Stay out of your head!

The last few months have certainly tested our mental stamina and resolve. One person I spoke to told me that COVID is easy for him because he loves to stay at home and not go out. However, I am sure that for most of us staying at home with minimal-to-no going out is a challenging proposition.

I have been working virtually for many years, so I am quite comfortable working in a virtual-mode. However, working solely virtually without physical meetings and interaction with clients or going out of the house has been trying for me too.

Repeated instructions like “Stay at home!”, “Stay in touch with family and friends” and “Stay 6 feet from others” have been ringing in our ears as they mark this periodI want to add another strong recommendation to the list for those of you who want to stay centered, focused, and strong in these challenging times: Stay out of your head!

The conversations that go on inside our head are not innocent, arbitrary or random. Their aim is to keep us contained and ‘out of trouble.’  They achieve that purpose by filling our consciousness with discouraging, gloomy and scary information and warnings.

Each of us has our fears, baggage, and demons from the past. The conversations in our head exploit those to their end. They make us draw disempowering conclusions about situations that seem bad, which leads to disempowering reactive decisions.

It’s no surprise that the media is speaking about a spike in anxiety, depression, and suicide during the COVID months.

It’s not because people have spent too much time at home. It is because they have spent too much time in their head.

Most of us consume way too much TV, news, and social media, and for many, it can also be their primary source of information and knowledge. Both mainstream media and social media – regardless of your political persuasion – have been polluting our minds and stressing us out. Many people believe what they hear and see without questioning it, and can struggle to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction.

This predicament is discouraging and demotivating.

So, how do you stay out of your head?

Simple, be in action!

Being in action is the only alternative to being in our head. Action takes place in the real world.

When you are engaged in any kind of action – be it exercising, drawing, dancing, listening to music, playing an instrument, knitting, reading or communicating/sharing your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member – you focus outward.

In fact, if you think about it, when you are engaged in action, you stop thinking about your worries and fears. All noise disappears into the background, and your entire attention, focus and consciousness are on what you are doing.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you stop watching TV and/or engaging in social media, this is not necessary or practical, and you wouldn’t do it. I am, however, strongly suggesting that you manage your time to reflect a healthy balance between doing things that throw you into your head (exacerbating your fears, worries, anxieties, etc.) versus the actions that keep you out of your head.

I have found that when I spend most of my days in activities that pull me out of my head and require me to focus outward (activities such as supporting others, writing blogs and articles, and/or playing my classical guitar), it enables me to overcome any fears and anxieties if/when they arise.

Whether you are at home or not, working now or not, I recommend you take on a conscious commitment to spend the majority of your days out of your head.

To that end, make a list of the things you love/like to do or something you could do that would get you out of your head and start doing them.

What is your mid-term mark for leveraging COVID?

If you had to give yourself and your organization a mid-term mark (four months in) for how powerful you have been in leveraging the COVID era, what would it be?

Based on my observations, from supporting several companies and teams in the last few months, you could be in one of three spaces:

  1. Hoping to survive COVID,
  2. Trying to stay productive,
  3. Excelling and taking your business and culture to a new level.

I am sure most if not all companies went through some degree of survival mode in the beginning when the business and economic reality of COVID hit. At first, some leaders were in denial, brushing off the severity of the pandemic. Other leaders expressed hope that it would simply go away, even when there was mounting evidence that the epidemic was spreading globally and here to stay.

I would like to believe that most leaders were able to collect themselves, think rationally and strategically and move on to a more productive space.

Unfortunately, I saw some leaders who didn’t and remained in panic and reactive mode.  They continued to make panicky decisions such as: freezing all budgets across the board without distinction; stopping all corporate programs – “run the business” and “improve the business” without exception; and laying off as many employees as possible to mitigate short term risk, without any enlightened regard for longer-term consequences.

Some companies seem to still be in that space today after four months. What a waste of energy and time!

Other leaders pride themselves on the fact that they quickly and efficiently shifted their entire workforce to a virtual work mode from home. In many cases, this shift was an admirable logistic undertaking given the size and geographical spread of their workforce.

Some companies are used to working virtually; they have the platform and technology to do so. However, for some companies working from home is an entirely foreign concept. In one case, employees literally unplugged their desktop computers (not laptops) and took them home via Uber.

The physical move to home was no small task for many. And then, establishing a virtual routine of productive business performance and customer service is also an admirable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many leaders stopped there, settling for uninterrupted productivity.  As long as they could continue to provide the same services (or close) that they were offering pre-COVID virtually and uninterruptedly, they were content.

In one case, the CEO of a large regional division (which was faring well in virtual mode) told his executives to put on-hold all improvement and transformational programs for the time being, because as he put it, “They are ‘excessive’ during these challenging days.”

I believe this CEO’s mindset is quite common these days, and most companies feel that staying productive is a high enough mark.

The companies that inspire me most are those who quickly passed the first two spaces and then pushed themselves to the next level.

