Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Intention is one thing, impact is another

A Real Impact
Originally uploaded by Drippy2009

We've all been there - in situations where we say or do something that we intend to be completely neutral, innocuous, inoffensive - where our actions create ripples and reaction that we didn't anticipate. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.” “I can’t believe they said that!”  We find ourselves in a position that requires us to mend fences, when we didn't knowlingly knock them down.  The intention behind our actions and the impact of them on the other party were two different things.

When I'm communicating with you the process is simple from a physical standpoint.  I say or do something, the signal reaches you and you receive it.  You then provide some sort of feedback, verbal or nonverbal, that lets me know that my signal was received.

The issue, however isn't in the physical aspects - it's in the encoding and decoding of the message.  Even if I'm not being strategic or manipulative when I create my message, my attitudes, my choice of language, my gestures, etc. all work together to communicate the message.  I make assumptions about myself and about you when I communicate - assumptions that I'm not conscious of because they are part of my prior conditioning - they are my habits of thought.

On the other end, you're making assumptions and interpretations as well.  And if our coding and decoding systems aren't in alignment with one another's - we've got a situation where communication is misinterpreted (at least that's how the sender sees it,) and the potential for conflict looms.

Intentions relate to the purpose behind your actions. Acting with full intention means that you are making a conscious choice to do what it is you’re doing because you anticipate that the action will generate a certain result. You are aware of something and are making an attempt to influence it by saying or doing something specifically constructed for that application.
Because we are creatures of habit we aren’t always acting intentionally – we’re repeating conditioned behaviors, some of which are so ingrained that we aren’t even aware of them. They can become blind spots (scotomas) that only a third party can call to our attention. We’ll suddenly find out about our blind spots when we’ve created an unexpected impact and ask questions to find out why it happened.
Beyond our own intentions (or the lack of them,) the impact of our actions is influenced by the other party’s frame of reference – their attitudes. We might interpret the wearing of a suit as a sign of respect, while the other person might interpret the same suit as showing off, or as an attempt at intimidation.

When you are in a decision situation where the impact of your words or behavior is important, try previewing the possible outcomes before you take action. Explore your options and play them out in your mind to envision the other person’s possible interpretations and reactions. The relative impact might rule one option out as too risky, or might help one pop into the foreground as the best choice.
If you are on the receiving end of a transaction that has you a bit out of whack, take a look at the other person’s intentions. If you can’t determine what they are, ask. You might find out that you were interpreting a very different meaning than the one they were intending. The source of the problem might be a skill shortfall on their part, a conditioned reaction on your part, or a combination of the two.
If you want people to judge you based upon your intentions rather than by your actions you’re counting on their wanting to make that effort. If they are invested in a relationship with you they might choose to do that. But that’s not a sure thing – even if they’re invested they might not have a level of awareness that enables them to look behind your actions to try to understand why you took them.
Your best moves are to keep the potential impact on the other person in mind when you take action, and to take action with intention. Do things on purpose rather than by habit. Then examine your results and let that be the judge of whether you did right or not.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How far can you go?

It's a myth that leaders should focus their attention on weaknesses, deficiencies and exceptions.  Leaders (and that means you) instead will achieve a better return on time and resources on taking a good performance (or good performer) and help them hit the next higher peak.

There are a few obstackes, the bulk of them internal attitudes, to take performance to the next level:
  • This level of performance meets standards - why expend more energy?
  • One foul-up costs money - good performers crank right along even without any intervention from me.
  • People will resent me if I keep going, as though I'm rubbing their nose in my excellence when they can't come close to matching my performance already.
  • What if I fail?  I might embarrass myself.
  • I've finished with my schooling/training/exercising already.  I have other things to do with my time now.
What is it that Jim Collins wrote?  Oh yes - good is the enemy of great.  Good is great's enemy because it causes some people to stop striving, to become complacent, to stop looking for the next mountain peak to climb.  Why risk it?  Why bother?

If you're leading other people and looking at this question in that context, you bother because there's only one way to coast - downhill.  You are the keeper of the standards, and if you're not committed to continuous improvement why should your employees be more so?  And if you place your most competent people in the background while you focus on the underachievers, you risk losing their commitment - which will in turn cause them not to exercise their competence.  Or they will leave for a setting that's more rewarding for them.

If you're looking at this question from a standpoint of personal achievement - how eager are you to pop out of bed in the morning?  Would you like to spring through your day rather than drag through it?  When you have a mountain peak in front of you (one that you've chosen to climb) you have a sense of purpose.  Every increment of accomplishment boosts your image of what is possible for you.  Every step higher exposes yet another higher step that could become accessible to you.

You have not yet reached the limits of your potential.  No matter how far you've come, you still have room.  What would it do for you to remember that you're using (at most) only about 25% of your capacity?  What part of you would you like to grow?  How much?  Why?

