Complete 2016 in a meaningful way

As we enter the holiday season and end of 2016 it seems appropriate and timely to write something about “completing the year.”

Completing a phase, period, initiative or task effectively is just as powerful and rewarding as starting or executing these effectively. However, it seems as if most people tend to focus more on the starting and executing part. We underestimate the power and value of completing things effectively, not merely finishing or ending them.

The dictionary defines finishing as ‘bringing a task or activity to an end.’ It defines Completing as ‘making something whole or perfect’.

We don’t have to do anything for something to end. It is the nature of the world. Things begin, go through their cycle and end. A year, a project or a lifetime, it’s all the same. But, in order to complete things – or more accurately to feel complete with activities or situations – we need to apply a deliberate and mindful focus and awareness.

How do you complete things?

If you review the year’s events without the distinction completion in mind, you are likely to focus on the cold facts of what actually happened. You will ask yourself things like: “What did I do?”, “What didn’t I do?”, and “What results did I achieve?”. While you may find intellectual satisfaction in taking stock of this year’s events in the most factual, objective and accurate way, this information won’t empower or uplift your spirit and soul.

In contrast, if you look at 2016 through the lens of completion you will be compelled to push your thinking and reflection beyond the cold facts of what happened to a deeper level. You will be compelled to own ‘what happened’ and ‘what didn’t happen’ in a more meaningful way.

You will ask yourself questions such as “What did I accomplish?”, “What did I learn?”, “Where and how did I grow?” and “How am I better, stronger and more prepared for the future?”. This type of taking stock will make you feel more satisfied and complete.

In fact, the idea of success and failure is an interpretation, not a fact. You can feel victorious and successful even when you haven’t met your goals. And, you can feel defeated and a failure when you did meet your goals. The feeling of success or failure is determined by the completion conversation.

Completing the past will enable you to put things in a better perspective. It will help you put the past behind you, and this will leave you feeling freer, stronger and more empowered and excited to focus on the future with a clean slate.

However, if you leave things incomplete, past incompletions could haunt you and cloud your thoughts, plans, and aspirations for the future. Furthermore, you could become more hesitant because of past failures and/or blindly confident because of past successes. In both cases, you would be reacting to your past and that won’t be effective or satisfying.

The good news is that you can bring a completion view to your past at any moment, no matter how good or bad things were. You just need to take stock, draw empowering conclusions from past events and then declare the past complete. It requires taking a stand, and it takes courage. But, you can do it!

How to complete 2016 in a meaningful way:

So – as we are ending 2016, reflect on your year. First, make the list of the facts – what happened, what you did and didn’t do. It’s useful to start there. But don’t end there.

Ask yourself:

  1. What did I accomplish?
  2. What did I learn?
  3. Where and how did I grow and improve in the areas I care about?
  4. How did I forward my bigger personal and professional vision and purpose?
  5. What am I most grateful for?
  6. Who do I want to recognize and thank? (Make sure you tell them.)

Once you declare 2016 complete, you will feel a sense of satisfaction, peace, and fulfillment. In that space, you can powerfully start creating next year to be your best year ever.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Holiday Season and Happy New Year!

Make your meetings more effective!

One of the most common complaints I hear in organizations is “too many meetings.”

I believe in most organizations there are too many meetings. However, I also believe that what is causing and augmenting people’s frustrations about meetings is the fact that most meetings are ineffective. They don’t produce enough and they don’t leave people with the experience of time well spent and having produced great accomplishments.

If you make your meetings much more powerful and effective I believe people will feel differently about “too many meetings.”

I want to share two useful and powerful guidelines that if you follow would make your meetings much more effective and productive:

  1. Focus your meetings on achieving outcomes, not discussing topics.

    This guideline may seem simple and common sense. However, it is counter-intuitive for most teams and people. In fact, most teams orient their meetings around filling time slots with discussion points. Most teams plan for their meetings by making a list of important topics that require dialogue or decision, then attributing time to each topic on the list, then slotting them into the agenda that gets distributed to the team.I have been in so many meetings that begin with a slide that shows the agenda – the sequence of topics in their time slots. Further, I can’t tell you how many times when I ask people “How did the meeting go?”, they say “Great, we kept to the agenda”.

