Monday, July 27, 2015

Six steps for your big, hairy goal

Do you have a big goal, a big project, or a big problem
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that requires action from you?  Feeling a bit put off or even afraid at the size of it and your chances for success? No worries - these steps will help you bring it down to manageable size.

  1. Make sure it's written - and specific - and include a deadline. You've got to know exactly what you're working toward, or else how will you know when you have reached it?  When you haven't documented it on paper or you aren't specific your goal becomes a moving target, always just a few inches out of your reach. Or you run the risk of selling yourself short by settling for less than your total original intention.
  2. Know why you're doing it.  What are the rewards associated with reaching it?  Are there emotional rewards, tangible rewards?  What are the negative consequences that you want to avoid by achieving it?  Give this a lot of thought, because it's your motivation to persevere through all of the necessary actions to accomplish what you set out to accomplish.  If your big goal is no big deal, you're more likely to walk away from it before it's done.
  3. Plan for obstacles. You know some that are there already, because they are the reasons why you haven't achieved the goal yet.  List those, and then stretch your thinking into potential obstacles that might slow you down or even stop your progress.  Are you thinking that this sounds like Negative Nellie talking?  It's only negative if you stop here.  When you do a good job with this step you will be far less likely to be stymied by being caught off guard.
  4. Brainstorm solutions. There is more than one answer to your obstacles.  Challenge yourself to develop potential alternatives to your first solution.  Some might sound silly now, but might gain relevance once you get there.  Some solutions overcome more than one obstacle, and these become your critical path.  And some will wait until your first solution doesn't work for some reason - your Plan B will be already ready in case you need it.
  5. Choose your path and act.  No plan is successful without action. Choose your best solutions and convert them into a series of action steps. Incorporate the action steps into your daily calendaring and planning system.  You might find it a bit scary if your goal is a big one, or if it's a Must-Do sort of goal.  It's understandable, because when you take action you reveal a result.  But no worries - your plan increases your likelihood of success.
  6. Align your self-talk with your goal.  Choose statements that affirm the abilities and characteristics that you need for your intended accomplishments. If you need to be more comfortable meeting new people, talk about that as if you are already there.

Friday, July 17, 2015

If you're not doing this you're not performing at your peak

All year long you produce, produce, produce.  Have you
JPoland - Dusk at Lewes Beach, DE
given yourself a change of venue yet?  We've said it before, but it bears repeating - you wouldn't be able to run your car indefinitely and expect great performance without refueling it and changing the oil - why would you try to run yourself that way?  At some point you have to work on maintaining or rebuilding your personal production capacity, and it helps to have a change of venue.  You need fresh scenery, a change in schedule, the potential for new contacts - and REST.

With all of the hectic scheduling, deadlines, and multi-tasking much of the workforce faces it takes a force of will to choose to get away.  Moreover, a 2013 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research said that almost a quarter of workers in the U.S. get no paid time off.  And that number goes up to around 30% in small businesses.  So that means that a lot of people are having to sacrifice income for vacation, or they are forced to grab their time away in small snatches of time over the weekends. Or they don't take a break from the daily grind - ever.  

How long does it take you to kick back and recharge the batteries? A weekend away can be refreshing here and there, but it takes a week for many people to really relax.  Time away involves the preparation, the packing, getting there, unpacking, orienting - and then the relaxing.  On a week-long vacation by Thursday morning many folks are starting to anticipate the dismount:  repacking, reloading, traveling home, unpacking, laundering, grocery shopping to refill the fridge, picking up pets at the kennel, and the zillions of other tasks associated with getting back into the groove.  So it takes a 7-day vacation to get 4-1/2 really relaxing days that are free of logistics.  

Do you ever talk about how much time it would take for your favorite vacation spot to become routine, hum-drum, etc.  Our next goal is to have a two-week (concurrent) stay, and at some point test a summer at the beach - uninterrupted.  How cool to be there long enough in one stretch to test your tolerance for kicking back and listening to the surf and seagulls!

