What do you mean I can’t fire you?

Have you ever had to work with someone who was a charter member of the Office Jerk Hall of Fame?  Did you go home at the end of the day, gnashing your teeth, pulling your hair out or thinking dark thoughts?  I think it’s an unfortunate fact of professional life that we all, at some point in our career, will have to deal with a complete and total jerk.  As much as you’d like to tell that jerk off you really can’t, especially if you’re the boss.  And if that jerk happens to be Aunt Nellie’s favorite nephew, is it worth committing professional suicide to call him every name in the book just before you fire him?

Jerks come in a variety of forms and no listing here will ever be complete.  So let’s look at one type.  How many of us have gone to a staff or management meeting hoping to get something constructive done only to have the office jerk take control of the meeting?  The agenda goes out the window and beating a dead horse becomes the only accomplishment of the meeting.  You can see that your other staff or managers are frustrated, bored and looking for any excuse to leave.  Today’s meeting is going the same route as the last two.  What to do?

It’s time to become creative.  Robert Detman, writing for Yahoo! HotJobs suggests that if it’s possible, have a meeting where everyone is standing.  This change will likely throw the jerk off his/her game and stop the unproductive dominance.  Good idea for a small informal group meeting but what if it’s a large gathering for an all day training?  Any thoughts?  What’s worked for you?

It’s Still One of Those Days

You still have to resolve the problem with the two employees who can’t seem to be mature professionals.  You know their behavior is causing additional problems with productivity, morale, and your ever present case of heartburn.  You also know that ignoring this and thinking it will go away is not an option.  That’s like trying to ignore a toothache thinking that the missing filling will somehow heal itself.  Not going to happen.
This might be a good time to consult with a professional problem solver.  Why? It’s simple really.  You’ve tried everything you can think of and the personnel issue has continued.  It’s not getting any better and it just may be getting worse.  What can the problem solver do that you can’t?  The most obvious thing is that the problem solver will be able to see things from a fresh perspective.  That fresh approach can validate the identification of the actual problems.  Since the problem solver has no agenda other than to facilitate the resolution of the problems, the communications will likely be more honest and constructive.  After all, the problem solver doesn’t have the authority to fire anyone or cause any other kinds of grief.  The goal is to focus on the issue, behavior or situation and get a resolution in place that is effective and long lasting.  With that sort of agenda, having it remain one of those stays becomes less and less likely.  Wouldn’t you agree?

One of those days

Did you ever wake up and know the moment your feet hit the floor it was going to be one of those days?  Your suspicions are confirmed the moment your assistant comes into your office with the comment, “You’re not going to believe this.”  She’s right.  You don’t.  How is it that  supposedly adult professionals can behave like a bunch of five year olds?  What didn’t they get the first time you talked with them?

Does this describe some of the moments you’ve had recently?  As we’ve discussed, when the parties involved don’t buy into the solution the problem may persist and worsen.  So now what do you do?  Look at the options you have.  Have you correctly identified all of them?  The range of options could help frame the approach you may want to take.  You can choose to ignore the issue and hope it goes away or – –

Today, we’re going to look at one extreme option.  Obviously, the quickest and harshest solution is to fire one, both or all of the players.  Before giving this option serious consideration you need to look at all the consequences, intended and unintended.  Are you acting out of frustration or in the best interests of your organization?  Can the organization afford to lose one or more of the individuals?  Do you have the personnel in place to immediately take over the duties and responsibilities?  Or will you have to go through the hiring process?  How will that affect productivity?  How will firing these individuals affect the morale of the specific work unit and the overall organization?  What message do you want to send?  What message will be received?  As you contemplate this extreme solution you can’t help thinking that the day can’t get any worse.  Want to bet?

Which Role Do You Play?

How many of us remember the childhood story of the little red hen?  In a nutshell, it tells of a little red hen living with other farm animals.  She finds a grain of corn and decides to plant it.  When she asks for help from the others, no one wants to be bothered.  On her own she plants the corn, tends it, harvests it, and takes it to the miller for grinding.  From the flour that results she makes a loaf of bread.  When the bread is ready to eat, she finally gets offers to help her.  The others are more than willing to help eat the fruits of her labors but none was willing to labor with her.

