Monday, December 31, 2007

New URL for GottaGettaBLOG!

Please note that GottaGettaBLOG! posts from the years 2003 through 2007 will be permanently archived, here, at www.ggci.com/blog, under the heading of "GottaGettaBlog! 2003-2007". But, starting January 2008, blog posts will be posted at: www.ggci.com/blog2.

Furthermore, starting January 2010, new posts will be at:
http://www.ggci-blog.com/.

Please update your bookmarks and automated feeds accordingly.

Thanks!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wynton Marsalis: Leadership Lessons

  1. THINK BIG, BUT DON'T BE IMPATIENT. Deferring the rewards of long-term success is difficult but necessary if you are going to have the mental fortitude to achieve them.
  2. BE PERFECT IN INTENTION; YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT IN EXECUTION. Mistakes, by you and your staff, will happen.
  3. YOU CAN ONLY 00 THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO. Keep your goals high, but don't set yourself up for failure. Be patient.
  4. DON'T APOLOGIZE FOR A MISTAKE. APOLOGIZE IF YOU DON'T PLAY. Knowing that effort is what matters gives people the courage to always try their hardest.
  5. STAY INSIDE YOURSELF; WHEN YOU DO, YOU'LL TAKE A RISK-BUT YOU'LL MAKE AN INTELLIGENT DECISION. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
  6. BELIEF IN OTHER PEOPLE'S CREATIVITY ALLOWS PEOPLE AROUND YOU TO BE THEMSELVES AND ACHIEVE THEIR INDIVIDUALITY. If your staff members have the freedom to achieve as individuals, the returns will be manifold.
  7. APPROACH YOUR TASK VERY SERIOUSLY-BUT WITH HUMOR. Discipline should never come at the expense of closing one's self to new ideas, and vice versa.
  8. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO MAKE TOUGH DECISIONS, AND MANY TIMES THEY ARE UGLY. It's best to be very direct.
  9. IT ISN'T MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY. Learn to compromise and be flexible.
  10. WHEN YOU'RE A LEADER, SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW, TOO. Good leaders know they don't have a monopoly on brilliant ideas. Be objective and willing to follow Insights you may have missed.
  11. HUMILITY INSPIRES PEOPLE; ORGANIZATION INSPIRES A STAFF. Always try to give your staff clear plans and goals, but allow them room for self-empowerment.
  12. RESPECT THE FREEDOM OF OTHER PEOPLE AND THEIR CREATIVITY. JAZZ MUSIC TEACHES THAT ABOVE ALL ELSE. Giving your staff the freedom to improvise opens the floodgates on innovation.
  13. YOU CAN'T LOOK AT ANY PERSON AND TELL WHETHER THEY CAN PLAY. ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE CAN PLAY. Some of the best talent can be found in the most unexpected places.
  14. THERE IS A LIMIT TO WHAT YOU CAN DEMAND FROM SOMEBODY ELSE. Nothing erodes the spirit like a boss who can never be pleased.
  15. BE FUNDAMENTALLY TRUTHFUL. Without truth, your success will unravel.
---
from Success Magazine, July 2007

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who Said Quitters Never Win?

As reported in the December 2007/ January 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind magazine:
"Psychologists asked 90 adolescent girls about their tendency to hold on to unattainable goals. Over the next year, they found that the girls who said they never gave up had more quickly increasing blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) as compared with the girls who were moderately good at letting go. High levels of CRP often precede the development of heart disease, cancer and diabetes."
Add to that the teachings of Seth Godin in his 2007 book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick):
"What really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly while staying focused and motivated when it really counts. Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt..."
So, as you look to complete the final month of 2007 and get ready for 2008, what "unattainable goals" might it make sense for you to quit?!

----
Thanks Eddie!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wall Street Journal quotes Barry Zweibel

The Wall Street Journal quotes Barry Zweibel, GottaGettaCoach!, Inc.
Perri Capel, columnist for The Wall Street Journal quotes Barry Zweibel in a 12/4/2007 piece titled, "When a Boss Is Unreceptive To New Views" published in both the on-line and print editions of the paper.

The WSJ CareerJournal quotes Barry Zweibel, GottaGettaCoach!, Inc.
An expanded version of the article was also published by WSJ CareerJournal under the title of "How Can I Defuse TensionsWith a Difficult Manager?".

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Chuck Norris is afraid of choking

The Chicago Tribune reported today that movie star Chuck Norris re-affirmed his intent not to run for public office ... for fear of "choking." Norris? Afraid? Choking? Well, sort of ...

In the tough-guy's own words:

"Let's say I run for a position in politics and I am debating my opponent and my opponent starts attacking my character and I leap over the bench and choke him unconscious, it's not going to help my campaign."

Ohhhh! Norris! Afraid! Choking! I get it now!

Isn't it interesting how a little context can so completely change the meaning of a message?

The underlying coaching questions, of course, are these:
How might YOU be misinterpreting others and how might THEY be misinterpreting you? And assuming it's happening, what do you want to actually DO about it?

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Vulnerability, Teamwork, and Personal Growth

Last week I had the opportunity to spend two days on a rustic team building retreat at Joy Outdoor Education Center in Clarksville, Ohio, courtesy of a corporate client, Hill-Rom, where the group learned about their Insights® colors (courtesy of Scott Schwefel), did a high ropes course and related activities, endured gusts up to 34 mph and wind chills down to the teens (brrr!), shared emotionally-moving and personal stories deep into the night by light (and warmth) of a bonfire, slept in cabins, ate camp food, and stretched and grew in ways that were truly amazing. And that was Day One!

Day Two included a morning of coaching and facilitation, courtesy of yours truly, and an afternoon of detailed departmental planning and goal-setting, led by Phillip Saxton, president of MiTowne.

Initially, I perceived, and prepared for, my role as that of catalyst: "an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action," as Merriam Webster might say. But as I settled into my bunk that first night it struck me that the 'change' I was there to provoke had actually already happened. Every single person, in their own special way, had already become so much more open, courageous, real - and vulnerable - with each other. The team knew it, liked it, and matched it, with a collective support, respect, regard, knowing, and appreciation.

That was the good news. The not-so-good news was that pretty much everything I had prepared for the following morning was now unnecessary and wrong! I no longer needed to help them change; my job was to help them solidify their changes.

It's one thing to watch others being vulnerable; it's something entirely different to be vulnerable oneself. Yet to be truly in service of the group I was there to coach, facilitate, and support, I knew I needed to honor and respect where the group now 'was' - and be completely present to, and enabling of, whatever needed to unfold from that point forward.

So, pre-dawn, and in keeping with the "Pushing the Limits" theme of the retreat, I decided to take what was to be the 'end' of my facilitation - an article called "Life is a ten-speed Bicycle," - and use it to start a conversational unfolding, if you will, where I would rely on my coaching instincts and the collective wisdom of the group to reach for something essential, but as of yet, unknown.

And so, for the next 3½ hours, quite powerfully at times, we explored, realized, agreed, and fine-tuned, what else was needed for this group of smart, capable, and caring professionals to truly coalesce into a single, unified, and unshakable, whole.

The ultimate outcome? Well that remains to be seen. To be sure, they're off to a very good start, but the team must consistently apply the Lessons Learned, aha's realized, and courageousness experienced for the ongoing magic to happen.

Will it be easy? Probably not. Is it doable? Definitely so. Is it likely? I actually believe it is.

As for me, I know that like everyone else, my comfort zone was significantly stretched these last few days - and in a number of different ways! (As I reflect on what that means, I feel a contented little smile coming to my face.) So for that, I thank each and every one of you who helped make that my new reality.

Now if I can just get that campfire smoke smell out of my clothing, I'll be all set!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Julio Olalla: ICF Conference Keynote Speaker

The opening keynote speaker and Honorary Conference Chair of the International Coach Federation's 2007 Annual Conference was Julio Olalla, MCC, founder and president of the Newfield Network, an international education, coaching and consulting company.

A very engaging speaker, Julio spoke about the 'cognitive schizophrenia' that has developed in the modern world. He suggested that the world insists we focus on our exterior knowing - science, business, objects, the 'real' world, etc. - which we dutifully do. But lost in the process is our ability to connect with our interior knowledge - our hearts and souls, passions and beliefs, hopes, dreams, values, love, loyalty, appreciation for the wisdom of others and the very "cognitive possibilities" that flow from emotion.

