Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Favorites: In a hole? 4 things to do.

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Feeling like you're in over your head and overwhelmed?  Are you at risk of being buried by an overwhelming pile of tasks awaiting your attention?  Are you turning in circles, trying to decide what to do first?  Are all of the things on your To Do list  labeled Must Do - and right away?  If you've answered yes to any of these questions you might be in a hole.  But no worries, here's what you can do.

1.  Stop digging  
This is the first rule of holes - don't make it any deeper than it already is.  If you are piling "To Be Filed" items on a pile that's already two feet high, stop.  Don't add anything more, not even that one next paper, to the pile.  Either file it or dump it right now.  If your credit card balances are lurking over your shoulder, hide your cards.  Freeze them in some ice, so you have to wait for them to thaw (and have time to think twice) before you use them.  Or cut your cards up so you can't do any more damage.  If you're overweight and you know that you have been overindulging in some of your favorite trigger foods, throw them out.  Clean out your freezer, your pantry, and your desk drawer.  Then don't buy any more.

2.  Focus on the outcome you want
You can fret all day long about the circumstances in which you find yourself, but that won't change anything. Fretting will likely reinforce and even intensify your negative feelings, but that's it. Look - you are where you are. The more important thing is the action that you're going to choose to take right now, in this minute and in the one that directly follows it. You can't choose your actions effectively without first determining what you want. Once you've identified your desired outcome, you can use it as a mantra, like "I am choosing to live a debt-free life, I am choosing to live a debt-free life," to help yourself stay focused on it.

3.  Develop your game plan
Positive change isn't instant.  There are usually obstacles that are making it harder to climb out of the hole.  Even a long list of obstacles won't stop you if first you name them, and then think of multiple ideas that will help you get around them.  (Notice that this reads "multiple?"  Don't settle for your first answer - keep going so you have options and a potential Plan B, or even a Plan C.)  You might want to do some research, or talk to a trusted family member or friend to help broaden your thinking in the solutions department.  Then choose the best solutions from the list, convert them into specific actions and lay them out in a plan.

4.  Take a step
You won't climb out of the hole, not even with a flawless plan, unless and until you move your hands and feet. And it's likely that you won't be able to jump out in one motion - it's going to be a process of finding handholds and footholds and gradually climbing.  Your troubled relationship won't be cured overnight, but you can take a first step to do something nice for that other person this weekend.  It's just one step, but it's a step in the right direction.  If your office (or house, or garden) is a wreck, allocate a small time slot during which to start working on it.  You might even find that the first step gives you the good feelings and the momentum to take another, and another...

Everyone experiences the feeling of being in a hole at some time or another.  You are not alone.  It can take courage to climb out, especially when you feel like you're in pretty deep.  But you can be an instrument for change.  You can bring better things and peace of mind into your life.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some change ain't gonna happen - now what?

Wishing that some thing or some person is going to change?
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Unless it's yourself that you're talking about, you might not want to hold your breath. Changing oneself is hard enough sometimes, especially when you're dealing with long-ingrained habits. But when it comes to changing other people, you might need to focus on acceptance rather than expectation.

  1. Why should they change?  Your expectations are based upon your own criteria, not theirs.  For them to choose to change because of something you expect is a major gift from them to you.  Even if you think that their current line of behavior is unacceptable, weird or even illegal, it's still their behavior. Unless they care deeply about you - or unless you have workplace authority over them - it has nothing to do with you.  You may need to butt out.
  2. Your requests for change may contain hidden meaning.  Sometimes when you ask someone to change you really want a demonstration of their love, or you want to see evidence of your authority over them.  That's you being controlling.  Unless they are imposing on your space or under performing on their results at work, they have a right to their own space and their autonomy.
  3. Change can be very difficult.  Some people seem to be hard-wired to be disorganized, or tightly wound and stressed out, or overweight,  They might not want to be the way they are.  They might be trying to use tools, programs, tricks, etc. to overcome their challenges.  They might have tried over and over with limited or no success in modifying themselves.  They are works in progress - just like you are.
Here's what it comes down to:  you have a choice to make when that person isn't changing in the way that you want or need them to.  Live with it or change it. 

Living with it
To choose to live with it means that you may need to continue to expend some energy coping with the behaviors and/or traits that drive you nuts.  You need to ask yourself, "Are these things important, or are they merely inconvenient?"  You need to assess whether there is something you are doing that is contributing to the very things you say you don't like about them.  You need to weigh the virtues, the assets that person has that offset the flaws and the irritations that he or she brings to the relationship.  When you choose to live with it you need to stop complaining, because you have made the decision.  It's now about you, so save your energy trying to make it about them.  If you find that you can no longer live with it, you make a new decision.

