You Are Never Totally Objective

December 13, 2014

I am RightI originally intended to have the title for this article read “How Do You Know When You Are Biased.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is impossible to be totally unbiased on an issue. The most we can do is be conscious of our biases and factor that knowledge into our deliberations. We can also seek to replace hubris with humility.

To be totally objective, it would put us in the category of a machine or computer. Unless you are Mr. Spock, you have emotions and cannot separate your logical reasoning from your emotions entirely.

You also carry a set of beliefs that are made up of the sum of all the experiences you have had to date. You cannot detach yourself from your unique mindset any more than the earth can detach itself from the solar system.

With herculean effort you may be able to change your orbit a perceptible amount, but you will always be subject to the laws of physics in your corner of the universe. Notwithstanding another “big bang,” you are going to orbit around the sun forever.

One place to observe bias is when managers try to measure accurately the performance of people who work for them. Imagine a manager trying to write an objective performance appraisal.

Because the manager is a human being, he or she will observe performance through the lens of how he or she feels about the employee. It would be impossible to factor out personal biases, but by recognizing that there is the certainty of being biased, the manager can take that into account.

One tool is to use a correlation process where several managers review the appraisals each one has written.

If you have an environment of trust, groups of managers can discuss the objective observations about an individual without getting defensive. In this open discussion one particular manager’s biases can become more visible. This practice reduces the problem of favoritism and enhances the level of trust in an organization.

Another area where we struggle to be objective is when thinking about political issues. We are bombarded by information that is presented with strong biases already marinated in.

Most of us prefer to listen to the “news” that is slanted in the direction we habitually lean. That gives us a kind of affirmation that our biases are valid.

Just for fun I often listen to the news on a network known for having the opposite bias to my own. It is a kind of jarring exercise as I quickly see the how their biases are strikingly “wrong” only to realize that it could be mine that are so far off base.

One thing is for sure, when interpreting political forces, there is no such thing as objectivity.

Your opinion is a very personal thing, and the good news is that you can never get your opinion wrong. The bad news is that your opinion will never be totally objective, so factor that conundrum into your decisions and relationships with other people.

One tool to do this is to take off the “I AM RIGHT” button you wear every day and replace it with a button that says, “I have an opinion on that – what’s yours?”


Trust Doesn’t Scale

December 6, 2014

RulerMy son knows that I am highly interested in anything having to do with trust, so he recently shared a quote that was generated by Taylor Swift, the country music singer. Taylor said,

“Trust doesn’t scale because it isn’t reducible to math.”

That quote was really thought-provoking for me. I believe her point was that trust involves emotion and risk, and those things are part of the human condition similar to the concept of love.

As I thought about it more, I think her observation about trust breaks down. There are several reasons why trust does scale.

1. You can add it or add to it – If I trust one person to do something, I can increase the level of trust into other areas and have higher total trust with that person. The word “total” here implies a kind of addition. Likewise including another person into the equation means that I can add more trust.

2. You can subtract trust – I often make the analogy that trust is like a bank account. The balance is the important number, and we can make withdrawals to the account just as easily as we can make deposits. In fact, the whole account can be wiped out in a single action.

In English is sounds like this, “I have trusted George for 10 years; he has never given me any reason to doubt him, but after he said that yesterday I will never trust him again.”

3. You can multiply trust – If I take one person who has trust in a cause, I have that singular endorsement, but if I bring a dozen people who also trust that same cause, I will have more than the sum of 12 individual forces. There is a kind of synergy when we multiply the trust of several people.

4. Dividing trust takes a little imagination – What if I have high level of trust with a person but that person fails to deliver as promised. Now my level of trust is significantly reduced, like it was divided in half or some other percentage.

I suppose I could go on taking the mathematical analogy to an extreme and describe the square root or cosine of trust. I suspect the pushback would be deafening.

Many people believe trust is a “soft” skill and that programs to improve organizational trust frequently include campfires and singing Kumbaya. In reality trust is a hard and tangible commodity that is rather easy to measure.

Richard Edelman measures trust in extensive surveys in dozens of countries every year and publishes a “Trust Barometer” to share the work of his team.

The fact that I can say trust in Business in the USA for 2013 was slightly under 60% while trust in the Government was somewhat under 40% indicates that trust does scale and can be measured.