The answer is not to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side, or even learn how to ably switch between exterior and interior paradigms in an effort to achieve so-called balance. Rather, he said, the answer is in learning how to unify our exterior and interior knowledge into a cohesive whole. (Coaching, by the way, is one of the few mechanisms available for directly enabling this type of learning.)

Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.

Our existing 'cosmology', says Olalla - the story we've created for ourselves about how we fit into the world - is externally based:
O --> A --> R
Observers (us) take Actions that yield specific Results. Should we not like the Results, we simply change our Actions and try again. Note that we don't typically consider how we might change ourselves to modify the outcome.

What if we allowed ourselves to change in addition to (or even in lieu of) changing the actions we take? How might we more consciously and intentionally incorporate more of our interior knowing into the "O --> A --> R" model?
Quite possibly, the Actions we'd subsequently take (and want to take, for that matter) would be sufficiently different to enable some completely new Results heretofore unavailable to us.

Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's Not Still Spelled "Busy-ness" for a Reason

It was a good idea gone bad. "Let's call it 'busy-ness'," they said, "because that's what we want people to be at work - busy."

And so it was for about 200 years until, around the 14th century, some bosses started realizing that being "busy" wasn't exactly what they were looking for from their underlings. True, they did want diligence, but it had become apparent that what their minions diligently worked on made a huge difference in the profitability of the company. Who knew?!

So with this subtle, but powerful, distinction now understood, a similarly subtle, but maybe not as meaningful spelling change was agreed upon. The "y" was dropped, and an "i" was put in its place, and the word "business" was born! (At least that's the story that I made up about it.)

The problem, though, is that so many people are still so busy being busy, that they haven't stopped to read the memo.

So for the record, there is a difference between doing 'stuff' and getting stuff done. There is a difference between driving to work and driving key business results. And there is a difference between the busy-ness of work and the work of business.

Take a moment and review this with someone you're mentoring, would you please? It is a subtle, but powerful, distinction that everyone deserves to understand.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Taking it Off-Line

Scenario: You're attending a staff meeting, tensions are high, pressure is rising, and your boss turns to you and asks a very pointed, but tangential, question that the answer to which is likely to drag things (and possibly you) down further. You try to take it off-line, that is, suggest you talk about it later, but the boss says "No. We're talking about it now."

What to do?~

Talk about it now, responding as quickly, crisply, and in as a respectful, non-defensive manner, as possible, pushing back when necessary, but doing so because it's called-for, not just because you feel like it or don't know what else to do. And hope that it doesn't turn into an inquisition, of sorts.

That said, what can you do to increase the probability that your next 'off-line' request will be agreed to and accepted ? Here are some ideas:
  1. Stay calm and composed - Nothing encourages a boss to go on the offense more than someone's defensiveness. Practice poise under pressure. It will serve you well.
  2. Frame your rationale - There's a huge difference in wanting to talk about something later because it makes more sense to, and wanting to do so because you're trying to avoid even having the conversation. Clearly frame your reasons accordingly, citing one of two compelling reasons why a different time and/or different setting for the discussion would better serve to boss and be advantageous to everyone else.
  3. Leverage your reputation - If your boss already knows you as a trusted advisor, this whole process becomes much more simple. Showing you're not afraid to 'dig in', 'hit things head on', and 'make the tough choices' - on a daily basis - will go a long way in times like these. Building a reputation that says 'credibility' gives you a foundation to stand on in such circumstances.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Higher Understanding through Ping-Pong

An absolutely wonderful article in today's Chicago Tribune titled, Mastering the art of Ping-Pong: Sensei says you must become 'calm and rushed' by By Kevin Pang:

Young Grasshopper hopes to one day become master of the Ping-Pong realm, but Young Grasshopper lacks the wisdom of Ardy S. Taveerasert, flower shop owner by day, sensei by night. Listen to the words of the sage in T-shirt and short shorts:

"Table tennis is like chess and running at the same time," Taveerasert dispenses, encapsulating 30 years of Ping-Pong perspicuity into one sentence.

Young Grasshopper nods. He absorbs. He understands. Everything Young Grasshopper has learned about Ping-Pong must be unlearned.

The setting: A warm, pastoral evening at Daley Bicentennial Park, steps from the Pritzker Pavilion, an iron monkey's leap from Lake Michigan.

The apprentices: Members of the Chicago Slam Table Tennis Club, a faction of all ages and nationalities. Five nights a week, they clash in the struggles of competition (and ostensibly, mankind), and to take in the knowledge of one Taveerasert.

The sage hails from Thailand. In his youth, Taveerasert's older brother forced him to play Ping-Pong. One day Taveerasert finally bested his brother, and then he did it again, and again, and again. A dream was born: to assemble a legion of Ping-Pong warriors, and to make the sport as ubiquitous in the U.S. as Little League baseball. A year ago, the sage became commissioner of the Chicago Slam Table Tennis Club, and a dream was realized.

On this night, Young Grasshopper enters the dojo with a dozen combatants of Ping-Pong at various levels of mastery. One student is Mike Mezyan, a 27-year-old from Jordan, who wears a royal blue athletic crew shirt, collars popped. He shuffles his feet from side to side like Baryshnikov over hot coals. His forehead glistens with sweat. He owns not a paddle, but a blade, which costs $500, and some $300 more a year to maintain its rubber surface.

As blade contacts ball, Mezyan grunts with a feral rage emanating from the depths of his soul.

"You need to be calm and rushed," Mezyan explains. To acquire swift instincts, one's inner-self must remain calm.

Mezyan goes on: Wait for the ball to reach the crest of its arc. The ball will momentarily stop in mid-flight and freeze.

At which point, Taveerasert says -- now standing opposite Young Grasshopper -- do not try to hit the ball.

A counter intuitive strategy, it seems. But soon, the sage's wisdom becomes clear: Trying to hit the ball means one is aiming to hit the ball. One should not aim to hit the ball. One should not try to hit the ball.

One should hit the ball.

"Harder," Taveerasert implores.

Young Grasshopper's guards prevent him from hitting the ball as hard as he could. He does not trust, nor does he realize, his untapped powers.

Harder! Taveerasert's brows furrow.

Young Grasshopper must release his inhibitions.

Harder! Harder! Harder!

Young Grasshopper, with all his might, swings his right forearm in a blur, the blade striking the white ball at the apex of its course. The ball streaks over the net, curves to the right, strikes the table once, past Taveerasert and his outstretched hands. It bounces several times off the floor before coming to a rest. The young apprentice scores one point off the sage. Eyes bulge with shocked disbelief. The student is humbled and the sage smiles.

Through the silence, Young Grasshopper and his master achieve a higher understanding.

-----
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

For Future AND Incumbent Executives - Today


What are the most desired management abilities for Future Executives (and incumbent leaders, too, if you ask me)?

According to Right Management Consultants, they are as follows:

  1. Motivate and engage others
  2. Communicate effectively, strategically, and interpersonally
  3. Think strategically
  4. Lead change
  5. Create a performance organization

Sure, these elements make sense, but let's make them relevant to you and your world. Therefore,

  • What will you do to better motivate and engage others - today?
  • What will you do to improve how effectively, strategically, and interpersonally you communicate - today?
  • What will you think more strategically about - today?
  • What will you do to more assertively lead change - today?
  • What will you do to actually create that performance organization you've been talking about - today?!

Think about it - and then do something desirably executive-like - today - whether you're an incumbent leader, or not.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Doubting Loop and the Confidence Radial

In thinking about confidence, many people get discouraged because of a non-supportive doubting loop they have that has them circle in and around not feeling particularly confident, trying again anyway, but messing things up ... again ... which only strengthens the I-don't-feel-so-confident part all the more. the Doubting Loop

Can anything be done about this?

Well, you can certainly try to not try as much! But, if it's your turn to step to the plate, more likely than not, you really can't say, "Sorry, I'd rather not." If you can, though, it might be a nice temporary respite for you every now and then.

More likely, though, when it's your turn, it's your turn, and there's no getting away from it.

Enter the Confidence Radial©.

Developed several years ago by yours truly, the Confidence Radial recognizes the circularity inherent in the confidence dynamic, but puts it to better use, as the following diagram shows:
the Confidence RadialIt all starts with acting like you already have the power. But this simple notion goes beyond just trying. It speaks to trying ... again ... with the expectation that you can, indeed, succeed. In order to succeed, though, you need to "know what you know." And to do that, some research is required.

Then, armed with that research, you can begin to interact with others on that topic - not so much to show off what you know, but to find out what they know. And, because you'll likely understand what they're saying, they'll be likely to help you expand the conversation by referring you to other knowledgeable/interested contacts (if you ask).

From there, you network with them on the same topic, which will help them get to know who you are and how you think. And from there, you now have several new connections who can help you feel more confident as you talk about this, and other topics of interest to those you do and don't know. (I'm defining contacts, here, as people you know, and connections as people who know you.)

So the key to jumping out of that Doubting Loop? Jump in to the Confidence Radial. All you need is something you're interested in knowing more about.

For more on the Confidence Radial: www.ggci.com/confidence.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Which is really harder?
  • To be creative enough to create a hit song out of thin air, or to take that song on the road and play it consistently and passionately, night-after-night-after night?
  • To do what it takes to drive a high-profile project through to its successful completion or to seamlessly operationalize the significant changes likely resultant from that project's completion?
  • To lose 20 pounds, or to not regain them?
  • To get a new job when you're unemployed, or to stay positive when you're unemployed and not getting any job offers?
  • To significantly improve your performance or to ably sustain those improvements over time?

There's a tendency in business -and in life - to judge others by what they do, or don't, do particularly well. Prematurely. Repeatedly. Unfairly.

Given that you're, quite probably, already familiar with what it feels like when others - prematurely, repeatedly, and unfairly - judge what you do, how might you actually be prematurely, repeatedly, and unfairly judging others and what they do or don't do?

Remember, what goes around, comes around.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Creative Listening, redux

Back in March of 2005 I wrote a post titled, "How are you at Creative Listening?" I mention it here, again, because, just today, the idea that employees might not communicate as clearly as we might hope came up - not just once, but twice. Here, then, is an expert from that post:

"People are always telling us things. And more times than they probably realize, WHAT they tell us doesn't always make sense - at least not at first. One way to deal with that is to ignore whatever doesn't make sense. But that's a lesser strategy.

"The stronger approach is to become a Creative Listener, listening not just to what IS said, but to what might be MEANT by what is said, as well. This is particularly important when the subject matter is emotionally-charged."

So the next time that someone says something to you that doesn't quite make sense, give them the benefit of the doubt. Be patient. Ask questions. Say back what you're hearing to see if it's correct. Assume that there is an excellent nugget that's just too important to miss buried somewhere in their words.

You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that there actually is.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Getting a SLANT on Doing Better

A while back, the University of Kansas created a "Starter Strategy" to help students learn how to engage more thoroughly in their classes, called SLANT.
  • S - Sit in the front of the room
  • L - Lean forward
  • A - Ask questions
  • N - Nod your head
  • T - Talk about the material

As with SMART goals, there are several variations as to what the letters in the SLANT mnemonic actually stand for, and I've used the ones that resonate best for me. Regardless, the idea behind SLANT is that if you do the five things more consistently, you can't help but do consistently better in class.

But not only does practicing SLANT make the student a better learner, it also makes the teacher a better teacher! Why? Because when students sit toward the front of the room, lean forward, ask questions, nod their heads, and talk about the materials they're learning even after class has officially ended, well, how can a teacher not be jazzed be by that?!

Given such a receptive audience, who wouldn't want to prepare more thoroughly so they could ineract that much more engagingly and communicate that much more persuasively?!

Now, let's consider how this might apply in a business setting. Ever been in a really boring meeting?! No?! Oh, well then never mind!

The point is that you might just be able to help your boss, and coworkers, for that matter, become more engaging ... and compelling - and end up doing a better job with that yourself - by regularly practicing SLANT.

Try it for a week or so and see for yourself.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Check Email MORE Regularly

Time, again, to play the Contrarian.

Much talk these days about how email is a huge time-management saboteur. As such, many experts are recommending that we only check emails twice/day ... to minimize our interruptions. But I think that's a pretty bad idea. Here's why:
  1. Checking for emails only twice a day will likely result in an inability to keep our inbox current. The resultant Inbox Overload, which I believe is one of the main triggers of workplace overwhelm and procrastination, is a centerpiece of poor time management.
  2. Checking for emails only twice a day will likely result in us missing important, time-sensitive, communications that, quite possibly, could save us from a LOT of unnecessary make-work ... if we only knew that priorities had changed ... before we did all that work we just did.
  3. Checking for emails only twice a day signals to your coworkers that you don't really care much about what they have to say. Being so disrespectful (intentionally or not) is hardly a smart move for anyone who has to depend on collaboration, teamwork, and cooperation to get things done.
  4. Checking for emails only twice a day undermines our cogitation, that is our thoroughly thinking things through before reacting or responding to them. You have to know it's out there before you can even start to think about it.
  5. Checking for emails only twice a day makes you a bottleneck which means that an increasing amount of what you have to do will be under increasingly tighter time frames.
  6. Checking for emails only twice a day prevents us from productively using our in-between moments. Consider:
  • Time you loose while waiting for meetings to officially begin.
  • Time you loose while waiting for meetings to officially end.
  • Time you loose while waiting on conference calls for others to finish discussing what doesn't involve, or impact upon, you.
  • Time you loose while waiting for your boss to finish that umpteenth phone call interruption.
These in-between moments are absolutely ideal for quickly checking your email and getting a meaningful leg-up on reading through some of those FYIs you typically ignore, or replying to the easy-peasy requests you know are buried in there somewhere, or previewing (so you can start cogitatating on) the more complex ones that probably just arrived. Go for it I say.

Can checking email too frequently become a time management problem? Sure. But because of the reasons just stated, I think checking your email too INfrequently creates even more time management problems than it solves.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Goals, Priorities, Procrastination, and Deadlines

According to Dictionary.com, the word goal was coined in 1275. (I actually thought it would have been penned earlier than that. You, too?) In contrast, the word procrastination didn't get formalized until the mid-to-late 1500's.

So it sure must've been a particularly productive 300 intervening years, don't you think?!

Or maybe, just maybe, they had the word procrastination all ready to go, but just kept putting it off, day after day, until someone finally put their foot down and made it a priority. (The word priority was formally recognized sometime between 1350-1400, placing it after the goal was established - and after it was probably due - but before anyone really got around to working it!)

So let's review:
  • Goals were established in the late 1200's.
  • Some 75 years later they were made into priorities.
  • About 150 years later people started to admit that, yes, maybe there was a bit of procrastination going on.
  • And 450 years after that, the boss got totally fed up and invented the word, deadline!!!
Perfect, no?!

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Maximizing the Probabilities of Agreement

I was going through some old papers last night and came upon an article I saved from the August 2005 issue of Business 2.0 magazine. Titled "This is Your Brain on Advertising," it offered a three-step process for "deliver[ing] the right sensory elements, at just the right time, to maximize the impact" of what you have to say:

  1. Establish the Mood

  2. Build the Tension

  3. Deliver the Message

Yet while these three steps (in this particular order) have worked very well in B-to-C (Businesses selling to Consumers) communiques, don't automatically assume that they're the solution for B-to-B-type communications - like when you're trying to sell your boss or coworkers or customers on a new idea or creative solution.

My suspicion ... the steps to take, and order to take them in, are decidedly different for such B-to-B interactions.

If so, how?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Handling Your Mistakes

It's often said that if you're not making mistakes, you're not learning. But in that mistakes can sometimes be messy, how you clean them up after them is an important skill to learn.
  1. Respond quickly. Once you realize you've made a mistake, deal with it sooner rather than later - even if what happened was completely unintentional, or not entirely your fault.
  2. Apologize, thoroughly. Don't just regret that you did something wrong; apologize sincerely for what you did wrong - even if it resulted from the best of intentions.
  3. Take responsibility. Sure there were probably mitigating circumstances, but in most cases, they're irrelevant. These situations are often more about insuring that whatever you let happen (or failed to make happen) doesn't happen again. Resist the urge to blame others or wiggle out of things. That rarely works as well as you think it might.
  4. Check in. See if your apology was received as complete and sufficient. Remember, while it starts with how you clean up after yourself, it doesn't end until your apology is actually accepted.
  5. Accept accountability. Sometimes, you'll still be warned or reprimanded for what you did. If that's the case, accept whatever lumps you have coming. Hopefully, they'll be few.
  6. Get back to work. You made a mistake, responded quickly, apologized thoroughly, took responsibility, checked in, and accepted accountability for your actions. Now it's time let it go and refocus back on the tasks at hand.

Failing to take responsibility for the mistakes we make can often have career-limiting implications. But if handled appropriately, mistakes can actually help one's career - by showing others how we deal with pressure, how we handle criticism, how we learn from what doesn't go well, etc.

