Barney Kramer talks about the leadership vacuum and how businesses can solve the problem in this exclusive Central Valley Business Times audio interview.
Annie Jennings, of JenningsWire Online Magazine, talks with Barney Kramer about today’s biggest business challenges and the questions they raise:
- What is the most daunting challenge businesses face today?
- What can they do to overcome this?
- How are challenges a reflection of leadership skills?
- How do managers decide on training for employees?
- Are testimonials really that important?
Strategic Management Resource Associates President Barney Kramer sat down with the Central Valley Business Times to talk about some of the common mistakes in hiring, including the most fundamental one that is often overlooked.
Of course once an issue is recognized, then the next step is to bring about the change that solves the issue. In fact, the ability to Negotiate Change is another of the core Leadership competencies and maybe one of the toughest to master. The best leaders know how and when change is necessary and how to proceed with bringing it about. But all too often most of us have had little help in learning how and when to tackle change. The word negotiate itself stirs the pot of personal emotions as much or more than most. And given our own life experiences it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. All too often we end up having to “negotiate” many of the largest and most expensive decisions in our life (homes and cars) with a seller who has us at a competitive disadvantage because they have so many facts that we don’t. Or so it appears anyway. Thank goodness that has changed to some extent with the info available online although the playing field is anything but even.
A common example can illustrate the anxiety the mere thought of negotiating can trigger in most of us. Anyone who has ever bought a car will understand what the emotional battlefield is like. No is always an out but when you need a car it isn’t except as to the car you are thinking of buying. So you burn up hours trying to decide which one or ones would be right for you. And in the middle of that process you will eventually have to “negotiate” a price and terms for the car. And that process takes place with a business who can’t exist without selling cars to people like you and their agents are trained to get you to buy their car and not someone else’s. You know but a little through your research about the pluses and minuses of the cars you are looking at and opinions are endless about the best, the worst, the value and all the rest of the detail that you would ideally know before you make the right decision. They know their cars, the competitions cars, and what they need to focus on to get you to buy theirs because that is what is in their best interest. I personally so despised the process that I was determined to make nearly all of the decisions without interacting with a dealer or their representative until it was buy time and my decisions had been made. In fact, the rule was if they called me after I filled out their online request for quotes and the promise that they wouldn’t, which I naively believed, that I eliminated them from my search. I chose to refuse to engage in the battle because I felt that my time should be spent in a more productive manner than negotiating with someone who past experience taught me they would put their best interest in front of mine. I just didn’t want to pay the price of engagement with them. The time and place for that is in my business where the stakes are higher and of far greater value.
The ability to negotiate change is one of the most powerful skills a leader can have. Without it we are stuck in the status quo, no matter how bad it is and even if it’s good now it won’t be forever. Change is perpetual and those that know how will evolve and grow and those that don’t will eventually go. It is that simple and a glance at the behemoths of business that are gone should make the point. But understanding and agreeing with that concept is just the starting point and doesn’t make change any easier for the unskilled.
An understanding of why people change is essential to even beginning to bring about change. A great deal of your ability to do this should have begun with the hiring process and that starts with you. As a company you have a strategy, values and beliefs, and objectives you wish to accomplish as a business or should have. They should be real and genuine. If you can’t clearly express those that you actually observe then your chances of getting employee engagement is going to be very poor. Engagement occurs when the goals of the business are aligned with the employee’s goals and how the employee spends his or her time. And the continued alignment necessary to bring about change has to be continuously worked on through honest and open communications. Employees have to know and understand how and why what they do in their job each day means to the company’s objectives. When the stage is set in this manner and the benefits of change to them and the company should be synonymous and thus mutually beneficial.
And that’s where the real work begins. Whether the change is small or large there are a number of other steps to work through that will facilitate continuing change and growth to the business and the employee’s. Lots to understand and but good leaders are willing to do the work necessary to bring it about.
Lack of time is a reflection of your leadership skills.
Of all the challenges facing leaders today the most daunting of all is the “Lack of Time”. Arguably, it is also the oldest of challenges we face. Ask any frazzled and frustrated leader what their greatest challenge is and they are likely to go through a litany of problems. But when challenged as to why they haven’t been able to solve them at least part if not all the assignment of blame will include the “lack of time”. And when that happens I’m always reminded of hearing a speaker years ago say that “The problem is never the problem, the issue is never the issue.” And while the context was completely different, my own examination and application of the idea over the subsequent years has revealed the wisdom of this comment. And it is particularly true in business.
