A Method to the Madness

Like many of you, I really get into watching college basketball this time of year. Unlike most of you, I really get into understanding coaching principles and tactics. This year, I have read all I could find on Tony Bennett’s (head coach at the University of Virginia) coaching style and defensive philosophy. After reading all I could find on the internet yesterday, I watched them play and looked for examples of what I read in both his coaching style and scheme. Now I know that seems odd to most of you, but I really like finding different approaches, and if you have watched Virginia play basketball, you will see it’s different.

You see, Bennett isn’t your typical college basketball coach and his defensive philosophy isn’t typical in college basketball. They play at a very deliberate pace, generally have low scoring games, and really focus on defense first. He expects his players to do three things well on defense: 1) don’t allow a fast break 2) don’t allow dribble penetration 3) don’t allow an offensive rebound on a missed shot. They run something he calls a “Packline” defense to accomplish this goal. In summary, it’s a defense based on helping one another achieve a total team defensive approach to the above three key objectives. Thy put pressure on the ball, but off-ball defenders sag back and look to help. They force you to make outside, contested shots.

Now that’s enough of that for now. I could go in to much more detail, but that’s not the essence of this message. The more I read about Bennett’s communication effort in his coaching style and defensive philosophy, the more I saw the correlation to leadership in general. His expectations are made clear in the recruitment of his players, at each practice, and during each game. It is evident that his expectations are clear when you watch them play.

For any leader, keep in mind that you will generally not get more from your team than you expect. If you want an orderly, clean work environment, you have to set that expectation. If you want a safety first focus, you have to clearly communicate that expectation. If you want certain production results, you have to ensure everyone understands those expectations. Now, setting expectations doesn’t guarantee results, but not setting expectations will normally guarantee you won’t get them. That almost sounds profound!

Here’s some key thoughts on setting expectations:
1. You decide first what your team needs to do to be successful. If you don’t clearly know, you can’t communicate expectations to your team. (simple, narrow focused)
2. Clearly communicate those expectations to your team. Be sure they know why those expectations matter. Why should they care?
3. Be consistent. Don’t change expectations on your team. Don’t confuse things. Decide and stay the course!
4. Remember you generally won’t get more than you expect, so expect what you need to be successful.
5. Inspect what you expect. By this I mean make sure you are involved and getting what you value. Look, observe, audit, ask, and make sure you draw importance and attention to that which you expect.

I don’t know how far UVA will go in the tournament this year, but I do know that they will win or lose doing what their coach expects. Is your team aware of your expectations and doing their best to execute every day? Even more importantly, are you clear on your expectations?

Doing a Great Work

One of the greatest leadership stories I have ever read took place in 445 BC.

The Babylonian empire had defeated the Jewish nation and destroyed much of Jerusalem. Many of the Jews were eventually taken into exile and would later wind up as part of the Persian empire.

Nehemiah was one of these Jews who was exiled. He was very fortunate though, in that he would be working as part of the King’s servant staff group in a somewhat comfortable role compared to many of his fellow Jews.

Having been told by fellow Jews that the remnant of Jews that remained in Jerusalem were living in terrible conditions because they had no wall to protect the city (destroyed in the Babylonian siege) and were at the mercy of those nations and people groups living in the surrounding areas, Nehemiah was driven to take action.

1. He went to the King and asked permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. He was willing to leave a comfortable situation for something uncomfortable that would have an impact.
2. He received permission, went to Jerusalem, inspected the city, and prioritized rebuilding the wall. Without the wall, there was no protection from outside threats and nothing done inside the city would be safe. He assessed, developed a vision, narrowed the focus, and put a plan together.
3. He then sold his vision to the people and convinced them of the need to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah had them work on the wall adjacent to the area of the city they lived in. He got buy in by having them work in areas that meant something to them personally (taking care of their families).
4. As the wall started to be rebuilt and repaired, outside enemies started to threaten the work. Nehemiah adjusted the work assignments to ensure everyone was armed and that half of those working would focus on the wall with the other half standing guard against a possible attack. He adjusted his plans as the circumstances changed to ensure they were able to continue on with their mission and address the obstacles from the outside.
5. With the outside threat being neutralized, the work continued but there arose economic internal issues within the group. Nehemiah quickly dealt with financial condition of many of the poorer families and established a system that allowed for everyone to work, to own property, and not be dependent on others for their provision/condition of servitude. He addressed internal issues directly and ensured everyone was cared for and given an opportunity to contribute while staying focused on their primary goal.
6. As the wall neared completion, outside threats took another approach and tried to distract him from the primary focus of the wall. Nehemiah replied with my favorite statement of the entire book – “ I am doing a great work and cannot come down”. He was totally focused on his mission and would not compromise that commitment or focus!
7. With the wall finished, Nehemiah planned a celebration to recognize the efforts of the people and share with them the vision of their next focus area. He took time to recognize the effort and share the continued vision for success in the future.

