Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Favorites - Ghosts versus zombies at work

Professionals typically come to Summit for coaching
for one of two
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major reasons:  
  1. managing stress and balance more effectively, or 
  2. boosting personal  effectiveness and productivity. 
One of the key coaching approaches toward improving either - or both - of these areas is structure - creating reliable, intentional and repeated actions toward a desired end.  But this is one of those situations where too much of a good thing can be a problem. Sometimes the goal is not to create a track as it is to emerge from a rut that's not producing the results that the coachee wants. So let's see where you are on the continuum - are you more like a ghost?  Or a zombie?

The Ghost - who knows where you'll be next?
Imagine the ethereal character in the movies, appearing in one place and then another.  You don't know where they will show up and when, but you know that when they do you'll be startled.  The ghost has no structure - in body or in behavior.
When you have too little structure, too little routine in your day, every activity is a new decision, so every move you make has to be based on a consistent intention if you don't want to waste energy or compromise your outcome. If your overall intention is not clear, or if you aren't certain that you're truly committed to whatever your goal is, you're less likely to be faithful about taking action.
Difficult changes often respond better to a higher level of structure, like short term goals and action steps.  They also benefit from shorter-term progress evaluation.  Monthly assessment might not be enough - you might need a weekly, or even a daily check-in to make sure that you are on track.  

Some leaders resist delegating work because they are concerned about letting go, worried that the person to whom the job has been assigned won't have the foundation (structure) upon which to make sound decisions.  Rules, guidelines, codes of conduct, decision making principles - these are all tools that can be used effectively to give shape to the ghost.  Using these umbrella criteria can help a developing leader handle delegation more effectively.

If you want to be less like a ghost and ensure that your Quadrant Two (not urgent but important) items are being addressed before they become crises, create structure by entering official time slots for them in your planner. You make the decision and the commitment ahead of time so your most important tasks are less likely to fall victim to the latest crisis or popular activity.  Just like a budget is to make sure you allow room in your finances for important investments and expenditures, your planner helps to make sure you have reserved room in your life for the things that are important to you.

Does this sound obvious to you?  It might be.  But far more people know to do this than actually do it.

Zombie syndrome - too much structure
Structure gives order and predictability to the day. When you get up, get showered and dressed, eat breakfast and head out to work in the same sequence every day you're often halfway to work before you actually have to think in a conscious fashion.  You don't wake up in the morning and decide, "Well, I think I'll go to work today" because going to work is a foregone conclusion.  You're on autopilot, executing preconditioned behaviors, a beneficial capability of your brain that frees up your conscious mind for other activities. Your stress level is relatively low because you're not having to make any decisions other than perhaps what to wear.

While structure can help reduce stress and establish beneficial habits by setting up automatic action, too much of a good thing can result in your brain being chronically disengaged from the task at hand.  You become like a zombie, just going through the motions.  

Remember the old Dunkin Donuts commercial where it's four a.m. and the donut man sits up suddenly in bed, wide-eyed but unseeing, and trudges off to get dressed for work, muttering, "Time to make the donuts..." After a while under too much structure you might find yourself partway down a routine cow path and not remember why you're doing it this way. The routine might no longer be the most desirable or the most effective method, but because it's in your structure you're doing it without evaluating it.

Too much structure can also lead to inflexibility and thereby negatively impact your interpersonal relationships. Remember, zombies can lose their body parts quite easily!  If you find yourself saying (even just inside your head) "yeah, yeah, yeah - hurry up so I can get on with my day," when a colleague or family member is talking to you you're probably placing too much focus on yourself and/or your own tasks. You might have your daily run scheduled for 4:00 p.m., but your eight-year-old might not have scheduled her nosebleed around it.  If you find yourself resenting coworkers or loved ones for imposing on your day, you're treating them as objects or obstacles and dehumanizing them.

You also might benefit from letting go of your structure temporarily when current conditions are outside the status quo. For example, if you're feeling ill, you might feel better faster if you choose to go ahead and sleep in for a few extra minutes. If your child is upset, stop what you're doing and just listen or give them a hug. If it's a holiday, take some time off and get a change of scenery - do something fun.

