Quit pretending you’re perfect – even trying to be is a ridiculous timesink.
Excellence versus Perfection
Striving for excellence is good. Striving for perfection is not. To help clarify the difference…
Striving for excellent is a three step ‘competency plus’ model:
What do I need to do to meet the minimum requirements of the assignment?
What might I do to meaningfully exceed those minimums?
Let me go do those things.
Striving for perfection, on the other hand, is a four step ‘never good enough’ construct:
What do I need to do to do a perfect job, here?
Let me go do those things.
Uh-oh, it’s not quite perfect, yet.
Repeat steps 1-4, ad infinitum.
Failure in Failure
Any time we’re working on something that’s both challenging, we’re likely to fail. And what that means is that, from time to time, we’re all going to do something that makes us look a bit…foolish.
So be it.
But it’s how we ‘be’ in those moments of failure and foolishness that makes the biggest difference – as in the difference between a good laugh that reinvigorates everyone around you (including yourself) and a continued awkwardness that erodes your credibility, trustworthiness, and relevance, as a leader and team member.
Indeed, there are few things more absurd than a boss who did something wrong and won’t admit it. Truth is, everyone already knows it was a screw-up – the only question is whether the boss is adult enough to admit it. Or aware enough to see it.
Yet so many bosses think that a clever explanation gets them off the hook.
Furthermore, this bizarre face-saving behavior encourages – that is to say, trains – staff to react in similar ways when they err.
To state the obvious, that’s a full 180 degrees in the wrong direction.
Excellence in Failure
Mistakes, slip-ups, and failures are a normal part of business. And while it’s important to minimize them when we can, it’s even more important to show your staff how to appropriately handle them when they do occur.
Defensiveness? Blame? Denial? No.
Lessons Learned? Growth and Development? Perspective? Yes.
Show them how to react.
They’re watching and learning from you – whether you’re doing good or not.
The thing about personal/professional development goals is this: If they’re too easy, people get bored by them; If they’re too difficult, people get unnerved by them.
Either extreme falls short of its intended aim. So the key in establishing quality goals is to have them sufficiently s-t-r-e-t-c-h the person, but not overwhelm them.
Here are three ways to do that with your staff:
Trial-and-Error – Try a few things, see what works, what doesn’t, and modify the goals accordingly over time. It helps to realize that you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time; the best learning (and striving) is always iterative.
Report Back – The idea here is for them to create their own goals and then tell you about them. Then build some stretches around what you hear. Just keep an eye out for whatever bias your staffer brings to the process, though – some people will purposefully UNDER-estimate what they can achieve (sandbagging) ; others will OVERstate it (wishful thinking). Your job is to find the sweet spot.
Collaborate – Engage WITH others on random assignments to: (a) see how they perform; and then (b) create their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals WITH them. Using the best of ways 1 and 2, identify meaningful, relevant, and sufficiently challenging goals that build their skills and are aligned with their interests.
Whatever way you choose, be sure to remind people that you are noticing whether they’re working on their goals (or not) … and watching their progress (or not).
In other words, help them keep their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals top-of-mind so they actually DO stretch.
After all, the things we pay attention to are typically the things that actually get done.
To quickly undermine your credibility, as a boss, just mismanage your budget.
Routinely spending too much is, obviously, bad. But it’s important you know that spending too little is also problematic. Why? Because routinely striving to come in UNDER budget – an approach that (far too) many leaders take – also proves you’re ill-equipped, or flat-out unable, to properly manage the company’s money.
Rather, strive for your actuals to come within +/-5% of your budget** – THAT shows you know how to work with money AND make money work for you.
Tips for Maintaining Strong Fiduciary Controls Throughout the Year
Review your financial reports within 3 hours of receiving them.
If you aren’t receiving your financial reports on a timely basis, complain to someone who can do something about it.
Note any variances of +/-8%, or more, off of expected amounts**
Request a written Explanation of Variance (EOV) from the appropriate manager(s) for each and every line item variance.
