Have you read Christine Brennan‘s excellent column about FSU this morning in USA Today? You can do so here and I’d encourage it. This is how it starts:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Were Jameis Winston a fourth-string punter rather than a first-string quarterback, he almost certainly would have long since been kicked off the Florida State football team, probably for good. Instead, the Heisman Trophy-winning problem child is being protected by his university and athletics department for the worst reason possible. He is being coddled because of what he can do for them.
It’s easy to get outraged when you look at how the FSU athletic department, the school administration, the local police, and other “responsible” entities are behaving here. They are enabling bad behavior. The folks in the athletic department at FSU, unfortunately, aren’t that different from many of us and how we deal with problem individuals in our businesses. Let me explain.
Any of us who have ever managed or worked with other people realize that some of them have issues. Those issues may run the gamut from a bad attitude or incompetence all the way to serious drug problems or criminal behavior. Try as we might in the hiring process, people with issues slip through our screen and end up on our teams. Maybe we inherited them. In any event, what happens next – or doesn’t – is critical.
Some of us think that the problem, once we’ve identified it, will fix itself. It won’t. Maybe we weigh the pain of confrontation and disruption with the pain of maintaining the status quo. Perhaps we’re in state of equilibrium – other people have picked up the slack caused by the problem child and everyone is coping. Every one of those rationalizations is wrong and cowardly. More importantly, they’re holding back both your business and the individual involved.
You can’t hope to isolate the problem. Others on the team will see that the high standards you set are lies and are not adhered to by everyone and bad behavior is rewarded or at least not punished. Eventually, a major crisis hits as the individuals involved hit bottom. The solution is to identify the problem, document it, and put the individuals on notice that you’re aware there is an issue. Offer to help in any way you can but make it clear that with or without that help you expect the person involved to stop the bad behavior. Now. Otherwise, you’re an enabler and part of the problem.
Ever been a part of a feasibility study? You know – a bunch of people have a bright idea and it’s good enough that there needs to be a serious investigation into whether it can be done or not.
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A team is put together (hopefully including those whose idea it was in the first place) and questions are drawn up. In some ways those questions are like a mini business plan. What’s the potential market for this idea? What are the resources needed to bring it to life? What sort of on-going support will it require? Can it be done in a reasonable time frame or will it take so long that the potential evaporates? And of course, what are the legal ramifications if we do what we’re proposing to do?
I want to focus on that last little bit because I think it’s illustrative of a broader point. Lawyers are trained to protect their clients (which are, by the way, the companies for which they work and not YOU, dummy). To many of them, the status quo is a lovely place (assuming the company is not tied up in litigation). That’s not really the best place, however, for many businesses. In fact, in some businesses such as tech, the status quo is a death sentence. When the feasibility of something new is brought up, I’ve worked with some lawyers who were fabulous at finding ways to say “no.” The could spot a potential problem long before any of us could and they didn’t hesitate to cite those problems are reasons not to proceed.
Here is what they – and you – need to keep in mind:
Obstacles are huge and opportunities are small: one often hides the other.
How many people underestimate what’s feasible since obstacles can be readily apparent but the opportunities hidden behind them get missed? We need to do what the better lawyers (and executives) I’ve known always did: spot the opportunity and find a way to remove the obstacle blocking your path. Some feasibility efforts are the business equivalent of the blue screen of death: the system has reached an issue it can’t handle and throws in the towel.
I’m a believer in almost anything being feasible as long as there is flexibility, some tolerance for risk, and a willingness to adjust as you learn. People – and businesses – have done things a certain way for years and in most cases it’s working for them. Trying something new or doing things in a new way might not seem feasible and it’s not if there is a predisposition towards allowing the obstacles to obscure the opportunity. But I’ll bet you can tell me about a time when you tried to do something in a new way – you shut your eyes and didn’t see the obstacles but visualized the opportunity – and succeeded. So tell me!
What’s the best work situation you’ve ever had and why was it so? Was it working for yourself, a start-up, or a big corporation? I got a chance to ask myself that question again Saturday night when a number of us who worked together 20+ years ago at ABC Sports got together. Most of us hadn’t seen one another in at least a decade but like most reunions of closely knit groups, it felt as if we’d just spoken last week.
Let me explain why this was the best work situation I’ve ever been in and offer some suggestions how you might try to replicate it wherever you are. What’s interesting to me is that what I’m going to say was echoed by every single one of us in the room in terms of what we experienced and how we felt. None of us are kids any more and yet we all agreed this was the best period of time we ever spent over our professional lives.
- The boss was very much in charge. That seems like a prescription for heavy-handed disaster, but in this case it means he gave us all clear, firm direction.
- The boss allowed us to figure out how to accomplish the goals. He was smart enough to recognize that many roads travel to the same place and we needed to take those which we could navigate effectively.
- There were no staff meetings or other “process” items wasting our time. Oh sure, once a quarter or so we’d get together to go over stuff but the emphasis was on results, not process.
- There was the equivalent of a very productive staff meeting every morning. Because of the next point, the senior staff would end up in someone’s office every morning an hour before work officially began going over what we were doing, opportunities for action, rumors, and anything else. It was the equivalent of a 5 hour weekly meeting and many times more productive.
- The executive team liked one another as people and respected one another as professionals. We socialized outside of work and some of the team I still count among my closest friends.
- Finally, the boss cleared away all the corporate stuff to allow us to do our collective thing. He fought for budgets, he made sure we were paid well, he took the heat when something didn’t go as planned. Like a good parent, he wasn’t afraid to let us know when we’d screwed up (BOY did he let us know) but we never doubted that he supported us and we never felt like we’d get fired at any minute.
That’s the prescription if you’re the one building the work environment. Assemble a great team, give them clear direction, provide resources, and get out of the way while staying connected. It’s 20 years later now and I think most of this team would go back to work together in a minute if the opportunity arose. Many of us agreed we didn’t realize at the time how special an environment we had but we sure do now.
What do you think? Ever been in this sort of work environment? Is this about what you had?