Tips for project success

Tips for project success

Whether it's a full Project Management Institute defined project or even a career move, here are a few tips on what you can do to maximize your potential for success. 

Now What?

Now What?

What are you doing in your organization to put strategy in place that remedies problems, or prepares for your future?
Do you have a strategy on how to solve problems?
Do you have a strategy for which problems deserve attention?
What's next? Now What?

Forming a Veteran Owned LLC in Texas for Free

Forming a Veteran Owned LLC in Texas for Free

I'll show you how to use Senate Bill 1049 to register a new Veteran-Owned Business in Texas and get the exemption of filing fees and the Texas franchise Tax for the first 5 years of operation.

Distractability

I was just doing something (important-ish) and decided to take a coffee break. Just a short jaunt to the kitchen and I'll be back.

Of Course the coffee was empty, so I needed to refill the pot.

After removing the pot from the "dock" (I'm not up on my coffee maker terminology), I realized that there was a little bit of residue on the hot plate.

So I decided that the bath and kitchen CLR in the yellow bottle would be what I probably needed. Not under the sink, must be in the mud room on the cleaning supply shelf.

30 minutes later, the hot plate, coffee pot, and countertop were all clean.

 

This is what happens on a daily basis in offices around the country. Maybe not cleaning the coffee maker, but leaving one project to "multi-task" on another project (like a phone call or email) and then having to come back and push the reset button to get back on task one. Awareness of this is essential to understand where employees spend their time.

About 25% of the week is spent on reading and responding to emails. This accounts for about 13 hours a week, or 650 hours a year. It takes over a minute to "recover from an email. Meaning, once you open and read something, that miniature reset is about 1 minute. This is extremely detrimental to productivity.

Staggeringly enough, less than half of all emails are relevant, important, or require immediate attention. In fact about 62% of emails are not important. 

So how do you take care of this in your office? Here are a few short simple tips.

 

Limit access to group email and Reply All usage.

            Not everyone needs every email. Period. Stop It!

Don’t give clients access to the internal group email address

Clients know they just got the entire office and the general manager involved in a complaint that didn’t actually need that type of attention. It's not only a distraction for you, it's now a distraction for the General Manager and every manager underneath her. (A Telecom client did this regularly in a company I was associated with, people were let go because of simple concerns that got an unnecessary attention)

Utilize software that allows users to subscribe or unsubscribe from projects

Wrike, asana, SharePoint, workday or other similar programs feature the ability to either get alerts or not. This is awesome because you can email the project and not everyone in the office gets an alert, but that email is online and visible to those not subscribed to get caught up if needed. This prevents someone having to physically collect all the emails between Zach and Susan for Project 214 and email the boss so she can look through them. It's already there. 

Use folders to separate emails from those who are important and those who are “not as important” or “Unknown”

i.e. Multi-Million Dollar Client POC vs. Industry Newsletter

Check your email only every-so often

Several times a day, or a few. The US postal Service Mail Delivery service delivers to your place once a day... maybe theres something to that. Several sources say that this works. 

 


Cory Myres is a Process Consultant and Leadership Advisor from Lubbock, TX

A War of Attrition: a strategic look at how turnover affects leadership

Introduction to the theory

Attrition - the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.

What are we talking about? Personally I've experienced the appointment of leaders in command positions that are just plain inept. How did they get there? Why did this happen? 

***Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. I'd love to receive funds to do research to assess the viability of these claims and possibly solve what I think is one of the biggest problems facing the United States Military today. Having said that, I have formed opinions based in statistical analysis of the DoD documents as well as personal experience in the United States Army from 2005 to 2010.

The United States Army as an example

As long as they can "pass" a test (or receive a waiver), pass physical standards (or receive a waiver), and meet security standards such as criminal background and mental health standards (or receive a waiver), individuals are accepted into the armed services.
At this point they are put through training, basic, and then trained in a specific job skill.
They serve 4 years and have a decision to either stay or go. 

In Ron Milam's book "Not a Gentleman's War" you can begin to understand the underlying reasons for joining the military. This can be directly translated into the reasons for exiting the military. Whether needs have been fulfilled or realizations about the facts of what the military does comes to light and ultimately affects turnover.

The DoD refers to those with 17 months to 6 years when they reenlist as "Zone A". "Zone B" and "Zone C" refer to lengthier terms as 6-10 years and 10-14 years respectively.