As with so many things, the choice of how you respond is up to you.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In Lieu of Email Abandonment

More and more, people are wanting to literally abandon their email inboxes. And increasingly, messages like this are wanting to be sent:
"Sorry, but in my effort to catch up on my unread emails, I've "accidentally" deleted most everything in my inbox. If you've been patiently waiting for me to reply to something you sent - or waiting not-so-patiently, for that matter - please resend it at this time."
If this feels like a breath of fresh air for you, maybe you need to start training your associates how to send better emails. Here are some suggestions:
  • Inform others that each new topic within a given email is to be numbered and bolded to make identifying their segues not only possible, but easy.
  • Inform others that email subject lines are to be used more meaningfully and to indicate more precisely what is to follow and what is expected from you - Approval Needed, Vacation Request, Policy Issue, Project Status, Critical Update, Some Good News, Yikes!, etc.
  • Inform others that their FYI-type updates and emails providing answers to your questions are to be obviously marked as such.
  • Inform others that you're now scheduling your email inbox 'work' (not unlike how the USPS schedules their suburban mailbox pickups) so that the onus is on them to send emails needing your attention on a more timely basis.
  • Inform others that time-sensitive queries are better made in person or by phone, and NOT by email, unless you prefer otherwise.
  • Inform others that 'reply all' responses are to be used judiciously and cc's selectively.
  • Inform others that you will, unabashedly, and as a matter of courtesy, return to sender any email messages that do not comply with these simple criteria. (After all, they'd probably appreciate knowing that you're ignoring whatever it is that they wrote because you don't have the time or interest to try and decipher whatever it is that they intended for you to glean from the obfuscated email they just sent you, right?!)

Sound harsh? Maybe, but the July/August edition of Fast Company (page 46) indicates that improved email sending practices is saving Capital One approximately 11 workdays - that's more than TWO WEEKS - per employee per year, and that Union Bank is saving in excess of $750,000 (based on employees spending just 30-minutes less per week reading emails) per annum.

If none of this works for you, don't worry - there's always Email Abandonment!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Keys to Personal and Professional Growth


Consider how this works:
  • If something is New Information AND Relevant, it's likely to be Important.
  • If something is New Information AND Resonant, it's likely to be Meaningful.
  • If something is Relevant AND Resonant, it's likely to be Memorable.
  • And if something is Memorable, Meaningful, AND Important, it's likely to enable Growth, on either a personal or professional level, yes?

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Monday, June 25, 2007

When the cat's away...

What's it like when you return back from a conference or seminar or vacation? Are things running smoothly or are they coming apart at the seams. Which do you prefer? Regardless, each scenario says things about you as a leader - quite different things, actually:
  1. Things are a mess upon your return and you don't like it one, single, bit - Welcome back! And if every fiber in your being is trying to prevent yourself from screaming "Did you do anything right?" at your direct reports, the problem has probably a whole lot less to do with your team than you realize. Chances are that much of the angst can be traced back to you doing a very poor job in preparing them for your absence, or dealing with some long-standing performance issues. Grade: -10.
  2. Things are running smoothly and you don't like it - Welcome back! Your staff did a great job! Every thing's fine, except ... you're suddenly feeling like you're not as needed as you used to be. An extra cog in the wheel? Better off not even being there? Oh my. Is my job at risk? Oh, dear, my job is at risk. Rather than being happy for all that went well in your absence, you're acting small and disrespectful to the people who really worked hard to keep things going. Grade: -5.
  3. Things are a mess and you kinda like it like that - Welcome back! Clearly, you were missed and it's good you're back because you're needed, hero. And yet, if this is the case, it's likely that your ego is getting in the way of you properly challenging and developing your staff. Grade: -15.
  4. Things are running smoothly and you like it - Welcome back! Some good stuff happened while you were away and they're glad you're back. It isn't easy filling in for you when you're gone, but they did a really nice job of it. And now, they're ready to turn the reigns back to you. It's not easy doing what you do. They have a much better understanding of that now. And they're that much more appreciative of just how good of a boss you really are. Bingo! Grade: +10.
The ultimate litmus: If your staff works harder when you're out of the office than when you're in - and you're properly appreciative of the fact - you're probably a pretty good leader.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Practice 'Flexing' your Style

We all have 'default' ways in which we respond to difficult situations at work. Some people react quite seriously - they default to an almost Zen-like belief that when we work we should work. Others default to a far more casual affect. 'Not to worry,' they say, before digging in to get things done.

Even though our natural tendencies may suggest otherwise, there is no one right way to "be." Consider:
  • Sometimes, people need a stern talking-to to get them going;
  • Other times, they need support, encouragement, and a friendly smile more than anything else;
  • And still other times, they don't need much of anything but to be left alone to do what they know they need to do!

A range of possible scenarios implies a range of responses.

So, when faced with a difficult situation at work, it is advisable to stop your 'default' reactions before they happen, and instead, purposefully choose a response that will best serve you - and those around you.

Admittedly, such a 'flexing' of style takes a bit of practice. After all, you don't have to think when you respond out of habit - you just respond! Too, there's that pesky issue of not being able to initially calibrate your flex as accurately as you'd like. Again, it takes practice.

It's like asking a power pitcher to learn to throw a slow curve ball for strikes. At first, it isn't easy - some might say it's impossible! But with practice, he learns how. And once he does, it makes his fastball – and all his pitches for that matter – much more effective.

Similarly, if you typically react one way to problems at work, it may not feel natural to react any other way. But once you learn how, flexing your style actually increases your effectiveness. Why? Because it gets people to naturally pay more attention to you, that's why.

And for a variety of reasons that could be a very good thing, yes?!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Hobson's Choice and the Counteroffer

Ever been in a situation where a boss has given you a choice between two or three equally UN-appealing alternatives? That's called a Hobson's Choice, named after Thomas Hobson, (1544–1630), "a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door—or taking none at all." (source: Wikipedia.)

If so, how do you handle it?

Keep in mind that often times, a Hobson Choice is often less about reality than a lack of imagination, flexibility, and creativity. While, true, you may sometimes just have to comply, it's quite often possible that your boss would actually be open to another idea or suggestion - a counteroffer - from you.

In the case of Hobson, himself, I could see you proposing a counteroffer whereby, for an additional fee that you'd be happy to pay, he'd send his apprentice to fetch you when your horse-of-choice is 'next up.' (Did you like how I used the word 'fetch' to give it a late 1500's/early 1600's feel?!)

In the case of your boss wanting several things done by the end of the week, I could see you proposing a counteroffer that has you completing his/her topmost priority by Friday morning, and finish the rest up over the weekend.

What has been your experience with proposing counter-offers? How have they actually expanded your discussions (and rapport) with your boss?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Use Your Resources

One of the main ways people become successful is by doing what they do really, really, well. That often leads to them being promoted, which is generally a step in the right direction. But one of the main ways people fail to remain successful is by continuing to do what they did really, really, well in their prior position, in their new one.
Classic Example: The analyst who's promoted, but acts more like the work group's super-analyst than its supervisor.
(Surely you know someone like that. Odds are you've been someone like that - I know I have!!)

It's not easy to let others do what you know you can do so much better yourself ... if you only had the time to do it yourself. But therein lies the rub because you don't have the time to do it yourself. It's likely that you barely have the time if someone does it all for you!

No, relying on others isn't always easy. But it is important. And as we move up-the-chain, it becomes increasingly imperative - not just advisable or desirable, but imperative - for you to fully utilize the "people" resources available to you. And you've likely got more of them than you realize:
  • Direct Reports
  • Peers
  • Staff in other areas doing related work
  • Vendor personnel
  • Colleagues
  • Customers
  • Other outside contacts and connections
  • Even your boss!

So what do you need some help with? Identify three people who could provide you with some meaningful assistance on it. And ask them to help.

Even if two of the three say no, you'll still be better off than trying to slog through it all yourself.

You know I'm right.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

What Next? By When?

"I'm in a real backlog situation, Barry. How can I dig out?"

Although it may seem a bit odd to phrase it this way, the problem here isn't so much that there's too much to do as much as it is that not enough is getting done soon enough.

Phrasing it in terms of having too much to do can actually slow you down. Why? Because the time spent thinking about how much there is to do is time no longer available to get 'er done.

Conversely, phrasing it in terms of not enough getting done soon enough begs the question "What Next?" which is the key to moving things meaningfully forward. Many (most?) managers have a pretty clear sense of what needs to be done, but far fewer really grasp what needs to be done ... next.

Starting there is always a good idea.

A corollary of the "What Next?" question is "By When?"

