Category Archives: Success

Small Decisions, Big Life

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Learning From Friends

I have a friend in his eighties who insists that he is here because his grandfather broke his leg when he was a child.  I know, I know, that’s hard to follow.  I don’t know why he is fixated on something that happened to his grandfather as a child as the pivotal event–he hasn’t ever really explained that clearly–but his point is valid.  Things happen that lead to other things that lead to other things and suddenly you realize that life has changed course.  I have another friend, Sharon Short, who has written a great book, One Square Inch of Alaska.  (It is a delightful read and I highly recommend it.)  Woven through her story is the idea that we all make small decisions, sometimes what seem to be inconsequential decisions, that lead to important life events.  Both of these are true.  Events and decisions lead to the the lives we lead.

We can plan and plan and plan our lives, and then decide to eat at one restaurant rather than another and meet someone who absolutely blows all those plans out of the water.  It’s really fun to think about it.  Look at your life.  What were those events and decisions that altered the course of your life?  Did someone say something to you?  Did you meet someone?  Did you try something, or not try something?  Did you go somewhere?  Did you take an opportunity?  Or not?

Does that mean that you shouldn’t plan?  No.  Planning and subsequent actions are good.  Being adaptive, however, is probably the most important skill that can help us with our serendipitous lives.

One Square Inch of Alaska

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Undercover Relationships

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Undercover Boss

One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Undercover Boss.  I know it is probably orchestrated and you only get to see the powerful parts, but I love watching it.  I am constantly amazed at how amazed the bosses are at what goes on in their organization.  It is a regular reminder to me that if people just talk to each other, are “real” with each other, then truly awesome things can happen in organizations.  This is of course a two way street.  The bosses have to actually listen because there are TV cameras watching them listen.  The other side of it, however, is that the employees tell it straight–after all they are talking to a ‘nobody.’  If they knew they were talking to the boss, they wouldn’t tell the truth–or at least not all the truth.  They would be polite.  They would calculate what the boss wanted to hear, and then they would say it.  Even if they didn’t do that, they would be careful in their word choice and the real message wouldn’t necessarily get across.  It is the blend of the boss being put in a position where s/he sees what is happening at all levels of the organization, s/he has to listen and the employees telling it like it is that makes it happen.  Real change and effectiveness can happen with that blend. (And yeah, the bosses give the employees something at the end–but that is peripheral and entertaining, but not critical for making the changes happen.)

Applying the Lessons of Undercover Boss

If you are a manager, a leader, and/or an Executive, you need to:

  • Get to know what the people who work for you (and in the rest of your organization) do.  Repeatedly on  Undercover Boss the ‘old’ executive of the organization is challenged to keep up, to understand the process, to go fast enough.
  • Understand their challenges.  What are the impacts of your policies on how they do their work?  Again, repeatedly executives are confronted on Undercover Boss with the unintended consequences of their well-intentioned policy changes.  Bosses are confronted with the fact that employees have to cut short positive customer interactions to make productivity numbers or that a well-designed productivity tool is unusable by people who are color blind.  What have you done that has increased the difficulty of doing a job rather than improved both productivity and job quality?
  • How do they think of you and the other leaders in your organization.  How many times do people on the show talk about the “corporate clowns.”  Are you a clown or clueless in the eyes of your employees?  Rather than be defensive or mad about it, see it through their eyes.  What do you need to change that perception?
  • Know your people.  Over and over and over on the show, bosses ask personal questions of their employees and are touched and surprised by the answers.  I’m sure the show scripts some of the kinds of questions that the Executives ask, but in every show, the bosses are surprised at what their employees go through outside of work.  Many Executives resist, either consciously or unconscioulsy, getting close to their employees.  How can you make the “hard” decisions about what to do with people if you care about them?  Ask yourself the opposite question:  How do you motivate, inspire and lead people to higher performance if you don’t know and care about them?  If they don’t know and care about you? Work organizations are first and foremost human organizations.  Creating organizations where people care about each other, stand up for each other, and deliver or the whole, is the key to being a great Executive and boss.
  • Ideas come from all levels.  The most ridiculous idea that Executives develop over time is that they know better than others because they are at the top of the organization and have lots of experiences that got them there.  As the interactions on Undercover Boss show over and over, being at the top of an organization makes it more, rather than less, likely that you don’t know your market and customers well enough to have new ideas that can grow your organization.  Create channels for innovative ideas to move up and across the organization and fight to keep those channels open.
  • Being real gets you told.  It is extremely difficult to persuade employees to tell the truth about what they think and know about the organization.  Honest employees are doing you a favor.  Create situations that open and stimulate these conversations.  Be real.  Admit your own failings.  Appreciate feedback.  Show your employees that you will do something about what they tell you.  While the chosen employees on Undercover Boss get trips and vacations and scholarships, the biggest win is if the company creates a feedback loop between the employees and the leadership that identifies and addresses real issues for the company.  One of the best bosses I ever had regularly walked around the organization talking to people at all levels, but especially at the bottom.  He had relationships with people and they told him what they thought.  It didn’t happen day one, but over time we learned that not only was it safe to talk to him, but also that things got fixed when we did.

