Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The effects of doing nothing

Moss moss moss by squacco
Moss moss moss, a photo by squacco on Flickr.
The timing isn't optimal.  You haven't found the best solution yet.  It's too early in the day/week/month/year.  It's too late in the day/week/month/year.  It's too close to the holidays.  You're not in shape yet.  The list goes on and on....

You will always be able to find a reason to do nothing.

There is always a risk that the action you take will not change anything for the better.  There is, however, almost a guarantee that inaction won't change it.  Instead, while you wait for the right conditions, right materials, right team members and right circumstances you'll start to grow moss on your feet.  We're speaking figuratively, of course, but wouldn't it be interesting to see inaction manifested in that way?

Inaction becomes a habit of behavior.  It evolves into a willingness, even an expectation, to be acted upon rather than to be the actor.  Long-term habits of inaction foster a victim mentality.  And the longer the inaction lasts, the greater chance there is of early negative conditioning taking hold, gripping the emotions in fear and dread.

In some situations, inaction makes the stakes grow higher.  For instance, if you have dropped a match into dry grass it's really simple to stamp out with your foot (with shoes on, of course) right after you have dropped it, while the flame is still small.  But if fear or even inattention causes you to delay, to do nothing, the flame has a chance to catch, fueled by a breeze and the dry grass, and to spread until you are surrounded by a wildfire that is impossible to squelch without outside assistance.

There is, of course, a benefit in inaction.  The benefit of waiting is that you can delay the outcome - for a while.  You don't have to hear someone say "No" in response to a request you make.  You don't have to see the crummy grade you have been given on your paper.  Assumptions about the outcome are big contributors to inaction.  If you were operating under the assumption, the habit of thought, that the situation would turn out well you would have taken action immediately to help it happen.

Doing something is usually (almost always?) better than doing nothing.  If it doesn't go the way you wanted it to go, well, now you know how not to do it.  Your willingness to act, even when you're not certain that you have a perfect or complete solution, will increase the speed of your results.  That means that even nine unsuccessful actions on the way to a tenth successful one in a day will generate more success than will a whole day of waiting for the perfect solution to appear.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Business success through eavesdropping?

Eavesdropping by ConfessionalPoet
Eavesdropping, a photo by ConfessionalPoet on Flickr.
What do you have to do to find out what you need to know?  What lengths do your employees have to go to in order to be fully informed about what's going on in the company and how it relates to them?  And how well are you managing the topics and volume at which they are being discussed in public settings?

In this football photo, the New York Jets' Bart Scott was casually listening in to a pow-wow among the Patriots' QB Tom Brady et al.  According to the photographer, fans in the stands noticed the blatant act of eavesdropping before the Patriots did.  Considering the broadcasting, recording and replay capabilities, and number of onlookers in this situation, Scott demonstrated some serious cojones - or some really poor sportsmanship.

Your team versus their team
Industrial espionage is nothing new.  The methods might be changing or broadening, but for decades or even centuries one of the "good guys" - that means on your team - has gathered intelligence by being discreetly nearby a sensitive conversation with ears tuned for important content.  Tales have proliferated about certain bars in the Silicon Valley where employees from high tech firms have routinely gathered for Happy Hour, and where some well-situated partiers overheard top secret product development information, which they subsequently parlayed into competitive counterpoint.

If you believe that business is a game - or a war - you may be going to great lengths to uncover strategically important information before your competitor is ready to reveal it.  Understand, though, that your competitors might also be operating from the same model, and if you have staff hanging out publicly with loose lips flapping and their outside voices on, your company may be at risk.  Confidentiality is often unintentionally, not intentionally, breached.  You may need specific policies (and known remedies) in place to help employees understand the impact of being overheard.

Within your team
One of the top contributors to employee engagement and job satisfaction is feeling in on things.  When staff overhears sensitive internal information, there are several issues at hand:

  1. The overheard information may not be fully formed, and therefore not fully accurate.
  2. There may be a strategic problem with too many people having this information too soon - or at all.
  3. The person overhearing the information will realize that the company has been holding out on him or her, and may feel offended, interpreting it as a sign that management has a trust issue.  
Compounding all of the ramifications above is the Grapevine effect.  It's highly likely - okay, a given -  that the overheard information will be passed along, morphing along the way until it can do some serious damage.  At the very least it can build a groundswell of organizational resistance among your staff.

The best way to help individuals know that they are on your team - really ON your team - is to provide them with information.  Do it regularly, intentionally, and include nice-to-know as well as need-to-know insights.  If you want them to retain certain information you'll need to communicate it more than once, and by several different means - in person, in writing, etc.  If, however, you treat them like mushrooms (in the dark under a pile of manure) they will find their own ways to learn what they need to know.  (And you might want to remember to keep your voice down.) 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Eyzes on the Prizes

Oscar statuettes by NYC♥NYC
Oscar statuettes,
a photo by 
NYC♥NYC on Flickr.
There's nothing like a bit of invented vocabulary to wake a person up in the morning!  And it's possible that the morning after the Oscars, the Grammy awards, the Tony awards, Golden Globes, Peoples Choice and even the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice awards, you need a little help propping the bleary eyes open.

