McLean’s Management Memo – No.3

[Note: I'll start labelling these regular tips as my 'Management Memo' as above. Feel free to forward them to anyone who could benefit.]

One of my clients was commenting that their people have difficulty communicating properly – even internally – regarding meetings and obligations. It’s important to maintain strong and effective communication within organisations at all times. This includes ensuring that everyone is communicating up, down and across what others need to know, with respectable time margins.

And it’s as true of your own clients, as much as it is of the people around you.

Here are 5 tips to improve your results now:

  1. Contact someone new today whom you haven’t spoken with before. Arrange a meeting and come with some questions to which you need answers.
  2. Share an article with someone who could use your expertise – either internal or external to your organisation. Then ask them what they appreciated about the article.
  3. Stop paying 80% of your attention to the 5% who keep complaining or underperforming and pay it instead to the top 10% who are being constructive. Then tell them that will be your habit from now on and note the sense of relief.
  4. Schedule an impromptu conversation with one of your staff for later this week. No agenda. (And tell them that they’re not in trouble.)
  5. Find out why the coffee machine never gets refilled by anyone else. The issue may be deeper than you think and simpler to solve than you believe.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

Improve Your Management Right Now

Some more things you need to do right now to improve your management:

  1. Delegate something major to someone competent. If there’s no-one around, then you’re in a lot more trouble than I can being to say. And it’s probably your fault – either of misperception or of inaction.
  2. Stop putting your ego before performance. Let other talented people do the work – you lead for results.
  3. You’re not omnicompetent. Get over it.
  4. Hire good people – permanent, contract, consultants, coaches – to help you achieve success.
  5. Read a book this week that doesn’t have pictures, charts and graphs in it (unless they’re those old classic engraving pictures that accompanied 18th and 19th century novels). Then consider the wisdom contained therein that applies to you.
  6. Stop being disruptive and be constructive.
  7. Speak using language that targets what your hearer understands – their perceived self-interests.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

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Not So Secret Service

The US President’s latest embarrassment with his Secret Service indicates there’s something seriously wrong with the group charged with his protection. His agents have once again been caught out drunk while supposedly preparing for his visit to an international capital. This time an agent passed out in a hotel hallway in Amsterdam because he was so drunk he couldn’t even put his passkey in the door, while another two had just blithely looked on (and no doubt joined in) while he got hammered.

If I were Pres. Obama I wouldn’t just be embarrassed, I’d be rightly concerned about my own safety. And heads would be rolling. (Oh wait, they were already rolling drunk!) I certainly wouldn’t be issuing statements and speeches that this behaviour is ‘unacceptable’, as though I were a slightly dismayed Super-Nanny. To the global community, it’s a sign that the Pres. can’t even keep his most trusted people in order and of a US out of control. These people are meant to be the absolute elite. But elite what? What happens when the agents start rolling out of the marijuana-imbued state of Colorado?

Forget the multi-million dollar TV conspiracy shows, with perfectly coiffed secret agents infiltrating the US with high-tech gadgets and all-encompassing data snares. All you need, apparently, is a good old-fashioned bottle of vodka, or a bong, and you could easily get all kinds of hyper-sensitive access to the President’s personal bodyguard. No barriers. No prevention. No memory. Just old-fashioned James Bond escapades.

It’s another failure of leadership and another distressing sign that the world’s most powerful nation can’t keep its house in order.

Things You Should Be Doing to Manage Better

Here are 7 things most of you aren’t doing that you should be doing now to make your management better:

  1. Cut down your meeting times by a third. Most of them go on too long, keeping people away from doing other work.
  2. Finish your meetings on time. If you say it will take 20 or 30 minutes, then do that. If not, adjourn for a later time.
  3. Make real decisions in your meetings. Don’t waste time just informing each other of what’s going on – there are plenty of other ways to do that.
  4. Ask one of your subordinates right now how you can make things run better – especially your PA.
  5. Turn off your email desktop auto alert. Those pop-ups are sapping your time and focus.
  6. Stop using email when you should be talking.
  7. Respond to enquiries that day. Dealing with a bunch of little items in a batch means you clear them and can act on opportunities. Otherwise, you just delay and delay and delay.

