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Sacrifices in Business – Having your cake & eating it too!

I love the quote “every point of refuge has it’s price“. Another one that rings true is “nothing comes for free“.

No where is this more evident than in the world of fast growth business!

What have you had to sacrifice lately? Has it been your percentage of dedication to life or work? How many people do you know that work 8h or less? How many people do you know that are conscious of the true sacrifices they are making each and every day?

This article is more than just about time, energy or strategy management, it’s a “wake-up call” to anyone who thinks that any success comes easy!

It takes courage, moments of truth & at times allot of blind faith to take the necessary measures required to achieve the success you desire. Most of all, along the way, it takes allot of personal sacrifice to make your professional career eventuate into part of the formula which equals “work-life balance”.

A client & I were speaking last week when he shared with me the incredible amount of pressure that he’s under at work. He continued to share how he has recently tried to delegate to his next immediate level of management, hoping to help them grow. Upon reviewing his results, he was astonished at how he was able to deal with so many diverse situations within his workplace. His area is one of the most intense work environments of his entire global organization, and still they provide solid & leading results day-in day-out.

None of this surprised me! From the first time we started our Executive Coaching relationship, I had noted how stringent he was on his work-life balance. For the sake of confidentiality, let’s call him “Joe”, and he can celebrate his balance today because he prepared, trained & practiced for it. Most of all, he paid his dues earlier on & sacrificed when he needed to!

You don’t just wake up one day & have a balanced life! It takes hard work, sacrifices, dedication & lots of practice!

Today he typically splits his time working from home & office. He takes every opportunity to enjoy long weekends with his family. He has a ground rule not to mix work with pleasure on weekends, or after a certain hour of the day. He’s conscious that time is precious and that his young boy will quickly become a young man before the blink of an eye, and so he prioritizes his intensity very carefully. As we discovered, it’s all about energy management!

As an outside observer I had noticed that just like a body builder who rests certain muscles masses in-between workouts to witness effective growth, Joe was resting his brain and giving it different stimuli by engaging in non work related activities on the weekend. By not using the “work” part of the brain over the course of 2-3 days, it enables him to be that much more sharper Monday through Friday. It enables Joe to get allot more done in less time than before.

But it wasn’t always like this! Joe is the exception to the rule, and he has also “been at it” for the greater part of the last 15 years! It takes personal and or professional sacrifice to become really successful at something.

As evidence, I give you Malcom Gladwell’s CNN interview regarding his book Outliers, he briefly touches on the concept of the “10.000 Hour Rule”. I especially love his other interview comparison with The Beatles.

To put this into perspective, 10.000 hours of “practice” is the equivalent to

  • approximately 417 days (or 1.14 years) if you didn’t sleep at all
  • 625 days (or approximately 1.71 years) if you slept for 8 hours & dedicated the remaining 16h to a single task
  • 1.250 days (or approximately 3.42 years) if you only dedicated 8 hours to a single task

In comparison, how much time are you dedicating to what you want to be really good at?

People on many levels of an organization want their cake & eat it too, but contrary to Joe, they aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices!

There’s the entrepreneur who makes personal sacrifices on multiple levels just to keep his dream alive, running his start-up “on the smell of an oily rag“. It’s been a hard road but he’s within reach of his dream now!

There was the fast-climbing corporate executive that didn’t have time for a relationship because of the intensity of their business. Any wonder why they’re still “home alone” & without a life-partner at this stage?

Then there’s that guy who felt it necessary to hangout with his friends until the wee hours of the morning having a few beers & exchanging tall tales. Any wonder he typically didn’t get up to speed until noontime at work the next morning? Any wonder why his moments of brilliance were just that, limited to “moments”, even though what was required was more consistency? There are even more countless tales of people who “had the potential but just never materialized it consistently“. It all takes it’s tole and requires a delicate balance if you’re to have your cake & eat it too.

So where can you start?