Make sure you actually receive those EOVs from your managers. Why? Because you often won’t.
Make sure their EOVs make sense.
Why? Because they often don’t!
Adjust spending monitoring and authorization accordingly. Variances happen. But it’s your job to insure they don’t continue to happen as a matter of course or because no one was watching what needed to be watched.
Insist on hearing the BUSINESS justification for any/all expenditures PRIOR TO any actual spending. Be open to requests for budgeted (and non-budgeted) moneys, but always – ALWAYS – require staff to articulate the business need for such expenditures as a prerequisite for even considering their request/proposal. You can do this by simply asking, “What is the NEED, here?”, “Why is it not just a nice-to-have?” and “Why can’t it wait until next year?” and probing into whatever is said. Do this enough, and you’ll find they start answering your questions before you even have to ask them!
Tips for Establishing Strong Fiduciary Controls During Budget Season
Pay particular attention to the calendarization of expenses.
Very few line item expenditures divide neatly over a 12-month period, even though the spreadsheet you’ll be working with will likely auto-populate in that way. Indeed, most mid-year EOVs result from some sort of easily-avoidable calendarization error.
Give spending control some thought before the year starts – not just once it’s too late. Across-the-board increases are easy enough to propose, but rarely stand up to even the most modest of push-backs. Why dilute your credibility so unnecessarily?
Identify two-to-three line items to meaningfully REDUCE.
Consider how, exactly, you can make that happen. Look, specifically, at large, seemingly fixed, line items: How might you effectively negotiate those rates downward? Also look at where you mis-categorized moneys in the past. Don’t just carry mistakes forward, clean up your mess.
Identify two-or-three line items that deserve an INCREASED investment.
Crisply articulate your rationale (in business terms) for adding to this part of your budget. (Think ‘essential upgrades’.)
Identify two-or-three ongoing initiatives to wind down.
Just because continuing last year’s project is approval-capable doesn’t make it automatically approval-worthy. One of the biggest sinkholes of next year’s money comes from continuing to fund in support of last year’s sunk costs.
Identify two-of three brand new initiatives to recommend.
Again, crisply articulate the business justification for each, being sure to clearly address the ‘Why?’ and ‘Why Now?’ questions.
Showing that you can ably manage money builds trust and credibility in you as a leader … which makes MAINTAINING STRONG FIDUCIARY CONTROLS a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.
** To be sure, check with your accounting department to find out what they consider to be acceptable variations in your organization as some uses a tighter +/-3%, while others are far more lax.
Sometimes it takes some digging to get to the root of things – and asking questions is a great way to do that.
But, not all questions are created equal.
Some questions are easy to answer but their answers provide little, if any, new insights.
Example: ‘Why’d ya do THAT?!’
The problem: Aside from the unavoidable judgment that will likely be in your tone, ‘why?’ questions, like these, tend to provide answers that are rarely of much help.
Better: ‘What did you learn for the next time?’ or some other question that encourages realizations and learning rather than excuses and justifications.
Some questions are easy to ask, but too hard to succinctly answer.
Example: ‘What specific steps did you take that resulted in this mess?’
The problem: In trying to get the details right, key insights are often lost or overlooked by both those explaining and listening to the explanation.
Better: ‘When did things start going sideways?’ or something that gets them to summarize the core issues of what they have to share.
Some questions make it too easy to get only part of the story – especially if you’re curiosity quotient is a bit low.
Example: ‘Did you address that customer issue I told you about?’
The problem: Closed-ended questions (ones that enables a yes- or no-type response) allow the person you’re asking to omit key information. You may get a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, but you still won’t know what they did, when they did it, how well they did it, who they talked with, etc.
Better: ‘How did you address that customer issue I told you about?’ or another open-ended type question to allows you to know enough to speak knowledgeably about the matter.
Follow Up with Follow-Up Questions
It’s always best to assume that the first few questions you ask – whatever questions they are – will provide you with some, but definitely not all, of what you need, answer-wise. That’s why probing follow-up questions are so important. It’s in THEIR answers that the real insight and understanding reside.
Not sure what probing follow-up question to ask next? Try any one of these:
‘What ELSE do you want to add to what you’ve told me so far?’
‘What OTHER questions would it make sense for me to ask or for you to answer?’
‘HOW do you want to proceed at this point, then?’
See what those questions do to improve the breadth and depth of the information you receive.
Who hasn’t overheard this type of conversation between a boss and employee:
Boss: Do this.
Boss: Because I say so.
Given this reality, no wonder employee morale and engagement is so often as low as it is!
Sure, there are times when a crisis or tight deadline might require extreme employee responsiveness, but making them jump through hoops just because you can is bad form.
Why ‘Because I Say So ‘ is NOT Your Best Move
Sure, using these words can seem pretty effective.
They seem to save time.
They seem to eliminate the need to explain oneself.
And they seem to keeps things moving.
Or does they?
Initially, maybe yes. But you have to ask – whose time are you saving? And for how long? Because if you’re thinking that such heavy-handedness doesn’t result in considerable grousing about you behind your back, you’re terribly, terribly wrong.
And does it really eliminate the need to explain oneself? Maybe in this moment, but if your staff can’t figure out the rationale for your request, then they’re likely not going to be able to provide an end-product you’ll be satisfied with. No, chances are much better that they’ll only provide you with what you specifically asked for – what’s minimally required – rather than what you intended for them to do – or what would truly ‘wow!’ you.
As for it keeping things moving? Hardly. In truth, it’s actually far more likely that you’ll just end up creating one gigantic bottleneck as everyone around you simply learns that it’s best to just wait until you to tell them, precisely, what to do.
Besides, it’s just wrong for a boss to be that disrespectful.
Taking Time Saves Time
So is there a better way? Yes, there is: Whenever you have a task or assignment to delegate to someone, spend an extra 15 seconds and explain the ‘why?’ – the business justification – behind your request.
Why does the database needs to be scrubbed? Because inaccurate records delay our ability to respond to client concerns in an expeditious manner.
Why is the report now needed tomorrow? Because some important decisions need to be made and the report will provide the essential information we need to make them.
Why do we need stakeholder approval before this next step? Because while we can certainly wreck this project all by ourselves, the only way for it to succeed is with the support and involvement of our key business partners.
Getting clear on what the ‘why?’ (that is, the underlying business justification) isn’t always easy. But it is wildly important.
Why the ‘Why?’ Matters
Knowing, and being able to articulate the underlying ‘why?’ for everything you delegate makes it so much easier to talk in meaningful, relevant and compelling ways. And when your staff understands why it makes sense to be do what you’re asking them to, it becomes that much easier for them to do a better job.
Which makes employee buy-in that much easier.
Which moves things forward that much faster.
Which gives you, and others, much more time to work on what else is important.
Which makes it that much easier for you – and everyone else – to be notably successful.
Is ‘Because I Say So’ Ever Appropriate?
Not in those words, per se, no. But in times of true urgency, when you really do need extreme employee responsiveness, try saying this:
“I want you to know that there is a solid business justification for what I’m asking you to do, even if it’s unclear to you in this moment. And, while I’d be happy to explain the ‘why?’ to you later, if you’d like, because of the urgency of the matter, it’s essential that you take care of it, first, right now, without delay. Agreed?”
A Translucent ‘Why?’
But what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ that you’ve been given by someone up the chain? What then? Well, perhaps that means you need to go ask your boss for some additional clarification.
And what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ behind your own request? (Hey, it happens.) Well, perhaps – just perhaps – the task you had in mind really doesn’t need to be done, after all.
Hmm, not assigning unnecessary work? What a great way to improve employee morale and engagement!