Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

As part of their everyday operating life, the clients we deal with must learn to live with regulators and auditors. Clients that interface poorly with auditors often face more administrative burden and, certainly, more intense oversight. Conversely, organizations that engage and partner with auditors, regulators, and watchdogs in a purposeful and constructive manner tend to be left alone more and are given greater operating freedom. We want to take just a minute to revisit assumptions (something that ELP does quite well!) to re-think the interplay between organizations and external stakeholders.

Importantly, leaders can choose how they want to frame up our collective orientations towards auditors or regulators. And we've, generally, been witness to three distinctive approaches. Notably, organizations and the managers that lead them can adopt a hostile and defensive approach towards visitors. Many weak organizations embrace this perspective. In this lexicon, we hear phrases such as, "who do they think they are that they can tell us what to do?" and "this is our house, and they can't come in here and talk to us this way," or "we don't do anything wrong, so this is a waste." This is a destructive path. Organizations with a hostile orientation towards regulators or visitors foster a sense of animosity, and both parties tend to dig their heels in. Our experience tells us that both parties spend incredible amounts of energy; organizations put up higher and higher walls, while regulators spin their wheels trying to take bricks down. We find this approach wasteful and inefficient across both parties. We also find that it destroys morale, as tension is the name of the game here.

The next approach is just the opposite. Here, the focus is on impressing our visitors. The ultimate goal is to present a picture of perfection (or near perfection) where the regulators will just leave us alone. Under this scenario, great efforts are spent trying to "look good" or to "shine bright". Predictably, there are some dark-sides to this orientation. One of the chief issues is that managers and employees are tempted to only share the good and to avoid—at almost all costs—the bad. We know of one case several years ago where an Army Company Commander mandated that new, white binders be purchased for the unit's Armory—the place where all weapons are stored. The Commander shared that, hopefully, the shiny binders would give a good impression to such an extent that the auditors wouldn't dig any deeper to reveal the deep problems they had in their chain-of-custody of the unit's weaponry. The Commander was right—the gloss was bright enough to mask some deep deficiencies that were only revealed several years later. The problem with this approach, then, is two-fold. First, it focuses our efforts on the superficial at the expense of the meaningful—assembling binders as opposed to drafting new procedures. Second, there's an ethical component to this. "Looking good" without "being good" can be particularly dangerous—especially in high-risk/high-hazard industries.

The third approach is the best approach, as it is the balanced approach. Specifically, it means changing our entire orientation towards regulators or visitors. Instead of looking at them as enemies (approach 1) or friends to impress (approach 2), the best organizations look at visitors as valuable resources from whom they may learn. What exactly does this look like? Actually, there are hybrid elements of both approaches above. Make no mistake, it is okay—if not advisable--to clean up a bit before visitors arrive. Just like in our own homes, we will clean, sweep, and fluff the pillows a bit before our in-laws or friends come in. It also means, however, taking the lead with the auditors and exhibiting some control over the agenda. We know of one senior manager who invites the regulators up to his office as soon as they walk through the gate. He shares a couple of organizational wins and performance areas that he's proud of. Then he shares two or three weak areas targeted for improvement for which he's looking for specific input to that end. Finally, he gives them his mobile number in case they need any resources or need an obstacle removed. To us, this orientation is the most potent. It shows a mix of organizational self-esteem (the wins), but, most importantly, a willingness to learn in a focused way (guiding the regulators to some specific areas).

Since most, if not all, of our readership deals with regulators, we encourage you to develop a healthy and balanced approach to visitors. At ELP, this is one area where we earn our keep. To learn more and to get some world-class coaching on how to properly interface with external agencies or visitors, please drop Robin Bichy a line at robin@elpadvantage.com.

By the time you read this, you'll be a full month into 2016. For most of us, New Year's resolutions will be already in the rear view mirror. There's one New Year's resolution, though, that we should attempt to keep on life support: time management. We've been told that behind dieting, time management is the second most important New Year's resolution. And it kind of makes sense. How we spend our time should reflect our priorities. Sadly, though, that is not often the case. Just the opposite, we tend to spend time on urgent, but un-important, issues that derive little value.

We've got a simple exercise, though, to increase our awareness of exactly how we're spending our time. It isn't entirely unlike a Work Week Critique—an exercise that many power stations and manufacturing facilities conduct to see if they spent their time as hoped or as scheduled.