Why are there so many awards, and why do so many people enjoy watching them, even betting their hard-earned cash on them?

  1. It's great to receive professional recognition.  In the case of the Oscars it's from other people who work in your industry, people who should know what good performance is.
  2. It's a way to keep score.  Not every good performance translates into economic success, and vice versa.  Critical reviews can vary from "must see" to "waste of celluloid" on a given motion picture, and once a performer has received an Oscar he or she can thumb their nose at the latter.
  3. It's a lead-in to a bigger paycheck.  Critical and professional acclaim leads to opportunity.  You receive better scripts and requests to collaborate with better and better colleagues.
  4. The backstage partners are onstage.  Film and sound editors, costumers, hair and makeup artists, and writers are rarely recognized in the supermarket.  Yet their contribution to an outstanding final product is indisputable.  Finally here they can be seen and acknowledged.
  5. Categories build the pipeline for the future.  A documentary isn't generally going to earn as much as a large commercial film, nor will it be seen in the same venues.  Same goes for foreign language and art films.  They are, however, often the starting venues for new creative voices.  The early films are often made by people who have more passion than financial backing.  The visibility and encouragement from awards can keep their spirits up and their connections improving until they can emerge in a larger venue with a bigger project.
  6. The triumph of the vision over the machine.  Over-emphasis on commercial payoff can suppress the range of artistic visions that make it into public view.  Sometimes the new artist, the unconventional interpretation, the challenging topic can emerge with recognition, opening the door to new avenues, new subject matter, etc. in the industry as a whole.
Is there a nugget, something to be learned from this for you and your business, your department, your volunteer group or your kid's sports team?  People stretch themselves when they see what is possible, and few of them receive too much recognition.  What would some formalized recognition, public acknowledgement, even some tangible prize suitable for display do for you or the performance of the people around you?  

Friday, February 22, 2013

No, it's not about you

It's All About Me! by Randy Willis Photos
It's All About Me!, a photo by Randy Willis Photos on Flickr.
This is not meant as a reprimand, but rather as a statement of reassurance.  It's not about you.  You are not onstage in your daily life.  You don't need to be afraid to stick your neck out for fear of looking foolish, because chances are that they (whoever they are) aren't even watching you.

That person over there is worried about his or her own issues, about their own goals - and about looking foolish to others just the way that you are.  It's the human condition that we share: to try, to fail, to try again, and to worry about fitting in along the way.

Even if that person has just yelled at you, it's still probably not about you.  It's about how they feel stressed right now, or  it is a carryover from their upset about what the last person just did.  They might be hollering now because they felt that they couldn't let loose when they wanted to ten minutes ago because it was in a public setting, or it was their boss that frustrated them.  Or their yelling might be the default communication style  for times of conflict that they learned a long time ago.  The catalyst was likely not you.

Your mother might have warned you not to do anything that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper, but that's not because everybody is watching your every move, looking for a scandal, or failure, or infraction to spread about you.     When Mom told you the newspaper story it was to remind you to honor your conscience and your moral code, the one she worked so hard to instill in you.

If you have some notoriety as a leader in your company, in the community, in the larger world, people might be watching you.  They might be modeling their behavior on yours or trying to dig up dirt on you.  But even then it's not about you.  It's about their need to fit in, their need to feel one-up by finding fault, or their need to find a personal payday.  You just happen to be the vehicle of the moment.

You are important.  You are unique.  But get over yourself and let go of it.  Allow yourself to listen to the still, small voice inside that tells you what is right for you, and follow it.  The rest will take care of itself.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is your television turned on?

Flipping [115/365] by Dan04
Flipping [115/365], a photo by Dan04 on Flickr.
Lonn rides down the turnpike in his luxury car with the radio playing.  He hits the SCAN button, his customary setting, in search of a song he wants to listen to all the way through.  This time, like most of the time, Lonn never stops on a channel - he just keeps driving with a soundtrack that would be a testament to Attention Deficit Disorder.  "Don't like country...rap makes me tense...sappy chick song..." In Lonn's point of view there's something wrong with almost every one.  So he keeps moving - in permanent scan mode.

Samuel has a similar ritual with his television.  He sits reclined in his family room until the wee hours of the morning with remote control in hand, sometimes flipping to watch two football games at once and other times scanning the channels in frustration, not finding anything that suits his mood.  (On other occasions he's watching nothing through his eyelids as the television blares on whatever channel he clicked last.)

There are parallels here with how some people are with their goals.  They know what they don't want to have happen, but they don't know what they do want.  So they flip from activity to activity, often never finding anything that suits them.  Or they become stuck, looking at a blank television screen.  They know what outcome(s) would be unappealing but don't have a picture of the desirable one in mind.

If there are one or two or even three outcomes that would be beneficial to you, there are probably about three hundred jillion that would not.  If you invest your time and energy in trying to avoid the plethora of potential undesirable outcomes you'll have to be performing a constant self-protective 360-degree scan.  Talk about stress!  If, on the other hand, you focus in on defining and executing the thing or couple of things that you WANT to have happen you reduce stress by filtering external opportunities and data according to their relevance to your goal.