One CEO told his leaders to “discard COVID as an excuse.” His words were blunt, but he succeeded in setting the bold expectation of continuing to take the business, that was already on a path of transformation, to the next level – full speed ahead, without reservations.

Another CEO of medium size lighting company with the same mindset launched the most significant improvement programs his company has ever had focussing on many critical areas, including Sales, Production, R&D, and Marketing. By doing so, he increased productivity, effectiveness, results, and impact beyond the best months pre-COVID. His company will never be the same.

In fact, the two CEOs and other leaders who took bold initiatives believe that COVID is not a time to be cautious, think conservatively, hold back resources, or play safe. On the contrary, the COVID era is the perfect opportunity to rethink things, challenge the status quo, figure out approaches to truly work smarter, scale, and significantly improve processes and ways of doing business. Actions not merely to survive or overcome a tough epidemic but to generate lasting breakthroughs in their business.

Much has been written about the influence of COVID on businesses, and much more will be written over time. But when all is said and done, what are you really going to learn and take forward from the COVID era?

 

Complete 2019 in a meaningful way

Effectively completing a chapter can be a meaningful and powerful endeavor if you approach it with a deliberate and conscious mindset. Unfortunately, most people tend to focus more on starting a project and executing it, and when it reaches its end, they just move to the next one. We tend to 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.’

You don’t have to do anything for something to end. It is the nature of any cycle. Things begin, go through their evolution and end. A year, a project, or a lifetime, it’s all the same principle. But, in order to feel complete at the end of your year, with all the good things and bad things that happened, you need to apply deliberate and mindful focus and awareness.

How do you complete things?

If you review the year’s events without the distinction of completion in mind, you are likely to focus on the cold facts of what occurred. You will ask yourself questions such as: “What did I do?”, “What didn’t I do?” and “What results did I achieve?”. Most likely, your sense of satisfaction would be determined by the number of outcomes you achieved. If you achieved most of your goals, you would most likely feel good. If not, you would feel bad.

In contrast, if you look at 2019 through the lens of completion, you will push your thinking and reflection to a deeper level beyond merely the facts of what happened. You will still account for the facts of what occurred; however, 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 deepen your connection with your higher purpose and vision, and it will make you feel more satisfied and complete.

Your experience of success and failure are based on interpretations, not facts. You can feel victorious and successful even when you didn’t meet your goals. And, you can feel disappointed and unfulfilled when you did meet them. The feeling of success or failure is often determined by the notion of completion.

Completing the past and feeling that you have learned and gained the most out of it will enable you to put things in a more powerful 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 from a clean slate.

However, if you leave things incomplete, past incompletions could haunt you and cloud your thoughts, plans, and aspirations for the future. You could become more hesitant to take on new things because of past failures and/or you could take on things with a sense of vengeance and need to prove something, which could rob you of enjoying the journey. 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 completion 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 it is easy and fun!

How to complete 2019 in a practical and meaningful way:

As you end 2019, reflect on your year. First, make the list of the facts – what happened, what you did and didn’t do and accomplish. 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. Whom do I want to recognize and thank? (Make sure you tell them.)

Once you declare 2019 complete, you will feel a sense of satisfaction, peace, and fulfillment. In that space, you can powerfully start creating your next year to be your best year ever.

In conclusion, on a personal note – Thank you for following my blogs during 2019. I hope at least some of them were useful to you. I will be taking some time off myself and will post my next blog in the week of January 13th, 2020.

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

 

Are you driving outcomes or activities?

So often, when teams define their strategy, they tend to target activities instead of outcomes.

For example, they promise:

  • ‘Installing a new order shipping tracking system’ instead of ‘80% of our orders are shipped on time’;
  • ‘Create a process that gives visibility to post-sales issues’ versus ‘all post-sales issues are resolved within 24 hours’; and
  • ‘All sales employees have gone through our sales training program’ instead of ‘we have raised the average productivity of the sales team from 2 million per person to 3 million.’

While activities are essential for executing and delivering the results, they should not be the starting point of any strategy.

The job of leaders is to make strategic choices about where they want to take their organization. When it comes to strategic outcomes, there are no right or wrong answers. In fact, no matter how much analysis you do, you never really know if your bet will succeed. We have all seen sure bets fall short, and unexpected bets succeed beyond expectations. In order for a team to create a powerful strategy, the leaders must be 100% aligned on their strategic choices/commitments.

While outcomes are derived from choices, activities should be derived from the outcomes. Outcomes change when leaders feel there is a strategic reason to change them (for example, market change, merger & acquisition, etc.). However, activities should be periodically inspected and adjusted any time they are no longer useful or effective. Needless to say, the focus and direction of activities could change much more frequently than outcomes.

When a team locks into clear outcomes, that higher purpose helps the managers and employees determine their action plans and activities. But when leaders lock into activities, this often creates busyness in the organization.

I can’t tell you how many times I see people being so consumed with busywork that they have lost track of the higher purpose that led to the busyness in the first place.

