Monday, August 31, 2015

Red Land's lesson in accomplishment, celebration

Congratulations to the Red Land Little League team just up
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the road for becoming the 2015 U.S. Champions.  And congratulations also to the local media and fans for their enthusiasm and support of the team as they returned home, the top team in the U.S. but bested by the team from Japan in the World Championship.  The achievements of these local boys are indeed to be celebrated, individually and collectively.

Too often the achievement of coming in second is treated as though second place is the first loser.  In some minds there is only one respectable place to be, and that is at the very top of the biggest heap.  In pro sports, commentators head into the locker rooms post-game to talk with the players and coaches who wound up on the downhill side of the scoreboard, grilling them about what went wrong at the very time when they are not in the mood to discuss it.

Thank heaven that in youth sports the commentary is designed to be supportive of the young players.  Thank heaven that the community is thinking about these boys and how hard they struggled in that last game, and how much heart they have put into their entire season.  When does a person outgrow that level of consideration from others?  When does an individual no longer need acknowledgement for successes earned, and compassion when their best doesn't result in the win they seek?

Let's bring the focus to you and your own achievements for a moment.  How do you think about those times when you accomplished a lot, but not all that you set out to do?  Do you focus on what you did, or what you didn't finish?  Moreover, are you someone who makes a To Do list so long that there is little chance that it will be done in a weekend, much less a day?  Then do you flog yourself over the 5 unfinished tasks, despite the fact that you completed 10?

When you are mindful of what you notice, you start to realize whether your mental goggles are set to highlight the successes - or the failures - in your day.  You start to become conscious of the ways in which you are reinforcing your conditioned patterns of thinking.  Do you automatically see the possibilities, or do you see the limitations first?  Do you celebrate the achievements and finer qualities in other people, or do you pick apart their shortcomings?

Because we're talking about habits of thought here, it takes an effort to notice them.  They operate on a subconscious level (when you're not thinking about what you're thinking). And it takes a concerted, consistent effort to change them if you find that your current perspective on the world is in need of a makeover.  This is important because your attitudinal goggles influence your behavior, and your behavior creates your results.  Better goggles lead to better outcomes.

There is almost always something good to acknowledge, perhaps even to celebrate.  You might have to look for it, but it's there.  Start talking about it, start writing these things down, and you'll magnify their impact.  Gradually you can shift your habits, change the prescription in your goggles, so that you see more of what's working well in your life.  And that will help the good things to grow.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sit here to remove functional silos at work

One of the top three issues brought up by clients is "improve
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communication."  In some cases it's in the workplace, with the desire for departments to come together, or to have a better sense of the boss's expectations.  In other cases it's personal, where differing styles and priorities leave partners frustrated with the amount or tone of their interaction with one another.

If you want your interaction to improve, step one is providing the opportunity for it to happen.  Remember back in your teen days when you’d go to the mall or the local pool, or even to the school dance?  You would parade with your friends past attractive members of the opposite sex, to create the opportunity for that special person to “catch” you and talk to you. Or perhaps you were bold enough to stand right beside the object of your attention, hoping your close proximity would start a conversation even though you were “intently” staring off in another direction.

Pet dogs and cats know about proximity and communication. They lay on the floor right in the high traffic “trip you and break your leg” zone so so passersby are compelled to stop, reach down and pet them as they walk by.  The cats climb right up onto the newspaper or even onto the computer keyboard to create opportunity for a scratch behind the ears. And of course young kids still jump right onto your lap and physically turn your face if they need some attention, even though you may tell them that they are getting too big to do so.

At work, if you want departments talking more with one another, consider whether there’s something in the physical layout of your space that is currently creating a barrier to them having routine contact with one another. Functional silos are often demonstrated in physical departmental enclaves in an office. Right now, unless someone is planning around the proximity/communication intention, if you’re in marketing and you want to talk to someone in accounting face to face you might have to navigate a warren of hallways and pass through multiple doors to do so.