When you are trying to affect the behavior of other people, the TV metaphor is also appropriate.  Are you telling them only what you DON'T want?  If you don't give them a channel to rest on (a standard for the right way or the appropriate behavior) you are in effect leaving the TV turned off.  They might flip channels for days, weeks, or even longer trying a variety of methods to please you, none of which you like too much.  Why not make it easier for everybody and tell them what you want?  Instead of saying "not here, not now, not in that way," tell them "this is where you do it, this is when you do it, and this is how I would like you to do it."  There are no mysteries in this methodology, and therefore it will be much easier for the other person to meet your expectations.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Everybody knows that - don't they?

whisper by aka Jon Spence
a photo by 
aka Jon Spence on Flickr.
"Everybody knows that you have to have money to make money."  "Everybody knows that it's not appropriate to wear shorts to church."  "Everybody knows that we don't do that here."

Do they?  If so, how did they find out that thing that they supposedly all know?

Culture in a group, whether company, neighborhood, club, family, etc. is defined by a shared set of values, goals and acceptable behaviors.  Simple, right?  But in an increasingly diverse world it's not easy.  People come from different backgrounds, different experiences, and so their assumptions about what "everybody knows" can be completely different from one another.  "Everybody" doesn't know everything that you think they do.  It's not that they are ignoring important information.  It's that they don't know what you think constitutes the important information.

Why does this matter?  It matters because in the workplace you can't hold people accountable to performance standards of which they are not aware.  You can't assume that "everybody knows" because everybody doesn't know.  You might think that they should know, but they don't.  So if you run an employee through the disciplinary gauntlet on the basis of uncommon knowledge you're treating them unfairly - and opening your company to legal risk.

For that critical item that you think everybody knows, is it written in clearly understandable terms in a policy?  Is the policy distributed to each employee?  Is it reviewed with employees regularly so they don't have to discover a policy only after they have unwittingly been involved in a violation of said policy?  Are employees required to undergo periodic testing to make sure that they are aware - at the quick reaction level - of the proper protocols to use?

You might be tempted to say that you don't want to get all wrapped up in policy.  It is true that the more policies you have, the more you have to enforce.  But if you are going to enforce anyway, to do so without the clarity of defined policies means you are standing on shifting sand.

As a manager, this comes down to a gut check:  Is your main goal to help average people to perform extraordinary work, or is your highest priority to cover your own derriere against being held accountable for your company's performance?  In other words, if your focus is primarily on holding people accountable you're operating by the C.Y.A. rule - finding someone other than yourself to blame.

Remember that you are the one responsible for establishing and improving processes (by making sure it happens, not necessarily by doing it by yourself).  You are the one who has the charge to train your employees in whatever way the company needs them to go.  Once you do that well, you will be able to be more assured that "everybody knows."  You will have helped them to find out and to remember and to execute in accordance with those principles.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The new world of international hacking

computer-hacker by
a photo by on Flickr.
The New York Times reports today that an American Internet security company, Mandiant, has identified a location from which a substantial proportion of hacks on U.S. entities has originated.  Mandiant's information leads the company to a conclusion that the hacking is not a result of some shadowy group of individual computer savants and freelancers, but rather an orchestrated effort that is likely to originate in the Chinese military.

P.L.A. (People's Liberation Army) Unit 61398 is located outside Shanghai, and Kevin Mandian, Mandiant's CEO, indicates that 90%- plus of the activity originates in its vicinity.  Apparently so far the hackers have been abiding by some rules of engagement.  Mandian says that so far the hacking has compromised only the confidentiality of data, but that it has the potential to become destructive should the P.L.A. develop a mission for it to do so.

The Times article is both fascinating and frightening, considering how critical online databases and communication systems have become to the daily conduct of even the smallest businesses.  It's also reassuring to know that the American security folks are on the job, because Mandian believes that cyber-security threat (from China specifically) is not a passing issue, but rather will become the new normal.

The online article also includes a video interview of Kevin Mandian that is well worth the watch.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Leaving an open door - and seeing one

Crack in the doorway - by J.E. Poland
One of the challenges in family businesses, particularly in ones where older and younger generations of a family are working together, is the willingness of the coworkers-family members to challenge the existing order of the relationships.  Familial traditions might dictate that Dad is always the boss, and that he is never to be questioned or challenged.  Habits of thought might lead the adult sons or daughters to keep assuming that they are meant to be seen but not heard.  And the group might always make decisions and work assignments based on the old news that Sonny was never a good student - even though his student days are long behind him.

In family businesses individuals are sometimes less likely to be judged on their merit alone.  The water can become muddied by deeply held disappointments, overblown expectations, and real or imagined hurts sustained during the family history.

For Dad or Mom (or the managing family member)
Your ability or inability to separate business from family dynamics could become the factor that grows your business - or harms your family beyond repair.  You can't fully leave the workplace behind when you lock the door at the end of the day, because the people with whom you just had a work-based argument are the same ones that will be with you on vacation or around the holiday dinner table.