Retention rates, regardless of service, year (in the report presented), or gender, show undeniably that retention of first contract service-members is lower than those who have already committed lengthier times to the service. Many reasons for this may be, but let's focus on the effects of these retention rates.

Statistical Evidence

 

Statistically, Zone A is the lowest reenlistment rate. We should also note, that in the Army, and Navy a Trending down of Zone C can be seen. I will write on this downturn in a later paragraph. 

Now that we have facts, let's make an ASSUMPTION that there are two ends of a spectrum. Group A being high achievers, model citizens, intelligent, and actively engaged personnel. Then lets assume that the Group B is the opposite, less intelligent, less driven to achieve, either disengaged or actively disengaged, societal rebels, lacking direction. Group A are the type A personality that typically want to go to college, Achieve higher rank in the armed services by means of merit and wish to serve their country out of patriotism and helping their fellow Americans. Group B is here for the bonus money and the job. Group B understands fully that the armed services doesn't fire someone immediately for poor work performance.

Now that we have made that assumption, let me reiterate, this is not black and white, 50%/50%, this is a spectrum. One END is high achieving and another is the opposite, with many different people filling the spectrum in the middle.

 

How Attrition Affects Leadership

If we acknowledge the assumption that Group A typically reenlist less than those with Group B, we can see the attrition rate depicted to the left as I depict the Zone A at the bottom, Zone B in the middle, and Zone C as the highest pay grade at the top. 

Each zone has fewer and fewer of each Group A and Group B to choose from and must select from that pool their next generation of leaders. It is less likely, based in statistics, that the Group A would be able to see higher enlisted rank because there are fewer to choose from. Those that refuse to question authority and blindly follow orders end up being retained, whereas the Group A personalities remove themselves from the equation in pursuit of different means of satisfaction through the civilian sector.

What happens is a death spiral of poor leadership. The dregs are retained at a higher rate and the actual leaders remove themselves because they feel as if the service is not for them, and there is a higher level of achievement to be attained elsewhere. When the highest ranking non-commissioned officer is seen as a dolt, smart, active, high-achievers decide they don't want to reenlist. 

The service has no choice but to pick from those who are left - the 30% that they were able to retain. Understand that of the 30% retained, Zone B there was 50%, which is actually 15% of the original enlisted group of privates from 6-10 year ago. Of Zone C 75% are retained of that 15%, that's an astonishing 11.25% of the original batch from 10-14 years ago (Some Pre-Conflict). Fear of "The real world" "Change" and having to do actual work, those retained until retirement are more and more inclined to be Type B. Not to say that they are "under-achievers", many excel in combat skills such as physical fitness and have "experience".

Understanding that the lack in retention reduces the ability to retain good leadership potential is a key success factor for the military. Those that aspire to greatness, usually use the military enlisted program as a lily pad or stepping stone and nothing more.

As promised, lets talk about the decline in retention rates among senior enlisted ranks in the Army and Navy. These ranks in Zone C have been fighting a war in Afghanistan and Iraq for the last decade at this point. They go from enlisting into peace time and retention because of ease of job, to understanding that the wars in the middle east require work and lengthy deployments. These 25% or so percent decide to leave prior to gaining 20 years for retirement... why? It is my opinion that most of these (most) personnel are the Type B personnel that were coasting through peace time without any leadership mentorship or experience within the job. It can only be hoped that the retained 75% or so was of good leadership skill and knowledge.

Military Summary

In a basic way, the driven are driven out by poor leadership. This creates a death spiral by only providing poor players to be promoted. When these poor players are promoted, they continue the process of creating a disincentive toward the retention of "Group A" personnel. Group A personnel go on to be great civilians and contribute with Taxes or whatnot, but it can be argued that smarter, more driven, more common sense oriented personnel are needed to be retained in the military for many reasons.

We’re the military, so you’re supposed to say, ‘Obey your orders,’” Miley said. “That’s kind of fundamental to being in the military. We want to keep doing that. But a subordinate needs to understand that they have the freedom and they are empowered to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish the purpose. It takes a lot of judgment.
— General Mark A. Milley

In a May 5 article on Army.mil General Mark A. Milley states that he expects soldiers to know when to disobey an order and that 'Disciplined Disobedience' is required in today's army (can be translated to armed services worldwide). Changing the status quo and dynamic of leadership in the military means going from centralized power and chain of command to critical thinking skills and empowerment. How does the Army leadership keep those good leaders in at the early stages of enlistment to enact these crucial changes though? How will the army retain those they need and push those that have little critical thinking skills and ability to decentralize power out of the Army? Where's the decision making process for that?