  • Visualize the life or objective (professional & personal) that you want in 2-3 years (i.e. success.. “your cake”)
    • Make it really visual, to the point where you can smell, taste & almost touch your visualization
      • Quick Tip; Fill it with as many facts & details as possible
  • Visualize your current “reality”
    • If this is going to work, you’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself
      • Quick Tip; This will be the last time you “focus” on your “reality”
        • Focus on your objective, raising your reality toward it instead of focusing on your reality which will only downsize your objective
        • Remember that your reality is merely the accumulation or consequences of your past actions in life, and whilst it might influence the speed at which you can break free of your reality, it does not condition the achievement of your objective
  • Determine “what” is required to bridge your current reality to your visual image of success
    • If you can’t figure this out, get help form someone your trust
      • Quick Tip; Do an inventory and address it
        • There are only two things that stand in your way of success
          1. Limiting beliefs (in yourself or another)
          2. Lack of a strategy
  • Set a time-line to acquire the skills, network or resources you require to achieve your objective
    • Determine “what” activities you’re willing to sacrifice or give-up completely during this period to achieve your success
      • Quick Tip; What is non-negotiable?
  • Now set-up a discipline for yourself to measure your progress along the way
    • Make time in your calendar for reflection on your daily, weekly, monthly progress & make the necessary adjustments
      • Quick Tip; What isn’t measured doesn’t get done!

If you follow these basic guidelines, work hard at them and realize that there are NO SHORTCUTS (!!!), than I guarantee you too can have your cake & eat it too. I can also promise you it won’t be an easy journey! Why? Because “every point of refuge has it’s price“.

Top 3 things to focus on when fixing what’s broken

Having just finished up another successful assignment at a hyper growth enterprise, and noting that the core principles of success were again very similar to many other situations faced over the past +25 years, I thought I’d share my 3 areas of focus.

I should add to this that two days before I departed, an interested 2nd line manager/team leader asked if I could share with him some insights. He had witnessed remarkable changes in a very short period of time, and whilst I had been very busy with first line management, he recognized the possibility to learn some very practical & valuable lessons directly himself.

It inspired me that again we had been able to affect collateral interest, as well as a desire for change deeper within the organization, so I rallied the entire 2nd line leadership team and spent the next 2 hours giving them some day-to-day examples of the following:

  • Customer Centricity – Focus on the Customer
    • We have Internal Customers
      1. Every person in every department, in one way or another, facilitates the servicing of External Customers
      2. By serving the needs of our Internal Customers, we are either directly or indirectly addressing the needs of our External Customers
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, bi-lateral Service Level Agreements
    • We have External Customers
      1. Shift from a systems interoperability focus to a successful customer purchasing focus
      2. Now start to look for opportunities to enrich & enhance the customer purchasing experience
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, Service Level Agreements
  • Ownership – Never let go until you’re satisfied
    • Ownership is a like a hungry dog with a bone.. you never let go until you’re satisfied the hunger is quenched
      1. You can never assume the client, internal or external, is satisfied with a solution until you have direct confirmation/validation from/of the same
      2. Every obstacle is merely an opportunity for you to find another alternative path to a solution
      3. Don’t accept that a problem can’t be fixed until you’ve exhausted every means, including escalated your concern to the highest level within your organization
    • Ownership is like a football team moving forward to score a goal, just because you’ve passed the ball forward, your contribution to the goal isn’t over until the ball is in the net & you’re embracing your colleagues in celebration
      1. Just because you’ve forwarded a need or requirement, your job isn’t done until you’ve confirmed/validated that the next person is carrying out the necessary task(s) until the “client” is satisfied
      2. Trust is good..  but verification is proof.. & much.. much better!
      3. Confirm the goal! Confirm with the “client” that they’ve gotten the result they expected, and then celebrate the WIN/GOAL/SCORE & never just the great pass
  • Communication – “Engage with..” instead of “talking to..”
    • Communication is a bi-directional inter-activity & never a uni-lateral conversation
      1. Effective communication requires active empathetic listening
      2. Effective communication is never assuming that you know what the other person has just said, but repeating it for acknowledgment & confirmation of detail
      3. In effective communication, there is no such thing as “common sense”.. common sense is merely an accumulation of related experiences, and we all have different filters (interpretations & perceptions) based on our past influences
    • More than talking to someone, effective communication is when you confirm that an intention is understood, and the expected outcome has been agreed to by the “actioning party”
      1. To borrow from Engineering terms, effective communications requires an active & affective acknowledgment process (ACK/NAK or checksum), which is an infallible confirmation that what has been requested, has been acknowledge and understood
      2. Effective communications requires a S.M.A.R.T. conversation, with specific confirmation by all parties as to what has been requested vs. what will be delivered by when by whom to where & how

