Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Undercover Boss

Every CEO should be an undercover boss for the day.  The information your managers never give you would amaze you.  On a recent episode of “Undercover Boss” a CBS reality show, the head of a US drive-through food chain broke his cover during filming and shut down a restaurant on the spot, because of how employees were being treated by a manager.

Early in the episode an employee named Todd told the CEO, Rick Silva that his manager treated staff badly and once threatened to take him outside and beat him for not working hard enough.  Todd said he was worried that Stevens would terminate him if he stood up to him, and he needed the job to support his mother.

Checking into these allegations CEO, Rick Silva went undercover.  After doing a little observation on his own Mr. Silva raised allegations to the manager, known in the show only as “Stevens”, about verbally abusing his employees.  The manager retorts that if he didn’t scream at the employees they would not listen to him. What training did he take? 

“I’m not going to let you continue telling me I’m disrespecting my crew. Have you been in the fast food business before?” the manager says.  Mr. Silva tries to maintain his cover, saying “no I haven’t”, but cracks when the manager continues to prod him over his supposed lack of experience.   He finally says to the manager that he does have experience.  Mr. Silva admits “I have been in the restaurant business for over 20 years and I’ve been in the fast food business for over 20 years. I’m the CEO for this company.”

Stevens’ jaw drops as Mr. Silva says: “Right here, right now, we’re going to shut the restaurant down.”

Mr. Silva reopened the store with a new general manager the next morning and sent the offending manager away for more training.  Personally, I would have fired the guy.  No employee should have to deal with a lack of dignity and respect.  But unfortunately, this manager’s style is more common than we would like to believe.  So think about doing your own internal observation, you may learn more than you want to know.

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Driving Change

Nobody likes change and some of us hate it. As a leader, your job is to get others to want to change. I remember when I had a Palm as my smart phone and tried to transition to a blackberry. Didn’t work for me. My husband suggested an iPhone, I wasn’t even going there. However, when I needed to upgrade, he bought me an iPhone and gave it to me as I was boarding an airplane for a business trip. I went a little crazy, but I had several hours to play with it on my flight without any pressure and I knew I would return it when I got back, but, I began to see the value it offered. I learned to use it and have loved it since.

Getting others especially other leaders to open up to change is hard. You have to help them understand what’s in it for them, because suddenly you are changing something in their very comfortable lives. They are going to resist and find every reason to point out that your conclusions and recommendations for change are wrong. If you want change to happen, you have to help them understand that change is in their best interest. Show them you are trying to drive results or metrics they care about. Help them understand that they stand to benefit from the changes you are recommending.

Here’s an example of what I mean: When I was part of a large call center, there were very different sets of metrics that people received incentives on. There was the call center, which was receiving incentives based on operational efficiency. They were rewarded for how many calls they were handling an hour, their abandon rate, their customer service scores, and how many dollars were they collecting while they were on the phone (it was a credit card collections call center). On the other side of the fence, there were people like me who were looking at the long-term customer satisfaction and retention. Sometimes we were advocating for treatments in the call center that met short-term operational goals but missed the long-term goals. The leaders in the call center wanted their teams to get you on the phone and say “you owe us $100. Please pay now.” All they wanted to do (and what they received incentives for) was to get you to say “yes, I will pay you,” take a payment, and then get off the phone and move on to the next one as quickly as possible.

My team was concluding that the long-term value was building a relationship with the customer and understanding their financial situation. If we better understood how we could help the customer and what his long-term goals were, we found those accounts were more profitable than others. The operational effect of this approach, however, was that those phone calls started getting longer and longer and longer.

In the short-term we were messing up the call center’s metrics, but long-term building a more profitable relationship with the customer. What we had to do was sit down with the call center leaders, and help them understand the long-term behavior we were trying to drive. We had to explain why it was in the best interest of the broader organization and of the company as a whole. We were pretty up front with the call center leaders and we told them we understood how we were going to mess up their metrics. We knew if we wanted to achieve the long-term changes that drove profitability we had to blow up our call center operating efficiency metrics.

We as leaders knew if we wanted to make those changes happen, we had to be willing to stand side-by-side with that call center leader in front of their boss and ask that boss for relief on those operating metrics. He had to say “if you want to make a change that’s good for the long-term business, this is going to be bad for the short-term for operating metrics. We need you to change the operating metrics incentive plan.” As soon as those call center leaders knew we were willing to go to bat for them and they weren’t going to get penalized on their personal incentives, they were much more willing to support the changes.

In the end, we made the changes, changed the incentive plan, and improved the overall profitability of the business. If you want to get other leaders to change, you have to be willing to stand side-by-side with them. You have to help make their case for change and do what you can to protect their interests while simultaneously pursuing your own. When you partner with others in change, change can actually happen.


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Manager or Leader, which wall are you climbing?

Whether you’re a manager or a leader (you can be both) you need to know the business well. But, a leader is someone who has the capacity to create a compelling vision that takes people to a new place, and to translate that vision into action. Leaders draw other people to them by enrolling them in their vision. What leaders do is inspire people, empower them.

They pull rather than push. This “pull” style of leadership attracts and energizes people to enroll in a vision of the future. It motivates people by helping them identify with the task and the goal rather than by rewarding or punishing them.

There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important “To manage” means “to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct.” “Leading” is “influencing, guiding in direction, course, action, opinion.” The distinction is crucial.

Management is…                                            Leadership is….

Coping with complexity                                Coping with and promoting change

Planning and Budgeting                                Setting a Direction

Organizing and Staffing                                Aligning People

Controlling and Problem Solving                Motivating and Inspiring People

Effective Action                                               Meaningful Action

Again, Both are necessary and important.

Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing. The difference may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment — effectiveness —versus activities of mastering routines — efficiency. The chart below indicates key words that further make the distinction between the two functions:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

The most dramatic differences between leaders and managers are found at the extremes: poor leaders are dictatorial, while poor managers are bureaucrats in the worst sense of the word. Whilst leadership is a human process and management is a process of resource allocation, both have their place and managers must also perform as leaders. All first-class managers turn out to have quite a lot of leadership ability.