What probably drove the point home to me was the application to my own circumstances at the time coupled with my own perspectives on time and its impact on me. As long as I can remember, time has been a lion chasing me. And the pressure it creates can bring out the worst of my behaviors. There has never been enough of it and I’m certain my time here is going to run out long before I accomplish all that I want. Even more troubling is that it can blind me to the “real issues”. Many years ago when frustrated with my own inability to get my team to follow my lead and carping about it, I was reminded that by definition it was my responsibility as a leader to do just that. Point well taken and made it clear to me that I had more to learn in my quest to be a good leader.
If I was going to have any serious impact on the use of my time I realized I had to examine my own actions first. And that means taking a good look at what my job as a leader is and whether that is how I’m spending my time or not. If not why not? And what do I need to change to free up my time so that I can do my job? While the process is true regardless of the size of your business, it becomes even more critical with smaller organizations. The more hats we have to wear but it’s easy to get caught in the trap of doing it yourself because it ”doesn’t take that long”. As someone that has started more than one company as a one person organization, I speak from my own experience and from the observations of many others I’ve seen over the years. If what you are doing isn’t what makes you money and there is another way to get it done, then that’s what you should be doing. Simple as that. More often than not I find that when a Leader or owner is doing work that isn’t his core responsibility then the likelihood is that he/she simply hasn’t asked the question “why am I doing this job?” But there can be other reasons that aren’t as obvious and can be major problems for the future health of an organization. The most common for an entrepreneur is the belief that no one does it as well as he/she does and that he/she has to be the one doing that. Even if that is true, it is imperative to work toward another model where your talents can be focused on where your real gifts are and not on the minor talents. More often than not the real challenge is the inability to delegate responsibilities and structure KPI’s to measure the performance of those who are doing the delegated work. The ability to do just that is one of the skills that defines leadership.
All the talent in the world can be meaningless to a leader if they can’t lead. In today’s world the lack of leadership has become an axiom in many businesses and it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the biggest limiting obstacles to a growing business is a founder with a great idea and/or talent who has no idea how to operate the business. Those are the people I wrote about last month that are struggling to keep their sanity and to keep their employees from driving them crazy. Learning to face the facts and then making decisions based on them instead of frustration or wishful thinking will frequently turn a nightmare into a success. In short a lack of time is more about facing life and its circumstances straight on and then learning how to change the situation for the better.
The latest in a series of audio interviews with SMRA President Barney Kramer, by the Central Valley Business Times.
In all too many organizations, what I find is they know what the person is supposed to do but they really don’t know how to set up a structure to determine whether that direct report is actually doing what’s necessary to accomplish the tasks they were hired to do.
SMRA President Barney Kramer’s second interview with the Central Valley Business Times.
I think there are two great phrases. One of them is ‘I don’t know.’ And the other is ‘I need help.’
Listen to the full interview below.
The article “When Your Business Is Struggling It’s On You” is of course meant to drive home the point that success or failure begins with Leadership. But waiting for this to happen is a little like an “autopsy”. No matter what you find the patient is still gone. And that is not the outcome anybody want’s for their sweat and efforts.
Sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious when you are fully engaged in the battle and trying to avoid fatal blows. But it doesn’t take much effort for an observer to see what participants don’t. A quick step back and a brief view of the big picture can be a game changer for a leader. So let’s start with here is an extensive list of the more common signs that a battle is on and you need help:
1) You are working more hours than anyone should reasonably expect to work and doing so on a regular basis. Extra effort is often required for those at the top but it shouldn’t be a way of life. If it is you have a problem.
2) Your temperament at work and away from work are completely different. Your frustration level is through the roof. You are making all the decisions and all the problems land on your desk. You vocabulary is full of words like “too busy”, “not enough time”, “drowning in this mess”, “going crazy”, “too many problems too handle” overwhelmed and the list can go on.
3) Your employees can be just as good a barometer of how things are really going. It’s convenient in today’s world to blame employee challenges on the new generation and while it is certainly different and not what I would like to see-I’m going to have to find a way to make it work with them if for no other reason than I can’t change the mindset of a whole generation. I don’t have to like a lot of what I see but I have to figure out how to work with it, period.
4) Let’s look at employee attitude first, research today tells us that 85% of job performance is determined by attitude. Do your employees have good attitudes about working in your business? Do they show up on time or maybe even early? Do they whine about everything they do? What is the quality of the product or service you are delivering? What is their attitude toward customers or co-workers? What is the absentee rate? What is their attitude when asked to put a little extra effort out? Do they really know how to do their jobs and what results are expected of them? Does their job mirror what they were told it would be? Of course all of these questions answered in the negative result in poor bottom lines, production problems, distributions problems, constant chaos and conflict, high turnover rates, customer complaints, vendor problems and on and on.
