Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

There has to be a better way to handle inspiration.  Doesn’t it seem that at times we ride this escalator to the top of the mountain only to tumble back down from a strong gust at the summit?  The efficacy of the inspiration stalls; it’s predicated upon circumstance which we know changes frequently. 

How many Hoosiers, Miracle, Rudy, (insert one of a zillion other movie greats) speeches can we give?  Those speeches are delivered at a moment in time.  Our desire is to make that moment last when we know it cannot.  That’s why it’s a moment.  It’s why The Mighty Ducks 3 isn’t as inspiring as the first (C’mon, you weren’t inspired by the first one?)

Effective inspiration consists of a deliberate balance between moments and the cultural training that occurs as a result of those moments.  Cultural training?  Yes!  Everyday, leadership instills an understanding of how things are, ought to be and will be.  Leaders deliver unspoken words of “don’t touch, don’t ask, don’t even think about it” as much as they deliver “please do, please ask, please engage.”  The context becomes clearer to employees as to when those messages are applied.  A culture then develops through the understanding of what can be and who is demonstrating “right” behavior. 

When we deliver inspiring thoughts and a call to action, we do so in the context of the culture.  If we say “Let’s go get ‘em” enough but are unable to “get ‘em” then we deliver a message that cannot be met.  Failure is okay; repeated failure means it can’t be done or you’re not the one who can do it.  And so, culturally, if we tell our team to keep going despite the inability to reach, we show that we don’t know our people, process or product.  The inspiring words are foolishness.

I find myself consistently saying “Know your audience.”  Inspiration is lost on those who’ve heard it before and seen no action.  If, as a leader, you don’t realize the attitude in your culture, then no one is following you.  How are you a leader?  There is no influence happening.

Our intention to motivate is real.  Ultimately, we want employees to be inspired to greatness (if you don’t, you should seriously think about changing careers or changing your attitude, bearing in mind that changing roles still brings your attitude with you).  We have a workforce that wants to be the hero.  We can inspire them to that with messaging, tools and process that set them up for success. 

Inspiration becomes emotionally charged very easily.  That trap is attractive.  It’s feelings-oriented and it presents itself as effective in that moment.  We’ve all done it in our attempt to encourage and push. 

Let’s change the perspective and work to change culture through appropriate cultural impact.  Are competencies there?  Are processes ready to handle the effect of inspiration?  Is messaging consistent and thoughtful?  Simply, again, are we setting others up for success?  That’s what is truly inspiring and will give a return for quite some time.  Go Ducks!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

(You Better) Think

"Looking back, the thing that's really impressive is that here were these leaders running the Civil War, and people...had time to meditate on the day's events...They weren't multi-tasking; they had time to reflect. It's a luxury many leaders just don't have today, and that's a real loss."
The above quote is by Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian, in the April 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review. The entire article is great and this quote struck me in particular.

I'm a knowledge worker. My job involves utilizing large amounts of information and making decisions that support the goals of the organization I work with. Some are straightforward while others requires a fair amount of analysis and consideration.

When it comes to strategic initiatives, it can be all too easy to go with what worked in the past, without considering how it may impact the present. This is where the danger lies. Considering the fast paced world most of us live in it's important that we take the time to reflect on what we do and did, both professionally as well as personally.

It's also important that these reflections be recorded. I know that sounds obvious but think about it--how much of your organizational member's unique knowledge is accessible--to other staff, vendors, and partners?

For example, in a former role I managed the annual update to the employee handbook. My partners and I made policy decisions that impacted thousands of employees. It was also my responsibility to communicate what changes had been made and why. Part of the strategy in accomplishing this was by saving the previous drafts of employee manuals that were created over the years, along with a supporting notes and communications generated. As a result, we became much better at determining which policies were effective and which weren't.

Having these reflections on record also help to preserve and perpetuate an organization's unique culture, which is often underrated and should not be taken lightly. I know that many people argue that a job's a job, but all things being equal, people tend to choose organizations that reflect their professional or personal values.

Another way to look at it is like this--if your top talent got killed tomorrow would their best practices, leadership decisions, etc., die along with them? It's morbid, I know, but I'm trying to make a point. This is why when Steve Jobs took a leave of absence in 2009 people started to wonder if it signaled an end of an era at Apple (as well as rattle shareholder confidence). When employees who represent the best of a company's values and vision leaves it can have an effect on morale and productivity. Preserving their output for others to access helps to minimize the loss of critical resources.

Here are a few suggestions on being better at self reflection:
  • Set aside (idle) time for yourself. Too often we use what little free time we have to do more stuff. Give yourself time and permission to do nothing, within reason. And stick to it the same way you stick to your other commitments.
  • Stay healthy. Numerous medical studies show that a good diet and regular exercise have a positive impact on brain functions. It also helps with stress management, making it easier to think more clearly.
  • Write it down! This is the one I struggle with the most. I'll have a great idea and by the time I'm ready to implement it I've forgotten the most crucial elements (Doh!). So now I carry around a pen and a notepad to jot things down in the moment. It damages my street cred but it preserves my thoughts.
  • Promote and utilize collaborative tools within your organization. Wikis, blogs, and intranets are some of the tools that may be used by organizations for capturing its members knowledge. It's important that they're easy to use and are supported by top management.
  • Share. Aside from colleagues, you should try to speak with those outside your normal comfort zone. Remember, you're responsible to all stakeholders. Being able to effectively explain yourself to them (and vice-versa) will only benefit you.
If you want to continue to make quality decisions then take the time to reflect and share this insight with others. Without it you could be missing important opportunities for yourself and your organization.