Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Favorites - Would you leave home without your game face?

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To what extent are you aware that you put on a facade or "game face" rather than reveal the person that you really are? The game face generally isn't used when you're feeling confident and upbeat. You put it on when you're feeling a bit uncertain, fearful, or sad and you don't want anyone to know it.

Every person has his or her own frame of reference (assumptions and attitudes) about relationships with other people, whether business or personal. Some walk out the door in the morning with the assumption that the world is generally a safe place, people are generally nice, and that it's OK to be whoever they authentically are.
Others operate under the paradigm that the world is dangerous, people are generally out to get them and that job #1 is to prevent them (the enemy) from having the opportunity to do so. When operating under the paradigm of threat people make assumptions like:
  • I can tell they are lying because they're moving their mouth.
  • They'll take advantage of any sign of weakness to overpower me or make me look bad.
  • Everybody else is more competent than me (or smarter or richer) and I hope nobody figures that out.

The defensive, self-protective position creates behavior like:
  1. Hoarding resources or information.
  2. Avoidance of other people.
  3. Calling attention to other people's flaws in an attempt to distract attention from one's own.
  4. Taking a proactive attack position to be able to make the first strike rather than feel vulnerable.
  5. Spreading misinformation (gossip.)
  6. Collecting a cadre of allies for the purpose of defending against or attacking a threat. 
Let's say you recognize that you operate under the paradigm of threat in certain situations. Just because you think they're against you doesn't mean they really are. Chances are pretty good that it's not even about you. What would happen if you would test your assumption that the world is out to get you?

If you decided to behave as though the setting and/or other people were not threatening in some way you might: 
  • Share information more freely.
  • Choose to interact with people even when you're not forced to.
  • Let people get to know you as a person, not just as a job description.
  • Relax and enjoy your day more.
  • Be able to focus on your work product rather than on other people and what they are doing. 
Behavior tends to generate responses that are more of the same.  This means that if you exhibit helpful or friendly behavior you are more likely to receive helpful and friendly behavior back.  It's the natural law of reciprocity.

If you think that you absolutely need your game face at all times, if you are in a situation where you are experiencing a continuous threat, you may be well advised to change your setting.  Go somewhere else - not every person is a good match for every culture or every interpersonal situation.  

It takes a lot of energy to maintain a game face all day long, and despite your efforts to paper over your real feelings, chances are that you won't really be fooling anyone.  They will be able to sense that you are not being authentic, and that can erode their trust in you.  Their concern about your real feelings and opinions can cause them to put their game face on too - and then you have a snowball of mistrust and cover-up. 

One last thought - If the feelings of defensiveness follow you from situation to situation it's an indicator that you might hold habits of thought (lack of trust, insecurity) that you need to put to rest.  Otherwise you will have to carry your game face (and inauthenticity) wherever you go.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When the leader's chair is empty

If you're like many business owners you're not planning
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to stop any time soon.  Your business is your lifeblood, and you can't imagine not going to the office every day.  For some of you, the rough economic waters have tapped you out, so retirement is not an option.  You're here for the foreseeable future.

But what about the unforeseeable? What happens when your chair is empty because

  • You're on vacation
  • You are ill or in the hospital
  • You have to care for an elderly parent or a seriously ill other family member
  • Whatever you don't want to think about happens
What jobs will go undone?  To some extent, the larger your company the easier it may be for the business to cope with your absence.  You have probably hired specialists to do things like develop new business, pay bills, supervise production, care for the grounds and handle payroll.  But even if you have made provisions, how long can the business keep growing and thriving without you in the leader's seat?

It's quite different to contemplate being out for a few weeks than it is to consider being done for good.  Either way, though, have you thought it through?  You are ultimately responsible for the sustainability of the business - that is, if your intention is to sustain it beyond your involvement in it.

