Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When Something Gets In Your Way, You Learn To Grow Around It

I have to say thank you to .sunglow. on for the idea this blog post today:

We all have different reactions when we come upon roadblocks in our path:

  • Some of us scream and holler
  • Some cry and sink to the ground
  • Some beat on the roadblock, thinking to knock it over
  • Some look for a way around
  • Some just stand there, staring at it

The fact is that, no matter what our initial reaction to setbacks and obstacles has been, we have an opportunity to grow around them. We can learn from mistakes, we can find heretofore untapped strength and persistence inside ourselves, and we can look at the world from a perspective that is new.

Remember when you were a kid and you were going through growth spurts? It wasn't always comfortable. I remember waking my Mom in the middle of the night because my legs ached - and she'd massage them and sometimes give me some yummy baby aspirin. (That was back in the day before Tylenol.) I was so proud of my new height later that I forgot that the process caused some pain.

What's in your way right now? Are you choosing to grow around it? The obstacle may or may not move itself out of your path. So what are you going to do?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Telling the story better with graphs

Even with the simplicity in creating pictures from sets of numbers today I see countless situations where presenters drone on with lists of numbers. From the looks on the listeners' faces it appears to me that they aren't relating to the information. How different and significant are the numbers 2.25, 2.5,2.75 and 3 when you hear them or see them in a list?

It helps the people receiving your information to analyze the meaning of the data when you convert the data to a picture. They can see the relative quantities better, and they can identify the trends.

In this graph we've taken a targeted number, a 2-1/2 hour cycle time on doing sales reports (the red line) and compared the actual cycle time to the target. It's easy to see that the actual cycle time varies quite a bit from the target.

Seeing the cycle times on a graph could inspire a sales manager to ask questions. Did the salesperson have an inordinate amount of activity on certain weeks? Or perhaps the computer system was acting up and the longer times are merely reflections of technical aggravation. Are the low weeks a sign of lower sales activity? Or was the person providing less detail? Perhaps the salesperson has been experimenting with a more efficient way to do her reporting?

The Baldrige Criteria for Organizational Excellence specify the standards for presenting graphs. When you present company data the chart needs to include the word "good" and an arrow that shows whether the desirable direction of the graph is up or down. When you are close to the data you know what "good" is - the other viewers of the graph might not have the same insight to interpret your information.

A graph won't always tell you everything. The designer of the graph determines which data points will be tracked and presented, so even a picture can obscure the real situation, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The purpose of the graph is to be a tool for creating greater insight. But the sender and receivers involved still need to interact to be sure that they are accomplishing real understanding of the data and its meaning.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How cheaters help society

Originally uploaded by Photoforía

There are two perspectives from which to relate to other people - from altruism (unselfish concern about others) or egoism (self-interest.) I read an interesting article in the April issue of Scientific American by Marina Krakovsky titled "Thriving on Selfishness" that discusses the relationship between altruists, cheaters, and other cheaters.

The basic premise set forth by evolutionary biologist Omar Tonsi Eldaker is that "cheaters help to sustain altruism by punishing other cheaters, a strategy called selfish punishment." In an environment where people are looking out for one another a cheater can enter the scene and take advantage of the altruists' good will. But when too many cheaters enter the group, their respective payoffs from the altruists are reduced. It becomes to the cheater's advantage to "out" the other cheaters.

The article illustrates the point by looking at the sports doping scandals. "Some of the harshest critics of sports doping, for example, turn out to be guilty of steroid use themselves; cheating gives athletes an edge only if their competitors aren't doing it, too."

Pete Richerson of the University of California at Davis says cheaters who punish other cheaters are more willing to take on the personal risks associated with it than are the altruists, because they see the personal payoff it will provide to reduce the number of cheaters in the group. For altruists, taking the risk of punishing the cheater has no such payoff, so some are not willing to assume the risk.

