Archive for the ‘Positivity’ Category

Complaining isn’t a strategy.

It’s easy to complain about how things are going, especially when they’re not going well. But even with the best intentions, complaining doesn’t move the organization in a new direction.  Sometimes people complain to attract attention to an important issue. Sometimes it’s out of frustration, sometimes out of sadness and sometimes out of fear, but it’s never the best mechanism.

If the intention is to convey importance, why not convey the importance by explaining why it’s important? Why not strip the issue of its charge and use an approach and language that help people understand why it’s important? It’s a simple shift from complaining to explaining, but it can make all the difference. Where complaining distracts, explaining brings people together. And if it’s truly important, why not take the time to have a give-and-take conversation and listen to what others have to say? Instead of listening to respond, why not listen to understand?

If you’re not willing to understand someone else’s position it’s not a conversation.

And if you’re on the receiving end of a complaint, how can you learn to see it as a sign of importance and not as an attack? As the receiver, why not strip it of its charge and ask questions of clarification? Why not deescalate and move things from complaint to conversation? Understanding is not agreeing, but it still a step forward for everyone.

When two sides are divided, complaining doesn’t help, even if it’s well-intentioned. When two sides are divided and there’s strong emotion, the first step is to take responsibility to deescalate. And once emotions are calmed, the next step is to take responsibility to understand the other side.  At this stage, there is no requirement to agree, but there can be no hint of disagreement as it will elevate emotions and set progress back to zero.  It’s a slow process, but when the issues are highly charged, it’s the fastest way to come together.

If you’re dissatisfied with the negativity, demonstrate positivity. If you want to come together, take the first step toward the middle. If you want to generate the trust needed to move things forward, take action that builds trust.

If you want things to be different, look inside.

Image credit – Ireen2005

Preventive Maintenance for People

A car has a warning light to protect its engine from running too hot, and when the light goes off you pull over immediately and shut it down.  You made a big investment in your car, and you want to make sure it runs for a long time.  You respect the warning light.  And if you’re late to work because your car overheated, everyone understands.   They respect the warning light.

What if you had a warning light? What if you wore a sensor that’s wirelessly connected to your phone that measures your pulse or blood pressure, and your phone flashed a warning light when things get too hot? Would it be okay if you shut down immediately and went home? You and your company have made a big investment in you, and you want to make sure you run for a long time.  Would you respect the warning light? Would your company respect the warning light? What’s the difference between a warning light for a car and a warning light for a person?

All machines come with an owner’s manual. In the manual, the manufacturer provides clear instructions on how to take care of the product so it runs well.  Tighten the bolts every month, clean and inspect the electrical connections every six months and replace the wear parts per the table in the manual.  And if you follow the instructions, the machine will run as advertised.  But if you don’t follow the maintenance schedule, expect degraded performance or an unplanned breakdown. Everyone knows the machine must be shut down regularly for maintenance, or it won’t run right.

What if you had an owner’s manual, with clear instructions on how to take care of yourself? How about eight hours of sleep, balanced diet, exercise and some fun? And if you follow the instructions, you will run as advertised. But if you don’t, shouldn’t you and your company expect degraded performance and unplanned downtime? Doesn’t everyone know you must shut down regularly for maintenance or you won’t run right?

I want to perform as advertised, so I’m shutting down for vacation.

Image credit – Mark Fischer

Progress is powered by people.

A Little Push

People ask why.

People buy products from people.

The right people turn activity into progress.

People want to make a difference, and they do.

People have biases which bring a richer understanding.

People use judgement – that’s why robots don’t run projects.

People recognize when the rules don’t apply and act accordingly.

Business models are an interconnected collection of people processes.

The simplest processes require judgement, that’s why they’re run by people.

People don’t like good service, they like effective interaction with other people.

People are the power behind the tools.  (I never met a hammer that swung itself.)

Progress is powered by people.

 

Image credit – las – intially

The Yin and Yang of Work

yin and yangDo good work and people will notice.  Do work to get noticed and people will notice that too.

Try to do good work and you’ll get ahead. Try to get ahead and you won’t.

If the work feels good while you’re doing it, it’s good work.  If it doesn’t, it’s not.

If you watch the clock while you work, that says nothing about the clock.

When you surf the web at work, you’re not working.  When you learn from blog posts, podcasts and TED talks, you are.

Using social media at work is good for business, except when it isn’t.

When you feel you don’t have the authority, you don’t.  If you think you need authority, you shouldn’t.

When people seek your guidance you have something far more powerful than authority, you have trust.