  • You need fact-based measurement and decision making tools to help you gauge company, departmental, and individual performance without involving the family dynamic.  This doesn't mean that you become a complete calculator-head with no ability to relate with people.  It means that you can better balance your emotions with your rational self.
  • You need a succession plan or an exit plan if you want the business to be a going concern after you retire.  This requires an assessment of the capacity of involved family members, and a reality conversation with them about their desire to take the helm at some point (or not.)  And don't wait until six months before you're ready to be done before you start to develop your next-in-line.  Give yourself - and them - some opportunity to test their skills before the entire business rests on them.
  • You need some legal agreements to make sure that your estate is handled properly, that the ownership of the company is transferred without incident, and that the relationships between your heirs can be preserved.  Poor (or no) estate planning is a great way to kill a family and its family business in one fell swoop.
  • You need to keep a crack in the door.  Your family members need to be able to talk with you, to reach you, without having to request an audience.  You have your own productivity to manage, but if you do not provide opportunities for them to tell you about the small issues they are dealing with, you might only find out about them once they have grown to proportions that are far more difficult to resolve.  They are additional eyes and ears in the business, and they can help you.  Let them help you.
For the SOBs and DOBs - (sons and daughters of the boss)
It might be hard to reconcile the fact that your parent's business might be their first-born child, and carry a huge amount of emotional attachment.  It might seem like the business comes first - all of the time, no matter what - and you may be right.  It's been first because they have relied on it to provide security for you and the rest of the family, and because it has been a terrific outlet for them and their talents.  If they are not the first generation owner, they might feel a tremendous responsibility to maintain the business to preserve the family name.  They haven't forgotten you - this is largely for you.  But aside from trying to understand where they are coming from, there are some things you need to do to be successfully involved in the company:
  • Get some outside experience first.  As the business grows and goes through different phases, different skills are needed.  If your family business is like many, its founders are terrific at performing the content of the business, but might not be as effective at working ON the business.  Marketing, finance, human resources, management, planning - all can be valuable fields of experience to be brought back into the business.
  • Expect to work your way up.  Having the right last name might not be the best ticket to the corner office.  Even if you are well educated and have outside experience, you are not automatically entitled to a VP Title and a posh office space.  It's important for you to experience the nitty gritty of the business first-hand, so you can develop a heart for it.  You will need to work to earn the respect of employees who might have known you since the days when your playpen was positioned in the corner of the production area and you drooled all over your toys while sitting in it.
  • Work hard.  This should be a no-brainer, but SOBs and DOBs who feel entitled don't always do it.  Long lunches, short work weeks and poor productivity leave Mom or Dad frustrated and embarrassed, and create tension with other employees that you might be in the position to lead later.  You won't be able to lead if they don't want to follow you.
  • Look for the crack in the door, then push it open.  The business needs your brainpower, with new ideas, solutions to existing problems, and observations on what's not going right and needs to be corrected.  Even though Dad or Mom wasn't necessarily receptive to your ideas in your teen years (and may not yet be very open,) it's your job to act in the best interests of the business.  That might mean challenging the familial pattern of power, or telling Mom or Dad something that you are pretty sure they don't want to hear.
The door is not always wide open, and it shouldn't always be.  Talking about business isn't even remotely the same as working on the business.  Every person's productivity is important to the company's success.  But both generations in the family business need to use the door to its best advantage.  That almost always means to leave the opportunity for productive communication open - even if it's just a crack.

Friday, February 15, 2013

You remember what's important to you

day 46 by Sober Eye of Reason
day 46, a photo by Sober Eye of Reason on Flickr.
OK, by show of hands - who forgot to leave for vacation last year?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Didn't think so.  Who in the world would forget to go on vacation!

Now for the daily questions:

  • Who forgot to pick up bread on the way home from work?
  • Who forgot to brush their teeth?
  • Who forgot to pay the electric bills?
And the relationship questions:
  • Who forgot to send a card to their brother on his birthday?  Their mother?  Their wife?
  • Who has missed one or more wedding anniversaries (and gotten in trouble over it)?
  • Who forgets what team their spouse roots for?
Sure there is a such thing as attention deficit.  There are jobs that are stressful and mentally consuming.  But you remember the things that are important to you.  You remember where you store your socks, and because you know you need them every day you always store them in the same place so you can find them easily.

Forgetting can be the behavioral extension of "Don't want to."  That's why kids "forget" to make their beds.  They put it out of their minds because they don't like to do it - unless they are particularly orderly by temperament.  That's why teenagers "forget" to call home to let their parents know where they are, even though the cell phone is right under their thumbs while they are texting their friends.

Forgetting can be an intention versus impact situation.  For instance, you might be absolutely caught up in what you are doing at your desk and forget to call a customer at the appointed time.  You might have intended to call them, but the fact is that you didn't.  And that you didn't creates an impact in the mind of the customer.  The customer draws impressions that
  1. You're disorganized, or
  2. You don't care about them
  3. You think that their issue is not material, whatever it is
If your brain is easily distracted you need to have systems, and maybe even backup systems.  Furthermore, if something is important to the other PEOPLE who are important to you, unless you want them to think that they are only background in your life, you had better figure out how to remember.  Otherwise you come off as a self-absorbed cad who takes them for granted.

