Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tip Thursday - It's in the Feet!

If you are ever hesitant about whether to approach someone or not, take a look at their feet. When they are open to having you joining them, their feet will turn toward you.  If two people are in conversation and their feet are pointed at each other, it is not a good conversation to interrupt.  If their feet are open to the room, they are then open to others joining them.  It's all in the feet!

Monday, April 27, 2015

6 Top Ways Corporations Kill their Employee's Meaning

The internet is full of articles outlining suggestions on how to motivate your employees, in an effort to get more work (presumably good work) done.  I believe I've written a few myself. Managers tend to find these articles appealing because they typically offer actionable steps to be systematically followed, allowing them to feel 'in control' of the motivational issue.

What isn't addressed as often though is the importance and necessity of injecting meaning into the work that people do.  In their book The Progress Principle, authors Teresa Amable and Steven Kramer share that of all the actions you can take or implement to engage your workers, the single most important and effective is to give them more meaningful work.

But, I hear you say, there is a limit of meaningful work to be done within the company, much of the work is relatively repetitive and boring, though necessary.  The key point to remember is that ALL work, at ALL levels, is important to helping the organization achieve its desired level of success - making it all meaningful.  Your job is help make those connections for your people.

Viktor Frankl, Neurologist, Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, in his definitive book Man's Search for Meaning, wrote about how it was those individuals in the camp who held onto a sense of meaning and purpose for their lives that experienced the greatest survival rate within the concentration camps.
Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.  Viktor Frankl
Having an understanding of our 'why', giving our work meaning and purpose, is the biggest motivator of all.  No matter what work your people do, their job exists for a reason.  When you help them to understand that reason the work is more fulfilling. They feel more satisfied and their productivity levels increase.

In one study this concept was explored more fully. The researchers took a look at the fund-raising efforts of a University, in contacting their alumni.  The callers were divided into three groups.  The first group made their calls and went on their normal breaks.  The second group made their calls but on breaks they were given stories to read from previous callers, describing how rewarding they found the experience of helping raise funds for scholarship programs to have been.  The third group made their calls but on breaks they read stories from previous scholarship winners talking about how the scholarships changed their lives.

Most of you, I'm sure, expect that the second group was more successful than the first group in obtaining donations, and that the third group was even better.  All true.  However, what was astounding was 'how much' better the third group proved.  Reading about how much the funds raised impacted the lives of recipients, reading about all the 'good' they did with that investment, increased the success rate of callers by 250%!  Helping callers understand the true meaning and purpose of their calls drove the success by 250%.  This was huge and has equally large implications for you and your organization.  Imagine the impact on productivity if your people believed their day to day actions to have meaning and purpose.

However, simply helping your people to discover the meaning and value of their work is not enough, not if you engage in behaviours that negate or diminish their sense of value and worth.  You need to continue to demonstrate to people that their work has value if they are to cling to their sense of purpose.  Below are 6 of the biggest mistakes you may be making, in killing the sense of meaning and purpose in your employee's.

1.  Dismissing the importance or relevance of employee's work and input.  

Think of your behaviour in meetings.  Do you ever catch yourself rolling your eyes or sighing in exasperation?  These behaviours can leave employees feeling that their contributions do not have value.  When an employee hands you a report or assignment, do you toss it to the pile on the side of your desk without glancing at it?  Studies show that even taking the time to simply glance at it and respond with a 'thanks' or even a head nod, is sufficient to maintain their feelings of value and meaning.

2. Switching people off of teams before projects are completed.

Closure matters.  Moving people off of a project before it is concluded can undermine their sense of truly being part of something that made a difference.  The 'finishing' stage is an important part of bringing value.  There may be times that you can't help moving someone onto something else but express your gratitude for all of their inputs on the existing project and ensure you give them work that they get to see through to completion before moving them again.

