No Discord at Work – Lessons from Jerry

The show Seinfeld was known to be a reasonably harmonious set, a ‘lack of discord’.  When Jerry Seinfeld was asked a few weeks ago why he thought that was the case by life-maximiser Tim Ferriss on his podcast , he gave an answer that was startling in its simplicity:

Tim: To what would you attribute that lack of discord?

Jerry: I don’t like discord.

You probably don’t like it either, right?  But what do you actually do?

Jerry continued:

Jerry: I don’t like it, and I am fearless in rooting it out and solving it.  And if anyone’s having a problem, I’m going to walk right up to them and go “Is there a problem?  Let’s talk about this”.  Because I cannot stand that kind of turmoil.

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The Weekly One-on-One – the simple thing that makes you a better leader

Prefer to watch on video than read?  Click here to do so, it’s 4 mins with captions.

There’s a thing that you can do to become a better leader that it is so simple, it’s difficult for many to believe it can make so much difference.

That thing is the weekly one-on-one. 

The best descriptions of the importance of this and some guidelines come from Manager Tools, founded by Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne 15 years ago.  Originally a podcast, it’s now a consultancy, training company and there’s a book.    They call the one-on-one the ‘O3’, and they have it as one of their cornerstones of good leadership.

They’re not wrong.

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Improve Performance – Use Limits Not Targets

(Prefer to watch on video than read?  Then just click here – 5 mins, with captions.  Previous videos here BTW).

It’s very standard to set some targets when performance is in need.  Often smoke-screened by calling them KPIs (forgetting what the ‘I’ stands for).  Maybe even ‘aggressive targets’.

Yet…they don’t always get the hoped-for result, for a simple reason – targets aren’t how things work in the real world!

The Conventional Way

Here’s how we’d typically do it.  Take this graph, with Performance on the vertical and Time on the horizontal, with the horizontatal dotted target line.  And let’s assume higher is better.

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How to Lift Your People’s Capability – The Ultimate Force Multiplier

If you’d prefer to watch on video than read, just click here – 5 mins with captions.

“I need lift the capability in my team so I can do more future-focussed work”.  It’s in the Top 3 things I’m going to hear whenever I have a chat to a manager at any level, and it’s a good idea. 

What’s rarely covered is how to actually do it.  That’s what we’re going to sort now.

Coming to Grips

Ever thought of yourself as a production line?  It’s easy to do in manufacturing, might look like this:

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Performance Measures that Worked – A Case Study From Major League Baseball

Would you rather watch the video than read?  If so, just click here.  4 mins with captions.

Managers introduce measures because they’re paid to get results…and often it goes nowhere.  This is a case study of where it worked, and it comes from Major League Baseball.

BaseballBalls and Strikes

First – the game of baseball.  Robin Williams said…

…so baseball is like test cricket on speed.

While you might know baseball as hitting, fielding and running around the bases to score runs, the key moment happens over 300 times a game when the pitchers throws (‘pitches’) the ball to the hitter.  If not put into play, each pitch is a ball or a strike.  Three strikes and you’re out, four balls mean you get to go to first base.

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Utilisation Obsession – why your organisation is in permanently clogged chaos

If you’d prefer to watch on video than read, click here!

A state of overload and chaos has become sadly normal in organisations.  Here’s the thing – it comes from a very natural condition – an obsession with utilisation.   I’ll explain…

These ideas originated from one of the all-time gurus – Eli Goldratt.

Way Basic Work System

To demonstrate, I’ll draw my favourite diagram that my long-time clients will recognise (with one change):

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“Good Enough” Leading

EnJ on the track
The managing and leading game does not get easier. Or at least it appears that way, because it’s not as if with every blog, book and article (this one included!) that two previous ones are taken away as no longer relevant.

It’s like healthcare – no one wants the second-hand machine from 15 years ago attached to them, so it just keeps ratcheting up. Yet also like healthcare, there are certain foundations which hold true:

  • Food – less of everything except vegetables
  • You know that pies every lunch are not a sustainable diet
  • Moving every day is better for you than not moving
  • If you’re finding life hard, say so out loud to someone

Do this stuff and your health will move toward… ‘good enough’.

Another other area where the principle of ‘please just give me something to hang onto’ applies is being a parent. So, on that…Dr Psych Mom (Samantha Rodman) is a brilliant blogger on things that are ‘inner’, and her advice and thinking on being a parent has helped my wife and me on numerous occasions.

In particular, her post on Good Enough Parenting was not only valuable…it was a relief!

So bringing this introductory circle to a close, lets talk about what ‘good enough’ leading looks like:

1) Do you convene your team most weeks to look at and discuss ‘how are we doing, how are we feeling, what do we need to talk about’?