The key people in your life have conditioned expectations for behavior, and whether you think they are reasonable or not, they are what they are.  Remembering shows caring.  And in the world of Facebook, right or wrong your loved ones are reading about all of the ways in which their friends and acquaintances are being honored by being remembered in some way.  Is it right to be judged by societal standards?  Maybe not, but while you're living in one it's a reality, and looking away from it hoping it will go away isn't going to work.

Great relationships start with honorable intentions, but they aren't maintained without follow-through.  If you are consistently having a hard time remembering a certain person or certain special occasions, perhaps you have a gut-check to do.  Are you living out of alignment with what you really want?  Your forgetting may be providing clues to you that some changes are in order.  But if you truly want this person, this job, this customer in your life, you need to get your act together before it's too late, and figure out the systems you need to implement to help you remember the important stuff.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The detour may be worth taking...

Detour by artchang
Detour, a photo by artchang on Flickr.
He had it planned - MBA, open his own company, start a family, and make his first of many millions.  Now he finds himself in a J.O.B., working in an industry in which he had no prior experience.  And no millions are in sight.

She had it all laid out, too - college, med school, marriage, kids, and the proverbial happy ending.  But what she wound up with - at least for now - is very different from the plan.  Only some college, no med school, no marriage (although a steady partner), a key role in the family business, and kids.  Several kids.

These two individuals have both taken detours.  In both instances life has delivered something very different from what they had intended.  Circumstances they could not control stepped in as if to say, "Hah!  Let's see what you will do with this!"  And their reactions to the detour are very different.

He is frustrated and angry.  He feels like he failed, that the dream of entrepreneurship has been ripped from his hands.  He blames himself for the fallout of his venture, and he is convinced that this isn't only a detour that he's driving on.  He fully expects to arrive at a different, and far less attractive, destination than he intended.  He has started a family, his children are thriving - but he can't let go of the self-recrimination long enough to see what is there.  He only sees what he is missing.

She, on the other hand, is taking a philosophical view of her detour.  Although she had to face some external changes that had ramifications for her education and career plan, she made conscious choices.  Now in case your habits of thought are taking you into stereotypical women's role land, just cut it out.  She is doing more than filling a hole in the business org chart.  She has big goals for the business in which she has landed.  As a matter of fact, she has the opportunity to do some things that never would have been available to her on the road she planned.

A big and detailed plan does not prevent external factors from creating a delay or a detour.  You can minimize the impact of those factors by thinking about them while they are still potential obstacles, not current ones.  You can create a game plan for getting around them.

Ultimately, though, even a detour has a view out the window.  Even a detour can contain some attractive sights and engaging activities.  You have a choice whether to struggle against it, or to go with it and look for opportunities to benefit from the road you didn't plan to travel.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wanted: One Fairy Godmother

Fairy Godmother _8789 by Disney-Grandpa
Fairy Godmother _8789,
a photo by 
Disney-Grandpa on Flickr.
Cinderella had one.  Just when every single other person in the kingdom was heading for the social event of the decade and Cindy was stuck at home scrubbing the floors, she appeared out of nowhere.  And she hooked Cindy up with a great outfit, hairdo (complete with tiara!) and a fabulous ride to the ball.  Cindy took it from there, entrancing the prince even before she had to dash out of the castle before her carriage repumpkinized.

What would Cinderella's life have been like without her Fairy Godmother?  And where can we all get one, somebody who shows up when the going gets tough and makes it all better - just because?

Sometimes this creature isn't quite so fantasy-bound, wearing sparkly clothing and waving a wand.  But in the "real world" this person does still appear.  Godmother or Godfather, (or angel investor or auntie or grandpop,) they are flesh and blood, and they have the best interests of a special person or persons at heart.  They step in at just the right moment, when it looks like the conditions are turning ugly.  They wave their wand just when the future is looking like the same-old drudgery and the roadblocks to something better are ten feet tall.  And they transform the situation.

Everyone should have the opportunity to have a Fairy Godmother.  Every person has the responsibility to take hold of his or her fortunes and be active in manifesting the future.  But the Fairy Godmother is the catalyst, the reminder that the possibilities are still possible.  She sets the wheels in motion with resources, or a vote of confidence, or game-changing intel supplied at just the right moment.

It would be great if you had a Fairy Godmother to call your own.  But there is another opportunity here.  You can BE a Fairy Godmother for someone.  If you are keeping your eyes and ears tuned to the people and the challenges around you, the openings may appear for you to step in and do that special thing that you can do to move a person or a problem forward.  You can be the catalyst that turns a situation from dire to delightful.