    • Instead of falling into the trap of filling time with topics, begin each meeting with creating clarity and alignment around the intended outcomes of the meeting. You can do this prior to the meeting as part of the preparation or in the meeting itself. Always state the intended outcomes in terms of clear end results, not activities.
    • Having clear outcomes in front of you throughout the meeting will help you to navigate the discussion and stay on topic, especially when people react to others’ statements and want to steer the dialogue down unproductive rat holes or in unplanned directions.
    • Also, make sure that when you achieve an outcome acknowledge its fulfillment and completion. Don’t just jump to the next one. This will generate a sense of progress and accomplishment, consistent with your purpose.
  2. Spend as little or much time as is needed to achieve the outcomes.

    As we all know, people will discuss any topic for as long or short as the time allocated for that topic. This is unrelated to what is effective.

    • The less time the better. If you allocate 45 minutes to discussing a topic but achieve the outcome you set in 20 minutes, that is a good thing!
    • I was working with the leadership team of a technology startup. They understood the value of generating total alignment around important decisions and commitments. However, they were asking “How can we gain genuine alignment faster?”.
    • I was participating in one of their meetings as they were making a key decision about a new direction. Two of the senior leaders presented the information and then it was time to align and make a decision. So, the senior leaders asked “How do you all feel about this?” and “Does anyone have anything to say?”. I see this in many meetings – when the time to align comes the leader asks “Does anyone have an opinion to express?” And, surely, every time many people do.
    • Now, this may seem trivial, but it isn’t – if you ask people to share how they feel or if they have anything so share, guess what – they will. How people feel is not a critical topic for alignment. Rather, there are two key questions that would make the conversation more effective: “Does anyone have any questions about our new direction?”. If so, someone should answer the question as rapidly and effectively as needed. Second question: “Are you all willing to align with this direction?”. If everyone says “YES” the topic is complete. If someone says “NO” then you need to continue the dialogue to see what is missing or needed for the unaligned to align.
    • Last note on this – there is no contradiction between “I am aligned” and “I still have concerns, fears etc” As long as everyone has the same understanding of what “Alignment” means – “Owning the decision/commitment as your own” – you should be in great shape.
    • Don’t shortcut topics – On the other hand, if an important topic takes more time than allocated, do not shortcut the discussion and move on without having achieved its outcome. Manage the agenda based on achieving the outcomes, not time allocations.
    • Sometimes topics are large and complex and you may need more information or time in order to align on the decision, beyond the time you have during the current meeting. That’s fine, just make sure that in this situation clear decisions and commitments are made about when you will make the decision by. Don’t leave anything vague or open.
    • It’s also legitimate to say “Let’s agree to not make any decision or commitment here.” That statement is a clear commitment. Just make sure everyone understands and owns the consequence of that commitment.
    • As stated above, some topics require more debate. Don’t lose patience, react or make shortcuts to alignment. It will come to bite you in the future.
    • When people passionately debate topics they often say things like “That’s just semantics”, but then they continue to fight for their point of view with vengeance. Everything is semantics. We live in semantics. How we articulate and say things – especially decisions and commitments – is critical to our future direction and team strength. Remember, another few minutes today could save you many hours and heartaches in the future. Therefore, reach genuine alignment.

In one of my Leadership on a Napkin series I wrote:

If you want your team members to speak and engage in effective conversation that achieves 100% alignment especially around complex issues or decisions, get your people to follow this rule: “Always forward the action when you speak”. If you don’t have something to say that will forward the action – don’t say anything!

There are simple, powerful and practical tips there on how to manage your meetings and conversations in a powerful way. 

Click here for more Leadership on a Napkin lessons



How to make clear commitments and fulfill them

I was coaching a senior management team of a successful technology company. The management team wasn’t operating or being viewed as a strong leadership team. One of the main complaints managers and employees had was that the senior team didn’t make enough clear decisions in areas that needed change, especially in areas of divide and conflict, where tough and uncomfortable decisions were needed. In addition, when the leadership team did make decisions the leaders often didn’t do a good job following up and executing on what they had agreed to and decided. So, decisions were often ignored, forgotten or pushed aside and deprioritized due to the day-to-day burning topics that constantly came up.