Don’t pine for authority, earn the right to influence.

Influence is to authority as trust is to control.

Personal relationships are more powerful than org charts.  Work the relationships, not the org chart.

There’s no reason to change right up until there’s a good reason.  It may be too late, but at least you’ll have a reason.

Holding on to what you have comes at the expense of creating the future.

As a leader don’t take credit, take responsibility.

And when in doubt, try something.

Image credit — Peter Clark

Your Words Make All The Difference.

universal thank you noteSometimes people are unskillful with their words, and what they say can have multiple interpretations.  But, though you don’t have control over their words, you do have control over how you interpret them. And the translation you choose makes all the difference.  On the flipside, when you choose your words skillfully they can have a singular translation. And that, too, makes all the difference.  Here are some examples.

It can’t be done.  Translations: 1) We’ve never tried it and we don’t know how to go about it.  2) We know you’ll not give us the time and the resources to do it right, and because of that, we won’t be successful.  3) Wow. I like that idea, but we’re already so overloaded. Do you think we can talk about that in the second half of the year?

We tried that but it didn’t work.  Translations: 1) Twelve years ago someone who made a prototype and it worked pretty well.  But, she wasn’t given the time to take it to the next level and the project was abandoned.  2) We all think that’s a wonderful idea and really want to work on it, but we’re too busy to think about that. If I come clean, will you give me the resources to do it right?

Why didn’t you follow the best practice? Translations: 1) I’m afraid of the uncertainty around this innovation work and I’ve heard best practices can reduce risk.  2) I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but this seems like a safe question to ask without tipping my hand.  3) I want to make a difference at the company, but I’ve never been part of a project with so much newness. Can you teach me?

That’s not how we do it. Translations: 1) I’ve always done it that way, and thinking about doing it differently scares me.  2) Though the process is clunky, we’ve been told to follow it.  And I don’t want to get in trouble. 3) That sounds like a good idea, but I don’t have the time to think through the potential implications to our customers.

What are you working on? Translation: I’m interested in what you’re working on because I care about you.

Can I help you? Translation: You’ve helped me in the past and I see you’re in a tough situation.  I care about you.  What can I do to help?

Good job. Translation: I want to positively reinforce your good work in front of everyone because, well, you did good work.

That’s a good idea. Translation: I think highly of you, I like that you stuck out your neck, and I hope you do it regularly.

I need help. Translation: I know you are highly capable and I trust you. I’m in a tight spot here.  Can you help me?

Thank you.  Translation: You were helpful and I appreciate it.  Thank you.

How you choose your words and how you choose to assign meaning to others’ words make all the difference.  Choose skillfully.

image credit — woodleywonderworks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling New Products to New Customers in New Markets

yellow telephoneThere’s a special type of confusion that has blocked many good ideas from seeing the light of day.  The confusion happens early in the life of a new technology when it is up and running in the lab but not yet incorporated in a product.  Since the new technology provides a new flavor of customer goodness, it has the chance to create incremental sales for the company.  But, since there are no products in the market that provide the novel goodness, by definition there can be no sales from these products because they don’t yet exist.  And here’s the confusion.  Organizations equate “no sales” with “no market”.

There’s a lot of risk with launching new products with new value propositions to new customers.  You invest resources to create the new technologies and products, create the sales tools, train the sales teams, and roll it out well. And with all this hard work and investment, there’s a chance no one will buy it.  Launching a product that improves on an existing product with an existing market is far less risky – customers know what to expect and the company knows they’ll buy it.  The status quo when stable if all the players launch similar products, right up until it isn’t.  When an upstart enters the market with a product that offers new customer goodness (value proposition) the same-old-same-old market-customer dynamic is changed forever.

A market-busting product is usually launched by an outsider – either a big player moves into a new space or a startup launches its first product.  Both the new-to-market big boy and the startup have a far different risk profile than the market leader, not because their costs to develop and launch a new product are different, but because they have not market share.  For them, they have no market share to protect any new sales are incremental.  But for the established players, most of their resources are allocated to protecting their existing business and any resources diverted toward a new-to-market product is viewed as a loss of protective power and a risk to their market share and profitability.   And on top of that, the incumbent sees sales of the new product as a threat to sales of the existing products.  There’s a good chance that their some of their existing customers will prefer the new goodness and buy the new-to-market product instead of the tried-and-true product.  In that way, sales growth of their own new product is seen as an attack no their own market share.

