leadership dot #2510: be prepared

Yesterday I wrote about data and the volatile nature of projections but what’s worse than inaccurate forecasts? Not doing them at all.

A colleague recently looked at attendance data and trends and calculated that the next event could have a substantially larger number of participants. As with all projections, he made assumptions to reach that conclusion, but they were reasoned and not totally off base…

…only they ended up being wrong. His staff did extra work and had high expectations for a record-setting crowd, only to find little increase in the number who showed up.

So, what happens next time? Do you ignore the trend line? Set up only for a lower number? Go through all the extra work again “in case”?

My advice: if the projections are reasonably thought out, you should prepare for them to materialize. Your staff might think you are crying wolf but is far better to be overprepared than to be caught off guard.


leadership dot #2509: projections

We had a fluke winter storm over the weekend which was precipitated by an official Winter Storm Warning from the National Weather Service. They had predicted 5-8” of snow but we ended up with only three.

I know that the government spends millions on weather forecasting and has an army of employees whose sole purpose is to predict the weather patterns. I have seen a tiny sliver of the complex weather data that meteorologists have available to them, and yet they often miss the mark regarding timing or amounts of weather events.

And then I pause to realize that I can’t think of any future happenings that I can accurately pinpoint, let alone hour by hour.

Even with all the data to support their forecasts, the future is unpredictable. Yet every day we expect not only meteorologists to look into their crystal ball, but professionals in many fields to do the equivalent with far less data or predictability. Sales managers are required to submit projections as to the number and dollar value of anticipated transactions, enrollment leaders are expected to land within a narrow range of how many 17-year-olds will make a multi-thousand dollar decision in their favor, and investors place millions of dollars on hunches as to where a volatile market will land.

Data are beautiful things; they help us make sense of the past and have better guesses about the future. Just remember that even with robust data backing it up, it’s only a projection until it’s the present.



leadership dot #2508: branding

When I first started my business, one of the first things I did was to work with a designer to create a logo, website and to order imprinted stationery and envelopes. The look and feel of all my design assets are very important to me and I have taken great care to develop branded invoices, handouts, correspondence cards, etc.

So I laughed out loud when my accountant sent me some information: it came in a handwritten brown envelope with an invoice printed in black ink off a computer and a plain white envelope inside for remittance. There was nothing branded, designed or fancy about the mailer or its contents – but maybe that is exactly the brand that an accountant is trying to convey: be frugal with expenses!

Whether you believe money spent on design is money well spent or not, the key point is to be consistent in how you portray yourself or your organization. You can’t send one thing in a Kraft envelope and the next on parchment.

leadership dot #2507: self serve

A few years ago when Walmart announced it was closing 254 stores, a meme quickly circulated that said: “All 175 cashiers will lose their jobs.” While meant to be a slam on the dearth of customer service staff that is often found at the chain, it was a prescient forecast of what was to come.

Not just in Walmart, but in more and more stores, self-service checkouts are replacing cashier-staffed lines. Our Sam’s Club has indicated that they will go to all cashier-less once corporate figures out how to address alcohol sales and cash transactions.

What is striking to me is that instead of a customer revolt, for the most part, people have embraced taking on the checkout tasks themselves. It is a sad commentary on the lack of value-added that most cashiers provide: they can be totally absent and nothing is missing.

Instead of removing your front-line staff or replacing them with self-service kiosks, why not make them your most valuable asset? Use the technology on the front end of a transaction to allow your cashiers to have data that can be used to cultivate relationships with some of the regulars. Teach staff to have meaningful banter with customers, to actually provide service instead of just conducting a transaction by rote and to be so delightful as to be memorable.

No self-checkout will ever be as convenient as online checkout. If companies want bodies to come into their stores, they need bodies there to add value to the experience.

leadership dot #2506: first warning

One of the first warning signs that you’re putting on a few pounds is usually when your pants get a little tighter. It’s not the number on the scale that triggers the concern, rather the extra pull at your waistband. Even if you never got on a scale you would know that you were gaining weight.

Think about what the early warning signs are for your organization. If you see that a pile of paperwork is accumulating, does that signal that you are getting behind on invoice processing? If you hear one of your stars grumbling to someone, does it indicate a fissure in your morale? If you start to see trash on the grounds or things out of place are those harbingers of mediocrity?

You want to find the equivalent of tight waistbands for your enterprise so that you can take corrective action before the problem gets out of hand. The early signals should be heeded the most as they only require slight behavior modifications to get back on track. It’s much easier to say no to an extra dessert than it is to buy a whole new size wardrobe.


leadership dot #2505: styles

In the training and development arena, there are trainers, facilitators, and keynote speakers. Often the terms are used interchangeably as organizations just want someone “to present”. But for those who perform the services, these three functions are very different.

A keynote speaker often delivers a one-way message with limited audience participation. A trainer can provide material in an engaging manner, but that person still provides the majority of the content. A facilitator utilizes their skills to draw out and frame the insights from others, serving as a process conductor more than a content provider.

I see these three roles as a metaphor for leaders in organizations. A keynote-type leader is more hierarchical and predominantly delivers information to subordinates in a one-way manner. A trainer-type leader involves staff in some of the interactions, but they still rely on the boss for providing and controlling the overall information flow. A facilitator-type leader dedicates more energy establishing parameters to allow others the freedom to work independently within them. The facilitator-type leader creates output in concert with others rather than imparting something that is pre-determined.

Just as presenters are more suited and talented in one of the three styles, so leaders naturally gravitate to the way that is most comfortable for their temperament. All are necessary and appropriate in the right situation; the key is being intentional to match the need and culture with the right type.

Are you a keynoter, trainer or facilitator – and what does your organization need from you?



leadership dot #2504: expert power

One of the key things for new hires to learn is who has power beyond those with the official titles. In my Organizational Behavior class students study French and Raven’s five sources of power: Legitimate (positional), Reward, Coercive, Expert and Referent (charisma). They easily grasp four types, but they struggle with providing examples of expert power – unless, of course, they have professional work experience. Then it is easy to identify who has expert power and many times it’s the administrative assistant!

Expert power comes from the individual’s knowledge or skill, irrespective of their position, that is valuable to others. At times, a person may gain expert power from credentials or experience, but often the organizational experts are those in the support positions that are truly the experts on how the operation runs. Experts may play a role as basic as being the “go-to” person for unjamming the copy machine or possess information as nuanced as knowing how to snag five minutes with the boss. Expert power comes from being the one that others turn to when they get stuck or the one who is the person who can navigate the system like no other. Expert power can also be information power – the one who understands the pieces of the whole and knows what is really happening, not just what is supposed to occur.

Experts play invaluable roles in organizations, yet their contributions are not always recognized or legitimized – until, of source, something goes wrong and no one else knows how to resolve it! Today, celebrate the experts that are your administrative assistants. Acknowledge that their knowledge is often the power that keeps the enterprise humming.