If you are considering a transition out of the business while keeping the business going, you need to have a plan in place for these things:
  1. Are you going to formally stay the owner regardless of who is running it?  This of course assumes that your exit is intentional, planned, and not due to sudden death.  What do you want your role to be if you are going to continue owning it?  Who will handle the day-to-day operations?  Is he or she already in the company?  Is he or she prepared to take the helm if need be, or when you are ready?  What else does your successor need to know?
  2. Are you intending for the business to support you and/or your spouse financially once you are out of there?  How does that impact the amount of revenue the company has to generate?  With income where it is right now, can the company afford to pay you AND the new COO?  For how long?
  3. Is there someone inside the company who could and would like to buy you out?  Do you have key person life insurance that would help the company transition?  What are the terms of the buy-out?  How long does your buyer have to pay you, and how long (and in what role) will you stay on to assist with the transition?
  4. Do you know how much your business is really worth to a prospective buyer?  It's typical that a business owner will value it higher, sometimes substantially more, than a professional valuation would indicate.  Your perception of your business's value is colored by your love for it and your invested sweat, but usually business valuation is based on assets, revenue stream, and/or brand power in the market.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do you really have to break some eggs?

If you want to drastically over-simplify individuals' approaches
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to work you could say that some are primarily task-oriented and some are primarily people-oriented.  If you were to view these two perspectives as the two ends of a continuum, rarely would you find an individual on either end - most people are somewhere in between.  Some care more about a staff birthday party than they do about maintaining productivity for the afternoon, and others take issue with stopping to use to the restroom when it's work time.  The latter individual insists that "eggs have to be broken if you want to make an omelet."

Here's another related continuum to consider:  on one end is the person focusing on his or her own goals and on the other end is the person solely focused on the goals of others.  The entirely self-focused person will blithely trample anyone and anything to get what he or she wants.  The completely other-focused person will wait until last, helping others get what they want even if there's nothing left over at the end (time, budget, etc.) for themselves.

The polar position on either continuum is a short-term strategy. There has to be productivity in order to generate profit, and there has to be some semblance of employee engagement and loyalty in order for the business to sustain the capacity to be productive.  The taskmaster risks employee disengagement (resentment or worse) and preventable turnover.  The marshmallow risks low profitability and lack of respect from employees.

The important thing here is the leader's willingness to take time to evaluate the situation and develop a balanced approach, neither solely focused on task nor on avoiding making the people uncomfortable.  This is assuming that the leader cares enough about the sustainability of the business not to destroy it in the process of achieving short term goals.  The leader should be asking questions like:

  • Are there alternatives that will generate a reasonable return for now AND enable the business to generate an even better return over the long term?
  • If these actions are taken, what will be the impact on the employee base?  In the short term?  In the longer term?
  • Are there alternatives to taking drastic action right now?
  • Is there harm in postponing drastic action until later?  How much later can it be implemented without sacrificing a positive outcome?
Action can create unintended consequences as well as the desired outcomes.  The savvy leader hits the internal pause button and takes time to establish a balanced course of action.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Can a person really change?

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If we knew the definitive answer to this question a significant number of bad marriages and divorces could probably be prevented!  Can a person really change - and if so, how much?

Who wants the change?
Change is like motivation, in that you can't do it to someone else.  He or she has to choose it.  The biggest gift someone can give to you is to modify his or her behavior on your behalf.

If the undesired behavior happens repeatedly it's probably built into the individual's conditioning.  He or she can choose to behave differently by making a conscious effort, but unless and until the individual repeats the new behavior enough to create new habits it will be difficult to sustain.  Longer-held habits tend to re-emerge because they are ingrained below the individual's conscious mind.  The individual will tend to revert to habitual (conditioned) behavior when they don't have the time to think before they act, when they are under stress, or when they are preoccupied with something else.

When you are in a position of authority you can require individuals to behave in accordance with performance standards.  If they don't comply with your instructions they may risk disciplinary action, even termination.  But there are a lot of other behaviors that drive bosses nuts that aren't exactly performance issues; they are more like personality quirks.  One employee might be in the habit of clicking the cap of whatever pen he is holding.  Another team member might habitually talk so loudly that you can hear her coming from the other end of the hallway.