Business leaders are smart.  Theoretically, they know when a new product is proposed, because it hasn’t launched yet, there can be no sales.  Yet, practically, because their prime directive to protect market share is so all-encompassing and important, their vision is colored by it and they confound “no sales” with “no market”.  To move forward, it’s helpful to talk about their growth objectives and time horizon.

With a short time horizon, the best use of resources is to build on what works – to launch a product that builds on the last one.  But when the discussion is moved further out in time, with a longer time horizon it’s a high risk decision to hold on tightly to what you have as the market changes around you.  Eventually, all recipes run out of gas like Henry Ford’s Model T.  And the best leading indicator of running low on fuel is when the same old recipe cannot deliver on medium-term growth objectives.  Short term growth is still there, but further out they are not.  Market forces are squeezing the juice out of your past success.

Ultimately, out of desperation, the used-to-be market leader will launch a new-to-market product.  But it’s not a good idea to do this work only when it’s the only option left.  Before they’re launched, new products that offer new value to customers will, by definition, have no sales.  Try to hold back the fear-based declaration that there is no market.  Instead, do the forward-looking marketing work to see if there is a market.  Assume there is a market and build some low cost learning prototypes and put them in front of customers.  These prototypes don’t yet have to be functional; they just have to communicate the idea behind the new value proposition.

Before there is a market, there is an idea that a market could exist.  And before that could-be market is served, there must be prototype-based verification that the market does in fact exist.  Define the new value proposition, build inexpensive prototypes and put them in front of customers.  Listen to their feedback, modify the prototypes and repeat.

Instead of arguing whether the market exists, spend all your energy proving that it does.

Image credit — lensletter

Step-Wise Learning

staircaseAt every meeting you have a chance to move things forward or hold them back.  When a new idea is first introduced it’s bare-naked.  In its prenatal state, it’s wobbly and can’t stand on its own and is vulnerable to attack. But since it’s not yet developed, it’s impressionable and willing to evolve into what it could be.  With the right help it can go either way – die a swift death or sprout into something magical.

Early in gestation, the most worthy ideas don’t look that way.  They’re ugly, ill-formed, angry or threatening.  Or, they’re playful, silly or absurd.  Depending on your outlook, they can be a member of either camp. And as your outlook changes, they can jump from one camp to the other.  Or, they can sit with one leg in each.  But none of that is about the idea, it’s all about you.  The idea isn’t a thing in itself, it’s a reflection of you. The idea is nothing until you attach your feelings to it.  Whether it lives or dies depends on you.

Are you looking for reasons to say yes or reasons to say no?

On the surface, everyone in the organization looks like they’re fully booked with more smart goals than they can digest and have more deliverables than they swallow, but that’s not the case.  Though it looks like there’s no room for new ideas, there’s plenty of capacity to chew on new ideas if the team decides they want to.  Every team can spare and hour or two a week for the right ideas.  The only real question is do they want to?

If someone shows interest and initiative, it’s important to support their idea.  The smallest acceptable investment is a follow-on question that positively reinforces the behavior.  “That’s interesting, tell me more.” sends the right message.  Next, “How do you think we should test the idea?” makes it clear you are willing to take the next step.  If they can’t think of a way to test it, help them come up with a small, resource-lite experiment.  And if they respond with a five year plan and multi-million dollar investment, suggest a small experiment to demonstrate worthiness of the idea.  Sometimes it’s a thought experiment, sometimes it’s a discussion with a customer and sometimes it’s a prototype, but it’s always small.  Regardless of the idea, there’s always room for a small experiment.

Like a staircase, a series of small experiments build on each other to create big learning.  Each step is manageable – each investment is tolerable and each misstep is survivable – and with each experiment the learning objective is the same: Is the new idea worthy of taking the next step?  It’s a step-wise set of decisions to allocate resources on the right work to increase learning.  And after starting in the basement, with step-by-step experimentation and flight-by-flight investment, you find yourself on the fifth floor.

This is about changing behavior and learning.  Behavior doesn’t change overnight, it changes day-by-day, step-by-step.  And it’s the same for learning – it builds on what was learned yesterday.  And as long at the experiment is small, there can be no missteps.  And it doesn’t matter what the first experiment is all about, as long as you take the first step.

Your team will recognize your new behavior because it respectful of their ideas.  And when you respect their ideas, you respect them.  Soon enough you will have a team that stands taller and runs small experiments on their own.  Their experiments will grow bolder and their learning will curve will steepen.  Then, you’ll struggle to keep up with them, and you’ll have them right where you want them.

image credit — Rob Warde

Scarcity and Abundance

glass half full or half emptySupply and demand have been joined at the hip since the beginning.  When demand is high, the deck is shuffled so supply seems low.  The fabricated scarcity drives up prices and shareholders are happy.  When demand is low, the competition pushes each other on price.  The abundance creates a commodity, and it’s a race to the bottom.