Think about the problems within your organization.  Which role do you play?  Are you someone who works hard to solve the problem or are you one of those standing on the sidelines, waiting?  The only time you want to participate is when the problem has been solved and the fruits of others’ labor are now available.

In my assessment, that’s not the work ethic upon which this country was founded.  Of course there were issues in the past and there are issues today which need to be resolved.  But one of those issues to be resolved should never be the question of having one or two people do all the work to solve the problems, only to have the rest of the organization jump in and reap all the rewards.  Solutions which are developed in that scenario might be excellent ones but the residual bad feelings will almost always undermine their effectiveness.  Hard work does pay off but folks need to be willing to break a sweat.  Success will follow.

A Progress Report

Looking back on the topics already discussed we’ve covered a lot of ground.  How can we possibly have anything more to talk about?  After reading the blogs and thinking about them, have all your problems disappeared?  Or is Aunt Nellie still on your case, along with the stockholders (if you have any) and your employees?  What about your family?  How much quality time has been spent with the family and why is that even important?

Maintaining a balance and focus is important if quality work is to be accomplished.  How well do you listen to a recitation of the same old problem when you’ve been working nose to the grindstone for weeks and months on end with no break?  Even your weekends have been consumed by work.  Can you really say that your perspective is as sharp as it was months ago when you took a few days off to recharge your batteries?  How sharp are your problem identification skills when you’re tired, stressed, and reaching critical mass?  Go take the vacation.  We’ll chat later.

Who bears the responsibility for problem solving?

The last blog on due diligence started a thought process I’d like to share.  I also invite any comments from you, the readers.  Perhaps a detailed discussion will result and help us all.

The company’s leadership or management teams obviously bear responsibility for insuring that the company operates at peak efficiency.  Their competency has a great deal to do with how successful the company is.  Does this mean that the company’s leadership bears all the responsibility when things go bad and failure looms large in the mirror?  I don’t think so.

It’s easy to pass around the congratulations and best wishes when things go right and the profit margin is at a level everyone likes.  What happens when things go bad?  Too often there’s a lot of finger pointing, generally at the leadership.  The leaders, in turn, look for excuses as to why things went bad.  It isn’t often that you have a company sit down as a group – leadership and staff – and take a good hard look at why things aren’t working.  To repeat my theme – here’s where a competent problem solver may be invaluable.  He or she can effectively facilitate the meetings to insure that the focus remains where it should, on correctly identifying the problems and implementing realistic, long lasting solutions.  Isn’t it in everyone’s best interests that the company remains operational?

Employees have as much a stake in the process as the leadership and stockholders.  Here’s the bottom line.  Employees also bear some responsibility for problem solving.  The leadership owes them the opportunity to participate in the identification of problems and the development and implementation of solutions.  Employees owe the leadership their full dedication to resolving the problems once and for all, to the benefit of everyone concerned.

Due Diligence in Problem Solving

Recently a friend asked if due diligence applied to problem solving.  The first question to ask is what exactly is due diligence.  According to the dictionary definition, due diligence is the “care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to another person or their property.” [1]

Obviously due diligence is a technical term used most frequently in the legal and business professions.  But the question and information I gathered got me thinking whether due diligence actually applies to problem solving.  Here’s what I’ve concluded.

The legal definition indicates that due diligence reflects a high level of care, consideration, prudence, and/or judgment that an individual is reasonably expected to exercise in specific situations.  For example, when a business is considering a merger with or an outright acquisition of another corporation, the leaders are expected to conduct an intensive investigation prior to that merger or acquisition in order to protect the stockholders and the company’s original holdings.  There have been a number of news reports in recent years of mergers taking place where the information used to make the decision was later determined to be faulty.  Stockholders on the losing end of that decision have questioned whether or not the decision makers practiced due diligence.

This brings me to my original question.  Does due diligence apply to problem solving?  Yes.  When we think of due diligence as a process of acquiring reliable, accurate and objective information upon which to base an informed decision, due diligence is an extremely important part of the problem solving process.  A competent problem solver will engage in systematic research to gather critical facts and descriptive information which will enable the problem solver to present solutions that are realistic and practical.

