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#4 Lessons From Camp: It’s About The Boys Not The Leaders

(Or what I learned about corporate meetings while sitting around the campfire. )

Tonight we’d like to take a moment and recognize a couple of individuals. First, we’ll take a few minutes to talk about the Silver Beaver award and next we’ll take 15 minutes or so to hold a Woodbadge “Bead” ceremony.

I’ve been involved with Scouting for the past 39 years; from the time I was eleven years old, I fell in love with it. I’ve been to countless summer Scout camps. Last week I went again, this time as an Assistant Scoutmaster. I accompanied my two youngest sons who are just starting out in the Scouting program. 

Scout camp is a wonderful time. You sleep in a tent for six days, eat campfire food, get sunburned despite your best efforts, wear the same shirt everyday, but mostly, you get to watch boys learn and grow. My sons are currently the patrol leaders for their respective patrols. It was amazing to me that they could keep track of themselves, let alone take a leadership role for other boys. 

Camp, and in fact Scouting in general, is about the boys. It’s not Adult Scouts of America, it’s BOY Scouts of America. And that’s why I was disappointed at the evening fireside event one night. It was late in the week. The boys were past the hyper-active stage, but not yet to the “I’m tired and want to go home” stage. Two hundred of them gathered at the ampitheater for the evening ceremony. 

  
It turned out to be really boring. 

Not for the adults, of course. Just for the boys. 

The Silver Beaver award is the highest honor that can be bestowed on an adult scouter. It is not an award that can be earned in the sense that a man sets out to complete a series of requirements. It can only be awarded, as an acknowledgment of a lifetime of service. 

Let’s, for the moment, set aside the concept of adult awards in an organization for boys. (Actually, let’s not even get into that topic in this post, because I’m trying to stay positive.) The boys at camp are concerned with merit badges, and the winner of the campwide games, and “Please don’t ask me to call the flag ceremony because I’m not sure if I say ‘two’ before or after the salute.” They boys are not at all interested in ths Silver Beaver. Even I, as an adult scouter am only somewhat interested. But, we sat through an explanation of the history of the award, the prestigiousness of it and the worthiness of the recipeint. 

Okay. Glad that’s over. Let’s get to some of the boy stuff. These kids are getting restless.

Woodbadge, is the BSA adult leadership training. It’s a week of “camping for grownups.” Once completed, you get a special neckerchief and a set of wooden beads that you can wear for the rest of your life. It has nothing to do with the boys and everything to do with the adults.

   

The ceremony of presenting someone with their beads is the adult equivalent of a Court of Honor. I received my beads about 3 years ago. The training is worthwhile and the ceremony is memorable. It’s also all about the adults. We watched the beads be awarded and listened to people talk about the benefits of Woodbadge.

By the time we ended, the boys were beyond bored. They were busy throwing rocks at the scouts sitting in the seats in front of us. (We sat in the back specifically so we wouldn’t be the targets of other bored rock throwers.) Meetings, and ceremonies are important. But, if you don’t tailor the meeting content to the audience, meetings are a little slice of slow death that you will never get back. 

The following night, the camp leaders had a chance to make up for the boring meeting. We spent Friday afternoon playing campwide games; knife throwing, knot tying, archery. Games designed to test their knowledge and encourage them to work together. We had twelve patrols and the games took all afternoon. At the closing ceremony, the boys were anticipating seeing who won. 

   
    
 

Did our record time in the multi-person-ski event hold up, or did one of the later patrols beat us? 
Who managed to get the knife closest to the bullseye? 

Which patrol and troop did the best overall?

Scouting recognizes that boys are motivated by competition. Do it right, and even those who didn’t finish first walk away a winner. 

I know we told you we’d give out the awards tonight. And we started compiling the results. When we got to 18 individual awards we decided that was enough, too much, in fact. We’ve decided that we have so many awards that we can’t really give out any awards. Just consider yourself all winners.

Huh? 

It’s like the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra was in charge: “That restaurant has become so crowded that no one goes there anymore.” 

What’s important to you, as a manager is often not important or interesting to your employees. They don’t want to know how many meetings you had to go through to come up with the final promotions list. They simply want to know who got the promotion. They don’t care about the three hour meeting you had with legal to finalize the contract wording around the new product launch. They just want to know when the project starts. And they really don’t care about the details of the manager’s retreat and how you had to spend all day travelling to get to the resort where it was held. They just don’t. If you really want to share, put in an email.