So what's to prevent the "selfish punishers" from overexploiting the group? According to Richerson the answer is in competition between groups rather than within groups. Although cheaters win within groups, it's the altruistic groups who survive.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Identifying the results you want

How are you to effectively manage the behavior of people in your company if you don't know the results you want? Here's a brief excerpt from my upcoming book that talks about strategic planning:

"Do you know the process that oil painters go through when they transform a blank canvas into a work of art? First they do a few studies of the subject they plan to paint, which consists of some quick pencil or charcoal lines to get the general form down. This happens on a separate sheet of paper. Then they do a “sketch,” with their hand not even touching the canvas so they can work out the volume of space that each of the items in the painting will fill. Next comes a very light touch to define the spaces, followed by the backgrounds ─ a wash of the first real color that goes on the canvas to define the sky, the mountains, the lake, etc. The rest of the painting is added, layer by layer, with more detail in the latter stages, until the artist’s vision is complete.

Your company is your painting, and you get to define what you want to have in it. Sounds like a blazing statement of the obvious, but wait a minute. To what extent are you really driving it, versus operating in a responsive or reactive mode that, in effect, has your business (or your competition or market conditions) driving you? Are you running your business from your annual budget from year to year, to the point that right now you are saying “I can’t afford to upgrade my production facility because I don’t have enough money?” Wouldn’t you rather be saying, “I’ve decided that I am going to upgrade my production facility; now I’m going to figure out how to pay for it”? In one case you’re waiting to see what happens; in the other you’re deciding what you want to have happen and laying out the details of how to get there.

If you haven’t created a formalized plan for your company yet, or if it’s been a while since you’ve sharpened the pencil and thought about the view beyond the horizon, now’s the time to do it. Yes, we know the market is unpredictable right now, but there are companies who are thriving right now, just like there have been in every other unpredictable market. Why shouldn’t one of the growing, prospering companies be yours?"

We'll be releasing the book soon. You'll find out here, or at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Managing difficult team members - part 4 in a series

This is part 4 in a series of posts on managing effective teams.

You can put rules of engagement in place for your team, and that will contribute to effective interaction. When you use process and communication tools you help to move the team along. But sometimes individual team members have deficiencies that interfere with the function of the team.

  • Abrasive personalities - Personality is defined as the external behavior that reflects internal attitudes. So when someone is abrasive you can either manage the behavior or you can try to get to the root of the problem and help them uncover the assumptions and habits of thought that are contributing to their testiness and/or aggression. Don't let this go and dismiss it as "Oh, that's George. He's always cranky." Your inattention to the problem will shut down your other team members, and it will reward George for behaving that way. He'll keep it up as long as it gets him what he wants.
  • Subterfuge - Sometimes in an effort to protect themselves, team members acquire habits of telling half-truths or glaring generalities or evasiveness when asked questions in a team setting. In other cases individuals will "steal" other people's ideas and present them as their own. When you see this behavior it's a clue either that the person is going to great lengths not to be found out as an imposter, or that the work environment values winning and being right enough that people will go to unethical lengths to score.
  • Blaming - Pointing to others as the source of the problem is a classic sign of defensiveness. It routinely happens when you are trying to make big changes in your department or company and people are trying to find ways not to have to modify their behavior. But blaming behavior can also be a symptom of a work environment where finding the culprit is valued more highly than solving the problem. One of the key premises of the quality movement of the past few decades is that 85% of your problems come from faulty processes, not faulty people. Shift your focus to process to shrink the blaming behavior.
  • Erratic, inconsistent behavior - If the swings are significant you might want to evaluate the situation for possible substance abuse or mental illness. It is also possible that the individual has a personal situation that is preying on their mind during the workday. A conversation with them might be able to uncover the situation, which you can then choose to provide time and/or EAP resources to help them resolve. Unless you are a licensed mental health professional, make a referral - don't try to diagnose mental illness yourself. Your job is to manage behavior and that's it.

There are so many variations on interpersonal function and dysfunction that it would be impossible to capture all of them in a few blog posts. But the remaining point is this - as a leader your job is to get results, and to create the type of work climate that helps your staff continously improve its results over time. Effective team function doesn't happen without your leadership in the areas of behavior standards, process, and the handling of personalities.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Death by discussion - part 3 of a series on effective teams

Originally uploaded by svenwerk

This is the third post in a series on effective team interaction.