3.  Constantly shifting goals and focus.

This is similar to the point above in that constantly changing the goals and targets of the organization leaves employees feeling disconnected to the outcomes.  It is tantamount to a form of Corporate ADD. How can employees feel that the work they are doing has any meaning if tomorrow the focus shifts and discounts everything they were engaged in to that point?

4.  Taking credit for your employee's ideas.

This one should be obvious.  If you take credit for the hard work of someone else they are not going to feel inclined to continue to work that hard.  When you steal their ideas and input you steal their 'why'.

5.  Assuming a policing role.

When your leadership style's emphasis is on making sure your people aren't doing anything wrong you highlight your lack of belief in their capability of doing anything right.  This leads them to minimize risk-taking, make fewer decisions or to try to implement anything new.  It is far more difficult to find anything meaningful in this work environment because it is now focused on maintaining and not on growth.

6.  Failing to link employee's contributions to corporate success.

Your people need to clearly recognise the connection between the work that they do and the corporation's vision/mission.  It doesn't matter if they are a big cog or a little one, the wheels don't turn if a cog of any size is not in place.

Recognising any of the above behaviours as your own is the first step.  Eliminating them is the next! There is no change without awareness.  Corporations may be good at coming up with the vision of the company, or even in identifying what Jim Collins (of Built to Last fame) referred to as Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG), but they tend to miss the mark on living to those goals in the day-to-day management of activities. Observe your behaviours in each moment and assume accountability for them. Many are simply habits that you can modify to project a more positive and deliberate message.

Ultimately, helping employees to find their meaning not only makes them feel more engaged, but you might just find that your work feels more meaningful as a result.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tip Thursday - Price of Hesitation

There is a balance that needs to be struck between giving an issue the necessary time and attention and over-thinking it.  Hesitating too long, before taking action, leaves the door open for someone else to step in and take the action you have been debating.  It's not the person that thinks of an idea that is successful, but the person that acts on an idea.  At some point you just have to jump. Think about that one!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Are you Standing In your Story or On it?

Martin has been running his own small home renovations company, on weekends, for the past 5 years.  'I was never any good at math in school.  To be successful in running a business you need to be good at math.  I could never handle that'.  He is finding that demand for his services is far exceeding his ability to deliver, which means he is turning down work.  He would love to make the home-renovations business his full-time occupation but hesitates because...

Sandra struggles to make ends meet.  No matter what she does to try and bring in additional income she never seems to end up with 'more' at the end of the month. She would like to begin to save for her retirement, save for a home of her own or take a vacation trip but can't see her way clear to ever making any of those things happen.  She says... 'I never seem to get ahead.  Even with taking on a part-time job I have more days left than money at the end of each month.  My mother was never good with money, I guess I take after her.'

We all have stories that we tell ourselves, serving as explanations as to 'why' we made the choices we did, 'why' our lives are what they are, 'why' we turned out the way we did.  These stories become our explanations for 'Not'.  Not being what we want, not having what we want, not doing what we want, not achieving what we want.  However, it is the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives that are often our biggest saboteurs to the achievements and success that we seek.

The stories we tell ourselves are simply our version of the facts, making them only one version. However, we hold them as truths, making them an unchangeable constant in our lives.  In doing so they serve to direct and control the actions we are willing, or unwilling, to take. When we allow our story to be our master, to allow our story to direct and control the direction of our lives, we are effectively standing IN our story. When we are standing in our story it becomes the reason why we can't do something, why we can't achieve something.  We get caught up in the cyclical loop of the story and fail to see options for different endings.

Instead, we need to learn to stand ON our story, to use it to propel us forward.  Our story then becomes our platform for change rather than an anchor holding us in place.  When we stand on our story we make it our 'why', allowing it to become the wind that propels us forward. Every story about someone overcoming the odds, every rags to riches story, every example of someone overcoming a disability is an example of someone that chose not to stand IN their story, but to stand ON it.