These might sound simple enough that you would actually overlook or underestimate the impact that they are already having on your organization, but the fact is, and I’m willing to be openly challenged on this, you show me a problem in your organization, and I’ll show you where one, if not all of the above are responsible for the lack of results that you know your enterprise is capable of.

What are you doing this summer?

My friends back home in Europe & the U.S. might think me mad for talking about summer in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record, but considering that I’ve spent most of December / January on the sunny & warmer side of the Equator (Australia & Brazil), I find this theme very relevant.

So the question lingers.. where are you spending your summer vacation this year?

My wife, an inspired & driven entrepreneur herself, recently commented on how she thought it strange that so many entrepreneurs she knew, who’s businesses are struggling, still take time off this summer instead of leveraging the “lull” to sharpen their strategy’s & planning skills.

On the other hand, I have seen my fair share of entrepreneurs who have taken the opportunity of a summer to bring me in & help them prepare for a full-out assault in the remaining quarter or trimester of this year. In fact, we have found some businesses who traditionally run on quarterly rhythms, this year closing out the year with a switch to an extended trimester, with the specific intention of making that final push to close out their fiscal year in a strong fashion.

Whether you’re in a position to take immediate action, fine-tuning your business model, as well as the strategy needed to successfully execute on it, or whether that opportunity is still in the far off-distance, I would strongly recommend that you engage a neutral party to come in and help you get a holistic vision of the work required to achieve your goals & objectives.

And if that work is still 5-6 months away, then I strongly encourage you to start the process of recruiting that trusted partner immediately so as to ensure that you secure the person best suited for the culture of your organization.

Anchoring & “for success”

Can you visualize the anchor of a boat? How when you lower it to the bottom of a sea or lake, you’re automatically limiting how much it will drift (move) from that central point? Even as the winds kick-up & the waters get murky and unsettled, if you’ve “dropped a good and sturdy anchor”, set a song foundation, you won’t drift far off course from where you want to be after the storm has passed.

In the past two weeks I’ve been involved in, as well as witnessed, challenging conversations where one of the parties has had to be brought back to the central point of the discussion because they we going off on a tangent. When you encounter this during a difficult personal or professional conversation, it’s also sometimes referred to as “deflection”.  Simply put, a “deflection” is simply a way to avoid discussing what really matters in a conversation. This can be either a conscious or unconscious act, and it is typically a self-defense mechanism when someone doesn’t agree with the direction the conversation is headed.

When I’ve worked with people or friends who share with me that they just don’t understand why they’ve just had a conversation where they weren’t able to make their “point stick”, the scenarios typically sound like

  • I wasn’t able to get closure because the other person brought up parallel off-topic conversations that just ended up confusing me, and now that I have clarity again it’s too late, the person is gone
  • She’s so charming and witty, that when I try to express my disappointment or frustration with her behavior, I always give up and the conversation never seems to address the critical points I needed to address
  • We ended up talking about everything “under the sun” & never were able to address the real issues that mattered
  • She kept giving me push back and excuses as to why things didn’t work, but I could never “pin her down” on the critical & obvious factors that demonstrated she just wasn’t performing

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Well, unless you’re extremely disciplined & have laser focus, the quickest & easiest solution is “anchoring the conversation”.  Anchoring a conversation is typically done by establishing an agenda of topics to discuss before-hand, and it’s important that you stick to his agenda. Print the agenda out & make sure you “tick-off” each item as you address them. When your counterpart(s) goes off on a tangent, out of respect give them 30 seconds or up to 1-2 minutes to see if their point will eventually be relevant, or coming back to center, and if not, respectfully interrupt them, reminding them of the point at hand. Another good tip is to send the agenda ahead of time so that the person has an opportunity to prepare themselves to address the points at-hand.