Perhaps the Fairy Godmother role is one that you can take on in order to pay it forward from your own life story.  One appeared when you needed her (or him,) and now that your story has unfolded and you are in the position to do so, you can BE one.  This doesn't mean that you do it for them.  The Fairy Godmother didn't do the dancing at the ball.  She wasn't the one who enchanted the Prince with her good looks and sweet demeanor.  Those achievements were up to Cinderella.  But without the Fairy Godmother stepping in at a critical point in the action, the story couldn't have had the same fairytale ending.  Wanted:  One Fairy Godmother.  Could it be you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Values and right-now decisions

Vintage Balance Scale by Joie De Cleve
Vintage Balance Scale, a photo by Joie De Cleve on Flickr.
Articulated values are not only the "hearts and flowers" segment of your company's long-term plan.  At least they are more than that when they are real, communicated, reinforced and acted.  Although they are often thought of as big-picture items that are nice to do when you have time, authentic values are far more immediate than that.  They are driving right-now decisions.

  • Your values determine whether you answer the phone to respond to a customer who is calling, or whether you finish your work first with the customer who is standing right in front of you.
  • Values determine whether you would rather (if you were forced to choose) hand a project in on time or hand it in done exactly right.
  • Your inner code of values influences whether you decide to delegate a task or keep it to yourself - because you are the only one you trust to do it just the way you want it.
  • Values determine whether you take time to communicate in person, or whether you relegate important information to an email.
  • Your values create the inner-driven necessity for you to keep your commitments - or not, if it is no longer convenient or comfortable for you to do so.
In the process of hiring and developing staff, the assessment of the individual's values fit often stands in line behind educational qualifications, experience, and job competencies.  Sometimes values aren't even discussed, until the misalignment shows itself after an investment is made in the individual and a performance problem rears its head.  This can be an expensive component of hiring and development to miss.  Core values are far more difficult to build (or rebuild) than are skills and knowledge and job experiences.

If you as a leader want to be able to delegate more effectively, you cannot be hovering over the employee to which you have delegated.  The idea is for them to perform the task independently and to obtain a satisfactory result, thus freeing you for other activities.  When you know you can't or shouldn't be there right beside them to ensure that they are doing the same thing that you would do, knowledge and integration of shared values help them to obtain the result that you would want.  Values like:
  1. We respond to our clients within the same business day as their question or problem.
  2. Customer loyalty comes first, and we do what's necessary to keep them happy.
  3. We are always, always, always on time.
  4. Our employees are essential to our success, and we treat them that way.
  5. Collect data before making decisions.
If you do not identify values, reinforce them among your staff, and select new employees in part for their alignment with them - you are taking a risk that right-now decisions will conflict with - or even sabotage - your company's goals.  When faced with an urgent or stressful situation, people don't hit the pause button and stop to ponder.  They react.  It's a stimulus-response world.  Core values generate those conditioned responses.  So if you want to manage the right-now world more effectively, you are well-advised not to leave values to chance.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Synergy's benefit - and its price

Whether it's the topic of team performance, business partnerships, or even of marriage, the question that coaches are often asked is "Is it better to be similar to one another or different from one another?"  As is the case with many other big questions, the best first answer is "It depends."

It may be easiest to explore this with a specific example.  An intact work team was surveyed to determine what its primary motivators are (among other things).  The intention behind the survey was to look at the output to help to determine a focus for the team's core values, to allocate team resources in the most effective way, and to assist the team in recruiting individuals who would best compliment the team dynamic and the business's strategic direction.  Here is the output for the team:

You can see that the highest motivator (Value) for the team is Economic(second column), followed by Individualistic (third column).  This team as a whole wants to know that effort is going to result in a payoff of some sort, and they also want to be unique in how they go about doing it. Next in priority of values is Theoretical, meaning that the team as a whole likes to learn, and knowledge even for its own sake is motivating.

The picture changes, however, when you look at the individual scores:

Although Economic motivation is big in the company overall, one person doesn't give two hoots about it (see the aqua line in the second column.)  The team-based leaning toward Individualistic is largely the result of two individuals (see the purple and the orange in the third column) - other people in the company are more closely collected at a lower level.  And the motivational impact of Theoretical is spread all over the place.

The team leadership might decide that it's important to draw the outliers into closer conformance with the rest of the team, or they might decide to select future team members with similar values.  If they determine instead that the diversity in motivators is important and beneficial, the team leadership will need to vary their management approaches to align each individual's motivation.

This team has the potential for some fundamental conflict in Altruistic (motivated by the good of society as a whole) category shown in the 5th column.  A couple of people really care about it, and they, by the way, are two of the most senior individuals on the team.  A couple of other individuals don't value it much at all.  The motivators themselves are important, but in a hierarchical setting certain individuals' values might be more "valuable" than others'.

It might be easier to be on a team (or in a relationship) where individual profiles are identical.  When motivators are similar it’s easier to understand where the other person is coming from, and to predict their behavior.  That can reduce stress.  On the other hand, team members who are similar will also tend to share blind spots, and that can prove to be risky for the team.  Synergy, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, occurs when all bases are covered by someone on the team.  Diversity helps synergy happen.

Productive communication among team members becomes a critical success factor in capitalizing on mental diversity, because time and space need to be provided in which the team can seek different perspectives on problems and opportunities, and settle differences as they occur.

