Management by walking around

How Are You Growing Your New People?

Spring has arrived in the Mid-West, and people are scurrying around plant nurseries like frenzied squirrels preparing for winter. The sun and warmer temps along with a wave of nursery ads have convinced many of us to fill our carts with an array of colorful perennials, annuals, and fragrant shrubs.  Yes, I have been right in the middle of the chaos because gardening is in my blood. My reaction has been a bit different than my fellow shoppers. I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in the air and yell “No! They aren’t ready yet”!

Mother Nature has a way of getting even with us. Just because it looks and feels like spring, we need to wait until we know that the season is ready for planting. It was 29 degrees here last night and promises to be another cold one tonight. My fellow gardening aficionados that bought colorful plants and welcomed them into their gardens may have tears running as we speak. The plants that they bought can't take cold temperatures and are probably a lifeless brown color by now. Our actual frost date in Michigan is at the end of May. Trust me; I learned early on that you never put a plant in the ground until the plant and the environment are ready.

In many ways, our new team members are like a young plant. You are both eager to plant them where they will flourish. However, new people need some gentle babying similar to a young flower. New employees need to learn and become accustomed to your culture. Like plants, you can’t just pull them out of a warm greenhouse, plop them into the 50-degree soil and expect them to grow. You need to immerse them in the area with some dedicated mentoring until they adjust and are raring to go.

New employees should be planted in the right spot within your organization. You can’t plunk a Hosta in the middle of a hot spot in the yard in the midst of a cactus garden and expect results. Likewise, be cognoscente of your new player’s skills and strengths and place them where they can contribute and thrive.

Leadership responsibility doesn't end after your new team member is planted. They need periodic touch bases with you to learn how they feel in their new role and what support they require along the way. Periodically, you need to fertilize your people and nourish their growth and progress. Checking in with people should be planned, consistent, and heartfelt. You've invested a lot in your members, and you don't want to wake up some day learning that they are listless and leaving the organization.

Seedlings are fragile and small in the spring, yet they can outgrow their space in a matter of months and become overly crowded and no longer thriving. Perhaps they are shaded by other companions or being choked out by weeds. Don’t let this happen to your newer teammates. Don’t assume that life is just humming along fine. Get out there in the trenches and see how your people are interacting and growing. What areas need attention? Is there some weeding that needs completing so that others can continue their work and grow? Do your people have the support that they need so that they can have an impact where it's needed? Are they receiving enough doses of information to succeed?  Get out into your “garden” every day to walk around and notice anything that just isn’t thriving.

A garden is a sanctuary for those that plan, prepare the environment for planting and spend precious time picking the right "plant" for the right place and nurture growth. You need to think of your team and ask yourself how well you are tending to your work "garden".

Photo courtesy of IMGPK via








Does "Going Green" Need to Cost You Green? By Nat Greene


I have an unwavering passion for growth in the garden and of people. Following is a guest post from Nat Greene that really speaks to me and the impact that we can all have on the world every day. Nat is the author of the new book Stop Guessing - The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers. His book reflects on how we should be solving problems and he offers 9 behaviors to push our skills to the next level. Nat's book is available on

I’ve seen environmental sustainability gradually added to almost every business's short list of bottom-line success metrics over the past decades, right up alongside safety, employee happiness, and profit. It’s a priority for many businesses to improve their environmental impact, but they often find themselves at a tough decision point: how much money should they invest in improving their environmental impact? How much will they demand of their shareholders, and how much should they put their bottom line at risk for the good of their community?

Environmental sustainability doesn’t have to be a trade-off between the earth and the business’s financial health. Most people believe in this fundamental trade-off because they don’t believe they can effectively improve their environmental performance using their current assets and business processes. So many businesses will upgrade to new infrastructure that runs more efficiently or uses fewer resources. They may switch their electricity to a more expensive alternative. Or they may switch their raw materials to a more expensive recycled or environmentally-friendly alternative. Even if these pay off in the long-term, they require significant up-front capital investment.

The reason many businesses only believe in shelling out money to improve their environmental performance is that they believe their business processes are nearly optimized. They believe their assets can only work with the amount of fuel or electricity going into them, that the waste they produce is inevitable, or simply that they can’t make more of their product without adding new systems to the mix. But, on the contrary, the performance of every business process has incredible potential to be improved. There are critical performance problems holding every process back from its best performance. Great businesses, instead of horking over money, solve these problems--leading to both greater profitability and better environmental performance in the same stroke.

If businesses develop the skills in their employees to identify and solve these problems, they’ll turn sustainability from a scary word into an addiction.

War Stories

Reducing wasted raw material:

At a business that makes rubber belts, they had a scrap problem. Their belt-cutting process intentionally created a significant amount of scrap in order to make sure the belts were the right width. They had accepted this as a part of the business until the plant’s leadership piled a week’s worth of scrap in the middle of the plant to visually demonstrate how much they were throwing away.

When the business set about to solving the problem, they understood that they were cutting the belts because the process that made them was unreliable, and the width of the belt varied. They dug into how the machine controlled belt width, and were able to reduce variation almost entirely, allowing them to make the belts thinner and cut 90% less scrap.

Transportation optimization:

A consumer products company shipped materials from its plants to warehouses all over the country in order to deliver it to customers. They found that their deliveries were late over 60% of the time, but struggled to solve the problem--they manufactured each product in a day and could not safely and legally drive the trucks any faster.

They approached the problem by modeling their shipping network and schedule, and challenging every shipping route. They found that they were transporting many products from facilities much farther away than was necessary, and were sometimes even shipping twice to make up for shortages in other warehouses. They rebuilt their shipping schedule to reduce the total distance each product traveled, bringing their on-time deliveries to over 95% and reducing fuel burned per product by over 20%.