It's a lot to consider for first thing Monday morning, but what better time to start than right now?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perhaps you should fight today

Medieval fighting game ;-)
Originally uploaded by B℮n

A successful businesswoman I know talks often about how her parents never fought or argued. Never. When asked, “Didn’t they even bicker a little?” she answers a definitive “Nope.” Her father has been deceased for many years, so maybe my friend’s memory has simply faded, but she has stayed consistent with this perception ever since I’ve known her.

Here’s why the topic of arguing comes up so often with her – she has had a real problem developing and keeping longer term relationships. She says she intensely dislikes conflict. She views disagreements with her Mr. Right Now as a sign that she and he are not really compatible. Beyond that, she’ll go to great lengths to avoid an argument – when she’s asked for her opinion she’ll respond that it doesn’t matter, or she’ll wallpaper over how she really feels about something if it’s out of sync with how he feels.  Eventually she pays the price when he tires of the dance (Bo-ring!) and exits the relationship.  She's left feeling puzzled about why he didn't stay when she worked so hard at being a "good" and accommodating partner.

This woman has a lot of social contacts and everybody thinks she’s a kind and generous person. She is – but in the process of trying to play the chameleon and adapt to her surrounding climate she’s lost herself. Although my friend has caved in to others’ wishes so long that she doesn’t really know what she wants, she’s not angry. She could be better described as resigned to the fact that she’s going to be single for the rest of her life. She’s incredibly lonely, but doesn’t want to risk having her feelings tramped on again. That’s a big price to pay for not learning how to fight.

Here are some thoughts on why arguing can be good:

When you never are willing to defend your point of view you communicate to others that your point of view doesn’t count. Choosing not to fight might be a way to live a peaceful lifestyle. Accommodation is a sign of caring. But accommodation is a conscious choice that is to be used with discretion. If it becomes your default position you might be playing the doormat - a role that isn't interesting to the very person you're trying to be close to.  And eventually you might get tired of it - you'll upset the apple cart when you change the ground rules for the relationship.

You can love another person and disagree with them at the same time. We all come from different perspectives, and have different values, beliefs, and opinions. Of course it helps when your partner shares some of the big ones with you, but one of you is bound to like thriller movies while the other only likes comedies. So what?

Diversity of opinion creates strength and synergy. If we all thought in the same way the world would be a boring place. In addition, if you think exactly like your partner (or your colleagues,) you would probably combine to form a skewed perception.   You’d all have the same blind spots and make the same mistakes. Taking advantage of that diversity means negotiating the approach that makes sense given the salent facts in specific situations. You’ll win a few and lose a few in the process, but that's the way it's supposed to be.

Avoiding conflict can cause depression. Depression has been described as “anger turned inward.” In effect the target of the frustration becomes displaced from them to you. It's a scenario where you choose not to influence (by fighting), and then when the situation doesn't go your way you feel victimized.  It's self-inflicted.  I won’t even go into the details of how depression can affect your productivity and your life.

Anger will leak out in other ways. You might as well say what’s on your mind, because if you don’t you’re likely to be snappish in your responses to simple questions or you will huff around the house or answer your office phone with an attitude. If you’re lucky your compatriot(s) will be willing to invest the energy to try to understand (guess) why you’re angry, but there are at least two problems with that scenario: 1) they might guess wrong, and 2) they’ll just avoid YOU and your behavior and a wall will start to be erected between you.

Try to imagine what you’re modeling about how to relate to others. Are you demonstrating to your colleagues or your significant others that the other person is always right and you’re always wrong or that their opinion counts for more than yours does? If you’re caving in to your kids, are you showing them that you're weak and they’re omnipotent - and thereby you're inadvertently creating spoiled monsters?

In healthy argument in the workplace the relationship has great value, but so does the process of decision making. It’s everyone’s obligation to say their piece and then some process helps them decide what idea will prevail. Colleagues with healthy arguing protocols can shake fists over a conference table, and then walk out of the room shaking hands with one another.  Caution - if there is no agreed-upon process for decision making once arguments are on the table, however, the argument may linger (or escalate) and the hand-shaking at the end may become more difficult to achieve.

Part of living a life of integrity is standing up for what you believe in. Most of the time we talk about standing up to yourself (setting goals and choosing your actions,) but if you really believe in something it’s important to stand up to others, too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finding your rhythm

OK - fan of metaphors and similes that I am, I can't resist this thread today...

Are you playing (working) in a rhythm that suits you? Are you in a workplace setting with which your natural rhythm is compatible? Is your current rhythm achieving the results that you want?

My family is full of jazzers, although I've spent a good part of my adult life singing Madrigals and traditional church music.  We love the syncopation (the unevenness of the notes,) the complexity of multiple rhythms intertwining with one another.

