Wednesday, January 20, 2016

7 ingredients to become the best

The obstacles in the struggle to be the best usually don't arise from
the unsuccessful search for a complicated and secret formula. They arise from boredom and impatience over longstanding training routines and “I’ll make my own way, thank you” egotism that tempts you to search for shortcuts to success. Get rich quick, lose fifty pounds in seven days – c’mon, we’ve all felt just a bit titillated by those when the going has seemed long and tough.

The fundamentals of how you go about achieving outstanding performance don’t change all that much – you just get distracted and forget that it’s simple.  It might be hard, but it's simple.  Dan Gable, wrestling and coaching legend, said, “The best become the best because they are always striving for perfection.” You might have your own list of the qualities and/or habits that create excellence, but here are some of mine:
  1. Commitment that comes from a sense of purpose - the “why” behind your plans, thoughts and actions.  This might be interpreted by other people as stubbornness, and maybe it is.  It might be tested when its demand for resources bumps into other priorities and possibilities.  But commitment enables you to continue to choose the path that might not be easiest in order to accomplish your desired level of proficiency.
  2. Comprehensive and continuously expanding knowledge of your area of expertise so that you can build your own style on a solid foundation.  As you learn more and more about your craft you discover that there are entire realms of information that you do not yet know.  You might need to check your ego if you think you already know it all.
  3. Role models upon whom to benchmark and, even better, mentors who can provide educated feedback along your path.  The seeds for many peak performances, many innovations, have been planted before you by someone else.  Learn from their learning, and keep an open mind to their feedback.  They can provide an objective, outside-of-your-own-head view, invaluable when you are working to improve.
  4. Frequent, even daily, practicing of your technique and attention to refining your methods.  You can read every piano book on the planet, but you won't learn to play until you actually sit down at the keyboard and put your fingers on the keys.  At first your eyes and brain know what you need to do but your fingers can't execute it.  Then after practice and more practice your muscle memory lets you know where the right notes are without looking.  With enough repetition you might even learn to play the piece without referring to the music.  Same goes for a golf swing, and for other acquired skills.
  5. Willingness to endure discomfort (or delay gratification) today for an outstanding outcome tomorrow.  It's tough for the ego to withstand a feeling of incompetence.  It's not comfortable to have sore muscles.  If you are willing to look at them as "growth pains" and not as end results in themselves you are more likely to persist.  Your willingness to endure now for the sake of later results is linked to your commitment.  The stronger your commitment is, the more obstacles you'll be willing to struggle through in order to achieve your result.  This is why it's important to define your purpose, your desired result in very specific terms, and to know why you're doing it.
  6. Openness to test new ideas and methods that have the potential to create improvement. The best performers are never satisfied - they are constantly stretching for the next increment of improvement.  Professional athletes use coaches to help them refine their swings.  Actors try new methods to uncover and then communicate the nuances of the characters they play.
  7. Specific ways to measure your progress.  If you assume the perspective that there is always improvement to be made, the journey to be the best has no end zone, no finish line.  Competitive swimming is such an incredible sport, and part of its appeal is its measurability.  No matter who wins this race, the swimmer can look at his or her time and see how they are doing.  There will always be somebody slower and somebody else faster, and while that can be important, more important is whether the swimmer is shaving tenths or even hundredths as the athlete tweaks the training regime, nutrition, equipment and rest.
It always comes down to the extent of your desire to be the best.  Even team-based outstanding performance relies on your individual commitment to do what’s necessary for your piece of the team’s success.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Will this boss get his due?

Beth is done.  She is planning to file a complaint against
her boss with the EEOC because of his pattern of treatment.  Beth is not the only employee that this boss has who has similar complaints - she is the one who is choosing to take action.  Most of the other ones simply go away.  They quit.

The problem Beth (and a number of her current and former colleagues) sees is that this boss's department is achieving good numbers.  He's being rewarded, with senior management oblivious or simply looking away from his management methods.