One of the biggest objections I hear to the concept of team-based work is that it takes forever to get things done. The conversation goes around and around the table, and although world peace might be solved in concept nothing actually happens as a result, not even after endless hours in a room. Here are some of the causes of death by discussion:

  • Lack of purpose (or unknown purpose) - Usually good meetings start by the meeting leader sharing the goal for the get-together - is it to generate ideas? To make a decision on an issue? To share information? When the group doesn't know what it's supposed to accomplish it can't accomplish it very easily.
  • Lack of authority - Many a quality circle has failed because the person with the authority to do something about the circle's recommendations was not in the group. Some groups expend a lot of energy talking about whatever is going on "over there" in another department, yet don't invite the leader of the "over there" group to weigh in on an issue. Without the involvement of the authority figures the meetings easily devolve into gossip or complaint sessions.
  • Lack of follow-through - This is part of the process function. Every work meeting needs to end with an agreement of what's to happen next, who is going to do it and by when. Otherwise team members are likely to view their meeting time as wasted, and if that's the case some won't come to the next one.
  • Lack of tools - It's hard to communicate without effective tools. The most common problem is communicating only by talking. The majority of the population is comprised of visual learners who need to see to understand. Graphs, handouts, white boards - or field trips or walks through a production facility - all contribute to effective communication. You might also need process tools for selecting the best ideas, resolving disagreements, etc.
  • Lack of boundaries - A group performs best when it has a finite issue to cover in a finite period of time. One meeting group of which I was a member years ago invested one entire day every week in a meeting, regardless of how short the agenda was. Some people drew the conclusion that the leader was simply lonely when he was by himself in his office! When there are no topical boundaries, simple issues can undergo the "kitchen sink" treatment until they are 800 pound gorillas that nobody wants to tackle!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Improving team interactions - part two of a series

Originally uploaded by andrewmalone

This is the second post in a series on managing dysfunctional teams and team members.

Ineffective team interactions waste money and time, and they cause people to want to take extra sick days for mental health reasons. Unmanaged conflict among team members saps energy, and if it's unchecked the baggage remaining after the conflict is over can damage the longer term results of the group.

Conflict isn't completely preventable. Some behavioral styles avoid conflict, yet others embrace it. Some temperaments look for slow and methodical discussion that considers all viewpoints and cares for feelings. Others are driven mad by anything other than cutting to the chase, vigorously debating an issue, making a decision and getting on with the resulting action. So what if you break a few eggs, as long as the omelette tastes good!

If your team isn't working as well together as you'd like, here are some ideas on how you can better manage the behavior of team members:

  • Make sure you have a list of core values for your business, and then use them as the standard for all team interaction. 3M (maker of Post-It notes) had a value that said "Thou shalt not kill a new product idea." Fantastic. Imagine how many meetings you've been in where the main agenda seemed to be shooting down someone's point of view or new idea. If you're not going to enforce the value, don't include it on your list.
  • Have the team create rules of engagement. Before starting an extended set of meetings, like a series of strategic planning sessions, make the first job of the group to establish standards of behavior. This could revolve around timeliness, use of inappropriate language, handling of rank and job title in the sessions, etc. Then have the team help to notice and enforce the rules. You might even collect fines for tardiness or swearing, and later donate the money to charity or fund a pizza party at the end of the project.
  • Find out the goals of the individual team members before you begin. A lot of conflict arises in team settings due to one or more people having individual goals or agendas for the session, or from unspoken and unmet expectations. Asking the direct question "What would you like to accomplish by the time we're done?"of each participant and documenting the answers won't eliminate all hidden agendas, but it will help the group manage expectations.
  • Incorporate a "penalty flag." If a violation of the rules of engagement occurs, any member of the team can throw the penalty flag and stop the meeting to call the offender on the infraction. The team develops its own enforcement process and creates better awareness of appropriate interaction on its own - by using this method the facilitator of the meeting turns the control of the dynamic over to the group.
  • Use a neutral facilitator. In many meetings every single person around the table has an agenda - something to be won or lost depending upon the outcome. In high intensity groups it's helpful to have a leader who has no vested interest in a particular outcome, and who can stay above the fray. The facilitator's job is to move the process forward. Period.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Managing dysfunctional teams and team members