When I stop to consider, we tend to work like that too.  (Yes, contrary to popular images of slacker jazz musicians in smoky rooms with near-empty highballs, squinting through the smoke from cigarettes dangling from their mouths, these musicians are workers.)  It's the rhythm of the work that attracts my 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. 

Some of my more classical friends and colleagues are quite unrepentant about their dislike of jazz, and for some it's reflected in the rhythm of their work life.  Their rhythms 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.  They 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.

My rocker friends 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.  Do you know someone who works like that?  I do.

As a parting recommendation, I encourage you to take time to notice your rhythm.  Use it to your advantage.  Plan your day around it to become more efficient and more effective, whether playing music or doing your work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leadership is everywhere!

One of the most widely discussed, yet elusive concept right now is that of leadership.  Groups on LinkedIn wrestle with questions about whether leadership requires vision, whether women (yes, women!) are better leaders, etc.  But of all of the concepts, I think one is the most important - that leadership is everywhere.
  • It's in the captains of industry who use a combination of vision, innovation, high ethical standards, interpersonal skills and action-orientation to build a successful enterprise from scratch.
  • It's in the technically skilled worker on the front lines whose extensive knowledge and flawless technique turn him into the go-to person and role model.
  • It's in the high school football player who arrives early for practice, ready to work hard and who maintains self-discipline and team spirit even in times when the scoreboard isn't tilted in the correct direction.
  • It's in the parent who shows a child how to conserve energy, or to keep a bedroom clean, or the correct way to take care of teeth.
  • It's even in the not-so-pretty gangs on rough city streets, where the toughest and the loudest will brook no nonsense from their compatriots.
Followers can be attracted by all sorts of characteristics and behaviors. Right now I'm thinking of a movie my daughters just watched called "Mean Girls." There was a ringleader who happened to be the best at slapping others down verbally, so everyone else kowtowed to her, copied her style of dress, and chose to hate whomever she hated - of course until Lindsay Lohan's character moved to town.

If someone finds in you something to emulate you can lead. It doesn't have to be a positive characteristic and it doesn't have to result from a specific intention on your part to be a Leader. They see something that makes them want to follow. This is, I think, one of the surprising things to a lot of people about leadership. Other people are watching, whether you're striving to be emulatable or not.

If you accept the idea that people are watching you, emulating you, evaluating you - there's a decision to make.  What kind of leader are you now, and what kind of leader do you want to be?  You have the opportunity to choose high ethical standards, or stores of self-discipline, or lifetime learning.  Your leadership helps to create the environment by which you are surrounded daily.  And if you're not liking your environment right now, a look in the mirror is the best way to start to change it for the better.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The last two days of summer

Two more days until the kids go back to school...two more days until I get my office back (such is life when your office is in your home!)  They have a lot of living to do in these last two free days before homework, early bed and rising times, and co-curricular activities jam their days. 

What would you do if you were limited to two more days of summer?  What would you be sure to pack into them?  Parkinson's law says that work expands to fill the time allotted, but does the day expand to accommodate the activities planned?  Nope.  Time is finite - you have to use it while you have it - while you have the warm temperatures, the long light, the access to those temporary things that you love.

What would you do?  Would you make the last two days like any of the others that preceded them?  Or would you set some things aside to make way for the important things that often wait patiently in the background for you to notice them?

I've listened to cancer survivors who have said that the gift of their brush with death was the discovery that life is too short not to be doing what you want to do.  There are too few days for you to spend them tolerating the things that cause you emotional pain.  There's not enough time for you to measure your words and not tell the whole truth as you see it.  They said that they came through their physical trial forever emotionally changed - bounced into a focus on the present.

There will be another summer.  There will be other days where work and school and chores come to a halt.  But there won't be these particular days again.  You and your children (and perhaps your grandchildren) will be older when next summer comes around, and their interests might change.  You might not have the ability to do then what you'd like to do right now.

Sooo...notice these two last days of summer.  Hear the locusts buzzing in the trees.  Feel the warmth of the morning sun as it dries the heavy dew on the grass.  Listen to the laughter of children - or run with them.  Do only those things that are important to you.  And discover just how full two days can be.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Aligning meetings with your intentions

Disruptors Roundtable
Originally uploaded by Laughing Squid

As a leader, what are you trying to create in the group for which you have responsibility?  Are you trying to create a work climate, a culture?  Is your focus on completing a specific project, or series of strategic initiatives?  Regardless of your intention and your charge, you may be missing an opportunity if you're sleepwalking or in a rut while creating meeting agendas.