If you’re wondering whether this really matters in the era of email and phone conferencing think about how much information you get from the nonverbal communication someone sends in your direction. Albert Mehrabian, one of the biggest names in communication theory, says that a full 55% of the message comes from body language. Yes, you can hear a smile over the phone, but you might not be able to hear someone doing that little circle with their finger at the side of their head that says they think you’re nuts. There’s really no equivalent substitute for being face to face.

High tech companies are known for intentionally creating collaborative spaces when they design their facilities. Walls of individual work spaces have translucent or even transparent sections, and some have port holes. People among whom communication is being encouraged are located more in a bullpen sort of setting where they have the opportunity to stop by and say “oh, by the way…” to a colleague. Office chairs are designed to be wheeled into common spaces for meetings on the fly. In this more interactive physical setting communication happens on a nice-to-know, not only a need-to-know, basis.

These ideas don’t only apply to the workplace. Think about how much of the time your family is home together in the same room. Are they watching TV or playing games in their own little spaces or are they really sharing time together? Simply having to negotiate with your family about what TV show to watch together can create and/or reinforce lines of communication. You won’t know what’s going on with your teenagers if they’re constantly sequestered in their bedrooms. And it’s hard to have a quality relationship with your spouse if you operate like the proverbial ships that pass in the night.

How can you place yourself physically in the place of opportunity for communication, and how can you provide that same opportunity for others? Think about how proximity (or the lack thereof) is affecting your quality of life and/or work.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Could MVP generate unprecedented growth for your biz?

Have you considered the value of an MVP (Minimum Viable
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Product) strategy in helping your business start and/or grow?  

The start-up phase of a company is rife with learning experiences, both painless and painful, and capital is rarely in large supply.  But many small business owners invest weeks, months, even years polishing their product before it is released to start to return cash to the business.  The most perfectionist owners reach capital crisis points because they just can't let go before their offering is exactly right.  The MVP approach compresses the learning and speeds the return of capital to the business by introducing the bare bones and enhancing while the product is live and in the market.

This is not to say that quality isn't important, only that live testing with real customers is the best testing.  The idea behind the MVP is that you test the product with a limited audience, with only the absolutely essential, most basic features.  The approach comes from the software development industry, where "deploy first, code later" enables developers to make continuous improvements by measuring market response to each new product feature.  As the product becomes more built-out, it's released to larger and larger bases of customers.

MVP strategy takes guts, and an ability to think quickly and respond to emerging opportunities and problems. 

MVP Masters -  Flightcar
We first heard this startup story at a conference in Summer 2013.  Flightcar was conceived by three teenagers in San Francisco who turned down college offers from Harvard, Princeton and MIT .  They realized that a lot of space at the airport was being consumed by parked cars - the outbound travelers' cars stored in garages and lots during their trips, and the rental cars awaiting inbound travelers.  They got the idea that people could make money by renting their personal cars to other travelers instead of paying money to park them at the airport lot.  And inbound travelers could save money and drive cool rides by renting them.  So Flightcar was born.

They needed cars, renters, and insurance.  They needed a basic website.  And off they went. Because Flightcar's resource sharing concept has been so disruptive to the standard systems at the airport, they have fought legal challenges along the way.  They have had to use limo services to drop off and pick up customers to get around the airport's objections to them using the airport lots.  They have had to figure out ways to store the personal items from renters' cars while the vehicles were being used by someone else.  You get the idea.

The MVP concept allowed Flightcar to learn a lot about how to operate its business in one location. The three partners used the knowledge gained in their MVP to refine and expand the business.  As of August 2015 Flightcar is serving 17 airports.  Yes, that's seventeen!  Now you can even make your car available on a monthly basis, and earn $200-$500!  And if you're a renter, the car selections range from compact to sedan to minivan to SUV to luxury models.  And of course you can download a free Flightcar app so you can access the service right from your phone!

Not bad performance for a few college dropouts, eh?  Maybe the MVP strategy could work for you.  Deliver, test with live customers, refine, etc. And please let us know how it works for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Embracing the clean slate

School starts for tots, kids, teens and teachers.  There's a move to
a new class, new friendships, maybe even a new school.  And everybody has the opportunity to begin with a clean slate.  It's a little bit scary to start from scratch, to invent (or reinvent) yourself.  It's a bit intimidating when you don't know anyone.  But you have unlimited potential on that first day, countless possibilities.