Now, take a look at the last sentence in each section of each of those seven comments above. Each one of us reading this message can apply those steps in some manner to what we do.

1. How do we need to leave the comfortable for the uncomfortable to make a difference? When we are willing to get out of our comfort zone, we may discover that we can have more impact/influence than we ever thought possible.
2. Have we effectively developed and communicated our plan for success with those following our leadership? It doesn’t matter how much you know or how skilled you are if you aren’t impacting others as a leader.
3. How effective have we been at getting buy in from our followers? Effective leaders get people to see why it matters and why they need to be a part of the plan.
4. How effective are we at adjusting our tactical plans as obstacles arise while still staying focused on our primary purpose? Effective leaders fully utilize resources, address issues, and stay focused.
5. Are we listening to our followers and being sensitive to issues that may limit our effectiveness? Don’t underestimate the importance of your follower’s concerns. Actively listen and address internal issues.
6. Do you view your work as “A great work”? Think of the significance of your role with the people you lead and “and stay on that wall”.
7. How are you sharing in the successes and continuing to communicate with your followers? You can’t have leadership without communication.

I have now taught over 20 Balmert Safety Leadership classes over the last 3+ years. I end each of those classes with a challenge. That challenge is to make a difference in the life of someone else each day. As I recall Nehemiah’s response to those trying to divert is attention: “I am doing a great work and cannot come down”, I am reminded of that challenge. You are doing a great work. Make a difference every day.

I Hated that Job

It was the summer before my sophomore year in high school. From the time I was 12 years old, I pushed my lawnmower around town mowing yards during the day. Now I was 15 years old, had just bought a car, and took a job at a full service gas station/garage. I would go to an early morning football workout, work at the station 5-8 hours per day, and play baseball at night. I loved working out and playing ball, but I hated working at that gas station. Now when I say I hated it, please know I was still very thankful to have that job. Without that job, there would be no gas money for the car, no money for repairs, no money for anything. My mom was doing all she could do just to provide for my brother and me. We didn’t have extra money for a second car. So I thanked God every day for that job even though I couldn’t wait for the workday to end.

You see, pumping gas, checking oil, and cleaning windshields was fine. Washing and waxing cars by hand was challenging at times, but ok. What was nerve racking was raising a car on a lift to change oil and/or rotate tires. With little or no training, using that lift to raise a car 7 feet in the air was gut-wrenching to say the least. Having to re-wash/re-wax a car due to water spots was not much fun. Being left alone at the station on Sundays while the owner and other workers took off to go to smoke pot (stash stored behind the oil cans on the second shelf) was not something that I felt very comfortable with either. I wanted to do well and there were just a lot of things that I wasn’t comfortable with at that time. Training was limited. When it was busy, the pressure was intense. When it was slow, I had to find something to do or get sent home (I really needed the hours). There were obstacles every day in that job. While thankful for the income, I dreaded going there.

At 15 years old, I was just surviving each day. I saw obstacles as just something to get through. For 2 ½ months of a summer job, that was doable. If we approach work like that as an adult, life can be miserable. We aren’t just working for 2 ½ months during the summer.

When we start to view obstacles as opportunities, work takes on an entirely different meaning. Leading and influencing others becomes the primary focus during challenging times. The bigger the challenge, the more opportunity we have to be influential and/or impactful. You see, the tougher the situation and challenge, the more likely people are to be receptive to leadership – the more likely people are to follow someone who cares, someone who has direction, and someone who can provide a pathway to success. Tough, challenging times are when leaders make a difference!