In addition, the focus on the activities (means) versus outcomes (end) hinders the ability of the team to assess the effectiveness of their activities and make the necessary changes if they are not effective. Most organizations are good at adding activities, but they rarely stop them.

Lastly, the activity-based approach undermines accountability. Real accountability is always for clear outcomes. Accountability for clear results fosters a mindset of overcoming obstacles. The activity-based approach tolerates shortfalls and promotes a circumstantial mindset of blame and excuses.

People often justify the activity-based approach with statements like: “We can’t control/guarantee the results. We can only control/guarantee our activities…

But that is like searching for your lost car keys under the lamp post versus where you actually lost them.

Yes, you may be able to control your activities. But the activities you can control may not get you to your desired outcomes.

When it comes to strategy, there seem to be two schools of thought:

Promise your desired outcomes and then put the activities in place to fulfill them.”

Promise the activities that you assume will get you to your desired outcomes and hope they will be enough.”

Leaders who believe in the first seem to have a more powerful paradigm and approach towards outcomes.

They seem to believe that they do have control over achieving their outcomes. They seem to believe that:

  1. If achieving their outcomes requires enrolling others who are not part of their team to the task, they have the ability to do so.
  2. If achieving their outcomes requires coming up with new ways of doing things, they have the ability to figure that out.
  3. If achieving their outcomes requires investment in resources and budgets, they have the ability to make the business case for that.
  4. And, if achieving their outcomes requires some “magic” and “luck” if they stay optimistic, positive, and determined in their attitude, conversations, interactions, and energy, they have a higher chance to succeed.

The last paragraph may seem not tangible or real to you… However, ask any Olympic athlete or championship sports team about the importance of positive, high-energy mindset to winning and the amount of focus and time they spend on this topic, and you will be surprised by how tangible and real this dimension is for winning.

In today’s world, where opportunities are abundant, resources are scarce, competition is fierce, and everyone is looking for ways to scale and do more with less; you can’t afford to waste time and cycles on busyness and activities that may not deliver the results you want. You have to be much more deliberate and powerful than that.

The job of a leader is not to track and report on activities. It is to cause outcomes.

So, if you are not going to promise to cause specific outcomes, don’t promise anything at all!

Are you a micromanager?

Employee performance is directly linked to their sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability for the success of their organization. Their passion, ownership, commitment, and accountability is reduced when they feel distrusted, disrespected, and/or under-valued by their managers and/or by the senior leadership of their company.

By micromanaging their people, managers generate an environment of compliance and fear, which causes employees to play it safe and “cover their behinds” instead of stepping up and going beyond the call of duty to drive progress, overcome obstacles and pursue opportunities.

Most managers who micromanage their employees suppress their spirit and performance. That in itself is a bad thing. But, it is also the wrong focus. Instead of trying to control their people, managers should be providing leadership and confidence to their team; they should be highlighting their strategic objectives and priorities and inspiring their employees to take them on. They should also be ensuring that their people have the wherewithal to execute and succeed.

In fact, micromanagement puts in motion a destructive vicious circle: The manager relates to his people as uncommitted, incompetent and/or unreliable. The people, in turn, play it safe and don’t take ownership, risk, and accountability. Results suffer. This confirms the manager’s point of view and he continues to micromanage.

Most of the time the issue lies with the manager. Managers who micromanage and control their people do it because of their own insecurity and fear of failure and not because their employees are, in fact, incompetent, uncommitted, or unreliable.

If you think about it, the only time micromanaging can be an effective management strategy is when the manager truly trusts his or her people, AND their people know it. In this condition, people won’t feel belittled and disempowered by their manager’s inspection of their actions and achievement.

If you are a manager (or part of a team) and you want to strike a healthier balance between trusting and inspecting without suppressing your reports or peers, you must put the following building blocks in place and manage them effectively:

  1. Build a team that you genuinely trust in terms of commitment and competency. Use this foundation to establish a dynamic of authentic, honest, and courageous communication within your team.
  2. Communicate and enroll/align your team members around your future vision and objectives. Make sure all your team members clearly understand and are on the same page about your shared future. Make sure they feel genuinely passionate about it, committed to it, and accountable for it.
  3. Orient your team members around results and deliverables rather than tasks and activities. In order to build an environment of real accountability. Accountability can only exist when people publicly promise clear, measurable results, and they expect to be held accountable for them.
  4. Ensure that roles, responsibilities, expectations, and processes are completely clear to all team members. This is to eliminate the chance of ambiguity, confusion, excuses, or the mischief of the popular finger-pointing game.
  5. Put in place a simple and effective mechanism/process for tracking all key commitments, deliverables, and promised results. Make sure to check-in on a monthly and quarterly basis.
  6. Lastly, recognize people who step up in attitude, behavior, performance and/or results. Don’t be stingy or lazy about recognizing the people who step up. If you apply the same passion for recognizing people as you do to micromanaging them, it will help you strike a positive balance.