Stand ON your story, not IN it

Martin broke out of his 'I'm not good enough at math to run a full-time business' story by sitting down and acknowledging that he had been doing just that for the past five years.  He had been successful at handling all of the materials calculations for each project, had been successful in estimating actual project costs to provide customer quotes, had been successful in handling the mathematical calculations necessary to measure and build structurally sound additions.  Although he acknowledged that growing larger he would want to hire a bookkeeper to oversee the day-to-day management of expenses he came to acknowledge that was more a sound business decision than it was a reflection of his shortcomings.

Sandra came to realize that her adoption of the story that she was not good with money came from an ongoing story from her childhood, one that her father shared with her and her mother consistently - that 'women' are no good at handling money.  This was a fairy tale from her early years that she had incorporated into being the story of her life.  It was when she began to challenge this story, and rewrite it, that she found she was far better at managing her funds than she had presumed. Additionally, she found that in rewriting the story that she was no good with money, she opened up new opportunities for herself to make even more.

If you, like Martin and Sandra, find that standing in your story doesn't suit you any more, that you want to stand on your story and experience more in your life, follow these steps to help you move up and onto your stories.

Acknowledge there is a problem/issue

You likely already have a sense of some of the stories you're standing in that are holding you back, but also pay attention to the times you tell yourself - I'm not..., I can't..., I don't....    These phrases likely precede a story and are clearly dis-empowering ones.

Write down your story

Take the time to write down everything you can about your story.  What is its script, where might you have heard it or told it first?  If it has history spend a little time to uncover it.  Sandra's story above clearly had some history that, once she knew it, allowed her to recognise that it was her father's story and need not be hers.  She broke through faster than she might have otherwise by spending a little more time upfront thinking it through.

What does the story mean?

Write down everything that standing in your story means.  In essence you are writing - Because I believe THIS story, I...  What are the things you do as a result of standing in this story?  What are the things you don't do?  Think of the behaviours you engage in, and don't engage in, as a result of standing in this story.  Understanding how it plays out on a daily basis helps us to understand what needs to change.

What are alternative stories?

In order to learn to stand on your story, rather than in it, you need to be able to envision 'different' for yourself.  Brainstorm a few for yourself, opening yourself new possibilities and new ways of thinking and being.

Pick one

Of the new stories you crafted, which is the most desirable?  Consider, If this was true then...  If this story you crafted was your story, what would life look like?  What would the results be?  How would you treat yourself, treat others?  How would you behave?  What actions would you take?

Take a Step

In order to Stand On Your Story you need to use it as a springboard to something else.  Rather than letting it hold us back we want to use it as the fuel to moving forward.  However, all of the planning in the world doesn't take us from where we are if we don't act upon those plans.  Any step, no matter how small, will begin to lift you out of the story you're in, allowing you stand on it and move into a newer, better story.  And... no matter how great that story may be in comparison, if you want to continue to grow you will need to let go of that story to move forward to the next.

When we are busy standing in our story we create a host of reasons around 'why' we can't be or have or do what we want with our lives, which holds us back from uncovering our true potential and worth. The longer we allow that story to live, the more cemented it becomes in our psyche, becoming a truth we take for granted, embedding itself into our very perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. However, when we learn to stand on our stories we stop allowing them to define us. We enter into the possibility of 'more'.  When you do, you help to liberate others to do the same.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Your Best is One of the Best Success Strategies

We are all, by nature, creatures that want to do our best.  We thrive in environments that allow and enable us to operate at our optimum.  It is when we are doing our best work that we are the most fulfilled and satisfied.  Doing anything less than our best has a way of eroding our confidence and sense of personal value.

Why then do we settle for less?
Why do we offer up less than we're capable of and then lament receiving less than we desired in return?

Doing our best does not mean that we need to be or do perfect.  It simply means that we are doing the best we can, with what we've got, in the current situation.  Giving our best will vary from day-to-day because we are not the same each day, nor are our circumstances.  However, when we offer our best we have no reason to judge ourselves harshly or to feel guilt or shame for having offered less than we were able.

