TEC – Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses – Jim Bleech
Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses
A product life cycle has four stages:
- Duplication: You are the only one with the product. The big challenge is to meet demands and get your product out the door as fast as you can.
- Differentiation: Competition moves into the market and you have to be different. Today, competitors can copy products in a matter of months.
- Price wars: When you can no longer differentiate your product, you move into the price war arena. Customers buy based only on price because they perceive all products as being the same.
- Value-added when you can’t drop your price any lower, you move to value-added service: service, which increases your cost of doing business.
This four-stage process represents true supply-and-demand economics. The problem with that approach is that faster product cycles make it harder than ever to stay profitable. There is more supply in the market than customers need, yet businesses are still focusing on what brings the money in.
To beat supply-and-demand economies, many companies have turned to cost-reduction economies. Yet, cost reduction often creates a siege mentality within the company because the wrong things (usually people) get cut. This can mortgage a company’s future. On the other hand, downsizing or reengineering isn’t all bad, because it allows companies to get rid of a lot of dead wood.
Time and product cycles are compressing. That means competing products and services look more alike faster and faster. Markets are changing at warp speed. You can’t stay on top just on the basis of your product.
To compound the problem, most companies have terribly inefficient sales processes; and when they cut costs, they generally cut employees without changing the processes. So now they have fewer employees doing the same inefficient processes as before.
The answer to this dilemma is time-efficient economies. By working on the efficiency of your employees, you can remain competitive without having to surrender to the vagaries of supply-and-demand or cost-reduction economies. By getting your sales people to be more efficient and by taking your product to market more efficiently, you can dramatically improve your competitive standing without depending on your product being unique.
When Bleech ran his own company, he had a policy of not accepting excuses from employees. Every time an employee offered an excuse, he would simply say, “No excuses allowed!” He even posted a “no excuses allowed” sign in his office. Without knowing it, he was creating an expectation in the company that people would not make excuses.
Employees want to do their jobs well. The problem is that all too often management enables them to not do their jobs well. The management practices and procedures encourage employees to engage in problem behaviors (projection of blame, reactive thinking, and denial of responsibility, etc.) on a regular basis. These kinds of behaviors inevitably lead to excuses.
When something breaks down, management tends to look at the people first. Yet, more often than not, the problem isn’t with the people; it’s the processes that management has put in place.
Problem behaviors always have excuses linked to them. Every time something goes wrong, you hear an excuse. When you recognize this common denominator, you can begin to fix the problem. Any time you hear excuses, it’s because you’re not getting results. Any time you get results, you don’t hear excuses. So if you can get rid of excuses, you can get rid of most of the major behavioral problems.
Business success rarely consists of putting together a team of superstars because they are hard to find and tougher to manage. Plus, they tend to leave after a short time. Instead, business success lies in getting extraordinary performance out of ordinary people. Extraordinary performance from ordinary people comes from an extraordinary organization with extraordinary processes.
Corporate culture defines the nature of organizational processes. The personality of your company is your organization. The personality of your company dictates your processes. Everything starts with your culture.
For example, companies need more creativity and innovation from front-line employees. Yet most employees are so swamped with production tasks and processes that they simply don’t have time to think creatively. Yet, instead of looking at the processes, management arbitrarily decides that employees aren’t creative and innovative. The solution is to change the processes to free up some time for employees to think about innovation and new ideas. In most companies, management assumes the role of forward thinking instead of forcing it on their employees. Yet, every time you solve a problem for an employee, you rob them of the chance to think creatively and develop their problem-solving skills. Every time you solve a problem for someone, you are enabling inefficient behavior.
Any time an employee comes to you with a question, respond with: “GOOd question. What do you think we should do?” Make them come to you with an answer first. Initially, people will resist. They will think you are insensitive and uncooperative. Eventually, they will realize you aren’t going to enable them any more.
If your mission, vision, or values statement is supposed to set the culture of your company, it should have something in it about efficient behavior. A values statement is far more important than a mission or vision because it identifies the behaviors an employee must produce to fit into the company. It identifies what kind of behavior the company wants from employees. It’s also a great evaluation tool for hiring, promotions, salary increases, etc.
The values statement should never change. People that don’t conform to it either change or leave the company. The single common denominator to bad behavior is excuses. If you clearly state in the values statement that excuses are not acceptable behavior, you begin to get ahead of the ball.
Excuse-making is the default position for people when clear corrective action is not taken by management. People learn to make excuses from the time they can first talk. Everything about our culture and our society encourages us to make excuses and deny responsibility. Excuses are natural and ingrained.
Employees make excuses for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is they are afraid to tell the truth. Fear of telling the truth is your fault, not theirs. People have to be allowed to say, “I screwed up” without any fear of negative consequences. If employees fear the consequences, they won’t be honest. If you don’t allow them to be honest, they will make excuses and you don’t get the results.
