Why It Is a Big Thing To Take Action On Small Things

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

 

Take Action On The Small Things

Culture is established by both communication and action. People will listen to what you say, but they will closely watch and emulate what you do. Action on large, highly visible initiatives will certainly make priorities and culture clear in a big way. However, it takes time to formulate and communicate large initiatives, plus it often takes time for the results to be achieved and visible. Action on small initiatives while larger actions are in progress can be very effective.

 

“Culture is established by communication and action.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Good leaders interact with the organization at all levels and with cross-functional teams. Many times during these interactions, opportunities to take action on smaller issues will present themselves. These small opportunities are issues, changes, or decisions that can be addressed by a few of those directly involved without much involvement from the leader. They can solve small customer irritations, eliminate frustrations and inefficiencies in a process or a department, drive a decision or make a localized change. I am a big proponent of taking proper action on selected small opportunities. One of my favorite sayings is, “Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”

Here is why:

 

“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”

 

10 Major Benefits of Taking Action On Small Things

  • Accelerates Empowerment and Learning: Action on small issues will build organizational confidence, get quick results and allow people to learn from mistakes that have smaller consequences and reduced visibility. It helps people cultivate their leadership.
  • Teaches Delegation: When done correctly, implementing action on small changes teaches others how to delegate, how to decide who needs to be involved in developing action and approval, how to form a collaborative team and how to involve and grow others.
  • Improves Accountability and Decisiveness: When a small team is empowered to take action on smaller decisions, they become more comfortable with accountability and find it easier to make decisions. Using smaller initiatives also provides decision-making experience for more people at many levels in the organization.
  • Boosts Career Satisfaction: Since many small actions are localized to specific processes or departments, they can help remove daily irritations that hinder department or operational processes. At the same time, people learn that they can assume more responsibility and make a difference for the organization.
  • Enhances Collaboration and Team Building: With more small actions, a larger number of people are able to participate in collaborative problem solving and work together with a variety of defined roles to implement change. The benefit is that more people in the organization can gain experience, grow and achieve results.

 

“Taking action on small things rapidly creates an empowered workplace.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

  • Improves Communication: When a leader is able to initiate many small actions at different levels of the organization, or with various teams, it helps to “flatten” the organization, cut through bureaucracy and allow a larger population to see the leader in action. People become more comfortable communicating with the leader and each other. Additionally, small initiatives to implement change can get more people communicating who normally would not do so.

Detect and Root Out Behavior That Undermines Your Workplace

Simple Sabotage

The year was 1944. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the organization preceding the CIA, published a classified document, The Simple Sabotage Field Manual. The manual was designed to destroy the Axis powers from within. It contained numerous small acts that would wear down the enemy, but it also contained a list of techniques to sabotage organizations. Ironically, these very same techniques often still sabotage modern organizations. People are not intentionally sabotaging their organizations, but they may not even realize that they are engaged in these behaviors.

Authors Bob Frisch, Cary Greene, and Robert M. Galford review the declassified manual. In Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace, they show how the same insidious behaviors are damaging organizations today. How to recognize these damaging behaviors and what to do about them is the subject of this fascinating book.

Bob Frisch sheds light on these everyday behaviors that undermine today’s workplace.

 

“Successful organizations make and execute decisions faster than their competitors.”

 

How Good Behaviors Can Become Dangerous

It seems all of us may fall into one of these acts of sabotage at some point or another. How do you recognize these early enough to make a difference?

Good point. And remember, we’re not suggesting you have enemies lurking in your midst doggedly working to bring the organization down. Most of the time, individuals unwittingly employ these tactics – things like ‘doing everything through channels’ or ‘advocating caution.’ These are good behaviors taken to an extreme.

You might think, “This is easy. I’ll just point these things our to my colleagues and the behaviors will stop.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, since these corrosive behaviors often become part of the working culture – and spotting them isn’t easy.

The four steps we talk about in the book to both expose and inoculate any group against sabotage are:

  1. Identify.

Spot sabotage as it occurs. Help others see when a positive behavior crosses the line and becomes counterproductive or destructive.

  1. Calibrate

Put into place the right expectation for tolerance – the range of acceptable behaviors – so that productive behavior is encouraged, but sabotage is prevented.

  1. Remediate.

Give everyone in the organization the permission, language and techniques to call out damaging behaviors in constructive ways.

  1. Inoculate.

Introduce tools, metrics and process changes to prevent sabotage from recurring and to help develop a low-sabotage culture.

Sometimes these are sequential, but more often they have to happen at the same time – it depends on the type of sabotage, who spots it and the group you’re dealing with.