Values don't operate in a vacuum - context is a relevant overlay for the assessment of fit versus non-fit.  Certain job roles (fully-commissioned sales, for example) are structured around motivational assumptions.  Salesperson compensation typically assumes that an individual is motivated by money, and will therefore pursue new business in order to have higher personal earnings.

Context is also important for a team.  If the team is in the midst of a new product offering, for instance, and one individual is highly tuned in to all things Aesthetic, that individual is the appropriate go-to person to make sure that the product is visually pleasing to the customer.  Otherwise the highly Economically motivated might be tempted to cut corners in order to make more profit, to the extent that they don't include some niceties that are very important to customers' sensibilities.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What is your superpower?

Did I mention I have a superpower? (#71) by j / f / photos
Did I mention I have a superpower? (#71),
a photo by 
j / f / photos on Flickr.
"What would you want as your superpower?" the preteen asked his dad on the way home from a sporting event.  "Hmmm..." his dad, replied.  "I'll have to think about that....I think I would like to be able to fly.  Yeah.  That would be cool."

"My superpower would be the ability to steal other people's superpowers,"  the son countered.  "OK then, maybe my superpower should be the ability to block other people from stealing my superpower," the dad said.  Game. Set.  Match.  Dad wins - and they both get a laugh out of the deal.

That verbal joust, done entirely for fun to pass the time in the car, does raise the question, though. "What is your superpower?"  Or perhaps it would be better stated, "What has the potential to be your superpower if you chose to develop it?"

An inordinate amount of focus (in the workplace and outside it) is placed on fixing shortcomings - the opposite of the superpowers.  How many people could Superman have saved if he focused all of his attention on Kryptonite, the one substance that weakened him?  Instead, Superman's focus was on hearing and seeing trouble, and responding.  Wow.  Talk about an assortment of superpowers in one package!  Super strength, super speed, the ability to fly, AND the ability to see through walls and hear acutely.  Now if had only been able to develop a method for changing into his super suit without needing a phone booth...but we digress...

You are already pretty good to downright awesome at doing the thing or things that has the potential to be your superpower.  You probably also enjoy doing it, because you know you do it well.  It might already be creating some positive buzz for you.  What could happen if you were to amp it up a little bit more by developing it more fully?

David Herdlinger, a longtime coach colleague and friend, asserts that you have the opportunity to move your skills up two points on a scale of ten through a process of intentional, focused development.  If you engage in a coaching process or other developmental program and are already at a level of 7 in your potential superpower, you could become a 9 according to Herdy's assertion.  That's close to world class!  If you were able to accomplish that, would would it do for you?

If you are among the skeptics that believe that flaw-fixing is the only path to improvement, let's apply Herdlinger's assertion to you.  If your Kryptonite, your non-strength -  is a 3 on the ten-scale, an improvement of 2 points will only put you at a 5 when you're all done.  Even if we don't account for the stress likely to be associated with fighting yourself, your opportunity to be a 5 isn't likely to attract fans.  That's middle of the road, and middle of the road won't sell comic books.

In case modesty is holding you back, consider this.  Many spiritual traditions present the view that stewardship of resources is God's work.  How effective is the stewardship you are giving to your talents and potential superpowers if you are not developing them to their fullest?  Are you truly honoring your gifts?

For today, make a point to take notice of your current and potential superpowers.  At the very least, noticing your strengths should add to your confidence and your optimism.  And beyond that, you may discover new opportunities for growth that you had not considered before.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Now that you have lit the fire

Light my fire! by dranidis
Light my fire!, a photo by dranidis on Flickr.
A while back an employee participant complained to his Summit coach, "The boss said he wants ideas, we give him ideas and he shoots all of them down!"

Employee engagement, the lighting (or fanning) of the internal fire that stimulates thought and productivity, creates a chain reaction.  Are you sure that you, the leader, really want it?

Sometimes leaders think that their coach is kidding when they say that the leader has to go first in any sort of change initiative.  It's partly because the leader models the commitment to change - the entire employee base is watching and assessing the alignment of management's actions with its words.  But the leader also has to go first to prepare himself or herself for the reality that fire in the belly means taking initiative.  Going forward, if the leader is doing it right, not all of the ideas are going to be invented in the corner office.  And the leader needs to be more than OK with that.  The leader needs to encourage that, even if they are not exactly the same ideas that the leader would bring forward himself or herself.

Think about the employees that drive you nuts:

  • Are they asking, "What if we....?"
  • Are they telling you, "Look what I did...?"
  • Are they saying, "I was thinking and I would like to...?"
If you have created a framework for thought and action in the form of a strategic direction (your destination) and core values (your rules for the road) you have an excellent foundation for independent thinking on the part of your staff.  You just need to let go and let them do it.

"But I can't just hand them carte blanche!"  Certainly budgets can be a concern.  And you might have to help them sort through criteria for prioritizing and choosing the best ideas.  If there are limiting elements, let them know what they are at the outset so it doesn't turn into a game of "Gotcha!"