Originally uploaded by Hotel BaldFish

So you're in charge of a dysfunctional team...what's a leader to do? I can't even begin to tell you how many leaders, even presidents, of companies have told me that they don't have any fun at work, and the reason is that teams and/or team members are getting them down. Even if you're not running the show, when you are on the team you are a potential contributor to these issues. So read on and determine whether you might be able to be part of the solution.

This can be a complicated problem to solve, so let's break it down to make it more manageable. Team problems can fall into some overall categories:

  • The team members don't interact well with one another. Sometimes the group replays the same drama so consistently that it seems as though the lines are scripted and this is the second matinee performance of the day. You think it demonstrates a lack of respect for one another, or at least a devaluation of different points of view.
  • The group goes around and around, discussing things to death, but doesn't seem to generate solutions or progress to action mode. It doesn't achieve any significant results.
  • A particular one or two team members have personal issues (or personality deficiencies) that leak into their group interaction. It has a detrimental impact on the team as a whole.

Overall you are dealing with behavior issues, people issues, or process issues. Over the next few days we'll address each of these issues, providing some ideas on how to handle them. No single solution is going to be best for every situation, and no solution works 100% of the time. That being said, there are proven methods for improving your team's interaction so that you can accomplish more - AND have a better time doing it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Avoidable pitfalls in performance evaluation

indian management4
Originally uploaded by kurup_man

In my years in the corporate arena, being called in for a performance evaluation was like being called to the principal's office. My palms would get a little sweaty and my pulse would quicken as though I was expecting to have to bolt from the room and run for safety. This is particularly strange to think about all these years later because I was lucky enough to have a series of really great bosses - my fear was not justified by any known shortcomings on their parts.

I know I was not alone in my dread - nobody I knew looked forward to hearing their "grade" from their boss. The evaluation meeting was only a necessary formality standing between them and finding out their new, higher pay rate. Obviously, the ten percent increases that we got some years back then seem like fantasy today.

So why would a solid performer feel such dread at the thought of receiving performance feedback? Some of it has to do with the pitfalls that some managers have succumbed to:

  • Late performance evaluation - It's bad enough to wait for your boss's judgment on your job performance without feeling that they either forgot you or didn't care enough about you to make sure you got your annual increase on time.
  • Poor timing for the meeting - Someone told me recently about being given a so-so job evaluation on the day before Christmas vacation - and being asked to stay late in order to get it. Needless to say, the process didn't endear them to their boss, nor did it help them feel motivated to improve.
  • Too much concentration on a short period of work - Bosses who don't do a good job of documenting performance throughout the year have a hard time seeing past the most recent couple of weeks or months when they write performance reviews. An employee might have had a walk-on-water success, yet because it fell too early in the year, find that their boss ignored it or forgot about it when doing their review.
  • Polishing up a rough performance - If a boss wants to put a couple of bad situations behind him or her, (or if they are trying to be popular,) they might be tempted to grade on a curve and give a better review than the individual really earned. They might also be tempted to take this route because although they weren't completely satisfied with the performance, they don't want the person to miss out on qualifying for a pay raise. This comes back to bite them later if performance doesn't improve and they need to document for disciplinary action or termination. They won't have an accurate history of job performance, so it will take them longer to take formal action.
  • A review format that is too subjective - Some evaluation forms list characteristics like "reliability" and "judgment," expecting bosses to rate their employees on a number scale. The flaw in this format is that it is too subject to the variations in mood and the status of the personal relationship between the boss and the employee being rated. Friendship can cast an unwarranted halo around the evaluation, and tension and conflict can cause the manager to underrate the employee's contribution.
  • A review format that is too objective - Yes, results are king, but sometimes the goals managers give to people to judge their performance aren't really within their ability to control or influence. The employee could be going through the year applying effort and trying to innovate, yet not see the results they were expected to see. In addition, if they didn't have a say in the development of their performance goals they were likely to have some feelings of being set up to fail before they started.

