Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Moving Target

My buddy and often writing partner, Bryan Neva just posted the ideal finish to my Moving the Goalpost article. If you are not reading his blog, it's on my recommended list ~ http://www.profitatanyprice.blogspot.com

If you were ever in the military and had to qualify for marksmanship with a weapon, you know how hard it can be to consistently hit 40 stationary targets at various distances (50 to 300 meters) from various shooting positions.  First, you have to shoot from the prone position (lying down on your stomach) with the rifle resting on sandbags.  That’s the easiest position to shoot from; any twelve year-old kid could do it.  Next, you have to shoot from the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions.  To qualify as a marksman you have to hit 40 stationary targets 24 times (60% success rate), as a sharpshooter 29 times (73% success rate), and as an expert 36 times (90% success rate).  (I qualified as a sharpshooter while in the Navy.)

Now imagine how hard it would be to consistently hit the target if it were moving?  You’d have to be an expertly trained sniper to do that.  On April 12th 2009, a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper firing from the fantail of the U.S.S. Bainbridge (DDG-96) killed three Somali pirates on a moving lifeboat saving the life of their hostage Captain Richard Phillips.  Imagine how hard that would be to do with the ship and the lifeboat simultaneously bobbing up and down in the ocean?  Very few people in the world could pull that shot off.

Most organizations have target goals they want their employees to shoot for.  Maybe their target goal is to have a certain level of sales; maybe it’s a certain level of customer satisfaction; or maybe it’s some other metrics they want their employees to hit.  Of course there are rules to follow while doing these (distance and shooting positions): you have to abide by the organizations policies, procedures, and guidelines.  An ethical company would teach you that how you shoot is as important as hitting the target.  It’s pretty easy to hit 40 targets from 50 meters in the prone position, but not from further distances or in the sitting, kneeling, or standing positions.

I once worked for a company that set multiple target goals every year.  The big targets to hit though were sales, service, and customer satisfaction.  The hard part was that most of the issues I had to deal with were moving targets (ambiguous situations).  Everyday the targets moved and the rules changed.  I had to think on my feet and make quick decisions; there wasn’t a company guidebook to help me.  So I had to balance sales and service, with customer satisfaction, with making me happy.  In other words I had to find a win-win-win solution to most issues.

Unfortunately, most of the time it was a win for the company (they made their money), it was a win for the customer (they were satisfied), but a lose for me (I had to work and sacrifice over-and-above the norm without any reward or recognition).  In fact when it came time for annual reviews, the company’s attitude was “you only hit the target 36 out of 40 times (90% success rate or expert marksman) . . . no raise for you!”  In other words they wanted a highly trained expert Navy SEAL sniper that could hit a moving target 100% of the time.    

One thing I learned while studying for my MBA is that it’s important to set realistic and attainable goals for your employees and to reward them fairly.  Just as the military does for their marksmanship qualification. They don’t ask the average sailor, soldier, or marine to be 100% accurate; 60% to 90% is acceptable.  In fact in actual combat their expectations are that their accuracy will decline 50% because of stress.  They don’t expect everyone to be as good as that Navy SEAL sniper who killed the moving targets off the coast of Somalia. 

Companies too have to be realistic with their performance expectations of their employees.  Some can only be average performers (marksman), some can be high performers (sharpshooters), some can be star performers (expert), and maybe only one can be a superstar performer (sniper).  You can’t expect everyone to be a superstar (sniper) and only reward superstar performance.  The marksman, sharpshooter, and expert deserve recognition too.

In my case, while I usually hit the moving targets (figuratively I was the equivalent of an expert marksman or 90% accurate), the company’s failure to account for the moving targets and reward success eventually burned me out and I finally quit after an eighteen-year career with them.

Someone once said, “Any fool can applaud, real appreciation comes in the form of folding green money!”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Moving the Goal Post

I once worked as a department manager in a factory that made wooden ladders; stepladders, extension ladders, tall ladders and short ladders.  Production was measured in feet of ladder per day so a 6-foot tall stepladder counted as 6 feet of production and a 32-foot tall extension ladder counted as 32 feet of production and so on.

The extension ladder department that I worked in was producing about 900 feet of ladder a day when took over as the department manger.  Management offered the workers a bonus on every foot of ladder built over 1,000 feet produced.  So I reorganized the work area to create a better workflow and within a few days the output had risen to 1,200 feet a day.  The workers were overjoyed because without working any harder (just a little smarter) they were earning bonus money.

The factory manager and the owners had seen how much extra money these workers were earning in bonuses every week and decided to move the goal posts.  The workers would now have to produce 1,800 feet of ladder to make their bonuses.  

