Manage Well – Kill The Vine

“I don’t take requests for people who are not in front of me.  That’s called gossip.”

Every manager must intersect with this issue.  Every manager must stop this issue as soon as it comes.  You cannot let gossip abide in your team.  No greater destructive force exists in the workplace.

What is gossip?  Gossip is a negative leaning comment spoken by one person about another person who is not in the present conversation.  Sorry if you don’t agree, that is my definition and I stick to it.  After leading tens of thousands of constituents, members, and workers, this definition helps limit pain and promote a healthy environment.

What does it sound like?  “Well, have you heard Jay is having trouble at home?”  Innocuous?  Hardly.  This is a loaded, pain giving, detrimental, judgmental statement that has no place in a healthy work environment.  Managers, you need to get this out of your meetings.  You need to get this out of your hallways and back rooms. This is political minded manipulation and leads to the wrong decisions and conclusions.

Where does it come from? Sometimes it has a compassionate root.   We really want to be tender and understanding toward others.  How many times have I said something like this?  Too often.  That is why managers must have a no nonsense approach to prohibiting.  All of us slip into these thoughts.  Humans just do it.  Our nature leans to wanting to include others in our judgments for affirmation of ideas.  But, it hurts others.

Where else does it come from?  Sometimes it is simply poisonous.  Yes, there are many who live to manipulate the thinking of those around them.  Of course you know who they are.  They are attached to the rumor vine in the work place and incipiently receive and feed the monster.  Ever had a good associate maligned by the vine and lose credibility?  It happens.  The most astute executives fall prey to listening to viners and forgetting the source of the slander.  We allow hall talkers to get into our circle and affect our decision making.

How do you stop it?  You can’t.  But you can limit influence on yourself and you can constrain the amount flowing in your teams.  One third shift worker came to me in a shop and complained about having to hear continual negative talk from other workers.  Night shifts get boring.  People don’t have access to all the day information.  Gossip flows.  It was a good time for some intervention.  One by one I met with each night, second, and day shift worker on the team.  One by one, I looked each of them in the eye.  One by one, I gave each of them permission to respond to any company or non-company person and say the following statement when another would start a negative complaint about another team member. “That person is my co-worker.  I like to think well of them.  I’d prefer you did not make negative comments to me.  Why don’t you talk directly to them.”  When a predatory maligner hits that wall a few times, they tend to take the pain to some other group in their life like church or family or the bar down the street.  Gossip loves the path of least resistance.

What if there is truth to it?  So?  Truth is not the issue.  Negative conversation is the issue.  When my children begin to learn some reason (three years old), I instruct each of them this way.  “Don’t tattle on your brother.  If he is doing something dangerous, come tell me.  Otherwise, just talk to him.”  Hopefully, your team is older than three. Of course if a team member is doing drugs on the job or being malicious or not following procedures action needs taken. Team members may have not been able to reach them or feel threatened if they try. Then,  it must be moved up the chain.  Maybe a couple of coworkers can get together with the person (not alone behind the back) and talk it out before running it up the manager pole.

What happens if you don’t address it?  It will eventually undermine the performance of the team.  Negative politics is a painful way to live and inefficient in decision outcomes.  The cumulative effect will strip away at morale.  People will avoid creative thought and innovation.  A dull zombie glaze might be noticed in the team when it is advanced.

Summary:  My hard line stance of not taking requests for another person communicates quite clearly.  When a coworker of Jack comes with the seemingly harmless, “Jack would like to take next Friday off.”  I respond with, “I’d be glad to entertain Jack’s request. Why not have Jack ask me, himself?” and go on with good managing.  Communicate open concern along with privacy.

At the lake, I have an acre in the woods.  Poison ivy likes to vine and pop up in the shade of the trees.  Every Spring, out comes the herbicide and I walk the property and kill every leaf I can find of the stuff. When I started doing this it took an hour and even some digging up of vines.  After three years, it takes a few minutes.  if you stop a vine when the sprout pokes through the ground, you don’t have to deal with a thumb thick vine or an hundred instances at the base of every tree.

The Rule of Synergy: Three Have to Have Accelerators

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Phil

Engage others in creative and synergistic endeavors.  Purposefully find ways to force team member interplay for power results.  Be sensitive and firm.  This is not a day at the ropes course.  This is in the work place on real tasks that have real risk of failure and real potential for success and reward.

“Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential. They experience synergy only in small, peripheral ways in their lives. But creative experiences can be produced regularly, consistently, almost daily in people’s lives. It requires enormous personal security and openness and a spirit of adventure.” Steven Covey

It takes a LEADER: Good executive leaders understand this rule.  Leadership is required.  Manager thought tends to avoid this risky behavior. Lead.

Personal Security: The workplace should ooze with personal security and powerful self esteem and a sense of individual dignity.  Of course it might not be happening where you lead.  Then you need to work on it.  People need to understand accountability and responsibility and the safety of making mistakes from which we learn.