 

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

 

Sabotage by Committee

Which one is the most prevalent?

Simple Sabotage_Cover-minIn my experience, the most prevalent form of sabotage is sabotage by committee. Too often leaders avoid making difficult decisions by referring them to committees, which creates a delay in the decision making process. As employees wait for decisions, they may get discouraged and dispirited. Some decisions require the use of a committee, particularly when multiple perspectives and areas of expertise are required. However, referring important decisions to committees creates the significant risk of halting momentum and can give the illusion of kicking the can down the road.

Is frequency or the most prevalent type different by kind of organization? For instance, do you see one more often in a for-profit corporation versus an academic institution or government?

Let me put it this way. When it comes to the prevalence of these sabotage tactics, organizations of various shapes, sizes and types are generally created equal. Over the years we’ve shared the list of OSS tactics with hundreds of friends, colleagues and clients – almost every time, they’ve chuckled and said, “That describes my [department, company, group, board, school or church committee].” We’ve heard them all. And that’s why we wrote the book. In our decades of working with individuals and groups in organizations large, small, public, private and non-profit, we’ve seen these corrosive tactics at work and witnessed the damage they can do in these settings.

 

“Committees can be deadly when they have the appearance that work is taking place when in fact very little is happening.”

 

Sabotage by Obedience

Leadership and Millennials: How to Overcome Perceptions

Generational Leadership

Were you were born between 1980 and 2000 and are or aspire to be in a senior management position?

Do you have a boss who is younger than you from this generation?

I’m always fascinated by the research that shows how various generations act and react. Sure, the research often results in generalizations. Some of us may resist or see the exceptions. Still, there’s no denying that there is truth in the research that may help you become a better leader. Perceptions about each generation shape how we manage and lead.

Chip Espinoza is a noted expert on generational dynamics and especially the Millennial generation. How to manage them is often a subject, but increasingly it will shift to how this generation will lead and manage others.

 

“Invest in yourself before you expect others to invest in you.” -Chip Espinoza

 

Chip’s latest book, Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader, co-authored by Joel Schwarzbart, is one of the first to cover the subject. I found it a fascinating read, backed by extensive research, that helps everyone better understand workplace generational dynamics.

I recently spoke with Chip about his research and his work with Millennials.

 

 

“Engaging authentically with people is the first task of genuine leadership.” -Margie Worrell

 

Characteristics of Millennials

What are some of the characteristics of Millennials?

Ambiguity is their kryptonite. If you want to freak a Millennial out, be ambiguous. Millennials believe everything is negotiable, and they expect authority figures to be friendly, helpful, and their advocate.

Career development is their love language, and they expect to have a voice in the organizations they work for—from day one. They also tend to confuse quantity with quality. For example, in college, if there is a 10-12 page paper assigned, if they write 12 pages, they often will think it warrants an A.

It is important to understand that intrinsic values drive behavior. Millennials have some very admirable values when it comes to work, but their behaviors are often misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Here are some intrinsic values of Millennials and how managers characterize them:

Intrinsic Value: Work-life fusion | Managerial Perception: Autonomous

Millennials express a desire to do what they want when they want, have the schedule they want, and not worry about someone micromanaging them. They don’t feel they should have to conform to office processes as long as they complete their work.

Intrinsic Value: Reward | Managerial Perception: Entitled

Millennials express that they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. They want to move up the ladder quickly but not always on management’s terms. They want a guarantee for their performance, not just the opportunity to perform.

Intrinsic Value: Self-expression | Managerial Perception: Imaginative

Millennials are recognized for having a great imagination and can offer a fresh perspective and unique insight into a myriad of situations. Their imagination can distract them from participating in an ordered or mechanistic process or from focusing on solutions that are viable under organizational constraints like timelines and budgets.

Intrinsic Value: Attention | Managerial Perception: Self-absorbed

Millennials are perceived as primarily concerned with how they are treated rather than how they treat others. Tasks are seen as a means to their ends. Millennials are often preoccupied with their own personal need for trust, encouragement, and praise.

Intrinsic Value: Achievement | Managerial Perception: Defensive

Millennials often experience anger, guardedness, offense, and resentment, and they shift responsibility in response to critique and evaluation. They want to be told when they are doing well, but they are not used to being told when they are doing poorly.

Intrinsic Value: Informality | Managerial Perception: Abrasive

Perhaps due to technology, Millennial communication style can be experienced as curt. They are perceived as inattentive to social courtesies like knowing when to say thank you and please. Whether intentional or not, their behavior is interpreted as disrespectful or usurping authority.