If someone is not performing up to an agreed-upon standard or expectation, you must be willing to have a straight and honest conversation with them.  This conversation will either need to elevate the individual to a higher level of performance or make it clear that they are not up for the task, and they should be replaced. But, make sure to give people a real opportunity to understand, own, and do something about their poor performance.

If you build a strong team dynamic, where people own the game and communicate in an honest and direct way, you will either not need to micromanage, or if you still continue to inspect on a regular basis, people will not feel intimidated, invalidated or discouraged by it.

Always remember – that in the absence of genuine ownership, commitment, and honest communication, no amount of micromanagement will be effective anyway.

 

Stop Prioritizing and Start Promising!

You would think that getting your priorities straight would be the answer to the overwhelming, stressful burden of too many commitments, too little time and scarce resources.  Well, you may want to think again!

Setting priorities is definitely a solution, but it isn’t the most powerful and effective one.

You write down everything you are supposed to do, want to do, said you would do and have to do. You then take that list and through some form of screening criteria, rank each in order of importance, sense of opportunity, urgency or obligation. You then tackle each item on your to-do list in order of importance starting with the “A” priorities then, as time and capacity permit, getting to those ranked “B” and “C”.

From a practical content standpoint, this method sounds very clear, logical and effective. However, in reality, things often don’t work out according to our lists. In addition, from a mindset standpoint prioritizing often gets us to compromise and sell-out too easily and quickly. .

Take the following real story (fictional name):

George was a very ambitious, driven and impatient sales manager. He had many things he wanted to achieve in his professional and personal life. In fact, he wanted to achieve everything right away. But he knew it wasn’t realistic, so he made a list of his six commitments and prioritized them from first to last. At the top of his list was to achieve a record sales year with his team, in the middle he had going to the gym at least 3 times a week and at the bottom, he had dating and finding a relationship.

His first priority was all consuming. He worked 80-hour weeks in order to achieve his sales goals and when he got to the weekend he was so exhausted that most of the time he simply couldn’t get himself to go to the gym, never mind going on dates. At first, he was frustrated with his inability to get beyond his first priority to the others. However, as time passed the frustration turned into resignation, apathy, and skepticism. He simply stopped believing that he could have a life beyond achieving his sales goals.

Every time one of his friends or family members would ask why he isn’t exercising or dating he would blame his work for it. In fact, when he would socialize with some of his other professional friends who had the same predicament he had, they would often talk about how “you can’t have a personal life while having a successful career, especially being a successful sales manager.” They all believed that.

In contrast, Kevin, a mid-level lawyer was also very ambitious and driven. He was putting in extreme hours hoping to become a partner. He was completely dedicated to his professional success but, like  George, he wanted a life beyond work.

Prioritizing and Promising are two completely different approaches to achieving your goals. They evoke and compel a significantly different mindset and behavior.

Prioritizing evokes the mindset of “I’ll do my best and if I can’t get to the other priorities it’s because the previous ones took too much of my time and effort…

Promising evokes the mindset of “I’ll keep my word no matter what. No excuse is acceptable…”

It is much easier to prioritize than to promise. The prioritizing approach has a built-in tolerance and acceptance to excuses, justifications and copouts. That is why when you don’t live up to your commitment it is so easy to say things like: “Something more important came up” or “I didn’t get to it because I was too busy with something else…”  After all, like in George’s story, it is acceptable that if you are so busy in your work you won’t have time to exercise, spend time with your wife or husband and/or kids and do other things that are important to you.

Neither of these approaches guarantees success. However, promising is a much more powerful approach.

It evokes a higher and more authentic mindset of ownership and accountability and it makes you much less determined and limited by circumstances. No matter what circumstances you have to deal with, when you make a promise you tend to not get stopped by these.

Making promises about what you will fulfill in your commitments could be more challenging because you have to be honest with yourself and own the truth about what really is important to you. You have to take a stand and not sell out on it. This requires courage. As my friend’s 8-year-old son said to his dad: “Daddy if I make you a promise, I’m going to keep it.”

I don’t know about you, but if I am going into battle with someone, I want them fully committed, not merely “doing their best…”. You are only going to get that level of relentless commitment from someone who has promised to do something.

No one keeps their promises all the time. Hopefully, we will keep them most of the time. However, there will be times when we won’t. That’s a fact. However, by making explicit promises you carve-out a clear path for action and fulfillment. This reduces the chance for surprises, excuses, and drama, especially when challenges arise.

While the dialogue around priorities is often a one-way street – you decide what your priorities are and you are the one to tell others that “you just couldn’t get to it today” the dialogue of promises by design is a two-way street.