But this is old thinking.

Scarcity isn’t a lever to jack up prices or manipulate relationships, it’s an opportunity to spend your limited resources on the most important work and to build relationships.  When you tell a potential partner you want work with them and you are willing to spend your finite resources to make it happen, it’s a huge compliment.  Voting with your feet makes a powerful statement that you’re serious about working with them because you think they’re special.  You are telling them that you will say no to others so you can say yes to them.  Both know they’re part of something important and the free-flowing positivity results in something otherwise impossible.

Scarcity is limiting only if your mental framework thinks it is.  If you hoard and hold tightly, scarcity breeds win-lose relationships governed by power dynamics.  But if you choose the anti-framework, scarcity creates trust.

Played differently, abundance does not create commodity, it’s opportunity to show others you have enough to spare.  In personal relationships, when you share some of your work for free your relationships blossom.  When you give it away you are signaling that you have plenty to spare.  It’s clear to everyone you are a geyser of new thinking.  Here – take this.  I’ll make more.  These simple words create a foundation of trust which bolsters your personal brand.  And because all business relationships are personal relationships, it does the same thing for your company’s brand.

Make it a commodity or give it away – how you see abundance is your choice.  The old way breeds bare-knuckled competition.  The new way creates a brand steeped in trust.

If you have scarcity, be thankful for it.  Allocate your precious resources thoughtfully and with love.  Spend your time with the people and causes that matter.  It will feel good to everyone, including you.  And if you have abundance, be thankful.  Choose to develop closer relationships based on trust. Choose to give it away.

Happy Thanksgiving.

image credit — GloriaGarcia

Geometric Success Through Mentorship

YodaBusiness processes and operating plans don’t get things done.  People do.  And the true blocker of progress is not bureaucracy; it’s the lack of clarity of people.  And that’s why mentorship is so important.

My definition of mentorship is: work that provides knowledge, support and advocacy necessary for new people to get things done.  New can be new to company, new to role, or new to new environments or circumstances.

Mentorship is about helping new people recognize and understand unwritten rules on how things are done; helping them see the invisible power dynamics that generate the invisible forcing function that makes things happen; and supporting them as they navigate the organizational riptide.

The first job of a mentor is to commit to spending time with a worthy mentee.  Check-the-box mentorship (mentorship for compliance) does not take a lot of time.  (Usually several meetings will do.)  But mentorship done well, mentorship worthy of the mentee, takes time and emotional investment.

Mentorship starts with a single page definition of the projects the mentee must get done.  It’s a simple spreadsheet where each project has its own row with multiple columns for the projects that define: what must get done by the end of the year, and how to know it was done; the major milestones (and dates) along the way; what was done last month; what will be done this month.  After all the projects are listed in order of importance, the number of projects is reduced from 10-20 down to 3-4.  The idea is to list on the front of the page only the projects that can be accomplished by a mere mortal.  The remaining 16-17 are moved to the back, never to be discussed again. (It’s still one page if you use the back.)

[Note: The mentee’s leader will be happy you helped reduce the workload down to a reasonable set of projects.  They knew there were too many projects, but their boss wanted them to sign up for too much to ensure there was no chance of success and no time to think.]

Once the year-end definition of success is formalized for each project, this month’s tasks are defined.  Using your knowledge of organizational dynamics and how things actually get done, you tell them what to do and how to do it.  For the next four weekly meetings you ask them what they and help them get the tasks done.  You don’t do the tasks for them, you tell them how to do it and how to work with.  Over the next months, telling morphs to suggesting.

The learning comes when your suggested approach differs from their logical, straightforward approach.  You explain the history, explain the official process is outdated and no one does it that way, suggest they talk to the little-known subject matter expert who has done similar work and introduce them to the deep-in-the-org-chart stalwart who can allocate resources to support the work.

Week-by-week and month-by-month, the project work gets done and the mentee learns how to get it done.  The process continues for at least one year.  If you are not willing to meet 40-50 times over the course of a year, you aren’t serious about mentorship.  Think that’s too much?  It isn’t. That’s what it takes. Still think that’s too much?  If you meet for 30 minutes a week, that’s only 20-25 hours per year.  At the end of a year, 3-4 projects will be completed successfully and a new person will know how to do 3-4 more next year, and the year after that.  Then, because they know the value of mentorship, they become a mentor and help a new person get 3-4 projects done.  That’s a lot of projects.  Done right, success through mentorship is geometric.