If this is not a business meeting, then there are less obvious ways to establish an agenda that you want to stick to. Simply grab a piece of paper and write down the main topics or points you want to address or express. Keep them visible & in front of you so that you don’t leave the table or conversation without having ticked off and gotten closure on all the points. Allow the object of your conversation to see your list so that they realize how serious and prepared you are, and that you are going to hold them accountable to addressing each point.

If you’re afraid of confrontation and want to be more subtle, a good trick/tool I’ve used in the past is to write key-words or phrases on a whiteboard or shopping list which is situated behind the person when they sit down, thus allowing me to follow my rational without tipping them off to my memory aid (discussion anchor).

Now the last bit, and you may want to write this in the margins as “notes to self”, is to determine what you want to get from each point of the conversation. Why are you bringing this up? How is it affecting you? How much of the point you’re addressing or raising is negotiable? What is the scope of your negotiability? How much are you willing to compromise? What’s really important to you? I’m sure you can think of many more criteria to consider, but this should give you an idea of how important it is to focus & prepare for difficult conversations. Be they with peers, bosses or life-partners, unless you’re willing to consistently walk away from the table with disappointment, I would encourage you to anchor your next conversation.

I should have precluded that an additional aspect to effective communication, even more important than “standing firm”, is to take all emotion out of the conversation. Try not to let yourself get angry or frustrated, and a list (anchor) will help you do this. Have the conversation when you’re in a calm state, and leave plenty of time for slippage so that you don’t risk running out of time. I generally allocate 30 minutes more than I think I will need.

I hope this tip works for you & and next time you want to improve your odds of an effective conversation… as they say in the merchant marines… “anchor away”!

Playing for profits – How a game can help your focus

In a recent session with a client, whilst working on their 2010 Strategic Plan, an inspiring moment took them by surprise. Let me preface this post by saying that it’s my firm belief that part of any successful strategy should involve allot of fun, learning & grow whilst achieving results. To put it simply, unless your process has the “what’s in it for me”  factor covered, you’re not addressing some of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This particular client is in e-commerce, they run thousands of on-line campaigns every quarter, and we were now strategizing how to get the entire company more involved in the effort. As with most activities in an organization, the creation & profitability of an on-line campaign doesn’t always get the entire company “rallying around the campfire”, and so here is where we thought of a new twist.

I’ve long used a One-Page Strategic Plan to get an entire team or company focused on the key drivers of success. And within the context of the One-Page Plan, I always encourage my clients to play a game where everyone can get involved, and hopefully have allot of fun whilst achieving the required results for success.

The game we decided on was themed “Oscar Night”, and the CEO decided that the objective was to acknowledge the campaign that brought in the highest revenue & profit. After 3 months, the winning campaign would be awarded an Oscar. We’re still working it out, but in addition to recognition, the winners of the game will also get a coveted prize, similar to a weekend away for two at a resort, or dinner at a “preferred location”. This is obviously great acknowledgment for the team that would eventually be responsible for creating & running the campaign, but my challenge was in trying to figure out how to get an entire company focused on “results”, and at the same time learn something new whilst rallying around their colleagues, thus increasing teamwork & building a stronger company culture. Pretty tall task.. no?

My solution? What do you know about the game Monopoly & Horse Racing? That’s where the creativity started! First; suppose we were to allocate 1.000 euros of Monopoly money to each employee? Second; what if everyone in the company was required to bet all of their Monopoly money over the course of the fiscal quarter, distributing the bets through the various e-commerce campaigns in an effort to identify which ones would be most successful and beat the odds (objectives) set. Third; what if we grouped people so that each group were to be comprised of at least one person from each department, thus distributing the knowledge base? Fourth; now how about if we graphically tracked each persons’ &  teams’ progress/winnings, so that we would create a virtual horse race?

My audience was excited, but they wondered how the very specific knowledge of what it takes to make a campaign successful wouldn’t create an unfair advantage to the department responsible for the procurement process which drives the campaign.