This is especially true if we use data on trust to spot trends by asking the same questions year after year.

In my own business, I use the “Leadergrow Trust Survey” to measure the level of trust on many dimensions and at various levels in any organization.

This research allows me to customize leadership development programs for groups so they are laser-focused on the specific needs of the organization or the leaders involved.

I really do believe trust is scalable and hope this little piece has caused you to think about trust in a different way from before.

Apologies to Taylor Swift: I like your music, but do not agree with your quote that trust doesn’t scale.


Rip Up The Agenda

November 29, 2014

All I needOne of my friends in the consulting business wrote an insightful article entitled “Throw Away Your Integration Plan.” The friend is John Pancoast of Acquisition Solutions, a firm that helps organizations achieve more effective mergers or acquisitions.

His article was about having the flexibility to know when the plan you drew up before a merger was announced should be abandoned for another course of action based on some unanticipated development.

The main idea makes sense to me. No original plan can anticipate everything that is possible to happen, especially in a multifaceted endeavor like a merger.

Sticking religiously to an a-priori version of the path forward will produce suboptimal results at best and may even be disastrous.

It is not just mergers and acquisitions where we need the flexibility to change a plan based on new information. We deal with the need for flexibility in every area of our lives.

For example, the following incident actually happened to me in mid-career, and it illustrated the importance of remaining nimble.

I once spent a day in a workshop with my managers to develop some strategies. We planned the time carefully because time is the ultimate scarce resource. I had published a detailed agenda for the entire day.

When I walked into the room to start the meeting, I took one look at their faces and realized they were not in the same frame of mind as they were when we made up the agenda.

Something traumatic had just happened with one of the benefits programs, and their faces told me they were preoccupied trying to deal with the damage.

I held up the agenda on a single sheet of paper and said, “I can see by your body language that this is not where you folks want to spend your time today. Am I right?” They all nodded kind of sheepishly.

So, with great fanfare, I ripped the agenda into tiny pieces and threw the confetti into the air. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as the simulated snowflakes fluttered to the floor all around me. We had a good and constructive meeting after that.

This article is not suggesting that making plans is fruitless. We need to have a nominal plan for every activity under the assumptions we are aware of at the time.

We must always test whether that plan is still the right course when we attempt to execute it in the future. Here are a few tips to remember:

1. Be alert to changes in body language. Often you can read anxiety with a current plan in the faces of your coworkers.

2. Build trust. Create an atmosphere that is real rather than one of playing games.

3. Ask for opinions. If you ask, people will tell you if they are concerned.

4. Verify the plan is current. Test to see if conditions or assumptions have changed.

5. Be willing to rip up the agenda. It creates a significant event and sends a message of care rather than rigid implementation.

6. Use a revision date. Plans change with time, so if you have a file with the plans, use a revision date so people are aware they are subject to changing conditions.

Make your plans carefully and logically, but be prepared to change them when conditions require flexibility. Doing so will keep you nimble and relevant to current conditions. It is a great way to be effective.


Using Time in Negotiations

November 22, 2014

Geeky hipster falling asleep on hand on white backgroundThe use of time in negotiations is a well known ploy that is more effective than meets the eye.

When you come into a car dealer for the third time to look at the same car, that dealer has a significant advantage. He or she knows you have invested significant time into this deal and will be willing to compromise a lot on price.

There are many examples of using time and personal energy as a tactic in negotiations, I will share a couple examples from my own history to illustrate how this works and how you can thwart others who would use time trying to get advantage over you. These ideas were also presented in my book, “Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.”

I recall one situation where a CEO was contemplating the purchase of a diversified company with offices all over the world. The selling CEO wanted to impress the buying CEO with how things work in the fast lane, so he arranged a trip around the world to visit every site as part of the due diligence.

The idea was to exhaust the buying CEO so that he would cave in during the negotiation. The seller even took along two assistants so they could relieve each other and have an unfair advantage. The ploy totally backfired.

I was present when the selling CEO came back from the week-long journey. He looked completely exhausted. His comment was, “Where did they get that guy? He ran rings around us and always came up smiling. We were absolutely dead on our feet.” So, what was intended as a ploy to gain the advantage turned into a liability for the seller.