Promises are really only effective if you make them to someone. In fact, if you promise your entire family that you are going to lose a certain number of pounds (weight) in the next 6 months, it’s probably going to be more powerful and effective than if you tell one person or tell no one at all. The minute you make a promise to others you are now tied at the hip. The promise is no longer just your commitment – it becomes our commitment. The success of this project is now our success. The dialogue of promising evokes a much deeper and more powerful dynamic of open, honest, courageous and effective communication, and trust. It also generates a stronger sense of bond, partnership, trust and owning each other’s success with the people you promise to.  A joint approach is more effective and fulfilling than going it alone.

When people have a more earnest relationship with their promises it causes two things.

First, they are much less casual about saying “I promise” than the myriad of ways people add a priority to an already overflowing list. “I’ll do my best”, “Let me see what I can do”, “I’ll get to it as soon as I can”, “I’ll try”, “Leave it with me”, and many other half-hearted statements that fill the conference rooms and corridors of corporations.

Secondly, when people make a promise to do something, and at some point, prior to the time it is due they realize their promise is in jeopardy of not being fulfilled, they are far more likely to reach out to the receiver of that promise and attempt to negotiate – in advance – a mutually agreeable solution. Together people can figure out alternative ways to fulfill the same commitment with new or different promises. This also strengthens the partnership and trust between the promise maker and receiver.

Obviously, if you don’t do what you say repeatedly your credibility and sense of partnership with others are likely to suffer. However, when you keep using the “lower priority” excuse and you assign the blame for not living up to your commitments elsewhere, it will also undermine your own sense of possibilities, ability, and power to make things happen and have the life you want.

The point of prioritizing is not to avoid responsibility and make excuses for the commitments you make, but rather to be more effective at making and keeping commitments. This being the case, making and managing promises, rather than hiding arm’s length behind “not-up-to-me” excuses of “priorities changed” puts us in the driving seat,

Which of these approaches appeals to you most?

 

Are you managing your objectives or are they managing you?

Aspiring people have personal and professional goals as do most driven teams.

However, having goals is a double-edged sword. Goals could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you relate to them.

Why?

We create goals in order to focus, compel and motivate ourselves and others. If we are ambitious, we typically take on bold and aggressive ones. We don’t stop there; we typically create a detailed execution plan with strategies and milestones.

Then we delve into implementing our goals and it doesn’t take long before we are so immersed in the roller coaster of our day-to-day life that we forget that we are the ones who came up with our goals in the first place.

When we achieve our goals, meet our milestones and/or achieve our plan as we wanted, we feel great. More than that, we believe we are great. Our mood and spirit are uplifted, we feel empowered and invincible.

However, when we fall short or fail to achieve our goals, milestones or plan we tend to feel disappointed, upset, anxious and/or stressed. We often second-guess our ability to achieve future goals, in the same or other areas. We get nervous about how others will view us. We often even make it mean that we will never achieve our vision or that it will never work smoothly for us.

For the most part, our relationship with falling short is not simple or objective; we don’t view it as: “we have failed to achieve a goal”. We make it mean something much bigger: “we are failures”.

Actually, in both success and failure, we tend to have a reactive and undermining relationship. Both leave us smaller than our circumstances, commitments and dreams. If we fail to achieve a goal, we feel a failure. If we achieve our goal, we feel invincible.

In both scenarios, our identity and self-worth are wrapped up in external circumstances. In either scenario, we are only as worthy as our results in relation to our objectives. And, because we created our objectives and then forgot that key fact, we are now prisoners of our own creation.

The only reason for having goals in the first place is in order to empower and inspire us to reach higher grounds. Creating goals that compel us is a powerful act. However, by forgetting, or not owning that we are the creators of such a powerful dynamic, we lose all the power.

Corporations often take the objective game to a whole other level of drama.

I was supporting a regional sales team of a global product and service organization that recently became public. The company was growing steadily due to the sales team achieving their sales objectives each quarter.

Then, toward the end of one-quarter things changed. A few big regional deals that the team was betting on to achieve its goals didn’t go through according to the plan and the region was at risk of missing its sales objective.

The global sales leader called the regional president multiple times urging, even demanding him to do whatever it took to meet his objectives.

The regional account managers started giving excessive discounts, at times giving up all profitability just to move deals forward in order to achieve their objectives.

The region ended up barely achieving their objective. However, no one felt good about it. People felt they did the wrong thing for the wrong reason; they felt the price of the apparent success was too high – giving up profitable business and ravaging the next quarter’s prospects just to cross the line with the objective at hand.

I guess it is easier to give a huge discount to a client, even at the expense of doing the wrong thing for the health of the business, than to have the tough conversation with your colleagues or boss about not allowing objectives to dictate bad behavior.

I recently spoke to the CEO of a different company who took on bold objectives and missed his first milestone. He shared with me that he felt guilty about the high bar he set, because had he not done that his people would have felt happy and successful.

I see this type of unhealthy, reactionary, survival-based behavior around objectives play out all the time in so many companies.

The lesson here is:

  1. All goals, strategies, and plans are made up.
  2. Don’t be a victim of your objectives.
  3. Own the fact that you created them for the purpose of focus and empowerment.
  4. Have the courage to manage your objectives, including saying ‘no’ to them when they are no longer the right way to go.
  5. Most important, don’t let your objectives manage you.