When you're the one who wants the change it's important to ask yourself whether you want it because of some real performance standard or whether it's because of your comfort (or discomfort) with a particular behavioral style.  Is the change you want necessary, or are you seeking to control behavior simply because you like it your way?  Diversity in the workforce goes beyond gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.  It includes introversion, extroversion, detail orientation, etc.  It even includes pen clicking and loud talking. Being different is not by definition bad.  The real change that may need to be made here is in the way you think about differences.

How much can they change?
Many "automatic" behaviors are the result of multiple habits of thought layered on top of one another.  For instance, an individual will respond to Person A based upon his or her prior conditioning regarding

  • situations like this one, 
  • prior experiences (first- or even second-hand) with persons similar to Person A, and 
  • what is or is not appropriate workplace behavior
  • and more
To more dramatically change behavior for the long haul, existing habits of thought have to be "diluted" with new ones that are in better alignment with the situation in which the individual needs to operate.  This means that quite often an individual who is trying to change eating habits for good, for instance, will probably have to change dietary choices but also
  • identify emotional triggers that cause him or her to overeat, 
  • examine the size of the serving spoons in the kitchen to modify portions served and 
  • analyze and or modify family mealtime customs.
Real, sustainable, significant change has to be in alignment with conditioned values.  It has to be dealt with at an attitudinal level - in habits of thought - so that the individual doesn't constantly have to exercise force of will every time in order to engage in the desired behavior.  When conditioning is aligned with the desired results, over time the new behaviors can become ingrained as "the way we do things here" or "the way I treat myself now."  They begin to create better outcomes without the individual having to keep it in the forefront of his mind every moment of the day.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Seven ways to find the #1 item on your list

If you are like most people, your to-do list stretches far longer
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than the hours you have to complete it.  In addition, there is no finish line - you clear out one item and another fills in the empty space.  It can feel overwhelming when there are 15 urgent things for you to do.  How do you decide what to do first?

A recent client found it helpful to focus on "the number one thing."  Her number one was defined (by her) as the item that would give her the most leverage or forward progress.  Even in times when she had a dozen or more things to accomplish, she could tackle her list by asking herself the question, "What is the most important thing for me to invest my energy on?"  She would allow herself to choose only one, because she could do only one thing at a time.  (Actually, regardless of what you believe, you can only do one thing at a time as well.  You might think that you are multi-tasking, but actually you are toggling back and forth among two or more things.)

So how do you determine what should be number one on your list?  Your criteria have to be your own, unless it's a workplace situation, in which case your boss may want to weigh in on the prioritization.  Priority on the "to do" list could be assigned based upon
  1. What brings in cash in the near term?
  2. What will prevent a cash drain?
  3. What will strengthen a key customer relationship?
  4. What will prevent a crisis?
  5. What can I do to lay the groundwork for future success?
  6. What can I do right now to chip away at a longstanding problem?
  7. What activity brings me closest to my purpose?
Some of the things on your list are pulling at you, but they are not really important.  Put those aside for the important things.  Sure, you want to be responsive to other people, but ultimately you are accountable for your own results.  You might have to say no to something to make room for your number one thing.

If you have been dancing around your number one thing, you need to ask yourself why.  Do you feel confident in your ability to accomplish it?  Are there resources that you need in order to complete the task but that you do not have right now?  Is it a big job, or one that makes you feel a bit nervous?  Is it a must-do that will have big consequences if you do not accomplish it within a given time frame?

Are you saving the big thing for last - as the finale to your day?  One of our coach's now-deceased parents had a habit of saving the big agenda item for last in the conversation.  They would call during the work day, talk about the weather, about their neighbors, about something they saw on the news last night - and then bam!  "Oh, did I tell you that I have been having chest pains for the last week?"  Huh?  Of course by the time they would bring up the main subject their son would have run out of time to talk, but now he would feel conflicted.  He would be worried about them, but impatient at the same time because he had to be at an appointment in fifteen minutes.  Why didn't they tell him the important things first?

