50 books by 50

reader-tomorrow-a-leader (1)

I have always loved to read. I was “that kid” who took her book with her everywhere –reading on the bus, in the doctors office, at the dinner table. Today I still love to read but struggle to find time to read and feel torn between reading for work and reading for pleasure. Apparently I am not the only one struggling with this. According to a recent LinkedIn post by Amit Somani only .5% of people in the world read more than 3-5 books a year. So I decided to set a goal to read 50 books by age 50. That means I will need to double my reading rate and sustain it for two years. How I am going to do that? Good question! Here are some of the tips I plan to employ -and how it relates to leadership: Decide what supports the goal, learn from others, and follow your passion.

What supports the goal. Most of us have worked at a company with a WIG (wildly important goal) that was something like double sales by 2020 or increase our customer base by 30%. Aspirations are great but without clear plans to support them, won’t be more than a bumper sticker slogan.  With any kind of goal it is helpful to ask questions like these, from the Huffington Post article 5 Leadership Goals:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you (and your team)?
  • What targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

These questions are insightful whether you are trying to improve quality, reduce turnover, or increase your reading. In my case, reading is rewarding, so what I will accomplish this year is setting a target of reading at least 20 pages everyday. I will accelerate my success by setting a firm bed time and creating a routine of reading every night before I go to sleep.

Learn from others. Whatever goal we are trying to achieve, we can pick up ideas and insights from others. I currently have over 500 books on my Amazon reading list. So one way to prioritize those books is to see what others recommend as their top reads. President Obama posted his reading list, as did Daniel Pink, Richard Branson, and hundreds of other thought leaders. Pick one or two that you already know and love and challenge yourself to follow the recommendations of someone outside of your normal go to group. Share your challenge internally and find out what your peers/other functions are doing that relates to your goal. My internal inquiries led me to read Lean Turnaround and  Four Disciplines of Execution  as my first two books this year. Ironically by starting with a discussion about Four Disciplines, I am now leading a training session on 5 Choices,  and am collaborating with senior leaders on our shared priority of driving productivity through improved people leadership.

Follow your passion. I love the quote, “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If  not, you will find an excuse.” That definitely applies to me and the goals I set for working out, at work, and now reading. The gap isn’t really time- we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use and prioritize our time. Goals that ignite us are easy – creating a new leadership program, developing the acquisition strategy, defining a new customer segment. Goals that are outside of our expertise and interest are usually the ones that we keep deferring. In my earlier post Improve Through Improv I talked about tapping into- and trusting- the talents of the team to achieve your goals. Leveraging people’s strengths and passions is a natural accelerator.  So in my quest to read 50 books by 50 I give myself permission to pass on the books that don’t fuel my fire, to quit the books that aren’t engaging me, and to seek books that are aligned with my personal and professional passions.

Rachel Anders said, “The journey of a lifetime starts with the turning of a page.” Whether you are reading or on the journey to achieving a different goal, deciding what supports the goal, learning from others, and following your passion will help you get to your destination more quickly, and make it a more enjoyable ride.

SKOL Leadership

 

Vikings win

What. A. Game. I live in Minnesota and while I am a Packer fan, for the last minute and a half of Sunday’s playoff game I was sweating purple. This miracle finish was just the latest chapter in a miraculous season. After losing their starting quarterback and starting running back in the opening weeks, somehow the Vikings, led by their third quarterback, Case Keenum, and their defense pulled the team together. Not only have they stayed together, they ended the regular season with the second-best record in the NFC.  As I watched the game I thought, this is an awesome leadership moment in motion. The Vikings showed how teamwork, strategy, and persistence are what it takes to lead and to win.

Teamwork. Good teams work together and come together, especially under times of stress. Great teams are clear on their goal and commit to their specific role in helping the team achieve it. In the Harvard Business School article The Biggest Mistake You (Probably) Make With Teams, author Tammy Erickson gives the analogy of an emergency room, and writes,  “Before the next ambulance arrives, they have no idea of the nature of the task ahead. Will the patient require surgery, heart resuscitation, medications? The condition of the next patient is unknown; the tasks that will be required of the team, ambiguous. But at no time while the team waits, do they negotiate roles: “Who would like to administer the anesthesia? Who will set out the instruments? Who will make key decisions?” Each role is clear. As a result, when the patient arrives, the team is able to move quickly into action. The Vikings acted surgically – each person focused on exactly what had to happen on that last play so the patient- in this case their playoff dreams- had a chance of surviving. In her research, Erickson found that the most successful leaders ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, everyone understands the project’s importance and ultimate objective, and the team is empowered to determine how to achieve their agreed to “what.” So help your team be great by setting clear goals and roles, and empowering and encouraging them to determine how to win.