 

Are you afraid to be articulate and clear?

Would you stay on an airplane that was about to take-off if the pilot said the following as part of their pre-flight announcement:

This is your captain speaking. We are about to take off, we’re just waiting for the fuel truck to finish refueling us. They had an issue with fuel earlier on, but I am confident they’ll give us enough fuel for our flight… In addition, as you can see the weather isn’t great out there. Nevertheless, we have a strong aircraft that can withstand the storm, let’s just hope we don’t encounter any lightning…”

Would you put your brain, heart, eyes or any part of your body under the knife of a surgeon who came across in your pre-surgery consultation as lacking clarity, rigor, knowledge or confidence?

I don’t believe you would tolerate any level of approximate or vague measures when your life is at stake. You would want absolute clarity, precision, and transparency.

So, why do we tolerate so much vagueness and lack of clear, explicit and rigorous conversations in business?

This may sound strange to you, but one of the reasons teams find it so hard to drive alignment, ownership and effective collaboration in important strategies and plans is because people simply don’t speak plain English.

I don’t mean that people don’t speak the English language. I mean that people in corporations tend to talk about important things in a conceptual, vague, unclear and convoluted corporate language.

To say it politely, there are too many professional slogans, acronyms, and other jargon, shortcut phrases, and noun-type words and too little plain-old direct, explicit and articulate conversations. I see this dynamic all over the globe.

For example, people say things like: ‘We want to be Best in Class‘, but it is hard to tell if that means ‘best among their peers in the industry’, ‘best among other teams in their company’ or ‘much better than they are today’?

Or, people say: “We need to upgrade our talent”, but do they mean to fire the poor performers, hire new people, train everyone, improve specific systems and tools, or all of the above?

Phrases such as: “operational excellence”, “customer excellence” and/or “enablement” what do they mean??! You may jump and say: “I know what these mean!”. However, I assure you that if I asked another 10 people around you they most likely would have 10 different takes.

Everyone assumes that everyone else understands what is said and what it meant. However, more often than not that is completely not the case.

Then everyone goes off to do things in their own way, and then people wonder why not all team members are aligned, on board and owning the strategy and rowing in the same direction.

There is a big difference between plain language and corporate language. The latter is a language of high-level, implicit and vague clarity.

You would think that with so much at stake within the business world people would want to leave nothing to chance. However, experience shows that leaders actually prefer to leave declarations, commitments, promises and expectations at a general and vague level.

It enables them to stay off the hook and eases the pressure of committing to things unequivocally. After all, if you define things too clearly it becomes crystal clear what you’re saying, what you stand for, what you are committing to, and what you are accountable for. But, if you leave things more general it gives you wiggle room, especially when facing adversity.

At the core, it’s not a language issue. It is a commitment issue.

So often when supporting teams in creating their strategic plan I listen to the dialogue and even though I am not an expert in their field I can immediately tell that their inability to converse in plain language is hindering their ability to think, create and articulate thoughts and ideas effectively.

Simply by asking: “So, what do you mean by that?” everyone realizes that different people have different assumptions and interpretations about what is being said and what it could mean.

My questions are often met with a blank stare or a long-winded response, which only further illuminates the lack of clarity. In other times, I get a barrage of different, sometimes even opposing responses from different team members, which again emphasizes the point.

People seem to be so entrenched in the conceptual noun-based language-style used in PowerPoint presentations that they seem unable to move away from this style when conversing and interacting face-to-face.

The typical corporate language is sufficient for perpetuating the ordinary and status quo. However, if you have bolder ambitions in mind of being extraordinary – the ‘best of the best’ and/or taking your game to a new level, you better challenge the vague corporate language norm and start promoting and demanding a new level of simple, straightforward and rigorous dialogue.

 

Can you tell the difference between Statements and Questions?

I am sure that if I asked you if you can tell the difference between statements and questions you would be offended by the mere question and respond with “Of Course!”

However, based on my experience of working with hundreds of teams in many organizations, I have to tell you that people don’t know the difference between the two.

You would think that people understand that the appropriate and effective thing to do in conversations and meetings is to “Answer questions” and “Acknowledge statements“. However, in reality, most people tend to “Answer statements” and “Acknowledge questions.” To be honest, people often simply “Ignore questions“.

If you want your meetings to take less time, move faster and be much more productive and satisfying follow this seemingly simple rule…

I frequently hear people say, “I’d like to ask a question” and then they go on and on expressing their opinion with no question in sight. At times, when this happens, I stop the person and ask: “So, what is your question?” Typically, everyone cracks up, because they all realize the obvious.

At other times, when a real and clear question is asked, I hear others talk in length without ever answering the question. I often stop the conversation and ask: “Would you please answer the question“, people crack up about that too.