Intrinsic Value: Simplicity | Managerial Perception: Myopic

Millennials struggle with cause-and-effect relationships. The struggle is perceived as a narrow-sightedness guided by internal interests, without an understanding of how others and the organization are impacted.

Intrinsic Value: Multitasking | Managerial Perception: Unfocused

Millennials, as a cohort, are recognized for their intellectual ability but are often perceived to struggle with a lack of attention to detail. They have a hard time staying focused on tasks for which they have no interest.

Intrinsic Value: Meaning | Managerial Perception: Indifferent

Millennials find little energy in doing things they don’t consider to be meaningful. As a result, they are perceived as careless, apathetic, or lacking commitment.

 

“To attract followers a leader has to be many things to many people. The trick is to pull that off while remaining true to yourself.” -Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

 

Unfair Stereotypes

Make A Decision To Win

Fast Forward Winner

He’s an Emmy Award winning broadcaster, a motivational speaker, and the author of Fast Forward Winner. He’s also the voice of the Atlanta Hawks. His whole professional life has been spent watching teams compete.

Who better than to ask about winning teams, about team leadership, and about winning?

 

“Every day your work is your performance review.” –Bob Rathbun

 

Bob Rathbun started broadcasting at 12. His first opportunity at the microphone started with him calling a homerun at the bottom of the seventh inning. Since that first call, Bob has crisscrossed the country, won numerous awards, and risen to the top of his profession.

And yet he humbly says that, if he could do it, you can, too. Bob wants everyone from corporate leaders to the youth groups he encourages to learn from his journey and find success.

 

“Make the decision to be at your best so you can give those around you your best.” –Bob Rathbun

 

Go For Your Dreams

In his book, Fast Forward Winner, and in his public appearances, Bob is always encouraging others to go for their dreams.

“It’s ok to dream. Ok to put yourself out there and see where it can take you.”

If you don’t dream about it, think about it, put yourself out there and ask some people for help, you never know what may be out there for you.

What’s the #1 lesson for those aspiring to go to the top? Bob’s answer: Belief.

How many of us give up because we don’t believe in ourselves enough?

 

“When you make a decision, be ready for what comes with it.” –Bob Rathbun

 

Formula for a Winning Team

Bob has seen teams fall apart and seen teams win championship games. His formula for success is:

Talent + Lockstep Thought, Spirit, and Execution

Questions to Shape Self-Improvement

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

Questions to Shape The Year Ahead

It is that time of year when many people assess the past year and make plans for the next one. Businesses develop strategies and goals, individuals write resolutions and families plan vacations. Many individual plans involve possessions, places and events.

One of the most important, but perhaps difficult, topics to assess is personal improvement. If you are happy with yourself and your current situation, everything else will seem better. Since it is sometimes more difficult to “see yourself” and develop actions for self-improvement, here is a list of questions to help identify some candidate areas for improvement.

The list covers many topics to generate ideas. I suggest that you simply read the list, make lots of notes as you go and not try to develop or prioritize actions until later. Suggestions for next steps are discussed at the end.

 

“If you are happy with yourself and current situation, everything else will seem better.”  –Bruce Rhoades

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Learning and Growing

What new skills would I like to develop for work or for personal satisfaction?

Am I listening to different perspectives and diverse viewpoints?

What should I read to expand my horizons?

What new challenges should I undertake?

Do I have a role model to observe?

 

Appreciation and Gratitude

What am I thankful for?

Do I tell those I love that I love them?

What are my opportunities to tell others what I appreciate about them?

Do I celebrate the success and happiness of others?

How often do I praise or compliment others?

 

“Do I celebrate the success and happiness of others?” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Relationships

Am I satisfied with my relationships? Kids? Colleagues? Family?

How can I be a better partner — one that I would like to have?

Are the boundaries I have set with others the right ones?

Where should I be a more positive influence?

Are the people that demand my time the ones who I really want to use my time?

Are there relationships that I need to repair or let go?

Which relationships do I want to grow?

Do I feel and express appropriate emotion?

How and where can I be less controlling or bossy?

How can I improve my attentiveness and listening?

How do I want to be remembered?

 

“Are the boundaries I have set with others the right ones?” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Leadership

What culture do I want to create for work, family and friends?

What kind of role model am I? What attributes do I want others to emulate?

How can I bring out the best in others? At work? With family? With friends?

Are my actions consistent with my talk?

What opportunities do I have to make a difference in someone’s life?

How can I help others to grow? Who?

How can I be a better team member?

What are my opportunities to teach?

 

“What kind of role model am I?”  –Bruce Rhoades

 

Balance