Ghost or zombie behaviors are preferences that can be extensions of your behavioral style and your values.  But regardless of your default preference, if you are a leader you're charged with accomplishing results.  You will be most effective when whatever you're doing, you are doing it on purpose. Be aware and make conscious decisions. Sometimes that means invoking more structure and sometimes that means tossing your routines aside.  You'll know you've made progress when you get closer and closer to achieving your goals.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finding common ground in the midst of conflict

Interpersonal conflict can make even the best job
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miserable to do.  It can wear you down day to day, interfering with your willingness to engage fully in your work.  At its worst it creates turnover, costing both the company and the person who leaves because he or she can't take it anymore.  But how does one get around it, through it, maybe even find some peace with it?

Leadership guru Stephen Covey would say that you should "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  He would tell you that it's incumbent upon you to try to understand the other person first, whether they are doing the same for you or not.

The following descriptions of sources of conflict might help you to sort through and understand what's really going on in your workplace.  

  1. Behavioral style differences - One of you likes to hear only the high points, one likes to tell stories, one is slow and methodical, one is obsessed with being right and analyzing the details.  When you and that other person have different, even incompatible, behavioral styles you can reduce conflict by "translating" your information and presenting it in the way that they prefer. 
  2. Values differences - People are motivated differently from one another, and they find different things important.  Your company can help this situation by identifying certain values or decision criteria that they expect all employees to share.  But even with the common ground of shared company values, one of you might think autonomy is important.  One of you might be focused on helping other people, One of you might be motivated by learning, or by harmony and balance.  You can reduce conflict when you understand what's important to the other person and find the connections between your information and their values.
  3. Aptitude differences - Some people are "interpersonally tone deaf" and simply don't realize that what they are saying and/or doing might be highly upsetting to other people.  There's a segment of your company that naturally intellectualizes about things, and sees potential rules to be established - and they follow existing rules to the letter.  A few of your colleagues have a talent for knowing what to do about a situation, even if the circumstances aren't ideal and the materials and/or methods have to be improvised.
  4. Cultural differences - Cultural difference might be reflected in values; certain cultures are more oriented toward extended family, for instance, than are others.  Culture is demonstrated through a group of shared values and behaviors that people do by habit, without thinking about them.  It's just "the way it's done."
  5. Differences in information - Sometimes the parties engaged in conflict don't have access to the same set of data.  If they did the evidence would likely send their thinking in a more similar direction.  The problem with this source of conflict is that if people are already shutting down in their communication as a result of conflict, they often aren't disposed to sharing information.  Some people won't be willing to talk at all.
Disagreement is never going away in the workplace, nor should it.  If everyone in the business is a "yes man" important factors can be missed in decision making.  Bad decisions can be made if individuals suppress disagreement, thinking that no conflict is always the goal.  Disagreement need not be disagreeable.

If unnecessary conflict is going to be resolved or at least minimized, someone has to be willing to come to the table first, and the only person you can control is you.  Is this fair?  Perhaps not, but ultimately you need to determine what's most important - is it your status compared to the other person or a "win"?  Or is it more appropriate to be focused primarily on the company's goals and your customers' needs? When you perpetuate a conflict it's possible that you're making it about you, your preferences and your ego, and that's not an appropriate center for business behavior.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Do you have what it takes to be your own boss?

Going into business and staying in busines are two
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entirely different things.  Like marriage and parenthood, business ownership is often romanticized.  The dreamer sees opportunity to earn enough from the business to own a yacht, and to have the liberty to work only 3-4 hours per day to make it happen.  What better way to make a living than to be one's own boss?