Potential Meeting Purposes
  1. Communicate downward from management - one-way informational, perhaps with Q & A included
  2. Reporting among functions - one-way informational, used to hold people accountable for functional accomplishments, and to keep other functions in the loop for a purpose like customer satisfaction or quality
  3. Problem solving - A topic is thrown out on the table for the group to discuss and to develop a solution.  The decision making process may vary from leader-made, to leader-made with input, to team consensus. 
  4. Implementation - in this type, the leader or another participant brings a task to the table, and the purpose of the meeting is to allocate subsidiary tasks to participants.
  5. Brainstorming - when done most effectively, this meeting is used to generate ideas, not to filter them and/or evaluate them.
  6. Educational - To download more and/or new information to the meeting participants.  This might be leader-driven, or delegated to a specialist participant, or handled by a guest speaker.
This isn't to say that there aren't more categories - just a sampling of meeting purposes (or purposes for meeting segments.)  If you aren't receiving the results you want from your staff, take a look at your recent meeting agendas and see whether you have a pattern of topics off-kilter with the outcome you want to achieve:
  • Perhaps you want more employee input, but your recent meetings have been all about communicating "down."  Your participants might have the perception that you don't really want their input if you're not habitually asking.
  • If you're wanting follow-through from meeting items and aren't getting it, check to make sure your agenda includes a spot for assigning accountabilities, and a report-out segment in the next agenda.
  • If you want more teamwork, check whether you as the leader are consuming all of the agenda and doing too much of the talking.  Spread it around as a development opportunity for the various members of the team.  Give the group opportunities to discuss, to interact, to make decisions together.(This also helps in the case that you would unexpectedly have to be out - or if you would get promoted!)
I'm often asked whether teambuilding is an appropriate and effective agenda item.  I would assert that teambuilding is a side-effect of effective meetings, team leadership, task structure and work proximity, not an agenda item.  You can sponsor facilitated experiences all day long in the meeting room, but if you are creating a competitively hostile environment, or one of perceived scarcity, your teambuilding meeting agenda item will be sloughed off like so much sunburn.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are you sewing corn or tomatoes - or ragweed?

This isn't a literal question, rather a figurative one.  I am reminded this morning of one of my favorite parts of the James Allen classic book, As A Man Thinketh, where he talks about how your brain must bring forth that which is inside it.

Allen says if you think of your mind as a garden and thoughts as the seeds, you choose what you will ultimately harvest.  If leave your mind untended you will manifest weeds among the fruit and vegetables.  If you cultivate your mind and you choose to plant nutritious grain, grain is what will result.

Here's the part that I think is tough to think about when you are faced with difficult times:  Allen says that when you are in difficult circumstances you have not attracted what you want - you have attracted what you are.  When you fight against circumstances you fight against the effect of your thoughts while at the same time you nourish and preserve its cause in your heart.  No wonder why it feels like a struggle - it's a contradiction.

Allen goes on to say that suffering is created when you are out of harmony with yourself - the "result of wrong thought" in some direction.  Suffering as defined by Allen is not necessarily lack of financial resources, it's wretchedness.  Harmony in the mind, on the other hand, results in a state of blessedness - again, not necessarily measurable in material resources.

The challenge is this - Allen says that when a person drastically changes his (or her) thoughts, he will be amazed at the radical transformation in his circumstances.  Thoughts solidify into behaviors, which influence circumstances.  He doesn't go so far as to claim that you control your circumstances, but that you influence them. 

So if you are right there with James Allen, when an idle nonproductive, nonhelpful thought goes through your mind, don't allow yourself to go there.  Don't wallow in it.  Redirect your thinking to your higher aspirations, your values, etc.  Choose to sew that which you would like to manifest.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are you too smart for your own good?

Originally uploaded by
Hagerstown Man

OK, it’s gut check time. Are you too smart for your own good?  Or did you listen once too often when your mother told you that "curiosity killed the cat"?

Here's what I mean.  Every day you’re being presented with (maybe even bombarded with) new information  - at work, through the various media to which you subscribe, and from friends and contacts. How much of the new data are you discarding out of hand? Are you automatically saying to yourself, “Been there, done that, studied that in college, got an A…” and then filtering it out without even looking at it or evaluating whether it could be beneficial or applicable to you?

Sometimes it does seem like it might be easier to avoid upsetting the apple cart of your habits and predispositions by ignoring incoming information that might be disruptive.  I talk a lot about filters in this blog – attitudinal filters, perspectives, assumptions, unwritten rules and such. This particular filter  - one of blocking incoming information - is one that results from a person thinking they already have enough of a good thing. They see a piece of information and extract maybe 10% of it. The rest they critique, discount, consider the source, or outright discard.
I'm an information junkie - there, I said it -  especially in areas that interest me, so I admit to having a bias on this topic. But I ask you:  how much opportunity might you be missing because you’re glossing over potential input that you view as being beneath you?

