Avoiding the Murky Middle
What does “black and white” mean to you?
In my January 2016 e-newsletter, titled Personal Accountability Yields Personal Best, I reflected on 2015 and how that year brought my "Personal Best" (PB) performance. Little did I know that 2016 would turn out to be a new PB, or that 2018 would set yet another PB!
Near the end of each year, my Coach and I review both the year winding down and the new year coming up. In this year's review, she commented I had become much more ...
- Confident in my leadership abilities.
- Comfortable following my "people" instincts, noting I had always been comfortable with my "technical" instincts.
- Spontaneous in handling situations well.
- Focused on getting things done.
Admittedly, many of these improvements were forced on me by the nature of 2018, with my staff and I having our plates full with client work. Still, had it not been for the groundwork laid over many years focusing on – and publicly writing about – successes and challenges in improving my Personal Accountability, 2018 could not have been a PB year for me.
Black and White
Earlier this month, my Business Development Associate found a wonderful blog post by John G. Miller, the author of QBQ: The Question Behind the Question – a book that is required reading for all firm members. The blog post, The 6 Words of Personal Accountability, opened with the following definition of the phrase "black and white" ...
Black and White: Involving one idea that is clearly right and another that is clearly wrong, so it is not difficult to make a moral decision. (Source: MacMillan Dictionary)
John recounted posting this question on Facebook:
"In your opinion, are employees responsible for the organization’s profit, or is profit a management job?"
He was surprised by the answers he received, which were all over the board! The reason he was surprised was he viewed his question in black and white, leading to a clear-cut answer – responsibility for an organization's profit ALWAYS resides with management. The blog post concluded with:
Allowing shades of gray to enter our minds opens the door to excuse-making – and accountable people don’t open that door, they don’t make excuses.
Accountable people live by these six words:
No Excuses. I own the result!
And that’s black and white to me.
If you take nothing else away from John’s excellent blog post, remember these six words – No Excuses! I own the result!
Gray Areas – Avoiding Them, or Hiding In Them?
I shared this blog post and concept with my Coach and, while discussing it, we focused on "gray areas" and where they presented themselves to me in 2018.
In my own firm, I did not allow many gray areas. When a concerning situation arose (including some situations I forced as a "burning bridge" to promote a sense of urgency), I quickly decided how to handle it, I shared what actions I expected of my staff, and I held both myself and my staff accountable for our actions. If a goal had not been met by an agreed-upon date, I was not hesitant to directly confront the shortcomings. No more pussy-footing on discussions like these – when performance needs to improve, it needs to improve NOW, and I will swiftly escalate the issue with formal performance improvement measures.
At one of my major clients, I noted they did not permit many gray areas, either. Already leanly staffed, they went through an acquisition in mid-2018 and completely reorganized their internal management team, including a new general manager who quickly began changing the culture of the company. They also adapted to providing both legacy and new internal reporting requirements, started shifting to a "shared services" model in connection with the acquisition, tested the limits of their infrastructure, made excellent progress in digging out of an order backlog – and still grew sales! While the new general manager has had her plate full with all these challenges, she and her team have kept the show going by NOT tolerating poor performance – kudos to all of them!
In contrast to these two examples of avoiding gray areas, this vendor experience provides a cautionary tale of what happens when a company's management fails to embrace "black and white" and chooses to stay in the gray … numerous important details missed by the sales rep in the sales process came to light during implementation, the client support team dragged its feet researching and resolving issues, and the failure by consultants assigned to the project to dig deeply enough during the implementation kickoff caused rework during the actual implementation. All in all, a preventable series of events leading to a less-than-delighted client.
After discussing these examples, my Coach exclaimed, "Todd, you and your client viewed issues as 'black and white' and did not hide in the 'gray’ areas. Thus, you and they successfully avoided the 'murky middle' – yay!" Yes, Coach, we did – thank you for the props AND for the title of this newsletter!
In distilling the "black and white" concept, I appreciate the clarity it brings, which then ...
- Forces clear agreements, including clear self-agreements. (I learned the concept of clear agreements from my pen pal, personal accountability author and consultant Linda Galindo, and wrote about clear agreements and the related concept "Who Will Do What By When" in Stop Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants.)
- Promotes action.
- Saves time on task.
- Shortens timelines for results.
- Brings better results!
As the president of my firm, I personally live by these six words: No Excuses. I own the result!
Looking ahead, the new year is already bringing its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, yet I feel confident I will continue to address them by applying the "black and white" concepts and avoiding the murky middle. My 2019 challenge to you: Own your results fully, whether personally or professionally, and enjoy the rewards of striving for – and setting – your own personal best.
Todd L. Herman