My team worked harder, but was only able to reach 1,500 feet of ladder a day.  So I looked at the workflow again, made some improvements in how the work was performed, and before we all knew it production jumped to 2,000 feet of ladder per day.   Once again my workers made their bonuses.

I started to see the strain in my workers.  In order to produce 2,000 feet of ladder a day, they not only had to work smarter, they had to work much harder as well.  I did what I could to improve moral and keep the work interesting by rotating daily tasks and the like, but I felt my team had reached their maximum potential.

Unfortunately, the factory manager and the owners looked at how much money the workers in my department were making compared with the rest of the factory and moved the goal post yet again to 2,200 feet a day! 

My team pushed as hard as they could and finally got up to 2,300 feet a day and earned small bonuses.  But by the end of the next month my workers began to quit, one at a time, but slowly I lost my trained workforce.  They were working much harder than the rest of the factory, and they could find less physically demanding work with other companies for the same pay.  And as the experienced workers left, production declined back to 900 feet a day.   So the factory manager and the owners moved the goal post back down to 1,200 feet.  

The mentality of the factory manager and owners was “these workers are making too much money, we need to keep that money we’re paying in bonuses for ourselves.”  This kind of short-term thinking caused them to loose two ways in the long-term: first, they didn’t have a dependable production team in that department which could consistently produce 2,000 feet of ladder a day (double what they were originally producing); and second, they didn’t see the improvements I as a department manager made and ask themselves “how can we use these methods in other departments in the factory to raise production?”

As the cycle began to repeat itself I finally recognized the game the factory manager and the owners were playing was nothing more than a sophisticated version of the old “dangle a carrot in front of a donkey trick.”  I soon followed my workers and left for another job! The list time I heard, they were still stable around 1,000 feet of ladder a day from the same assembly line that had been producing a stable 1,800 feet a day.

So much for continuous process improvement!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Followership part 3

Steps you can use to teach followership and earn the support of your teams. 

  1. Include the people who actually have to do the work in developing clearly stated goals. Getting willing participants means giving ownership of the ideas and goals to each team member. Nothing helps you develop a sense of ownership like deciding the goal and your team members feel the same way. As a passenger, you won't even get into a car unless you’re sure that it's going where you want to go.

  1. Show that you believe in your team members by listing to and following their advice. When you don't, you OWE the team, or at least that member, an explanation. Hold that image of the passengers in a car in you thoughts. How many times would you ride with someone if they don't get you where you want to go or scare you in the process? Why should you expect your team to feel any differently than you do?

  1. Give the same support to your team that you want from your boss. Give the same support to your boss that you want from your team. It's just that simple - Why would you support someone who doesn't support you? This doesn't mean that you can't cut a problem team member. Cutting nonproductive members is good for the team. The people doing the work know who isn’t pulling their weight and resent carrying non-productive team members. Just like teenagers joy riding, everyone puts in for gas. Nobody rides for free!

  1. Failure is yours but success belongs to the team. You don't really work very hard for someone who blames you for failure but claims all the credit for success. Neither will your team. Maybe I'm straining the travel analogy, but the driver, the navigator and the people sitting in the back seat of the car all get to the destination at the same time. When you drive alone, you can say, “I arrived”. When you have a car full, you can only say “We arrived”.

OK, so far we’ve looked at the things a leader has to do to but what about those supposed followers? What should they be doing to support the team?

First and foremost each and every team member must accept that they are followers. Going back to that Henry Ford quote – each team member has to make a conscious decision that the team leader “can sing tenor”! Trying to wrest control from the team leader destroys the team and ensure that the project will fail. Just as the passengers agree not to try and fight the driver for control, team members must follow the directions of the team leader.

Second, the team members must agree to support each other. Team members have to accept that they are one of the people in the car and that all the passengers will get there at the same time. Trying to make yourself the hero will only distract from getting the project completed on time and on budget.

Practicing these two simple principals is much easier when you are an individual contributor. Much harder to subordinate yourself when you are a team leader in your own right.

Picture a team consisting of a team of programmers, marketing people, and teachers developing training software. The programmers may be pushing for a less complex product, the marketing folks for a more full featured product while the teachers want a snazzy user interface.

At some point each of these competing requirements may come into conflict. By fighting for control so they can get their favorite features a single team member may sacrifice the entire project for parochial interests. While the team leader should explain why the compromises are necessary, at some point the followers must accept that the team leader has the best interest of the entire project in mind and is weighing the trade-offs and making decisions that keep the project on track and with in budget.