Accountability means I understand my actions and results impact all those around me and I account that into my decisions.  Others will hold me accountable for what I do.  They will rejoice in tandem, forgive forthright mistakes, and hold me responsible for results both individual and together.

Responsibility means my action will impact me directly.  I get it.  I understand it.  I welcome it.  Good or bad results, I am responsible for my actions.

Personal security can only be reinforced in such a dual environment.  Many lack personal security and are looking for everyone from mom and dad to the government to supervisors to take responsibility for their success or failures.  Those people cannot thrive in synergy at optimum levels.  But they can start where they are, grow, and experience more daily.

Openness: Every team has to find the place of what Jim Collins calls, “brutally confronting the facts.”  It is not negative.  It is a direct and non-personal approach to dealing with the blips, glitches, misstatements, wrong turns, customer complaints, and missed deadlines.  Dancing around the issues because a team member is overly sensitive inhibits synergy.  You have to want synergy.  You have to desire synergy.  You have to yearn for synergy to get past covered conversations into open, intelligent discussion.

Spirit of Adventure:  A community leader speaking at a business leaders’ lunch asked for a show of hands.  “Who loves to do things with uncertain results and a high risk?”  Only one hand among 450 went up.  “Well”,  he said, “that is the definition of adventure.”  Among all of these senior executives, bankers, lawyers, CEOs, and wizened warriors of the workplace, the sense of adventure had died.  For synergy to happen every day, the third ingredient is a spirit of adventure.  Individually and together the team needs to led into a continual spirit of adventure.

On a powerfully synergistic team, a client came with a bothersome technical improbability.  Theoretically, what they were doing should work.  But, it was failing at several levels of production and the supporting vendors had sent them to us for resolution.  After some frustrating attempts, one of the team just would not let it go.  He tested and tried and worked with the other members to come up with a solution.  At first, we discovered how to force it through our production engine, but only with effort.  Then synergy exploded.  A simple solution was implemented that allowed the originating production shop to perform without having to upgrade their equipment or outsource the job to us.  Our team invented themselves synergistically out of a job that was highly profitable.  Openness means honesty.  Sense of personal security means do the right thing for the client.  Spirit of adventure means taking on the improbable and finding a way to do it anyway.

The Five P’s of a Manager’s Portfolio Allow Right Building

The Five P’s of a Manager’s Portfolio Allow Right Building

Assessing a business operation takes scrutiny of the right five P’s.  Get it wrong and you can find yourself damaging more than building.  Get it right and the right stuff comsolum3des together.  Look to the heart not the surface.  Uncover riches.

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.  Abraham Lincoln

First Things:  Begin with the end in mind.  This is another article, but you need to be reminded before you look into the P’s.  Every operation includes an objective to be measured and met.  Don’t look too deeply into the organization before you determine this item.  Otherwise, the P’s, which may be out of position, can lead you to wrong places.  If they were perfect, why would anyone need you?  They must continually be adjusted to measureable objectives.

People:  Take time to review the people set.  Are the right passions, personalities, and portions (skills sets) on the team?  Is this set to succeed or set to fail?  Has this team been intentionally built and honed or sporadically pieced together?  What will it take to realign and make productive?  What is missing?  What is unbalanced?

Props (Tools and Technologies): Examine the tools and technologies in the operation.  Are they current?  Are you trying to hit a big hairy audacious goal with skinny, smooth banana peels?  Has the shop been kept upgraded or held back with cost cutting for years?  What will be the investment?   Is the team “too techy” and loaded up with an oversupply so that no tool is really mastered?

Processes:  If you can’t document the processes clearly, you don’t know what you are doing.  Deming said something similar to that.  He’s right.  In one shop, it took two years to get process documentation settled.  Development teams kept changing the underlying processes without ever settling on the existing.  No one really knew what a good result at the end of the day looked like.  After documentation was settled, the team performed smoothly and on time every day according to company needs.   This is a touchy and tough area to address.  Don’t avoid it.

Projects:  Projects in motion reveal major needs if they are rightly designed.  The lack of defined  projects is a sure sign of a disparate, disorderly, and dying operation.  Are capital improvements in motion?  What services are being designed for future delivery?  Is there a training program?  Crosstraining?

Products and Services:  Well, why do you exist without these?  Service catalogue?  Do the focused customer groups know how to get great service and what service is available?  What of these are core critical to the overall organization?  Why?

Summary:  If you take these five P’s and write down three notes, you have the beginning of a great business plan.  1. What is the inventory or status of the P?  Make a list of the items and critical criteria, benefits, advantages, and demographics.  Assess alignment to objective and need. 2. What needs changed?  3. What is the impact on the other four P’s when I change it?

That’s enough for now.  Business is building.  Never stop building.