I also frequently hear people say “I would like to respond to what the other person said” as if they are answering an urgent question when no question was asked and even when not responding to someone else’s opinion when no question was asked and when their opinion doesn’t contribute value to the dialogue. People seem to be quite unconscious and reactive in most conversations.

If you want your conversations to be more powerful and effective and your meetings to be shorter, more productive and more enjoyable, start paying attention to these distinctions and adhere to the following four simple common-sense principles:

  1. If someone says, “I’d like to ask a question” and they go on without a question, stop them (politely) and ask “so, what is your question?”
  2. If someone expresses their opinion, at the end of their opening simply say, “Thank you” or “Thank you for sharing” and move on. Do not react to what someone else had said.
  3. If you feel you must express your opinion after someone else’s opinion, simply say: “I would like to build upon what X said” or “I would like to offer another view on the matter.” Don’t react to what someone else has said. There is room in the conversation for more than one opinion or truth.
  4. If someone asks a “yes” or “no” type question – for example:Do you think we should do this?” or “Do you agree with my view?” just answer with a “yes” or “no”. Hold back your temptation to go on about it. If they ask you to explain or elaborate, then, of course, do so.

 

Don’t let past failures stifle your future success

It is a well-known fact that most change initiatives outright fail. Most initiatives start with high expectations and hope for a better future, but because of a lack of follow through and staying the course, they end up producing the opposite effect; managers and employees at all levels who are even more skeptical and cynical about any future prospect of change, including their inability to make a difference in shaping a better future.

This is the starting condition of most change initiatives. I see it in most companies.

Take for example the regional senior leadership team of a large global manufacturing company that was operating in a very competitive and commoditized market in which their fixed costs were growing faster than their top line growth.

They had to figure out how to do things differently and work smarter in order to accelerate their revenues while reducing their expenses. This meant a significant transformation in their operating model and mindset about their business.

This company was very successful, and its leadership team members were very seasoned, experienced and smart executives who had been in their jobs for many years. They knew what they had to do. In fact, they had many great ideas about how they could do things differently.

However, because they had seen so many change initiatives come and go without delivering on their promise and hope, it was extremely hard for them to get excited about the new change. They simply couldn’t help but feel extremely skeptical about the likelihood of success.

If you want your change effort to succeed, you have to first free yourself from that notion that if you have failed in the past you are doomed to fail in the future.

You can do that by understanding and taking ownership of why your past change initiatives didn’t work. In most cases, it is because leaders didn’t follow through and stay the course.

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from your past successes, failures, and mistakes. You must be clear about your future aspirations and commitment so that you can be guided by them, and not by past events.

Secondly, you need to manage the mechanical and process aspect of your change. This means, aligning on clear, bold and measurable objectives that define the end-game or what success looks like, breaking them down to mid-course (six-months or annual) milestones and then scheduling a cadence of frequent follow-up meetings to track, inspect and drive your commitment.

You must make this routine the highest priority, keep each follow-up and review meeting religiously, and not delay or cancel these meetings, no matter what.

If you Google “How long does it take to form a new habit or change a habit?” you will get a variety of answers. Most popular seems to be 21 Days.

However, when it comes to forming new practices, rituals and disciplines within a team or organization, it takes much longer.

From my experience as a practitioner – depending of course on the size and complexity of the organization – it takes around a year of staying the course and keeping to your cadence of follow up meetings to integrate your change initiative into your team’s DNA. And, this is considered to be fast.

Last, but not least, you need to drive a mindset of what I call Unconditional Ownership. This means promoting an attitude of “let’s prove that this change will work“, rather than the common default resigned attitude that exists in most teams: “let’s see if the change will work

The mental attitude is the most important component. In the case of the leadership team described above, they were very good at the discipline of setting goals and metrics, execution and managing process. However, because they carried so much baggage of skepticism and cynicism from the past, it hindered their ability to think outside the box and believe in their power and ability to drive the change they wanted.

You always have a past and a future. The most powerful relationship you could have to them is to be your future and have your past. Or as Mahatma Gandhi put it: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

 

Do you love your job?

Early in my career, I was facilitating a manager meeting at a manufacturing plant. There were about 100 people in the session and the managers were going around introducing themselves, one-by-one they stood up and shared a few personal things about themselves.

At the far-right corner of the hall sat a supervisor, from simply observing his demeanor and everyone’s attention on him I could tell that he was one of the factory veterans. At his turn, he stood up and introduced himself using the following words:

My name is Bill. I don’t remember how many years I have been here, but I have 64 months to go!” and he sat down. There was then awkward laughter in the room.

Can you imagine Bill’s mindset as he gets up in the morning and comes to work each day? It seems to me that the definition of his attitude is “Doing Time“.

He probably had a calendar hanging in his locker and every day he would cross off another day until his “release“.

In a different example, I have a client friend that every time he describes his job to me, he refers to it as his “eight-hour inconvenience“. At first, I laughed when I heard his words. However, after hearing them a few times it started to appear quite tragic. I actually started to feel sorry for him.

