Archive for November, 2009

Don’t Forget the Free Throws

I once listened to two sports commentators on the radio debating the soon-to-be-over NBA season.  The conversation turned to free throw shooting.  They observed that throughout the season, and as the tournament was in its early games, a number of key games had been won or lost at the bonus line.  Both agreed that it seemed that this year, more than most, there were far more examples of teams and individuals whose free throw shooting percentages were just plain…bad!  One of them commented that “…in professional basketball no player should have an average free throw shooting percentage less than 80%.”

I would agree.  A professional is “a highly skilled individual who performs his or her work for payment”.  Can you imagine even keeping a job where it was acceptable to make mistakes 20% of the time?  Unlike shooting from the field, free throw shooting is a “solo sport”.  When you’re at the line, it’s you, the ball, and the net.  There’s no guarding, no checking, no blocking…no excuses!  Sure, there’s noise, but that’s life.

So why is it that free throw shooting has become a skill in decline in the NBA, and what is the result? 

First, the reasons:  Basketball is faster, more dynamic, and more entertaining than ever.  Athletes are bigger, stronger, flashier, and maybe even more athletic than in the “old days”.  The key word is “flash”.  Today’s players look really good!  They are good…at the fun stuff. But free throws don’t win endorsements, they don’t make the highlight films, and they don’t get “gate” (attendance).  They do however win games…but who’s counting.  Great free throw shooters practice…free throws.  They are more patient, they understand the concept of a “complete” player, and they actually do what their (lower paid) coaches tells them to do…practice free throws.

The result (of poor free throw shooting):  Otherwise “good” teams lose when it really counts!  So, how do they get away with it?  Teams and individuals who struggle the most with free throws are often those “bigger than life”.  They answer to no one.  Fans are amazed when they lose because they play so “big”.  When they lose, even by a free throw, they’re not held accountable because they dazzled ‘em with dunks, pleased ‘em with passing, and shocked ‘em with speed. One of my favorite quotes (by James Thurber), you’ve hear me use before, and you’ll hear me use again, is:

“There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.”

This applies to both people and things.  Much is or can be obscured (temporarily) by the glare of “flash”.  But when it comes to that critical moment, standing at the line, man, ball, and net, the only thing that matters is that the ball goes through the net.  It doesn’t matter how good it looks…just that it drops through.  And there’s only one way that happens consistently…through practice.  Regular, repetitive, laborious, unexciting practice; Practicing “the basics”…i.e., relax, set, bounce, bend, breathe, focus, 90°, release, and follow through …  Over and over again.  Great free throw shooters spend hours and hours practicing…and never stop.  A great shooter knows that yesterday’s practice was for yesterday, and today demands its own; It is a never-ending cycle.

And so it is in business.  In today’s economy there is much “flash”.  Marketing noise and dazzle are everywhere.  Sales people are more aggressive than ever.  “Customer loyalty programs and incentives abound…and obscure.  But, some things never change.  Flash-in- the-pan companies and programs come and go, but when push comes to shove, when you absolutely positively have to have rock solid service, the only thing that matters is consistent, reliable, dependable, performance – the kind that comes from practice.  Practicing the basics…relax, set, bounce, bend, breathe, focus, release, and follow through… Over and over again.  Great business people spend hours and hours practicing…and never stop.  Great business people know that yesterday’s practice was for yesterday, and today demands its own; It’s a never-ending cycle.

The “free throws” of  business are the mundane, even sometimes boring, but crucial details that make or break success.  It’s receiving today’s shipments…today!  It’s going out of our way to say “thank you” at the end of every sale.  It’s sweeping the floor…every day.  It’s really counting – not estimating, at inventory.  It’s studying and reading about new products.  Not exciting stuff, but if not done, if not practiced could eventually spell the difference between keeping or losing customers.

There are lots of great talents in business.  Some dazzle; Some entertain; Some can sell anything…once.  But when it comes to “the details”… to follow-up, to keeping promises…to actually delivering value…even the best “showman” falls short.  There’s nothing in their bag of tricks of things that glare, obscure, and distract that will win the game…in the long run.

Instead, it’s under-promising and over-delivering; it’s always doing what we say we’ll do; it’s being perfectly predictable and unwaveringly consistent…these define dependability…they are the qualities -the glow- that “illuminate” the way for customers to find their way “home”…to us!

Don’t forget the free throws…

Lead on………..    Cliff

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November 12, 2009 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

DON’T BE A B.O.N.E.H.E.A.D!

Want to be a better manager, have more fun managing, and get better results?  Then DON’T be a “BONEHEAD”.  Boneheads are not great managers.  They don’t enjoy their work; and they don’t (in the long run) get positive results.  They alienate employees, chase away customers, and are as stale as last week’s bread.  Worse, they don’t take responsibility for, or admit their own mistakes. 

The good news:             There are VERY few purebred BONEHEADS out there.

The bad news:               There’s a little (at least) BONEHEAD in all of us.

Whether you’re a full-on BONEHEAD, or just a carrier, there is hope…  It is a curable malady.  But first you’ve got to be able to recognize its symptoms. The following are the major characteristics of BONEHEADEDNESS.  Study them, learn to identify them, then practice avoiding them… at all costs!