Strategy. In football the coach can’t take over the various roles on the team, but off the field ask yourself, am I trying to be the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver or am I the coach? Mike Zimmer’s role was to create a strategy, make sure the team knew how to execute the strategy, and to build their confidence so that they could achieve their goal. Leaders don’t win games- they build teams that win games. In the article Doing Less, Leading More, author Ed Batista writes that many leaders believe if we work longer, harder, and smarter than our team, we’ll inspire by example. But he cautions that if you lead like a “Doer-in-Chief” you can’t pivot your teams from fire fighters to fire marshals. In Sunday’s game, it was evident that Zimmer had instilled a fire marshall mentality in the team – don’t panic when the heat is turned up, focus on execution. We can do the same in our roles with our teams if we do less, lead more, and stay focused on our strategy.

Persistence. Let’s not forget, the Vikings were not only down by 1 with 23 seconds on the clock. They have been down similar roads before. The Vikings have lost their last five NFC Championship games and lost four Super bowls. None of this is lost on the Vikings or their fans, nor is the fact that Minnesota is hosting the Super bowl in just 4 weeks. In the article Never Quit: Strategies on Perseverance From 6 Seasoned Entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs share what it takes to be persistent. The willingness to “take the hit.” Lead confidently, think big, and influence your outcome. As entrepreneur Roy McDonald says, “You can influence the outcome with the power of thought and intention. It’s important to focus on what you do want, instead of what you don’t want.” That mental toughness, or Grit as Angela Duckworth would say, is all about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference in a person’s success.

In football and as a leader you want a team with strong teamwork, strategy, and persistence. Even before Diggs’ touchdown, the Vikings had to stretch their bench to get the right people on the field. They had to ensure everyone understood the playbook. They had to make big plays to be up 17-0, they had to have grit after the Saints came out with 17 unanswered points and they really had to dig deep when they were down in the last 23 seconds of the game. Their success- and the success of strong business teams– comes from knowing the plan, and committing to execute the plan. It means having a leader who clears the path and empowers the team. It also means having an unwavering belief that you will achieve your goal. I encourage you to think with SKOL leadership so you can see and celebrate your  team’s success.

Resolve, Go Solve, Absolve

New Years Resolution

Happy 2018! It is that time of year where think about our goals for the new year. We purchase new gear and goodies to help us reach that illustrious goal. Yet despite our initial anticipation, 22% of new years’s resolutions fail after one week, 40% after one month, and 50% after three months. How can you buck the odds this year and make your resolution a reality? There are three actions you’ll need to take: resolve, go solve, and absolve.

Resolve. It’s easy to look at these statistics and think why bother. But the very act of making a resolution matters. Setting a goal means you’ve identified something you want to strive for.  One key to a successful resolution is picking something important to you that are passionate about. You may feel pressure to climb the corporate ladder but if you love your current job, resolve to deepen your skills instead of getting promoted. The next step is to take that goal and make it a plan.  Think about how you will deepen your skills by doing X by Y date. Setting specific, measurable goals makes your resolution more tangible and therefore more achievable.

Go Solve. “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” This is a famous quote from Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple executive and entrepreneur. Once you have your idea and your plan, ask yourself, have I gotten this far before? What got in my way? If you resolved last year to deepen your skills by getting your MBA but fell short because you didn’t have the time or money to make it happen, is that the right goal for 2018? Unless your financial or time commitments have shifted the likely answer is no. So how else could you solve for that? Could you take one class online? Could you learn new skills at work? Find a mentor? The specific solution is less important than finding a solution you can implement. Creating realistic momentum helps get you out of the gates and gets that idea into motion.