There are two main pieces to this idea of entrepreneurship:

  1. Do you have a sound business concept?
  2. Do you have the personal characteristics that enable you to implement the business concept, and to keep it going?
You can test your business concept by benchmarking off of similar businesses, and by taking it through a planning process.  You might even seek out counsel from SCORE volunteer mentors or other helpful professionals.  As part of the process you'll do financial projections, and if you're like many would-be business owners you'll tend to underestimate your expenses and overestimate your revenues (and the pace at which they will ramp up after you open your doors). 

Let's assume, though, that you have done your planning diligence and it looks like this might be a valid idea.  What do YOU need to be a successful business owner?
  • Stamina - You will wear a lot of hats and will likely work long hours.  You can certainly outsource tasks or hire employees early on, but your financial projections will tell you to be cautious about adding to your overhead too early.  You might need to be willing to give up some evenings and weekends to do what needs to be done.  If you're not in good health right now, do what you can do to boost your stamina before you take the business ownership step.
  • Versatility - Yes, it's the multiple hats thing again.  You need to be able to work ON the business, not just IN the business.  You will probably not be a master at all of them, but you'll need to do them anyway.  Humility might go along with versatility, because you'll be sweeping the floor and maybe even cleaning the bathrooms as well as producing products and services.
  • Learning Mentality -   Your learning curve at the beginning will be steep - what works and doesn't work in production methods, pricing, marketing, buying of raw goods, everything.  You won't ever know it all, because as soon as you think you do, something in your environment will have changed.  Keep your eyes open and try to make each mistake only once.  
  • Flexibility - You might think that you have the luxury to say "it's my way or the highway" when you are your own boss, and to some extent that's true.  The buck does stop with you.  But if you are doing the job of acquiring and retaining customers (that's what business is all about) you'll be asked to consider making adaptations to a lot of things, from pricing to packaging to flavors and colors.  Your willingness to flex may help you attract and/or retain business, and the word will get around town about how well you do int his regard.
  • Observation, Analysis, and Prediction - Your business concept may or may not change a lot in the real world.  You need to notice what's going on around around you, consider what it means to your business, and then project into the future to determine what you could or should do about it.  Changes in competition, in technology, in economic conditions, even changes in Presidents can have an impact on your business.  If you live under a rock and wait until it affects your business you will have missed the opportunity to capitalize on it, or to protect your business against it by taking action.
  • Sense of Urgency - Action is the operative word.  Do something now.  It might be one small step in the right direction, but it's a step, and it starts you on your way.  Money loves speed, and so do your customers.  If they can get something good and get it fast too, they will choose fast over slow almost every time.  If you can speed up the cycle through which your investment is converted back into cash, how much more opportunity will you gain to engage in more cycles?
  • Industry Knowledge - The better your knowledge and/or experience platform going in, the less you'll have to learn in the most expensive classroom - in your business. Unless you're a serial entrepreneur with multiple experiences from which to draw, you won't know everything you need to know before you start.  Perhaps that shouldn't keep you from starting, because your knowledge will never be perfect ahead of the reality.  But there are some deal-breaker fundamentals that you need to know if you want this venture to take off and fly.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Is right vs. wrong a toggle, or a continuum?

How clear is your differentiation between good and bad,
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right and wrong?  This is in the context of teamwork, of partnership.  Is behavior either one or the other, a binary choice?  Or do you see it as more of a continuum, where certain actions are more right than other right ones, and certain transgressions are less bad than others?

When you are absolute in the rightness and wrongness of behavior you are more likely to run into conflicts with others.  There are certain standards that are shared by most people, but even a biggie like killing has context around it, like when it is committed in the process of self-defense.  If the other person sees it differently than you do, are they wrong, or just different?

In legal proceedings, motive is a consideration in determining guilt.  Was the transgression intentional, and was it done to cause harm to someone else or to gain unfair personal advantage?  In lesser situations not being adjudicated in a courtroom, is it your habit to assign intention, or assume it?  And if you do, is your assumption that the other party's intention is good, or bad?  Are you in the habit of looking for reasons not to trust?

Perhaps this seems a bit philosophical for this time of the day, but whose truth is more true?  If you are standing on a rock of self-righteousness, has it become more important to prove your own rightness than it is to work together, or to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to the group?  This can erode into a "win the battle, lose the war" scenario.