If you’re serious about improving your management, then you need to take action.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

Practise for Performance

One of the great secrets of improving performance is the concept of ‘deliberate practise’. It’s been popularised in a couple of recent business/self-help books, but originates more from the research of K. Anders Ericsson in describing the cognitive acquisition of expert performance. And that’s been around since at least the early 1990s.

In fact, the principle goes back much much further than that: from Aristotle through to the major global religions, to Mozart, to contemporary basketball superstars, they all advocate the value of practising on a repeated basis.

What most people miss in professional situations, however, is the ‘deliberate’ part. They say, “Well, I’ve been doing this profession for 20 years, I ought to be good at it by now.” But deliberate practise involves focusing on specific aspects and techniques of your work in order to become more skilled. It’s the kind of thing that often doesn’t happen in the myriad of demands placed on you during your work. Think of the violin prodigies practising their fingering, sets of scales and a couple of pieces for 5 hours a day for months and months – then years and years – before becoming those brilliant virtuosos.

The deliberate practise principle is one I’ve long built in to my work helping people to become better leaders, better at their work, better communicators and public speakers and more. Break down the skills. Build in opportunities to rehearse them. Use your natural gifts and talents to help build those skills.

What skills or results do you need to build that you are not deliberately practising? If you need to build them, but don’t know how, then it’s time to pull the performance apart and analyse how you can improve your performance.

How much improvement is worth the effort? Well, for a virtuoso violinist, a 1% improvement in performance is a world away from everyone else. And for them, that’s worth it.

You Had Me at “Hello”

The most effective leaders whom I have known take the time to respond to serious inquiries from professionals and their circles of service and influence. I’ve worked with and corresponded with CEOs of multi-billion dollar global-level enterprises and the successful ones always demonstrate the respect of communicating with honest and clear enquiries (I’m not talking about spam emails, clunky marketing, requests to ‘pick your brain’ from unknowns and uni students, or endless SEO and website redesign offers from gmail addresses in India).

They especially don’t ignore contact from people whom they’ve already met (all the more if they’ve asked them for suggestions, advice or proposals or, of course, have worked with them) and they don’t ignore reasonable requests, unless there has been a clear, formal suspension of communication (as in, “I have taken out a restraining order out against you, so please never email me again!”).

Some indicators that you need to change the way you do or don’t respond:

  • If you are too overwhelmed to respond to people, then you need to change the way you manage your work.
  • If you have hundreds of people bugging you all the time with legitimate requests, work, and collaboration needs, then you need to find others to help.
  • If you can’t be honest enough to say “No, I won’t or can’t do that right now. Thank you.”, then you need to learn how to respect your time and other people’s time and effort too.
  • If you are too rude to respond, then simply “get out of town.”
  • If you don’t have an efficient way to handle standard, but numerous, communications and requests, then you need a great PA (or team) to help you do so.
  • If you can’t create productive relationships that bring you new ideas, innovations and great people to work with, then you shouldn’t be trying to lead.
  • If you don’t have time for one or two unscheduled or “non-critical” meetings or phone calls in your calendar for the next 4 weeks, then you really need to get a life. Even the President of the United States takes time out for golf, his family, to meet with people not essential to the running of the White House, and to deal with the unexpected. Please don’t tell me your job is more demanding than being the President of the world’s biggest economy.

It only takes a minute to respond, so just answer when someone had you at “Hello.”

Ukrainian Union and Dissolution

The problems in Ukraine are of global impact and local woe. Decades ago, in the couple of years following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the breakup of the Soviet Union, I wrote an analysis of Ukraine’s prospects, given the scant materials that were publicly available at the time (mostly newspaper and current affairs magazine reports).

[Note:Some lessons on leadership follow...]