The secret was that the buying CEO was a master at sleeping on airplanes and in taxis. He could get good quality sleep on every leg of the trip, while all three of the opponents could only sleep a little and did not get much rest for the entire week.

I recall another situation where one party tried to gain leverage using time, and that also backfired. This was a negotiation for a product line made in Japan. The principal, I’ll call him Don, flew over from the United States to negotiate a deal and was scheduled to stay for a week. He was outnumbered, of course, and was a guest on their home turf.

That was a big advantage for the Japanese, who decided to put time pressure on Don. They dragged their feet and brought up all kinds of small issues to avoid the financial negotiations until the final day.

The Japanese host said they found out which flight my friend was going to take so they could get him to the Narita Airport on time, but they actually they got the flight information to know when Don would be getting anxious to close the deal and head home.

At around 10 a.m., the Japanese host asked for a major price concession and stated, “We have been talking now for five days, and it is time for you to show some flexibility. Besides, we have to get going within an hour to get you to Narita on time.”

Don did a masterful reversal when he said,

“Oh, let’s not rush this deal. It is too important; I’m prepared to stay for another week, if necessary, so we can get this right.”

All of a sudden the time pressure was on the other side.

The Japanese host had been entertaining Don every night, and it would take him almost two hours to get home after he dropped Don off at his hotel. He was exhausted and wanted my friend out of his hair, yet Don claimed he was willing to stay for an additional week. The Japanese host quickly made a huge concession, and Don still stayed the extra week to hammer out the details.

The use of time in the negotiation process is always important, and good negotiators find ways to leverage this important consideration. Here are five tips that will help you improve your negotiating effectiveness regarding the use of time.

1. Be more aware of how time is working for or against you during the entire process, not just at the negotiating table.

2. Consider the element of time as a competitive weapon to use strategically and carefully to improve your changes for an excellent result.

3. If your counterpart is trying to use time against you, work to reverse the logic and have it work against the other party. It is fun to see the look on their face when they realize the dynamic has been overturned.

4. Do not telegraph your own anxiety relative to time. Make gestures like you have all the time in the world.

5. When you sense anxiety in the other party, slow down the process to gain leverage.

At the end of the day, the negotiation rests on human beings who have physical and mental limitations. Use the strategies above to enhance your negotiating success, and also use them to be alert to the tactics that others may be using on you.


Silence Your Worst Critic

November 15, 2014

headphonesIn my leadership classes I always ask the group, “Who is your worst critic”? It is no surprise that nearly 100% of the people say, “Myself.”

Only once did I find someone with a large enough disconnect to blurt out immediately, “My Wife!” Even he had to agree that he is also pretty hard on himself.

When we engage in negative self talk, even at the unconscious level, it often undermines our self esteem and can lead to physical and mental ailments. We degrade our self trust, which is a real problem.

It is good to be realistic about our shortcomings so we can improve performance as we learn and grow. There is an important distinction here. When you have done something wrong, you need to own up to it and make corrections in the future. Take responsibility for your failures.

The technique below is for the numerous times you inappropriately beat on yourself thinking you are not as perfect as you could or should be.

If you are 48 years old, you have likely spent 48 years forming a habit of negative self talk that limits your performance and may even shorten your life. The good news is that we humans have a remarkable ability to retrain the brain in a short period of time to form new habits.

Research has shown it takes less than a month of conscious effort to permanently change a lifelong habit. Here is a simple three step process that can quickly change the quality of your life if you give it an honest try.

Step 1 – Catch it

My mental image here is that we all have a kind of beehive of thoughts about ourselves in our subconscious mind. Most of these thoughts are negative. This mass of energy is whizzing around all the time, and we are not even aware of it.

Every once in a while, often for no reason we can identify, one of these negative thoughts about us jumps up into out conscious mind. We are aware of our inadequacy and thinking about it.

For most of our lives these thoughts have made us feel kind of sick as we muse on why we are not more perfect. Finally the thought is supplanted by some other thought or a phone call or something, and the episode is over.

But what if we decided to be proactive and actually catch the thought when we are first aware of it?

My mental image here is one of reaching up with a catcher’s mitt and catching the thought – plop – there it is. We have it firmly in hand now. Step one is completed.