It gets down to a question of what is really important in the situation.  You have individual interests and the group has its interests as well.  Which should predominate?  That's up to you to decide, not meaning that yours should outweigh that of the group.  If it's that important to you not to compromise, perhaps it's best if you part company.  The trouble is, if you take that approach as a matter of course - to make every test a deal-breaker - you'll be parting company on a regular basis.  Or they will be choosing to part company with you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Suffering from "superhero" syndrome

When you are beginning a new leadership role,
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you have several questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my purpose for taking on this role?
  • What do I want my legacy to be as a result of this leadership opportunity?
  • Is there a "big picture" intention that is driving me?
  • Am I more about refining performance fundamentals, or am I considering making sweeping changes?
These questions that you ask yourself (which are all about you and what you want) beg one other really big one:  
  • What kind of leadership does the organization and its current circumstances need from me?
Many leaders make the mistake of flying in with cape and briefcase full of giant screwdrivers, feeling as though they have been summoned to save or at least fix the organization that they have been chosen to lead.  Some are met with quite a bit of resistance when they swoop in with assumptions and foregone conclusions about all of the things that are wrong.  They see the organization as lucky to have access to their copious knowledge and skill set, and are surprised when they observe team behaviors and attitudes that are far short of enthusiastic about their ideas.

Even if the new leader has been hired to change the trajectory of a company, he or she is well served to invest some time in gathering first-hand knowledge about the strengths of the business as well as its shortcomings.  Leadership is situational, and if the leader doesn't take time to do a valid assessment of the situation, superhero or not, he or she runs the risk of flaming out.

Turnaround Artist
In a turnaround situation, job number one for the leader is to stop the bleeding - and fast.  This situation would be likely to become known as part of the recruitment process that brings this leader on board. In a turnaround situation, quick and sometimes sweeping decisions need to be made, and the leader is often called to cut jobs, reduce the number of product lines, or take other fairly drastic action.  This leader may even have a characteristic turnaround program of sorts that the company knows it is buying when it hires him or her.

Strength Builder
Sometimes a business outgrows the fundamental strengths of its prior leadership, and a new type of leader is brought in.  Perhaps the founder is a technician and the business now needs more of a marketing mind at the helm. As in the turnaround case above, some of the circumstances may already be known and part of the selection criteria for the new leader.  However, the urgency will likely not be as great, giving the Strength Builder time do his or her own assessment of the company before taking action.

Legacy Protector
Ths might be the most difficult leadership job, because it's more about maintenance than it is about creation. The company has already been successful, and this leader's job is to keep the success rolling.  The challenge for the Legacy Protector is to prevent complacency or staleness from eroding tthe company's competitive position.  Historical success does not guarantee future success, so this leader has to continue to search for new opportunities and to make incremental improvements to existng work processes, etc.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Favorites: Do U wear gray starched PJs?

Fair warning for those of you who are frequent contributors
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to LinkedIn or other online discussion groups that you might be taking yourself a tad too seriously:  a while back we were in the middle of a big back-and forth with answers to a question, when one contributor wrote, "I am just flat delighted to see some silliness emerging here. So much of the commentary in these discussions, including my own, sounds like we are sitting around in starched grey pajamas."

Hmmm. Starched gray pajamas. Not just boring gray pajamas, but starched too! Do we get so caught up in our own view of ourselves as intellectually gifted that we start waxing on, sounding inflexible, stuffy and pompous? Or, as a friend of ours says it, "Are we believing our own press releases?" Perhaps we're all taking ourselves too seriously.

If you're attempting to be persuasive, the blatant mental gymnastics and occasional stances of intellectual superiority might not be the most effective methods - perhaps it's a better strategy to engage your funny bone more often. Kurt Mortenson, a leading authority on persuasion, motivation and influence, said, "Many people take for granted the powerful persuading influence of humor. Humor is often tossed off as sheer entertainment or mere speech filler. The truth is, when you engage an audience with humor, you are accomplishing much more than just getting a laugh out of them. Humor disarms an audience, making them more likely to open up to you. Once your prospects feel comfortable with you, they will be more in tune to your message and more likely to remain attentive."