We'll look at the "how to be an effective performance evaluator" side of this on another day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Five methods to prioritize your to do list

Is your To Do list longer than the post office lines on tax day? Don't settle for being stared at by all of those outstanding items - wrestle 'em to the ground and knock 'em out by prioritizing them. There's no single correct way to prioritize, but here are some methods that work to reduce stress and increase productivity.
  1. Mark the items that absolutely MUST be done today and don't even think about the other ones until the must do items are complete.
  2. Sort your list into categories: phone calls, tasks that need input from someone else, correspondence, writing projects, etc. You can handle the similar tasks in one chunk of time and keep your mind more focused.
  3. Organize the list so that the tasks that bring you closest to revenue are at the top and completed first. Salespersons, this means that new business development activities a) go on the list, and b) get done before you organize the pencils on your desk.
  4. Do the most uncomfortable things first and get them out of the way early in the day.
  5. Match the activities with your best time of the day. If you are freshest in the morning, put the thought-intense to do items in the morning and save the brainless work for later in the day, when your energy is lower. If you are a person who takes a while to rev up for the day, get started with activities that attract and energize you. That will help get your momentum going.

This list of methods begs one question: are you writing your to do list down? You might be making assumptions about the things that are required of you or that you want to accomplish, that they are so obvious that you don't need to document them. In the crush of the day if they are not on the list they are likely to fall to the wayside. Keep them front and center where you can see them and allocate time for them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Again with the defensiveness!

body language
Originally uploaded by crater

How do you respond to criticism or feedback? Do you

  • Take it all in and thank the critic?
  • Fold your arms in front of you and dismiss it as the blatherings of one who doesn't know you-know-what from shinola?
  • Feel angry that the person thinks they have the right to tell you anything?
  • Engage your fight system and defend your position?
  • Look for information that can help you improve?
  • Feel all queasy and inadequate?

We all walk around wearing emotional armor, and some of us wear a heavier layer than others do. The armor helps us feel OK and protected, and with it we deflect the words that might hurt our feelings. When we allow ourselves to be hurt by criticism, it's because we interpret it as an attack on our person, instead of useful information about the impact of our words or actions. Some of us view it as a sign that the critic has bad intentions toward us.

When we get defensive and block the feedback we receive, we are losing the valuable information. And when we reject the information from other people, they interpret our rejection as a sign that we don't value their opinion. If they are in an ongoing relationship with us they feel invalidated when we deflect or reject their criticism. Our defensiveness creates a downward spiral in the quality of the relationship.

The right to criticize is part of the spoken or unspoken relationship agreement between two people. We get less defensive when we

  • Ask for their feedback as part of their role, as is the case with a coach,
  • Believe that the critic genuinely has our best interests in mind
  • Know we have the opportunity to provide feedback to them, too - it's a two-way street
  • Have enough of a positive track record with them that they have "earned" the right to tell us what's on their mind - even if we don't really want to hear it - without damaging the relationship

Just for today, notice your reactions to criticism, and work on disengaging your defensiveness. Use the information you receive to improve yourself and your performance.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One step closer to Changing Results

We're one step closer to releasing our new e-book, Changing Results by Changing Behavior. No matter whether you're a one-person operation or a publicly held corporation, the principles in this book apply to you.

With improvement efforts, just like with dancing, it's HOW you do it that makes the difference between being a vision and being a sight! There are critical steps and interrelated processes that have to be incorporated if you don't want to trip.

Here are some of the topics you'll be able to read about:
  • Defining the results you want
  • Uncovering the necessary behavior that will lead to results
  • Confidential to the executive suite
  • External obstacles to behavior change
  • Internal obstacles to behavior change
  • A prototype for big change
  • How far can a person stretch?
  • Frequently asked questions
You might be feeling extra cautious about investing your cash right now in hiring an improvement partner to help you move your company forward. If that's the case, this is a must-read. Find out in this book how you can select the best resource, prioritize your efforts and set yourself up for a solid return on your investment.