You don't leave for work in the morning without any sense of when you'll get there, do you? You didn't do your taxes without any sense of when the 15th was, did you? But you probably do assign tasks to your staff without telling them when you need them completed by.

"Jimmy, take care of this," is not nearly as effective as "Jimmy, take care of this by the end of the week," or "Jimmy, take care of this before leaving for lunch today." Deadlines not only help things get done, but they also help things get done sooner. And that's the point, right?!

So the next time you find that not enough is getting done soon enough, try managing based on deadlines rather than just on deliverables and see what "What Next?" and "By When?" can do for you.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Procrastination DNA

Last week I wrote about using the T-O-P-3 approach to priority management. If you haven't tried it yet, I strongly suggest you do. Why do we get so distracted from our priorities, though? (Embarrassing Disclosure: I'm writing this blog now instead of working on one of my so-called priorities!)

I think the answer is typically one of three:
  1. Procrastination Trap #1 - Distractions - Best intentions aside, we keep getting caught up in other things. So, we basically forget it ... and time passes.
  2. Procrastination Trap #2 - Nonconcurrence - We reject the very notion that this particular task really is a priority - or believe that working it will result in something bad instead. So, we basically dispute it ... and time passes.
  3. Procrastination Trap #3 - Avoidance - We just don't like to do what we don't want to do, or are too uncomfortable with doing to do it. So, we basically ignore it, hoping it goes away ... and time passes.

I suppose we could call these traps Procrastination DNA (Distractions, Nonconcurrence, and Avoidance). That might even explain why procrastination feels so ingrained in us!

In my case, I think I've been trapped by all three: I've been allowing myself to work on other things (distractions) because I really don't think that there's a sufficient upside to working it through (nonconcurrence), and, so, I've just been ignoring the whole thing (avoidance).

So many hours later the work is still not done, but at least I got a blog posting out of it!

Stay tuned.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Always Complete Your "T-O-P-3"

We all have to-do lists. But sometimes (often?) the things on our lists never seem to get off our lists. That's where the "T-O-P-3" comes in.

The way it works is this:
  • Identify three of Today's Overriding Priorities - that is, your T-O-P-3 things to complete today, no ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Don't end your workday until you do complete them.

Can it get any simpler than that?!

Each morning (or the night before) write down your T-O-P-3 for the coming day. Then, go do them.

No excuses, justifications, or rationalizations allowed. No complications, turn-of-events, or surprises matter. Notwithstanding anything else that does or does not happen - or anything else that you do, or do not, do - these are Today's Overriding Priorities. Period. Paragraph. Post.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Upended Pareto

You're probably already familiar with the Pareto principle, or 80/20 Rule, as it's also called, which suggests that 80% of your results come from from 20% of your efforts, or words to that effect. Well here's a variation on the theme, one that I call, the Upended Pareto:

"Eighty percent of whatever's wrong with a situation doesn't really matter."

Your job is to identify the 20% that does matter ... and work exclusively on that.

So pick a situation you're dealing with and ask yourself, "What is the 20% that does matter?"
Start there and see if you're not better off for doing so.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

"How to Succeed Like a Workaholic"

Well this is something fun: I did an interview with careerbuilder.com a while back for a piece on what we can learn from "workaholics" and to my surprise and delight, it's instead been published on at jobs.aol.com - on Page One ... and above the fold, no less! [4/23/7: at least it was through Sunday!]

Here's an excerpt:

If you want to have the success of a workaholic and still have your down time, Zweibel offers five strategies you can employ.

1. Put in the hours at the right time. "There is a benefit to being seen in an organization," says Zweibel. If you are working late or are in on the weekend, pass by your boss's office for some face time. Not only will you get kudos for the extra effort, but you might get the opportunity for valuable one-on-one time.

2. Pay attention to time stamps. If you are sending an assignment to your boss via e-mail after hours, the e-mail will indicate the extra time you are spending. Pay attention to when you are sending these messages -- they could demonstrate your commitment. However, Zweibel cautions against going too far. Sending messages at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night or at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning could indicate that you are not able to manage your time well, and there is something to be said for being able to get the job done early. "You could make a better impression if you can do the same work in a shorter amount of time," Zweibel says.

3. Talk up your successes. Don't be afraid to be your own cheering section. Make sure your boss knows about your achievements and the extra time you put in. More importantly, have other people talk up your successes. There's nothing like a good word from another respected co-worker or client to make you look great.

4. Be the "go to" person in a crunch. You don't have to work every weekend, but make sure your boss knows that you are someone who is willing to go the extra mile when needed.

5. Strive for perfection, but know when to settle. One thing most workaholics have in common is the pursuit of perfection. This drive to be perfect brings about results, but can also wear you out. On the continuum between lousy work and perfect work, there is what Zweibel calls "merely excellent," which, he says, is "pretty damn good." He suggests you strive for greatness, but allow yourself to settle for "merely excellent" work most of the time and reserve absolute perfection for those really special projects.

Full text: AOL: Succeed Like a Workaholic; GGCI archive.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You May Be Happier Than You Think

According to a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and as reported in the Chicago Tribune today, money really can't buy happiness - when it comes to work.

The top occupations in job satisfaction?
  1. clergy
  2. physical therapists
  3. firefighters
  4. education administrators
  5. painters/sculptors

The bottom occupations in job satisfaction?

  1. roofers
  2. waiters/servers
  3. laborers (not construction)
  4. bartenders
  5. hand packers/packagers

But the bigger part of the story, I think, is this: 47% of all workers surveyed said they were "very satisfied" with their work and 33% of all workers reported being "very happy."

What that means is this: If the person next to you isn't "very satisfied," or the two people on either side of you aren't "very happy," chances are that you are!

And isn't that a nice thing to realize?!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Choosing to Choose

Typically, people get stuck because they can't figure out what they really want:
  • What do I want to be when I grow up?
  • What do I want my next job to be like?
  • What do I want to do about this issue at work?
  • What do I want to do on my next vacation?

Sometimes, though, this issue is not so much about what to choose as it is about choosing to choose:

  • Should I accept this new job offer?
  • Should I push back on my boss?
  • Should I go back to school?
  • Should I exercise today?
  • Should I pitch it all and just chase my dream?

With this, you probably know exactly what choice you want to make, but something's holding you back. And that something is almost always fear:

  • Fear of it being too difficult (or you thinking that maybe you're not good enough)
  • Fear of it being too different (or you feeling that it will take you too far outside of your comfort zone)
  • Fear of it being too dicey (or you believing that you can't recoup if things don't go right)

When fear keeps us from making foolish choices , fear is good. But when fear keeps us from owning our own lives, well, that's an entirely different matter.

Only you can choose what's right for you. But it's your responsibility to choose, even if your choice is to defer the decision for a period of time, or to gather more information so that you can choose more wisely. After all, choosing not to choose is a choice, too, you know.

But not choosing, simply because you're too afraid to choose, is not what you want to do - it's not who you want to be. So step into the fear, step through it, and step out the other side, so you can choose, whatever you choose to choose.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Bye-Bye, 1q7

So does time go fast, or what?! Before it's too late, then, how did you do with with respect to:
  1. Things you hoped to get started in 1q7?
  2. Things you hoped to get finished in 1q7?

Now, while it's still early,

  1. What do you want to do more of in 2q7?
  2. What do you want to do less of in 2q7?
Put some reminders on your calendar to help keep you on track.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Labor of Obligation

Some of the work we do falls under the category of Labor of Obligation:
  • quote/unquote "important" assignments that we may think are trivial
  • urgent requests for any of a variety of things
  • monthly or quarterly reports that no one really reads, but cause all sorts of consternation if they're not submitted on time

Other things we do fall under the category of Labor of Love:

  • pet projects of ours
  • things we feel truly make a difference in the our world (no matter how big or small we happen to define that world at any point in time)
  • certain types of work that we just happen to particularly enjoy and/or find fulfilling in some way

Too often, though, we spend so much time with our Obligations that we run out of time to work on the important stuff - the things that really matter to us.

There's no easy answer, but more than likely, it has something to do with getting through the stuff you don't like doing more quickly so that there's time left to do what you do like to do.

You might even say that we each have an obligation to create the time needed to work on what we love doing - an obligation to ourselves.

What, then, are three things you can do to: (a) reduce the number or scope of - and amount of time spent on - the obligatory things you do so that you can; (b) increase the number or scope of - and amount of time spent on - things you'd do for the sheer love of being able to do them?

Go there for a while and see what that does for you.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What Do You Really Care About?