If you are facing obstacles today, and if you are like me, you are facing your share of them, please know that you are not alone. Obstacles may be internal to your operation. Obstacles may be market/customer driven. Obstacles may be something coming down from the corporate level. Obstacles come from many different directions.

Take a step back and consider these obstacles as opportunities – Opportunities to impact people – Opportunities to lead by example – Opportunities to make a difference in someone else every day.

Take the opportunity to:
Simplify what you are trying to do. Everyone should clearly understand what we are trying to achieve. Eliminate complexity.
Narrow the focus. Refine what you are going to put emphasis on. You are going to have to make choices.
Prioritize actions that will be most impactful to your team.
Integrate everything we do to align with key focus areas noted above.
Execute at a high level. Be great at what you decided in the first three items above!

As a leader, don’t let obstacles discourage you today. Rather, see them as opportunities to achieve something even greater with your people.

Don’t just survive the day, but make it something worthwhile in the midst of the challenge.

Everybody Needs Hope

I had been with IP about two years and was working in a multiwall bag plant in Camden AR. My wife and I were both around 28 years old, and our son (around 2 at this time) had been born shortly after we moved there. My wife had not been feeling well for weeks and then months. The local doctor(s) had treated her for numerous things but nothing seemed to work. We finally went to Little Rock to see specialists and get a more expansive view of her condition. She was really sick by this time, and we had no real idea what it was nor what to do. To get right to the point, we soon found out that she had cancer. I still recall getting that news in the waiting room after they performed the biopsy.

The initial referral to an oncologist was even more disturbing. He suggested surgery to remove an organ, radiation treatments, and a list of other things to consider, but not much hope. We weren’t comfortable at all with this plan, nor did we have a peace about things at all. We pursued a second opinion with a different oncologist and got a very different plan of attack – aggressive chemo treatment and start getting better!. There were no promises of a timetable for complete healing, but there was a simple plan that experience indicated would lead to a favorable outcome.

There were additional tests to be performed, a somewhat lengthy stay in the hospital, and all the side effects that chemo treatments had back in those days. I recall working at the plant during the day, driving two hours to the hospital in the evenings, spending the night in the room, and driving back to work early the next morning. Just seeing progress and keeping the mindset of a desired favorable outcome was the focus. Yes, there were tough days and challenging obstacles, but that oncologist provided a plan with hope. There was no guarantee, but there was hope.

She did get better and was ultimately cleared of cancer. The process was tough, but the results were what we were hoping for.

As we come to the end of the year, many of you reading this note have had a tough year in many respects. Many of the people you lead have had a tough year. I bet there is no shortage of a need for hope in many people today. With our plants working a lot of overtime, experiencing machine issues, dealing with challenging customers, and working through frustrating safety issues, there is no doubt a high level of anxiety and discouragement right now.

Here’s what you can do as a leader to provide hope and help us get through these challenging times: (hey, this can be a personal message too)

1. Confront the facts honestly. Make an honest assessment of the situation and what has to happen to get to a better place. Don’t downplay the significance of the situation or sugarcoat the way out. Honest acceptance is the start. (OK, it’s cancer, now what do we do?)

2. Get back to basic focus areas. Narrow the focus and simplify everything you can. Everything can’t be a top priority or there is nothing at the top. Identify the few things that you must really focus on and be solid/great at. Other things will need to take a secondary role. By narrowing the focus and simplifying, you provide a manageable game plan for you and your team. (Just like that second oncologist provided us a simple plan. It wasn’t easy, but it was clear, concise, and could be easily understood.)

3. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. While we want to keep everyone focused on getting to a better place, you can’t promise a timeline. There are too many variable in play. Just make progress toward the goal and stay focused on that goal. A promise of a deadline or timetable missed does a lot of harm. (There was never a promise of a timeline for complete cure or normal life, but there was the focus on a cure.)

4. There will be setbacks and tough times along the way. Don’t let these challenges take away your focus of the goal at hand. Your role as the leader is to keep everyone moving toward the desire outcome, not focused on the setbacks along the way. Just make progress today. (Some days sure did not seem like progress, but there was the plan of just staying clearly focused on today and the goal.)

5. Recognize and communicate progress often. (I recall getting favorable news on various tests that things were improving with my wife. Sometimes these tests were only a part of the entire treatment evaluation, but good news, no matter how limited, provides momentum to fuel hope.) Leaders need to do the same. Just sharing positive news from time to time can pick a group up and propel them forward.

