When your company looks in the mirror, what does it see?

There are many types of companies, and it can be difficult to categorize them.  And even within the company itself, there is disagreement about the company’s character.   And one of the main sources of disagreement is born from our desire to classify our company as the type we want it to be rather than as the type that it is.

Here’s a process that may bring consensus to your company.

For all the people on the payroll, assign a job type and tally them up for the various types.  If most of your people work in finance, you work for a finance company.  If most work in manufacturing, you work for a manufacturing company.  The same goes for sales, engineering, customer service, consulting.  Write your answer here __________.

For all the company’s profits, assign a type and roll up the totals.  If most of the profit is generated through the sale of services, you work for a service company. If most of the profit is generated by the sale of software, you work for a software company. If hardware generates profits, you work for a hardware company. If licensing of technology generates profits, you work at a technology company.  Which one fits your company best? Write your answer here _________.

For all the people on the payroll, decide if they work to extend and defend the core offerings (the things that you sell today) or create new offerings in new markets that are sold to new customers. If most of the people work on the core offerings, you work for a low-growth company.  If most of the people work to create new offerings (non-core), you work for a high-growth company.  Which fits you best – extend and defined the core / low-growth or new offerings / high growth? Write your answer here __________ / ___________.

Now, circle your answers below.

We are a (finance, manufacturing, sales, engineering, customer service, consulting) company that generates most of its profits through the sale of (services, hardware, software, technology). And because most of our people work to (extend and defend the core, create new offerings), we are a (low, high) growth company.

To learn what type of company you work for, read the sentences out loud.

“Grace – Mirror” by phil41dean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Continuous Improvement Is Dead

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time, just three percent better, so none of your people can try new things.

Discontinuous Improvement – Make a radical step-change in performance at the expense of continuously improving it.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so you can say “no” to projects that are magical.

No-To-Yes – Make the product do something it cannot.  That way you can sell a new value proposition to new customers and new markets.  And you can threaten those that are clinging to your tired value proposition.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so no one will be threatened by meaningful change.

Less With Far Less – Reduce the goodness of today’s offering to free up design space and create an entirely new offering that provides 80% of the goodness at 20% of the price. That way, you can sell a whole new family of offerings to customers that cannot buy today’s offering.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so we can rest on our laurels.

Obsolete Your Best Work – Design and commercialize new offerings that purposefully make obsolete your most profitable offering.  This requires level 5 courage.

 

And how do you do all this? Mobilize the Trust Network.

 

“fear — may 9 (day 9)” by theogeo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When is too much too much?

When you’re out of gas, you’re out of gas.  And there are no two ways about it, the last year has emptied our tanks. And when your tank is empty, it’s empty. When there’s nothing left, there’s nothing left.  But what if you’re asked for more?

What is the mechanism to communicate that the workload is too much? How do you tell your boss that you can’t produce as you did before the pandemic because, well, you’re emotionally exhausted? How do you tell company leadership that this is not the time to layer on more corporate initiatives and elevate the importance of accountability?  And if you do deliver those messages, will there be ramifications to your career?  No ramifications you say? Then why do most feel overwhelmed yet say nothing?

How might we conserve our emotional energy to focus on what’s important? And what if the company thinks business continuity is most important and you think your family’s continuity is most important?  What’s a caring parent to do? How about a loving spouse? How about an exhausted employee who wants desperately to contribute to the cause? And what if you’re all three?  And what about your mental health?

If you can help someone, help them. If you don’t have the energy for that, tell them you know they are suffering and sit with them. They don’t expect you to fix it, they just want you to sit with them.

If you’re part of a team, check in with your teammates.  Again, no need to try and fix them, just listen to them. Really listen. Listen so you can repeat what you heard in your own words. There’s power in being heard.

If you’re in a position to tell company leadership that people are living on the edge, tell them.  If you’re not in that position, find someone who might be and ask them to pass it along.  Tell them it’s important.  Tell them it’s dire.

And when you go home to your family, tell them you’re exhausted and tell them you love them. And you’re doing your best. And tell them you know they’re doing their best, too. And tell them you love them.

“Too much stress got ahold of this @acsabudhabi student!” by ToGa Wanderings is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Discomfort Around Diversity of Perspective

When your organization doesn’t want to hear your truth because it contradicts a decision they’ve already made, that’s a sign of trouble.  It’s a sign they’re going to do what they’re going to and they don’t care all that much about you. But, what if they’re wrong?  And what if your perspective could snatch victory from the flames of an impending train wreck?  As someone who cares about the company and thinks it would benefit from hearing what you have to say, what do you do?

When you have a culture that makes it clear it’s not okay to share divergent perspectives, you have a big problem.