On a scratch sheet of paper, draw a pie chart. Then start asking questions. How much of my time was spent in the field? How much of my time was spent in important meetings? Unimportant meetings? How much of my time was spent on strategic, structural issues? How much of my time was spent on tactical problem solving that demanded an answer? How much of my time was spent on personnel issues such as staffing or training or mentoring? How much of my time was spent on administrative functions? These are just a sampling of questions that you can ask yourself regarding last week's allocation of time.

We did this exercise two weeks ago with one of our protégés. During the exercise, we noticed that he was spending 30% of his time on administrative functions and another 45% of his time on meetings—75% of his 60-hour week disappeared into these two areas! This exercise, of course, sparked some meaningful questions—can this be delegated? What meetings can I just say NO to? We checked in after a couple of weeks. While the percentages weren't quantum shifts, as he now spends 20% of his time on administrative tasks and 33% of his time in meetings, he estimated that he got 2 hours of his week back. He chose to spend it out in the field with his employees. His quote—not ours—is, "Two hours may not seem like much, or anything really, but I'm a believer that greatness is at the margins. These two hours in the field have brought me closer to my people, and now I've got a better handle of some of the issues they face."

At ELP, we can help. To learn more about how we can sync up your time management issues with your professional/personal strategic priorities, we invite you to email Robin Bichy for a professional consultation at robin@elpadvantage.com.

In the pantheon of great organizations, we all know of Southwest. Social media, thousands of news articles, even Harvard business case studies all point out what we already know—Southwest is to the airline industry as Apple is to tech firms. Southwest stands proud in an industry known for its competitive brutality around costs, fees, and labor relations. About a month ago, we saw firsthand what makes Southwest superior.

It was a 65 minute flight from Providence, Rhode Island to Baltimore. The flight got off to a bumpy start, and the beverage service—always hurried due to the shortened time window—was even more behind than normal. Two rows to our front was a Southwest pilot who was deadheading. Deadheading refers to pilots or crew who are being repositioned as part of their assigned trip. Usually, they do nothing but ride as if they were a normal passenger…not in this case.

Seeing that the flight attendants were behind and under distress in the effort to provide 150 drinks and snacks with about 30 minutes to go in the flight, the pilot acted. He got up. He grabbed the peanuts and pretzels, and the pilot jumped in on that duty. He helped the flight attendants deliver drinks and even picked up a bag to collect trash. For most of the flight, he traded in his pilot wings for the duties of a flight attendant. What possibly could we learn here? Quite a bit, we believe.

Let’s go ahead and put what many would consider a ‘trivial act’ under the microscope to see if we can detect any leadership lessons here. First, as we focus the microscope, we see situational awareness. The pilot was tuned in to what was going on. As a leader or teammate, you can’t ever begin to help if you aren’t dialed into what’s going on. This pilot saw an opportunity, but seeing an opportunity is far removed from acting on it. What we also see here is a leader that runs to the ball. He didn’t need to be asked. He saw an opportunity and, without direction, jumped into action. Third, most see themselves in static roles. For instance, this pilot, like many, could’ve said, “I’m just an individual contributor; it’s not my job to help with that task. Besides, I’m along for the ride, and I surely don’t get paid for handing out peanuts.” This seasoned pilot didn’t see himself as a prima donna. Rather, he saw himself as part of the greater team. Moreover, he displayed the valuable asset of empathy—he saw another teammate in distress, in need of support, and acted decisively.

To be sure, this lesson isn’t as simplistic as it may sound. Of course, the interesting challenge here—especially as it relates to high-hazard/high risk organizations—is to discern when it is appropriate to step out of role to help another. Indeed, in high risk/high hazard organizations it is dangerous, if not downright deadly, to step out of role. When you aren’t in an oversight role, however, and discretionary effort could help a subordinate or a peer, what could possibly hold you back? The Southwest pilot, in this case, knew the answer—nothing. He knew that stepping out of role from a deadheading pilot to that of a flight attendant was not putting the safety of the flying public in jeopardy. He knew he could help without sacrificing the mission.

What truly unlocked the value of this event, to us, was a deeper understanding of how crews are formed and operate in the airline industry. Unlike a crew in a nuclear control room, airline crews hardly, if ever, work the same schedule. In other words, the team is always different as players are rotating in and out. Unbelievably, in this case, he didn’t know the names of the flight attendants that he was helping. He did it, again, simply because he saw a glaring need and thought he could help. The flight attendants and were beaming with appreciation. He made their hard job just a bit easier—and he didn’t have to.

At ELP, we can help you take a step closer to this type of team-first orientation. If you want to go wheels up and see your teamwork rise in elevation, you don’t need to fly Southwest. Instead, just drop Robin a line at robin@elpadvantage.com to learn more.