Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Favorites - When opportunity knocks, are you answering the door?

What are you REALLY thinking about yourself and your future?
Google Images:
Are you feeling bullish on today, ready to get out there and conquer? Or are you seeing yourself in a holding pattern, perhaps even feeling the beginning of a downward spiral? When opportunity comes knocking, are you in the state of mind that you'll answer the door - or even hear the knock at all?

You are engaged in selective perception every day, meaning you're not taking in every bit of stimulus that's coming your way. You are sorting, mostly subconsciously, for the information that's relevant to you for the purposes you have at hand. Now think about this for a second - how do you determine what's relevant? If your perception of stimulus is subconscious that mean's it's habitual. Your brain helps you to reinforce existing beliefs and existing patterns.
  • You see what you expect to see.
  • You see what you're used to seeing.
  • You see things that relate to whatever is top of mind for you.

If you want to notice more opportunity, if you want to affect your perceptions in a positive way, you need to create a framework for relevance. This is accomplished by establishing a general intention, or by planning a more specific goal. Here's a simple example - I'm considering buying a car. I've got a specific brand, model, and perhaps even color in mind. Suddenly everywhere I go I see THAT car - driving beside me, parked in parking lots, etc. I've set up my selective perception to be stimulated by the sight of that car.

Part of the reason that it's stress-inducing not to have a direction is that although you're receiving stimuli from an overwhelming number of sources, you're not able to perceive them. There are limitless opportunities, but it feels like there are none.

You might not feel ready to set a specific goal yet, for any number of reasons. But if you want to make a positive impact on your selective perception, at least establish a general positive intention. If you are looking to expand your income, release yourself from the need to know HOW you're going to do it right now. Just keep that intention front and center and your brain will sort all of the incoming stimuli to help you notice the ones that are relevant to your intention.

This isn't motivational hooey - it's physiological fact. If you'd like to read more about selective perception, click THIS LINK.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to get more of the behavior that you want

If only people would do what they are supposed to do
Google Images:
life would be smooth and easy, right?  Instead there seem to be glimmers of outstanding performance in between a lot of OK and some downright upsetting.  If today's post seems like a blazing flash of the obvious, it's only because there's a gap (sometimes a big one) between what we know to do to lead effectively and what we actually do.

Train for it
You should hire for values, and after that train for behavior.  People can learn how to do tasks, and they can sustain their behavior if it is in alignment with how they see themselves, how they view relationships with colleagues, customers, etc.

Certainly some job roles include enough complexity that individuals have to come with licensure of some sort or certification so you know they have some baseline of hiring.  But, for instance, many professional and clinical roles educate for the technical side of things but don't include business, leadership, communication, etc. in the curriculum. Poor communication, lack of business sense, and lack of leadership can cause even an outstanding technician to set off (intentional or unintended) grenades all over the organization.

Your job as a leader is more difficult if you assume that people will be coming to your organization with a certain level of ______________.  When you don't assume it but choose to grow your own you invest more time on the front end but are able to derive more of the performance you want.

Recognize behavior you like
Behavior that is rewarded is repeated.  This sounds like a simple concept but can be a two-edged sword.  When you see behavior that you like, tell the individual that you like it.  Be specific in describing what actions they took that you want to acknowledge.  If you follow these two steps (speaking up and being specific)  they will be better able to know what you want, and the positive emotions that come from your affirming feedback will help to reinforce the desire to do it again.

Here's how rewards can be a two-edged sword:  people assume that if you don't say anything their behavior must be at least OK.  So if you are a leader who sees less than desirable behavior and  you don't call it out you are in effect rewarding offending behavior.  It might feel like you're avoiding unnecessary conflict by not saying anything to disrupt your relationship with the person, but if the behavior continues (and it will,) ultimately you'll have to address it.  By that time you will likely be feeling somewhere between irritated and downright angry.  What is the impact that your emotional state will have on that disciplinary interaction?

Correcting behavior you don't want
Notice it early, provide feedback that is descriptive and concise, and describe in specific terms what you want instead.  It is possible, if not likely, that the individual will react defensively to the correction.  But their defensiveness will be minimized if you handle the situation from an adult ego state, meaning that you use describing words rather than judging ones.  Keep the feedback narrow rather than generalizing.  And spend most of your time describing (perhaps even demonstrating) what it is you want rather than rehashing (and unintentionally ingraining) what you don't want.

It also helps to express confidence in the individual and his or her ability to achieve results.  The corrective focus is on the behavior - it's not intended to be a valuation of the individual.  Keeping the interaction as positive as possible increases the likelihood that the individual will make an effort, because you asked him or her to do so.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The case for ripping the bandage

You know it's going to hurt. You know you don't want to do it,
Google Images:
but you have to do it.  So you take hold of the end of the adhesive bandage and.......wait a minute.  Are you going to do this fast, or are you going to do it slowly?

If you take your time with it, it's not going to hurt any less.  There will be a pulling sensation, and you might lose a few hairs in the process.  Ouch.  If you just yank the thing, though it's over with and you can get on to examining the progress of the wound (that's the fun part!) now that it's uncovered.