First of all, no one works eight hours these days. Most of us spend most of our life at work. Second, who wants to come to an ‘eight-hour inconvenience‘. I don’t know about you, but I want my job to be my eight-hour bliss, self-expression, kicking-ass, having fun and making a difference.

Third story… I have a personal friend who every time I ask her how she is doing she gives me the same answer: “The same shit different day…” Painful!

Let’s be real, not everyone loves their job. If you are one of the people who loves their job, consider yourself very lucky and blessed. It’s a privilege.

Some people find their calling and self-expression in their occupation and job. But others don’t. For some people, their job is purely about the salary. They need the job to pay the bills, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Coming to work to pay the bills is a noble and honorable reason to work.

My father in law used to say “No matter what your occupation or job is, any employment honors its employee“.

However, if you want to stay powerful, centered and present at work and not lose yourself, I recommend you adhere to the following principles:

  1. If you love your job, count your blessings, be happy and make the biggest difference you can.
  2. If you don’t love your job make sure you can genuinely choose your job, own your job or at least accept your job.
  3. If you can’t at lease choose, own or accept your job – leave your job and find another job that you can either love or at least choose, own or accept.
  4. Under any circumstances, do not accept or tolerate suffering.

It takes a certain level of numbness to stay at a job you are suffering in.

It’s like when your immune system is weak, the body is susceptive to disease. When you are deadened, you lose your self-expression, joy, creativity, and power. As a result, you are much more susceptive to become cynical, resigned, negative and a resentful victim.

It takes commitment and courage to not accept and buy into resignation, cynicism and the victim mentality.

There are two types of people that you could surround yourself with:

  • Those who are negative and cynical victims, who frequently complain and blame others
  • Those who are not interested in drama and mischief, and always take ownership and look to learn from their successes and failures.

The former will drain your energy and do everything to drag you down with them. The latter will support you to stay centered, strong and true to your greater self.

I am sure you know who to hang out with….

Are you failing often enough?

Strange question, you may think, and you are probably right. I don’t mean it literally.

However, I am sure you would agree that people who make bolder decisions and choices; people who go for it ‘all out’ tend to have a higher risk of failing. In fact, the bigger you play in any area if you fail you will most likely fail bigger.

In contrast, people who play small and safe tend to avoid failures and if they do their failure is much smaller.

So, perhaps the right question is: “Are you playing big enough?”

What’s big enough? There is no objective definition or metric. Each one of us has to determine that for ourselves.

However, there are a few guiding principles that I would believe most of you would agree to.

  1. Do you have a vision for your life? It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be any type or level of articulation of your desired future outcomes, commitments, ambitions, desires. Many people don’t have any of that. It takes courage to dream, desire and want. It takes greater courage to declare it in public. By doing so you are positioning yourself in the world as an optimistic, positive and committed person, rather than a resigned, cynical and negative person. As a result of you raising the bar on your brand, people will hold you to a higher standard, they will expect more from you and they will judge you more harshly if you don’t live up to your declarations/commitments.
  2. Are you taking action consistent with your life vision and commitments? My youngest daughter who is studying psychology at university reminded me this week that wanting something is much easier than actually going for it. In fact, she gave me examples of people we know who keep talking about what they want, but they don’t take any actions to pursue it. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy. You could start with small steps in the right direction. In fact, walking before you run is a good strategy. When it comes to action, the direction of your action – ensuring that they come from your commitment – is more important than the quantity or magnitude of your actions – at least in the beginning. It doesn’t take courage to want. It does take courage to take actions.
  3. Are you pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone? Once you have got the basic and psychological needs of the survival pyramid down you could start pushing yourself to perform at a higher level. Eleonora Roosevelt’s quote says it quite eloquently: “Do one thing every day that scares you!” If you are doing something, which takes you out of your comfort zone and your stomach is turning, that is probably a good indication that you are playing big enough.
  4. Are you celebrating your accomplishments and successes? From my experience, people who acknowledge, own and celebrate their accomplishments and successes tend to be more positive, happy, fulfilled, powerful and effective! It makes complete sense if you own your accomplishments and successes you are owning your greatness. You are self-empowering yourself. You are promoting a personal brand of someone that is bigger than their circumstances. As a result, you will strive for more, be more open to taking risks and have more confidence in dealing with obstacles and challenges. If you avoid owning your accomplishments and successes, you are fostering a scarce, circumstantial and small self-brand. Great people accomplish great things. Small people don’t accomplish much.
  5. Are you confronting, owning and learning from your failures? As I stated above, if you play big and go beyond your comfort zone you may fail more often and even bigger. However, if you have the courage to confront, own and learn from your failures falling isn’t that bad. In fact, every failure is the opportunity to learn from your shortfalls, put in the corrections and grow.

You can grow from successes and/or failures. So, perhaps my initial question “Are you failing often enough?” isn’t that farfetched after all.