Choosing not to live with it
At some point the cost of their lack of change is greater than the benefit of having them in your workplace or your life. You might have a lot of time, energy, emotion, and/or dollar cost already invested.  You might have history together that was not altogether bleak - there might have been some productive, compatible, satisfying, even profitable periods.  But this is about you taking a hard look in the mirror and asking yourself, "What will happen if things continue in the same way?"  You need to determine whether the investment is worth the return, even if it costs you something to make a change.  Even if it costs you a lot to make the change.

Understand that the intent in this post is not to imply that people are simply disposable cogs.  Every individual has value and uniqueness.  There is no perfect relationship and no perfect person.  Nope.  Not even if that person is you - or me for that matter.  But you are in charge of what you keep in your life, and what you release from it as you work toward reaching your potential.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What's your work rhythm?

How are you working when you are at your best?
Jazz legend Art Blakey on the drumsGoogle Images:
Do you like to maintain a steady pace (tempo), or are you more productive with stops and starts and changes? Are you in a workplace that operates in a rhythm that is compatible with yours?  And is your current rhythm achieving the results that you want?  Here are some descriptors that might help you to understand your best flow of work:

The Jazzer
Jazz music is characterized by syncopation (the unevenness of the notes,) the complexity of multiple rhythms intertwining with one another, and by musicians in the combo taking turns being in the lead. Good jazz players listen for an opportunity to blend back into the piece after the soloist has had a chance to interpret the tune in his or her own way.  With Jazzers, though, it's the rhythm that attracts attention - times of intense activity and other times when the beat is slower.  Sometimes the work stops for a bit - time to renew energy and to be free to create.  It's syncopated, like the music - and might be different every time.  

The Classic

The rhythms of the Classic workers are steady and even, like a Bach composition.  They change speeds from time to time, but it's more like the constant chug of an engine than the ebb and flow of a wave.  Classics often don't appreciate the fact that jazzers can change their rhythm (and choose to) on a burst of inspiration - the classical folks would rather "play as written."  Heaven forbid that the rhythms might conflict for a moment.  Unity is their aspiration.

The Rocker

Rockers like the hard-pounding (head-banging?) rhythm that forces your heart to beat in concert with it.  There's no mistaking it - a certain stridency and insistence that you come along for the ride.  If you don't like it, you'd be well advised to leave the room because that's what's playing.  Everyone nearby gets to share the experience; the work is in your face and there's no ignoring it.  Do you know someone who works like that? 

You have a natural rhythm.  Yours might be steady or variable, with a typical tempo that is fast or slow.  You might need regular rests or distractions to keep your creativity flowing, or you might chug right along until the job is done.  The point here is to know the rhythm that suits you and integrate it into your work.  And if you're responsible for the productivity of others, take a look at the rhythms your team members use to get the job done.  If the point is simply that the job gets done (and usually that is the point), give team members the latitude to work to their own rhythm.  They will be more engaged in their work that way, and thereby will produce a better result.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Identifying the real opportunity

If you're a glass half full type of person you're likely
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to think in terms of possibilities.  Thinking of possibilities, however, doesn't necessarily take you to the next step - taking action toward helping them happen.  If you want the result but are taking too long to get started - for real - examine these ideas.  They may help you to identify the real opportunity, and unlock your real motivation to act.

Calculating the impact of achievement
Can you convert the value of your desired results into number or dollar terms? This would be the traditional business criterion for the success of a goal achieved.  You take an action because it adds to revenue or reduces cost in some way.  Ultimately this is the easiest to measure because you can readily compare dollars invested with dollars earned from the investment.  But to measure only in this way can be shortsighted.  There are additional ramifications to be considered.

Customer impact is another way to look at your opportunity.  What will this do to keep customers coming back, or to attract new ones?  Customers sustain your business, and without them your best products and services are moot points.  Your customers aren't necessarily looking for bargain basement prices either.  What good does it do them to get a fabulous deal this week that puts you out of business for next week?  Customers expect you to be able to make a reasonable profit, and are willing to exchange that for value.

Here's another angle on quantifying an opportunity - what will this do to make your business (or your life) easier to manage?  Do you cope with more stress in a typical day than you would like?  How would you feel if you were able to go to the office and not be bombarded with problems and/or complaints?  This is why busy two-career families hire people to clean their homes - because they won't have to consume valuable recuperation time managing the list of home maintenance chores.  This is also why some businesses hire outside firms like Summit to help to develop their leadership teams - to invest resources in getting all of the canoes paddling in the same direction.

Last on the rewards side of the scale - what is the impact on your ability to grow and innovate?  If your company stays static the rest of the world will pass you.  Growth is the natural order of things unless there are obstacles preventing it from occurring.  Will the accomplishment of this goal remove an obstacle, or increase your capacity and capabilities?