Reducing CO2 output:

A chemical upgrader has iconic yellow flares, that are used to alleviate pressure in the plant as variations occur. The business had accepted these flares as part of life, but when they analyzed how much money they were losing by flaring this gas rather than selling it, they found an urgency to solve the problem.

They dug into understanding what controlled pressure variations, and found they could greatly reduce variation by eliminating clogging in some of the smaller pipes. They searched for and found the source of the clogging, leading to smoother operation. This saved them millions per year in flaring, and eliminated enough excess CO2 production to offset the carbon footprints of everyone in the facility for their whole lifetimes.

Avoiding a new facility:

A consumer products business was planning on building a large new facility to take on additional volume. When they realized how much opportunity was in their current facility to produce more, they realized they could increase the production of their current assets and avoid the new facility altogether.

In the span of three months, they solved a number of large, valuable problems in the business that let them take on the new volume almost a year earlier than previously estimated, and eliminated the cost and footprint of a new facility.

Every business process can run more effectively by solving problems. No matter the business, the environmental impact per product can be reduced by increasing the performance of the process. Even in processes that have little marginal environmental impact can improve the impact per product by solving problems to produce more with the same overhead.

Improving Problem-Solving In Your Business

Businesses can improve their problem solving results by investing in developing their talent to become better problem solvers, and unleashing them on valuable problems in the business. Most problem solving efforts in business are held back by a habit of using brainstorming, guess-and-check, or more structured ways of “producing ideas” to solve problems. Such approaches waste time, often cost money, and frequently don’t work.

To solve these problems, teams need a new approach to stop guessing and improve their skills. To replace the guessing habit, teach your team a new set of behaviors that far more effectively solves problems. Help them practice by unleashing them on easier problems in the business, and progress them to harder problems as their skills and confidence grow.

Want to test which behaviors are your team’s greatest strengths? Use this quick quiz.

Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School's Owner/President Management program.



It's Hard To Leave A Glass House

Photo courtesy of tiexano via Comfight

People who live in glass houses...have to answer the door" - Karl Pilkington

I have a favorite scene from the holiday classic "Frosty The Snowman". It's when Frosty is trying to keep little Karen warm and finds a greenhouse in the middle of snowy nowhere. They both get locked in and Frosty melts...only to be rescued by Santa. When I watch Karen go into the warm greenhouse with fresh plants inside and the frosty cold outside, I can literally feel her relief and the peace that comes over her. I want to be little Karen this winter!
One of these days I am going to buy a glass greenhouse. A special sanctuary where I can escape and lounge in a tropical moist woman made rain forest I dream of watching the cold whipping snow and wind twirling outside as sweat drips off my brow with the smell of fresh dirt in the air. If you are a fellow gardener you know the fresh scent that I speak of. Heaven! An added touch will be the Tiki Bar that I need installed in the corner....

I dream of a greenhouse for reasons other than just sitting in it watching Frosty melt. The possibilities are endless.
  • Overwinter my tropical plants
  • Grow fresh veggies all year
  • Start hard to find plants from seed
  • Create new plants from cuttings and cross pollination
  • Perhaps start a unique plant business
  • Teach my kids some horticultural lessons
  • Save money on plants by growing my own in mass
  • My sanity!

My dream is to have an old fashioned English free standing greenhouse on a brick foundation. Greenhouses don't need to be grandiose or even permanent. Pinterest is a perfect place to start to get some ideas. There's lean-to greenhouses, window mounted, hoop, cold frames, hot beds, shed garden house. The possibilities are endless. Many people only use their greenhouses in the coldest months so the house can be real simple.
 I do know one thing, I will never want to leave my glass house to go back out into the cold. It's more comforting to remain in my warm cocooned world where I have control and everything is a friend.

How often are you leaving your glass house?

Most of us prefer our lives to remain fairly stable taking in some bumps here and there. Few of us love constant change, upheaval, and chaos. We are comfortable in our own skin and in our own "glass house". Why leave somewhere where we work best, know best, and have our tribe all around us? Because you don't know what you don't know and you need to find out. Get out of your glass house and wander down a different path.
Photo courtesy of swiss can via compfight
Most everyone has heard about "Management by walking around (MBWA)". The same goes for team members. This doesn't mean that you should flit about like a social butterfly during the day bothering people. It means that you should pop out of your glass house (or cubicle in my case!) to interact with your environment and tribes within your company. For instance, my company is going through a merger and naturally there is a lot of uncertainty and nervousness. What better way to jump over fears than to connect with others and share insights, challenges, and ask advice? It helps us to connect and it's cheaper than a therapist!

Why you really need to open your glass door and venture out
  • Meet people outside of your circle and area
  • Learn what's really going on and how people feel about changes, new programs, opportunities
  • You may find a new position by lurking into new areas and making connections
  • You will be seen as more approachable and friendly
  • Your morale will be more positive and you have a chance to share your mojo
  • Share ideas with a new groups of people and gain new insight and ideas
  • Let's just say it - Gossip. Sometimes it's helpful to learn a little gossip because there is often some distorted truth to it.....
  • You can empower and recognize others for their achievements and work
  • People from different areas interacting can really bring down silos and create dialog
  • It's great exercise to get out and about!
  • A change of scenery and new people will help jump start some creativity
  • It's fun to leave the glass behind for a short time

You remember the saying "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"? Guess what? People who don't ever leave their "glass house" never really see through the glass... I would love to live the winter in a greenhouse however..... eventually I need to open the door and walk out!

Are YOU ready to open the door and venture out?