Continuous Process Improvement

Elaborate Procedure Replacements

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

Continuous process improvement is the process of insuring that procedures, processes and operational elements are always working at peak efficiency and delivering the highest quality product.

Many organizations have implemented elaborate procedures and established committees to insure that they are always improving their processes. This section will describe a simpler method with equally powerful results.

Big time wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts all utilize a champion/challenger system. Each of these sports (?) have a champion by weight class or experience level or by endorsing agency. This champion has established himself as the current best in the sport.

In order to continue to be the champion, the current title holder must take on challengers. If the current champion wins, that person remains the champion. If the challenger wins, that person will become the champion and prepare to take on new challengers.

The current way in which you do a thing is the champion. It does not have to be a big thing or it can be a very big thing but it is the champion. An innovative approach to continuous process improvement requires you to test a challenger against the current way that you are doing a piece of your business. If a new way or challenger is better, it becomes the new method. If a new way is not better, you stick with the way you are currently doing it.

The best part of this method is the lack of risk involved in the process. If the challenger is not better, you have not abandoned the existing methods. You have just challenged them. The champion/challenger method also insures that you do not engage in change and innovation for change and innovation’s sake.



Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Change Resistance

Underlying Factors of Change Resistance

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

To fully understand change we must examine why people are resistant to change and there are many reasons and underlying factors.

In a working environment, change is resisted because it will lead to a loss of power. A person is currently performing at a high level and has achieved expertise in their area. With a change to a process or function, they will no longer have that level of expert power and they fear that their personal performance will no longer be recognized at a high level. Visualize someone typing along at 85 words per minute on their IBM Selectric typewriter and how they feel that their performance and expertise will be threatened by the introduction of the personal computer and word processing software.

Another primary cause of change resistance is found in a basic human dynamic. Humans need to have levels of stability in their lives. Attachment, connection and some predictability. For many people that stability is found at home or in connections outside of work. They have stable relationships with friends, relatives and community members. They have lived in the same place for a good chunk of time. There is predictability outside of work.

Other people do not have that stability at home and thusly seek it at work. Imagine someone who’s life is chaotic outside of work. No stability in relationships or predictability in routine or interactions. They come to work to seek the stability and attachment that is not there in their personal lives. These people will tend to be a little more resistant, if not down right hostile, towards change. This is another example of how important it is for a leader to know and understand their team members to lead effectively, especially in a changing environment.

Among the most common factors in change resistance is also a personal dynamic related to human behavior. I am married. I love my wife but there is an aging factor that occurs in relationships with individuals and organizations that is related. Early in our relationship, I opened all the doors, bought flowers for no reason, purchased mushy Hallmark cards and beat a path to be helpful around the house. Twenty five years later I still love my wife but my diligence on some of those early behavior has waned.

What occurs in interpersonal relationships, like with me and my wife, is comfort develops after performance is stabilized. Far more dangerous is that complacency follows comfort in most instances. In organizations, a person develops comfort in their job, performance and methods. Complacency and an auto-response type approach frequency follow. Another day, another dollar. Going through the motions. Punching the clock.

Any element of change rocks that complacency. It forces people off of the treadmill and requires them to think instead of auto-process. It makes the complacent uncomfortable.

Fear of the unknown is also a common factor in change resistance. When the future is defined and clear, with a known path towards it, there is little fear. When the future or even just tomorrow is unknown, clouded or veiled, the little darkroom of fear begins to process potential outcomes. Those outcomes, for a variety of reasons, is most often negative consequences associated with the change. That is where the “oh my gosh, I am going to loose my job” and “things will never be good or the same” type of comments originate.

The final change resistance factor is rather odd because it does not occur universally but it does occur with high frequency. Some people resist change because they fail to recognize any positive outcome from the change event or the changed process. They focus only on the loss of the current and not on any benefit derived from changing and evolving. My mother hates computers. Not for any particular reason but she hates them and everything about them. She will not touch them and experiments to help her embrace email and on-line banking have failed miserably. She see no benefit and only bad. Her identity will be stolen, viruses will infect, it costs too much, it wont work correctly.

Some of my mother’s octogenarian peers have discovered the joys of social networking, the efficiency of email and the fun of creating photo albums on the computer. Not my mom, all she sees is the negative outcome.


Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Self Regulation, Control and Discipline

Hold Your Tongue

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

The best definition of self control is resisting the urges to act and speak when not appropriate. This is about holding your emotions, your tongue and desire to behave when you know it is inappropriate or even when you have doubt on the appropriateness of the behavior.