Meeting time is precious. A staff meeting is the single most expensive meeting you will ever have. Everyone stops working and comes together. Do not waste this time. Make sure your content is valuable and most importantly, applicable to all, or at least a majority of your staff. 

If it’s not, don’t be surprised if they start throwing rocks at each other. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Lessons From Camp #5: Buffer or Risk Death

It was crazy. I was flying along a single lane mountain dirt road at 12:30 at night. Actually, driving it at night was faster than during the day. At night I didn’t have to worry about meeting an oncoming truck around a blind corner. I’d see their headlights before I saw them. At least I think I would. My biggest worry was hitting a deer.

   
This was the warning signs when I turned off the highway.

 
Here’s what the road looked like during the hike in with the boys. Not much of it was this straight.

I spent last week at a Boy Scout camp with two of my sons and six other boys. We were at a camp called Bennion Creek near Scofield, UT. It was about 30 miles up Spanish Fork Canyon and then down a six mile dirt road.

Can we get cell service here?

Oh sure, people have had pretty good luck from the top of the ridge south of the camp. It’s about a mile around by car, or you can hike up from the stream.

Being disconnected was refreshing. I took my pocketwatch since I assumed phones would be very inconvenient clocks. I had a great time. So, why did I spend every evening driving the six miles down the dirt road to the highway? 

Lack of a buffer. 

I’ve been writing this blog for about two and a half years. I haven’t missed a day since I started. Monday – Friday: 7:00 AM Mountain Time. My hope is that it adds a little light hearted start to your day. Hopefully, entertains, or even possibly educates just a little. 

I didn’t write my blog entries before going to camp. 

Oh, I meant to. I had my topics all worked out. (Signs of a bad manager.) I just never sat down and did it. 

My friend Howard Tayler writes Schlock Mercenary. He’s been writing and publishing a comic on the web every day since June 12th, 2000. He’s never missed a day. He’s my role model. 

But, Howard is smarter than I am. He creates a buffer. Typically he’s writing 30 days ahead of his publishing schedule. It lets him go on vacation, or to a convention, or even get sick without worrying about breaking his streak. 

Like I said, I’m not that smart. I figured out at camp that I could hook my bluetooth keyboard up to my phone and compose blog entries on the phone. My iPad, the platform I normally use, only has wifi, no cellular capabilities. And my phone is a Cricket phone. Great price, but no hotspot capabilities. 

So, I wrote an email to myself that was the blog entries last week. Then, after all the boys were in bed, I got in my car and headed out to the rest stop about a mile down the highway. But before the highway was the road. Just under six miles of twisty-turny-blind-corners dirt. 

I loved it. 

I averaged 40 mph on my way to the highway. That’s probably 15 mph more than I should have. 

Once I got to the rest stop, I still couldn’t make a call, but I could get data through. I then copied the contents of the blog email and opened http://www.wordpress.com in a browser. I missed getting to use some of the advanced features that are in the app. But, the show must (did) go on. 

I’m still not writing a buffer, but I have a much better grasp of the risks now. Who knows, maybe I’ll start buffering tomorrow when I talke about how scout camp should be boy focused and it fails when it’s not. There’s a business less there. Stay tuned. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

#1 Sign You’re A Bad Manager: You Don’t Trust Your Team

Rodney, where were your yesterday?”

“Were you trying to get hold of me?”

“No, I just noticed you were away from your desk for 4 hours.”

“So, you weren’t looking for me?”

“No, I just don’t think you can be effective away from your desk.”

Interesting, my manager expressed his complete trust in me. She seemed genuinely surprised that I viewed her question as a trust issue.

Isn’t your job as a manager to keep your people effective? Isn’t it your job to keep your team on task?

Yes.

Is it your job to manager their day to day tasks?

Possibly. Certain jobs require direct supervision. Those jobs mean that the manager is watching the employees. In those cases, watching your employees day to day work isn’t a lack of trust. It’s being an effective manager.

Other jobs, most jobs in my opinion, require employees work at least somewhat independently. In those cases, monitoring your employees that closely will make them think you don’t trust them.

