Articles

  • How to Manage a “Lone Ranger”

    By Susan Battley

    A while back, a client mentioned her ongoing frustration with a member of her group. “How can I turn a lone ranger into a team player?” she asked me.

    We launched into a detailed exploration of case specifics after which she took away several next-step options.

    Despite both the realities and “management-speak” about teams and teamwork, “Lone Rangers” will always be with us …and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

    Here are some general points to consider in managing “Lone Rangers” effectively.

    First, Lone Rangers come in various manifestations. Three common types you’re likely to encounter are:

    The SUPERSTAR or rainmaker: a great producer or exceptionally talented performer who sees no benefit in interacting with the rest of the work group or division.

    The TECHNOCRAT or “geek”: a person who finds great satisfaction in completing technical tasks and problem-solving, but has little personal interest in interacting with others.

    The “IMPOSTER”: a person who worries – correctly or not – that he or she is underperforming or may not be the right person for the job, and stays at the periphery as an avoidant strategy.

    Five Tips for Managing a Lone Ranger

    # 1 Selection is critical.
    You should know if the person you’re hiring is a Lone Ranger before you make an offer. This allows you to determine how much of an “outlier” he or she will likely be in the work group. Too often, what is presented as a retention issue with Lone Rangers was really a selection issue.

    Action Tip
    Probe a candidate’s team experience and orientation with specific interview questions. Consider using some scientifically robust behavioral assessments as part of the selection process.

    # 2 Clarify what “team player” means functionally.
    Organizations and businesses have different concepts and requirements for teamwork. Some so-called teams are really work groups, not cross-functional teams. Does “teamwork” mean attending meetings, or does it mean quick seamless cooperation, as between the Sales and Technical Service Departments?

    Action Tip
    If a star system is part of your organization’s culture and value system, it may be necessary to remind all staff from time to time of the bottom-line benefits that Lone Rangers bring to the enterprise.

    # 3 Discuss the situation one-on-one.
    Don’t assume that your Lone Ranger realizes that he or she is behaving in a certain way, or realizes the impact of that behavior on the group, team or department.

    Action Tip
    Arrange an informal private meeting to review job expectations and requirements. Take a collaborative problem-solving approach as a first step. Get the Lone Ranger’s perspective. Agree on a follow-up date to review the situation. Don’t wait until the annual performance review to bring these issues up.

    # 4 Make sure your Lone Ranger is not just very shy or uncertain of his or her communication skills.
    See #3 above.

    Action Tip
    These are issues that can often be improved with an appropriate skill development plan.

    # 5 Put Lone Rangers in charge of something.
    Find out what they’re passionate about, and use this information to draw them into the fold. This is a low-key, highly effective way to engage people.

    Action Tip
    Ask Lone Rangers to mentor someone, represent the company at a fundraiser, give an in-house workshop, etc.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • The Perils of Busy-ness

    By Susan Battley

    From what I observe, unproductive busyness may be the most critical behavioral problem in organizations today. A common complaint I hear from leaders and managers involves the proliferation of low-value tasks and activities.

    In fact, a recent survey of 9,000+ executives indicated that decision makers worldwide are experiencing more distractions from core strategic focus.

    Why do so many smart, talented people end up losing valuable time and energy, rather than acting in truly productive ways? Because everyday managerial work is hazardous to focus. Days are full of interruptions and unexpected demands on time. Meetings can proliferate like viruses. Automatic routines and rituals, poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks, and superficial behaviors sap managers’ capacities.

    I frequently see low-value activities squeezing out problems and issues that are much more crucial to achieving bottom-line results. Leaders, senior managers, and board members too wind up postponing complex “big picture” issues, instead spending their most precious resource – time – on putting out fires and attending to squeaky wheels.

    Solution

    One way to get a grip on unproductive busyness is to apply the 80/20 Rule. Based on the Pareto Principle (1906), a mathematical formula Italian economist Pareto created showing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth, the 80/20 Rule was subsequently confirmed in a wide range of studies and contexts.

    It’s sometimes called the Rule of the Vital Few and Trivial Many: the impact of a vital few factors surpasses the importance of the rest of the factors, the trivial many. For example, 80 percent of your revenues comes from 20 percent of your customers. In other words, 80 percent of your results can be attributed to 20 percent of all possible factors.

    Eighty percent of your time and energy should be devoted to the top 20 percent of activities that constitute highest value and priority. Can you say you’re doing this now? (Be honest.)

    Of course, applying the 80/20 Rule presupposes that you have control over your schedule. In reality, this is often not the case. But I’ll bet you can do a much better job of time allocation than you’re doing now.

    • First, you need to be purposeful and identify very clearly what your top 20 percent consists of. You also need to have key stakeholders and implementers agree that these activities are indeed top priority.
    • Second, if something has to take a back seat or not get done, be sure it’s not part of this 20 percent.
    • Third, spend 20 percent of your time on the other 80 percent of your workload. Amazingly, you’ll get the “trivial many” done well enough.

    Eliminate unproductive busyness. Clearly identify and focus on your top 20 percent. Do this organization-wide and you’re sure to achieve greater overall productivity and efficiency, to say nothing of increased creativity and employee satisfaction.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.