In my decades-old analysis, I noted that Ukraine’s diminished economy, history of subjugation, man-made and nuclear (Chernobyl) disasters connoted a very weak capacity for long-term, democratically oriented, successful leadership and economic management. Despite its abundance of natural resources, Ukraine simply didn’t have a history of successful self-management. Further, I predicted that given its history under the Soviets, that it would eventually fall to another corrupt dictator in the future.

Indeed, Ukraine never did fully pull out of the Soviet-style regime. The West was happy to ask for all of their nukes with a ‘guarantee’ that they (and Russia) would then support Ukraine’s national territorial integrity. But Germany and the EU always resisted Ukraine’s full adoption into Europe’s economy. The US and other stronger nations worldwide essentially ignored Ukraine politically and economically.

Given the depredations that Ukraine suffered throughout the 20th Century, it was more in need of a Marshall Plan than to be viewed as a nation-state capable of self-determination.

But I got something wrong that I didn’t understand at the time: Ukraine’s Ukrainians do not want dictatorship. They had to suffer under it, yes, but I underestimated their desire for freedom. I don’t have a copy of my paper to hand (it’s in my files somewhere), but I gave too short shrift to their sense of national identity, long dormant under the Soviet Empire.

I have relatives in Ukraine. My mother is Ukrainian and I was brought up as part of the Ukrainian community here in Australia. Hence my more than passing interest in the region and its people. I have a cousin (once removed) who is a Ukrainian academic, and is politically active, had been jailed in the past by various regimes, but is a vocal advocate for peaceful resolutions and actions. He has been right in the midst of this ongoing crisis, advocating peaceful solutions alongside Ukraine’s right to self-determination and freedom from corruption. The Ukrainian diaspora has always portrayed its people as proud and desperate for freedom and the right to determine their own course. This has been borne out by their popular actions over the last decade.

Russian incursions and mass populating eastern areas with ethnic Russians has indeed generated much resentment and despair at the systematic destruction and undermining of Ukraine’s own history and culture. Even the term, ‘The Ukraine’ which was used by almost all world leaders and media up until a week or so ago, was a hangover of the Soviet Empire, with Ukraine denoted as ‘The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’. Thankfully, most of those public figures have recently found the country on the map of the globe and noticed there hasn’t been a ‘The’ for a long time. (Kudos to Australia’s ABC for realising this a while ago.)

The US and EU’s heartily belated response to the present crisis is another indication of their pressing lack of foresight: If there is no immediate financial gain, then why treaty with Ukraine? Russia was always the key player to their collective minds, Ukraine merely a route for gas pipelines to Europe, a pleasant repository of grain and a bulwark for advancement into Russia. Thus, Ukraine has been a much lesser consideration to US and European strategy. But even more than Georgia, Ukraine’s dissolution would have disastrous consequences for the region and the world.

This Slavic country has a rich, but tortured history (as have all the Slavs, let’s be honest) and its people want their freedom, self-determination and ability to govern without massive corruption. The previous leaders of Ukraine had made some progress towards economic growth, but always subsumed by vested interests and outright embezzlement on a grand scale. If you want a view of how the recently ousted Ukrainian president lived, you can visit a New York Times tour of Yanukovych’s former compound here.

Just as George Bush realised late that Vladimir Putin is not such a ‘good guy’ (you can read about Bush’s realisation in his memoirs), so Obama has come to realise that he cannot cozy up and provide Putin with ‘flexibility’ – it merely screams target to Putin. Ironically, in consideration of Obama’s statements to the contrary, Russia may well be the US’s Number One geopolitical foe.

So what can all we mere mortals who do not deal with global politics and the running of nation-states learn from the ongoing Ukraine saga?