 

 

How does this apply to civilian side businesses?

In a 2015 Gallup study and report dubbed "State Of The American Manager: Analytics And Advice For Leaders" Gallup concluded that there are great correlations between management and retention. One in Two U.S. Workers have quit their job because of poor management according to the study. That's quite a bit considering the military retention rate is 30-40% in Zone A and the 'harshness' of the job may be to fault for a large portion of that.

Managers that are incorrectly assigned duty based on skill and personality are a majority causal factor in this. Too many firms use flawed selection methodology for managerial placement. Basing promotion decisions on an employees individual performance and past experience in a sales role or as an "individual contributor" is not basis for whether a person can be a "people manager". Giving the high achiever in one role an entirely different position and responsibilities that sometimes drastically conflict with their personality and abilities. According to Gallup, 80% of the time this method of selecting managers "backfires". Just because the Electrical Engineer has a bubbly and extroverted personality doesn't make him an effective "manager of people".

 
According to the research, at least 80% of the time this methodology backfires.
— Fast Company - Mark C. Crowley (2015)

Similar to the military, pay structure is typically partnered directly with management or command level. These pay structures reinforce career progression toward "management" and result in people who would be great at becoming masters of their craft failing out as a manager. Realizing this and changing pay structures to allow for masters that do not wish or don't have the skills to manage can change the dynamic and propel the business to achieve greater things without promoting people to manager that don't really need to be in that position. There are other ways for people to get to higher paying jobs as an expert and not necessarily a manager. 

At one company, they effectively incentivized the sales force to leave their job and go to another company by phased sales quota requirements. Either they would become the sales manager (unlikely in 4 years) or they would not be able to make the quota for year 4 and in result make less money. In the short term, this plan made the company money by not paying out as much in commissions to each salesperson. In the long run, a skilled salesperson in a highly technical position is very valuable and turnover of that particular position is very detrimental. Anyone can sell "soap", to sell this particular product one must have engineering knowledge to be able to comfortably consult the client on their purchase. The market for technically savvy salespeople in this field is limited and to gain that knowledge one must have years of training and experience. You want low turnover here, this isn't flipping burgers.

Having managers that don't engage employees is a detriment. It's a simple enough sentence but it really plays a large role in retention. Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores says Gallup. That's a huge number, 70%. That's near the Pareto Principle style number (20% of the Causes result in 80% of the effects). Engaging mentors and leaders are paramount in retaining future leaders and engaged employees. When you have to promote from within out of sheer need to promote, that person typically doesn't have the ability to motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create an accountable culture, build trust, or make unbiased decisions for the good of their team. Gallup claims these 5 talents make great managers. Engagement, loyalty, productivity, profit, and service levels all share the five talents. 

I was always "fat" in the military. I never was a skinny fit guy that scored 300 (top score) on the Army Physical Fitness Test. I didn't fail, but I wasn't a top athlete. Most of the time I kept my weight in check, but I had to be under 176 and my body just doesn't like that weight. Having that background, the military PRIZES athleticism to detrimental effect. I was never going to be that athlete, but I was (am) extremely thoughtful and an expert in whatever I put my mind to. Tragically I predicted any downed aircraft prior to it's "Fallen Angel Call" and alerted my officers that the mission fell into that risk category that would most likely result in a downed aircraft. For one reason or another, leadership didn't like me being smart but they seemed to praise this kid who was dumb as a rock because he could run a 10 minute 2 mile. (I had great field grade officers don't get me wrong). These "managers" were focused on my weakness as an athlete rather than my strength as an operations specialist. 

Enforcing behaviors that support positive traits being accentuated and using teamwork to pair complimentary traits is a much more successful approach to mitigate weakness than focusing on individual improvement of those weaknesses. I'm not saying I should have remained "fat" and not been physically fit while in the military, I'm saying we should look at the important things someone can bring to the table and compliment with someone else that brings different things to the table.

Management shouldn't be an automatic result of sticking around and becoming skilled in your trade. It requires more than that. Great managers come from those with at least a little innate talent, and the ability to learn those talents that aren't inherent. Snowballing great leaders into more great leaders may seem easy, but it's just not. Having one great leader promote another great leader and creating a family of mentors is ideal but nearly impossible to achieve. So many factors are involved. 