The boss's bad behavior affects everyone in his business unit, but it is particularly egregious toward women.  Here are some examples of his tactics:

  • He is verbally critical enough of Beth at a public dining table to bring his employee to tears, and he refuses to allow her to leave the table to compose herself.  The waitstaff keeps checking in to make sure she's OK.
  • He dangles a promotion over one of his employees on a total of 5 occasions, and on each he uses the discussion as an opportunity to tell the employees all of the ways in which the promotion will probably be out of reach unless he (the employee) changes.
  • He tells a female employee that if he catches her "slutting around" he will "fire her ass".  The employee is married.
  • This boss selects people to do lucrative projects without any visible criteria other than his preference for certain individuals on his team.
  • This boss sends employees out of town for projects expecting them to cover the costs of their own lodging.  These people are commission only, and many of them are not earning enough to fund the front end costs of doing business.
  • He promoted two people in his unit newly created positions for which nobody else had the opportunity to apply or interview.
This is the tip of the iceberg with this guy.  Beth isn't seeking financial damages from this situation - all she wants is an opportunity to do her job with a boss who isn't abusive.  This shouldn't be too much for her to ask.  But unless the company stops turning a blind eye to his behavior this boss is likely to emerge from the situation with no more than a small ding on his performance history.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Look in these places to reveal your core values

On MLK day we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther
King, who ultimately died because of the values of interracial harmony and nonviolence he was working to spread in the US.  Most of us will not be beaten, arrested or even assassinated as he was for our beliefs.  But what if that were a risk to you?  How ready are you to stand up for the values in which you believe?

This begs the other question - how recently have you thought about what your core values are?  We're not talking about the aspirational values that you think you should embody, but those that are so deeply a part of who you are - or who your business is - that they have become ingrained in the fabric of everyday behavior.

If you have not yet thought about the difference between aspirational (should) and actual, take a look in these few places.  Your core values will reveal themselves.

  1. What activities are in your calendar for this week, this month?  Which ones are recurring, and are the ones you make room for no matter what else is going on?  The fact that they are in your calendar means that you are prioritizing them over activities that you're not writing down, that you're planning to do if you have enough time left over after the important ones are done.
  2. How do you earn and spend your money?  Do you have a 9-5 gig that you expect to cover all of the bills and then some?  Do you patch together various sources of revenue?  Do you keep a lot of reserves on hand, or operate paycheck to paycheck? When you spend money, where does your discretionary money go?  Dining out?  Movies? Toys? Vacations?
  3. How do you treat other people, whether they are customers, colleagues, family or friends?  Have you objectified them as instruments to be used toward your desired ends?  Have you made others more important and influential than you are yourself?  Do you trust them?  Do you like them?  Do you go out of your way to please them?  Is your behavior consistent toward people who are like you versus people who are different from you?
There's a game called "Would You Rather" that is played at parties, or as an ice breaker, that can help to clarify values, and to share them among a group. Some of the questions are silly, but some are revealing:
  • Would you rather hand a project in late and precise, or on time and "good enough"?
  • Would you rather live in a big, beautiful house or go on a lot of interesting vacations?
  • Would you rather get more education for a higher income later, or make money now, even if it won't be as much as you'd earn with more education?
  • Would you rather attend a professional sporting event or a concert?
Once have determined what's important to you, how willing are you to bend your core values based upon external pressures, like
  • Loved ones
  • Friends
  • Your boss or colleagues
  • Convenience or inconvenience
  • Popularity of your values in your environment
Your values are not to be taken lightly.  When you behave in conflict with them you create internal discomfort and stress.  When your actions are in alignment with them you are able to bring the full force of your talents and skills to the fore, and you are able to sustain your behavior.  When you know what you want and what's important you are better able to attract other people who are in alignment with you.  You become a leader.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Handling criticism like a pro

It is likely, well nigh on impossible, for you to go through your professional life without generating some criticism.  Actually you're lucky if you hear criticism, because that means the lines of communication are open, and that the critics believe that there is a chance that they can influence your behavior.  It's worse to hear nothing.  Dissatisfied and disengaged customers and workers will often go away without giving you the opportunity to correct whatever behaviors, policies, etc. that are bothering them.

It's tempting to go on the defensive and justify whatever you're doing that has caused offense or problems for the other party. But defensiveness and justification shut down communication.  They, in effect, attempt to invalidate the other party's feelings about the situation by giving them your reasons. If you want the opportunity to hear helpful critique - and to improve the situation - you need to put your explanations on mute.  Just listen.

Better yet, write down what they are telling you, while they are telling you.  When you write down what the other person is saying you are communicating that their information is important to you and that you want to remember it.  Listening and writing down the other party's input builds your emotional bank account with them.

Now, what to do with their input... The biggest gift you can give to another person is to change your behavior based upon their preferences.  Your credibility is on the line now that you have received their input.  If you do nothing despite your listening and documenting of their feedback, you run the risk that they won't approach you again with this sort of valuable information.

You might need time to think about what actions you might want to or be able to take.  If so, tell the other party that.  When you are ready to take action, tell them what you are going to do, and then do it promptly.  If you cannot take reparative action regardless of their input, tell them that too.