It's much the same with that undesirable task you have to complete, or with the news you know that you have to share, but that you are certain is going to cause some repercussions.  It might be better just to rip off that bandage and get it done.

If you're considering delaying to make it less painful you're probably kidding yourself.  While you're waiting, waffling over whether now or later is better, the troops have a bit of information already.  You can be certain that they are already talking, and the longer they talk the more distorted the story will get.  Delay is usually not your friend.

Think about what assumptions you might be making, causing unnecessary delay:

  • Are you assuming that they won't like whatever change you are introducing?
  • Are you assuming that they don't like you, and therefore won't receive anything you say with open ears and open minds?
  • Are you assuming that whatever this change is, that it will cause big waves of conflict?  What if it's nowhere as controversial as you think it might be?  You will have been delaying or slowing down for no good reason.
There are ways to help to manage the pain:
  • Before you do any bandage ripping, know what comes next.  Establish your game plan, then deal with the bandage, then implement the game plan. 
  • Inoculate the affected person(s) by explaining up front what to expect.  "This might sting a little," or "We expect that we could lose 10% of our customers over this decision."
  • Move on to other actions promptly.  No need to linger or rehash over the bandage.  Next!  Your goal is to demonstrate positive progress as soon as possible.  Recognize even small steps in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When this opportunity matters too much

Google Images:
It might seem as though an attachment to an outcome is a desirable thing.  Isn't that the foundation for motivation?  Yes - and no.  Yes, the result matters.  But no, perhaps this way of accomplishing the result doesn't matter.

Remember when you were a teenager, disappointed in love, and your mother or father said to you, "There are other fish in the sea"?  You didn't want to hear it, did you?  This romantic ideal (du jour) who didn't return your adoration simply had to be the only one for you.  You thought you'd die if you couldn't date them, go to prom with them, dance with them, etc. Ultimately you found out that there were indeed other fish, and some of them were a better fit for you than that first one was.

If you hadn't let go of that first guy or gal you would never had those other opportunities, and you probably wouldn't have met your current love.  You had to realize that finding a partner was what was important, and release from the idea that THAT particular person had to be the one.

Now let's talk about business.  Are you investing too much energy trying to squeeze prospective clients through the sales pipeline?  Frustrated that they are not moving fast enough?  Always counting on next week or next month to do it for you?  Upset when there is yet another delay, postponement, excuse?

If you're always feeling frustrated, even angry, at the speed of decision making you might need the "there are other fish in the sea"  conversation.  Instead of trying to squeeze one or two prospects through the pipeline (and making them feel like you're stalking or pressuring them!) pour more new ones into the pipeline.  Create more opportunities.  Be open to the natural flow rather than try to push the flow.

That's easier said than done.  Of course.  You have to make the decision to place yourself in the place of greatest opportunity.  You might have to face rejection.  You might have to get out there and pound the pavement, and you might have to kiss some frogs in the process of finding your prince or princess - or new client (without the literal kissing part).  But even the process of creating activity, of being proactive, will change your mindset about this particular opportunity.  You will be better able to relax into it, and ironically, will therefore be better able to attract it to you when you don't work so hard.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Too many bosses?

One of the outgrowths of an increasingly technical
Google Images:
workplace is the matrix organization.  There are line management structures (in the primary business, like production in manufacturing or branch office management in banking) and specialist departments.  In a matrix an individual will have a solid line on the org chart - direct reporting accountability - to the manager of the function directly above him or her.  But there is also a relationship - a dotted line - to one or more of the specialty areas.

As a manager is operating he or she has to satisfy the boss and also comply with the criteria of the finance department, or engineering, or whatever dotted line relationships have been established.  This makes sense in certain regards, because specialized knowledge isn't always spread across the organization.  The business can capitalize on the expertise of an individual or a department without having to train everyone in the company to the same extent.  Problems can arise, though, when there is misalignment or mixed messaging to the individual from the solid line and dotted line leadership. To which person is the manager supposed to listen?

Because of the potential for misalignment the matrix organization structure can create an overly politicized work environment.  When the dotted line leaders don't have direct authority they have to use people power to influence behavior.  That is, they use their people (relationship) power if they are to be effective in their roles.  And the solid line leaders have to maintain good enough work relationships with the dotted line leaders that they are not always creating conflict and/or confusion for their direct reports.

What's a company to do if it sees that matrix management structure is the best for its unique situation?

  1. Start by creating a formalized plan that includes values, vision and operational mission, and is developed through critical success factors and SMART company-wide goals.  This helps to create a unifying force, a set of operational criteria for both solid line and dotted line segments of the organization.
  2. Provide development in interpersonal (soft) skills onsite to help the informal and formal relationships work more effectively. A senior leader cannot assume that all of the management and supervisory team knows how to obtain results via engaging employees and creating a motivational work setting.  Communication, attitude management, and leadership skills aren't automatically acquired, nor are they "you have it or you don't" proposition.
A matrix organization requires a higher level of human relations skills.  If you want yours to be more effective, support it with these two components.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Favorites - Would you leave home without your game face?