If your work life is a composite of these and other challenges it is time to look for help. And in fairness to you most people become leaders for the wrong reasons and are then acquire whatever skills they end up with by “on the job training” or in another words, by their mistakes. With the challenges leaders face today, this methodology is a recipe for disaster.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of wisdom and maturity which are both traits necessary for success. Pride and ego in excessive proportions that prevent us from acknowledging realities can destroy our businesses and our lives if pursued to the bitter end.
I don’t know and I need some help can be a couple of the greatest phrases you will ever utter! No one has all the answers, and that includes you. Tough medicine to swallow for an entrepreneur but intriguingly most of the best medicine tastes horrible at first but boy are the results worth it. Thanks for indulging me.
What an ugly thought that is but it is a fact. As challenging as it is to start here it is also essential to changing the struggle. Here is why.
Whether you started the business, inherited it, or were hired to lead it, if you are the leader the state of the business is the end result of how you are leading the business. There’s a great line in the movie Remember the Titans, which is based on the true story of the racial challenges of integrating a high school football team in the sixties.
In a story out of a Disney International article, puts this into focus. The star players on both teams, as were the entire teams, were having a terrible time putting their differences aside and coming together as a team. The captain of one team challenged the attitude of the star from the other team and this is what he got back,
“Nobody plays. Yourself included. I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? Nah, nah what I’m gonna do is look out for myself and get mine.” “See man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard.” “Attitude reflects leadership…captain.”
Actors portraying Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier on the football field in Remember the Titans spoke these specific lines, but they could just as easily have been spoken in today’s workplace.
Current versions of this are rampant in today’s workplace. Certainly in my lifetime I’ve never seen the struggle so great to pull an organization together and lead it to success as it is today. Our culture seems to be changing at warp speed and that makes leaders challenges even greater but no one said it should be easy. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. If my role is to lead then that is exactly what I have to do. Regardless of the challenges of leading. As with any role I have in life when I’m struggling I need to look within myself first, but without a clear picture of what it takes to be a leader and the skills to be a leader it isn’t always that easy to see where the problems start. Of course when it gets bad enough the pain will drive us to seek expert help or we just press on and go broke. Being proactive is a third option and that means looking at the organization for clues to the effectiveness of leadership. And that doesn’t mean just the bottom line. Organizations can sometimes thrive for years with poor leadership but sooner or later they won’t survive.
Let’s start with employee attitudes. Studies indicate that 85% of job performance is dependent on attitude so an examination of your employees is a good place to start. On Restaurant Stakeout, a popular reality show, Jack Diegel, an immensely successful restaurateur from New York is called into to help failing restaurants. The first thing he does is video the whole restaurant so that he, and the owner(s) can see what happens when they aren’t there. And of course, they get a firsthand look at what their employees do when the boss isn’t around. “When the Cat’s away the mice will play”. More importantly though is that in the final analysis, the employee behavior is nearly always the direct result of poor leadership. You find them showing up when they feel like it, doing as little as possible, bad attitudes with each other and the customers, giving goods and services away or taking them home, referring business elsewhere, dressing in appropriate ways, fighting with each other, and on and on and on. They don’t know who is in charge, how to handle issues, what is on the menu, what they can do, what they can’t do and the picture becomes clear. Interestingly, the owner(s) first reaction is amazement that all of this is going on but Diegel puts their dismay to rest right now by telling them that what he sees is no leadership.
And then when the group is brought together with the owners and leaders, the feedback is some version of the same general things, no leadership, no training, no clear directions, no plan, no decision making and mostly chaotic leadership. Why would any employee be a good performer in such and environment? And yet the most common copout I’ve heard for many years is that it is the employees fault because people today “just don’t want to work”. Maybe that’s another way of saying I don’t know how to lead! Sure there is an occasional bad apple but good teams will take care of that in short order. The impact on the business is usually immediate and disastrous and a business that was successful for many years is now in danger of going under. It is also a story that most of us can relate to. And it is to begin with a failure of leadership.
Lead-follow-or get out the way is imperative to survival. The choice is yours. If your business has any of the elements listed above your survival is in jeopardy. Or you can ask for help. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure according to my grandmother who I’ve come to recognize as being a very smart woman!
SMRA President Barney Kramer interviewed by the Central Valley Business Times.
There are some principles that are absolutely critical to leadership, that have to be layered on top of technical skills and competencies.
Listen to the full interview below.