Tag: values

What’s Crushing the Brain?

August 2nd, 2012   •   no comments   

What is crushing the individual and collective minds of business today?  What is taking hold of brain like a vice grip and not letting up for a second?

Obviously, there are numerous answers. I’d like to offer some insights that, although it might not totally alleviate the pain, can definitely reduce it.

Here are some pressure points and insights on how to relieve them.

  1. Thinking leadership is only at the top. Consider Donald H. McGannon’s premise,“Leadership is action, not position.”  There is so much emphasis placed on leadership as  power, position and authority rather than an action anyone can engage in.  As a result, leadership, the position, is left making all the decisions, coming up with all the ideas and solving all of the problems.  Instead, consider cultivating leadership as a competency at every level and in every job description. Whether your business is large or small, family owned or publicly held, it will not matter if each and ever stakeholder assumes a responsible, vision, and value aligned leadership approach. Ultimately,  pressures are lifted and amazing results appear.
  2. Thinking change can happen without considering the culture.  According to Edgar Schein, a professor from MIT Sloan School of Management, “If you have been trying to make changes in how your organization works, you need to find out how the existing culture aids or hinders you.”  The change process is complex even in the best conditions. Assessing the current culture for receptiveness or resistance to change will greatly reduce the migraine affect. Of course, if you don’t mind being incapacitated, feel free to ignore. Hindrance is good for the soul and generally terrific on the bottom line.
  3. Thinking that putting a group of people together makes a team.  In Qualities of the High Performance Teams, Jon Katzenbach & Douglas Smith wrote ,  “Overcoming barriers to performance is how groups become teams.” Everyone experiences tremendous brain drain when faced with innuendos, inferences and competing interests.  Groups become teams when they are clear on expectations, have established rapport and respect; and ultimately appreciate that they share the mission and objectives. 
  4. Thinking that technology, not people, is the solution to improve service, efficiency and efficacy.  Steve Jobs shared this wonderful philosophy –“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”     Regardless of the cost, sophistication and power of technology, it is only a tool.  People are the end users.  Engage them in the planning, implementation and evaluation process. Guaranteed to be better than Advil.
  5. Last but not least, Thinking that mistakes are failure.   John Keats once wrote, “Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of fresh experience leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which shall afterward carefully avoid.”  Mistakes happen all the time. Failure happens when we allow that hold on our thoughts become consuming that we are immobilized in our actions. Reviewing the facts and factors, in and of the mistakes, is an action that leads to learning and reframing situations. Oh what a relief!

Once again, these are not the only contributors to that crushing feeling on and in your brain. Appreciate that leadership can occur at any and all levels, take the temperature of your culture before implementing change, have a process to pull groups together to form high performing teams, respect the power of technology as a tool and learn from mistakes, rather that believing them to be failures can drastically reduce the pain..

Entrepreneurial (Un)Predictability

July 20th, 2012   •   no comments   

The word predictability has been bandied about quite a bit lately. In particular, politicians have been stating that business owners crave and need predictability from the economy. They need to know what their tax burden is going to be, what their added expense under the Affordable Care Act will look like and whether they can afford to hire new employees and borrow money for new equipment.

Boards want predictability from their executives. In public companies, accurate predictions are valued, especially when it comes to sales and earnings projections.  If a company looks bad, the Board looks bad. The market does not like surprises. Even good ones can be a reflection of an executive team not in touch with their business the way they should be.

Executives don’t like surprises, especially those that pop up when they have been shielded from bad news by their team, and then the whole mess explodes. Executives like to get exactly what they expect, or a little bit better. Some executives like to be shielded by subordinates so they can profess a lack of knowledge if something bad occurs. Deniability is a lovely concept, but it has a flip side, and that is that an executive does not have an open, transparent and collaborative relationship with his team. And that is a big negative.

Workers rarely get good news these days, so surprises are usually bad news. Fewer people but the same amount of work, work more hours for the same pay. Surprise- no raises this year. Surprise- we are cutting back on benefits. Or even the tried and true ones- you have to stay late tonight or you have to work this weekend- are hard to swallow.

All of the above is prelude.  Predictability is valued. So then, why would anyone ever work for or with an entrepreneur? Put bluntly, entrepreneurs are a roller coaster ride, the main difference being that on a roller coaster you can look ahead and see the ups and downs. With an entrepreneur, you don’t know when they are coming. An entrepreneur’s passion is usually the emotional core of any business. That passion can be like a magnet, attracting people who hope to be involved with something meaningful. It can also blind people to the thrill a minute ride that is part of that passion. That passion can take you to very high places, but it can also lead you into an occasional abyss.