This isn't a concept that's merely nice to do.  Being willing to let go and let your employees do and stop controlling everything is mission-critical if you want to create sustainable engagement in your company.  Sure you continue to look at the performance numbers.  But instead of keeping them to yourself, share them with your staff.  Let them see the results - good and bad - of the actions they are choosing to take.  Help them to become better decision-makers by educating them - in data form -  about the ramifications.  When they own the results too, you can get full leverage from the fire in the belly - and from the aggregate IQ of your staff.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The things that give you courage

courage by knezeves
courage, a photo by knezeves on Flickr.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  ― Nelson Mandela

When have you exhibited courage?  When have you looked fear in the face and then took action anyway?  These incidents don't have to be as dramatic as sitting on the edge of a precipice.  The threats you faced might not even have been physical ones.

There are reasons why you did it anyway despite your fears, and if you look your reasons carefully you'll reveal your values.  Perhaps it's love that drives you, or patriotism, or altruism, or the desire for achievement.  When these values are engaged you press forward in the face of fear.  That's courage.

You might have gone through exercises where you write down your priorities and your values.  But if you're like a lot of people, the things that go down on paper, especially when you're in a group setting, can be the things that sound good - the things that you think you should say.  Shoulds don't inspire courage.  Courage comes from "want to".  And in the most threatening situations, courage to move forward despite the obstacles is driven by "HAVE to".  In this context "have to" means that the drive comes from inside you, not from an outside individual or institution telling you so.  It's an internal imperative.

How do you find more courage, more often?  Reflection helps you to find the sources of your courage.  Consideration of those things that you have already done despite the odds against you helps you to find the origins of your courage.

Once you know the things, the drivers, that help you act despite your fear, you can summon your courage by connecting the challenges in front of you to those things.  Your drivers - your values and priorities - can become the common denominators that enable you to be courageous time after time.

Once you prevail as a result of your willingness to act in spite of your fear, the internal rewards of having prevailed will drive you to act courageously again.  And again.  Until courage becomes one of your defining traits.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A box you make for yourself

Man in a Box by Chase Hoffman
Man in a Box, a photo by Chase Hoffman on Flickr.
You, my friend, are living in a box that you made for yourself.  How does it fit?  Does it feel confining?  Are your muscles strained and your bones all twisted up?  Are you in there all the time, or are you more likely to climb inside when faced with certain situations?

The box, of course, is the collection of your assumptions about yourself.  The collection includes things like:

  • Whether you're smart enough to be a rocket scientist
  • Whether you're good-looking, or average, or something else not to be described here
  • Whether you could be on American Idol - and not be one of the shameful audition performances
  • Whether you have the stuff to become the next business phenom
The bad news
Unfortunately for you, a lot of these assumptions were formed a LONG time ago - before you hit elementary school.  Sure, the context evolved as you got older:  king of the playground evolved into king of the middle school football team, middle school led to star high school, then college, etc.  But what didn't necessarily evolve was your view of yourself in those scenarios, or others.

When you were a preschooler there was a lot that you couldn't do.  You weren't big enough yet, and you hadn't started your formal schooling.  When you're a kid surrounded by adults, even when you're the biggest and best among your peers you can still learn habits of feeling inadequate and unworthy, uncoordinated and shy.  

Compounding these self-assessments are the lessons learned from your parents.  "Don't go here", "don't do that," repeated to you over time, are stored in your noggin, and eventually they evolve into "can't go here" and "can't do that". These can linger long after you're educated, perhaps even married with a few workplace accomplishments under your belt.  Self-doubts are the box, the self-limiting habits of thought that squeeze you into a space that's smaller than it needs to be.

The good news
Fortunately for you, the box is a collection of habits.  You learned them, so you can learn other ones that are more supportive of the person that you want to become.  This isn't easy.  If you have spent 40 years becoming the person you are now you are unlikely to do a 180-degree turn in a weekend.  But over time you can intentionally input new information that will help to dilute the old programming that's currently running in your mind and tripping you up from time to time.

If you want to break out of that box, here are some things you can do:
  1. Set goals for yourself, ones that stretch you a bit.  The achievement of stretch goals helps you notice that you are expanding your boundaries.  It helps if you manage the amount of stretch.  Go too far in one step and you might set yourself up to "prove" yourself right about your limitations.  The length of the first step isn't as important as is the experience of intentional progress.  Success encourages you to take the next step, and the next, and the next.
  2. Manage your self-talk.  You might be in the habit of saying "stupid, stupid, stupid!" inside your head when you make a mistake.  When you do that you strengthen the little box.  Instead, make a point of talking to yourself about the person you want to become - even if you have a way to go before you get there.  Write it down if you have to.  "I make time to organize myself every day," or "I enjoy speaking in front of groups," affirm specific actions that fulfill specific characteristics that you want to have more consistently - in this case organization and confidence in your public speaking.
  3. Surround yourself with inspiration.  There are people around who who are expanding their own boxes daily.  Model some of their successful methods, and help them notice their successes.  And when you hang out with people who are expanding the box they are likely to encourage you in your efforts too.
You may be in a box, and it may not be comfortable.  But you don't have to live there.  Living in that confining box, built by your habits of thought, is a choice.  What would it mean to you if you chose to build a bigger place in which to live?