Talk is cheap; actions are what matter. But even actions have gradations.
  • You may care enough about something to be willing to let it happen.
  • You may care enough about something to be willing to help it happen.
  • You may care enough about something to be willing to make it happen.
What, then, do you care enough about to be willing to make happen?

It's an interesting question because not only does it tell you what you really are interested in - it also tells you what you really are NOT interested in.

And that's something that others probably already know about you whether you realize it or not.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bad News and the Two-Question Set

A system failed. A human error occurred. A competitor won out. An audit failed. A process broke. Or any of a variety of other unfortunate circumstances. Regardless of the cause, it's now your job to tell someone the bad news!

While you can't prevent that someone from ultimately shooting the messenger, you can make things easier on yourself by having clear, crisp, answers to the following Two-Question Set:
  1. How did you solve/meaningfully address this problem?
  2. What have you done to insure it never happens again?

If you cannot answer these two simple questions in a confident and articulate manner, don't kid yourself - you have some important work yet to do.

Now, sometimes, it's more important to be timely than thorough - especially when it's new news, as it were. In those cases, it's perfectly reasonable to say something like this:

"This is a conversation where I tell you something's broken; it's not the conversation where I tell you it's fixed."

Know, though, that this in no way absolves you from answering the Two-Question Set in the very near future. To maintain your credibility and regard, you must be able to say precisely how you solved/meaningfully addressed the problem at hand, and what you put in place to prevent it from ever happening again. And, of course, your solutions must be good ones.

But if they are, you'll likely find your reputation in the organization increases notwithstanding the problems that occurred on your watch.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Framing Success Stories with with P-A-R

I'm often asked, "How can I be sure to put my best foot forward in an interview? What's the best way to share Success Stories?" My answer: Frame them with P-A-R:
  • P - Start by stating a PROBLEM you've dealt with that is relevant to one that your prospective employer might have and/or want you to be able to address.
  • A - Next, explain the APPROACH you took to meaningfully, if not eloquently, resolve the problem.
  • R - Then share how the RESULTS you achieved not only solved the immediate problem, but enabled additional downstream benefits as well.

Information Technology Example:

"Tell me about an experience you had with handling a major system outage."

Sure, I'd be happy to. The problem was this: All calls into our facility were being improperly rerouted by the phone company to a 'this number is no longer in service' recording.

Obviously, this was unacceptable. So, I took the following approach: Through a series of conversations, I was able to quickly learn the name and number of the specific person responsible for assigning technicians to fix such problems. Unfortunately, she was less than cooperative, at first, to put it mildly! But we didn't have time to go in circles, so I said, "Look, this is a real mess so I need to know: Is it that you don't want to help me, or you don't know how to help me. Now, which is it?"

That turned the tide and in a very short period of time she had her top technicians working to restore our service - which they did in record time. So that was good, but the added bonus was that I now had some new key inside contacts who could be excellent resources for helping us address future outages. And you can be sure that those results have paid multiple dividends since.

Human Resources Example:

"Tell me about your experience with implementing changes to the benefits administration process for a unionized workforce."

Sure, I'd be happy to. The problem we faced was that the benefits staff was spending a whole lot of time checking on the status of pending insurance claims for employees and not getting to other important matters.

So, I took the following approach: I researched, proposed, and got approval to install a web-based claims management system where employees could check on their claims themselves - without HR's assistance. Of course, the biggest key to making something like that work effectively was getting union buy-in, which I was able to do by demonstrating how employees could check status from their home computers anytime, day or night. (Too, I agreed to install several shop-floor terminals for employees who didn't have home computers.)

The results were pretty good: Not only did we save the company tens of thousand of dollars each year in the benefits management area, but we were also able to improve efficiencies in other benefits-related work - and improve union relations, as well. We hit the trifecta on this one!

Everyone has Success Stories to share. But try taking a few of yours and frame them with the P-A-R model. See if it doesn't make them that much more compelling and engaging stories to tell.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is Employee Retention Overrated?

There's so much written about employee retention problems - how to stop employees from leaving for better opportunities, how to deal with head-hunters poaching the best-of-your-best, how to best allocate your training dollars to keep them from leaving, etc. And while it often is a shame when organizations lose good people, I guess I'm a contrarian about this because I think the bigger problem is that too many employees stay too long with an employer:

  • Marginal employees whose performance is sub-standard, but not quite poor enough to justify termination.
  • Chronic 'problem children' who've been shuffled around from one department to another so many times that they now feel justified in not doing their jobs well
  • Slippery bosses who regularly mess things up but still get tapped to head yet another plum assignment because they know how to play the political game
  • Long-term employees (including bosses) who stopped learning anything new years ago, but still insist they're experts on the 'right' way to fix new, and significantly more complex, problems.
My recommendation is this: Don't encourage these people to stay; encourage them to leave.

And why not? There's hardly a better time.

  • Bonus monies have been paid out.
  • New vacation/personal/sick time allocations have been accrued.
  • The motivational aspects from the year-end salary treatments, for better or worse, have worn off.
  • Their lackluster performance has already undermined your efforts for a bigger and better first quarter.
  • And those fabulous employees who couldn't be retained have created numerous openings in other companies for the very same marginal employees that you'd like to see go.

So who are the people you know you really ought to have some heart-to-heart conversations with about helping them move on? How can you help them be 'discovered' - and poached - by other companies?

Give it some thought. The upside could be considerable to them ... and you.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Value of DE-celerating

Much is written about the importance of being able to accelerate into new opportunities as they arise. The purpose of this post, though, is to invite you to consider the importance of DEcelerating, when possible - which is likely to be more doable than you realize.

Four reasons why becoming a skilled decelerator makes sense:
  1. It gives you permission to be merely excellent, rather than 'perfect' when working on specific tasks and assignments. (The value-added of non-specific perfection is terribly over-rated, and ridiculously time-consuming.)

  2. It's easier to see the subtleties of the political landscape and/or project complexities when you're not always pedal-to-the-metal.

  3. It wastes less energy - Think how cars get better mileage when you ease off the throttle a bit - as with automobiles, as with people.

  4. It shows you're more than a 'one-trick' pony - you definitely don't want to be seen as someone who views all situations as nails needing to be hammered. Different speeds enable a much wider range of responses.

The 5th, and perhaps most important reason to become more skilled at decelerating, though, is this:

Decelerating allows you to subsequently accelerate when the situation warrants it.

Whether it's recovering from a problem, cleaning up a mess, planning for your future, figuring out how to work better with your boss, or just because a way-cool new opportunity has come your way, being able to step up your game is a great something to have in your back pocket.

But you just can't do it if you're always running at full speed.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Quality versus Timeliness and their Downstream Implications

Back in 2005, I did a post called, "Capable of Doing versus Paid to Do" where I made the point that I did not believe that success at work is about doing what you're capable of doing - it's about doing what only YOU can do. I was reminded of this post several times last week when talking with several clients, actually, about better managing the Quality versus Timeliness dynamic:
Many people, given a job to to, will choose to do the best they possibly can. I do not believe that success at work is simply about the Quality of your work. I believe it's more a function of the Timeliness of your work.
Not that Quality isn't important. It just that in most cases it isn't the most important thing. In most cases, the most important thing is Timeliness - perfectionism notwithstanding.

Given that - and feel free to argue the point - the question is not just, "What's the best I can do?" It's this:

"Given the time available to do this, what IS the best I can do?"

It's obvious that the amount of time you have to do something affects what you can do, right? The example I gave was from my own experience: Several years ago I was asked by the CFO of the company I was working for to provide him with a 3-year budget estimate for my department ... by noon! How absurd, I thought. (How impossible!) So I pushed back. To his credit, the CFO said, "Look, I know it's an unrealistic request. But I need some estimates by noon just the same. So SWAG* it the best you can - and don't be late."

I knew I'd have to let my perfectionism go because it was truly impossible to provide him with the detail (and justification) that I would have liked to provide. There really was only one way to look at it: Given the time available to do this, what WAS the best I could do?

Clearly, the CFO had downstream plans for my information and if I didn't provide him with at least some sort of estimate it would create downstream problems - for him and for me! So I took a SWAG and you know what? He said, "Thanks. This is exactly what I needed."

So the next time you're faced with an unreasonable deadline - one that you can't change - accept that there are probably some pretty important downstream implications of you getting your work in on time. And ask yourself,
"Given the time available to do this, what IS the best I can do?"
And if they don't like the output you provide? Just tell them that's why you pushed on the deadline in the first place. But since they said no, you provided them with the best you could provide within the time available to do it ... and offer to improve it, if time permits. (This is a great way, by the way, to train a boss to not set unnecessarily tight time frames on future assignments, too!)

