Leadership in Tough Times – the Rest of the Story

In early April I wrote about a popular and upscale waterfront restaurant, and the leadership qualities I have seen since we’ve lived around the corner.

They weathered Hurricanes Matthew and Irma and came out stronger. They quickly responded to the pandemic by establishing a takeout service.  But they didn’t just devise a takeout service – they intentionally created the same “upscale” experience as their restaurant.

They had online ordering, gave customers a roll of TP 😊, and packaged the food in eco-friendly containers with everything one would need to replicate their dining experience at home.

And they talked to their customers.  They kept us well informed about the safety measures they implemented and educated us.  My April 4 post reflected on two leadership qualities that I saw in their first communication that arrived in our take-out bag, hand-written.  Their authenticity and their vulnerability offered a powerful example of how simple gestures can be powerful messages.

They continue to provide insight into leadership, and I will share their leadership example of setting expectations.  But first, I want to tell a story about their reopening.

Back to Normal

In one of our take-out bags, there was a hand-written letter inviting those of us who frequented their take-out service to a new “club” as a thank you for our loyalty and business.  How cool!  They invited us to respond in email if we wanted to be included and, of course, we said “Yes.”

Soon after we received an email inviting us to their “soft” opening.  I had immediate visions of putting on makeup, dressing in something other than jammies, and sipping wine while watching the boats sail by.

Their email was very clear about the safety measures they’d put in place, and what we, as diners should expect.

I liked that. I gave me comfort that they were taking this seriously.  We were excited last night to head over to the “soft” opening.

We had a great dinner and watched the sailboats go by with a cool Chardonnay in our hands.

A New Normal

What follows about our experience has nothing to do with Caps; it is simply a reflection on my reaction to the experience, which was…different.  Caps was perfect.

This morning, I told my husband it seemed a little surreal, like an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.  The restaurant itself hadn’t changed – it was as beautiful as ever and all of the boats lined up for their take-out were stunning backdrops to the setting.

I see people in masks now everywhere, but it startled me to see everyone at the restaurant – services, hosts, owners – in masks.  It shouldn’t have, but it did.

They set up sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant so that we could see that it was happening. But the aroma was more of Lysol than garlic.

They did a good job of changing gloves before moving to new tables – just like they teach in healthcare.  But having spent a short time in healthcare, that was the image in my mind.

The table were indeed 6 feet apart. I didn’t think that would seem strange, but it did.

Other than that?  It was delightful and a welcome occasion to be somewhere other than the kitchen table.

Had they not been clear about what to expect, I would have been disappointed in the experience.  Instead, I was thankful for it.

Expectations

The email we received initially clouded the “temperature” thing – it inferred they would take temperatures but didn’t actually say it.

So with today being the official re-opening, yesterday they posted a picture on FaceBook of thermometers and large bottles of disinfectant.  Good.  I am better with clarity than inference.

The response to the post was overwhelmingly positive….except for one individual who felt that was invasive and a threat to her civil liberties.  I responded that she was free to not go.  The comment disappeared from FB.

But…she sent me a private note saying, “I won’t visit any place that does that to people.  We live in a free country and people are acting like this is a communist country.”  Wow.

But the good news is, she really doesn’t have to go.

Application to Leadership

After decades in corporate America watching leaders minimize problems and communicate in a “cloudy” way because they didn’t want to offend or scare, I have come to the conclusion that is a fool’s game.

A job candidate walks in the door for an interview and sizes up the lay of the land.  They accept the job offer based on expectations, be that their schedule, their boss or the resources available to them to do the job.

If the actual job doesn’t live up to the expectations, they see it. If it doesn’t meet their expectations over time, they leave.

Why would a leader cloud the challenges of the job and paint rosy expectations?  That’s a good question and one I’ve never really understood.

I’ve asked and been told that they didn’t want to scare the candidate.  Really?  I want someone who sees a good challenge and wants to overcome.

Setting clear expectations is the only way to know if the candidate you are considering is a fit for the job. If you lay it out – the good, the bad and the ugly – and they stay – you probably have someone who will thrive.  If not, they have the option to leave, and that saves you a whole bunch of stress.

Clear expectations are Important

Whether interviewing a job candidate, or communicating with a customer, let them know what to expect.  That way, you preserve the integrity of who you are, and those you are communicating with can join you or opt out.

Either way, it’s a win.

Thank you to the owners and staff at Caps.  You have demonstrated leadership in tough times at the highest level and we are so thankful to have been part of your re-opening.

Four Fundamentals of Leadership, Perfectly Demonstrated

According to leading business research firm McKinsey, organizations spend $14 billion annually on leadership development. In this 2014 article titled “Why Leadership Development Programs Fail,” they go on to provide four reasons why such programs don’t work, including lack of context and measuring results, lack of connection to real work and underestimating mindsets of the learners.

That is a whole bunch of money to waste, when leadership fundamentals are really pretty simple.

I recently joined a community chorus. (Hang on, I’ll get to the leadership fundamentals but I have to set the context first.)  I live in a relatively small historic town with lots of tourists but not as many locals.  I love to sing, and when I saw the ad to join the chorus, I thought a nice, easy community chorus would work well with my otherwise busy schedule.  I was a music major.  I can sight read, so this’ll be a breeze.

Boy, was I wrong…about the easy, breezy part anyway. I walked into a room of 120 volunteer musicians and picked up nine choral scores. Most pieces changed keys 5-6 times. Several split four-part harmony into eight parts. I guess this Community Chorus has stayed active and popular for 70 years because they have something special to offer.  Okay, time to roll up the top of my piano and practice.

But here’s where the leadership fundamentals come into play. In eight weeks, the Director has taken a group of volunteers, some of whom cannot read music, and created a spectacular presentation – at least it will be in three weeks when we present the concert “I Hear America Singing.”  I know it will be great, because the Director is leaving us no choice but to excel.  And I find that an endearing motivation. (more…)

How to stop leaders from “gaming” your system

For two decades I designed compensation and performance management systems for large and medium companies. I always had this nagging thought that after two or three years the system had run its course. Those who wanted to do so had figured out the game and turned what was intended to be a fair system into their own playground.

Quantitative performance ratings drove me crazy. Leaders would figure out the overall rating they wanted, and then go back and tweak the individual ratings so that they could give the salary increase they wanted to give.

Today, the Wall Street Journal carried an article about how companies are learning to game Glassdoor. Companies like SpaceX, SAP, LinkedIn and Anthem “encouraged” people to leave excellent reviews, causing unusual spikes in their ratings. CEOs questioned about the practice said that the ratings on the site were not representative of their company, so they fixed it.

I see a pattern here – those systems that are intended to provide helpful and unbiased data can be “gamed.”

The other nagging thought I had back when I designed compensation plans was that plan sponsors wanted to substitute a system for daily leadership. How do we make sure the tellers are upselling? Put in an incentive plan. Are tellers balancing? Put it in the incentive plan. Are they being nice…? You’ve got the idea. The plan becomes so complicated that two staff analysts are engaged to “track and manage” it. The branch manager doesn’t understand it and spends more time explaining the plan than correcting behaviors.

I see another pattern here – there seems to be more value placed on systems to manage behavior than on leadership observation, coaching, and feedback.

Systems are critical in an organization. They lay boundaries, communicate values, encourage appropriate behavior while discouraging behavior that is contrary to the mission. They are not, however, a substitute for leadership. The timely and effective use of organizational systems should be a competency for which leaders are held accountable.

How can an organization build accountability into their systems so that the data and results are intentional and not “gamed?” Here are four ways to get started. (more…)