  1. Culture is important. It’s the legacy of the soviet culture, its regime and its systems, that has kept Ukraine destabilised for decades.
  2. It’s naïve to expect long-lasting change without aggressively tackling cultural issues and creating a new culture through the creation of subsidised systems.
  3. Look past who is your biggest potential threat to who may be your most natural allies. The US should have been far more assertive and supportive of Ukraine. The CIA’s little cut-and-paste on Wikipedia regarding US-Ukrainian policy notwithstanding, the US’s pitiful $3 billion of aid over twenty-plus years does not indicate heartfelt support towards the second-most powerful, European-leaning, US-friendly, democratic and peace-loving (after all, they did give up their nukes) former Soviet nation. That $3b is probably less than the US spends every couple of years on toilet paper in their military.
  4. Faltering responses encourages bullies to step up their actions. If you act trepidatiously, someone else will jump in. I don’t mean by that that Obama should be threatening military action – absolutely not. However, his continued vacillation, weak comments and even hesitation to label Russia’s naked aggression delayed response from all quarters of the globe.
  5. Let’s not blame everything on the Obamas of the world. The revolution of the Ukrainian people was against a corrupt ruler. The incursion of Putin is merely to support Putin and Russia’s regional hegemony. Likewise, you are responsible for your own turf. Own up to it.
  6. Don’t allow corruption to infest your leadership and your leadership team. Really, there will be a revolt, some time, some how.
  7. Don’t underestimate people’s desire for freedom and your need to support it.

This last Sunday was the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Ukraine’s most treasured poets – Taras Shevchenko. He was a patriot, but equally an advocate for the underdog. In honour of his birthday, here is some of his poetry, which still resonates today:

Calamity Again

Dear God, calamity again! …
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We but began to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery …
When halt! … Again the people’s blood
Is streaming! Like rapacious dogs
About a bone, the royal thugs
Are at each other’s throat again.

Taras Shevchenko
Novopetrovsk Fortress, 1854 (?)
Translated by John Weir, Toronto

And from his poem, “It Makes No Difference to Me”

It makes no difference to me,
If that son says a prayer or not.
It makes great difference to me
That evil folk and wicked men
Attack our Ukraine, once so free,
And rob and plunder it at will.
That makes great difference to me.

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg Citadel Prison May, 1847
Translated by Clarence A. Manning Columbia University New York, 1944

Let’s hope that what happens in Ukraine now “makes great difference” to everyone involved and that peace and reason will prevail.

Qantas’ Quandary

A little over two years ago, I wrote in my newsletter about how Qantas and its senior management and board were shooting themselves in the feet and destroying the carrier. This was on the heels of Alan Joyce’s so-called ‘courageous’ battle with unions, that resulted in stranding thousands of travellers around the world (through Joyce’s unannounced choice the day after Qantas’ AGM), the loss of well over a hundred million dollars in revenue and profits (I do not recall if it was as much as $200 million), incredibly bad will internationally, further arguments and fights with the various differing unions who all had differing levels of culpability (some militant, some not), ongoing problems, etc. etc. etc.

At the time, someone commented that I was ‘silly’ for suggesting that the board were ruining their company. There were numerous articles at the time supporting how Joyce ‘just had to do it’. Unsurprisingly, in light of Qantas’ most recent woes and further 5000 lay-offs, there is no longer the chorus of support. There are, however, numerous articles about ‘how Qantas has done it wrong’ and what it should do to resolve its problems. There are still, however, a handful of public commentators blaming it all on union issues, but that ignores a central point:

Although unions may well be culpable for intransigence and lack of foresight, it is the job of leadership and management to overcome that shortsightedness and help the organisation to be successful. The buck stops with the CEO and the board. If they wanted a different result, they should have done something different – not continue to barge up against unions, wail against competition, alienate the population who are supposedly served by their national carrier, provide poor service, make poor airfleet choices, not properly hedge their fuel costs and more.

Let’s face it: in order to survive, Qantas needs a major overhaul. I suggest the people currently at the top are not the ones to do it. And the unions need to pull their weight and negotiate and collaborate with management in the long-term interests of all employees, not just their pet or immediate corner of concerns.

Both the management and the unions at Qantas have failed in their leadership.

The Reflex of Character

I just read through a post by Michael Hyatt about ‘The Reflex of Character’, which is a phrase lifted from a US 60 Minutes segment. The segment is about the actions of a US high school teacher during a shooting at his local high school two years ago and the aftermath of his response and his choices.