As I read back over the five things noted above, they have a very similar sound to Jim Collin’s key messages in his book Good to Great. I think he used different terminology, but from what I recall from the book, the basic message appears very similar.

Oh, by the way; some eleven years later we would have a baby girl join our family. Her name is Hope.

Can a Leader Change Culture

Culture is defined as the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a people group.

With that being the definition, it would seem relevant to most any organization then. Attitudes and behaviors of people in a group are the essence of the organization.

So if culture is relevant, the question is: Can leaders impact a culture that is already established?

The answer is a big YES, but it’s not easy. Before we get into the how of effecting change, let’s look at why it’s important to have the culture you want.

Why it Matters:
If culture is the collection of behaviors and characteristics of the people we lead, then it obviously matters. It matters with safety. It matters with quality. It matters with operational issues. It impacts everything we do. I visit a lot of plants and have done it long enough now to pick up on the culture of the workplace pretty quickly. Take a tour, talk to employees, look at the results over a period of time, and one will understand the culture of a facility/group of people. Just watch what people are doing, how they are doing it, the results of the work over a period of time, or the condition of the work environment. All of these are telling signs of the culture.

We would all want a safety culture where employees were actively engaged in training, in SWO’s, and took full responsibility and accountability for the safety in their facility. We would all want a culture that was quality focused at all steps of the manufacturing process. We would all want a culture where reliability and operational excellence was executed at the highest level every day. So it is important, but can it be more than a dream?

Can it Change – Things to Consider:
Major culture change normally take place when there is significant change in leadership or some other significant event. How many teams have been transformed by just changing the head coach? How many companies have been changed by a reorganization? How many departments have been improved by a supervisor change in some manner? The answer to all of these is A LOT. While change does not guarantee a successful cultural change for the better, it does happen. Significant change in an organization can be a Moment of High Influence and thus people expect things to be different. So if your team needs a cultural change in some area, why don’t you consider being that change agent. Don’t wait for your successor to do it. Here’s how:

1. Clarity is key. In as simple of terms as possible, what do you really want your group to achieve? Clarify this simple message to your followers/team. Many of us are trying to focus on too many things and getting average results in all of them. If safety is the issue, clarify that we are not going to get people hurt and here are the things we are going to do to make that happen. If quality is the issue, do the same thing. Just clarify what the goal is and how we are going to accomplish it. Simplify the message and focus as much as possible.

2. Change something. It doesn’t have to be major to have a big impact. 5S a work area to drive home the message of organization to help safety and efficiency. Start having a member of the management team attend each safety training session to emphasize the importance of training. Quit showing charts in your plant-wide meetings and engage the group in conversation to build ownership and teamwork. If your group needs a change in leadership to spark a change, just change how you lead.

3. Invest in others. Find those leaders within the organization that have influence. Get them to buy in to the plan and the culture you want to create. You need their help in influencing others. They may not have a title or a position that looks like leadership, but every group has those people. Find them and invest in them at the very beginning.

4. Be consistent in everything. Don’t send mixed messages. If you are changing a culture, it’s all or nothing. Communicate openly, communicate often, maintain a consistent message, and limit distractions. Make it a big deal and be sure all of your leadership team is on board. This team has to be all in if you are going to change a culture.

5. Expect opposition and negative response; that’s going to happen. “At some point, someone is going to get hurt; that’s just part of working in manufacturing”. You will no doubt get that response if you are targeting safety as a focus area. You can obviously point to similar operations that were injury free as an example, but more importantly, just stay on task. You keep pushing an agenda that benefits the people involved and more will buy in. Some will change their way of thinking. Some will eventually leave. A change in culture won’t be for everyone, but will benefit everyone.

For leaders to be successful in today’s environment with ever increasing levels of expectations, creating the culture you want is critical. You will not be able to effectively manage every element of the operation without disciplined, consistent actions from those you lead. To get the sustainable results we really want, we will have to work on culture change, and that takes leadership!

Leading Safety – Revisited

I have been writing these notes in this type format for over three years now. I have posted them to the website noted below for future use and reference. I recently looked back at the data regarding how often these different messages have been accessed/read over this time period (I would assume primarily by non IP folks based on the data). The topic most accessed/read was one entitle Leading Safety that was posted several years ago. It was by far the most read post among all the others that I have put on that site; not even close.

That fact tells us a lot. People are interested in how to improve their leadership in the area of safety. From my experience over the years, it is clearly the most difficult aspect of a manufacturing business to manage. If one can successfully manage and lead safety, they can no doubt handle the other stuff!

With those facts in mind, I thought I would share some additional thoughts about leading safety in this month’s message.

Planning for Success:
It start with the ENVIRONMENT. Have we established a safe work environment with the proper guarding, 5S housekeeping plan, an effective traffic flow plan in the facility, and equipment that is maintained to provide us the opportunity to work in a safe environment?
Next, is the PROCESS. Have we developed a simple/easy to understand way to get work done, a 5S easy access to do the right thing, and a consistent safety priority working with our other focus areas such as quality and production goals?
Finally, is an effective TRAINING plan. Are we effectively transferring needed information to new and existing employees, validating understanding of this training, explaining why we do things and not just what to do, and ensuring that everyone recognizes hazards in the work place?

Executing/Doing for Success:
This area starts with leaders INFLUENCING regularly. Are leaders setting the expectation for safety compliance, prioritizing safety in all aspects of the operation, and driving safety focus throughout their interactions with employees?
Employee FOCUS on safety compliance must be maintained. Safe Work Observations are the best way I have ever seen to accomplish this task. Are our people (supervisors and employees) making daily safety observations with meaningful contact with an employee/coworker?
Employees ASSESSING a task before they start work is critical. Whether it’s a pre-task assessment form or some other approach, are our people asking “what could injure me” and “how can I do this safely” before they take action?

Monitoring/Checking for Success:
A sustained approach for EVALUATING compliance is critical. SWO results/feedback and audits can be valuable tools in evaluating the effectiveness of our planning and executing phases noted above. (SWO’s have multiple benefits)
ENGAGING employees in discussions to get new ideas to drive continual improvement is also key in this area. Are we routinely asking our employees what they think regarding safety, why there are instances of non-compliance, and how we could improve safety performance?

Making Adjustments for Success:
PRIORTIZING people and being willing to make adjustments based on information gathered is essential. Are we willing to make adjustments to the work environment, the process, or train differently if we discover we have gaps or could be better?
Managers and supervisors have to be committed to providing LEADERSHIP too. If we discover we have areas of noncompliance or lack of involvement, are we taking the time to really influence our folks, built trust, and get buy in?

That’s about as simple as I can lay it out. It is not overly complicated, but it can sure seem that way if we don’t break it down into some manageable way of looking at it (how it works together). It is a system that builds upon itself, not just a bunch of random stuff to do. If we aren’t careful, we just keeping adding more random good stuff, and we just get busier and busier; whether the results get better or not is always the question.

So think about managing and leading safety as a closed loop system (see above). See how it all should work together. Take a look at what you are doing today in light of the above flow and challenge yourself on those key capitalized words above.

Hey, it will be the toughest thing you ever manage on an ongoing basis. Don’t ever get comfortable. Don’t ever think you have arrived. It’s a daily focus that will never stop. Drive success through the system. It may be the hardest thing you do, but it will be one of the most rewarding also.

A Leader Worth Following

It was January 1981, and our high school football team was being honored at a banquet for winning the first state championship that our town had experienced in a long time. I was a sophomore on that team and played enough to earn a letter (back in those days that was a big deal), but did not play one down in the playoff games. My biggest contribution to that team was that I played scout team quarterback during practice. In those days, everything was live tackling and there were no red jerseys (don’t tackle them) for the quarterbacks. I took a beating every Tuesday and Wednesday at practice. I like to think we did a good job of preparing our defense for the Friday night games. I guess all that hard work and willingness to keep getting up was noticed by the coaching staff. That evening I was presented the sophomore coaches award. While the award was a great surprise and recognition, the best part of the evening was getting to shake hands with our guest speaker of the night, Grant Teaff, the head football coach at Baylor University.