Many entrepreneurs have competencies that enable them to be good “builders” of companies. They tolerate and manage risk well, they can see the big picture, they have a powerful vision and they see how the pieces fit together. So they are fired up in the growth stages, however long they last. However, when growth becomes more steady and less meteoric and good operations management becomes the order of the day, a different set of competencies is required. Many entrepreneurs lack the willpower and the discipline to take on a more regular operational role, they get bored, and they decide to stir the pot.  They need action, they want the jolt that comes from doing something big. They may push for a new product line, want to scale quickly, decide to make an acquisition, or even worse, they could do a pivot into a totally illogical area that nobody understands.  The point is, they become unpredictable.

If an entrepreneur has nobody to answer to, or has the gift of gab so as to be able to explain the new direction successfully to those he does answer to, off he goes- and he expects his employees to follow him- without a road map, without any direction and often without much communication at all.  While he is getting the “high” of his new activity, his employees are scrambling to keep up. They are confused, uncertain of what has changed, uncertain of what the future looks like, and not anywhere near approaching the buzz the boss is getting. While he is getting excited, they are getting depressed.

The entrepreneur is responsible for the highest highs and the lowest lows in the business. And all he wants to do is have fun. He is not thinking about what his quest is doing to others. He is not considering the consequences of his actions He is not considering predictability.  He is probably thinking about how exciting it must be to work for him.

Is there a way to add a measure of sanity to these situations? It may be hard to change the basic nature of the entrepreneur, who feels it is his right to do what he wishes. But adding some communication into the process at key points might make it more tolerable and perhaps even enjoyable for employees, without dampening the owner’s enthusiasm. Picture a really smart and somewhat thoughtful entrepreneur faced with this situation and trying to fashion a win-win solution.  He might come up with something like

The Entrepreneur’s Declaration of Interdependence.

“Recognizing that I, the entrepreneur, have certain irresistible urges, including the urge to build, to grow, to change direction, to innovate and to put what I want to do ahead of anything else;

And recognizing that it being my company, I can do what I please, but do so at the risk of making my team unhappy to the point that I may cause some valuable employees to seek employment elsewhere;

And recognizing that my highs may actually be “lows” for others in my company;

And further recognizing that while I crave excitement, everyone else in the company desires a relatively stable existence, desires to know what is expected of them and what competencies they need to be successful; and desires consistent measures of success and reward and appreciation for achieving them;

And further recognizing that we all have in common the desire to see the company succeed and grow and for the professional opportunities within the company to grow; and the desire to find work interesting and fulfilling and our mission and vision shared;

I hereby agree to the following:

  • I will communicate any changes in my vision for the company before embarking on them and I will listen to input from my team before making any final decisions on a new direction.
  • I will use critical thinking to explore the possible rewards and consequences of each potential new direction.
  • I will never take off on my own without communicating with the team and providing a road map to my vision of the future.
  • I will continue to be me but will be a responsible version of me, taking into account the needs of others.
  • I will take the time to listen when an employee tells me I am becoming too unpredictable again.
  • I recognize the need for predictability and will do my best to keep that in mind as I move forward.

It has been said that one man’s floor is another man’s ceiling. One man’s high is another’s low point. The entrepreneur has it within him to be both, and at the same time.  Thinking about the few fairly easy behavioral changes cited above could turn a nightmare boss into a more predictable, inspirational leader without necessarily dampening his fun. And it could get rid of the lowest of the lows.

Keeping Dreams Alive

July 16th, 2012   •   no comments   

Why are dreams so important? Dreams are the sparks that cause an entrepreneur to innovate a new concept, an engineer to  create a new model, an architect to design a bridge.

Without our dreams, life would not only be dull and boring. There would be only stagnation and death.  Which call to mind the song from the musical, Les Miserables.  Although this song seems to be more about lost romantic love, it certainly drives home a significant point in terms of the death of any dream.  Please note the last line of the song.

I Dreamed a Dream

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came.

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

The last line is worth repeating…

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

People and businesses are so busy doing life, shuffling strategies, tasks, products, services, people and problems, that they often lose sight of the dream that galvanized and energized them in the first place.  Unfortunately, their day-to-day “life” is killing their dream.

Is your life killing your dream? Have you moved the focus in so many other other directions and tangents that you are dispersing your thoughts, goals and actions  away from that dream that motivated you in the first place?