Build Undercover Relationships In Your Organization!

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Personal Change Management

Personal Change Management Is More Important Than OCM

“Organizational change management” is usually listed on job descriptions as a required skill for executives.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a critical job skill.  Personal change management is just much more important.  When you are good at personal change management, you can come across as a “can do” person, instead of a nay sayer.  You can help others with the change because you aren’t wrapped up in your own issues with the change.  In order to be good at personal change management:

  • You must understand the normal human reactions (including yours!) to change and learn how to manage yourself through those reactions while you help your team through them.
  • You must be able to recognize when you’re resisting and be able to ‘lead’ yourself through that resistance.
  • You must be able to recognize when you have hit your capacity to deal with change and find ways to expand that capacity or eliminate some of the stress that is filling it up.
  • You must be able to initiate personal change in your life in order to accomplish your goals through understanding the steps, incentives and processes that it takes to change the habits and mental models that are controlling your behavior.

As a leader, you have to be able to manage yourself through change while you’re helping others.  As an executive, you need to be able to initiate and control the personal change it takes to accomplish your personal and career goals.

Personal Change Reactions

People going through changes, good and bad, have some pretty standard reactions.  Not every person has all these reactions for all changes, but most people have most of these reactions for most (big) changes.  Think about when you found out you got a job or when you lost a job, when you found out you were having a baby, or you had a car accident–you had most of these reactions.  Change means you go from the status quo to some new state.  That shift requires some mental gymnastics to get you from one to the other.

In order to get good at dealing with personal change, it is critical that you become self-aware enough to recognize the reaction in yourself, and then learn how to move yourself through the change curve to exploration to acceptance to commitment.  There are two important things to remember in this process:

  • These reactions are completely normal.
  • You will get to the acceptance  and commitment stages, and it will feel like a ‘new normal.’  It will get better.

Personal Change Resistance

Again, resistance is a normal reaction to change.  One of my favorite change management gurus, Peter de Jager, says people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.  Unfortunately, we experience many of the changes at work as ‘being changed’ rather than choosing to change.  We resist change  because:
  • “I don’t know how” (An ability deficiency)
  • “I don’t want to” (A willingness deficiency)
  • “I just can’t” (A capacity deficiency)

When you notice resistance in yourself, ask yourself which kind of resistance is it?  How can you help yourself get past it?  What would it take for you to know to reduce your resistance?  Why don’t you want to?  How can you persuade yourself to try?  What can you change about the circumstances that make it better?  What about your capacity to change?  Can you do something to increase that?