Let's talk about consequences
Not everyone is motivated by pursuing rewards, no matter the category.  Sometimes it's easier to believe that there's a downside than it is to believe that the rewards are really there and achievable.  So your real motivation analysis wouldn't be complete without a look at the consequences.  It's estimated that far more people are moved by avoiding negative consequences than they are by chasing rewards.

Financial consequences are readily measurable, as are the rewards.  What happens to the bottom line, or to your reserves, if you don't achieve this or don't take this action?  Will you lose money, or setting up a risk of loss that you find untenable?

Consider your customers.  If you don't have enough of the right product, or if you don't have it in on time, you might miss the window when they need it the most.  Will they come back if they can't rely on you to have what they want and need at the right price at the right time?  And if your staffers are inattentive, lethargic or rude will your customers give you more than one chance before they find another place to go?

How long are you willing to have the management headaches and stomach acid that goes with workplace stress?  If you let this go, will you be perpetuating a problem?  Will you be demonstrating to others in the organization that bad behavior is OK?  What's the downside if this doesn't go away on its own (and it probably won't)?

Realistically speaking, are you going to be able to grow, to create, if you don't successfully navigate this step, or overcome this challenge.  Your future is at stake here.

Your total opportunity
This isn't only about rewards, or about consequences.  You might feel the potential pain more strongly than you feel the potential joy, and if so, remind yourself of whatever implications work to keep you in action. Just remember that your real opportunity is the total of all of these, of the upside and the downside combined.  If your financial upside is $5000 and your downside is $10,000, the value of taking action is $15,000.  It's not an either-or.  It's an and.   If you have to invest in an improvement or an expansion, compare the investment with the sum of  the rewards and consequences.  Upside and downside together are the reasons why you can't wait and sit on your hands.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What makes a masterpiece

Standing in front of a piece of modern art, the visitor
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Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet
could be heard to say, "A masterpiece???  Hah!  My 3-year-old kid could make that!"  A spouse, looking at his wife's favorite dining room decoration, critiques the painting saying, "He might have told you that's a rowboat, but to me it looks like a blob in the middle of some messy stripes.  You paid how much for that?"

Perhaps a masterpiece is in the eye of the beholder.  But in art and in work there are some characteristics that world class productions share:

  1. Innovation - The impressionists were revolutionary because they were able to use brush strokes to suggest form.  Backing away from the work the subject revealed itself, while moving closer the work because lines, swirls and streaks of paint, even groups of dots.  Surrealists and Cubists went beyond trying to represent photographically and rearranged space.  Surrealists did it to convey a point of view about the subject, Cubists to explore the relationship between planes and spaces.  That the approach of artistic innovators is sometimes lost on the public is, for some artists, the point of the exercise.  Some innovators don't receive their acclaim - or their income - while they are alive to benefit from it.
  2. Impeccable technique re: the fundamentals - An artist's focus might be on telling a story, on twisting reality, on seeing how well he or she can communicate with the fewest strategically placed brushstrokes.  But the artist has to first understand how oils and watercolors behave on a variety of surfaces. There are principles to be learned about the light source, and how that is represented in the gleam on an apple or a shadow on the surface of a person's skin.  The artist must understand the impact of his choice of brushes, and the distribution of the paint, thick or thin, watered down or intensely concentrated.  The artist has to be fluent in the language before speaking it on canvas.
  3. Attention to detail - The work isn't finished until it's signed.  And by that time there are layers on the canvas - the definition of the major spaces and background like sky, mountains, water and grass. The relationship among the colors is carefully considered, and the overall darkness or lightness of the scene determined to set the mood of the piece.  Then the trees and figures are added.  Leaves and clothing, feathers and fur dress the objects.  And ultimately the sparkle on the surface of the water (or the reflection of the surroundings) and the facial features on the smallest of subjects are added.  Then of course a frame is carefully selected before the painting is presented, one selected that complements the style and color of the work.
  4. Connection with the audience - Although an extreme innovator might take a while to be appreciated, sometimes the work connects to a chord in the public such that the work catches hold and creates prosperity for the artist.  In the commercial world concept cars and runway shows are often the artistic presentation, but the major stylistic features and/or colorways are diluted for the public's consumption.  They are assembled in a way that is easier to digest without getting aesthetic whiplash.  And of course in a commercial design setting the factors of functionality, convenience, safety, and price become important as they are key to making financial success of a masterwork.
A masterpiece doesn't have to be a work of art.  Some would say that the iPhone is a masterpiece.  Some would say a Viking stove is one.  Others would say that Robin Williams' performance in the movie Good Morning Vietnam was masterful.  What masterpiece do you have in the works?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Favorites - Encore Entrepreneurs, the new retirees

Were you aware that many restaurants and other
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retail establishments offer senior discounts starting at age 50?  Does that statement create elicit feelings of "It's about time, I deserve it!" or "wait a minute - don't call me a Senior!"? A big chunk of the Baby Boomer generation is at or near retirement age, and - surprise! - the perspective on what it means to be retired is changing.