Baylor had just won their second conference title under Teaff. That was a huge accomplishment for a school competing in the same conference as the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, etc. Teaff was someone that was well known in our part of the country at that time. I had listened to his tapes, read one of his books, and had become very interested in his teams during that time period. I still recall his message that night. He didn’t spend too much time talking about his success at Baylor or how he had transformed a perennial loser in that tough conference to a major competitor. Rather, he talked about his desire to have a positive influence over young people through the game of football. He talked about his quarterback that had such a stuttering problem that he could barely call a play his freshman year. He talked about a 5’6” tailback that wasn’t recruited by anyone else. He talked about kid after kid that he and his coaching staff invested in over the years. While they had success on the field, Teaff talked more about what these young people were going on to do in life.

That night impacted me greatly. Here was a leader talking about caring for others, challenging others to achieve, helping others overcome obstacles, and holding others accountable. From listening to him that evening, I could clearly see why people followed his leadership.

The essence of leadership is influence, and this coach sure embodied that character. He was surely someone people would follow.

That really leads us to ask the question: Are you a leader worth following?

To answer that question, one has to go a little deeper in questioning.
1. Do followers trust that you are looking out for their best interest?
2. Do you have credibility with those you lead?
3. Do followers know that you genuinely care about them?
4. Do you consistently hold followers accountable for their actions/performance and the impact it has on the overall group?
5. Do you communicate clearly and concisely with respect to what needs to be done, how to do it, and why it matters?
6. Do you regularly communicate with followers on how they are performing and give them a chance to share concerns?
7. Do you make the tough decisions for the group and take responsibility for the results?

Hey, that’s 7 closed end questions to just get you thinking. The real question for each of us to consider is: Are the followers better off because you’re their leader?

Just give it some honest thought. Are they better because you’re leading?

If you struggle with that question or any of the proceeding questions, it’s really just a matter of making it a priority. It’s so easy to get caught up with all the duties of supervising or managing that leading gets forgotten about. Supervising and managing take skill, experience, knowledge, etc. Leading just takes all those attributes in someone and comes out when someone decides they want to have an influence and/or impact. So to some degree, leadership is a choice. A choice that each one reading this note will need to make.

I go back to that original question: Are you a leader worth following?

Grab An Oar

I have heard it asked recently, when you look at the picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, how do you know who is in charge?

Well, the immediate response is George Washington. He is the only one not doing anything.

Now that’s not a fair description of Washington because we know without his leadership, that we wouldn’t be where we are today as a nation. However, that overall perception of leadership and the corresponding question of what do effective leaders do is one that is worthy of our attention.

Those in leadership positions do have some degree of flexibility in what they focus on. Now I am not saying they have a lot of extra time, because most facility leaders, at all levels, have more than they can get done in a day. I am saying that most people in leadership roles, when given the opportunity, will spend their time on things that they are more comfortable dealing with. Comfortable may be more knowledgeable of, more experienced with, or just plain enjoy it more. That factor may pose a problem depending on what the needs of the organization/team are.

Here are some things to consider as you evaluate your effectiveness in leading others:

1. Are you elevating the performance of those you are responsible for? As a leader, it’s no longer about how much you know or how much you can contribute. You are in a role to maximize the output or overall performance of the group. Are you making other people better? Are you teaching and passing on your knowledge and experience to others? Too often, those in leadership roles relish in being the expert on things. We don’t need experts; we need teachers so that we eventually have a lot of “experts”. We don’t need you to be the only problem solver in a plant or on a shift. We need you to show others how to do that. Your real value in the role is not what you bring to the job, but what you do with what you bring to the job. Are you getting the most out of your team?

2. Are you prioritizing what’s important for those you lead? We can all be busy, but are we effective? Do you find yourself always working on the “urgent” and not spending time on the “important”? As a leader, you get a lot of things thrown at you every day. Can you work through all the chaos and keep your team focused on key priorities? Leaders have to keep everyone focused to ensure we stay on the right course. What you focus on will be what they focus on. What you talk about is what they (the followers) see as important. Everything can’t be a priority.