Capacity to Change
EVERYONE hits a wall from time to time when it comes to change.  We all have a capacity to deal with change.  Some of us have a naturally high capacity or a naturally low capacity.  Then things start to happen.  Beginnings and endings–relationships, marriages, babies, jobs, deaths, illnesses, living arrangements, finances.  These things ebb and flow.  I have four kids and I used to say, as long as no more than two were off the tracks at once I could handle it–if another one had problems, then I had a hard time dealing with it over and above everything else.  If you add in big changes at work–new boss, reorganization, downsizing, job loss, then your capacity gets used up.  This overflow ebbs and flows too.  When you’re aware that your capacity is filled up, then you can reframe the situation, change the way you’re thinking about it.  You have control over managing your capacity.  This does NOT mean that you ignore or deny what is happening.  It means that you help yourself reframe what is happening so that you relieve some of the overflow and increase your capacity.
Initiating Personal Change
Organizations need Organizational Change Management because they are initiating strategic change–new processes, new systems, new organization structures–to achieve organizational goals.  Executives need to learn to initiate the same kind of personal strategic change and do personal change management through the process.  We all try to initiate personal change from time to time (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?), but statistics say that few of us actually succeed at them.  It takes an accompanying personal change management approach to make those changes stick.  You must understand what behavior, motivation, incentive, learning, communication and metric changes it will take to make the change stick.  Then, treat it as if it were the same as making a change happen with your team.  Put the things in place that will incent, motivate, inspire and reward you to make the change.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Success

Starting a New Job? Hit the Ground Successful!

First Steps to Success in Your New Job

The first thing to ask is why they hired you?

What do they need you to do? How does that compare with what your predecessor did? You can’t assume that you were hired to do what your predecessor did–frequently people are hired to do more or do it better or do it different.  Go back to the job description that was posted.  Look at it through new eyes–eyes that aren’t trying to figure out how to get all the keywords from it onto your resume.  What would it take to be really successful at that job?  Can you tell?  If not, ask the decision makers who chose you what would it take to be successful at the job.  Ask them why they chose you for the job–what did they see that gave them assurance you could do it.  Do this carefully.  You don’t want to come across as bewildered by their choice.  You want to validate their choice by being extremely focused on delivering successfully and reassuring them by asking questions that focus on what success would be through their eyes.

What does your boss need  you to accomplish?

Look at it through your boss’ eyes.  What does s/he need you to accomplish?  What does s/he need to have happen so s/he can be successful?  How can you help him/her achieve success in his/her job?  Take the time and energy to look at you and your deliverables in the context the organization and of your boss’ deliverables.

What is the power structure in your organization?

Who are the four or five most powerful people in your organization?  Where are you positioned in relation to them?  Where is your boss positioned?  When you look at yourself, your position, your department through the eyes of the power structure, what do they want you to accomplish?  How do you support their agenda with your deliverables.

What do successful people in the organization

  • Act like?
  • Look like?
  • Seem like?

What are your personal goals for your new job?

Why did you take this job?  What do you hope to get out of this job?  What do you want to learn? What do you want to be able to do next because you took this job?  What visibility do you want?  What improvements do you want to your reputation because of this job?

Next:  Make a Plan

Based on the answers to the questions above, come up with a plan that addresses them:

  • How are you going to make sure you accomplish the key deliverables
    • That they hired you for
    • That serve your boss’ needs
    • That gratify the power structure
    • That deliver your personal career goals
  • Who do you need to know?  Who do you need to partner with? Which people in the organization have access to the resources, skills, knowledge and systems that you need to deliver successfully?
    • How do you connect with these people?
    • How do you extend the relationship from acquaintance to partner?
    • What do you have to leverage these relationships.
    • What alliances can your create?
  • How do you manage your image?
    • Image is not WHO you are.  Image is the perception that other people have of you.  What do you need to do to create/improve the image you need in this organization?
  • Your plan should include:
    • What do you need to accomplish in what time frame (early, quick wins should happen within 30 days–first impressions are critically important.
    • For each thing that you need to accomplish, who do you need help from?
    • How are you going to cement the relationships you need to be successful?
    • What will you do to build the networks you need in the organization?
    • How will you manage your boss?
    • What will you deliver to help your boss?
    • How will you find a mentor to help you understand how to succeed in the organization?
    • How will you learn the unwritten rules in the organization?
    • How will you measure your success?
    • How often will you evaluate your progress?  (Weekly isn’t too often, monthly probably isn’t often enough.)

A new job is a tremendous opportunity to take control of your career and to begin to learn to master your own success.