Absolve. Merriam Webster’s definition of absolve is to “to free from guilt or blame.” This is a crucial part of resolutions. We know that half of resolutions fail in the first six months. Yet we fail to plan for failure.  I love the blog  The Tiny Buddha by Leo Babauta, and in this post Babauta challenges us to relook at our expectations for building a new habit. He wisely says, “What if the problem is our hope that we’ll never have to get disrupted, that things will always go perfectly? This hope is, of course, greatly misguided. Things don’t ever go smoothly, progress is never linear, and we’ll always get disrupted….what we need to do is get good at starting, then starting again.” Absolve yourself from the guilt that you didn’t sign up for that online class yet. Absolve yourself from blame that you haven’t found a mentor. It’s never too late to restart. Just go back to solving again. Take any step- no matter how small- to regain momentum and look forwards, not backwards.

So break out your new 2018 calendar or journal, and think about what goal excites you for this year.  Write down some specific steps you can take to achieve that goal. Start doing – try anything, just start. Then prepare to restart. Approach 2018 with a resolve, go solve, absolve attitude and it will be a very happy new year.

 

Connect the Dots

Connect the dots

For many of us it’s budget season. Time to look at what we want for 2018, realizing what we’ll likely get, and figuring out what we can eliminate and prioritize. Too often in this exercise we cut and copy our current projects, just changing the year and tweaking our plans. This year I encourage you to think about how you can not cut, not copy, but connect the dots in your strategy. Commit to a new kind of new year by creating alignment, setting your focus, and pivoting your team.

Creating alignment. Instead of making functional budget or talent decisions, step back and look at your company’s strategy. What are the big opportunities in your line of business? What is your competition doing? What’s out there that no one is doing? What are your leaders always talking about? Ask them what keeps them up at night. Bring the slides from the last business review and talk to them about the real story you should be telling. Help them by recreating simpler slides that connect the dots for all levels of the organization. Looking in is a great place to start- then don’t forget to look out.  Double the business and industry sites/blogs you follow. Meet with some former leaders who moved into new roles.  Block time on your calendar every day (at least every week!) to stay current on your markets and customers. Knowledge IS power so use your power to create alignment across the organization. Help tell the story. Connect priorities across the business.  Ensure everyone is marching in the same direction.

Setting your focus. I once worked for a leader who set 64 annual priorities for us. That is more than one a week! When I raised my concern I was told we didn’t have a choice- this was the work that needed to be done. It may be what needs to gets done, but it won’t be able to be done.  Without guidance we leave it up to chance which of those 64 items get done. One of my favorite phrases is, what’s the order of events? If one of our goals is to expand our military hiring strategy, the first order of events may be to roll out interview training. Or maybe given other business priorities, they both need to wait until 2019. Take a step back and look at how you can sequence your goals. Less is more – and a more likely path to success.

Pivoting your team. To do things differently we must do things differently.  A powerful pivot can be the question, “How will we do things differently in 2018?” Test it first in HR. What will you and your team need to stop and start doing to achieve your top business opportunity? What skills will you need to add to or develop in your team to win in this space? What is the change agility of your team? How customer centric is your team? What do internal and external customers say about you? Questions like these can help unlock new discussions and generate momentum for a pivot. It can change what roles and skills you hire for. It can drive you to move work around – or off your team. It can break down silos and create a new mindset of shared outcomes. Starting with why creates buy-in and focus – and keeps us focused on the big dots.

HR is uniquely positioned to help the organization connect the dots. We understand both the business strategy and the people strategy for the organization.  In 2018, I encourage you to use the end of the year to look at what you want to achieve this year. Don’t cut and copy your current projects – be bold, be focused, and help your organization connect the dots by creating alignment, setting your focus, and pivoting your team.

 

 

 

https://hrtrendinstitute.com/2016/11/23/hr_trends_2017/

 

 

Do Less More Often

Do less More

It may be early to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions but as 2017 is winding down, I find myself reflecting on the number of lessons I learned this year. 2017 was a quite year for me. I was laid off from a great job working for a great boss, John Vegas. I also got a great opportunity to shift from designing learning and development content to delivering change management training across the country. I sat on the other side of the “here is your package” table and got to feel firsthand what good and bad acquisition practices look like. I learned to introduce myself as “in transition” at networking events, and to get comfortable with not having a work identity. I gave myself the best gift of all – taking the summer off to spend time with my family, seeing every concert that we could, and taking some fantastic vacations. So what’s my big hairy goal for 2018? I am planning to do less more often. This means embracing JOMO, canceling subscriptions, and better balancing .