Speed of response is important in this situation.  Slow action may be misperceived as no action, and can generate the same response from the other person.  If, on the other hand, you do a prompt and proportional job of recovery you can actually improve the working relationship.  By taking prompt corrective action you communicate to the other person that they, their input, and their relationship is important to you.

Yes, responsiveness to errors or items of dissatisfaction can lead to you receiving more of the same. But it's better to know what they are thinking and be given the opportunity to take corrective action. Of course you'd prefer to meet and exceed expectations without having to go through the process of the other person reading you the riot act.  You don't want to make the same mistakes over and over again if you want to maintain a good relationship with them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

All you need is trust

Trust is a crucial ingredient in relationships at work and
at home. Trust is integral to a happy marriage, to good relationships between parents and children, and among friends.  Trust enables managers to focus on the longer view rather than micromanaging the daily behavior of employees.

Often the T word is invoked when it is absent or in short supply.  Leaders identify it as the missing ingredient in higher performance.  But is trust something you do, or something that is the result, the reward that is generated by what you do?

Trust as something you do
You might not know whether the other person is going to come through for you, but when your default position is trust you give him or her the opportunity to demonstrate that they will follow through as they said they would.  There are certain personality types that tend to trust more people more readily.

If you want to build an environment of trust, you discuss your expectations up front (so the other person doesn't have to guess what you want).  Then you back off, resist the urge to hover or micromanage, and let them show you what they can and will do.

You might find trust easier to give when you have no track record of disappointment with a particular individual.  It's important to acknowledge that over time it's likely that you will be disappointed by another person's behavior.  You might be disappointed by almost everyone at some point or another.  But if you are determined to establish a habit of trust you will provide them with new opportunities to come through for you.

Trust bumps into intelligence or at least common sense when an individual lets you down over and over again.  You can choose to have a "number" after which all bets are off with you trust-wise, a three strikes rule or something along that line.  Or you can try to discover the other person's intentions.  If they are trying to meet expectations but failing they might need training or some other support from you.

Trust as something you earn
You can't tell someone to trust you and be assured that you'll have free reign to do whatever you want.  That other person might be inherently trusting of other people, but regardless of whether or not you have been given the benefit of the doubt from the outset, if you want to be trusted you have to be trustworthy.

What are you doing when that person isn't looking?  How are you handling their expectations?  Are you working to demonstrate that you can and you will?  If you consistently work to meet or even exceed expectations you are contributing to an environment of trust

Some individuals will try to determine your intentions in order to decide whether to trust you again if you've fouled up in a particular situation.  You might get a second shot, even if you have not fulfilled the requirements of a trust relationship with them.  But you might not, especially if they believe that your infraction was serious, dangerous, or intentional.

You can only control your own behavior.  So if you want to establish more trust at work and/or at home, you need to work on both sides of the trust relationship.  You need to give it, and you need to do what's necessary to earn it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

All about da cash, 'bout da cash...

Too little capital is often an issue in a start-up venture, but management of cash position is important at any life stage in any business. Rapidly growing companies have very specific cash decisions to make, but let's look at it today in terms of business life stage.  

Start-up- The wide-eyed owner
Nobody would start a business if they didn't expect that it would result in financial rewards, right?  So the would-be owner goes into the venture operating under the assumption that he or she is going to make money, maybe even BIG money.

The reason why we're calling this the wide-eyed stage regarding capital is that often the prospective business owner assumes that as soon as the proverbial shingle is out, customers will file in and the phone will be ringing off the hook.  This assumption leads to a new business owner using a lot of capital to get started, wanting the nicest location, the best tools, and the most expensive business cards.  It's all about the image, right?  The big company look?

The new business does create a first impression that has to be managed.  But ultimately all of the start-up has to be funded by something.  If the owner is using personal assets to finance the venture, the new operation can become a money pit that consumes unanticipated quantities of cash.  And if the owner is borrowing to fund start-up he or she builds in a must-perform situation so that the loan can be repaid without surrendering assets to do so.  

It can be a better choice to conserve cash (operating under a worst case scenario of slow cycle time) and bootstrap investments like marketing, etc.  Use profits to fund these things, rather than expend the money on them up front, or find low- or no-cost ways to implement them.  This is one of the reasons why social media has been so popular for marketing new small businesses - unless you go for Pro upgrades or sponsored links, social media is free if you invest a bit of time and sweat.  No cash involved.

