Tom The Architect

Technology and other Interesting Stuff

Category: leadership

My 10 Standard Operating Principles

Teams operate best when they have perfect clarity and focus. This can be challenging to almost impossible at times, but one thing I have learned is we all need a common set of operating principles to fall back on when clarity and focus are in short supply. These basic principles  are intended to help an individual or team to keep moving. The list provides basic tools to help create clarity or to allow for action to be taken without fear of a mistake.  I have found that 7 out of 10 principles generally work for any team and only need minor adjustment or 2 or 3 additional principles.  I am also constantly looking for ways to refine the principles to make them more clear and actionable without being specific instructions.  So here they are in no particular order:

  1. 2 in the box.  Escalate until you have someone with shared responsibility or accountability. Batons get passed not dropped.
  2. Lead with a straw man. No one likes to be put on the spot, give them something to work with or to save face with if they are not prepared.
  3. A problem has a cause and a solution bring both.
  4. Decisions are made better with data.
  5. People understand what they know.  Give examples using what they know.
  6. Outcomes first, then focus on the means and the credit.
  7. Your communicating enough when you feel like you are bothering people.
  8. UNODIR (Unless Otherwise Directed) Take measured action, adjust and communicate.
  9. Draw a picture.  A picture is worth 10 meetings (at least), even one hand drawn in pencil and scanned.
  10. Here Be Dragons.  There are many risks, challenges and issues mark them for others.

These 10 aren’t perfect but they can only get better.

Curse of Knowledge

Ron del.icio.us’ed me a link about the Curse of Knowledge. I have to say I have been party to the curse of knowledge on more that one occasion. What I learned is that the curse of knowledge is really a symptom of flawed communication. As the complexity of the information increases so does the impact of flawed communication. So as I have had to deal with this in my career, I have developed some simple rules to help improve the communication and reduce the curse of knowledge.

  • Make clear any assumptions you might have about the topic or the listener’s/reader’s understanding of the topic.
  • Allow the listener to ask refining questions and respond in a supportive manner.
  • Break the topic into small logical chunks. (This is one can be tough)
  • Don’t expect the listeners light bulb to go off as soon as your done communicating.
  • Use pictures and/or a white board when ever possible.
  • Actually listen/read and consider the responses from your explanation.
  • Be willing to be wrong and admit it.
  • Avoid email at all cost, when the information is important only communicate Face to Face, For the less important stuff the telephone will do, and only use email for the mundane.
  • Communicate until you feel like your being a bother. It is at he bother point you are just communicating enough.

Remember it never seems obvious to the listener.

Leaders Encourage Transparency

Ed Batista has a post about Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammon’s response to an article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled A failure in generalship in the Armed Forces Journal. The article was called “blistering critique of the Army brass,” by Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal.

On June 25, The New Yorker published a story titled The General’s Report by Seymour Hersh. The story details what happened to Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, who lead the army investigation into Abu Ghraib. (via tompeters.com)

These articles are examples of how not to deal with critical information. Leaders must embrace both positive and negative information. There is always a short term cost of negative information, but reducing transparency within the organization to minimize the impact of negative information is WRONG. The reduction of organizational transparency will carry a larger cost over the long term, than that of the negative information. Reduced Transparency results in less trust, increased transactional and operational costs.

Leading with a progressive message

A leader must always communicate a progressive message. It must provide a clear path of advancement on the goal and mission. A progressive message must be:

  • Honest
  • Accurate
  • Actionable
  • Focused

Communicating a progressive message does not mean one must ignore problems or failures, a progressive message recognises the problems and failures. In recognizing problems and failures the leader uses the adversity as a way-point to the goal and a successful mission. Failing to maintain a progressive message will undermine the moral and productivity of the team. If the person leading can’t point to the progressive path the team will stall.

So maintain a progressive message and bring your people forward.