Embracing JOMO. I just read this article about embracing the joy of missing out (JOMO). Instead of stressing out that you can’t get it all done or can’t get to both meetings you were invited to, try a new approach. Admit that there is a problem, and acknowledge that the problem is not you. You can’t do it all and that’s ok. So embrace it. Find joy in training someone else to help with your projects. See the joy in your team when you say, I trust you. You can cover this meeting and fill me in. This mindset can allow you to focus on what really matters and do a few things really well, instead of spreading yourself too thin. This will be a challenge for my extroverted, execution-oriented personality but I am convinced it will help me to stay focused and to be more productive.

Cancelling subscriptions.  I volunteered to co-lead my daughter’s brownie troop when she was in first grade. It appears to have an auto-renewal policy until she graduates. I started a list of all the things I find myself still doing just because I started doing them, and am starting to cancel my subscriptions to these commitments. That means prioritizing my networking groups and cancelling some subscriptions so I can focus on others. It means asking myself if there is a different way for me to subscribe my time at work so I can stay focused on my top priorities. It even means stepping down as the troop leader so I can decide if there is a new subscription my daughter and I want to explore.

Better Balancing. Doing less still allows for doing. I also want to increase my workout goals and to read more next year. I want to work on our learning strategy and be available to create on demand training for leaders.  My goal is to have clear priorities and commit to my priorities. Investing time in my family, my health, and my hobbies are my priorities for next year. So now they will be my filter for making decisions. Stephen Covey has a great quote: “Instead of prioritizing our schedule we need to schedule our priorities.” I am learning that one of the priorities I need to include on that list is white space. White space for thinking and planning at work and for unwinding at home is one of the best commitments of time we can make. Finding the balance of doing and being is my biggest challenge- and one I will prioritize working on in 2018.

I read the book Essentialism in 2016 and it really struck a cord with me. In this crazy world of doing, how can we do less more often? 2017 gave me an opportunity to put those ideas into practice and taught me some invaluable life lessons. I have moved through transition into a new great job, with a great boss, doing some great work. But instead of jumping back on the hamster wheel, this time I am being more intentional about embracing JOMO, cancelling subscriptions, and better balancing.

Tweet Your Vibe

Tweet

“Tis the time of year to be thankful. To be generous. It is also a good time of year to think about the vibe we put out into the universe – both the physical and online space we occupy. Thanks to Catherine Byers Breet for sharing this photo and this article. It got me thinking that we all should be thinking, what’s my Tweet, how do I Tweet others, and why we should Tweet each other better.

What’s My Tweet? In the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s second habit is to begin with the end in mind. In this chapter he asks the reader to imagine their literal end. Picture yourself at your funeral. What are people saying about you? What impression did you leave? A slightly more updated question is, if your family, friends, and coworkers were to describe you in 160 characters, what would they say? You may also want to check what have they said about you on social media. We all create a vibe- all we can control is if it is intentional or unintentional. What would you like your headline to be? With that end in mind, think about how you treat others, and make an intentional effort to live up to your ideal self.

How do I Tweet Others? The 7 Habits also encourage us to synergize. This means to believe that 1+1 is 3 and that by treating each other with respect and listening to different opinions we can come up with the best solutions. In today’s digital world it is easy with the quick stroke of the keyboard to criticize those we don’t agree with. The golden rule should apply both our physical and online communities – and is part of keeping a positive vibe. Being mindful is also key when interacting with our teams. We are so busy doing that we leave little time for connecting, engaging, and encouraging our employees. How we “tweet” them comes out in all the micro decisions we make -to say hi, to be present, to show genuine interest. These micro decisions can have a macro ripple.  Your words and your impact will be how your team “tweets” about you as they talk about their day with friends and family.

Why we should Tweet each other better.  In an earlier post, Connecting vs. Networking, I talked about the the power of connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness. In this day and age it is only a matter of when- not if- we lose our job, are acquired, or experience a major reorganization. When you need help guiding new terrain, who will be there for you? Who were you there for when they asked you for help? We live in a big small world. Put your positive vibe out there and help to Tweet someone’s story and skills. Create the positive energy needed to propel each other forward.