You have that opportunity too, even if you are going back to the same job or the same relationship.  Yesterday is history, and today you have a clean slate.  You have a new chance to make decisions and engage in behaviors that help you become more of the person you want to be.

This is a simple concept, but it isn't necessarily easy to implement.  Yesterday's habits can be difficult to shake unless you are mindful about what it is that you want to create and pay attention to whether what you're doing right this minute is in alignment with that creation.  When it comes to other people, your mistakes from last week might have left a few smudges and streaks on the board that you have to acknowledge.  But you write new things on it anyway.  There's plenty of room, and today is a new day.

How many do-overs is one person allowed to have?  As many as there are days - at the very minimum.  You can't control the past and you don't know what the future has in store, but you write your story in the present.

What if you rocked yesterday?  What if you accomplished tremendous things?  You know the answer to that.  It's a clean slate for you too, and regardless of all of the great things you did yesterday or the day before, you need to keep writing, to keep inventing yourself.

Is there no rest, no day when class is over, you might ask?  Your pace of growth and change ebbs and flows.  There are times when you are connected to a strong sense of purpose, and you put yourself back in school to learn and grow.  And there are times when you choose to sit back and reflect on what you have already done.

The point here is that it's not over unless you decide not to do any more.  If you want to, you can walk up to that clean slate every morning and ask yourself what you'd like to write on there today.  You don't have to consider yourself "done".  You don't have to accept yesterday's grade as the transcript for the rest of your life.

Now, what colors of chalk would you like to use today?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is hope killing your business?

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"If they pay by Friday we'll be in good shape." "If we get yeses on these four proposals we'll make
our numbers for the entire year!" "If I move the problem employee to that department he will do better than he has done in this one."

What is necessary for your business to succeed?  Are the proper ingredients in place, for real? Or are you counting on a beneficial chain of events to happen - all of the planets to be in alignment - to help you make it work?

There is no silver bullet, no strategy, no tip or technique that is going to win 100% of the time. So you need to build a bit of failure and disappointment into your projections.  Sound like a downer? Well let's ask this question:  would you rather plan around it now and develop a backup or be surprised later when it's more difficult to recover?

Hope isn't a bad thing in and of itself.  Sometimes your gratification will be delayed.  That's one of the facts of self-employment that people exchange in order to have more autonomy and a larger opportunity. It takes grit and persistence to do your own thing and win.  You persevere through setbacks, because your belief in yourself, your business, and a brighter future help you through.

But hope is not a substitute for action.  If you need one customer, work on getting two. If you know that not every quote is going to stick, quote more than you need.  Measure your success percentage, your average sale amount, etc. so you can allow your intelligence to help you hit your numbers.

Hope unfulfilled can lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and even cynicism.  All three are negative emotions that drain your energy and create a palpable bad vibe in you and your business.  So go ahead and hope - but back it up with numbers, and with results-focused activities.  The more you do to create the results you want, the less hope will be necessary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Four ingredients for effective leadership

The transition from an individual contributor to a team
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leader or supervisor is probably the biggest one that a person will make in his or career in your company.  The person selected for promotion is often notable for his or her skill at the content of the individual contributor's job.  And often this big shift in role is marked only by a change in wardrobe and perhaps a celebratory dinner at the inlaws.

At Summit we believe leaders are made not born.  That's the good news for individuals who aspire for more responsibility. The bad news is that in a lot of companies the development of leaders is done through the school of hard knocks.  Freshly minted team leaders (and their teams) wind up bearing the scars generated during the learning curve.

If you are contemplating promoting someone to a team leadership position, here are four ingredients that the person should possess before taking on the role.  This doesn't mean that they already have to have them - you can help them develop them in preparation for more responsibility.