One of the most important concepts for leaders to embrace is that of hot buttons. We all have them. They come in a lot of shapes, sizes and colors. Some even have the names of people attached to them. A hot button is any event, issue, subject, situation or person that will evoke a negative, sarcastic or edgy response from you. A person or event pushes the hot button and you react in an adverse manner.

A critical point about hot buttons is the transfer of power that occurs when pushed and a reaction occurs. The button pusher gains power and situational control when you react. You lose power by reacting to your button being pushed. They win. You lose.

Related to this phenomenon is the learning that occurs by the button pusher. Whoever pushed your button and you reacted will remember this event and return to that newly learned skill again and again. Those of us that are parents understand this circle well.

An effective leader must identify their personal hot buttons and do everything possible to not react when those buttons are pushed. That includes avoiding situations and people that push buttons and confronting button pushers directly and tell them to cease pressing your buttons. Remember, we condition others that button pushing is effective and we can also begin the process of reconditioning them to cease pressing.

One of the most common occurrences in management, leadership and supervision is over-emotionalism. Often labeled with the highly scientific and technical term of crack pot. Effective leadership and over-emotionalism do not work. A leader must be calm and cool in all situations and events and be level-headed in all interactions.

A crack pot leader will fly off the handle and become angry when things do not go his or her way. They often blame that on being passionate about their job but in reality these type of bosses are alienating their followers. They will reduce their approachability and actually have their team avoid any contact out of the fear of an angry reaction. When upset by an event or circumstances, you know it and deal with it by going for a walk, workout, take some time off or get some coffee. Anything to blow off your steam except to interact with your team.

When angry or disappointed it is also important to resist the urge to vent unless to a trusted friend, peer level leader or family member. Venting to a team member is never appropriate and credibility may be lost when venting to your boss.

Another symptom of the crack pot type leader is pouting. Hiding in the office. Avoiding all contact. Sullen and unapproachable. Often occurs when things don’t go quite right or when a leader has suffered a set back. Remember, your team looks to you for tone, optimism and hope and if you pout, you are telling them that things must really be bad.

As a sub-type of the crack pot type leader is the Chicken Little. You remember from either the childhood story or the Disney movie, Chicken Little is the predictor of the sky falling. Chicken Little predicts doom and gloom at every opportunity. As with the character, a leader that loses his or her calm when times are difficult will lose credibility.

Our team members look to us for calm and optimism in time of difficulty. They do not want a leader that commiserates and sees only the negative. They desperately want their leaders to pick them up and pull them through the difficulties.

The concept that we most often teach and coach is battlefield cool. This important leadership skill comes from the American civil war when the government forces under the direction of U. S. Grant camped a little too close to their Confederate adversaries. One particular morning, the command tent of General Grant was overwhelmed with cannon fire. The scene was chaotic and confusing. General Grant’s primary aide was decapitated.

General Grant’s response? To make a pot of coffee. He responded to the most hectic and desperate events by making coffee. When asked about this, he indicated there was plenty of time to withdraw and he was not going to be shaken by immediate events.

His troops response? To rally behind his battlefield calm and rout the Confederates that morning.
Poise under pressure and difficult circumstances is tough but it is a necessary competency of effective leaders.

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Postive Feedback: The Unchained Melody and Eligible Populations

The Big "But"

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

Unchained Melody
One of the most important rules of coaching involves connecting positive and corrective feedback messages. This method has been used for years and even achieved a name: The Sandwich Method. This describes the abhorrent practice of placing corrective feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.

Nothing could be more ineffectual than combining or enjoining types of feedback. The self-critical will only remember the corrective piece. The halo effect types will only remember the positive feedback. At a bare minimum, the person receiving the feedback will be confused. “Did
I receive praise or did I get chewed out?”

The most common expression of chained feedback comes in the form of “you did a great job with that customer, but you needed to complete the order form in a more timely manner.” The big but. You can even see some team members expecting it. When they hear a piece of positive feedback, they wait for the other shoe to drop and hear the but statement.

The interesting part of this method is for whom it is designed. It certainly does not help provide a clear message to the team member receiving the feedback. It certainly doesn’t insure good spirit and the replication of great results from the person receiving the feedback. This method was designed for the ease of delivery from the person providing the coaching. Easy; yes. Effective; absolutely not.

Feedback needs to be delivered in separate event formats. If the performance was good, the team member receives positive feedback without chained conditions or comparisons. If the performance was not good, the team member receives corrective feedback without glossy coating. Positive feedback and corrective feedback. The two shall not be joined together.
Correctly so, some people have discussed performance where the bulk of the performance was good but there were legitimately some things the team members could have done better. This is a situation in which the leader must use some judgment and decide what type of feedback is most appropriate and what type of feedback could be better deferred to a teaching or mentoring type of session. When the bulk of the performance is positive, provide positive feedback and wait on any discussion of things that could be tuned or done better.

Eligible Populations-The Superstars
One of the bigger stigma points related to positive feedback is wrapped around the eligible populations and who receives it.

Most organizations, regardless of type and size, have between five and ten percent of their team members that are exceptional contributors. The “A” players. These are the people that consistently achieve more, work harder and generally aspire to higher responsibility levels. Not only do they receive positive feedback regularly, they often demand it. They are the team members that will often tell you what they have done well or the leader is well aware of their awesome performance.

One temptation to avoid is to take superstar type of performance for granted. Believing that these star players provide their own internal feedback or that more feedback for more good performance may spoil them will lead them down the path of “why bother.”

Eligible Populations-The Average Joe
Most organizations also have a large population of team members that are “just doing their job.” Nothing spectacular. No superstar status. Just doing what we need them to do. These team members are often the polarity of a working unit and are likely to be eighty to ninety percent of a total team population.

The epiphany question about this population is whether or not they are deserving of positive feedback. The simple answer to this is yes. The more complex answer is yes.

The population of standard performers is the population that is most at risk of leaving the organization because they are not appreciated, engaged or acknowledged. They toil away at what we need and ask of them but rarely hear from us unless something is wrong. This population is also at risk to deteriorate their performance to levels beyond acceptable.

The only way to encourage their continued contributions to organizational success is to provide them with the positive feedback earned from achieving their objectives.

Eligible Populations-The Problems
To complete the bell curve, we also have between five and ten percent of team members that perform below standard or are problematic on behavioral levels.
A typical pattern develops with these team members. After they have been coached, counseled and documented, supervisors and managers go out of their way to hyper-scrutinize their performance. Looking for additional mistakes, stumbles and failures. When found, more coaching, more discipline and more forms are engaged.

And that course of action has achieved what? Further disgruntled and detached team members. Team members that feel hopeless. Team members that become our biggest critics and are toxic in the working environment is what we are creating with this method.
Documentation and formal discipline has a place and need. It is necessary from a compliance perspective. It is necessary to show good faith and fairness. What it does not do is make someone a better or more successful team member.

With the same vigor that is used find more mistakes and issues, effective leaders go out of their way to provide positive feedback when a problem team member does something well. This technique will have a greater success rate than the continued hyper-scrutiny of a team member’s performance. Not a panacea with tough team members but another tool to use.

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Ethics, Morality and Communicating Values

Ethics are not Morals

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

The high road in this commandment describes a commitment to and consistency with ethical behavior in the working environment. Even beyond the workplace, it is the application of value sets to daily decision making and interactions with the team being lead. It is also a core competency related to protecting the credibility of the leader.

First, a little background and contrast. Ethics are not morals. Morality is a very personal code of behavior that is individually owned. Morality has fluidity based on social and societal norms that change over time. Imagine for a minute the reaction to Brittney Spears if she appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in the 1960’s. Imagine the lack of reaction if Elvis Pressley appeared on TRL (this is an MTV show for my more experienced readers) and gyrated his pelvis. Society and media will tend to have influence on relative morality and how certain personal behaviors are accepted or not accepted.

Morality is also greatly influenced by upbringing, parents, other relatives of influence, religion, school and geographic region. The most unique aspect of morality is that it is owned solely by the individual. You own your moral values.
By contrast, ethics are a prescribed set of values that are owned by an organization or company. That entity, your employer, tells you what is ethical behavior and what is not ethical behavior. Some organizations do a better job of clarity and communication of these ethics than others but each organization has ethical coding.

When discussing ethics, the word prescribed becomes an important characteristic. If you go to a medical doctor with a hold, he or she prescribes a medication related to that illness and a medication that will, hopefully, cure that illness. Like that doctor visit, an ethical value is prescribed to a particular behavior in hopes of curing or eliminating that behavior. No organization has a crystal ball that will predict all future ethical lapses so they react to inappropriate behaviors by prescribing an ethical value.

To illustrate that point, imagine about ten years ago when internet access become widespread on every team member’s desktop. When an executive walked by someone’s screen and in horror discovered an employee viewing a less than appropriate image, internet use policy was born. The first company wide email inviting everyone over for a Tupperware party begat email use policy. Event occurs and the organization prescribes an ethical value.

Ethics also have another unique dynamic related to people. Ethics and ethical values are only as good as the people that operate within the organization. For every prescribed ethic, there may be a person trying to thwart the value and the system designed to track ethical behaviors. This means to be a truly ethical organization, values must be synchronized to the hiring and screening process of new team members.