What we say and do – in person and online- matters. It creates a vibe that either fuels or flushes their energy. There are over a 160 ways a day we can be intentional about showing up as our best self. The best gift we can give ourselves and others is to be mindful about what’s our Tweet, how we Tweet others, and Tweeting each other better.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Sexual harassment

Back in the 80s we wanted to talk about sex. Then we saw the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas case, and then we wanted to talk about sexual harassment. While the 80s big hair is gone, the big issues of gender equity persist. Why, despite the passage of many new laws and required sexual harassment training, do we still have work cultures that range from unwelcoming to unsafe? According to a recent Washington Post/ABC news poll , 54% of women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances.” Thirty percent of these advances have been from male colleagues, 25% of those were from men who could impact the woman’s career. This is not a women’s issue, and this can’t be solved by blaming and shaming men. What we need is a new conversation about sexual harassment and what we will –and will not -tolerate in our workplace. Let’s talk about what we value. Let’s talk about what to do. And most importantly, let’s keep talking.

What we value. Fran Sepler recently gave a fantastic talk entitled “Why Everything We Are Doing Around Sexual Harassment is Wrong” at the Minneapolis Disrupt HR event. Her salient point is that we need to change our discussion from scaring people with the law to inspiring people with our company’s values. When your employees model your values how do they treat each other? How would they react if someone is mistreated? Talk about what you expect in your workplace, and show them that those values are valued – that they are more than words on a wall, but truly your guiding principles, by highlighting the values of the people you promote, reward, and hire.

What to do. The media has exploded with stories about sexual harassment. It hasn’t been easy for people to bring forward their experiences. It isn’t comfortable to read. But it is happening so as leaders this is the time to lean in. Let people know you don’t expect harassment to happen in your workplace, but if it happens you want to know. And you want to make it right. Move out of legalese and speak from the heart. Make it clear you have an open door and an open mind to encourage people to come forward with their concerns. Creating a safe place for conversations is the only way to get to the truth. Leondra Hanson is a professor at Hamline University and speaker who recently posted an article about how to talk about sexual harassment. In it Hanson reminds us we need to talk about harassment before it occurs and create a workplace that won’t tolerate it.

Keep Talking. A recent New York Times article, Men at Work Wonder if they Overstepped With Women Too, starts out, “It has been a confusing season for America’s working men.” My first reaction was, Really? How can harassment be confusing? But that’s not helpful. Instead I hope if I am approached by someone who is confused or anxious about this topic that I will listen, ask questions, and offer guidance, not judgement. Let’s encourage men to talk to men and brainstorm ideas. Let’s expand this issue from sexual harassment to all kinds of harassment that happen at work. Let’s ask the women we work closely with what is and what is not comfortable to them. Yes, the answers – and the questions– will vary. Yes it might be uncomfortable. But by bringing harassment out of the shadows we can move from shame to solutions.

In the movie 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin have the most “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss on the planet. I do not recommend or endorse their solution of kidnapping him to teach him a lesson. But I do appreciate that this movie created conversation about harassment in the workplace.  That movie is 37 years old but the topic of sexual harassment is still topical. I’m asking all of you to lean in and help shape the conversation about harassment at your workplace. Let’s talk about what we value. Let’s talk about what to do. And most importantly, let’s keep talking.

 

First Build the Foundation

solid-foundations

It is easy to become enamored with the latest HR or business fad. Every where you look these days teams are getting agile, delivering micro learnings, and investing in crowd funding. You don’t want your team/company to be left in the cold, so you pick the buzzword of the day and propose a project around this idea in a meeting, everyone gets excited, and you dive in to kick it off. Great, right? Wrong. Agile, micro learnings, and crowd funding are great solutions– to the right problems, and with the right readiness. In HR we have lots of annual solutions that may or may not solve the right problem at the right time. Just because we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean we ought to do it. And just because we have a full box of Jenga blocks, we don’t have to use them all. Good HR solutions are built on strong foundation. We can test that foundation by asking  three questions: Why does this matter? Who does it matter to? What else matters right now?