Jared worked for a computer company. He worked for home as a programmer. He got paid by the job, not the hour. At one point his employer decided it would be a good idea to install a keyboard logger on each employees computer.

They wanted to ensure that their employees were working. They didn’t understand why their employees would see this as a lack of trust.

If you have done nothing wrong what do you have to fear, right?

Wrong.

Trust is earned, it’s not given.

So, why should you trust your employees until they’ve proved their are worthy of it?

Because you hired them. You trusted them when you hired them, didn’t you? If you didn’t trust them when you hired them, you shouldn’t have hired them.

Until they show you they don’t deserve your trust, you should trust them. And if you trust them, you owe it to them to treat them like you do.

It’s not only rude to micro-manage your employees and check up on them when there’s not reason to, it’s also an extreme lack of trust. If you want your employees to trust YOU, you have to earn it. It takes a long time to earn trust and only a single instance to lose it.

If you want your employees to trust you, trust them. If you trust them, treat them like you do.

Signs You’re A Bad Manager #2: Policy Over Results

“Paul, I’ve changed your extension.”

“What, on my desk phone?”

“Yeah, it had a 614 area code. It will not advertise as an 801 number.”

“But people know that 614 number.”

“Oh, you can still receive calls at either number. Just when you make a call it will show as coming from 801.”

“Okay, why after 2 years did you change it?”

“Company policy is out going call show 801.”

Paul’s manager is a bad manager. His first problem is that he changed Paul’s extension without telling him, without even discussing it. But, the worse problem is that his sole reason was “policy.” Policy should exist to support results. “We’ve always done it that way” is a cop out. It’s a reason to stop thinking and let someone years ago do your thinking for you.

A young couple had recently been married. The wife went to cook a roast. Before putting it in the oven, she cut off and threw away the ends.

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Cut off the ends and throw them away.”

“I don’t know. It’s just the way my mom taught me.”

“Let’s call mom and ask her.”

“Hello, Mom? Why did you always cut off the ends of the roast before you cooked it?”

“I don’t know. It’s the way grandma showed me to cook roast. Try calling your grandmother.”

“Hello, Grandma? Why did you cut the ends of the roast off before cooking it?”

“Well, our pan was very small and it’s the only way I could make it fit.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to policy. I’m spending this week with eight boys and three leaders at a boy scout camp. We have plenty of policies.

– Always stay in groups of two

– No using an axe within arm’s reach of another person

– The patrol that doesn’t cook, does cleanup

But, each of these policies has a reason behind it.

– We are camping in the remote mountains in the desert. A boy could get lost and it would take days to find him. Two is harder to lose than one.

– Boys and axes are not always a good combination.

– Dividing the work keeps everyone involved and makes sure that a single person or group doesn’t have to do all the work.

We rigidly enforce these policies. There is another policy that says:

– Boys must wear uniforms to the twice daily flag ceremony

This is a rule or a policy. We suggest our boys follow it. If they show up without their uniform, they go to the flag ceremony anyway.

So, if policy is not the guiding principle for your organization, what is?

Results.

I interviewed for a Project Manager position a few years ago. Project Management program has multiple approaches to how to run a project. I was asked in the interview.

“Is there a single right way to approach project management?”

“Yes, whichever way gets the project completed on time, on budget with satisfied stakeholders.”

Your company has a purpose. You have something that you make, or do, or sell. I’m guessing that your country is not in business to make policies. If the policies are not providing value, they are hurting your business.

As a manager, focus on results. Get your team to focus on the purpose behind the policies. If you find yourself answering a question with “Well, because that’s our policy” consider changing your answer

Signs You’re A Bad Manager #3: You Refuse to Correct in Private

“Praise in public

Correct in private”

It’s a phrase as old as management classes themselves. Even first year managers know that you don’t correct your employees in front of the team. You praise them in front of the team, but if you need to correct, do it privately.

Everyone knows that. Even I know that. However, you are a bad manager if you NEVER correct in public. This is especially true for second level managers. Let’s talk about the line-manager, or first level managers to begin with.

You have several responsibilities as a manager. You have to set direction for your team. You have to make sure that everyone understands their roles. You have to remove roadblocks to your teams success.