In domains of high uncertainty, increasing the diversity of perspective is the single most important thing we can do to see things more clearly.  In these situations, what matters is the diversity of culture, of heritage, of education, of upbringing, and of experiences. What matters is the diversity of perspective; what matters is the level of divergence among the collective opinions, and what matters most is listening and validating all that diversity.

If you have the diversity of culture, heritage, education, and experience, congratulations. But, if you’re not willing to listen to what that diversity has to say, you’re better off not having it.  It’s far less expensive if you don’t have it and far fewer people will be angry when you don’t listen to them. But, there’s a downside – you’ll go out of business sooner.

When you have a perspective that’s different than the Collective’s, share it. And when there are negative consequences for sharing it, accept them.  And, rinse and repeat until you get promoted or fired.

“A Sense of Perspective” by dolbinator1000 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How To Grow Leaders

If you want to grow leaders, meet with them daily.

If you want to grow leaders, demand that they disagree with you.

If you want to grow leaders, help them with all facets of their lives.

If you want to grow leaders, there is no failure, there is only learning.

If you want to grow leaders, give them the best work.

If you want to grow leaders, protect them.

If you want to grow leaders, spend at least two years with them.

If you want to grow leaders, push them.

If you want to grow leaders, praise them.

If you want to grow leaders, get them comfortable with discomfort.

If you want to grow leaders, show them who you are.

If you want to grow leaders, demand that they use their judgment.

If you want to grow leaders, give them just a bit more than they can handle and help them handle it.

If you want to grow leaders, show emotion.

If you want to grow leaders, tell them the truth, even when it creates anxiety.

If you want to grow leaders, always be there for them.

If you want to grow leaders, pull a hamstring and make them present in your place.

If you want to grow leaders, be willing to compromise your career so their careers can blossom.

If you want to grow leaders, when you are on vacation tell everyone they are in charge.

If you want to grow leaders, let them chose between to two good options.

If you want to grow leaders, pay attention to them.

If you want to grow leaders, be consistent.

If you want to grow leaders, help them with their anxiety.

If you want to grow leaders, trust them.

If you want to grow leaders, demonstrate leadership.

“Mother duck and ducklings” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Illusion of Control

Unhappy: When you want things to be different than they are.

Happy: When you accept things as they are.

 

Sad: When you fixate on times when things turned out differently than you wanted.

Neutral: When you know you have little control over how things will turn out.

Anxious: When you fixate on times when things might turn out differently than you want.

 

Stressed: When you think you have control over how things will turn out.

Relaxed: When you know you don’t have control over how things will turn out.

 

Agitated: When you live in the future.

Calm: When you live in the present.

Sad: When you live in the past.

 

Angry: When you expect a just world, but it isn’t.

Neutral: When you expect that it could be a just world, but likely isn’t.

Happy: When you know it doesn’t matter if the world is just.

 

Angry: When others don’t meet your expectations.

Neutral: When you know your expectations are about you.

Happy: When you have no expectations.

 

Timid: When you think people will judge you negatively.

Neutral: When you think people may judge you negatively or positively.

Happy: When you know what people think about you is none of your business.

 

Distracted: When you live in the past or future.

Focused: When you live in the now.

 

Afraid of change: When you think all things are static.

Accepting change: When you know all things are dynamic.

 

Intimidated: When you think you don’t meet someone’s expectations.

Confident: When you know you did your best.

 

Uncomfortable: When you want things to be different than they are.

Comfortable: When you know the Universe doesn’t care what you think.

 

“Space – Antennae Galaxies” by Trodel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

When You Have Disagreement

When you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

But, when you have something to say, you must say it.

When you think your response might be taken the wrong way, it will.

When you take care to respond effectively, your response might be taken the wrong way.

When you have disagreement, there’s objective evidence that at least two people are thinking for themselves.

When you have disagreement, confrontation is optional.

When you have disagreement, everyone can be right, even if just a little.

When you have disagreement, that says nothing about the people doing the disagreeing.

When you have disagreement at high decibels, that’s an argument.

When you have disagreement, disagreeing on all points is a choice.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to sharpen your response, it’s a death spiral.

When you have disagreement, it’s best to disagree wholeheartedly and respectfully.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to understand, there’s hope.

When you have disagreement, it’s a disagreement about ideas and not moral character.

When you have disagreement, intentions matter.

When you have disagreement, decision quality skyrockets.

When you have disagreement, thank your partner in crime for sharing their truth.

When you have disagreement, there is sufficient trust to support the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, sometimes you don’t, but you don’t know it.

When you have disagreement, converging on a single point of view is not the objective.

When you have disagreement about ethics, you may be working at the wrong company.

When you have disagreement, there are no sides, only people doing their best.

When you have disagreement, the objective is understanding.

When you have disagreement, it’s the right thing to have.

When you have disagreement, there may be disagreement on the topic of the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, you are a contributing member, even if you stay quiet.

When you have disagreement, why not be agreeable?