Why does this matter?  A favorite HR solution is annual HR talent reviews. Not inherently a bad solution, but why does this matter? If your organization’s goal is to increase global sales by 10%, how does your solution advance this goal? Your answer might be we have to know who our high potentials are so we can retain them. If we can retain them and let them know we value them, we will increase employee engagement. I would say that may be an HR goal but not an organizational goal. Take a step back and ask, why does talent review matter?  Maybe– hold on– it doesn’t matter right now. It is important to be able to separate the sacred cows from the milking cows– what we love vs. what fuels our current goals.  Maybe the foundational step is to do an inventory of the current experience of your global sales leaders, then to gain consensus on what experience we want people to have. Once we have this information, then maybe it makes sense to broaden talent review. Or maybe it doesn’t. Breaking down your approach to talent into pieces and asking yourself at each step why this matters will help you build a strong foundation and scalable solutions.

Who does it matter to? Diversity is another popular HR solution. There are lots of  opportunities connected to diversity.  If you break this down and ask why this matters, you likely can come up with a great reason why diversity can drive sales growth. The next question is, who does this matter to? If you have bricks but no masons, it will be hard to build off that foundation. Who is excited about this? Who do you need as champions? Who can they influence? Maybe before you hit go on your new diversity initiative, the foundational step is to assess your champions. Pull them together and ask them to explain why diversity matters to them and to their business goals. Ask for their ideas on how to make it matter to others across the organization. Ask them if they will be be your champions, and what you need to consider before you hit go. By taking the time to ensure you have this foundation set before creating a change, you have a much better chance of having that change stick.

What else matters right now? Context is key when developing a solution. You might be right that recruiting is a critical issue. But your company is working on another corner of the house, go toward that energy first. In my organization creating a great customer experience is a priority.  In order to deliver that great experience we need to ensure a great employee experience. As we got deeper into our data gathering we realized our current company values our words but are not connected to our employees’ experience. So while recruiting was our top priority, values has jumped to the top of the list. As my boss says, the order of events matters. Values are foundational and once we have values we can integrate them into our learning content, recruiting and talent practices, recognition, and communication. So lets do things in the right order. Let’s be part of the business blueprint. It we have the right timing, the right order, and the right alignment we can make sure our solutions matters.

In HR we love to build things. We see all the opportunities and want to help our teams succeed. However we often forget to step back and look at the leaning tower we’ve created. There is another way. We can start by asking why this matters, who does it matter to, and what else matters right now. By being intentional about what you do,  determining who are your champions, and sequencing how you connect the dots you can build a strong talent foundation for your organization.

Math (vs Change) Management

 

Overwhelmed

I recently got to hear Nick Tasler  speak at an author’s breakfast. Nick is the author of great books like Ricochet and Domino about change management. My takeaway from his talk was that the real change we need is math management. There are a finite number of hours in the day. Within those hours humans require sleep and food to live. We need social interaction to be alive. These are realities. In my last blog post, I talked about embracing constraints instead of fighting or denying them. So let’s focus on the math management instead of change management. How can we divide our time, multiply our impact, and add uncertainty to support organizational change?

Divide (not dilute) your time. This is a key distinction. Many of us have diluted our attention across many different priorities, working on many things but making progress on few. So let’s take a new approach to this math problem. In Tasler’s book Domino he asserts that a key to change is identifying your top three priorities. Next you need to review your projects and divide them into two lists: a 90 day sprint – items that accelerate your top three priorities — and those that will have to wait. By time boxing your projects and focusing on what is tightly aligned to your priorities, you and your team will be able to focus and make meaningful progress on your most important initiatives. You will allow your team to give these priorities their undivided attention, and the dividend is that they can invest their discretionary effort into the change effort.

Multiplying (by magnifying) your impact. Southwest Airlines was the pioneer of the low cost airline business model. Today, 47 years later, they are the largest low cost domestic airline and have the second largest market share by revenue passenger miles. How did this upstart airline create and sustain such a change in the airline industry? Through their laser focus on their purpose: to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. Every decision they make as an organization is held up to this magnifying lens. When the marketing team was researching how Southwest could differentiate itself from the competition, one team suggested offering free meals on short, but popular flights. The executive team reviewed the proposal and decided it may be friendly, but it didn’t drive reliability or lower costs, so turned down the proposal. When a different group pitched allowing two free checked bags, the same decision process was used– friendly? Yes. Reliable? Sure. Low cost? Definitely. This differentiation hit on multiple elements of their core strategy and magnified their position as friendly AND low cost. What is your company’s purpose? How will your proposed change magnify your purpose and multiply your impact?