You also have to provide training for your team. You have to provide coaching when team members need it. And, occasionally you have to correct team members.

I had a team member one time who instead of deleting ten names out of a spreadsheet of department names, deleted ALL the names. He wasn’t doing it maliciously. He just got overcommitted and got a little careless.

I pulled him aside and we talked about why he was struggling. We built a plan for how he could better meet his commitments and then we built a schedule to help him stay focused. All of that happened privately.

“If anyone asks you to work on another project, simply tell them that you are working on a project for Rodney and they need to bring their request to me.”

It was important to keep most of the coaching for this employee private. His teammates knew he’d screwed up, and I wanted to keep him as an effective employee.

However, while the coaching was private, the fact that I’d spoken with him was not. The team, who had been required to clean up the mess he made, realized that I, as the manager, was addressing the situation. This gave them reassurance in me, but more importantly, it gave them confidence in their teammate.

Now, suppose I had kept silent about even the fact that I talked to this employee? Suppose no one knew if I’d been coaching him or not? Would they have confidence in me as a leader? Would they trust their teammate?

No. The would have remained unsure if the guy was going to screw up again. They would have considered me out of touch with the needs and the concerns of the team.

After spending many years as a manager, I found myself in the role of an individual contributor. It was a job I loved. I got to do interesting and exciting work. I worked with great people and an engaging client.

After a reorg, I ended up on a team with a manager from a different department. We had very different ideas about not only what the job entailed, but how I needed to do it. This was a much more hand-on manager. Well, she considered herself hands-on. I considered her as micro-managing me, and constantly taking over tasks associated with my account.

I talked to her, but was told, “I’m the boss. We’ll do it my way.”

I talked to her manager and expressed my concerns. “I’m not sure I can be successful with her constantly jumping in and taking over interactions with my account.

From the second level manager, Jared, I got very little encouragement. “She’s the manager and I believe in letting the managers run their teams the way they feel they need to.”

But, after that meeting a funny thing happened; she quit jumping in. She backed off and stopped taking over client interactions. This was a good thing, right? It’s what I said I wanted, right?

No. This was almost worse than before. I had no idea WHY she changed. Did she believe that I was right and she was backing off from running my account? Or, was she simply distracted and might at any minute jump back into micro-managing mode?

I had no idea. And like I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, consistency is critical to running an effective team. What I needed was some indication that the situation was being addressed. I needed some reassurance either from her, or her manager that he had talked to her and they had decided to change her action.

I needed her manager to do a little correcting in public; something to help me understand what to expect going forward.

It’s important to respect people’s feelings. It’s a terrible idea to embarrass employees by calling them on the carpet in front of the entire team. However, you can go too far in the name of privacy.

If a problem has been impacting people publicly, make sure that the solution, or at least the fact that you are working on the solution is communicated just as publicly.

Signs You’re A Bad Manager:#4 You Are Inconsistent

Rodney, I need you to make sure your reports are in by 10 AM on Friday. Even if you have to file an incomplete report, that’s better than being late.

Okay, got it.

I painted the railing on my porch last weekend. The railing is wrought iron and is gloss white. I have a quart can of high gloss paint that I use. Typically, the winter months will result in some small rust spots. A few dabs with the paint brush and the railing looks good as new.

Except this time it didn’t. This time, the dabs with the paint brush were sloppy and ugly. Sometime over the past year the paint separated. I tried mixing it up, but I’m still left with a globby mess. It was the best I had, so I used it anyway, but it was pretty ugly.

The pain lacked consistency. I didn’t know what to expect each time I put my paintbrush into the can. It was frustrating and led to terrible results.

The same thing happens when as a manager you are not consistent. Do your employees know from day to day what to expect from you?

“Rodney, your report last week didn’t include the new product line results.”

“No, the results didn’t come in until 9:45 and there just wasn’t time to get them included for the 10:00 AM report.”

“That’s unacceptable. Your numbers are worthless without that new line. It was a complete waste of time for me to even read through them.”

What’s most important? including the new data and being late, or being on time even if the results are incomplete? There is no right answer, except that once you set a standard, stick to it.

I once got a new manager. During her first team meeting, I had to deal with a service outage. I actually dialed into both conference bridges and let her know through IM that I was working another issue.