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Get Your Business Started. What Are You Waiting On?

It’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up

So you want to start a business.  Someday.  Someday will come and go and where will your business  be?  What are you waiting on?  You want to get everything set up first? You want to do the business plan first?  You want to analyze the potential market first?  You want to find money first? You want to come up with the killer idea first?

Let’s Start At The Beginning

Why do you want to start your own business?  That’s the first question to answer.  The answer to this question can actually help you figure out what kind of business.

  • Do you want to work for yourself?  Get rid of bosses?  Feel an accomplishment that you built something? Control your destiny?
  • Do you want a work/life balance?  Be careful about this one.  Most small business owners work an awful lot—many more than their corporate employee colleagues.
  • Do you want to get rich?
  • Do you like the risk/reward of starting and running a business?
  • Do you want to work people of your choice—and not A$$ho@$?
  • Are you stalled out at your current organization?
  • Do you want to create a business out of something you are passionate about?
  • Do you think you can do it better?

Next Step—What Business do You Want To Start?

Do you have a plan or idea that you’ve been storing in the back of your mind for a long time?  Does it make it to your New Year’s Resolution list or you Life Goal list on a regular basis?  If you have such a plan/idea, look back at your answer to “Why Do You Want to Start Your Own Business?” above.  Does your plan/idea serve that reason?  For example, if you want to start a restaurant but your reason for starting your own business is work/life balance, then the back of your brain probably knows that those two don’t go together.  If you want/need security, than, again, you probably know that deep down inside and aren’t really willing to put that at risk by really starting your own business.

If your idea for a business  is perfectly suited to your reason for wanting to do this, then there is some other reason that it hasn’t happened yet.   Some possibilities:

  • Analysis paralysis.  This was mine.  I wanted to think out every possible ramification and pre-plan for each eventuality.  I bought and read every book I could get my hands on.  I went to seminars, talked to experts and still didn’t move forward.  The key issue here is that you can never be ready enough before you start because some of the most important things that make you ready to run and succeed at your business are the experiences you have in running your business.  Even if you’ve run several businesses before, you will not be able to pre-plan all the things that can happen.
  • Fear of failure. I guess it would be nice to be able to out plan failure.  It just isn’t realistic, though.  Depending on how you define failure:  not meeting expectations, not making enough money, not finding your market, not having enough cash flow, not growing as fast as expected, growing faster than expected (OK, maybe that one isn’t failure), going bankrupt–most start-ups fail.  You make adjustments, you try again, you try something else.  Fearing failure is a lot like a four year old fearing growing taller.  It is a necessary part of the process.
  • Lack of time. This may be the reality, but if you don’t make the time, then it won’t happen.  You CAN make time to do what is important.  Steven Covey taught us to do what was important.  To begin with the end in mind.  What does you business look like in your future?  What does it provide you? Money?  Joy? Autonomy? Isn’t it as important as the other things that you are doing?  Carve out one task a day or one task a week to work on.  After a couple of months, you will have made progress and you will be on your way.  Once your business starts to become REAL in your eyes, then it will be easier to put it at the head of the line, or at least in the line, of what you’re working on.
  • Not enough money.  Build a sufficient business plan to persuade someone to help with the money.  Ask friends, family, skilled colleagues who could help.  Figure it out.

Just Start

There is a great gook about this, Just Start by Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer.  Take the risk.  Learn from it.  Move closer to your dream.

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How’re Those New Years Resolutions Doing?

It’s the beginning of the fourth quarter.  I think of this as a “last chance” on my resolutions every year.  I look at them and see how I’m doing on each one.  I feel great about the ones that I’ve done well on and decide whether to dump the ones I haven’t or whether to re-commit to get them done.

The most common resolutions are about:

  • Losing weight
  • Spending more time with family
  • Getting more exercise
  • Doing better at work
  • Learning something new
  • Getting organized
  • Quitting smoking
  • Save money

Sound familiar?  Many of us have the same resolution year after year.  What is it that causes some people to actually deliver on their resolutions and most of the rest of us to keep wishing we will every January?  The difference is action.  Some people look at what they want to accomplish and take the first step.  And then the second.  And then the third. In order to really change, you have to take enough steps that you actually accomplish it.  There is absolutely no reason that you can’t do that.