The problem is not that making excuses is company policy; no company does that. The problem is that getting rid of excuses is not part of your company policy. If you don’t make it part of your policy to get rid of excuses, people will automatically default to that position. If you don’t take positive action to get rid of excuses, they will exist forever.
The most efficient behavior is excuse-free behavior, and the place to start dealing with behavior is your corporate culture.
Short-term coaching involves coaching people on how to do a specific task. It involves correcting and modifying past behavior. Performance coaching is more calendar-based. It involves meeting with someone on a regular basis to coach on different areas.
“Front-loading” is an important part of performance coaching. It involves holding a conversation before an event happens to identify possible problems and deal with them before they happen, thereby eliminating any excuses that might appear after the event.
For example, when you assign a project to a direct report, you would ask the employee to identify any potential problems that might prevent them from completing the project. Then you would have them come up with an alternative action to deal with it. This wipes out the excuses ahead of time. If you put it in the context of “what are the reasons you might fail at this job?” people can think in that context. Then you can explore options to resolve any potential problems.
Eight steps to avoid excuses:
- Create the expectation. Clearly define what success and failure look like for the specific job.
- Tell the employee what’s in it for them. People need to know why it is important for them to do the job.
- Let the employee know how they fit into the big picture. People are much more motivated to succeed when they feel connected to the big picture.
- Do the proper front-loading. Look at what could possibly go wrong and deal with the excuses before they happen.
- Let the employee know where to go to get help when problems arise. One of the biggest reasons for failure occurs when employees don’t know how or where to get help. When they know where to go, they are much more willing to ask for help.
- When the job is done, tell the employee how they did.
- If the employee fails, turn it into a lesson.
- Project the lesson into the future. This erases any negative from the failure and turns it into a positive.
A performance meeting with direct reports should be done every two weeks at minimum and preferably once a week. Performance coaching meetings have three rules. They must:
Be regularly scheduled. Put the meetings on your calendar and your direct report’s calendar. If you can’t do it at the same time every week, book the meetings well in advance.
- Last no longer than 20 minutes. The first meeting might take longer, but after a while you can move through them very quickly.
- Have a fixed agenda.
The first item on the agenda should be an exchange of goals. This exchange should include a list of weekly goals you are working on to support the annual goals. Give the direct report a copy of your goals, what you have done towards those goals, and what you are going to do. Doing so holds you acutely accountable for results. It also quantifies your accomplishments and lets everyone know what your priorities are. This is one of the best techniques to get everybody moving in the same direction. Once people know what your goals are, they will start emulating you.
Exchanging goals also helps to set a culture of goal-setting, which is vital for the success of a business. A good goals program takes care of the two biggest problems in business: lack of focus and inconsistent behavior.
Most goals programs fail because they aren’t realistic. They aren’t realistic because people don’t review them on a regular basis. They set the goals in January and then take them out again in November to see if they are on track. By reviewing your goals on a weekly basis, you take a swing at them 52 times a year. It’s much easier to hit goals when you swing at them 52 times as opposed to once or twice a year. The linkage between annual and weekly goals is very powerful.
Limit the number of annual goals to a maximum of six. Make them general enough so they are all-inclusive. Some of the annual goals should be behavior-driven. Of course you need production goals, but you also want to change behavior, so make sure some of the goals are behavior-oriented. Behavioral goals come from the lessons learned during the weekly meetings.
A highly effective behavioral goal is to do one thing each week to improve your professional skills. If all your employees did this, you would turn your entire company into a learning organization. These kinds of goals force people out of their “boxes” and get them to stretch creatively and professionally.
The second item on the agenda is to ask your direct report two questions: “What is the best thing that happened this past week? What is the worst thing that happened this past week?” Ask about the best in order to reinforce it; ask about the worst to find out how they reacted to it and how you can get rid of the negative. By getting rid of negatives, you get rid of excuses. By getting people to talk about the worst things that happen, they won’t make excuses. Ask your direct report what they learned from the negative, how they will apply it in the future, and how they feel about it today.
The last item on the agenda is to ask your direct report what they need from you in the week ahead.
Performance coaching can accomplish a number of things:
- Hold your own feet to the fire
- Get everybody on the same page
- Establish culture
- Get written documentation of what your people are and aren’t doing
- Supply-and-demand driven economies are creating enormous pressures on businesses. You can no longer count on your product as the sole salvation.
- Cost reduction is finite, it can be damaging, and it isn’t a long-term answer.
- Time-efficient behavior is the infinite place to work in your company.
- Time inefficiency is manifested through excuses. Any time you hear an excuse, you have time inefficiency.
- Fix excuses and you will solve the problem of time inefficiencies.
- You can’t fix excuses unless you take corrective action. Excuses are the default position unless you do something about them.
- Remove the reasons why people make excuses.
- Establish a culture that people must live with.