I recently came across this bit of wisdom from an unknown author, “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.”  Way too many managers confuse intentions, plans, and declarations with actions. Managers must LOL — lead out loud — if they are going to bring about culture change and shift behavior for higher levels of customer service, quality, safety, productivity, or innovation.

Avoid Leadership Traps - Jim Clemmer, The Practical LeaderIn their classic bestseller, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman popularized their finding that effective leaders spend huge amounts of time managing by wandering around (MBWA) with customers, suppliers, and staff . Decades later, Tom Peters was as adamant as ever about an executive’s use of his or her calendar as a key signaling tool; “Attention is all there is. You are what you spend your time on. You’re as focused or unfocused — as your calendar says you are. Interested in launching, and then sustaining a program of quality improvement through the empowerment of front-line people? If so, that theme had better be reflected unmistakably on your calendar, hour to hour, day to day, year to year.”

Team and organization members no longer believe much of what they hear. They must clearly see leadership or change messages led out loud. Here are key traps to avoid if you’re going to bring about lasting team or organizational change:

Big Talk, Little Action

There are three keys to long-term change and improvement: (1) follow through, (2) follow through, (3) follow through. You and your managers cannot set bold new directions and then delegate their implementation. Your time and attention needs to stay focused on your change and improvement effort. Obviously you can’t get wrapped up in all the details. But you must stay the course.

Managing by Muddling Around

If you’re out to “snoopervise,” swoop in and “solve” problems, or do bed checks, you’d do better to stay in your office. Many managers with weak coaching or team leadership skills inadvertently reduce openness and trust with ineffective interpersonal skills. Of course, they are usually the same ones who are too busy to build their own skills but send their overworked supervisors to be “fixed.”

Ivory Tower Visions

There is a delicate balance between senior management getting their vision, values, and change plans together and building consensus and commitment through broad input. Visions and plans should not be developed in backrooms without the involvement of those people who will make it all work. An even greater danger is low customer input. Many an organization has squandered precious resources providing top‑notch products or services nobody wanted.

Month End Myopia

If you have developed statements that boldly proclaim “zero injuries,” “delighted customers,” or “quality is our highest priority,” watch yourself when the heat is on. This is one of your managerial moments of truth. What standards will you really accept?  If you knowingly ship marginal quality products or deliver poor service you’ve just set a new standard.

Catch as Catch Can

A disciplined, regular process communicating management commitment face-to-face is essential. Staff support professionals and improvement coordinators should help “stage manage” managers time to get maximum visibility and involvement in key change and improvement events.

On a Wing and a Prayer

All your best intentions to signal commitment to team or organizational change will have little impact if you don’t have plans, structures, and processes in place to take you through the long haul. People just won’t get on board if you announce a million dollar destination and then pull up in a patched up old bus with two miles of life left.