  • Five Ways to Sink a Meeting

    By Susan Battley

    We’ve all had to sit through meetings that could bore the bumps off a dill pickle.

    More than 10 million meetings occur every day in America, and the average professional attends about 60 every month. Studies suggest that at least one-third of those meetings are unproductive. But they don’t have to be.

    If you value your time and the time of the people who work for and with you, consider the following five meeting threats and take steps to avoid them:

    1. “Potemkin” Tactics
    General Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s military leader, erected phony villages to mislead an invading enemy.  Too often, meetings that purport to be substantive turn out to be just window dressing, or address issues not relevant to the people invited. Using “Potemkin” tactics is a sure way to lose the confidence and trust of attendees, who cotton on to the deception soon enough.

    What You Can Do
    Communicate the meeting’s agenda and goals completely and accurately ahead of time. This will help ensure that the right people attend the meeting, and come with reasonable expectations.

    2. MIA Sessions
    When people critical to advancing the meeting are “missing in action,” you have a MIA session. This can delay decisions and in many cases lead to the ultimate time-waster – scheduling a second meeting to tackle the same issues as the first.

    What You Can Do
    Identify everybody who needs to be present in order to accomplish the goals of the meeting. In many cases this may involve additional people beyond the regular cast of characters.  If you cannot accomplish the meeting goals because key players are unavailable, reschedule or cancel the meeting.

    3. Hijackers
    When one or more attendees seizes control of the agenda or monopolizes the group’s time, your meeting has been hijacked. Tactics can be overt or subtle, as in “This will only take a minute.”

    What You Can Do
    Stop the hijacking before it starts. Once a meeting is hijacked, it may just take the Green Berets to regain control. Instead, make agenda items and time limits clear from the start, then enforce these rules early and often.  What if the top gun is responsible for the meeting deviation? Then you’ve been rerouted, not hijacked.

    4. Techno-Fog
    When meeting attendees are busy with mobile phones, PDAs, or laptops and give speakers only part of their attention, a cloud of techno-fog has rolled in. Holding productive meetings in this kind of climate is difficult because interruptions and multitasking compromise memory, information processing and decision making. It’s also rude.

    What You Can Do
    Clear the fog by laying down the law. Whenever possible, adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward electronic devices. This will increase the quality of attendees’ attention and can also lead to shorter meetings. Consider too that if you don’t need everyone’s full attention, why hold the meeting in the first place?

    5. SOP Meetings
    When meetings occur too frequently or always use the same format, they can become SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure. Meetings that in actuality are rituals – all form and little substance – add little or no value. Quite the contrary, they consume valuable and, in the case of time, nonrenewable resources.

    What You Can Do
    Perform a “meeting audit” of all regularly scheduled meetings. This audit will determine: Whether you are meeting too often, whether the format is productive, and whether the right people are attending.

    Conclusion
    To get the most out of meetings, you should be sure that the meeting is necessary, then structure the format, agenda, and attendee list to support the meeting’s goals.  Remember too that meeting norms, such as arriving on time, paying full attention, keeping discussion on target and on track, get established one way or another – either by conscious intent and influence or haphazardly.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Do You Look the Part?

    By Susan Battley

    Recently, the chief executive officer of a Fortune 50 company had to deliver very tough news about the company’s performance and prospects. At an internationally televised event, he delivered a detailed corrective plan that included major layoffs over the next years. And I do mean detailed. He read page after page of his presentation, seldom looking at the standing-room only audience.

    To be sure, his was an unenviable job. But when he said the words “I am fully confident…,” they just did not ring true. He was going through the motions of reading a scripted message. No eye contact, flat tone, hunched posture. His non-verbal behavior completely contradicted what he was saying. This leader certainly wasn’t ready for his close-up.

    When it comes to important communications, do you “look the part”?

    People look for congruence and consistency between what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. They want to be looked in the eye. Whether you’re on network television or speaking before a small group of clients or sponsors, you need to master a “whole person” range of communication skills to be effective.

    Research confirms that people make almost instantaneous inferences about a person’s competence based on his or her looks. The good news is that you can use this information to your advantage.

    Here’s What You Can Do

    • Be sure to maximize first impressions. This means dressing and projecting the appropriate image.
    • Practice your material until you know it well. You don’t need to memorize it, but you should be able to tick off your key points without notes.
    • Videotape yourself and review it with someone who will give you frank and helpful feedback.
    • Consider getting professional coaching on platform skills and media training. (Some years back I did, and found the experience a valuable investment.)

    Being fully prepared nowadays means more than knowing your material. You must deliver the “whole person” communications package or risk striking out.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.

  • The “Invisible” Productivity Solution…Sleep!

    By Susan Battley

    There’s something more than a little discouraging about presenting to a room full of yawning professionals at 8.30 AM. And especially if the topic is executive productivity. So, finding myself in this situation, I started off by polling the group on how many hours of sleep they typically got a night. No one admitted to more than seven hours. Some claimed they got by very well on five hours. But the yawns and lack of energy in the room told another story. This was a seriously sleep-deprived group.

    Let’s look at some basic truths. No one can perform at peak levels without adequate sleep. And getting sufficient sleep is one of the most powerful ways to insure that you are mentally sharp, even-tempered, and stress resilient.