If it's your number one thing, get on it.  If you try to clear everything else out first to make space for it, your only irretrievable resource - time - might be so far gone that the number one thing gets short shrift.  If it's number one, make it number one.  If it is important enough its achievement will overshadow numbers 4,5 and 6.  In fact, the other numbers might even go away if you do number 1 first.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Favorites - Are you working too hard?

Remember the simple machines that you learned about in
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elementary science class - the inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, and wheel and axle?  The point of each of these machines was (and still is) to keep you from working harder when you could be working smarter.  You can use these to multiply your strength, sometimes dramatically. And usually, because of their simplicity, the machines' components are readily available to you.  The machines can be improvised, constructed without a lot of technical know-how required.
Is there a way in which you can use these same principles in your work life?  Your job may not be physically demanding, only mentally so, but 
  • Are there areas in which you are expending energy that could be instead multiplied by a simple technique, or a device, or a different sequence of activities?  
  • Have you integrated unnecessary complexity into your work processes?  
  • Are you forgetting to apply the leverage that comes from using the skills that come most easily and naturally to you?
In their book Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton cite the example of Warren Buffett, undeniably one of the most successful investors ever.  Here's what they had to say about him:
"Surprisingly , his strengths are not those that you might expect to see in a successful investor.  Today's global marketplace is fast-paced, extraordinarily complicated, and amoral.  Therefore, you would think that the creature best adapted for this world would be blessed with urgency, a conceptual mind to identify patterns in the complex market, and an innate skepticism about everyone else's motives. 
Buffett cannot claim any of these strengths.  By all accounts he is a patient man.  His mind is more practical than conceptual.  He is inclined to be trusting of other people's motives, not skeptical.  So how did he thrive?  ...Warren Buffett has used this patient, practical, and trusting approach since he formed his first investment partnership with $100 in 1956.  He has honed it, perfected it, and stuck to it even when the temptations to adopt a different strategy were tantalizingly sweet....His distinct approach is the cause of his professional success and, to hear him tell it, also the cause of his personal happiness.  He is a world-class investor because he deliberately plays to his strengths."

It is not only possible, but likely, that you are not taking full advantage of your strengths, or of the simple methods that could make your work life easier AND at the same time full of more of the results you seek.  Examine your work processes.  And if you want to uncover your strengths so that you can get more leverage from the work you do, one way in which to do so is to click this link to go to the Clifton StrengthsFinder diagnostic.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Business startup and growth through SCORE

SCORE is now fifty years old, a 501(c)3 resource partner of the
Small Business Administration.  Yet time after time when we meet with new clients we hear that they have never heard of this resource until a friend referred them.

SCORE provides free mentoring and free or low cost workshops to new and growing businesses.  Clients can obtain services through one of 321 local Chapters in the US, or they can obtain services online through SCORE.org.  SCORE is staffed by more than 11,000 volunteers with years of business experience - some retired and some still active in the workforce.

Here's why you should know about SCORE - and also why we at SummitHRD commit a substantial amount of volunteer time there.

- SCORE helped 38,630 new businesses start in 2013, and created 67,319 jobs.
- It only costs SCORE $167 to help create one business, and $96 to help create one job.
- For every Federal dollar appropriated for SCORE $47 is returned to the Treasury.
- SCORE helps underserved groups
  56% of clients were women
  28% were minorities
  12% were veterans

If you believe that self-sufficiency is important, if your believe that the smartest businessperson is the one who knows to consult with experts when he or she doesn't know something - you should get to know SCORE.

Volunteer.  Contribute dollars.  Refer a prospective business owner or existing small business that wants to grow.  Go to SCORE.org to find out more about online resources and the Chapter nearest you.

Source of statistics:  Gallup study, 2013