It's a different type of relaxation when you're exploring new turf - touring abroad or visiting a site that's new to you.  This is more about expanding your thinking rather than suspending it (or allowing room for it to drift on its own).  The explorer vacation or educational vacation stimulates, builds new connections, uncovers new skills perhaps.  

If you're reading this post and you're a person who has left vacation days untapped and unused from one year to the next, shame on you!  Yes, we're sure you're indispensable, but regardless of whether you could be choosing to delegate, if you're not giving yourself a periodic change of venue you're not only cheating yourself of benefits you've earned - you're not operating at your optimum level.  Simple as that.  So git!  Skedaddle!  Vacate!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Setting your client up for dashed expectations

"You said this was going to be fun - and it's boring!"
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"I thought you said this was so easy that anyone could do it, and now I've wasted my money!" "Sure this tastes delicious - if you enjoy eating dead cockroaches!"

Why these emphatically negative reactions?  Because you set expectations that weren't fulfilled, and the other person thinks you have deceived him.  Actually, depending upon the situation the other person thinks you have lied to him or her on purpose, just to have your own way and manipulate him into going along with it.

Setting expectations in a conservatively positive way - yes we said conservatively positive - can help people be open minded to experiences.  If they anticipate that it's going to taste good they are more likely to take a bite.  Does the commitment in this concern you, to vouch for something in advance?  No worries.  If you share testimonials or other evidence of other people's feedback from prior similar experiences, you can create positive expectations and a willingness to participate without putting your reputation on the line and committing to the fulfillment of them on this occasion.  For instance, saying "Frank told us that he had a great time when he did this last week!" is different from saying "I guarantee that you'll fall out of your chair laughing!"

Why are positive expectations important? Because new participants in the experience or future recipients of work product sort information based upon expectations.  If they are expecting something scary they will notice clues that indicate scariness.  If they are expecting a productive meeting they will look for evidence of productivity, of forward motion.  And if they are expecting a creamy mouth feel in a dish they will be orienting themselves to notice the mouth feel of what they are eating. The brain's sorting process looks for matches, and set expectations place that sorting process into motion. Setting and sharing the expectation helps the client, family member, etc, notice that it is being fulfilled.

If in the process of setting expectations you exaggerate or over blow the benefits, fun factor, product advantages, etc., you'll wind up with a backfire.  The customer or participant (or family member) is looking for the fun, high quality, good taste, etc. that you promised.  Your credibility is on the line, and if you don't fulfill the expectations you just set you wind up with a trust issue the next time around.  The other person is less likely to believe you tomorrow or next week when you say, "Try it, you'll like it!".

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Problem identifiers - assets or pains in the assets?

When you're a preteen and young teenager you have a
 photo by Asim Choudri on Flickr
few developmentally related talents.  First, you instantly know everything, and in particular more than your parents.  Second, you are highly skilled at identifying (and talking endlessly about) whatever is wrong around you.

While parents ultimately start to look smarter as the teen emerges into adulthood, some people retain an uncanny ability to be problem identifiers.  They automatically view the world around them with critical eyes and notice everything that is wrong - the typos in the emails, the "holidays" in the lawn mowing job, and the inappropriateness or poor fit if the clothing worn by people around them.

PIs as assets
It has been documented that in business settings problem identifiers, critics, you pick the term, are perceived as more intelligent than are others. When someone criticizes they are perceived as knowing enough to be discerning, even if their information isn't exactly welcomed by all around the conference room table.

Whole careers have developed around the problem identification business - auditors and quality control professionals, for instance, are trained to sort for problems, for breaks in patterns and flaws in processes.  Police patrol officers circulate on foot or in vehicles to increase safety by catching a scofflaw in the act and assessing consequences (a ticket) or even removing them from the scene of the infraction (arrest).  Without the problem identifiers, poor quality could slip through, safety problems could place employees in danger, and neighborhoods could be overrun with criminals.

PIs as pains in the assets
Where problem identifiers often run into trouble is when they shine a flashlight on a shortcoming but stand by expecting someone else to take action to fix it.  In the workplace, employees plop a problem into the boss's IN basket, expecting the boss to handle it.  The PI's intentions might be honorable - wouldn't want that to slip through - but to take it up the ladder without some ideas of what to do about it is to demonstrate a lack of know how - or a passive, victim-oriented perspective.