Look at your resolutions for this year.  Or, make some third quarter resolutions.  Look at the one that is most important to you.  Pick just one for now.   What can you do TOMORROW that will get you closer to accomplishing it?  If you are a person who likes lists, then make a list of the first five things that you need to do to accomplish your goal.  If you are a person who hates lists, just figure out one action that will get you closer.  THEN DO IT!

If you want to lose weight, what will you do TOMORROW?  If you want to spend more time with your family, what will you do TOMORROW?  If you want to get out of debt, what will you do TOMORROW?

At the end of the first quarter, I wrote about who statistically succeeds at their resolutions.  Only 8% of us.  You still have a quarter to get it done.  Be among the 8%!

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Avoid the Career Kiss of Death–Don’t Be A Commodity

Stand Out or Be Out

One of the worst things that can happen to you career-wise is for your employer (or potential employers) to see you as interchangable with other people with the same skill set.  If they think that they can get more where you came from, then they are not valuing you as an employee.  If your employer does not see you as unique, as someone who brings a value-add skill set to the table, then you will stall out at your organization.  Not only that, when you seek other employment after you’ve stalled out, you will not have an easy time getting a new job that pays as well as the last one or that has the potential to take you to the next level.  When people think that an accountant is an accountant is an accountant, then why would they choose you over anyone else?  What is it about you that makes your boss concerned about keeping you, nurturing you and developing you?  What is it about you that makes your resume stand out from the other 300 that the recruiter is looking through?

Of course you know that you are unique and special.  Think about how that is obvious to people who don’t know you well, though.  What is it about your resume or your experience or your skill set that makes you stand out?  If you don’t have a level of expertise or a special skill set that is obvious on paper and at the first meeting with you, then you risk being a commodity.  And that is not a place you want to be in this job market.  In this day of downsizing and outsourcing, you want it to be a no-brainer for the decision makers to keep you, regardless of the other decisions that they are making.

How Can You Tell?

Go online.  Look at the resumes of people who do what you do.    Notice the ones that stand out.  What is it that makes them stand out.  Imagine that you are looking to replace you in your job.  Who would you select from among the hundreds of similar resumes?  Why?  What makes the ones who stand out more interesting, more attractive, more valuable?  How do you stack up against those people?

Now, look at the job descriptions from employers of people in the job that you do.  What are they looking for?  Is there any subset of skills or additional abilities that they are consistently asking for?  What are the things that are listed in the “preferred” skill/education list?  Can you tell if they are looking for someone who is ‘good enough’ or someone who is extraordinary?  For those who are looking for someone who is extraordinary, how do you stack up against those job descriptions?  Would you hire you based on your current resume and skill set for those jobs?

Within your own organization, are there people who do what you do who stand out more than you do?  Why?  What do they have that you don’t have?  This is not the time to say, “He has a degree from Harvard, and I’ll never have one, so it is hopeless.”  If he has a degree from Harvard, is that really why he stands out?  Or is it how he acts, who he talks to or the work that he does?

If you are a commondity–a one-size-fits-all-employee–then you may continue to be employed (if you can figure out how to stand out among the hundreds of other equivalent one-size-fits-all-employees enough to get hired in the first place), but you will not have much of an upwardly bound career.

So What Do You Do?

Based on your observations of the resumes and job descriptions that you looked at, what is it you need to stand out?  Do you need more education or certifications?  Do you need more/different skills?  Is there something that you can do, like get Six Sigma or PMI certified for instance, that makes you a two-fer?  You are qualified at human resources or accounting or engineering, but you can also help with projects or re-engineering?  Can you take it to the next level through some kind of specialized experience?  Don’t underestimate the power of volunteering for things that get you different/more experience.

Understand your brand.  Learn to sell your brand.  Figure out how to get things done without the authorityKeep up with what’s new in your field and your industry.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Derailment, Recession Proof, Success