If you believe what Mortenson says, effective persuasion is about relationship - about helping people to open up to you so they can hear your message. Perhaps this is not best accomplished by dazzling them with your superior insight. Perhaps instead it's about giving them a belly laugh. If this is the case, and if more people would use this method more often, at the very least our workdays could be a lot more enjoyable...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The big 4 that you don't want to plan for - but need to

There are a few subjects that people don't typically like
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to talk about, and for many small business owners the biggies are death, disability, retirement and exit planning.  According to a recent TED talk, this shouldn't be surprising, because business owners have more than average optimism.  (If they didn't see things in a blindingly upbeat way they probably wouldn't have gone into business in the first place!)  So let's take a more upbeat tack with these big 4.  Instead of talking about it in terms of business interruptions - temporary and permanent - let's talk about creating continuity and sustainability.

What's the thing that you want to make sure happens in your business, no matter what?  You probably answered that customers need to be properly served.  They need to see your business as a reliable supplier of goods and services in flush times and lean times, and they probably need you most in lean times. So taking good care of customers has been central to the business.

What's the most difficult aspect of providing continuity for those all-important customers?  You can replace your facility, your equipment, and yes, your staff.  The toughest thing to replace in your business is.....you.

Letting go of tasks - for real
You read about delegation, and you probably talk about it too.  But are you really handing tasks off to another member of your team?  If not, what's stopping you?  Here are some of the obstacles we have heard, and some thoughts of what to do about them.

  1. "I'm the only one who knows how - it's too complex."  This is a frequent flyer among non-delegators.  You might be absolutely correct.  There might be nobody else in your company that can do the whole job, and certainly not at the level of effectiveness that you can.  But it's your job to continue to build the business, so break the gorilla tasks down into manageable bites.  Distribute different aspects of your role to different individuals.  And if you don't have the right individuals on board right now, find them.  You can't predict the unpredictable - you can only be prepared for it.
  2. "I don't have time." You're probably right on this one too.  There's never a good time to train, but then that means that there is no bad time to train either.  Stephen Covey calls training and development a quadrant 2 activity, meaning that you have to allocate the time to do it whether it's convenient or not.  Structure it into your week, or make an appointment for it in your monthly calendar until it's done.
  3. "I don't plan to retire." If not, you're like a lot of Boomer business owners who plan to live vigorously into their 80s and 90s and beyond. You might do just that. But life's plans might not align with yours.  Furthermore, you may decide at some point that you want to stay engaged by shifting your attention to something new. Give yourself an open door to do what you need to do, or what you want to do throughout your career by developing a "mini-me" or wingman who is prepared to step in when you want them or need them to do so.
  4. "I love what I do and plan to keep doing it." That's exactly why you started your business and have been so integrally involved in it.  It's possible that the responsibilities of running the business have supplanted the joy in the content of the business as it has grown and you have moved steps away from your original roles there. What if you had more opportunity to choose how you are investing your time instead of having the business dictate to you?  Wouldn't it be worth the extra time and energy to let go of a few things you don't need to do yourself so you can make room for the work you love ?
  5. "I'm concerned that I don't have what it takes." This is the concern that some people never say out loud, but that prevents them from teaching a successor.  They don't want to reveal their weak spots. It takes courage to open the books or explain your methodology, knowing that the other person might see an "obvious" better way.  Is the protection of your ego more important than the long-term success of the company, or the creation of more options for you and your lifestyle? Of course not, so get over yourself.
You started your business because you wanted to have choices.  As you and the business age you still have choices, but some will be made for you by virtue of health changes, accidents, or other unpredictable circumstances.  You can remain in the driver's seat when you establish plans, delegate, and develop backups and cross-trained individuals. And there's no time like today to start.