  1. Human relations skills - This is the ability to first manage a person's own behavior.  These skills include effective listening, modeling desired behavior, communicating work standards, providing performance feedback, etc.  It might seem like some workers have these naturally, and some people do come to the workplace with some innate talent and/or level of development.  But these skills can be developed further for the individual's continued career progression.
  2. Goal achievement - Even copious skill and talent needs focus to make its full impact.  Understanding how to plan and achieve goals is more than simply writing them.  You know as well as we do that far more goals are set than are reached.  Effective goal planning can be taught so that more are achieved more quickly, with less stress, and with fewer wasted resources.
  3. Attitude alignment -  Habits of thought (attitudes) can trump everything else.  They affect how your team leader sees himself or herself, and how they see other people.  Attitudes are assumptions, and they also contain the leader's self-image.  Supporting attitudes include optimism, belief in one's competency, perseverance, open mindedness, and orientation toward results.  Aligned attitudes are multipliers for skills and actions toward goal achievement.
  4. Understanding of HR processes - There are processes and procedures that keep your company legal and reduce risk.  It's important that your team leader understand what he or she cannot ask during a job interview, and what documentation needs to accompany a disciplinary meeting with an employee.  Failure to provide training in this area not only can create a demotivating work environment - it can cost your company money in preventable unemployment claims, crippling government penalties, or even lawsuits.
The good news in this is that even if you don't have processes in-house to develop your team leaders you can access a proven process to help them perform at their optimum level.  See THIS LINK for more information about an opportunity coming up in September in York, PA.  Or contact SummitHRD to tailor something specifically to the needs of your business.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chip on their shoulder?

Why is it that some people seem to want to fight?  They walk
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around with a giant chip on their shoulder, looking around for something to fault, someone's transgression to call out, or some flaw they can magnify.

(Historical side note:  The proverbial chip was a chip of wood, not a potato chip.  A person spoiling for a fight would put a chip on his shoulder and dare the other potential pugilist to knock it off - and start the fisticuffs.)

Where does the metaphorical chip come from?  It's a habit of thought, that someone else is seeking to do you wrong.  When this habit of thought is deeply ingrained even the most innocuous and unintentional comments or actions are perceived as a threat.  And the person with the chip on the shoulder reacts in anger, with snide comments, or even with body language that indicates that he - or she - is spoiling for a fight.

A person with a chip on the shoulder may have a valid history of disappointments and other people in his or her life who behaved badly.  Their assumptions might have some foundation that, had you had the same experiences, you'd be tempted to balance your own little block of wood or salty snack up there on your own shoulder bones.

When you're interacting regularly with individuals with chips on their shoulders, beware, because you can start to develop your own - about them.  Suddenly their overreaction engenders your own overreaction, and conflict is off to the races.

If the chips that you observe in another person seem to relate to a specific trigger, you can ask questions to help them become aware of their behavior.  This works best when you have already established relationship and influence with them, or are in some position that gives you authority to do so.  Even so, your asking questions can trigger the negative reaction, so stick with description and stay away from judgment:

  • "I noticed that you crossed your arms and frowned whenever the topic of _____ came up.  What's going on?"
  • "In the meeting every time Harry brought an idea forward you had a reason why it was wrong or wouldn't work.  Is there something that I should know?"
You need to know what your goal is here.  Is it to coach the individual so they can gain awareness and choose to see things from more than one perspective?  Is it to understand?  Is it to extinguish the behavior no matter the consequences?

If you tolerate this kind of behavior when it's a frequent occurrence you are telling your organization that's it's OK.  But behavior has consequences, and regardless of whether the person has valid reason to raise his or her hackles automatically at some stimulus, you are in charge of the work climate. This behavior is particularly destructive in a group setting, where there are observers as well as the target of the verbal jab. You are in charge of the way in which individuals speak with one another.  

Use communication ground rules in meetings to preclude the attacks from happening. Take this person aside and counsel with him or her about the problem.  You might not be able to get at the bottom of the triggering stimulus, but you can at least work on establishing and reinforcing the appropriate workplace behavior.

Now back to you, because you're the only person over which you have real control. You've got your own - we all do.  The chips that we carry are some of the obstacles to our skill in relating with others.  Your chips can be your career downfall, so that's the place to start.  Start identifying and questioning the assumptions that cause you to go ballistic without warning.  Eat them if you have to, but get those chips off of there.