When you have disagreement, it’s okay to change your mind.

When you have disagreement, you may learn something about yourself.

“Day 7: I disagree” by Stupid Dingo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What do you want?

If you want a promotion, do the right thing.

If you do the right thing, be prepared to be misunderstood.

If you want the credit, you don’t want the best outcome for all.

If you want to have focus, spend time outside.

If you want to have more control, give it away.

If you want to be happy, want what you have.

If you want to be praised, ask yourself why.

If you want to have focus, get your sleep.

If you want fame, once you get it you probably won’t.

If you want more influence, spend the next decade helping others.

If you want to make progress, demonstrate a healthy disrespect for the Status Quo.

If you want to make a difference, say thank you.

If you want to do what you love, maybe you should consider loving what you do.

If you want to have focus, get your exercise.

If you want to feel better about yourself, help someone who has a problem.

If you want to be more productive, it’s better to be more effective.

If you want to make change, point to the biggest problems and solve them.

If you want to be right, don’t.

If you want loyalty, take responsibility for the bad stuff.

If you want to be successful, same some of your energy for your family.

If you want to make progress, start where you are.

If you want to be happy, you have to decide that what you have is enough.

If you want to preserve your legacy, develop young talent.

If you want respect, be kind.

If you want to be understood, you may not do what’s right.

If you want to do better work, work fewer hours.

If you want to work on great projects, say no to good ones.

“That is the Question” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Musings on Skillfulness

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

“Old Monk” by anahitox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What will they see?

When people look back on your life, what will they see?

When you’re dead and gone, what stories will your kids tell about you?

What stories will your coworkers tell?

How about your bosses?

Will they see your disagreement as mischievous or skillful?

Will they see your frustration as disruptive or caring?

Will they see your vehemence as disrespectful or passionate?

Will they see your divergent views as contrarian or well-intentioned?

Will they see your withholding as passive-aggressive or as the result of exhausting all other possibilities?

Will they see your tears as sadness for yourself or the company you care about deeply?

Will they see your “no’s” as curmudgeonly given or brave?

Will they see your dissent as destructive or constructive?

Will they see your frustration as immaturity or as others falling short of your high expectations?

Will they see your unpopular perspective as troublemaking or as the antidote to groupthink?

Will they see your positivity as fake or as the support that everyone needs to do their best work?

Here’s the thing: What matters is not what it looks like from the outside, but your intentions.

And another thing: Anyone that knows you knows your intentions.

Now, go out and do what you think is right. And do it like you mean it. And don’t look back.

And here’s a mantra: What people think about you is none of your business.

Will you be remembered?

100% agreement means there’s less than 100% truth.  If, as a senior leader, you know there are differing opinions left unsaid, what would you do? Would you chastise the untruthful who are afraid to speak their minds? Would you simply ignore what you know to be true and play Angry Birds on your phone? Would you make it safe for the fearful to share their truth? Or would you take it on the chin and speak their truth? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Best practice is sometimes a worst practice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is putting immense pressure put on the team to follow a best practice, yet the context requires a new practice, what would you do? Would you go along with the ruse and support the worst practice? Would you keep your mouth shut and play tick-tack-toe until the meeting is over? Would you suggest a new practice, help the team implement it, and take the heat from the Status Quo Police? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Truth builds trust. If, as a senior leader, you know the justification for a new project has been doctored, what would you do? Would you go along with the charade because it’s easy? Would call out the duplicity and preserve the trust you’ve earned from the team over the last decade? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

The loudest voice isn’t the rightest voice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is using their positional power to strong-arm the team into a decision that is not supported by the data, what would you do? Would you go along with it, even though you know it’s wrong? Would you ask a probing question that makes it clear there is some serious steamrolling going on? And if that doesn’t work, would you be more direct and call out the steamrolling for what it is?  As a senior leader, I’d do the last two.

What’s best for the company is not always best for your career. When you speak truth to power in the name of doing what’s best for the company, your career may suffer. When you see duplicity and call it by name, the company will be better for it, but your career may not. When you protect people from the steam roller, the team will thank you, but it may cost you a promotion. When you tell the truth, the right work happens and you earn the trust and respect of most everyone.  As a senior leader, if your career suffers, so be it.

When you do the right thing, people remember. When, in a trying time, you have someone’s back, they remember. When a team is unduly pressured and you put yourself between them and the pressure, they remember. When you step in front of the steamroller, people remember. And when you silence the loudest voice so the right decision is made, people remember. As a senior leader, I want to be remembered.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who played Angry Birds or advocated for those too afraid to speak their truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who doodled on their notepad or spoke truth to power?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who kept their mouth shut or called out the inconvenient truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who did all they could to advance their career or someone who earned the trust and respect of those they worked with?

In the four cases above, I choose the latter.

“cryptic.” by dfactory is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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