Personal continuous improvement has no end zone, no finish line.  There are four stages of personal development:

  1. Unconscious incompetence - This is a stage some people call "blissful ignorance."  It's the point where you don't know what you don't know.  Everyone else around you might see it, but you don't.  You might have observed this in someone who has taken the stage at a karaoke bar, and whose confidence and enthusiasm is far greater than their ability to carry a tune, bucket or no bucket.  Just remember not to make fun, because when you're pointing at somebody else, three of your fingers are pointing back at you!
  2. Conscious incompetence - At this stage you realize what you don't know, whether through a training program, a whack on the side of the head, or criticism from a trusted source.  Conscious incompetence is not comfortable, which is one of the reasons why you might be avoiding new information.
  3. Conscious competence - Fortunately, if you train yourself or allow yourself to be trained by somebody who knows more than you do, you can become consciously competent.  This means that you know it and can do it, but you have to be thinking about it.  You can observe this when you see a child move their lips when they are learning to read silently - they transfer their skills from reading aloud by "reading along" with their brain.
  4. Unconscious competence - By the time you reach unconscious competence your information is so ingrained that you don't even realize it's there until you're in the company of someone who doesn't have it.  You are on autopilot, completing the task without having to think about it.  An example of unconscious competence would be the ability you acquired with years of driving experience.  You automatically ( I hope) hit the gas and brake pedals at the appropriate times, automatically enough that you can sing along with the radio at the same time. 
Unfortunately, texting or applying makeup while driving in the car require too much attention for your unconscious competence to prevail, no matter how much driving experience you have.  Thus the incidence of auto accidents when too much multi-tasking is taking place.  You have now moved back into quadrant 1 in your driving - unconscious incompetence - well, at least untill your car bumps the one in front of you.  Once you actually hit someone or get stopped by your local friendly police officer I think you'll be conscious that you messed up.

Silly driving example aside, the point is that you’re never “done.” The stages of learning, of competence, are cyclical. You might have been a world-renowned ace at using a slide rule, but hello – no matter how fast you are you can’t beat the computation power of even today’s most underpowered PDA. You used to be unconsciously competent at computation, but now that the rules and tools have changed you’ve passed back into incompetence and didn’t even notice.

I told you earlier that I'm an information junkie, but I trust that I've made my case for keeping your eyes, ears, and brains open.  Curiosity won't (usually) kill you.  Being not too smart is a good thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

You're not communicating if you don't use these tools at work

ninety two
Originally uploaded by keith lex

In the companies in which my company has done corporate coaching the issue that is most often in the top three for improvement (by their analysis, not ours) is poor communication - not enough, not among departments, none from management, only one way, etc.  It can show up in comments like, "they never tell us anything," or "how would I know what the engineering department is working on?"  Communication problems can also show up in the form of production errors, or in extra raw or finished goods. And it can be reflected in absenteeism and poor morale.

Not coincidentally, when I start working with these companies and I'm physically in the space I'm often struck by the lack of communication tools. No wonder there are factions among departments and people don't really know what management expects from them!

Here is a list of communication essentials that I often see missing:
1. Meeting space with a door that closes. People can't listen or think well when there is a lot of noise and distraction - that's what the communication gurus call interference. If you don't have a space it's likely that you won't choose to meet. I'm not advocating that you spend 50% of your week in meetings, but you need a physical resource if you want collaboration.

2. A white board or an easel with flipchart to record and display important information. I prefer a white board because it doesn't require the killing of trees, but if you want to archive data or have someone input it into their computer after the meeting they can take the flipchart pages with them. The majority of people receive information best when it's delivered visually, so if you're not writing things down and they're not remembering, now you know why.

3. Functioning markers that suit the surface, stored at the surface. The board won't be usable if there aren't markers, or if the meeting participants don't know where they are.  In addition, I can't tell you how many times I've gone to work with a group in a space with a board that had permanent stains on it from someone using the wrong markers. So although they have a board nobody uses it any more. (Note: stale coffee can remove some of those stains, and there's also a spray and wipes to help clean residue off the board.) And don't forget the eraser!

4. Access to email. This might sound obvious to you since you're reading this online, but there are still companies where not all managers are connected electronically. This results in the perception (or the reality) that different, inconsistent information is being communicated to various groups, and/or that somebody is being intentionally left out of the loop. And when information is only communicated orally it not only bears more risk of misinterpretation - it can create the opportunity for later plausible deniability. "Nobody told me..." or "I thought he said..."

5. Bulletin boards or other posting tools in "public" workspaces. Even if email is impractical for all employees, you can use more traditional methods for sharing information.  These can be used to post flyers on the next company picnic, but they can also be used to show charts of progress toward company goals, to recognize outstanding performance, etc.  If you use a static form like this for communication, you'll need to devise some methods to create interaction and keep people coming back to look - like posting fresh information daily or constructing a contest that requires a response, etc.