Be among the first to receive a download of Changing Results by Changing Behavior. We'll keep you posted as our launch day approaches.

Monday, April 13, 2009

You have been given abundantly

Originally uploaded by sokolovich

On the days when it seems like every commercial we see or hear talks about bad health, bad finances, bad relationships - even bad hair - it can be hard to shift mental gears to see beyond what's wrong with everything. Unfortunately, negative sells. The concept of "looking for what's wrong" is so conditioned into our brains that we easily get sucked into behaving that way - keeping our eyes and ears tuned for the bad stuff and dwelling on it when we see it.

It takes intention to see beyond all of that, but think for a moment about all of the things that you have and all of the things that are already right with your world:

  • It doesn't take a nickel to get a belly laugh from your child.
  • The spring flowers are blooming.
  • It still feels good to have the sun shining down on your face - and it provides vitamin D, too!
  • Someone has done a kindness for you.
  • You always have choices, even if you have not acknowledged all of them yet.

Abundance thinking says that there is plenty for everyone. We don't have to grab for things as though they are the last pork chop on the plate. We simply have to reset our focus to take in all of the opportunities around us, and then respond to them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter, time of miracles

On this Good Friday I am reminded that sometimes the darkest moments are necessary precursors to triumph, and that nothing is impossible.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ethics and business leadership

I asked a question recently on LinkedIn that has garnered a lot of discussion - "How do ethics tie in with your definition of leadership?"

We have heard a variety of perspectives. One that caught my eye linked me to a blog post on Assume a Spherical Cow by Timothy Sudiacal. He talks about the real purpose for an individual being in business for himself, and the impact (or lack of impact) that business schools have on business ethics.

As I interpret Timothy's perspective, good and bad are identifiable only in context, and are not absolutes. Schools can't teach ethics and expect to have a beneficial outcome, just like churches teach Christianity every week yet don't manage to elimate people's capacity for doing wrong. The system in which we do business is set up without regard to the common good - so leaders are often rewarded for doing things that are harmful to other people.

Click the link above if you'd like to read this post in its entirety. Thought-provoking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So what if you're not The Waltons?

Raccoon Family
Originally uploaded by Hard-Rain

Robert Frost said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." That's a comforting thought - I guess. How is your family life right now, and what are you doing to nurture it?

When doing self-assessments on the current state of their family life clients often ask me, "What do you mean by family?" Well, that depends on you. The most stereotypical picture of family is a husband, wife, and their children. But don't let that picture stop you from considering yours and feeling good about it. Your family might contain:

  • Yourself and your children
  • You and your sibling
  • Your family of origin
  • Your extended family of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins
  • You and your life partner
  • You and your tight circle of friends

It's very common for people to get caught up in an idealized version of what family life should be like from watching The Brady Bunch or The Waltons. Then when the holidays come and the family gets together people are confronted with the disconnect between the idealized view and the real family they have. Some get depressed by their lack of a spouse, or of children, or of money compared to their siblings.

Wherever you are with your family life, that's where you are. That is your starting point, but it doesn't mean that you have to stay there if you want things to be better. What do you want your family life to be like?

  • Would you like to do more activities together?
  • Do you want to fight less, and hug more?
  • Would you like to reconnect with a sibling with whom you've been out of touch?
  • Do you want to forgive one of your parents for something they did that hurt you?
  • Would you like to take a more active role in bringing your extended family together?

Family doesn't have to be solely that place of last resort where you only go when you have to, and where they are forced to take you in. Family can sustain you when the outside world doesn't seem to be cooperating. Your family members know the real you, not the person you play in the community or at work. Home can be the place where they welcome you, and where you wrap your arms around them - warts and all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mere talent won't cut it

Yes, this woman is making this face on purpose - it's her special talent. Or perhaps her real talent is friendship, because she allowed her buddy to post this expression on for all the world to see!