In the book "Superbosses", Sydney Finkelstein speaks about the benefits of having a succession of great bosses create a family of leaders through mentorship. But in reality, he's written a huge book on this subject and highlighted only a few companies and people that actually can achieve this. It's not impossible, but it's up there. What we CAN do is strive to create that drive in our future leaders. We need to ensure that promotion isn't just because Todd has been here 8 years. Todd sucks, the whole office knows Todd sucks. Todd doesn't have the skills to lead nor is he even seen as a decent human being. He's just been here 8 years... That's no reason to promote, it's actually a killer, it kills productivity, it kills retention and it kills the potential for future leaders to get your company to higher highs and stray away from those low places (like not making budget for a year of months in a row... yeah that's a direct jab if you're reading this).

In all, its a snowball, either it's going to be a friendly snow man or an avalanche that kills you. The first step is gaining the knowledge of what's going wrong and how to solve it. The second step is just as important as the first, start the change.


 

Cory Myres is a Process Consultant and Leadership Advisor from Lubbock, TX

Why Sink or Swim rarely results in the business Swimming

Sink Or Swim.jpeg

Sink or Swim?

You may want to think again

As a fan of mentoring, sufficient training, and a full blown advocate of planning ahead, I think sink or swim is just awful. Are there times where it's necessary to an extent? Yes, but the rest of this article will not be nice about sink or swim. Although bias is a factor, there's really not a whole lot of upside I can even bring to the table but I'll highlight some of the alleged upsides you may have heard and then quickly dispel them as myths.

If you've established yourself as a competent sales manager, you don't need training on HOW to do your job, but rather how to use the software the new company you work at uses, a simple walk around the office and then training on the format of expectations and deliverables to your general manager or supervisor - and that's more "communication" than training. Supervisors, through policy and communication, should establish what they want to hear about and what they do not from you in this instance. In a lot of cases, you still have the manager that requires different things on different days, fails to communicate that and then berates their employees for underperforming to their unknown standards. This can be just as bad as "sink or swim".

Having said that, we're really looking at lower level, inexperienced workers doing heuristic tasks. We can quickly determine that algorithmic tasks are more beneficial with strict rules and directions  that can be written "Crayola" style.

But lets talk about the benefits of actually training your new people. Training should come from inside and out. In the Q12 survey by Gallup(R) "I know what is expected of me at work" and "This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow" relate to training, growth, and expectations. We can directly derive a correlation between training and engagement. The sink or swim environment does not produce the type of engagement that training and actively "watering your flowers" gives. PERIOD.

 

"We're so busy that I just can't spend time training someone" 
"I'm not a very good 'teacher' and think you'd do better learning on your own"

Lets talk about these excuses and why they're absolute BULL. First, if you're busy, delegate to your next in line so that they can practice your current role, a role they will soon take over when you get promoted or leave. That's not hard, if you don't have that person, it's your fault. Second, the faster this person learns everything you need them to learn, the less "busy" your office will be because you have an EFFICIENT set of hands on the issues. It's simply logical to prepare someone to do something you want done correctly.

Ok, but you're still not a great trainer. Well if you know the subject matter, and you're driven enough to be a manager, you should be resourceful enough to google some training techniques and become a good trainer. If you're not resourceful enough to use google to learn a new skill, your leadership also needs to train you. There are many firms that offer a Train the Trainer course (my firm included). So that's not the only reason for this excuse.

The second reason someone would use this excuse is because they were never trained and they feel that the sink or swim principle applies to everyone. We all know that everyone learns differently. When my unit deployed Afghanistan, we were told to listen to training from the outgoing unit, and then if necessary make changes AFTER THEY WERE GONE. We listened and learned from those who had been in a combat zone in the most recent year, they had the most updated information, and did the same adaptation throughout the year to meet the needs of the tactical environment. We in turn passed on 2009's information to the incoming relief for 2010. Give your employee the information, and then the autonomy to do their own thing afterward. 

THIRD; yes there's an ominous third reason to say you're not a very good teacher. Many people shirk the training duty because they simply don't want to be responsible when the new guy smurfs it up.

"Well I didn't train him!"

This comes from an environment of reprimand instead of learning opportunities. When the manager finds out that the employee is incorrectly performing a task, the supervisor gets called in to answer for his or her training techniques. Nobody wants this, not even the manager. So how do we fix this? There's a couple "best practices" for training standards, like written training protocols, demonstrating knowledge by practicing on the manager when learning to train, starting them "young", and having group refresher days.