People outside the US won’t be able to view the video in Hyatt’s posting, but here is a link to CBS’s official online broadcast of the segment (sorry, but I can’t embed it on my site either). It’s well worth watching as you consider how this person reacted in a crisis and how it affected everyone around him. As you consider this teacher’s response – which saved many lives – think about how the character of such a person is built over time. It doesn’t come in an instant – a lifetime of choices build who you are and the kind of leader and individual you will be.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Support Cancer Sufferers and Carers with a Donation to the Red Sky Ride

Red Sky RidersThis Saturday my friend Rohan Erwin (who is currently General Manager of Mining Services at Brierty Ltd, clients of mine) is raising funds for cancer sufferers and their carers by participating in a gruelling 1000 km, 8 day fund-raising bike ride through Western Australia’s hilly southwest. It’s the SolarisCare Red Sky Ride and Rohan is part of a team of volunteer riders.

The riders start this Saturday, 22 Feb and the teams are looking for donations/sponsors. They’ve been training and preparing for months.

At least one in three people will be directly affected by cancer in their lifetime. My immediate family has, as have many friends of mine over the years. As a carer myself and having been alongside my wife’s family taking care of my mother-in-law through cancer a number of years ago, I know how hard it can be on both the sufferer and the family.

If you would like to support Rohan and the teams on their fund raising ride, please visit the SolarisCare page here and donate now. All proceeds go directly to SolarisCare. They are looking to raise $400,000 but are only a little over halfway there at the moment. Any donation you can make would be very welcome!

Read about Rohan and please donate here. Oh, and you might want to leave a message of support and let him know I sent you so he knows how on earth you found out!

Here’s a message Rohan sent yesterday:

Dear Friends & Colleagues

Less than 4 days to go now until we are in the saddle for 1,000 kilometres circumnavigating the South West of WA on a skinny seated push bike.

We leave from the Matilda Bay Café on Hacket Drive next to UWA. The opening ceremony commences around 7.50am Sat 22nd Feb, and we  commence the ride around 8.30 – 8.45 am. You are all welcome to see us off.

I must admit I am becoming a little apprehensive at what seemed like a great idea all those months ago, but we are well prepared and it is for a fantastically worthy cause, and I am fortunate to be a small part of it all.

Thank you to all those of you that have generously donated to Solaris Care Foundation already, your contributions are greatly appreciated.

For those of you yet to make a donation. Please donate now. Simply click on the image below and have your credit card handy (other payment options as well).

It’s all about supporting and assisting Cancer suffers and their Carers. It’s often a long and uncertain road for these guys, and that’s what we are doing this for. They are the ones that deserve our generous support.

Please assist me by way of donation to the Solaris Care Foundation, Red Sky Ride.

On the 22nd February 2014, myself and around 30 other individuals will commence a 1,000 kilometre ride around Western Australia’s South West to raise awareness and much needed funds for the Solaris Care Foundation. This long and often arduous Red Sky Ride represents the journey undertaken by those diagnosed with cancer and the path that they follow thereafter, with the distinction that the riders are relieved after 8 days.

Red Sky Riders are all volunteers and are presently training hard for this event, cycling over 200 Kilometres per week increasing to around 350 Kilometres per week leading up to the ride. It is a big personal commitment in both time and effort, in addition to the eight days of the ride, and your support and financial commitment however small or large, is greatly appreciated. All funds go directly to Solaris Care.

The Solaris Care Foundation provides care and support to both Cancer sufferers and their personal carers through this often long, difficult and uncertain journey. Solaris Care improves the lives and the outcomes of these people, and deserves all the support we can muster.

One in three of us will be directly affected by cancer in our life time, and we all know and are close to someone that has been directly affected.

Please give generously, by simply clicking on the image below which leads to my donations page on the Red Sky Ride web site, whereby you can easily make a donation electronically and directly to Solaris Care.

Thank you for your kind contribution and please feel free to call me regarding any associated matter.

Kind regards

Rohan Erwin

Red Sky Riders