Google Images:
To what extent are you aware that you put on a facade or "game face" rather than reveal the person that you really are? The game face generally isn't used when you're feeling confident and upbeat. You put it on when you're feeling a bit uncertain, fearful, or sad and you don't want anyone to know it.

Every person has his or her own frame of reference (assumptions and attitudes) about relationships with other people, whether business or personal. Some walk out the door in the morning with the assumption that the world is generally a safe place, people are generally nice, and that it's OK to be whoever they authentically are.
Others operate under the paradigm that the world is dangerous, people are generally out to get them and that job #1 is to prevent them (the enemy) from having the opportunity to do so. When operating under the paradigm of threat people make assumptions like:
  • I can tell they are lying because they're moving their mouth.
  • They'll take advantage of any sign of weakness to overpower me or make me look bad.
  • Everybody else is more competent than me (or smarter or richer) and I hope nobody figures that out.

The defensive, self-protective position creates behavior like:
  1. Hoarding resources or information.
  2. Avoidance of other people.
  3. Calling attention to other people's flaws in an attempt to distract attention from one's own.
  4. Taking a proactive attack position to be able to make the first strike rather than feel vulnerable.
  5. Spreading misinformation (gossip.)
  6. Collecting a cadre of allies for the purpose of defending against or attacking a threat. 
Let's say you recognize that you operate under the paradigm of threat in certain situations. Just because you think they're against you doesn't mean they really are. Chances are pretty good that it's not even about you. What would happen if you would test your assumption that the world is out to get you?

If you decided to behave as though the setting and/or other people were not threatening in some way you might: 
  • Share information more freely.
  • Choose to interact with people even when you're not forced to.
  • Let people get to know you as a person, not just as a job description.
  • Relax and enjoy your day more.
  • Be able to focus on your work product rather than on other people and what they are doing. 
Behavior tends to generate responses that are more of the same.  This means that if you exhibit helpful or friendly behavior you are more likely to receive helpful and friendly behavior back.  It's the natural law of reciprocity.

If you think that you absolutely need your game face at all times, if you are in a situation where you are experiencing a continuous threat, you may be well advised to change your setting.  Go somewhere else - not every person is a good match for every culture or every interpersonal situation.  

It takes a lot of energy to maintain a game face all day long, and despite your efforts to paper over your real feelings, chances are that you won't really be fooling anyone.  They will be able to sense that you are not being authentic, and that can erode their trust in you.  Their concern about your real feelings and opinions can cause them to put their game face on too - and then you have a snowball of mistrust and cover-up. 

One last thought - If the feelings of defensiveness follow you from situation to situation it's an indicator that you might hold habits of thought (lack of trust, insecurity) that you need to put to rest.  Otherwise you will have to carry your game face (and inauthenticity) wherever you go.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When the leader's chair is empty

If you're like many business owners you're not planning
Google Images:
to stop any time soon.  Your business is your lifeblood, and you can't imagine not going to the office every day.  For some of you, the rough economic waters have tapped you out, so retirement is not an option.  You're here for the foreseeable future.

But what about the unforeseeable? What happens when your chair is empty because

  • You're on vacation
  • You are ill or in the hospital
  • You have to care for an elderly parent or a seriously ill other family member
  • Whatever you don't want to think about happens
What jobs will go undone?  To some extent, the larger your company the easier it may be for the business to cope with your absence.  You have probably hired specialists to do things like develop new business, pay bills, supervise production, care for the grounds and handle payroll.  But even if you have made provisions, how long can the business keep growing and thriving without you in the leader's seat?

It's quite different to contemplate being out for a few weeks than it is to consider being done for good.  Either way, though, have you thought it through?  You are ultimately responsible for the sustainability of the business - that is, if your intention is to sustain it beyond your involvement in it.

If you are considering a transition out of the business while keeping the business going, you need to have a plan in place for these things:
  1. Are you going to formally stay the owner regardless of who is running it?  This of course assumes that your exit is intentional, planned, and not due to sudden death.  What do you want your role to be if you are going to continue owning it?  Who will handle the day-to-day operations?  Is he or she already in the company?  Is he or she prepared to take the helm if need be, or when you are ready?  What else does your successor need to know?
  2. Are you intending for the business to support you and/or your spouse financially once you are out of there?  How does that impact the amount of revenue the company has to generate?  With income where it is right now, can the company afford to pay you AND the new COO?  For how long?
  3. Is there someone inside the company who could and would like to buy you out?  Do you have key person life insurance that would help the company transition?  What are the terms of the buy-out?  How long does your buyer have to pay you, and how long (and in what role) will you stay on to assist with the transition?
  4. Do you know how much your business is really worth to a prospective buyer?  It's typical that a business owner will value it higher, sometimes substantially more, than a professional valuation would indicate.  Your perception of your business's value is colored by your love for it and your invested sweat, but usually business valuation is based on assets, revenue stream, and/or brand power in the market.