6. Internal communication processes - Employees at all levels look for predictable communication routines that can be counted upon to happen every time. This item may include shift change report, weekly production meetings, monthly management meetings, in-house newsletters, etc.  If you don't have processes in place that every leader is expected to use you're relying on personalities to get the communication job done - and that's not reliable, predictable or consistent.

These are all internal tools - the external communication devices designed to manage customer relationships are a discussion for another day.   But these ideas should get you started - or help you refine what you already have in place.   Call Staples, Office Max, Home Depot, or the supplier of your choice - but get yourself set up with these basics. You can't afford not to.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How targeted do you want to be?

Target on His Head
Originally uploaded by zoom in tight

Who is your targeted customer?  It's crucial to know your market focus because many of the decisions you make will follow from it:
  • Your company name
  • Your products - current and under development
  • Your distribution methods
  • Your marketing mix
  • Your structure
  • Your processes
  • Etc.
The world is becoming more and more niche-oriented.  Just take a look at the number of television and radio stations there are if you want a simple example - to cater to specific age groups, genders, interests, political and religious persuasions.  Oftentimes niche product and service providers benefit from the word-of-mouth buzz that circulates among closely knit groups of fans that have things in common.

As you're feeling the sense of urgency for the full rebound of the economy and its impact on your bottom line, I have to ask you the question:  are you more targeted than you need to be right now?  Are you inadvertently shutting out prospective customers (and revenue potential) by keeping an unnecessarily narrow focus in a time where profits aren't simply a matter of having a perceptible pulse?

Are there additional markets that can be served by the same infrastructure and product mix that you have already established?  Markets that don't know about you because you haven't tried to communicate with them before?

Are you making inaccurate assumptions about the companies and individuals who haven't been on your radar screen up until now?  Assumptions about their income, their mindset, their willingness to let go of some cash in order to receive a benefit.

Perhaps it's time to stop focusing so much on your products and inside your company, and to start focusing outside - on market segments that could be out there waiting for you.  Find out what their needs and wants are.  Start talking to them.  Dip your toe in the water first if you don't want to take too much risk at the outset.  But do something to expand your base.

Different times call for different measures.  Duh - no kidding.  But knowing and doing are two different things.  If you're buying into the idea that "nobody's buying anything" and therefore are sitting still and waiting for the phone to ring, you're perpetuating the conditions that you don't like.  You're not taking action to stimulate interest.  You're limiting your own potential.  Think about it.  (Julie steps down off of her soapbox!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

7 Ways to Increase Your Commitment

Always Chasing Something
Originally uploaded by jasontheaker

So you've made a decision. Is it a foregone conclusion that you'll be following through, or have you had the tendency to waffle or waver a bit on this or prior decisions? What do you need to do to REALLY make a commitment, to take the action necessary to achieve it or fulfill it?
  1. Connect it to your life purpose. Think about the really big reasons why you're deciding this. Is this just a fitness program to wear two sizes smaller or is this your method to ensure that you'll be around to play with your great-grandchildren? Same decision, very different motivators.
  2. Write it down and plan it out in detail. Put your exercise commitment in your calendar. Consider the obstacles and develop solutions to overcome them so they won't catch you offguard and send you off track.
  3. Keep the bites manageable. You are unlikely to follow through if it's so big that you won't really believe you can do it. Also consider that small victories give you energy and motivation to pursue bigger victories.  Instead of deciding to make a personality (or career, or relationship, or life) overhaul, select one thing to improve at a time and work on that.
  4. Tell someone about your goal or your commitment. It might sound crazy, but sometimes we'll do things to save face in front of other people that we wouldn't do just for our own satisfaction or success. If it's too private or too sensitive to tell a family member or friend, or if you simply don't want to burden them, consider hiring a coach to be your accountability partner.
  5. Do it with a buddy. This is related to the prior point, but in this case you're not just telling another person - they're sharing in the commitment with you. When one person is down the other person can pick them up. And if your decision revolves around an activity that you don't typically like to do (at least not until now) the attraction of seeing your buddy will help you choose to do it anyway.
  6. Pay a lot of money for it. This isn't a recommendation necessarily, just an acknowledgement of what works for some people. If they part with enough of their personal resources that it feels a little painful they're more likely to follow through on getting full value for their investment.
  7. Envision the positive outcome in detail. Think about it in multisensory terms: how will it look, feel, sound, taste, etc.? If it helps you, put a picture of it on your mirror or refrigerator.  The emotional impact of the visioning will increase your attachment to the rewards associated with fulfilling your commitment.
Even if this one decision or commitment is relatively small, it could be the foundation for a very big deal. Whenever you make a decision or commitment to yourself (or to others) you create the potential to demonstrate integrity. You will increase your integrity when you make decisions or commitments and follow through consistently on them. When you follow through consistently you will also contribute to your own positive self-image. Positive self-image and growing integrity will help create an upward spiral of commitment and follow-through that increases your influence and success.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Conspiracy and Bad Relationships

Author's note:  At this waning time of summer vacation, parents and their kids (especially teens) start getting a little done with all the summer togetherness.  Little differences can be rubbed into big irritations.  I think this story, told a few years ago, bears repeating.