The US Army doesn't train you to use a machine gun in basic training and just let you go for 4-20 years without any refreshers. I personally (as a private and specialist) trained the group (including Majors and Lieutenant Colonels) in the Browning M2, the MK-19, and M16-M4 weapon systems. As a young soldier I had to make a power point slideshow and stand up in front of the Troop and train people, then we all pulled out the weapons and practiced doing it. To apply this principle to your office grab a fresh newbie and make them train the group. Give them a timeframe and a little assistance, and all of the sudden, you've started to train your team to train others. it's a management skill. You can review the training material prior to the date and correct any mistakes, but you can also make sure everyone in the group has input after the class. We all learned to do it in business school, but most people don't practice presentations until they're already in a management position. 


So I promised some upsides to sink or swim. I also promised to dispel myth.

The Innovation Myth:

If they have to figure it out, they'll be more innovative and actually be more efficient than if I taught them how to do it. 
Yes and no. There's a definite value to unrefined parameters in allowing autonomy and innovation. Note I did not say "lack of training" causes this. In reality, lack of training produces spending a lot of time re-creating the wheel. The lost productivity in finding your own way, doesn't pass on the "best practices" and mostly doesn't allow for the employee to learn the skill to their full potential in most cases. 
Let's imagine that you want me to write a 5 page report, but I've never been trained in the use of the english language. This report is going to the customer and you the manager tell me that I need to make sure that my english is used properly. Now, being from West Texas, I think Y'all is a professional word but that's beside the point. I'm going to end up pulling my hair out having to google and go through St. Martin's Handbook for hours...
Now we know that it's not the business' responsibility to train english. Students in the US learn this in K-12 and possibly advance their knowledge and practice during higher education, but can you imagine being tasked with something and NOT having the skills to complete the task? You'd be doing more research than task. It limits most of our confidence, it's detrimental to the end product, and most of the time, it's being done after hours. 
So how exactly is this fully dispelled? Well, a few main reasons. Just like the basics of mathematics can help you in calculus or trigonometry, teaching someone the basics isn't detrimental. Help them get to the furthest reaches of knowledge and technique that the office has and then let them go. This allows for them to understand how the business works, why certain techniques are currently used (possibly even incorrectly) and allows this person to determine what is going on.

In the army we used to have a term (They still do, but I'm no longer in) "What Right Looks Like". This saying is meant to make sure you know what right looks like. Here's the end goal.

Have you ever seen the people that tie shoes all crazy? It looks exactly the same, performs the function of a tied shoe, and it took them 0.5 seconds because of Autonomy, Creativity, and Innovation. But they knew what "right looked like".

 

Nature vs. Nurture Myth:

I won't produce an empowered employee able to make key decisions by themselves.
There's definitely correct and incorrect ways to train, and the more you know about training, practice it, and see the results, the more you'll learn about what is effective and not effective. Sink or swim proposes that you'll make a better, more empowered subordinate out of the fire. Simply untrue. What sink or swim usually produces is an employee that is afraid to make a mistake or let the boss down. Mostly will hide mistakes instead of embrace and allow for a teachable moment in the office, and will also fail to communicate to the boss until the project or task is completed. Training your employee with what needs to be done and a standard practice of how it's typically done allows them to be proficient enough to do the work, after which time they can innovate the process and share with the office. It's far higher success rate in allowing the employee to have the mental tools to complete tasks and then innovate drastically increases productivity and engagement.

Surround yourself with complimentary skills not duplicate your own Myth

This "benefit" surprised me because logically, by not training your employees, you're effectively ensuring they duplicate the things that are already YOUR "best practices" at the expense of their own time and effort. By training your employees that you have best practices, and opening that communication of innovation, you can allow someone to circle back to you (The leader) with information they've learned outside of your organization. Everyone brings something to the table, so implying that if you train someone they won't bring a new and additional expertise to the team is absurd. Getting them engaged by opening communication, treating them like adult human beings, and improving their knowledge base and yours is essential to teamwork. 

 

Whether you think Training and equipping your employees with best practices is essential, or you personally believe that Sink or Swim is the best thing ever, Comment or send me feedback. 

Winning at training isn't always easy. If you'd like to learn more about my "Train the Trainer" or any other of my programs to assist your office in learning to work more efficiently, Contact me below.