“This is the one hour a week I need you 100% devoted to team business.”

Okay, team meetings are paramount to her. Got it. Except that for the next three weeks she cancelled our team meetings because she had to deal with a client issue.

I get it. You get it. We all understand that things come up, But, as a manager, don’t insist on one set of standards for your employees and hold yourself to a different set?

It would have been better if she had acknowledged that “Yeah, I know. Sometimes things come up.” And then she would have left herself an out later when she had her own conflicts. As it was, she came across looking out of touch. As if the rules didn’t apply to her.

Like paint, or pancake batter, consistency is important. Your team often doesn’t care which way you want something done, they only want to know what way you want it done so they can complete it correctly.

Avoid ultimatums. They are difficult to recover from. And if you do find you’ve been inconsistent, admit it and commit to do better.

Signs You’re A Bad Manager (And How To Fix It) #5 You Treat Everyone The Same

Jane is at her desk 90% of the time. I really think you should be at your desk most of the time.

Jane has a completely different client than I do. 

Shouldn’t you be fair? Shouldn’t you treat people equally? How can this be a sign of a bad manager? It can’t. Everyone knows that you need to treat people equally, or you’ll be accused of playing favorites!

Everyone might think they want to be treated the same, but they are wrong. It’s a terrible mistake to think that fair means equal. It doesn’t, and your attempts to make it so are probably killing the productivity, not to mention the moral, on your team. 

There’s an internet cartoon that shows the jungle animals, elephants, hippos, monkies, and lions all applying for a job.

For a fair selection everyone must pass the same exam. Please climb that tree. 

No two employees are the same. Why would you think that managing them the same would be a good idea? 

I’ve had employees who were new. They needed extra coaching. I’ve had employees who were struggling to meet deadlines. They needed more structure. I’ve had employees who were rock stars at their jobs. They needed to be left alone to work. I’ve had employees who were extraverts. They needed a chance to talk. I’ve had employees who were burnt out. They needed extra inspiration. 

Literally every employee I’ve ever worked with was unique. It might seem too hard. How can I expect you to modify your message for each individual employee? 

I can because that’s what it means to be a manager. Your job is to help your people. And you don’t help them by making them conform to your way of doing things. You have to figure out who they work best. 

I know that sounds counterintuitive. Counterintuitive is a big word that means stupid. 

Hey, Rodney, in case you hadn’t noticed, my company put ME in charge. I must have done something right, don’t you think? 

Yes, you were made the manager, but here’s the secret to management: you no longer do anything. In IT, you no longer build servers. In training, you no longer teach in the classroom. In manufacturing, you no longer work on the production line. Your team does those things, and you need to make sure they that do their jobs effectively.

You got hired, presumably because you were good at your job. The people on your team are good at their jobs. If they aren’t, coach them, or replace them. But, if they are good at their jobs, do you want results or do you want conformity? You are not running a synchronized swimming team. 

I have a whole house full of kids. Right now, the four oldest at home all have their learners permit. I, and my lovely wife, have to teach them to drive. Driving is a pretty well defined task. There are rules and laws that you must follow. Surely we can teach driving the same way to all the kids, right? 

No. One son has all the confidence in the world. He’s a pretty rock solid personality. Driving with him will be a series of increasingly less frequent prompts. . .Turn left up ahead. Drive to the high school. Watch your speed.

Another child is a somewhat nervous girl. She will require A LOT of handholding. . .Put your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel. Check your mirrors. Signal. Now slowly turn left. A little more gas. Straighten out. 

If I gave my son those instructions, it would drive him crazy. If I gave my daughter the vague prompts, it would make her very uncertain. 

The results we want are the same, whether you are driving or teaching, or building a computer. But, the way we get those results are as different as the people on our team. Take the time to learn how your employees work best. Morning person? Talker? Cranky before coffee? 

Don’t make the mistake of treating them all the same. If you do treat them all the same you are guaranteed to not effectively coach any of them. 

This week I’ll be talking about bad management process and how to fix them. 

Monday #5 You Treat Everyone The Same

Tuesday #4 You Send Inconsistent Messages

Wednesday #3 You Don’t Correct In Public

Thursday #2 You Value Process Over Results

Friday #1 You Don’t Trust Your Employees

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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