Rick was a 45-year-old father of a 16-year-old son. To say the two were having problems would be a gross understatement – they rarely spoke unless the words were contentious. At first Rick dismissed their relationship problem as typical teen-parent interaction. But his son RF’s behavior was getting worse the tighter Rick drew the leash, as Rick continually noticed poor behavior and withdrew privileges.

Rick thought he was simply holding RF accountable for his actions. But there was more going on than that. Rick had developed attitudes and assumptions about his son that drove his increasingly restrictive actions. Worse, his tactics weren’t working; he was getting more and more of what he didn’t want from his son.

Although Rick didn’t realize it, he was engaging the law of attraction. He was focused on something and brought more of it to himself. He was quick to point out all of the negatives about RF, what he didn’t want RF to do, and instead of fixing them attracted more.

One of the things that I must admit drives me a little nuts about the whole law of attraction craze right now is that some folks seem to think that it’s like magic. I wish for a castle and it will instantly appear on my front lawn. It doesn’t work that way. Ultimately attraction involves action.

Rick didn’t just see a misbehaving teen and RF materialized in full irritating form; Rick’s attitudes toward RF caused him to talk to RF in cold, cutting ways. Whenever an event was open to interpretation Rick saw it in the most damning terms. His attitudes drove his actions, which contributed to his results – alienation from his son.

Similar things were going on inside RF. He wasn’t blameless, but he started to develop a self-protective shell so his dad’s attacks wouldn’t hurt so much. That only helped a little. RF eventually began to think that if his dad was going to accuse him of something anyway he might as well do it. He kept pushing the buttons that aroused Rick’s ire.

Both Rick and RJ were conspirators in this little family drama. Each leapt to inaccurate conclusions about the other and the courses of action that resulted intensified the rift between them. When two people are involved in a dysfunctional relationship like this one neither is typically completely innocent. They both add some of the fuel to the fire.

Fortunately Rick realized one day that he was actually contributing to the very situation he hated. He wanted a warmer relationship with a responsible, upstanding son. So he decided to look for the things he liked about RF. He started to try to pay more attention to RF’s good grades. He noticed when RF did a good job with mowing the lawn and made a point to compliment his son about it. And Rick decided to overlook the little mistakes that RF made. He decided to lower the boom only when RF’s actions posed a safety risk.

It took a while for RF to respond to this change in his dad. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop – rarely had a compliment come in a long time that wasn’t followed by a critical or cutting remark. But over time RF noticed that he was being given more respect, so he gave more respect back to Rick. His attitudes and assumptions about his dad shifted, so his behavior did too.

I  am frequently asked which you should try to change first – your behavior or your attitude? I think your best bet is to go at a situation like this with both barrels. You can set short-term behavior goals like Rick did. In addition you can start to reshape your attitudes by using affirmations or other sorts of positive input. The vast majority of your behavior (80-90%) is autopilot, a function of conditioning, so only by changing your conditioning (your attitudes or habits of thought) will you be able to sustain the course of action that will attract the results you want.

The other question I am often asked is “Who should go first?” Sometimes when the dance is well ingrained the partners play a game of chicken, each waiting for the other to take the first step toward a new start. The waiting game only creates more disappointment. If you want things to be different you’re the one who goes first, simple as that. Your own thoughts and actions are the only things you can control here.

So take a step. You don’t have to live in a conspiracy. Don’t play that way any more. Instead, create a vision in your mind of the way you’d like the relationship to work, and focus energy on developing the attitudes and the actions that will help to attract it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The best strategic plan

I've helped many companies develop or update their formalized long term plans, and I've looked at many more than that.  I'm asked often whether a plan is "good," and equally often the most recent plan document is handed to me with the unspoken agreement that it's the owner's child - and you don't tell a parent that their child is ugly.