If the answer is yes, consider what it will take to get your life, your work, your profession, your business back on track. Think about motivation as one of the most significant multipliers to keep your dream alive.

Motivation is the internal force, stimulus, influence, or incentive to sparks behaviors.

Here are three steps for keeping dreams alive:

  1. Assess Motivation –  Evaluating what motivates you, your partners, employees, and customers is one sure way to keep the fire in belly. When motivation is not discovered and defined, the motivators that are in our subconscious will take over. The more we bring our motivators to the forefront, the more we can guarantee success.  Some times the motivation is directed because of  a  vendetta, a grudge, fear or lack of confidence. This type of motivation, if not identified will only serve as nails in a coffin, but will ensure failure.
  2. Align Motivation. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their own agenda. Even so, people often have common interests and dreams. Helping to align motivation takes communication, time, understand, collaboration and mutual respect. Repeating, refining, and reframing the vision keeps the dream alive. Anyone and everyone connected with the dream needs to have bought into what that means to them emotionally, intellectually, financially, socially and ethically.
  3. Fan Motivation. As with any fire, when one of the essential ingredients are lost – spark, fuel or oxygen – the fire goes out. Find ways to keep these three elements always on hand.  People have great ideas. Ask them for their ideas, input, impressions and even concerns.  Seek out new sources of energy and fuel. Find new partners, innovate and stimulate creativity. People love to be involved in discovery and excitement. Attention and productivity lags quickly when negativity and fear permeate the environment.

Assessing, Aligning and fan certainly are not the only steps that will enhance motivation. However, they are simple steps to help keep dreams alive.

The Four Pillars of Accountability

June 18th, 2012   •   no comments   

Businesses are continually faced with many challenges.  Not enough time or money., too much competition globally and locally, too little innovation and creativity, too little available workforce talent, interest or expertise… This list certainly can go on and on. It’s amazing how any business can even hope to survive given all the factors that come to mind. Research is showing that the greatest drain on organizations’ success is accountability.

Accountability is more than an interesting topic for every company to toss around. It is a fundamental multiplier for success . A simple definition is the ability to account for one’s actions.

With some further research four words  consistently show up when defining accountability.  These four words serve as invaluable pillars to support accountability:

Responsibility – This is the first pillar in the foundation for accountability. Commitments have been made and our “duty now binds our course of action.”  To say we are responsible is NOT the same as being responsible. An offer is made, a job is offered, a contract accepted, a meeting is set, we have now have to take action. It’s more that shaking hands in agreement. It is about demonstrating every step of the way that every action is with ability, integrity and honor. Be proactive and do home to fully understand the strategy and objectives that are sought.Mutually commit to the main agenda or purpose of the role, the relationship.Prepare, prepare, prepare before every meeting, every day, every week, every quarter, every year.

Answerability –  Being willing and able to answer for decisions,  actions,  mistakes is the second pillar. When called for a status report, have facts and figures that support the good, the bad and the ugly.  It is better to admit that we don’t know, rather bluster,  blunder or blame through with excuses. Offering, in advance, information, feedback and summaries of the situation demonstrates a level of accountability that is not only respected, but is often actively sought out. I remember one executive was promoted because they were viewed as always offering answers and solutions , not just coming in with questions and problems.

Trustworthiness –  Trust is something that is earned. Our behaviors can build or destroy trust. Honesty and integrity are the linchpins that hold relationships, companies and communities together. Once trust is violated or challenged, it is imperative.  There is an old cliche’ which stills much merit – “My word is my bond.”  Think about the years and dollars that could and would be saved in legal fees, if people just stuck to their word.  Another huge element of trustworthiness is consistency.  In a market research study conducted in 2010, it was found that customers that perceived the business was trustworthiness also was a strong, statistically significant predictor of value. (Ralitza Bell, Australian Catholic University) Just doing what we say we are going to do can add significant value.

Liability –  This more than being legally bound. Ethics, morals, values and character are tremendous components of the individual psyche and organization culture.  Consequences need to be clear and consistent. Repaying a debt with dollars is often a small price to pay if we can maintain our character and sense of self. To “lose face” in many cultures is a tremendous price to pay. At the very least, an apology is certainly merited. apologize for the action, there is no need to apologize for being you (that actually becomes an excuse).

These four pillars for accountability –  responsibility, answerability, trustworthiness and liability – create a strong platform for work and life. Which leads to two questions:

  • What is the price we must pay for violating our honor and our word?
  • Are we willing to pay the price?
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