Bosses do a favor to their employees and to their companies when they expect problem identifiers to come to them with potential solutions when they notify management of problems.  This, of course, requires bosses to provide the space for employees that report to them to make their own decisions and experience the consequences of good and bad choices.

As a leader you can't have it both ways - you can't be in control and be left alone to concentrate on your own work. When you assume complete control you invite the problem identifiers to your door.  After all, when you know best only your ideas will work, right?  Right? So they might as well save themselves the energy of presenting a solution that wasn't invented in your office.

Ace problem identifiers can put a real damper on things.  Who goes to an elementary school concert and expects perfection from beginning musicians?  Problem identifiers routinely send food back in restaurants (too salty, too underdone, too overdone, etc.), and they go on and on about the unreality of the movie plot.  Sometimes they are entertaining when they incorporate their sense of humor into their critiques of every little thing.

What to do about Problem Identifiers
Do you recognize some of the elements of the Problem Identifier in yourself?  Look around at the reactions of people to your contributions to the discussion.  Does their body language telegraph hurt, or that they are attempting to mask their irritation?  If so, and if you want to maintain or improve your relationship with them, it's to your advantage to back off of the critique a bit. Think before you speak, and consider whether you're building or knocking down.  Consider whether your criticism is a problem that's important to solve - or not.  And think about how many problems you have already identified - when you comment on everything, nothing is a priority.  And your contributions start to devolve into nothing more than background noise for the other people in the room.

If you're a manager and you feel like you're plagued by problem identifiers, determine whether it's because you're over-controlling the activities in your department. Implement processes - and decision criteria if you need them - to help to push the problem SOLVING to the closest point to the problem's identification.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Don't choose between making money and doing good

Which do you want to do more in your business -
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to make money or to help people?  A recently updated story was published on about Rosa's Pizza in Philadelphia.  Based on the Rosa's story, we'd say that you don't have to choose whether to do good OR make money. Values in your business help you live your conscience, improve your community - and add value to your company.

In case you're not familiar with the story, Rosa's started giving out dollar slices of pizza to homeless persons near their store.  They then provided a spot for their customers to participate, to pay it forward and prepay for a slice for a homeless person.  The contributor would then place a sticky note on the wall indicating the availability of paid-for pizza. The movement grew, with more and more customers participating and more members of the homeless community being fed.  Look how full the walls have become with individual contributions -  one $1 slice at a time!

Once the story originally hit social media in March 2015 it went viral on Facebook. It was shared 800,000 times and generated millions of views.  As a result of the store's first gestures, and its subsequent coverage on social and other media, Rosa's Pizza now feeds more than 100 people every day.  The number of slices they distribute is up 130%.  And they are so busy that they will be hiring more employees.

This isn't all.  They are selling t-shirts with art by the homeless, to benefit the homeless, and more.  This movement has legs, but you want to read the original story to see everything this business is doing.  The community is benefiting, and Rosa's is too.

Here's the link to the update:

Monday, July 13, 2015

This ring could prevent you from being hired

It's said that the only diamond that's too big is the one
someone else is wearing. But be forewarned...

It happens in the traditional young woman's fairy tale all of the time - her young man asks her to become his wife and presents her with an engagement ring.  She and her friends are all a-twitter because it's a ROCK - a big honking diamond ring.  It supposedly demonstrates her value to him, but also his current prosperity and future prospects.  What could be wrong with that?

Beside the fact that the dream of the hand-held satellite dish (big round diamond) creates the potential for unrealistic expectations and disappointment, an article in the Washington Post says that a ring that's too big can cost a woman a job opportunity.

Imagine this scenario:  a woman is applying for a job at a nonprofit organization.  The interviewer is distracted by the intermittent flashing of the engagement bling.  In addition, the nonprofit works with economically disadvantaged individuals.  The interviewer becomes skeptical that a) this person will be able to relate to the organization's clients, and b) she has enough money already and so doesn't really need this job.