Companies are successful when they complete their projects. And the knowledge needed to complete the projects is not captured in the flowcharts of the official business processes – it’s captured in the hearts and minds of the people.

New people don’t know how things get done, but they need to.  And mentorship is the best way to teach them.  It’s impossible to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for mentorship.  You either believe in mentorship or you don’t.  And I believe in it.

My mentorship work is my most meaningful work, and it has little to do with the remarkable business results. The personal relationships I have developed through my mentorship work are some of the most rewarding of my life.

I urge you, for your own well-being, to give mentorship a try.

Image credit — Bryan Jones

Accountability is not the answer.

Emaciated SiddharthaPeople have a natural bias toward doing what was done last time.  The behavior is the result of untold generations that evolved to serve a single objective – to survive.  Survival is about holding onto what is – protecting the family, providing food and waking up the next morning.  In survival mode any energy spent on activities even partially unrelated to food, water and shelter is wasted energy.  Any deviation from the worn path creates newness and uncertainty which causes adrenaline to flow and increases caloric burn rate.  In survival mode the opportunity cost of those extra calories is larger than the potential benefit of a new experience.

Today, calories are readily available for most and survival is no longer the objective, yet the bias persists.  Today, the bias is not driven by a culture of survivability.  It’s driven by a culture of accountability.  Accountability forces its own singular focus – make the numbers – and, like survivability, tightly links the consequences of mistakes and shortcomings to the individual.  Spend your calories any way you want just don’t miss the numbers.

In a culture of accountability there is no time to rest and recharge.  Like the predator that never sleeps, metrics continually keep a hungry eye on the human prey.  And like with food and water, any deviation from the worn path of increased throughput and profit is unsafe behavior.

But when the watering hole dries up and the fruit has been picked from the trees, the worn path isn’t the safest path.  Frantic foraging is the only real option, but it’s not much safer and certainly no way to go through life.   Paradoxically, a culture of accountability, with its intent of reducing the risk of missing the numbers can create far more dangerous failure modes.  Where over fishing depletes the fish population and over farming makes for a dust bowl, over reliance on what worked last time can create failure modes that jeopardize survival.

To break the bias and help people do new things, measure new things and talk about new things.  Start the next meeting with a review of what’s different.  The team will feel energized.  And after the discussion, adjourn the meeting because everything else is the same.  At the next status meeting, talk only about the surprising insights.  With the next email, send praise about the new learning.  At team meetings, acknowledge the inherent uncertainty of doing new things and praise it over the potentially catastrophic consequences of over extending the tried-and-true.  And for metrics, stop measuring outcomes.

Image credit — Applied Nomadology

It’s time to make a difference.

like dominosIf on the first day on your new job your stomach is all twisted up with anxiety and you’re second guessing yourself because you think you took a job that is too big for you, congratulations.  You got it right.  The right job is supposed to feel that way.  If on your first day you’re totally comfortable because you’ve done it all before and you know how it will go, you took the job for the money.   And that’s a terrible reason to take a job.

You got the job because someone who knew what it would take to get it done believed you were the right one to do just that.  This wasn’t charity.  There was something in it for them.  They needed the job done and they wanted a pro.  And they chose you.   The fact their stomach isn’t in knots says nothing about their stomach and everything about their belief in you.  And the knots in your stomach?  That ‘s likely a combination of immense desire to do a good job and an on-the-low-side belief in yourself.

If we’re not stretching we’re not learning, and if we’re not learning we’re not living.   So why the nerves?  Why the self doubt?  Why don’t we believe in ourselves?  When we look inside, we see ourselves in the moment  – in the now, as we are.  And sometimes when we look inside there are only re-run stories of our younger selves.  It’s difficult to see our future selves, to see our own growth trajectory from the inside.   It’s far easier to see a growth trajectory from the outside.  And that’s what the hiring team sees – our future selves – and that’s why they hire.

This growth-stretch, anxiety-doubt seesaw is not unique to new jobs.  It’s applicable right down the line – from temporary assignments, big projects and big tasks down to small tasks with tight deliverables.   If you haven’t done it before, it’s natural to question your capability.  But if you trust the person offering the job, it should be natural to trust their belief in you.

When you sit in your new chair for the first time and you feel queasy, that’s not a sign of incompetence it’s a sign of significance.   And it’s a sign you have an opportunity to make a difference.  Believe in the person that hired you, but more importantly, believe in yourself.  And go make a difference.

Image credit – Thomas Angermann

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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