When companies fail is it because leaders can’t lead? (PART III)

Companies that look good on paper but still fail may have a history of repeating mistakes.  Is it possible that these companies don’t follow through with their technological or market edge and fail to achieve success?  In sports such behavior is known as “choking.”  Have these companies “choked” at crucial moments?   Why?  The repetition of behaviors known to be unsuccessful may reflect an inability of  the leadership team to correctly identify the problem and implement realistic, practical solutions.  If a problem solver has been hired, does the leadership have the courage to implement the recommended programs to resolve the problems?  If not, why not?  Perhaps the failure of such companies is a result of “group think.”  Those in leadership positions and able to implement solutions don’t think through the long term and short term consequences of impractical solutions.  Instead, leadership sets a tone where everyone has to agree with the leader.  (Anyone remember the fable of the emperor’s new clothes?)  No one steps up and points out the flaws in the thinking or in the implementation of a bad solution.  This usually happens in work environments where creativity and independent thought are perceived as negative behaviors.

So now you’re the leader of a failing organization.  What approach are you going to take?  Will you have the confidence in yourself and the people around you to inspire creativity and independent thought?  Or will you simply demand that everyone march in lock step over the cliff like a bunch of lemmings?  If you haven’t done so already, do you have the confidence to hire a problem solver to help you resolve the issues blocking your organization’s progress toward real success and financial stability?  A collaborative approach to identifying and resolving the problems is certainly worth the effort if your organization is facing failure.  It can’t hurt and when Aunt Nellie calls again, refer her to the problem solver.  That should free you up to focus your energies on solving your organization’s problems once and for all.

When companies fail, is it because leaders can’t lead? (PART II)

What about the companies we see in the news (at least in the financial and business news) as they struggle to survive?  It’s not always about the money.  One thing leaders of companies on the brink of failure should look at is how well their company solves problems.  The first step is the correct identification of the problems.  If hiring large problem solving firms of consultants hasn’t stopped the bleeding, so to speak, perhaps the approach to problem solving needs to be reassessed.  Most large problem solving consulting firms do wonderful work but there may be times when they don’t achieve success, through no fault of their own.  Their lack of success in certain situations may result from how the consulting firm was introduced.   In the rush to solve the problems immediately, management may not  properly introduce  the problem solvers to company personnel.   The consulting firm is put behind the eight ball with no real chance for success.  If that happens, management should consider if a single problem solving consultant might achieve the opening of the lines of communication so that problem solving can begin.  Why would single “no-name” problem solvers have an advantage in such circumstances?    A single consultant could be introduced as a new member of management or the HR department, or whatever.  He or she can focus upon getting the problems identified correctly, communicate directly with the parties involved and not worry about any advance PR campaign which was put out by management.    There’s a time and place for large scale consulting organizations to become involved. In many situations such firms do a wonderful job of identifying problems and implementing realistic solutions. But when their efforts fail, leaders should consider the single practitioner approach before closing the doors.

When companies fail, is it because leaders can’t lead? (Part I)

 We’ve all heard in recent years of so-called successful companies going under.  Why is that?  Is it because the leaders aren’t good leaders?  I’m quite sure we’ll get serious disagreement by anyone trying to answer that question, especially if some of the folks have a personal stake in the response.  But what if we pose the question a little differently?  What if the company’s failure is not the result of a leader’s inability to lead but rather, the leader’s inability to be a problem solver?

 The leader of an organization has many hats to wear, including chief problem solver.  But do we seriously believe that Donald Trump, for example, is engaged in daily problem solving for every single problem, no matter how inconsequential, which develops within his organization?  How realistic is that?  What makes Trump the leader that he has become is his ability to surround himself with extremely competent people whose goal is to identify problem areas and areas needing improvement and develop realistic solutions to implement.  These folks bring the complete package to their leader’s attention and a collaborative approach is taken for the implementation of the solution, usually followed by an objective, honest assessment of how well the solution is working.  That’s what makes Trump the success that he is, in my view.  He hires good problem solvers and then relies upon them – and expects them – to do their job to the best of their ability.