Share the Insomnia

| December 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

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Late this fall I received news that Brad Hams had left us. He is greatly missed by many. I met Brad back in 2001 and listened with awe as he described the power of Ownership Thinking. His energy and passion around breaking down the entitlement mentality of employees and instead engaging them in the building and consequent profitability of a company were truly inspiring. If you are an owner of a company, a CEO, a manager of a division or sit on a Board of Directors, I would suggest that you read Ownership Thinking: How to End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose and Profit.

Brad’s words of wisdom came back to me recently, “Ownership Thinking requires a significant level of participation and accountability from both leadership and employees. Everyone has to step up and take responsibility for their own destinies.” Providing a culture that allows employees to step up starts with trust, especially during the tough times.

I was talking with the controller of a growing manufacturing company. They had worked hard during the last year to build a more effective management team. As you may remember, I use Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions model when working with leadership teams. The first and most fundamental trait of an effective team is trust; simple word, profound meaning and often elusive. (Both Hams and Lencioni are adamant regarding the need for real trust.)The manufacturing management team had gained much greater trust with each other and had spread the related behaviors to their departments and direct reports. There were occasional breaches of trust, but because they had invested in the relationships with each other, these breaches were quickly brought to the table and resolved.

Trust is not something you check off your list with a, “Okay, that’s done. What’s next?” The care and feeding of trust is ongoing, reflected in each action, spoken word and unspoken thought.

Back to the manufacturing company – their fiscal year is the calendar year. December 31st means more than just New Year’s Eve parties. While the year had represented solid growth and much greater morale throughout the company, the fourth quarter would test the owner and his management team. They failed. They did however, realize they failed, picked themselves up and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

They failed because the owner and the controller panicked. In their six years of operation, the fourth quarter was consistently low on sales orders. As a small, but growing company, cash was king. The owner and the controller were worried, so they fell into some old habits: meeting behind closed doors, and taking back control over some of the decision-making that had been granted to the department heads. This was not out of meanness or being power-hungry. In their fear they emotionally shifted all responsibility to themselves – adding fuel to their fire of exclusive accountability and ensuring many a sleepless night. They no longer trusted that Management, as a team, could add value to the decisions that needed to be made. They did not trust the rest of the team to understand their concerns and make choices in the best interest of the company. They damaged the relationships with their team members as well as the level of engagement within the rest of the company. Questions like, “I don’t understand, two months ago we were able to make these decisions, but now you’re telling me that only the owner or controller can? We’ve made good decisions over the year. Why don’t they trust us now?” or “Have we got a problem that they’re not sharing with us? Things must be really bad. Most of the talk in the lunch room is trying to figure out what’s going on.”

The owner and controller were saved – by their team. The three other management team members called an emergency team meeting and insisted on the owner and controller being present. To say that there was tension in the air would be an understatement. This is what the owner and controller heard: “Look, we know you’re worried about the finances. The fourth quarter is always tough, but we’ve come so far as a team and it shows in our growth. It feels like you’ve lost faith in us, that you don’t trust that we can make the tough decisions, decisions that are in the best interest of the company. You’ve bottle-necked everything. In fact, your tight control is actually adding to our problems. You’re not in this alone, we’re a team; we’re with you. Now, tell us exactly what the issues are and let’s, as a team, solve them.”

It was a long meeting, but much was resolved and there was a solid action plan, including cascading communications for the rest of the company. Tightening the belt was required and commitments were made by everyone around the table to follow-thru and immediately report any possible slippage in delivery. Exhausted, but reassured, the owner and controller left that night with a renewed appreciation for their team and relief that they were going to tackle the issues together.

Footnote: I asked a friend to proof this newsletter for me. The comment was, “Great newsletter, but why didn’t you write this in the third quarter and save everyone the fourth quarter fallback?” Good question. I’ll be sure to do a re-print in the 2015 third quarter.

Thank you Brad Hams for believing in, and advocating for employee engagement and accountability.

Happy New Year and Take Care,

Julia

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About the Author ()

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

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