The ultimate test of a plan is, of course, whether or not achieves the results the planner intended.  You know as well as I do that plans are based upon assumptions, and if the assumptions are incorrect or market conditions change drastically (as in 4Q 2008) all bets might be off.  Beyond that, though, there are components that the best strategic plans all contain:
  • Vision - Vision is a long view (maybe 10 years or more) of the company's purpose and intention.  The vision is often the only part of the plan that is shared pubicly.  Some organizations, especially nonprofits, call this Mission (as in missionary).  Vision is intended to be outwardly focused, on customers or the community.
  • Values - If vision is the direction, these are the rules for the road.  It's tempting to create a long list, but this is stronger when only the defining non-negotiables are included.  And the leaders of the organization need to know what they will do if and when somebody violates the values.  If there is no consequence it's not a core value and shouldn't be on the list.
  • Mission - Sometimes called strategic objective.  The mission encompasses the main achievements you want to attain within the plan period (2-3 years.)  The mission should be measurable.
  • Critical Goal Categories - Remember when your parents told you "There's more than one way to skin the cat"?  This is why we make goal categories.  The CGC "Capitalize on social media trend" might mean YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, or any number of media, and "Capitalize" might have several different definitions.  The important thing is that each of these is individually necessary, and together that they are sufficient for you to achieve your mission.
  • SMART Business Goals - Ultimately the success of your plan is tied to each employee moving his or her hands and feet toward your big intention.  The specific, measurable, achievable yet realistically high, and time-bound goals help them know how the mission will be accomplished.  And the smaller steps help the plan become believable (which helps motivate.)
It's helpful to have a third party facilitate the planning process.  That way every participant can truly participate, and the easel can't be used as a bully pulpit. 
  • Some companies choose to bring in content experts to help them do their planning.  (I think that your company is better served if your senior managers are up to date and not relying on outsiders to guide the plan.) 
  • If the knowledge base is there, you can use a "traffic cop" facilitator whose job is to provide process and structure to guide the planning group's thinking - not to give answers.  After all, it's your plan, and you'll be living with the results.
When it comes down to it, the best strategic plan is one that is achieved one employee at a time, through daily actions that are aligned with the big picture intention (vision.)  So you'll have the best plan when you communicate it and reinforce it with all of the players responsible to make it happen.  That's when a plan comes together.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What is your pain level?

Levels of pain
Originally uploaded by Matthew Field

My younger daughter had surgery yesterday (she's doing just fine, thanks) and after her procedure the recovery room nurse used this Universal Pain Assessment Tool to figure out what my daughter needed in the way of pain meds, etc.  Well, she would have used it had my contrary second grader actually answered the question "show me how much pain you're feeling." Ultimately my daughter's lack of response gave the nurse enough of a clue that she was feeling downright rotten.

Finding relief from pain is a huge motivator, probably the biggest one there is.  So what is your level of pain right now?  In what areas?  Is that pain bearable, like a dull ache?  Or is it sharp enough to keep you up at night? 

Pain doesn't have to be physical - sometimes the pain associated with negative emotions, disappointment, unmet expectations, stress, etc. can be quite pervasive.  And you can't take pain meds to make it go away.  Sure, you can temporarily anaesthetize yourself to block it out - drink heavily, zone out in front of the tube, eat too much - but you won't make it go away.

Longer-term pain relief involves uncovering its root cause, and then taking action of some sort to resolve it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"My way or the highway" doesn't work

Indy - Crack the Whip
Originally uploaded by 1/6th shooter

The iconic authoritarian boss cracks the whip and employees fall into line.  But in real life the overuse of authority has a short shelf life, especially when used among a team of professionals.  People who don't have a choice will resist being whipped (meant figuratively here) and people who do have a choice will leave or sue. 

There are several assumptions underlying the overuse of authority - and sometimes the overbearing boss is operating out of what he or she thinks is the best methodology.  Here are some of the attitudes that underly authoritarian behavior:
  • I know better than they do.
  • If I show weakness they'll eat me for lunch.
  • If my department messes up my job is at risk.
  • I'm liking this boss gig.  It makes me feel important to show them who's in charge.
  • It's either right or it's wrong - no gray zone.  And I (and only I) decide what's right.
  • If I don't keep my eye on them they are going to slack off and try to get away with things that aren't right.
The typical employee does not like to be dominated.  The typical employee wants to do a decent job for a decent rate of pay, and feels good when he or she makes a contribution to the success of the team.  Too much authoritarian management removes the employee's intrinsic motivation and creates more of the very thing the authoritarian manager fears - disengagement - which can result in interpersonal conflict and decline in quality and productivity.

Participative management generates better compliance, more positive motivation, and a more effective team than does the whip-cracking authoritarian method.  When a leader asks for employee opinions he or she creates relationships, which are the foundation for greater influence and power.  True leadership is earned, not demanded.

Yes, it's the leader's job to set the direction.  Yes, it's also the leader's job to help the organization make course corrections, and to uphold standards of performance.  But the leader can't do it alone.  The leader can't force employees to perform.  The leader needs the combined IQ of the whole organization to get the job done.  And the best way to do that is by having the courage to seek input and allow space for individual decision making - not by cracking the whip.