Adding (by addressing) uncertainty. The good news is you don’t actually have to add the uncertainty. You just have to honestly address it. Kurt Lewin created the three stage theory of change, commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze. The challenges today is that change is happening so fast we never get back to freeze and instead have to live in a state of slush. So when your team asks, “When will the change be over? Will there be more changes to come? How can we master this change before the next one comes?”, tell them never, yes, and unlikely. This may add uncertainty but it also adds honesty.  The next discussion you can have with them is, given that we live is a new state of slush, how do we navigate effectively? What should we let float by and what needs to crystallize? It is perfectly natural to seek solid footing in times of change, and it is highly unlikely to find it. Help your team navigate this tension by acknowledging and addressing it’s presence.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.” Unfortunately many organizations today have abandoned the idea of sharpening the saw, and instead reward a mass machete approach to change. Given that 70% of change initiatives fail, perhaps we need to take a step back and try a new approach. Don’t ask your team to power through a change. Instead empower them to create realistic plans that divide their time, multiply their impact, and add uncertainty so they can support your organization’s change priorities.

 

Embrace Constraints

think-outside-the-box

Our lives are full of constraints of all shapes and sizes. From taking conference calls while dropping off kids, to making dinner with what’s in the fridge, to juggling multiple work projects, we are all constantly balancing our limited time, resources, and scope. We often talk about these three interconnected constraints in project management — changing one impacts the other two. But what if instead of talking about these factors as constraints we think about them as accelerators? In his post How Constraints Fuel Innovation Instead of Restricting It, Vishal Kataria tells the story of how Toyota broke into the luxury car market. Their chief engineer challenged the team to build a car with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, an efficiency of 22.5 miles per gallon, a cabin noise level of 58 decibels at 60 mph, an aerodynamic drag of 0.29 or less, weighing less than 3800 pounds. None of their competitors had cracked one, let alone all five, of these goals. At first this seemed to be an impossible goal. But when the team designed to meet all these collective (and sometimes conflicting) constraints, they created the Lexus LS400, which outrated the BMW 735i and Mercedes 420SEL in every category rated by Car and Driver Magazine. And for $30,000 less.  Constraints can help you accelerate your productivity if you think outside the time, resources, and scope “box.”

Time: Think of less as more. Deadlines are stressful. And companies are infamous for short changing time to meet an executive’s schedule or demand. So embrace it.  According to a recent article cited in the New York Times, the average employee admits to spending 2 hours a day on non-work related tasks. So whatever timeline you thought you had, you really had 25% less anyway.  Help focus your team with more frequent, shorter meetings. You will have a different level of energy if you hold four 30-minute meetings rather than one two-hour meeting. Tell the team when the meeting ends, that phase of the process is done. Tell them in the first 30 minutes we need to complete X so that next time we can start with Y. Creating focus and urgency can up productivity– remember cramming for your college exams? Test it out and see what new results you see.

Resources: Look for the double down. There are never enough people or money for any given project. I am currently a department of one designing the learning and talent strategy for a production driven company. I am short on time and money and so are our leaders and team members. We have limited processes or practices to build off of. Isn’t that great? Now I get to focus on bite-sized learning, as I discussed in my Refresh Your Talent Menu blog, and to ensure that each piece we decide is intentionally interconnected. I am currently partnering with one of my peers to repackage some of our customer service training as coaching training. After all, asking questions, listening, and staying calm under pressure are key skills for working with customers and employees. And by using the same concepts in both scenarios we hope to ingrain them in our leaders.

Scope: Look through a new lens. Who decides what is in scope or out of scope for a project? Very rarely is it the end user. Lets say, for example, that your company is working on an acquisition. Your hands are more than full working on onboarding and talent assessment for the new employees. You don’t have the time or resources to address what is happening in payroll. You are in HR. But ask the average employee what HR does and they are likely things like payroll and benefits – because those are transactions that impact them in a tangible way, on a regular basis, and they don’t care what function that department sits in. So before deciding what is in scope, take a step back and think about what your employees are looking for. Design your project plans around that.

Think about Apollo 13. The constraints faced by that team were unimaginable – NASA had precious few hours to figure out how to return a severely damaged aircraft to earth using only the supplies the astronauts had on board. But everyone came together and came up with an ingenious, lifesaving solution. So how can you accelerate your productivity by embracing your constraints? Take a fresh look at the time, resources, and scope elements of your current project.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Constraints drive innovation. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”