3. Are you consistent in your message and approach even in challenging times? Are you the leader that people will follow when it gets tough? How you handle things in challenging times makes all the difference in the world. We are no doubt in challenging times now. We are having tough times in almost every aspect of what we do. All too often, when we aren’t getting the results we want, leadership will just start adding new programs or procedures to get a change in results. Let me caution against that. Yes, we may need to rethink our strategy at times. Strategic thinking means we evaluate what we are doing and consider doing something different to get a different result. It’s change, not an addition. Secondly, we may just need to execute more effectively. That’s not something new; rather, that’s just being better at what we were already doing. Strategy decisions and execution are very different approaches, but they work together. The leader has to be able to distinguish between the two. If you can’t get there through execution, change the strategy (what we do). If success is achievable by just doing better, then by all means focus on “doing better”. But by all means, don’t just go do more!

4. Are you attacking issues or are just being a victim to them? Inexperienced crews, older equipment, unreasonable customers, and on and on are all part of what many of us deal with every day. I am not diminishing the challenges associated with any of those items at all. Each one of us has a choice though. We either embrace the challenge and attack it with a plan to get through it, or we play the victim and have an excuse when the results come out. It may take time, but effective leaders find a way. They are relentless in their pursuit of overcoming obstacles.

5. Are you meeting the needs of those you lead? Now, that sounds like a reversal of what many would say doesn’t it? Aren’t the followers supposed to meet the needs of the leader? By meeting the basic needs of those we lead, we are more likely to get the results the organization/team needs. Are we adequately equipping those we lead (knowledge and materials)? Are we communicating well with necessary information? Are we clarifying things and answering questions? Are we setting the expectation for the work environment that would be desirable? Are we consistently holding everyone accountable? Call it servant leadership, call it engagement, call it whatever you want. Can those you lead count on you every day to be the leader they need?

Those are just five thoughts to give consideration to as you think about your role and impact on others. Give some thought to being effective and not just busy. Some of you are working ridiculous hours now. No one is asking that you work even more. Let’s focus on being more effective in the time that we do have with our folks. How can we be more intentional in what we do as leaders and ensure we have purpose in every action we take.

When you take a look at a recent photo of Navy Seals paddling to shore, I guarantee that everyone in that boat has purpose and that every stroke matters.

So grab an oar.

Press On

As I write this note, I have just completed my 27th year with International Paper. As I look back over this time period with bag plants, paper mills, box plants, and this current region role, I would have to say the last six months may have been the toughest of these 27 years. I have even debated as to even write this note. I usually have someone or some group in mind when I write these notes. I guess this month, I write primarily to myself. The more I have thought about it though, everyone that leads others will go through difficult times. Some of you may be going through those now. If not, you will likely face some adversity in the future.

The first half of 2018 has been full of safety issues, challenging customer issues, some major catastrophic events, poor reliability, lack of volume in places, and some pretty concerning employee issues (as well as disappointing engagement results). Now that’s a whole lot of disappointment, discouragement, and concern for six months. Trust me, I have tried to figure out what changed, how we got off track, and what we need to do differently. There are no doubt some things we need to address. We will have to change a few things and execute better in a few areas. To get different results, we will obviously have to do something different.

However, there is something else we have to realize here. There will be times in life when adversity hits, and its’ just part of life. I read recently where a very wise man said:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted
A time to break down, and a time to build up.

We will go through seasons of life. Some of these will be smooth and things will fall into place. We will also go through seasons where adversity will hit from all angles no matter what we have prepared or what we do. During these seasons we have to do a few things well to navigate through them and lead well. Here are a few ideas:

1. Step back and challenge what we are doing. Does it makes sense now? Do we need to alter or adept to get the results we need?
2. Challenge your folks and ensure everyone is accountable. Don’t bear these burdens alone.
3. Press on through the adversity. Don’t quit. Recognize the season and get through it.

Too many people ignore the issues and just hope things will eventually go away. That won’t get it done. Others panic, take it out on everyone around them, and just make matters worse for everyone. That doesn’t work either. Be honest with your folks, stay calm, follow the three step process above, and most of all don’t stop leading. Your people need leadership in these times more than ever.

I have never forgotten this short poem that someone gave me back in high school:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will.
When the road your trudging seems all up hill.
When the funds are low and the debts are high.
And you want to smile but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit.
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Can We Trust the Process

For the last several years now, I have been intrigued by what Alabama football coach Nick Saban as referred to as “the process”. When asked the key to their success over the last 11 years at Alabama, Saban routinely touts the commitment to “the process”. “The process” is their way of evaluating talent, developing talent, preparing for games, and executing during games, with the continual relentless focus on perfect execution in everything they do. They ignore results, scores, etc. to focus on being outstanding in every facet of what they do in order to have sustained success over time. Whether you are an Alabama fan or not, it’s hard to argue with their sustained success.