Brain-dead– Often, a funny thing happens on the way to “management”; there are those who, whether at the end of a long road, or as a result of taking the “fast track” to management responsibility, adopt the attitude of “I have arrived.”   They think they can now “take it easy” – not necessarily be lazy – just not get any better, faster, or smarter.  This is dangerous thinking – especially in today’s ever-changing world!  As Lou Platte, CEO of Hewlett Packard put it, “Whatever made you successful in the past, won’t in the future”.  Part of managing is coaching employees into improved work performance.  How can managers expect employees to improve when they themselves are not actively setting an example of growth and learning?  Most of us know where we can/should be improving.  If you really don’t know what to work on, ask someone who’ll be candid, frank, and open for suggestions.

Overbearing – Ever asked yourself “why don’t my employees do what they’re supposed to do?”  If you’re like most managers out there, YOU are the problem.  One of the most common problems in organizations is the tendency managers have of micro-managing or tightly controlling their employees.  Do you require final “approval” before anything happens in your department or organization?  If you do, you’ll usually get your way, but you’ll end up with a real employee dilemma; the worst [employees] will stay and the best will go.  Train, delegate and follow up.  If you do these well, the return will be great performance and high morale.

Nonchalant – Weak managers just sort of let things happen, while strong managers make things happen (reactive vs. proactive).  Great managers are either celebrating the accomplishments of their employees or are coaching (not berating) them on to greater heights.  The boneheaded trait of “nonchalance” is particularly prominent in the area of communication.  Let’s face it…many managers are male, and generally speaking, men are not great communicators.  So, when faced with the need to correct poor performance, doubting their ability to engage in effective problem-solving, “guys” instead choose to “put it off” or just not do it.  The problem comes when, in the absence of direct communication, employees are left to continue to err or are paralyzed by the cold-shoulder, glares, or aloofness that sometimes takes the place of the corrective coaching.  No employee should ever be in doubt concerning the acceptability of their performance.  Communicate!!

Extemporaneous – Time really is money…and boneheads waste theirs.  People who don’t plan – who decide to just fight the daily fires each day, find they are always surrounded, even consumed, by fires.  Instead, take just one half of one percent of your day to gain control over the other 99.5%.  As you do, think ROI, or “Return on Investment” – what activity, if pursued with this block of time, would bring a return much larger than the investment…especially when compared with simple, idle, make-busy work.

Haughty – The opposite of humble.  Bonehead mangers believe that the blood coursing through their veins is somehow “better” and more precious than that of their subordinates…and oh, how they love that word…”subordinates”.  Their “thinking” is superior, their vision – infallible, and time wasted in a manager’s office somehow is far more acceptable than time wasted on the warehouse floor.  The biggest problems with haughtiness, are 1) By thinking you know it all, you lose the opportunity to receive and benefit from the ideas, observations, and experience of others, and 2) You lose good people who want to contribute and be heard.

EighteenLet me apologize in advance to any of your 18 yr old children or 18 year-olds themselves that may stumble upon this…the following is a [gross] generalization of 18 yr olds…….and some managers, and is presented for illustrative purposes only.  Having said that, Eighteen year olds are boneheads.  I can say that…I’ve known a few…even was one once.  Eighteen year olds are goofy, awkward, insensitive, out of control, without judgement, wild, careless, and senseless…and that’s before they get out of bed in the morning…then it goes downhill from there.   Theoretically, managers are the best employees in an organization – the cream of the crop – an accomplished group.  Do you uphold  that standard?  Or is your organization’s image diminished when you are thrown into the averaging?  Is the atmosphere in your department an atmosphere of professionalism, respect, and focus?  Or disorder, disrespect, and bedlam.  Does your leadership style and thus your team exemplify its mission statement…or desecrate it?  If you’ve lost focus…get up, dust yourself off, look to the mission statement, and act the role.

Ambiguous – One of the worst things a manager can do is make a bad hiring decision…worse though is not dealing with a bad hire.  Boneheads are either too proud to admit they’ve hired poorly, or afraid to deal with the mistake.  By not dealing with the problem an atmosphere of ambiguity enters in.  Non-performers are convinced that their [non-performance] is acceptable, and good employees get frustrated…and leave, or lower their performance level to what apparently is acceptable.  No one wins when goals, objectives and performance standards are not clearly stated and uniformly applied.

Discouraging – – The number 1 motivator of employees is a sense of accomplishment – a sense that they have really done something meaningful.  Bonehead managers don’t believe in “that motivational crap”; they view employees as cogs on a wheel, or as filling one and only one narrow role.  Human beings need to be challenged and stretched.  They need to be able to create.  Without these opportunities they become discouraged, bored, and yes, even lazy.  Challenge your people…make them think…you can get lots more from their brains than you can from their brawn.  Routinely ask them questions like: 1) What are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing?  2)  What are you not doing that you should? 3)  What is one idea that if implemented in our branch could result in a big boost to sales, morale, or team work.  Then help THEM implement their [good] ideas.  You need to do the same…don’t get so busy YOU forget to think, envision, and create.

So, don’t be a bonehead.  Be proactive, excited, engaged, and thoughtful…Have fun…. And …

…Lead on………..    Cliff

November 6, 2009 at 5:09 pm 2 comments


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