How does your leadership stack up?

There are some fundamental truths about people and their work. Everyone wants to do a good job. Everyone can do more than they think they can. Everyone is fundamentally lazy.

In management and leadership we have to deal with people and processes—that is the job. You lead people and you manage the process.

The job of management starts with clarity. Everyone has to understand what it is that is expected of them. To satisfy this need, we must have a job description for each function.

This job description provides clarity to the employee of what the job entails. Normally a job description is split up into smaller elements. These elements cover the job title, reports to, functions of the job, qualifications and prerequisites, specific accountabilities and duties, work environment, travel, and more. This is but a few of the categories as they vary by business and job type.

Standards of Performance

Along with understanding what the job is the employee is expected to perform are the standards of performance. These are what I like to call “What it looks like when it’s right.”

Too often in our training programs I ask, “How do you know when you are doing a good job?” Sadly, the answer I get too often is “When the boss isn’t on my case.”

That is not a situation that will have employees motivated to do their best, is it? So we need clarity on what is expected in performance as well.

I see four sections on standards of performance: sales, operations, assets, and productivity. There are then three to five “management measures” for each of these four operational areas and then for each of the management measures there are performance ranges.

I call the ranges: triage, red light, caution, green light, gold star, frown face. I think you can understand the levels of performance these are associated with.

This started for me in the 1980s with the book Straight from the Gut by Jack Welsh. The author discussed his management style with his direct reports and used a traffic light graphic to indicate performance. Red light. Orange light. Green light.

Welsh had a series of measures for the executives reporting to him. If their measures lit up green, everything was fine. If a measure lit up red, he expected to see an email detailing the corrective action that was being taken. If there was no email by a specific time, that executive was in Welsh’s office and they were talking about the situation. If the measures lit up orange for two consecutive days, the same thing happened.

That was hands on, wasn’t it? There was no doubt about what was expected. That is only one management style. I am not going to pass judgment on it as there are many other styles that can be used.

Managing the Business

Let’s move to the management measures. In order to manage the business we need to develop goals and objectives. These goals and objectives are developed based on the needs of the stakeholders of the business. That includes but is not limited to employees, suppliers, and owners.

I like to use sports as an analogy, and with the NFL in full swing let me use football. There are specific physical development programs each individual player on the team follows during the winter. There are trainers who assist, tools provided, dietary help, and medical advice. In other words, there is training.

This is an employee development program, isn’t it? This is helping every employee get better at what they do.

As leaders you are asked to recognize and adapt to the future.
You are asked to develop employees to satisfy the
needs of the business.

Then we move to training camp in the summer. This is where the analogy is weakest as there is no program like this in business. We don’t bring in a bunch of rookies, people we have drafted, and acquired in a trade to compete for a job.

But I suggest we think about this a bit. We should be hiring interns when school is not in session. We should be hiring students from technical schools and working with universities and colleges on shared learning programs. In other words, we should be developing potential employees even before they are on the payroll.

After training camp in the summer, the team is selected. The goal is always the same: Win the championship. But there is only one winner.

Satisfy the Customer

Our overarching goal is also always the same: Satisfy the customer. We have changing customer needs and wants. We need to adapt our operations to these needs and wants. We do that by adjusting our objectives, which calls for different management measures. And here there is a gap.

Statistical studies show only 10% of American businesses succeed in achieving their objectives. Wow. That is startling.

That means 90% of us fail to achieve our goals. Digging deeper, it was found the primary reason why is because the employees did not know what the goals were. That is quite an indictment on management.

As leaders you are asked to recognize and adapt to the future. You are asked to develop employees to satisfy the needs of the business. You are asked to obtain the necessary tools and assets to achieve the goals of the business. You are involved in the development of the goals and objectives of the business.

Yet at the very end, there is a failure to communicate. I don’t believe that for a minute. I think you communicate with the employees and go over the goals and objectives for the year. But all the same, let me suggest a device that will help you achieve your goals and objectives at a higher level.

I want you to have vigorous debates within your team about the goals and objectives.

I want you to debate until you get to the place where every single employee not only understands what the goals and objectives are, but also understands that those goals and objectives are the right thing to do—and that they are achievable. That is when you will succeed in accomplishing those goals and objectives. If the employees understand and accept those goals and objectives are the right things to do—they will be committed to achieving them.

It’s as simple as that. That is leadership. Are you ready for those debates?

The time is now.

by Ron Slee
October, 2014
Water Well Journal

About Water Well Journal

The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.