I have also heard where the Philadelphia 76ers had adopted the theme of “Trust the Process” to keep their fans engaged during losing seasons while they stockpiled high draft picks to turn things around. While I am not a proponent of losing on purpose, this management team had a plan to accumulate talent through the draft that would eventually lead to more success on the court. In essence, get worse to get better. It does appear that they are turning the corner after some long, dismal seasons.

The one area to me that it is even more process focused is the military and even more so the “process” for becoming and functioning as a Navy SEAL. There is obviously a very detail method to both create and sustain one of the world’s most effective combat teams. I recently read one SEAL commanders review of their process for training, evaluating, and the keys to becoming a SEAL. They definitely have a very organized, demanding approach to sustain excellence at all levels of their organization.

When I think of this concept in light of what we do in our business, we have many processes as well. We have processes for safety, quality, reliability, and most everything we do to some degree. The real question is whether we can rely on these processes to be the foundation for success in our business as opposed to just a bunch of activities we are expected to do every day. Here are some key thoughts for every leader to ask themselves in light of this topic:

1. Will the processes that we follow today, if executed at a high level, lead to sustained success? In other words, are they comprehensive in focus and effective in practice? If we do what we say we are going to do, will we get the results we are looking for? If not, the plan/process needs to change. Think about safety. If we train effectively, do effective safe work observations in high risk areas, act on results of these observations, do pre-task work assessments, maintain compliance with company guidelines, and provide active safety leadership throughout the day, will we have a safe work environment? If that’s our process for safety, is that enough or do we need to adjust/add something to the process? Whatever the area of focus, just evaluate the process as a leader to ensure it takes you where you want to go.

2. Are we truly executing the key steps of the process at a high level, making a difference in our actions, and not just checking boxes to get something done? Execution is not just getting things done. Execution goes beyond just doing the right thing. It is also making the right decision in light of what we see, making the right adjustments in light of what we find, making the right communication in what we learn, and making a difference in what we do. When Alabama executed that final pass play in overtime to win the national championship last year, they didn’t simply run a vertical route and throw the ball up hoping the receive would catch it. They had 11 guys on the field all doing their respective “jobs” at a high level to get the receiver open and to give the quarterback time to make the throw. They also had noticed on a previous play that the safety was not providing deep help to the corner but was rather staying with the inside receiver. Thus, they had a plan that should work if everyone did their job effectively; which obviously worked out ok for them. Execution is much more than just checking a box to get something done. One of the key observations of the Navy SEAL commander was that those sailors that went to training with the mindset of winning the events in the training program were much more likely to finish the program than those that just went hoping to survive the training. They weren’t looking to just get by and check the box, they were looking to make the most of the activity.

3. Do we trust the process as it evolves if we don’t get the immediate results we want? This issue is where a leader has to be very discerning. When the results aren’t what we want, do we need to change the plan (strategy), do we need to execute better (manufacturing excellence type stuff), or do we just need more time for the key aspects of the process to take hold? Being able to work through those questions effectively is a key attribute of an effective leader. It takes a willingness to humble yourself, ask hard questions of yourself and to your team, and be willing to make the hard decision to either adjust or stay the course. Getting outside counsel, benchmarking to others in similar situations, and getting into the details of the shortcomings (why) are also good tools to aid in making these key leadership decisions. Sometimes it takes time, but can you trust it? Continually changing strategy is hard on a team of people. Sometimes we need to adjust, but let’s be sure when those time are appropriate.

I would rank dealing with this issue in the top three for any leader, at any level of the organization (along with building credibility and communicating). Establishing effective processes, executing at a high level, and knowing when to trust versus adjust are key for any effective leader.

So whether you are getting the results you want or not, set aside a few minutes this month and take a hard, honest look at what you are leading. Can you trust the processes you have in place? Do you need to hold tight and just press on? Do you need to make some adjustments? Do we just need to execute better with a different mindset on what we are doing?

The answers to the above questions will go a long way in defining you as a leader.