Joking aside, right now a lot of executives are focused on talent. They are taking diagnostics to identify it and slotting people in particular positions to capitalize on it. I agree that it's the most advantageous when you are deployed in a role that aligns with the things you naturally do best. You are more attracted to do them more often when you are good at them. But ultimately your talent won't cut it on its own.

Talent, like knowledge, relies upon application and activation to unlock its full power. In its latent form it counts for little other than potential. In order to apply talent effectively, an individual needs to be able to develop it to recognize the situations where it applies, and to understand the nuances that make it either an effective tool or an obstacle.

Let's say that you are outstanding at kicking a ball for a long distance - that's your talent. I'm not going to want you to demonstrate your talent in the middle of my living room. That's not the appropriate situation in which to demonstrate ball kicking. If you're outside you're still going to have to learn about the effect of wind direction and wind speed in order to maximize the impact of your talent.

Now we'll take it out of the ball kicking analogy and get back to a more general point - who is going to help you develop your talent? Who is going to help you see past the nearby impediments, and who is going to support you as you need to stretch your talent to take you through today's business conditions? Who is going to help you keep your values in mind when your talent tempts you to stray off-course?

This is no time for going it alone, or for rolling the dice - the stakes are too high.

Monday, April 6, 2009

You too can have an advisory board

Advisory Board Summit
Originally uploaded by DAXKO

President Obama has one. So does YouTube. You too can have an advisory board. You don't need to be a publicly held company - heck, you don't have to be a company at all to experience the benefits of outside feedback and counsel on issues you face.

You can build your advisory board from clients and prospective clients, from professional advisors like your attorney and accountant. You can select your members based upon specific knowledge sets they have, like marketing expertise or experience growing bricks and mortar. Make whatever arrangements are mutually agreeable for compensation. They might not want any at all, you might provide some sort of honorarium, or they might want to be paid in the form of their favorite adult beverage or a nice lunch.

This is not the group for which you "position" things. They need to hear the unvarnished details of what's going on in your business so they have a realistic foundation upon which to advise you. This is probably one of the biggest barriers to business owners choosing to have advisory boards - egos sometimes prevent them from seeking the very kind of feedback that will help them and their businesses.

Here's an advisory board application that even an individual can use:

  1. Think of 5 leaders that you admire. Jot each of their names down, along with the characteristics that cause you to admire them.
  2. Next time you are faced with a difficult situation or decision, imagine convening this group of 5 advisors. Think about what counsel you think you would receive from them, and why.
  3. Once you have received their "input," make your decisions and get rolling.

This kind of advisory board has several advantages:

  • You don't have to physically convene the people.
  • You aren't confined by time - you could even choose to consult with Thomas Jefferson if you'd like!
  • You have selected these people, so you value their perspective. That means you are more likely to listen to them.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Leadership, ethics, and the Rotary four-way test

Originally uploaded by Heneghan

There has been a lot of discussion in one of my Linked-In groups about leadership and ethics. The context has been the abysmal behavior by AIG executives and Bernie Madoff, and some of the commentary has revolved around the concept of "leadership means standing up for what is right." While I can buy this perspective as part of my own concept of leadership, when we go in this direction we overreach the definition of leadership. Leadership means leading others - it doesn't include a definition of goodness, badness, or ethics. It just means that other people are following you.

We look for a pairing of leadership and ethics when we look for leaders to admire, but what are ethics, anyway? By definition they are a moral code for behavior. It doesn't define THE code for moral behavior - my ethics might be different than yours. When we look at others to be models of ethical behavior we look for examples of ethics that match our own. It's not a black-and white issue. Are there ethics that are more ethical? Again, probably there are - when they agree with mine, and I'm only being a little bit facetious.

A compatible ethical framework can be one of the criteria that draws followers to leaders, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the framework is "good." One of the other criteria that attracts followers to leaders is when leaders are able to accomplish the desired results. For some people the means to the end and its ethics aren't as important as the end itself, so they fall in behind some pretty sketchy characters as long as they are getting what they want.

Every religion has its own ethical code, and many of the tenets are shared among them, such as individual accountability for right behavior. In the secular world, I've found the Rotary International four-way test to be a simple approach to create ethical transactions, regardless of the participants' religious background.