The fascinating part of step one is that by simply reading this piece, you will have increased your ability to catch the thought while you are having it (that is the key) .

In essence, this article is giving you that catcher’s mitt. As of now, if you start a stopwatch it will be less than one hour until you have caught your first negative thought using this procedure.

By the time you go to bed today you will have caught from 3 to 12 of these in your mitt. Wow, that is 3 to 12 opportunities to go on to step 2!

Step 2 – Reject it

Here I use the mental image of hitting the thought with a tennis racket back into my subconscious mind. I reject the thought just like a tennis player serves the ball over the net.

As many tennis players do, I often grunt while doing this using the words “No! I am not doing that any more!” Of course I only utter the words verbally when I am alone, like in the car or out mowing the lawn.

If I am with people, I utter the words silently, but I actually use the words just the same. This has a profound effect because I am training my mind to form a different thought pattern.

Step 3 – Reward yourself

This is the most important part of the approach because this one gives you the impetus to do more of it in the future. Think to yourself, “Hey, that was a good thing. I am actually growing here in my capacity to think more positively. That feels great!”

That is all there is to this simple method of self improvement. Now you just wait for the next negative thought to come along and repeat the process.

The impact of doing this

At first, this will feel awkward or hokey. Do it anyway because you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

If you can do it for one day, that will give you enough momentum to do it on day 2. Similarly, by the end of day 2 you will feel some exhilaration as you praise yourself and continue through day three.

By day 4 it will be pretty easy to keep doing it. If you persist using this method for 28 days, you will have permanently changed your thought pattern about yourself. You will use this method instinctively for the rest of your life.

Here is my guarantee to you. If you can do this for 28 days, sometime during that process someone you love or work with will say something like this, “You have changed. I can’t put my finger on what is different, but you really are a changed individual and you wear it well.” If you are like me, several people in your life will notice a difference.

Of course the most important person to notice a difference in you is yourself. You feel better because you really are better.

You have beaten a life long habit of thinking negative thoughts about yourself. Yet you still maintain the ability to see your true flaws accurately and learn from your mistakes.

It is just that you have stopped punishing yourself over and over for not being good enough. What a burden lifted.

I urge you to try this simple three step approach. Look at it this way, it takes almost no time to do this, it is uplifting and fun, it improves the quality of your life, it is easy to do, and you can do it privately so nobody else has to know.

So, for no expenditure of cash or even effort, you will be shaping yourself into a new person. Once you see the benefits of this method, don’t hoard it for yourself. Teach others the wonderful relief of this technique, for as you help others you also help yourself.


Preventing Scope Creep

November 8, 2014

Handyman dog with a hammerOne of the most insidious problems in any kind of project work is scope creep. The impact of scope creep is often a dissatisfied customer or a loss of profit for the vendor or both.

Either way, the situation has caused the result to be less satisfying than what was envisioned.

It is very easy to understand how scope creep happens. No complex project can be fully described in every minute detail before doing the work.

There are always going to be surprises that come up along the way in terms of unexpected delays, schemes that did not work as expected, resources being unavailable, new features requested by the customer, and a host of other changes in the description of the project.

This phenomenon should be understood by both parties ahead of time and not come as a surprise.

There is no 100% guarantee that any project is going to be completed without some change in scope. The trick to manage scope creep effectively is to recognize when a change is being suggested.

It is very easy to accommodate small or subtle changes in the specification for the project, and yet the sum of many small changes can mean a huge difference in the success of the project.

Make sure all changes to the specification are openly discussed. That will protect you at least partially, because it will notify the customer that a change from the original design has been requested.

You can then renegotiate the price or the delivery time in order to accommodate the change in scope.

If you are the customer, recognize that the vendor was not able to envision 100% of the things that needed to be done to deliver your project. In reality, changes in scope will be happening for both the vendor and the customer on every project.

Life happens, and both parties are going to have to roll with the vicissitudes that are being faced on a daily basis.

Here are 12 tips that can help reduce the stress of scope creep:

1. Ensure there is enough communication with the customer when creating the specifications.

2. Do not go into the project with preconceived notions of what the customer really wants.

3. Make sure specifications are detailed and specific, because any vague deliverables are going to be areas of contention down the road.