----

*SWAG - The next level of a WAG - wild-ass guess - is a scientific wild-ass guess, or SWAG!

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Argument for Less Simplicity

Leah Eskin wrote a fun little article in her Home on the Range column for the Chicago Tribune magazine section a few weeks back, titled, Get Over the Easy: Effortless Eggs Aren't Worth the Trouble:

"Simplistic propaganda lurks on the magazine cover, best-seller table and annoying pop-up promotion: Declutter, deacquistion, desist. Mottoes that are supposed to relieve the overworked and overwhelmed. But don't.

"You realize you like complicated. Maybe not bacon-on-a-swing complicated. Not spear-it-and-cute-it-yourself complicated. But at the very least the carefully selected and beautifully composed cheese-plate complicated."

On she writes, quite cleverly, in fact, about what seems to be a justification for a quasi-complicated brunch. And as I read, I was struck by the notion that many people, myself included, actually like the complicated! After all, there is a beauty in complexity that simplicity simply cannot hold a candle to, fragranted paraffin, notwithstanding. Like when a basketball team executes a perfect pick and roll, or when a car's anti-lock brakes do their thing, or, in keeping with Ms. Eskin's epicurean emphasis, when all the parts of a Thanksgiving Day dinner are ready to eat at exactly the same time. This is not simplicity. But it is fantastic!

We often complain how office policies and procedures tend to be more complicated than they need be. And many are. But sometimes, there's nothing like a crisp 7-step process to take something through from start to finish. It begs the question:

What might we be trying to make too simple?
In an effort to clear things off our plates (that one was for you, Leah!) what important details might we have overlooked? In an effort to rush through a meeting , what important questions might we never have let get asked? In a effort to hurry home and live a balanced life, who might we have nearly run off the road as we changed lanes without looking back there?

It's complicated when you have to square the corners, polish the chrome, dot the i's and cross the t's. Rarely is it simple.

But a job well done? Now that's simply outstanding!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Who's asking Whom?

Two items-of-note from the February issue of Training & Development magazine:

  • Item One - Only 33% of employees surveyed say their bosses seldom or never ask them for advice. Now at first blush, this may seem like fairly good news. I mean if 33% are not asked, then that means 67% are asked. But what remains unanswered is what type of questions are those 67% asked? Are they meaningful and important questions or more trivial in nature? Do they require critical thinking and analysis skills or are they just simply yes/no questions? I have my suspicions, don't you?!
  • Item Two - Only 11% of employees see their boss as a source for workplace advice. This separate survey found that more workers rely on a peer (24%), another senior-level employee (15%), a friend outside the company (14%), and a mentor or coach (13%). Have bosses truly become that useless?

So there you have it - bosses don't ask their direct reports questions and direct reports don't ask their bosses questions. No wonder so many organizations are in such disarray.

For the record, asking questions is not a sign of weakness - it's a sign of curiosity. And curiosity is a good thing.

Oh, you say you are asking questions but just not getting the clarity you're looking for? Well ask again. And keep ask. But don't just ask the same exact question over and over again. Be creative. Approach it from different angles. But, above all, be persistent in your pursuit of meaningful information up and down the chain.

Point Last: Who's not been asking you questions lately?! You might want to see if you can stimulate their asking you for workplace advice - especially if you're their boss.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Value-Added Reciprocity

Pick someone you have an important working relationship with, and ask yourself the following two questions:

Q1: What does s/he need from me to feel completely confident in - and appreciative of - my ongoing value-added-ness to him/her?

Q2: What do I need from him/her to feel completely confident in - and appreciative of - his/her ongoing value-added-ness to me?
Share your answers with the other person and ask them for theirs. Compare. Contrast. And repeat as necessary.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Preventing Problems: Non-Event Successes

Which are you better at: solving problems, or preventing them?

People who solve problems are critical to the success of any organization. Bosses tend to adore skilled problem-solvers and rely on them continually - which can be a problem in and of itself. But Problem-Solvers tend to enjoy a higher profile than most. They're often seen as heroes by the Big Dogs and, as such, tend to get bigger raises and bonuses, as well.

People who prevent problems, though, are even more critical to the success of an organization - even if their accomplishments do tend to be unnoticed, overlooked and undervalued. Not having a problem costs organizations far less than cleaning one up.

Why then the disparity in reputations?

The main difference is that while the Big Dogs accept that problems occur and need to be cleaned up, they often never realize that a particular crisis was averted. Needless to say, they also tend to not realize that the non-event resulted from the Problem Preventer's sterling efforts. Simply put, they don't know if they don't know.

So how can a professional Problem Preventer increase the profile of his/her success without being seen as making much ado about nothing? Here are a few ideas:

1. Keep your bosses updated on the issues you're working to prevent - Don't assume s/he doesn't care. And don't assume s/he already knows.

"Hey boss, don't know if you know about this or not, but in doing a routine audit of my department I found something I want to take a closer look at ..."

2. Don't make it look so easy - Let the Big Dogs know that the situation you're dealing with is fraught with danger, mon cherie. Discuss the ramifications of it actually becoming a problem and what you're doing to prevent those ramifications from happening.

"Yes, Big Dogs, while it's great how well our proposal was received, I'm getting a huge push-back from the customer on some contract specifics that could significantly impact our ability to actually close the deal ..."

3. Talk about the forks in the road - No doubt the situation you're facing is complex and nuanced. Seek input from the Big Dogs as to what route makes the most sense given the circumstances. Show them, through requesting their counsel and the dialogue that ensues, that you've got a brain and you're not afraid to use it.

"So, Big Dogs, I want to get your insights at this specific juncture because depending on the Bigger Picture, what looks good to me might not look good for you. As example, should my strategy focus more on ways to reduce costs, or increase revenues ... or just positively affecting the bottom line? ..."

4. Share the Good News - Wipe the sweat off your brow and send a Success Story up the chain. Even better, get someone else to tell your boss what a great job you did to prevent something terrible from happening.

"Hey boss, get a load of this: Remember how we wanted to help Stuart get off to a fast start in his new position as department head? Well I hired an executive coach for him and it's already paying dividends. He dodged a huge bullet in a staff meeting yesterday and came off smelling like a rose ..."

... or better yet ...

(To your boss from one of Stuart's direct reports) "I think Stuart's going to help us do good things - he's not afraid to say what needs to be said. Thanks for promoting him."

Don't underestimate the value of preventing problems before they occur. But don't underestimate the value in increasing the profile of these non-event successes, either.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Competency Continuum

When taken out of context, some of the best inspiration can come from the Hallmark card aisle and television commercials. Case in point, the latest ad from GMC trucks, which proudly proclaims:

"Amateurs work until they get it right. Professionals work until they can't get it wrong."
Now I don't know if this makes me want to buy a Denali or their new Acadia, but continuing to develop a skill past "get it right" and all the way to "can't get it wrong" is an interesting notion, isn't it?

Case in point: I went bowling last week - first time in a long time - and a Competency Continuum was certainly apparent. Some shots I couldn't make for the life of me - like the 7/10 split. Others - like my strike ball - I could get right sometimes, but not always. And some of the easy-peasy spares I never missed.

So where are you on the Competency Continuum? And what would help increase your pin-count, as it were?

If it has anything to do with a bowling lane, check this out: www.bonuszone.com.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Simplify or Amplify

Sometimes it helps to make complex issues less so; other times it helps to make subtle issues more obvious.

The next time someone doesn't understand what you're trying to say, consider whether it's more likely because you're being overly complex, or "underly" obvious.

Adjust your approach accordingly.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

People behave as they're incented to behave

That old axiom is true: People really do behave as they're incented to behave. It's just that sometimes we don't realize exactly how we are incenting them to behave. A quick and easy way to understand the real picture is by using a 2x2 Awareness Matrix:

Start with a question, like this one: Why don't managers do their employee year-end reviews on time? Then, answer the "What are the..." questions posed by each quadrant:

For Quadrant I: What are the Rewards for Complying, that is doing the reviews on time?

Probable Answer: There are no rewards, excepting a pat-on-the-head from the boss and some dirty looks from their coworkers who haven't finished (read: even started) their reviews yet.

For Quadrant II: What are the Punishments for Complying?

Probable Answer: Having a set of miserable conversations with employees about their shortcomings.

For Quadrant III: What are the Rewards for Not Complying?