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build good will and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Do you consider yourself to be ethical? Are you that way

  • All the time?
  • Most of the time?
  • Some of the time?
  • Rarely?

Most people answer "most of the time." Imagine the potential for improvement in our world if instead of most of the time we would always use an ethical framework as the foundation for our actions...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Taking stock of your physical condition

How are you feeling today? Is your body rested? Do you feel energized in a way that reflects well-being and not stress? How many medications did you have to take this morning?

Our aging population is starting to confront the reality of expanding waistlines and maintenance meds. But how much is this within your ability to change? Are you sentenced from now on to feel your age or older?

Although, just as in other aspects of our humanity, there is a genetic component to our physical health, a lot of our vigor relies upon maintenance of the machine. You wouldn't consider running and running your car without an oil change, would you? If you allowed it to sit in the garage all winter long and then attempted to take it for a spin, you wouldn't be surprised if the battery were dead, would you? Yet work junkies, couch potatoes and weekend warriors expect their bodies to surmount whatever treatment they receive from their owners.

One of my all-time favorite speakers, Patricia Fripp, said (and I paraphrase here,) "It's hard to be a high-achieving, dynamic person when you don't feel well."

We could call good health habits the maintance of your personal production capacity. How much more productive could you be with more physical strength, more endurance, more speed? Do you have goals for your physical well-being? Are there activities to which you consistently commit yourself or targets for certain health indicators that you are pursuing?

No matter what your starting point, it is just that - a starting point. If you really want things to be different with your health, unless you have some irreversible condition you are not sentenced to be where you are right now. Find out from the scale, from your doctor, or from a physical trainer what your Point A is - your starting place. It especially helps to have an outside assessment and data like lab results if you are good at rationalizing whatever behavior you've engaged in up until now.

Once you have established your starting point you can set your goals. They might revolve around

  • Improved food choices
  • Increase in exercise, intensity and/or frequency
  • Getting more sleep
  • Taking steps to manage stress-inducing situations

You might not know how much an extra workout per week will have on your weight, for instance. If you have set your goal in poundage terms you might need to develop a few supporting goal plans under the categories of calories in and calories expended. Perhaps your health goal is simply to get to the doctor or the dentist for some routine maintenance. Then once you talk with them you can get on a regime for improved physical health.

Physical health is one of those things that is observable by other people, and whether we like it or not they draw assumptions about us by our physical condition and our grooming. Ultimately, though, your health is your own. You might be in a "pay me now or pay me later" situation with some of your habits, but regardless of input from other people, the decision to have a better state of health lies directly in your lap.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Changing Results by Changing Behavior

Coming soon - our new e-book entitled Changing Results by Changing Behavior, for company owners and key executives who want to refocus and re-energize their companies to get better outcomes. Improvement happens one person at a time, so the focus of the book is on how you overcome obstacles to behavior change and create a transformation process that works. From the book's intro:

We have been working with companies and their owners
since 1990 in more than 30 industries to create changed behavior in order to
improve results. My colleagues and I have seen unquestionable victories
and some struggles in the process. We have talked with owners and senior
executives who have described their frustration with their prior investments in
their people – in some cases they didn’t get nearly the improvements they
expected, and in others the habits of behavior seemed nearly impossible to

Regardless of the change in results you want to achieve, some sort of
positive behavior change is going to be necessary to get there. To do
otherwise is to perpetuate a state of corporate insanity. It’s like when I
go to the store and push on the door, push and push to no avail until I look
down and see the word on the door: PULL. I could do the same thing
all day long, but until I change the way in which I move my hands and feet I’m
not going to be able to open the door.If you’ve struggled to make change happen,
or if you’ve got a vision in mind that’s so compelling that you’re not going to
take no for an answer, this book is for you. I’d go as far as to say don’t
invest one more dollar in training before you read this. Because real,
sustainable results improvement is like dancing – its effectiveness depends
entirely on HOW you do it.

The e-book is in its final stages now, so watch for it! We'll let you know as soon as it's available!