It is those people that are giving everything they do everything that they've got that can expect the biggest rewards and best opportunities.  As Oprah Winfrey once said...
Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment
Doing your best is more likely to position you favourably for new opportunities than doing less ever will.  Wanting the best of everything that life has to offer you requires you to give life the best that you have to offer.  It's an even trade. In order to prepare yourself for the best future possible then, you must be doing everything you can today to prepare for it.  Giving whatever task you are engaged in the very best you can creates a mindset of excellence that helps your best to grow and improve. Use some of the following suggestions to help you to recognise and grow your best.

Let go of the thought of perfection.

Striving for perfection can be one of the biggest barriers to doing our best that there is.  Perfect is elusive and unobtainable.  Therefore, we are never happy with what we are producing, continually wanting to tweak it, improve it, make it better.  However, doing our best allows us to let go of projects, recognizing that it is as close to perfect as we can make it given our current skills and abilities, the deadline we face and the circumstances we are producing it under.  Letting go of the thought of 'perfect' allows us to complete things, learn from them and move on.  This allows us to get better, our 'best' to improve and therefore our value to grow.

Be open to learning.

Opening ourselves to new thoughts, ideas and ways of doing things allows us to continue to contribute at our highest level.  It is when we close our minds to  learning anything new that 'doing our best' becomes an excuse rather than a goal.  We must be committed to excellence, committed to the view that our 'best' is based on the potential within us which must be nurtured and challenged and developed.

Gauge your feelings.

How we feel about the work that we have done is a great indication of whether we are truly operating at our best or not.  When we feel excitement and pride we are more likely to be operating at our better and higher levels of performance.  However, when we experience disappointment in the outcome of a task it often relates back to the fact that we did not do everything in our control to contribute to it. We don't get the results we long for but we likely got the results we deserved.  Use your feelings as a gauge to determine whether you are giving something your all or are holding back.

No limits.

'Doing your Best' is not intended to be a limitation.  The offhandedly delivered 'oh well, I did my best' phrase, after not achieving what you had hoped, often describes a situation in which we truly didn't.  It is a pacifying phrase meant to excuse the result you achieved.  If you are operating at your best, each and every day, then there is notable improvement that is taking place.  There will be a passion and excitement, a positive energy that you are applying to your actions and the work that you are doing.  In this mindset of excellence you will not be brushing off lack-lustre performance or results but will be already planning on how to improve it.  Doing your best is therefore not limiting, but empowering.

Our personal goal should be to live each day such that we can end each day saying with confidence and pride - "I did my very best, there was nothing more I could have given".  Imagine how we would feel about our lives, about our selves, if each day we were ending it this way.  This is a goal worth striving for and a life worth living.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Unwrapping Your Gifts!

We all have our own special and unique gifts; talents and skills that we excel at.  Yes... everyone, including you!  The issue is not whether we have strengths or not, but whether we know and understand what they are.  It is pretty difficult to utilize our strengths fully if we are still struggling to understand what they are.

Unfortunately, many of our experiences in life have taught us to focus on our weaknesses, on what we typically end up labeling as our shortcomings.  In grade school we had those big red circles highlighting those shortcomings.  Our parents likely spent far more time focusing on how to pull up our grades than they did on how to build on the areas that we excelled at and our workplace managers tend to do exactly the same.  However, it is important to recognise that our performance over a range of skills will always vary.  We have some activities that we will be better at than others.  In the picture below, these are the 'above the line activities', those areas in which we tend to exceed expectations.

We will also always have some areas in which we fall short.  Always.  We cannot be good at everything, nor should we expect or try to. Unfortunately, our parents and bosses have trained us to agonize over the below the line results.  We put our focus, energy and even money into improving those skills.  However, for most of them, the best we can hope to do is to raise our skill level to the meets expectations line.  For the most part this is fine.  There are many areas in our work and our lives where being and doing 'good-enough' is, in fact, good enough!  We know that there is a law of diminishing returns telling us that additional effort is not going to net us the equivalent in return, in which case that additional effort could be put to better use elsewhere.

