to whom you could give a second chance to prove themselves? If so, what active steps can you take to create the right circumstances for them to succeed? What doors can you open for someone who is well deserving, but not well positioned to be noticed?
  8. Share your knowledge and experience
    Resolve to become a philanthropist of know-how. What knowledge, expertise, or best practices can you share with others as a way to enrich them? For inspiration, read about other leaders who practice teaching in their organization for everyone’s benefit – for example, Jack Welch, whose calendar was filled with hundreds of hours spent teaching thousands of GE managers and executives at the company’s training center at Croton-on-Hudson; or the ex-CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, who devoted considerable amounts of time to teaching newly hired and senior managers his philosophy on how to lead in an industry where innovation goes stale very quickly.
  9. Give moral support
    Public speaking is known to be among the greatest fears experienced by millions of people. The next time you attend a presentation given by an apprehensive team member, practice giving them moral support. The simplest of generous acts are abstaining from checking your Blackberry, giving the odd nod in agreement, and practicing looking with kind eyes. Finally, take some inspiration from Walt Whitman’s beautiful words: “The habit of giving enhances the desire to give.” Giving is like building a muscle. It requires practice and persistence – once it becomes habitual, you will emerge as a stronger leader.

Expert Power
Lead From the Front

There are many different power bases that a leader can use.

These include problematic ones such as the power of position, the power to give rewards, the power to punish and the power to control information. While these types of power do have some strength, they can put the person being led in an unhealthy position of weakness, and can leave leaders using these power bases looking autocratic and out of touch.

More than this, society has changed hugely over the last 50 years. Citizens are individually more powerful, and employees are more able to change jobs. Few of us enjoy having power exerted over us, and many will do what they can to undermine people who use these sorts of power.

However, there are three types of positive power that effective leaders can use: charismatic power, expert power and referent power.

This article teaches the technique of building expert power.

Using the Tool:

Expert power is essential because, as a leader, your team looks to you for direction and guidance. Team members need to believe in your ability to lead in a worthwhile direction, give sound advice, and co-ordinate a good result.

If members of your team see you as a true expert, they will be much more receptive when you try to persuade them to do something, and when you want to inspire them to make more of an effort.

And if they see you as an expert, you’ll find it much easier to motivate them:

  • If team members respect your expertise, they’ll trust you to show them how to work effectively.

  • If team members respect your judgment, they’ll trust you to guide their efforts in such a way that you’ll make the most of their hard work.

  • If they can see your expertise, they’ll believe that you have the wisdom to direct their efforts towards a goal that is genuinely worthwhile.

Taken together, if your team sees you as an expert, you’ll find it much easier to motivate your people to perform at their best.

So how do you build expert power?

  • Gain expertise: The first step is fairly obvious (if time consuming) – gain expertise. And, if you are already using tools like information gathering, the chances are that you have already progressed well ahead in this direction.

But just being an expert isn’t enough, it is also necessary that your people recognize your expertise and see you as a credible source of information and advice. Gary A. Yukl, in his book “Leadership in Organizations,” details some steps to build expert power. These are:

  • Promote an image of expertise: Since perceived expertise in many occupations is associated with a person’s education and experience, a leader should (subtly) make sure that subordinates, peers, and superiors are aware of his or her formal education, relevant work experience, and significant accomplishments.

    One common way of doing this is to display diplomas, licenses, awards, and other evidence of expertise in a prominent location in your office – after all, if you’ve worked hard to gain knowledge, it’s fair that you get credit for it. Another tactic is to make subtle references to prior education or experience (for example, “When I was chief engineer at GE, we had a problem similar to this one”). Beware, however: this can easily be overdone.

  • Maintain credibility: Once established, you should carefully protect your image of expertise. Avoid making careless comments about subjects on which you are poorly informed, and avoid being associated with projects with a low likelihood of success.

  • Act confidently and decisively in a crisis: In a crisis or emergency, subordinates prefer a “take charge” leader who appears to know how to direct the group in coping with the problem. In this kind of situation, your people will associate confident, firm leadership with expert knowledge. Even if you’re not sure how to deal with a crisis, you’ll lose influence with members of your team if you appear confused.

  • Keep informed: Expert power is exercised through rational persuasion and demonstration of expertise. Rational persuasion depends on a firm grasp of up-to-date facts. It is therefore essential that you keep well-informed of developments within your team, within your organization, and in the outside world.

  • Recognize team member concerns: Use of rational persuasion should not be seen as a form of one-way communication from the leader to members of his or her team. Listen carefully to the concerns and uncertainties of your team members, and make sure that you address these.

  • Avoid threatening the self-esteem of subordinates: Expert power is based on a knowledge differential between the leader and team members. Unfortunately, the very existence of this differential can cause problems if you’re not careful about the way in which you exercise expert power.

    Team members can dislike unfavorable status comparisons where the gap is very large and obvious. And they are likely to be upset by a leader who acts in a superior way, and arrogantly flaunts his greater expertise.

    In the process of arguing for what they want, some leaders lecture their team members in a condescending manner and convey the impression that the other team members are “ignorant.” Guard against this.