Like morals, ethics have a variety of influences. The most common influence in ethics is the industry type. Highly regulated industries such as banking, utilities, public safety, engineering and insurance will often have a much more formal and rigid set of ethical values. They will also frequency have very elaborate systems in place for tracking and insuring compliance with those values. Other industry types often do not have the degree of formality or depth associated with ethics.

Other important influences include the senior leadership team of an organization and their commitment to ethical practices and their personal value set. This influence is most important when it comes to the enforcement of ethical codes and the consistency in which ethical violations are handled. Senior leaders without strong ethical commitments will often make inconsistent judgments related to a violation or even look the other way in certain circumstances while those senior leaders with high ethical commitment will be consistent in judgment and constant in their vigilance.

The bottom line is that you own your morality and the company or organization owns and prescribes the ethical behavior.

Communicating Ethical Values

To any organization and any leader, the biggest challenge in ethics is in clearly and consistently communicating values.

The best run organizations with the highest commitment to ethics use a multi-tiered approach. The first step is the creation of core organizational values. These values become the foundation for all future ethical polices and statements. Usually somewhere between five and ten value statements are enough to describe what is important to the organization and not too voluminous so team members cannot lock onto some key aspects of them. Value statements need to be written and documented in a very simple and straight-forward manner. Use action statements and highlight the most significant word in the statement.

Behind core values is the creation, implementation and enforcement of a code of conduct. A code of conduct is a more detailed listing of both required and prohibited behaviors for all team members. Typically, this is a pretty fluid listing and it is revisited and updated often. An often overlooked dynamic is that an organization can use multiple levels of a code of conduct. There can be one for the entire company and others at department and division levels based on their unique needs or business practices. When the multiple tier approach is used, it is important to make sure the lower tier conduct rules are as strong or stronger than the higher level or corporate level rules.

A key element with a code of conduct is communicating the rules to all team members on a regular basis. Twice a year with an acknowledgement of understanding is a good rule of thumb. For team members to embrace these ethical standards, they must see them regularly.
This next little part is tough to talk about. One of the best ways to communicate and reinforce ethical values with team members is when a team member is terminated or aggressively disciplined for a violation. The myth of secrecy regarding these events is just that. Depending on the organization, within days, hours or minutes, most team members will hear the story of how someone was fired for insubordination. The flow of this story and team talk about it will often serve as important reminders about the importance of ethical conduct.

By contrast, the message sent when it is widely known that someone “got let off the hook” in reference to an ethical lapse is also powerful. The exceptions granted and the leniency given will also tell team members how serious you and your organization regard company ethics.
The most important method of communicating ethical rules to team members is through the example provided by company leadership. Including you, all supervisors, managers and executives, how you “walk the talk” is more powerful than value statements, codes of conduct or policies. Your, and all leader’s, examples are the best method of communicating the commitment to ethics.

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Courage for Decisions, Stretching and the Right Thing

Lead with Courage

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

Courage to Make Decisions
One of the more interesting organizational dynamics that we have witnessed in the past few years is upward delegation. This really has nothing to do with sending your boss a box of your filing that needs to be done or forwarding your overflow email to your manager. Upward delegation is the hesitancy, reluctance and avoidance of making a decision at the appropriate level and rolling it up to the higher organizational level.

As a symptom of a company’s toxicity, this is pretty predictive. When pervasive, this indicates an organization has not supported past decisions, hyper-criticized decisions, not provided positive feedback when decisions were good and not created leaders that are encouraged to make decisions. This bottlenecked approach will lead to dramatically reduced results and extremely poor morale.

Sometimes upward delegation is dressed in the form of “just wanted you to know” or “just wanted to see what you think.” Benign in presentation, these are just labels for “please make the decision for me” and if it goes bad, I can always come back and say that is what you suggested.
Effective leaders have two distinct responsibilities related to decision making. First, when the decision is appropriate for you and your level in the organization; make it. Think about it, review options and make the decision. Support and defend it if necessary but make the decision.
A special note to the over-thinkers in the group. There will never be all of the information needed to make a decision. You will have to utilize courage and select the most comfortable amount of information available to avoid delay and loss of opportunity. Delayed decisions from leaders also contribute to a significant loss in credibility.

A special note to the gunslinger types. Even though the best decision is often your first decision, take a little time and process consequences and outcomes. You don’t have to be the universal expert that has immediate responses to all situations. Take a little time to avoid pitfalls and unintended consequences and gather some information to support your decision.

Every leader has a little bit different tolerance for decision making, the time required for a decision and the information needed for a proper and correct decision. As a rule of thumb, the decision should come with less information than you are comfortable with but more than just your gut reaction. Timing in decision making is important as well. With delay and deferral, your credibility is lost in the eyes of subordinates and peer team members.

The best decision is the right decision. The next best decision is the wrong decision and the worst decision is no decision.

Courage to Stretch
The 110% myth is just that. A myth.
You are not giving 110%. You are probably giving somewhere around 30% to 40% of your capacity both intellectually and in energy.

Self-challenge is one of the more difficult leadership and work related hurdles you will face. Effective leaders are in a constant mode of self-challenge and self-push and gets them close to true capacity. They are looking for ways to accomplish more, produce more and achieve more. They are looking to kill off unproductive and unrelated behaviors that often derail this effort.
The leader that engages in self-challenge will need some courage to defer unproductive behaviors, avoid idle activities and really extend themselves beyond what they think they could produce.

The courage to stretch also has another side related to management of the status quo compared to true leadership. Many people in a leadership position see themselves as caretakers of the system and guardians of the way we do it now. Effective leaders stretch beyond the boundaries of what is occurring today, no matter how successful it might be, and focus on what the organization can become. This requires the courage to constantly ask questions and push the envelope of performance and innovation that is not always popular or welcome.

Courage to Do the Right Thing
A couple of times in each leader’s career they are faced with a choice about doing the right thing or doing the expedient thing. Thankfully, these types of choices only occur infrequently but they do happen.

Often these types of choices involve dealing with team members or how a team member situation is handled. Many times these choices also involve ethical dilemmas.
You are aware that your boss is harassing a new team member in another department. You have seen it and the team member has confided in you that the harassment is occurring but she needs this job and fears retaliation if she says anything. If you report it, you could face retaliation, up to and including the loss of your job. The easy answer is the put the burden on the team member being harassed but the harder answer is for you to stand up and do the right thing. Could there be consequences? Absolutely. Is reporting the harassment the right thing? Equally absolutely.

Betty is a long term team member in the twilight of her career. She is set to retire in a year but has become increasingly sloppy with her punctuality and is tardy two and three times a week. You have coached her and provided corrective feedback but she scoffed at the interaction and openly talks about her tenure with the company and how you really cannot do anything about it. You know that when you send paperwork to human resources, they are not going to let you discipline her formally. Do you write her up or do you just wait out the retirement party? Is there risks associated with attempting to discipline her at this stage in her career? The effective leader does what is right for the company and the team without deference to individual team member comfort or status. Will this require courage on your part? Yes and a healthy dose of stamina as well.

Some principles are going to be more important that your current job. The effective leader faces these obstacles directly and in a courageous and forthright manner.

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Open, Available and Visible

Leaders Don't get Days Off

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider


The tone setting competencies of openness, availability and visibility incorporate communication tone, situational responses, timing and physical environment.

Openness describes your approachability as a leader. Are you open to questions, comments and ideas in a one to one environment? Are you dismissive or are you accommodating? Openness is also one of the core service qualities associated with effective leaders. Leaders with a genuine heart for service and care for their team will often be more open and approachable.

The first step in achieving openness is to carefully manage your response to requests for your time. This is much more about your tone you choose rather than the words you use. When interrupted, you need to insure that you do not sound hurried or aggravated. Although the interruption is not the most important thing going on with you, it is the most important thing going on with your team member. Be polite, appreciative of their time and control the urge to hustle them through a response. The hurried or huffing response is a complete openness killer.

Another dynamic of openness is the response to ideas and suggestions. It is extremely important not to be dismissive of any idea, no matter how unrealistic it might be to implement. Thank people for their idea, commit to think about it and encourage them to keep thinking and coming up with ideas. One surefire way to keep ideas from coming to you is to dismiss one in a patronizing manner. One more idea flow killer is to constantly reply in a justifying manner that includes responses that you are aware of it and that you are already working on it. That sends the message that you are all seeing, all knowing and on top of everything and there is no need to share future ideas or suggestions with you.

As a competency, availability is much more physical and logistical than it is attitudinal. Beginning with the work environment, availability is greatly hindered when your desk or workspace is setup in a way that puts your back towards people. Many of your team member will pass by and dismiss any interaction with you because you look busy. With you facing forward, many more people will stop and interact. The long term value of this is the flow of direct and accurate information to you will be much greater and your ability to evaluate the culture and tone for the environment will be much more accurate.

Availability is also about your approachability in informal settings. If you are only seen with a phone in your ear or responding to email on your PDA, your availability is hurt. Another behavior to avoid is the walking in packs syndrome that many manager types embrace. They stroll down the hall in a group of other managers. This will absolutely condemn any approachability from your team. Some of the best interactions and information gathering that you will achieve will be during hallway walks, break periods and other informal settings and you must insure that you appear available during those times.

Some people will misinterpret availability as an opportunity to micromanage. Being available and approachable is not your chance to tell people what to do as much as it is your chance to interact and aid them in finding the correct answers themselves. In another leadership commandment we talk about breeding and not breeding sheep. This will be an important tool set to remember when you improve your availability.

Michael Eisner, the former chairman of the Disney corporation, may have pioneered the programmed and systemic approach to visibility. He calendared a block of time each day to interact with a different area of his company. In some cases, he used more than an hour in this “management by wandering” style. The reason that he performed this ritual was to make sure he was connected to almost all team members in his organization, insure the culture that he visualized was being lived and to improve the accurate flow of information he needed to run the company. His visibility also demonstrated that he was connected to the line level of the operation and that he was in tune with the needs and challenges facing his team members.

No supervisor, manager or executive can lead their area via email or through a spreadsheet. You cannot hide in your office and expect your vision to be realized. You must be the highly visible symbol of everything that you want from your team. They must see you, see your caring and see your engagement for them to be engaged and caring. Over the years we have seen some very stark, and sometimes painful, examples of the difference between the impact of good visible leadership and those environments that only see the leader when something is wrong.

A cautionary note about visibility must be made about the difference between visibility and an inspection tour. Some leaders use the impetus of visibility to note and point out things that are wrong. There are plenty of chances and opportunities for inspections and quality control. When you are working on visibility, you are building relationships, setting the tone, getting to know your team and demonstrating support. After you launch down the path of an inspection tour, you will be amazed at how quickly people will hide from you on future tries to be visible.

From a programmed and systemic perspective, the best way to insure that your visibility remains high is to plan and calendar the activity. No different from any other appointment or calendar entry. Prioritized with the same urgency that you would give any other activity. Some managers, supervisors and leaders will struggle with visibility activities because they do not see it as a productive action. Remember, as a leader, your role is to insure the productivity of others and visibility is an ingredient to their production.

The Great Tone Setting Penalty

As many of you have already figured out, the most difficult challenge associated with all of the tone setting actions is being consistent. Being upbeat every day. Being optimistic, visible and approachable every day. Greeting team members every day. Showing interest, listening and being open every day.

This also leads us to one of the most significant penalties associated with leadership. You don’t get the luxury of having a bad day. We allow our team members to have bad days. We even compromise performance expectations when someone is struggling at home. You don’t get that. Not that you are immune to problems or even feeling ill, you just don’t get to share it with others or intimate you are struggling.

Many leader types come to work no matter what is going on at home or how poorly they feel. One of the most underutilized tools available to a leader is sick time. Compare for a moment the damage you cause by setting a poor tone compared with taking a single sick day to get yourself well. Contrast the poor morale you create when you could take a personal day to get your act together. Stop dragging yourself to work when the long term impact could be significantly bad.

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

The Written Word

No Second Chances

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

You have heard the comments. “I didn’t read the memo.” You have been frustrated by “the procedure was in the manual.” You felt like screaming when someone said “I read it but didn’t get it” or “I started to read it but didn’t get to that part.”

A common frustration among people in leadership positions is that much of what is provided in writing is not understood or misunderstood or ignored entirely. They send the memo or email and nothing changes. They send the memo or email and get fifty back in response. Still nothing changes. Someone accuses you of being mad or upset because of a two line email you sent. Unfortunately, all of this is a reflection of the written communication skills used by leaders.

We must also come to grips with the societal fact that many people in the workplace are reading at a significantly lower comprehension level compared to just ten years ago. Many more people are not native to English but rather to another language. The bottom line is, unless we write well and for the audience intended, much of it will be for naught.

Often described as the elephant in the room that no one can see, written communication skills in leadership is under-valued and frequently used poorly. A leader with overall general good communication habits and skills can lose a great deal of credibility with just one poor email.
Looking back in history for a moment, one of the primary reasons that the causality rate in the American Civil War was so high was the use of 17th and 18th century tactics with technology from the 19th century. Quite simply, they were using conical shaped bullets with rifle bored muskets, capable of accurate shots at well over two hundred yards, and lining up fifty yards from each other in straight lines.

Bringing us back to the present, we are experiencing the same phenomenon related to email and other electronic forms of communication. Twenty-first century technology being used with twentieth century tactics. Email is a great tool. It works well for follow-up, documenting previous conversations or meetings and to contact someone when no other method is available. As a primary communication tool, email is pretty bad and extremely over used.

First, a couple of simple rules about email. If the email is going outside the organization or outside of your circle of close associates, it should have all of the style elements of a standard business letter. That includes the address header, salutation and closing. It should be in block format using black, twelve point Arial or Times New Roman font and a plain white background. No smiley faces or dancing elves at the bottom. The simple point is that your email represents you and your organization and you want it to be professional in appearance.

The second easy rule about an email is to gauge both the urgency and the need to use email rather than the phone or an in-person visit. When you use written communication, you miss the tone and non-verbal elements of richness so the use should be limited to when no other source is available or there is the need to document the communication. Often, people use email as an avoidance to truly interacting with other people and this will lead to misunderstandings and mis-readings of the tone or intent of the email. If you can walk down the hall and talk to someone, do so, rather than sending the email.

One other point about email is learning to use the reply and reply all features. Reply all sends your message to everyone on the original distribution list, including the copy recipients. Reply sends it to the single sender of the original email. Avoid the killing of cyber trees by understanding that basic functionality.

We all assume that our written word is pretty important stuff and a lot of people would be interested in it. The final email comment is about how many people we choose to copy on emails. If you need to demonstrate to someone that you have followed-up on something that they requested, send the copy. If you just think they may be interested or you are trying to cover your posterior, don’t send the copy. There are some relatively current estimates of unnecessary email copies in larger organizations that account for 25% to 30% of total email volume.

Beyond just email, the leader’s word in writing is looked at a little different that a memo or note from anyone else. Many people try to look for hidden meaning. Others will try to look for spelling or grammatical mistakes. Because, after all, as the leader, you should be smarter than that.

When writing a memo, letter or email, the leader must practice the art of tone-setting. This is using the first sentence to thank, appreciate or praise the efforts of the group and can look like “Thanks to all of you, we are making great headway in the current fiscal year” or “I really appreciate all of your contributions and work this month.” This opening line invites any reader to continue and teaches the reader that your notes and emails are not to be feared. When closing a document, the tone-setting should be repeated and can just about be a mirror image of the opening line.

A common pitfall in written communication is the need to be overly wordy. As indicated previously, the best way to improve understanding and clarity is to use less words. This is especially true for written communication. Assume that all readers will tune out your document at about the 45 second mark. Make sure you get to substance and get to it quickly or you will lose understanding. The use of numbered lists or bullet points help this greatly.

The final thought on leadership written communication is the use of both spell and grammar check prior to pressing send or print. One more quality step would be to enlist a peer review prior to distribution. This final piece avoids the embarrassment over the use of their, there or they’re which will pass all spell check features.

It may not seem like much but when the leader commits his or her words to writing, they will live in perpetuity. Make sure those works make sense and reflect well on you and your credibility.


Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

Cost Effective Leadership Development

Leaders Must Continue to Develop

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

Organizations are changing the way they approach executive development, some permanently so, as economic realities are forcing innovative practices for both companies and those who provide development services. A new study by The Institute of Executive Development finds that organizations find themselves in a quandary. There is a tremendous need to leverage executives to drive required change and new strategies; yet, budgets for development and support of these leaders are considerably lower (or nonexistent) vs. recent years. There are several key ways in which the process of senior-leader development is adapting and trying to keep up with the pace of change across the organization. Ultimately, some organizations’ strategies may be at risk if the development of their leaders does not continue in some way, shape or form.The study, “Cost Effective Executive Development,” contains data from more than 25 global organizations across Asia, the Americas and Europe and 10 industry sectors. Among the key findings:

High potential’s go virtual: Relative to their executive peers, up-and-coming high-potential managers, all things being equal, are more comfortable with the use of technology across all areas of business, including their own development. Several high-potential programs have turned to technology as a cornerstone in development activities which reduces time, travel and costs, and also opens up new development opportunities with a global audience.

Delivery models are morphing: Faced with flat budgets and less staff, some companies are changing their delivery models and sending instructors to the field instead of having all participants travel to headquarters. These corporate programs are delivered in multiple locations, eliminating participant travel expenses and reducing employee’s time out of office, which all add up to dollars saved.

Action learning more common: Already popular in many organizations because of the significant learning that comes when development is embedded with real work, the use of action learning is increasing now as it also has little direct cost.

Leaders become teachers: Active participation by an organization’s own executives is another way to manage program costs and provide excellent learning experiences. Utilizing executives and managers as mentors is a terrific way to transfer organizational knowledge and share the wisdom of someone with deep institutional knowledge.

Development more customized: General competency building for wide bands of employees are under tight scrutiny, and organizations are seeking specific development for specific populations, and in some cases are focusing on a smaller number of leaders or a given cohort, vs. an entire group.

Leader development professionals have few options in this demanding economy: make cuts across the board and hope that development effectiveness is not too severely affected; make cuts strategically by analyzing current spend, investments and priorities, and revising the plan to maintain high-quality development in selected areas with less spending; cut what was planned but not yet implemented and continue with what is already under way.

The problem in many organizations is they do not understand the extent of their current costs, where tradeoffs might be made, and often feel tied to existing programs and approaches for leader development. “This is unlike previous situations when people dealt with budget cuts by simply trimming back or canceling programs,” said Nancy Thomas, director with The Institute of Executive Development.“Organizations are re-evaluating their overall strategies and how they develop leaders. Some development professionals don’t anticipate budgets will ever return to recent levels, requiring them to find ways to be much more efficient with far fewer resources.”Findings from the study give new insight into the realities of the executive development field.

The study culminates in a set of recommendations to help organizations navigate the economic reality and any longer-term changes to the industry:

Investigate new technology. Technology is used across a wide spectrum of development and there is an increasing interest in how to explicitly incorporate technology into a leader development strategy. For many people, this remains a mystery as reported through the interviews conducted for this study. The first step is to think carefully about what the organization needs including the specific audience and content to be provided, and then focus on the right technology to use and go get familiar with the various options (custom leader development portals, social media, LMS systems, webinar technologies, online learning, virtual classrooms).

Explore new models for leader development. After cutting programs, resetting budgets and downsizing staff, it’s an opportune time to take a fresh look at how to structure leadership development within a cost model that will enable sustainable high quality development. Consider what work should be centralized and what should be managed regionally and how to balance the need for consistency in content and design across the enterprise with local/regional needs.Take a look at how to maximize staffing resources across the development value chain. For some work it may be more effective to increase capabilities internally to design, develop, deliver programs and coach executives, and in other cases more cost effective to contract with external consultants where expertise is required for specific assignments.

Review organizational needs. Given the changes most organizations have undertaken, now is the right time to reassess leadership needs. Think strategically about where the organization is going, what the leadership pipeline looks like now after all the downsizing and realigning of departments and what new leadership capabilities are required to support future direction.
Inventory current development programs with a critical eye and determine if it’s time to revamp or obsolete some legacy programs. For organizations still relying heavily on traditional classes and workshops for development, now is your chance to redefine and reposition what development is.

Measure impact. Having relevant data on the impact of leader development activities provides a strong business case. The need for measurement may have been overlooked or downplayed in the past, but this is critical during times of budget cuts. Look for ways to gather both quantitative and qualitative data, and make changes to ensure resources are invested in high impact places.

“I find it encouraging to see companies with a tradition of commitment to management development finding innovative ways to continue that commitment even through the downturn,” said Stephen Mercer, associate of The Institute of Executive Development.
“They find opportunity in adversity and use the pressure-packed environment to get more productivity out of their development dollars, without sacrificing the quality of their efforts. The management development teams in those companies didn’t complain; they adapted.”

Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

The Right People in the Key Seats

Are you the Right Person?

Tim Schneider, Coach, Speaker, Author and Trainer from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

The specifics can vary, even within companies, but our research delivered six important traits that identify “the right people”

The right people fit the company’s core values
Great companies build cultures in which those who don’t share the institution’s values are surrounded by anti-bodies and ejected like viruses. People ask: “How do we get people to share our core values?” The answer: Hire people already predisposed to them—and keep them.

The right people don’t need to be tightly managed
When you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you may have made a hiring mistake. You need not spend a lot of time “motivating” or “managing” the right people. It’s in their DNA to be productively neurotic, self-motivated, self-disciplined, and compulsively driven to excel.

The right people understand that they do not have “jobs”—they have responsibilities
They grasp the difference between their task list and their true responsibilities. The right people can complete the statement, “I am the one person ultimately responsible for…”.

The right people fulfill their commitments
In a culture of discipline, people view commitments as sacred—they do what they say they’ll do, without complaint. Equally, this means that they take great care in saying what they will do, careful never to overcommit or to promise what they cannot deliver.

The right people are passionate about the company and its work
Nothing great happens without passion. The right people display remarkable intensity.

The right people display window-and-mirror maturity
When things go well, the right people point out the window, giving credit to factors other than themselves; they shine a light on others who contributed. Yet when things go awry, they do not blame circumstances or other people; they look in the mirror and say: “I’m responsible.”

Data: Jim Collins from Business Week


Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.