However, there is a far larger problem.  If we are focusing all of our efforts on improving the below the line skills, and not focusing on the above the lines skills at all, then we are creating a system of mediocrity.  We get what we focus on.  If we only focus on pulling our weaknesses up, and not on growing or developing our strengths, then our talents fall down to meet that middle red line, even while our weaknesses grow.  However, in the end, we are simply meeting expectations.  This does nothing to inspire or motivate us, and is therefore the problem with many corporate performance management programs.
If you are looking to advance your career, or to build your business, then uncovering and leveraging your strengths is the single most important thing you can do.  
It is through our unique gifts, our talents and strengths, that we add the most value.  These are the skills that set us apart from the crowd.  The good news is that we are most satisfied and energized when we engage in work that utilizes our key talents and strengths.  This is when we do our best work, this is when we truly shine.

The little stumbling block in all of this of course, rests in uncovering just what your true gifts are.  If you catch yourself denying you have any or are at a bit of a loss in identifying them clearly enough to build some career strategies around them, then follow some of the suggestions below to help you to discover your strengths.

Take an Assessment

There are numerous online tools that you can use to help you to uncover your strengths, the most popular of which is Strengths Finder.  You can take their short version for free or pay a nominal fee to take the extended version for greater insights.  If you buy their book (See below for link) then you get a link to take the full assessment for free.  If you decide for some unbiased insight then these tools can be useful but don't take them as gospel.  Use the results as a starting point of your exploration and couple them with some of the suggestions below to gain greater clarity.

Follow the Feeling

Learn to pay attention to how you are feeling over the course of your day.  When we are using our gifts we will experience greater levels of energy and engagement, a sense of Flow or a feeling of being in the Zone.  Time will move more quickly during these moments and we are more likely to derive feelings of satisfaction, excitement, interest and pride from activities utilizing our strengths.  In general use the following to help you to uncover insights into your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Strengths - are energy boosters
  • Weaknesses - are energy drainers

Sometimes, to uncover our gifts, we need to get out and try new things.  We often have undiscovered strengths, only because we have not explored our abilities fully.  Experiment a little.  Follow an interest or a passion.  Dabble in something new, explore opportunities you may have given a pass on - all with an eye to discovering new abilities and talents.

What's Different?

Pay attention to what you do differently than everyone else.  When we meet expectations, or operate below the line, we are usually just following the direction of those around us.  However, when we are playing to our strengths we feel more empowered and confident, often stepping off onto our own little path.  Looking for your areas of difference, in thinking or approach, can often highlight a talent or gift you have overlooked.

Others Know

Gain some insight from those around you.  Consider what others typically seek you out for.  What help and advice do your co-workers look to you for?  Often, those around us recognise our talents long before we do and will ask us for help in those areas, knowing we do it better than they ever could.  However, because our true gifts may feel so natural and comfortable to us, we may downplay their value and fail to recognise that those skills don't come as readily to others.  Others know the value - use their insight to build your recognition of the value.
  • Exercise.  Get others in your life to share a story with you - a story about when they thought you were are your 'best'.  As you gather the different stories, review them looking for common themes and threads that indicate your strengths.  
Of course, once you have identified your gifts and strengths, you need to develop an action plan on how to build and leverage them.  Volunteer for activities that use your gifts, build a career path that utilizes and grows them, even offer support to others in the areas of your talents. All will help you to capitalize on your gifts in ways that help highlight the tremendous value you represent.  For additional help with your strategies you can check out Marcus Buckingham's book on putting your strengths to work (see below). 

You represent a unique blend of skills and talents that no one else has. Unwrapping your gifts allows you to offer the world the best you have and are. Focus on your above-the-line skills.   Above-the-line is above average.  Above-the-line is about meeting your expectations not theirs, and above-the-line is above what most others are offering, leaving you standing head and shoulders above those around you.

Great view from up there!

Book Links: