Friday, July 28, 2017

on leaving well

 Next week is August 1, and what that signals for those of us in education is the beginning of a new school year.  As I begin my 36th year associated with educational institutions, the year will begin with a small handful of people no longer there who, at the end of the previous school year, were a part of our community.  As a leader, I tend to take these departures personally, wondering what I or the institution might have done differently to keep from losing them.  I also know that there are many reasons people move on in their callings and vocations, some of which have little to do with their current institution.  Over the course of my career I have left five different institutions, so I understand the lure of the promotion, the pay raise, of something new and different, and the myriad of reasons people move on to new jobs.

This morning has me thinking about how people leave, and some ways in which leaving can be done well, serving both the individual and the institution which they are leaving.  Leaving can be awkward, emotional, or difficult, and can often be paired with grief and/or guilt.  So how might one (no matter the position) leave well?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • plan your leaving with the least disruption to your current institution: leaving just prior to the beginning of a school year, leaving in the middle of a big project, or leaving right before the launch of a new product or program leaves everyone scrambling and can hurt the mission and short-term needs of the institution.  Negotiating to stay until a replacement is found or a plan for a smooth and timely exit speaks well to both the current and future employers
  • when it is time to leave, leave quickly: after the decision is made and announced, the sooner one leaves the better for everyone involved.  It may be hard to leave friends and colleagues behind; it may be difficult not having a place to go to during the interim; you may believe that your presence will make the transition easier.  The truth is, you have chosen to move move on
  • be clear about your decision to leave: where there is a vacuum of information, people will fill it in for themselves.  Obscure reasons such as "it felt like the right time" and "I prayed about it and felt God was leading me in this direction" may play into the decision but do not provide any help for one's colleagues or the institution.  Was it pay?  then say so...was it a promotion? then say so...was it that you and your supervisor were always at odds?  then say so...was it that you wanted work that was not so demanding?  then say so.  Clarity helps you and those with whom you have worked
  • be sure that everything is in place: often times people's work is in their heads, or they have a unique filing system that only they can understand.  Take the time to prepare for the next person who will be in your role.  Making lists, cleaning up files, explaining everything to your supervisor goes a long way in making a smooth transition for the next person
  • keep your commitments: when one joins an organization, their plan is often to be around for a good length of time and, in so doing, make promises to others that require time and effort. Going to another institution might change those situations and the person leaving has to make a decision on whether they will keep those promises.  It may take time, but keeping promises is a sign of integrity and will serve anyone well over the course of their lives
  • leave graciously: this should go without saying, but this is a time when many people burn bridges and make decisions that could hurt them long term.  Because of the many emotions attached to leaving, things may be said and done that would never happen in a normal situation.  Be careful with what is said and done over the course of preparing to leave and immediately after leaving...and by all means, stay away from social media during this time.  No need to embarrass yourself and/or your previous organization
Here's what I know...people move on from their current institutions for multiple reasons and, while I may initially be hurt or angry, I understand that rhythm and flow of one's work is up to them.  Finding meaning in work has many facets and, when one of those facet is "the next step," then I truly wish people well in their journey.  I also wish them well in their leaving...and pray that they leave well.

Friday, July 21, 2017

outcomes, outcomes, outcomes

Good leaders learn how to manage by least that is what I have been told and what I believe.  And if it was only that easy, we would all be wonderful leaders with whom all kinds of people (especially top performing people) would love to work.  Unfortunately, managing by outcomes is one of the most difficult items on the leader's list of ways to lead.

First, a quick description.  Managing by outcomes is exactly what it sounds like, where one is able to clearly (and let me emphasize clearly) state the desired result, with a clear (and let me emphasize clear) understanding of from what to what by when (see last week's blog for more on this idea). It does not include the how (except for the understood values of the organization...and if they are not understood, then those values need to be a part of the stated outcome).

Second, the problem.  I believe that the problem lies in several areas, including the difficulty of being able to clearly (and let me again emphasize clearly) state the from what to what by when.  Many of those in leadership roles never needed someone to state the obvious for them; they knew instinctively what needed to be done and they got it done in a timely manner.  And because they were successful in getting things done in the past, they often believe that if someone else would do the work the way they did the work, then someone else will get the current work accomplished.  And therein lies the problem - rather than managing by outcomes, leaders will manage by inputs, often detailing the HOW rather than the WHAT.