Mid-stage - Profits don't equal cash
There are two issues that crop up when the company has already acquired customers and achieved some success:
  • Over-expansion
  • Cash flow/collection issues
Over-expansion is a similar problem to the one of the start-up that goes gonzo setting up.  It might result in a business opening one or more additional locations too soon (often financed by debt and resulting in debt service), purchasing a large piece of equipment, overstocking inventory, or trying to franchise their concept.  All of these actions consume cash, and until (and unless) they start producing revenue they are a drain on the company's available cash for operations.

As for cash flow and collections, selling is one thing - getting paid is another.  Customers have their own cash flow issues to manage, so their goal is to pay slowly while the seller's goal is to obtain cash as soon as possible.  If the business's bookkeeping accounts for sales when they are made (not collected) the financial statements could show a healthy profit while the cash coffers are nigh on empty.  So the business has to be aware of its cash position at all times, and manage its billing and collection processes effectively.

Later stage - Reaping the rewards
When an owner starts a business, one of the goals is often to build an asset that will support him or her in retirement.  And in a family business, that starts to look like son or daughter taking over the business while continuing to pay mom or dad regular money.  The cash problem with that scenario is that while the business sustained the owner's comfortable lifestyle, it might not be producing enough cash to sustain the next generation AND the prior one in the style to which it has become accustomed.  Capital that could be reinvested in the business to maintain or replace cash-producing assets is instead diverted to Dad or Mom's bank account.  And the next generation can wind up being burdened by debt service instead of floating on a cushion of retained earnings.

In some instances it can be a better choice for the owner to cash out of the business - to sell it and take his or her lump of cash proceeds to the bank.  This assumes that the business has adequate assets and proven cash flow to make it a salable entity.  With a third-party purchaser flush with cash or financing this can be a good choice for the owner.  But when a family member is taking over the business a decision to cash out (and force the kids to borrow ) rather than keep money in the business can place the next generation (and familial relationships) at risk.  Cash concerns aside, Sonny Boy or Dear Daughter might be quite ready and willing to take the financial risk of borrowing for a buy-out so Dad's or Mom's nose is out of the business, giving the new owners more autonomy.

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 reasons why employees fight over turf

One of the biggest obstacles to teamwork is the defense of
turf.  Managers become territorial about their budgets, salespersons fight over plum deals, attorneys compete for the time of shared clerical support, etc.  When these conflicts grow intense, a senior leader or CEO can feel like the head teacher in a preschool.  Moreover, we haven't begun to talk about the detrimental impact these types of conflicts have on employee morale, or on the quality of customer service.

Turf issues are not the problem - they are symptoms of other causes.  And it's in handling the causes that a leader can reduce or eliminate turfish behavior in the team.

  1. Lack of shared goals. Your team needs a focus, a sense of purpose that is shared among the entire group.  What are you trying to accomplish across the entire organization?  Is your near-term mission about generating more clients?  Streamlining processes? Updating your product line?  Enhancing client services?  Your overall company goals set the direction for daily behavior and the context for making decisions.  Company goals are pre-eminent over individual goals, and department goals need to be aligned with the overall business goals.
  2. Misaligned reward systems. It's common for companies to choose to embrace teamwork as a value but to forget that their compensation systems reward individual behavior.  When this sort of misalignment exists, employees are constantly having to choose between serving the company and serving their own interests.  Behavior that you reward is the behavior that is repeated.  So if you're paying commissions on sales be prepared for some conflicts about which clients belong to which salesperson, or over the assignment of territories that are perceived to be more or less valuable than others.
  3. Undefined or poorly defined work processes and roles.  When team members don't know where their responsibilities stop and the next team member's begins they have to negotiate and renegotiate as situations arise. The ball is at risk of being dropped when a handoff is missed. The negotiation of responsibilities consumes valuable time, and risks deteriorating the working relationships among the team members.
  4. Structure that doesn't work with the current strategy.  Functional silos are an example of a structural problem.  Communication and budget dollars flow up and down within a function.  But a customer doesn't deal with only one function; he or she has to interact with customer service, production, shipping, and ultimately billing and payment.  Who manages the "white space" between the silos to assist the customer with his or her entire relationship with the company?
  5. Immature and/or underdeveloped team members.  Not every employee comes to the team with the interpersonal skills that will help them to succeed.  You can attempt to discover these qualities during your interviewing process.  But many companies either don't see it up front, or overlook interpersonal difficulties for the sake of technical expertise. It's important to provide a shared methodology for interacting within the company and for resolving conflicts, turf or otherwise.  The smart manager is proactive about developing staff interpersonal skills, and about using effective team behavior as one of the criteria for advancing an employee through his or her career path.