2) Do you convene the team for at least a half-day every quarter to discuss ‘where are we going, what’s the plan, how are things going overall, does anything need to change’?

3) Do you share with your team all the non-individual-person-specific information that you have about your team so they can take ownership of their work alongside you.  That is, no ‘manager poker’.

4) Do you make an effort to get to know your people beyond their employee number and position description (which means asking ‘how’s it going’ and actually listening, even when it’s awkward)?

5) Do you say ‘thank you’ or ‘that wasn’t what I was looking for, let’s figure out what happened’ when it’s needed (which is more than you think)?

6) Do you make sure that the work of the team is somehow visual so it can be seen and understood by all, as well as reminding people that they are part of something bigger?  (For example, a list of projects on the wall in priority order)

7) Do you ensure that the work you have promised that your team will deliver (whether it’s to your own manager, internal customers or external) is actually possible, and do you involve the team in this decision?

8) Do you make sure that the conversations required to allow progress are had, whether they be with individuals or as a group, even though they make you anxious and you stumble through them?

To paraphrase Dr. Rodman – if you do all of these things, well, I think you’re a good enough leader.

Who agrees with me?


Why Your Organisation Is Busy Yet Nothing Gets Done (blame Michael)

OK, if you haven’t seen this before, this will land somewhere between ‘nice one’ and ‘holy freakin’ #@&* what have we been doing’.

It’s the reason why your whole organisation, your team, and you yourself have the permanent feeling of too much on and nowhere near enough of that ‘let’s get after it and get it done‘ vibe.

It’s the reason why whenever I ask ‘how’s things?‘ the answer I get is the wry smile, shake of the head, then ‘you know….flat out as always, you know how it is‘.

Yes, I do know how it is.

So let me set it up for you.  As always, I didn’t invent this stuff, I’m here to make genius useful when I find it, and this comes from Eli Goldratt’s Critical Chain, and further made sense of by Rob Newbold and Bill Lynch in The Project Manifesto.

It goes like this, which is deliberately over-simple: Read more…

The underlying killer of accountability


“We need more accountability around here” Chloe said.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You know, people caring, people hitting their marks, doing what they said they would.  You know, being accountable” she replied with a slight tone of ‘what is wrong with you’.

“Like you do?” I asked

“Do you think I don’t” was the quick reply.

“No, not that at all, sorry” I immediately answered.  “I meant that question literally, you mean you’d like people to care about the place like you do as the CEO?”

“Well…..yeah.  That would be great!”

“So why don’t they?” I asked.

Chloe laughed – “I thought that’s what you were here to fix”.

I didn’t laugh at all.  I looked straight into her eyes.

“No.  This is what you have caused.  So it’s what you are here to fix”.

The pause was somewhat awkward.

“OK….I get it.” she said.  “So what can I do?”

“The word I use for what you’re looking for is ‘ownership'”.  I said.  “You want people around here to act like it’s their place.  Like it’s their money.  Like owners”.

“Yep, that pretty much it”. Read more…

Self-Management: A New Study?


A recent study compared a couple of different ways of organising a production environment.

Both groups had 40 employees.  The first group had seven types of roles and was divided into 14 subgroups, with coordination, integration and continuity of the work being the responsibility of management.

The second group coordinated itself.  They had the same roles as the first group, but they decided themselves who would rotate to what tasks and which shifts they would work.

Here’s the findings:

  • Second group demonstrated a much higher standard of workingship – tidier workspace, hardware well maintained, whereas the first group was more….sloppy
  • The second group spent 0.5% of their time on ‘non-productive ancillary work’, the first group 33% (yep!)
  • The second group had 60% less absence from the workplace, be it sickness, accident or no reason at all.
  • And in terms of production….the second group produced 50% more than the first50%!  Or to put it another way, the first group was at 78% of potential, the second at 95%.

What’s the study?

Well…I have to come clean.  By ‘recent’, I was more on a geological timescale.  The study was conducted in the 1950s.

Two hundred kilometres southwest, teenager John Lennon hadn’t even formed the Quarrymen, let alone the Beatles.

The production wasn’t software development.  It was coal mining.  In Durham, UK.  The work was getting the coal from long walls.  Fun stuff.

You can read about it in Gerrit Broekstra’s book Building High-Performance, High Trust Organizations.

You see, the results on this stuff are in – when people have some sort of control/autonomy/authority over their own work….things are better.  We don’t need further studies on this, and if you just ponder anything in your own work life where you’ve felt totally into it…I’m sure these conditions were there.

So, here’s some thoughts on what we’re seeing here, and in similar studies and examples of self-managing enterprises: Read more…