Of course the ring has nothing to do with the woman's qualifications, capabilities, or with the applicant's motivation to do an outstanding job.  This revolves around the societally-based assumptions about what the ring means.  Regardless of whether the conclusions drawn are correct or incorrect, this woman is better off leaving her engagement ring at home.

Does this seem shallow to you?  Perhaps it is.  But it's gut check time.  Would you be accepting and welcoming to a candidate who was not neatly groomed when they came in to an appointment?  Would you draw certain conclusions if a man wore an awful tie, or if a woman's skirt was only barely long enough to cover the critical parts?  Would you intentionally hire someone whose attire placed them outside the usual parameters of your company's image?  It's not the garment or the hairstyle themselves that make the difference - it's what these things represent in your attitudinal framework that matters to you.  They are symbolic of other characteristics to you - self-image, seriousness, conservatism or liberality, creativity, prosperity, even morality.

Whether it's a job interview, a presentation, or a first date, you are sending messages before you say word #1.  You are sending them through your clothing, your promptness (or lateness,) even by the amount of physical space you consume.  Because these nonverbal messages are also being interpreted nonverbally (the other person will probably not tell you what they are thinking,) you might not have an opportunity to correct or overcome the messages your nonverbal communication is sending.  

Why create unnecessary variables, completely avoidable obstacles for yourself?  Who would have thought that an engagement ring could mean no job for you today?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Favorites - Language and a diversity mindset

What's the first thing you notice about these carrots? That there
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are four on top? That some are sliced and some are not? Do you notice that they are all the same (and more typical) color inside? Or do you notice first that on their exteriors they are not quite what you expect from carrots, color-wise?

The discussion of race came up a while back in a different-than-usual way. Someone was at a town meeting and talked about all of the "angry white people." The person who said it was also white, and after the incident they were criticized both online and in person for choosing the racial descriptor.

The "offender" replied that it was an accurate description of the group - the room was almost entirely comprised of Caucasians. So why was that description a) seen as necessary to the story by the teller, and b) offensive to some? Here are a couple of thoughts:
  • You might get the idea that this person was surprised by the racial composition of the group, and that's why he mentioned the white thing.
  • If so, why was he surprised by the racial composition of the group? Did it tell him (or should it tell other people) something beyond the color of their epidermis? Did it imply (to him) socioeconomic status, expected political leanings, etc.? Why?
When we went to adopt our first daughter (she was born in China,) my grandfather said, "Well, you know - all of those people are really smart." He meant it in a dear way, as a compliment, but I remember internally rolling my eyes. It sounded racist to me - a positive generalization, but racist nonetheless. It was, I thought, a relic of an older generation.

Time passed as our daughter grew.  She loved playing a game - Guess Who - where you have several rows of tiles, each with a person's face on it. So does your opponent. Each of you selects a "secret person" card for the other person to match via a series of questions. A player quickly finds out that when they ask "Is your person a man?" that they have a good shot of narrowing down the list of possibilities very quickly. "Does your person wear glasses?" "Does your person have a big nose?" You win when you are the first to have only one tile left, so you develop skill at finding the ways in which the faces are different.

Perhaps one could say that in a largely homogeneous setting it does speed things up a bit to use a physical description as one of the first ways to help someone identify a person - especially if they are unique in the group. Perhaps they're the only female vice president, or one of only two room dads at school. But sometimes it pops into conversation where it has no relevance - except perhaps an element of surprise or intrigue that the speaker wants to inject into the conversation - for instance, that the yoga expert was plus-sized.  Why should the size of the athlete be a surprise, or even a topic of conversation?  It's because of the assumptions that are made about what yoga masters look like, or about what plus-sized individuals can and cannot achieve.

It's important to be careful, and to notice the attitudes that slip out in language. We might not be able to notice it in ourselves as easily as we do in others, but sometimes our descriptions are truly code for something else - a statement about our assumptions of intelligence, wealth, coordination, self-control, etc. that "go with" certain physical traits. It can be something more insidious - creeping racism, ageism, sexism, sizeism - that reveals itself in our language.  That spreads - and can quickly expand from an innocuous word choice to one that creates misunderstanding, hurt, and at its worst, even violence.