After dealing this dynamic for a few years, leaders, managers, and employees got used to the status quo and many simply adopted a cynical mindset about decisions. In fact, people stopped expecting and/or demanding clear decisions or effective execution of decisions.

There were enough decisions made to continue to drive progress and success. In addition, the company was a leader in its market, so things were tolerated. However, in many critical areas where decisions were needed and not taken, people had to find ways to get things done in alternative ways, for example: relying on personal relationships, improvising or simply working harder rather than smarter.

This organization was a good organization. But the lack of effectiveness in making and keeping decisions was preventing it from going to the next level and becoming the great organization it strived to be.

So, I worked with this senior team and through a series of steps over the course of our engagement together, I helped them drive great improvement in their unproductive predicament.

The process and steps we used were transformational. In fact, you could apply them to any transformation you wish to undertake in your own team or reality. Furthermore, these steps could even be used for your own personal breakthroughs too. So, I am sharing them with you.

If you want to take on a transformation in your own team in any area follow these following steps:

  1. Face reality and tell the truth, especially about what isn’t working.
    Every breakthrough begins with facing reality and telling the truth, especially about what is not working. To that end, I conducted a culture analysis where I interviewed all the leaders, as well as a handful of managers and employees. People were very forthcoming and blunt about the challenges and hardships associated with the leaders’ lack of decision making and follow through. I shared the grim outcome of the interviews with the leaders and had them fully understand and own the reality that they had created, both in terms of organizational effectiveness and productivity, as well as people’s spirit and their own reputation.
  2. Commit to the transformation you want. Once the senior leaders took responsibility for their lack of making and keeping decisions, they committed to transforming their weakness. They committed to a future state, within 12 months in which they are really good at making and keeping decisions and commitment. In fact, as part of their 12 months future stated they specifically promised to be recognized throughout their organization as a role model in this area.
  3. Promise specific actions and practices for turning your future goal into reality.
    The leadership team committed to simple practices. Here are some of them: (1) Every dialogue will lead to a clear decision and promised action, (2) Each commitment will have a deadline assigned to it (a “by when”), (3) Each decision will have a clear owner who is responsible for the fulfillment of the commitment, (4) All decisions and commitments will be written up and sent out to the leaders, and (5) Every other week the team will dedicate 30-60 minutes to review status of all decisions/commitments still in play.
  4. Track and manage your promised actions over time.
    Every other week the team came together and took stock on their progress. They reviewed every decision and commitment they made and whether or not they kept them. They even run a tally of “number of decisions/commitments made,” and “percentage of decisions/commitments kept.” They turned this “soft” area into a “hard” one by assigning metric to it. If there is an art and science to decision/commitment making and keeping, they highlighted the science aspect.
  5. Expand on what is working and correct what isn’t working.
    The leaders took this transformation on like a military initiative. They stayed focused and didn’t let anything slide. If they fell short, stumble or outright failed in a decision or commitment they took responsibility and acknowledged it right away, and made the necessary correction. At first, the leadership team focused on the easier, smaller, shorter-term decisions/commitments. However, as they became better at this they started to make bigger, tougher and more strategic decisions.
  6. Continue until your new behaviors become your new norm and DNA.
    We continued this for many months until the focus and skill of the senior team around making and keeping decisions/commitments became ingrained in the leaders’ awareness and DNA. In addition, one of the by-products of this transformation initiative was that the same new behavior started to trickle down to the managers and employees. At some point, it became clear that the initiative had fulfilled its purpose and it was no longer necessary to track this new area the way we did thus far.

There are many leadership competencies that shape, define and distinguish a powerful and effective team. I believe that one of the biggest ones is the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments. Furthermore, a team that lacks the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments lacks a fundamental integrity; the integrity to think and operate cohesively and generate accomplishments that are larger than the sum of their parts.

So, if you want to create an environment where your intentions and commitments regularly get realized faster, smoother and even bigger than your expectations, make sure your team is really good at making and keeping decisions and commitments.