Probable Answer: Not having to have those miserable conversations with employees about their shortcomings. (Sometimes the avoidance of pain is the most powerful motivator of all.)

For Quadrant IV: What are the Punishments for Not Complying?

Probable Answer: A slap-on-the-wrist, maybe, but more likely than not there is no real punishment, just a revised due date and some knowing smiles from their peers.

Given the results of the Awareness Matrix, why would managers do their employee year-end reviews on time? There's no real up-side for doing them - the up-side is for not doing them. And there's no real down-side for not doing them - but there is a down-side for doing them. So you may want to spend some time considering how to realign the Rewards for Complying and the Punishments for Not Complying.

And you may want to notice, as well, that the Probable Answers for Quadrants II and III are very similar - they both have to do with the managers' beliefs that these year-end performance discussions will likely go poorly. That means if you can help your managers learn how to make these conversations even a little bit less miserable, you'll be on the right track.

So how do you make these conversations less miserable? Well one way is to order a copy of Employee Performance Discussions: 10 Important Things a Boss MUST Know How to Say for everyone. By helping them learn how to take better control of their year-end performance discussions, they will likely improve the quality of those discussions, and thus significantly reduce their concerns with Quadrants II and III.

That's not to say that you absolutely must purchase this Special Report. You certainly do not. But if the other things you've tried haven't worked, consider sending your managers to www.employee-discussions.com and suggest they take a look around.

You owe it to yourself, your managers - and your employees - to make this year's year-end reviews as meaningful as possible. But time's running out.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Creating a Portfolio of Mentors

For an innovative approach to establishing an entire network of mentors interested in your success, read my latest article, Creating a Portfolio of Mentors. It was just published by TheLadders.com - exclusive partners of the WSJ CareerJournal.com and Business Week online.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Climbing the Job-Hunting Ladder

Did you know that September and October are some of the busiest times of the year for interviewing? So says The Ladders, the most comprehensive source for $100k+ jobs. With summer winding down, companies are gearing up for a strong fourth quarter and they're looking to hire - just like you! So if you've been thinking it's time for a change, I whole-heartedly recommend you subscribe to TheLadders Career Newsletter.

What's in it for you:

  • You'll gain access to 25,000 exclusive quality job leads at the $100K+ earning level, at top companies.
  • Openings are sorted by job function, such as: Finance, General Management, Human Resources, Law, Medical, Management Consulting, Marketing, Operations, Real Estate, Sales, Science, and Technology.
  • These are executive-level jobs only. No low-level fluff. All real, open, $100k+ jobs.
  • In that they have an exclusive partnership with the WSJ Career Journal, you know they've got all the best jobs.
  • And if you subscribe in early September, you'll get a full month of their weekly newsletters, one of which is scheduled to include a brand new article written by yours truly!

What's in it for me:

  • TheLadders is increasing its commission payments for this month and offering a $1,000 bonus to the first affiliate to add 20 new Premium-level subscribers.
  • I get to help a number of you who have been wanting to step-up your job search but haven't really dug in as of yet.

To sweeten the pot, if you sign up in September - and use coupon code 39408 -you can save $15 off your first month's Premium membership. Consider it a little extra incentive from TheLadders ... and a little extra push, from me!

Just click on any of the links above.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Makes an Excellent Team?

"The ability to sustain outstanding results over time is the most obvious characteristic of an excellent team." So says Jesse Stoner, EdD in his work called Benchmarks of Team Excellence.

But if team excellence is the outcome, what then are the benchmarks that enable that outcome to occur? Stoner identifies six of them:
  1. Alignment - whereby team members share a common vision or purpose for the team's existence.
  2. Processes - whereby the policies and procedures enable team members to coordinate their efforts smoothly and effectively (Stoner calls this Team Effectiveness, but I like using the term 'Processes' better as it's more about the infrastructure that required than the outcome resulting from it).
  3. Empowerment - whereby team members feel authorized to do what's necessary to get the job done, and supported in their efforts in doing so.
  4. Passion - whereby each member brings a high level of enthusiasm, energy, excitement, excellence, and confidence to the group.
  5. Commitment - whereby each member feels a deep commitment to purpose of the team ... and to each other.
  6. Standards - whereby the group purposefully raises the level of performance above and beyond what is necessary. (Stoner calls this Results.)

If your team isn't operating at as high a level as you'd like, take a look at where they are on these 6 benchmarks. Start with alignment and work your way down the list.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Describing Team Performance

In his work Benchmarks of Team Excellence, Jesse Stoner, EdD identifies 5 levels of team performance. Where does your team place?
  • Excellence - Teams at this level produce consistently outstanding results. Meetings tend to be more about the future than on today's crises. Conflict is handled openly and directly.
  • Effective - Teams at this level produce consistently good results. Team member passion and energy is noticeably lower, though, and they sometimes fail to communicate with each other as proactively as they might.
  • Typical - Teams at this level produce good, sometimes even outstanding, results, but tend to do so inconsistently. Team members often do not understand the team's mission, how their goals align with that mission, or how their goals relate to other team member goals. As such, they're typically more focused on performing their own roles and responsibilities than they are on team performance.
  • Unfocused - Teams at this level tend not to function well at all. While the work often gets done, it is not through any coordinated effort, unless the group leader directly manages that coordination. Individual team members have very little commitment to the team.
  • Unconnected - Teams at this level are not really teams at all; they are just collections of individuals doing their work with little interest in, concern for, each other.

Tomorrow's post will look at the underlying benchmarks, or elements, of Team Excellence and what you might do to help move them up-the-chain.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Making Mistakes ... On Purpose

"While few companies are willing to commit to a course that looks like an error, the power of intentionally taking the wrong road can be seen in the high payoffs that have come from strategies that initially seemed like mistakes."
So say Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther in "The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes," an article that appeared in the June 2006 issue of the Harvard Business review (reprint R0606G).

One such example of mistakes-on-purpose-being-helpful came courtesy of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Mandated by Congress to build robotic, non-remote controlled, ground vehicles, they responded by sponsoring an unmanned-vehicle race, offering $1million to the winner. Purposefully engaging amateurs and university students in Pentagon matters? What, were they crazy?

No one won the race, but the 'losers' helped DARPA identify no less than 13 fatal design flaws that could now be avoided in their own design efforts.

But how can we decide which mistakes are smart ones to make and which ones are just plain dumb? The authors offer these insights:
  1. Identify underlying assumptions - focus on assumptions that are core to the issue.
  2. Select specific assumptions for testing - focus on the ones where you'd do things differently if you know these assumptions were false.
  3. Rank the assumptions - look for where the potential gains greatly outweigh their costs.
  4. Create your strategy - craft a meaningful mistake for the highest ranked assumptions.
  5. Execute the mistake.
  6. Learn from the process.
Admittedly, the authors acknowledge that mistakes made on purpose like this aren't really mistakes as much as experimentation. But I still like the idea. My 'tweak' would be to get real clear - in advance of the experiment - how you will 'mop up' the mess in the even that the 'mistake' goes bad.

That way, you can jump into your mistake-making with both feet without worry and better focus your attention on learning what's to learn.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Elevator Conversations

It's happened before; it will happen again.

You're running late but you are able to step into the elevator just before the doors begin to shut - excellent! You take a deep breath to relax a bit and, as you do, you notice that you're not alone. Standing right beside you is a key company executive ... Looking right back at you.

OMG, what should I say? I can't just ignore him. I've got to say something. But what?! Can't this elevator go any faster? Why can't this elevator go any faster?
Classic good news/bad news situation, this is. You've suddenly got some incredible face time in front of an exec, but you're not ready to do anything meaningful with it.
If only I knew this was coming. If only I had been more prepared.
You try smiling and hope to leave it at that. But it doesn't' work - the elevator's going too slow. You know you have to try and say something. So you do. But it comes out sounding really lame. You feel your embarrassment growing further.

Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me ... Again?

Oh, it never has happened to you, you say? Right. If it wasn't in an elevator, it's likely to have been in a conference room, or hallway, or parking lot, or on a phone call, in the bathroom, or at the train station, etc. because it happens all the time.

Want the antidote? It's called getting ready. Here's what you do:
  1. Take out a clean sheet of paper and write down the names of all the people who'd likely make you tongue-tied if they appeared in this elevator scenario.
  2. Figure out - as in, ahead of time; as in, for the next time - what you want to say to/ask of each of them in the event that they do show up right next to you.
  3. Review and update your list regularly.
Good. Now take another deep breath. And get back on that elevator! You're ready.

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