As someone who specializes in helping business clients solve urgent financial problems, I often arrive on the scene when times are tough.
For many of my clients, it has taken years of doing the wrong things, often repeatedly, to create the mess they are in. In most cases, morale is low and confusion is rampant.
Under such circumstances, the challenge is in getting people to do the right
things, without further eroding morale or throwing fuel on the fire. For me, the answer lies in focusing on the positive - what should be done
- rather than hammering away with "no" and "don't." Most people want to do the right thing. Often, however, they don't know what that is.
There are many situations in which using this positive approach is effective. Here are a few worth considering: Coaching individual performance
Any Business Executive, by definition, has people reporting to him or her; their success, in part, comes from improving the performance of these direct reports. This situation holds true for those in a supervisory role as well.
If an employee is doing something dysfunctional or wrong, that also means they are not doing what should be done. So be specific as you offer guidance and explain what needs doing and how.
For example, I once asked a new head of planning and analysis to put together some charts explaining my division's horrible performance for the past month. He got to work and faxed them to me at the corporate review meeting the next day. To my horror, none of the charts added up! When I returned to the office, I simply asked him that when in a rush, please have someone spot-check the charts. The problem never reoccurred.
(So what did I do for the presentation? Nothing! Fortunately, my boss, the general manager, took the entire allotted time by quickly admitting poor performance for our group and then talking about what he was doing to improve it.) Changing the behavior of entire organizations and enterprises
Recently, I caught up with a CEO friend of mine - he was just five weeks into his new gig. His initial assessment was that the company was operating as if they were half their present size (and they should be twice as large!). For example, as is the case in many small companies, when there was a problem, the appropriate "super worker" dropped everything and fixed it. Instead, and while the CEO still wanted the problem fixed, he also wants and asks for a process to detect the warning signs, so preventative action can be taken in the future.
His motto to the troops is (I'm paraphrasing), "act the size we are." He doesn't harp on what is wrong; he tells them what to do instead. Not in detail either, just broad brush instructions. After all, in just five weeks, he doesn't have detailed action plans for each person. Influencing behavior away from bad outcomes
Often, when working in distressed situations, the hardest part is telling the CEO or CFO not to pay certain bills. These bills are often owed to suppliers who have become friends or to honor a commitment the CEO/CFO thinks they have made.
It would be easy in these circumstances for me to simply become "Mr. No."
What I do instead is create a rolling, 13-week cash flow
. Then, every week, I schedule approved disbursements to be made based on which are the most important and the limit on funds. When someone wants a check cut (usually the CEO, plant manager or head of purchasing) I don't say no. I simply tell the person that the payee is not on the list for the week of approved checks. If pushed, I ask which vendor that is scheduled for payment should not be paid. When developing detailed plans at the department and individual level
A positive approach at this level of detail can result in amazing things. When I was in the rent a car business, for example, I finally succeeded in driving meaningful action plans down to the accounting staff that supported our overall strategy.
A funny thing happened. With this information in hand, people started asking to switch jobs based on what they thought would be most fun, enhance their career, and so forth. That year, over 25% of the non-supervisory staff took on new positions. While my frontline supervisors had to work harder, a year later, when the company assessed employees on a wide sampling of employee satisfaction measures, my group ended up on top, by a large margin.
This positive, "do this" approach is not a solution for everything. It is not the solution for someone that just doesn't have the skills, knowledge, aptitude and motivation for the job. After all, your job is to lead and coach, not do their work. When you have to coach too much, you have a performance problem. Remember, instead of telling people, "don't do that," tell them what to do instead.
By maintaining a focus on the positive, not only are you more likely to get the results you need, you'll keep morale high along the way.