The Definition of "Retired"
At what point will you consider yourself "done" and ready to exit your work life?  For many years and for some people the definition of Done was to retire from their career employer and to spend the balance of life traveling, perfecting a golf game, or perhaps searching for the ultimate deep-sea fish.

Concerns about the economic realism of traditional retirement have given some older workers pause - they aren't sure that they'll ever be able to afford a life of leisure, however well-deserved.  Some choose to extend their careers with their existing employers longer than they originally intended.  Or they know that they will probably have to invest some of their retirement years doing some sort of work for pay to supplement their pension, Social Security, or other limited fixed income.  Their retirement gig might not be as challenging or consuming as the career job, but it will help to stay socialized and to pay the bills.

The Encore Entrepreneur
But some retirees want more than that.  They aren't ready to stop learning, to stop contributing to their communities, their industries, and their economic futures. For a growing segment of the population retirement is still in the offing, but about something altogether different from the traditional model.  These new retirees are pursuing a longtime or newly discovered passion and starting a business as their second act - a phenomenon the Small Business Administration calls Encore Entrepreneurs. 

Expectations about good health and longevity mean that even some 65-year-olds can anticipate twenty years (or more) of economic contribution and continued earnings.  And the learning process associated with becoming business owners gives senior entrepreneurs energy and a greater sense of purpose.

Resources for the Encore Entrepreneur
If you have a bucket list that includes "start my own business," you can find resources specifically targeted toward 50+ entrepreneurs at SCORE's website, including a readiness assessment, business planning information, a free course on starting your own business, and even a help desk to assist you in finding resources for your venture.

Prospective Encore Entrepreneurs can also find a local SCORE chapter at Volunteer mentors at SCORE in your community will meet with you for FREE and talk you through your business idea, at whatever point you are in your venture.

Whoever said that you have to be "done" at a particular age or a particular stage?  Maybe you have the dream and the internal stuff to become an encore entrepreneur....

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are you contributing to the delay in your new company culture?

Is it taking longer than you want for your organization
to make the changes you need it to make?  Perhaps you have inadvertently had a role in the delay.  And if that's the case, there are steps you can choose to take to get things back on track.

  • Stay firm with your senior leadership.This group should be the role models for the change, and if you allow holdouts out of loyalty or because you don't want to undermine their roles in the company you are demonstrating that they are more important than the change you are trying to make. One senior leader working at cross purposes can sink your initiative.
  • Leverage the enthusiasm of the early adopters.  You might find champions for your change at a variety of levels on your organizational chart.  Find ways to involve them as early as possible to allocate additional manpower to your efforts.  If they aren't in positions of authority, involve them in special projects related to your change. 
  • Explain what you want in plan language. This isn't the time for elegant, grad school vocabulary.  This is the time for examples, for descriptions that help your stakeholders envision the future you are trying to create. If they are confounded by your message and don't understand your intentions they can't follow effectively.
  • Repeat yourself.  You've been living with your idea with weeks, months or even more, but individuals not in your everyday communication path haven't heard it.  Spaced repetition is required to help your team remember and ultimately to internalize the information.
  • Set up early successes and share them.  You can choose early projects or initiatives specifically because they are like radishes - they don't take time to grow and be ready to harvest.  Tangible evidence of the value of your new direction will help the skeptics and fence sitters to realize that it's beneficial for them to get on board.  If you don't have an internal communication device like a newsletter, now's the time to get it in gear.
  • Provide development opportunities.  It's possible and perhaps even likely that your staff needs new or improved skills to accomplish what your new vision requires.  Give them the tools they need to execute in the new culture.  They may need new technical skills, but don't ignore the need for them also to be developed in leadership, in integrating change itself, to be open to trying new things, taking risks, and stepping out into unknown territory.
  • Don't live with legacies and dinosaurs. Some folks will be resistant.  If you are succeeding in getting your new culture going, some might choose to leave of their own accord.  A team member in one client company literally said, "If we have to communicate like this I'm outta here."  He left on his own, and it was a good outcome both for the company and for this team member who no longer fit.  If they don't make the decision to leave, have the courage to cut the cord and let them go.  Otherwise you'll give the message (as with the senior managers above) that the individual is more important than the change.
No tactic is going to create instant change.  You will disrupt the business results if you go hacking at the organizational chart.  Even if you only cut the newly nonessential or non compliant staff, if you do so too soon or too broadly you'll be dealing with survivor issues afterward. Give people the opportunity to come around first via training, regular and frequent communication, mentoring, team interaction,etc.