4. Factor in the potential for scope creep by building contingencies or safety factors into the bidding process.

5. Keep a ledger of requested changes on both sides. It is not necessary to renegotiate the entire deal for each change, but it is important to have all changes documented.

6. Plan the job in phases with sign off gates at specific milestones. If there is a scope change it can be confined to one phase of the project and not infect the entire effort.

7. Look for win-win solutions to problems. Often a creative solution is available that will delight both the vendor and the customer.

8. Avoid rigidity about the job. Make sure the entire project is constantly moving in the direction of a successful conclusion. If things get significantly off the track, call for a meeting to clarify the issues and brainstorm solutions together.

9. Keep the customer well informed about progress of the project.

10. Express gratitude when the other party is willing to make a concession. Good will is important in every project because life is a series of projects, and a poor reputation can severely hamper future income.

11. Have a formal closing to the project where each party expresses gratitude for a job well done. If there were any specific lessons learned during this job, make sure they are documented so both parties can benefit by them in the future.

12. Plan an appropriate celebration at the end of a challenging project to let people feel good about what they have done and reduce the pressure.

The best defense for stress caused by scope creep is to bring all changes out in the open. Changes can occur on either side of the equation, but they need to be made visible and the impact on the total delivery whether it be the specification or the time or cost to make it happen need to be understood along the way.

The key objective is to avoid disappointing surprises that result from lack of communication between various stakeholders throughout the process.


Adopt Problem People

October 31, 2014

Business coachingManaging people is an art that can be very complicated and frustrating. Most managers soon realize that they are spending an inordinate amount of time with a few problem employees.

The Pareto principle applies in this instance: usually 20% of the people will require 80% of your attention.

When you have problem people on the team it is a great distraction because it prevents you from spending time on the strategy or on reinforcing people who are doing good work.

I found a technique that helped me convert some of the more difficult workers into superstars.

The idea is to select one or two of the most difficult cases and “adopt” them. Don’t tell them you are doing this; just start operating in a different way.

The first thing to do is decide which of the problem people are worth saving. You will not be successful at saving them all, but by using this technique somewhere around 50% of the difficult cases can be converted. That can be a huge benefit to your effectiveness.

Real example:

Janice was a caustic employee in one of the departments reporting to me. She once told her manager that he was “lucky to be in business.” Janice was an informal leader of the people on her shift because she was witty and quick. People listened to her, which was bad news for the manager because she was spreading negativity.

I saw great potential in Janice if she could change her attitude. I genuinely liked her despite the rough exterior and acid tongue. She had strength but rough edges.

I started getting to know Janice a lot better. I found out her unique set of needs and opinions. After a while I started to understand what made her tick. I made it a point to drop into the break room almost daily before the start of the shift and sit with her group to just listen. At first it was awkward, but they tolerated me and soon they actually welcomed me to their table.

I started improving the relationship with Janice by asking her opinion. I encouraged her manager to listen openly to her ideas for the insight they might provide instead of rejecting anything that came out of her mouth.

Soon Janice started to turn and soften the rhetoric because she felt more respected.

We were now in a position to go the next step where we asked Janice to head up a planning group for the layout of a new packaging line. Her natural leadership showed in this effort as she was able to quickly get the cooperation of a core group of operators and maintenance people.

The job turned out to be a big success, and we brought in top management and let Janice tell the story of how the job got done early and under budget. Top managers were impressed and said so.

Having a success to build on, we took a further risk and appointed Janice to a supervisory position. We also sent her for some excellent leadership training. She was excited to see these moves because there was real upward momentum in her career: something she never dreamed would happen.

She was making more money and having greater influence in the business. At the same time the negativity was melting away. Gone was the caustic sarcasm that was her trademark for years before. She was a strong advocate for the management side of the actions that were contemplated.

Janice ended up retiring as a very successful supervisor. If she had stayed on, I was considering making her a department manager, she was that strong and effective.

The best part is that she felt better about herself and what she had accomplished in her career.

Recognize that you cannot save all individuals who are problem employees. You can however, change some of them to go from a drain or negative influence on the environment to a very positive, even stellar, performer for the organization. Imagine the power of taking people who are a drag on performance and making them into your superstars.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 523 other followers