So how might leaders do a better job of managing by outcomes?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • understand how to state a good outcome, and then practice saying those words out loud over and over.  This may be harder than one imagines, as being extremely clear (and again, let me emphasize clear) is not something with which leaders always do a great job
  • resist the need to describe the HOW, no matter how much you want to tell someone else how to do their job.  It is easy to fall in love with the HOW, especially if one has been successful in their work and rewarded for it.  This does not take away training and mentoring...each of those are incredibly important helping others do their work well (and of course, knowing when and how to train and coach is another whole aspect of good leadership)
  • include a follow up plan that meets your need as a leader to know that the work is actually being done. Building accountability into a plan never hurt anyone, and it might just help to keep the leader out of the weeds
  • rewarding the accomplishment of the outcome is an important piece for everyone, whether it be in the form of a monetary reward or recognition of a job well done.  This not only signals a gratefulness for one's work; it also determines that the job has been completed and it is time to move on to the next item
  • get real time feedback by asking whether everyone understands the outcome and if there are any questions.  This will be the time that people start asking the HOW questions...again, resist the temptation to describe the how and simply restate the outcome, assuring them that you are there to help as needed throughout the process
As I type these words, they sound so easy to me, another one of my "no-duh" ideas of leadership.  And yet I, and so many others, struggle with this on a regular basis.  Saying one is going to manage by outcomes does not guarantee that one will manage by outcomes.  This is a skill that needs to be practiced and assessed over and over again, and one that will reap multiple rewards for the leader and her organization.  More will get done...more people will find their work meaningful...and the best performers in the organization will thrive in multiple ways.

Friday, July 14, 2017

making and keeping promises

I recently read the text The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, written in 1958.  This wonderful philosophical text reflects on vocation and the calling each person exemplifies in specific types of work.  For me, it has become one of the more significant texts I have read over time as it allows me to better understand why people behave and perform the way they do...and how the type of work in which they are involved shapes that behavior (or perhaps, that type of behavior shapes how they do their work).  As the author comes towards the end of the text, she notes that one of the hallmarks of "good work" among those whose calling has them in relationship with others is the ability to make and keep promises and, that without this standard among people, the work of the community will fall apart.

That may sound very mundane...or perhaps is one those "no-duh" ideas that I tend to write about from time to time.  Leaders are asked to make and keep promises all the time, and are watched very closely by the followers to see whether or not the leader will deliver on that promise (this is true for people in both official and unofficial leadership roles).  However, the same is true across the organization...EVERYONE has to be able to make and keep promises for the organization to function well and, when those promises are not kept, multiple consequences can follow.  This morning has me thinking about how leaders might react when promises are not kept and how one can create a culture where the norm becomes keeping promises.  Here are a few thoughts:
  • face-to-face interaction: when promises are not kept, leaders should go to that person and ask why they failed to deliver on the promise.  Understanding the reason behind the broken promise might reveal issues about the person and/or the organization
  • restate the promise made: reminding someone about the promise they made can be powerful for them and for their supervisor.  A re-setting of the understanding might lead to better results
  • clear expectations: in Chris McChesney's The Four Disciplines of Execution, the author teaches the mantra "from X to Y by when."  Setting very clear directives not only determines whether or not the goal is accomplished; it also sets up boundaries to help people keep their promises
  • take partial responsibility: if the expectations were not clear, or the requested promise sounded more like a suggestion rather than a hard deadline, then perhaps the broken promise is more of a result of the leader's actions
  • express disappointment: it is okay to be upset and express frustration when those with whom one works disappoints them.  Because relationships are important to people (and are the mechanisms by which work get accomplished), expressed disappointment may move one to keep their promises on a more regular and timely manner
  • determine consequences: when promises are consistently broken, the leader must determine a consequence for the person whose behavior is hurting the organization.  This is often difficult, especially when compensation is not directly tied to performance.  Consequences should be meaningful and be administered in a way that upholds the dignity of all involved
  • make the hard decision: a regular pattern of someone unable to keep their promises exposes a problem that is not only hurting the organization; there is something wrong with the individual and/or the role they are attempting to fill.  Making the hard decision to terminate someone is difficult for many leaders and/or their organizations....and it may be the best decision they make for both the organization and the individual
Ms. Arendt notes that for communities and organizations to make and keep promises among each other, the leader of that community or organization must be able to make and keep promises to herself or himself.  Take a quick inventory today to see how you are doing at that aspect of your life...and consider how that might be impacting the work of those around you.