In part, that’s why we came up with distributing members from different departments in to separate teams, and here’s what else we realized:

  • By distributing the departmental knowledge pool into groups the specific knowledge that increases the probability of winning would be distributed & effectively foster teamwork
  • The purchasing agents will hear first-hand very practical & unbiased (outside-of-the-box) reasons from “uninformed staff” as to why they thought campaigns wouldn’t succeed & this will increase the probability for Black Swan based innovation
  • Everyone in the company, right down to the receptionist, would learn more about “what makes the company tick” & this will in turn foster greater collaboration & understanding of cross-departmental inter-dependencies
  • Everyone will become more conscious of what the company goals are, and over time better understand how their individual talents, skills & roles contribute toward the “bigger picture” & this creates accountability
  • Teamwork & healthy competition will help to improve focus on what really matters to create results

Now those are just some of the highlights & key insights!

How do you think a similar program or exercise would affect your organization?

If you’re already using this technique, I’d be very grateful for your testimonial of what results you’ve seen on your business.

Passion as a Profession

December 27, 2009 1 comment

Question; Have you ever done anything that you just weren’t that passionate about? How did it turn out? Not your proudest moment.. I’m willing to bet. When I read John Hagel’s article on “Passion” in the Network Age in the The Social Customer Manifesto, I came across his reflection “We have to make our passions our professions. If we don’t, this [the economy] is going to be uglier and uglier, and we’re going to feel more and more stressed.” and that in turn inspired this post.

I’ve seen and heard from too many people that seem to just be going through the motions! And trust me, it doesn’t look like much fun! Point in contrast is the case of some friends back in Barcelona who recently created an experience for a dear friend of theirs. Now talent aside, my mates Piero & Ana are an example of people squeezing as much as they can from life. They are a great example of living on-purpose & blending a healthy dose of life, love & laughter into that formula. You see, when you dare to challenge the status-quo, and do something you love, then it’s all happy days ahead. 🙂 Sure life will still through you some challenges, but that’s what life’s all about, great learning opportunities.

A few years back, during a research phase I was doing for a client of mine, I came across the following 10 Core Principles of The Dream Coach Process which helped me gain allot of perspective on my own desires, and how to design a business that was conducive to the life that I desired.

Summary of the 10 Core Principles The Dream Coach Process…

  1. Set An Intention – Objective: To understand the power and importance of intention and for you to set an intention such as find a new job or career, or get a promotion.
  2. Maintain Integrity – Objective: To learn how to live with integrity by removing incomplete actions and keeping agreements with yourself and others. It is essential that you remove or clear up anything from your past that might be in the way of you having what you want.
  3. Live On Purpose – Objective: To understand the meaning and importance of purpose in order to live more aligned with your purpose. Dreams without purpose, even a job without aligning to your purpose, can be unfulfilling. We can take steps to avoid this.
  4. Access Your Dreamer – Objective: To create a dynamic relationship with the Dreamer inside of you, and a dream you are passionate about. No matter how realistic you may be, there is a part of you that knows what will make you happy and what you want.
  5. Learn From Your Doubter – Objective: To create a powerful and dynamic relationship with the Doubter inside of you, and to learn from the lessons this part of you offers. Left unattended, this is part of us that often sabotages our dreams. This does not need to happen.
  6. Believe In Your Dreams – Objective: To create a belief as a solid foundation for making your dreams come true. If you don’t believe in yourself or your dream, no one else will either. This is a life-changing step.
  7. Failure Can Lead To Success – Objective: To learn to use all of life’s lessons as powerful tools, and to create daily practices to deepen what you learn. In this work, we look at what happened and what you learned and design practices for strengthening your Achilles heel.
  8. Take Serious Steps Forward – Objective: To plan the essential action steps to insure that your dreams come true. In the end, it all comes down to taking action and the practical steps for making your dream real.
  9. Building Your Dream Team – Objective: To be able to ask for help, making your dream more easily attainable. There are resources that you know and do not know who can open doors and make your life easier. Learn essential skills for asking and getting help
  10. Live As A Dreamer – Objective: The objective is simple, to create a dream come true life. Once you are clear about your purpose, dreams and resources, you can look at all areas of your life and decide what you want. This process works on any dream.

As a consequence of this research, I became a certified Dream Coach®, including ICF accreditation, but that was just a fortunate circumstance. These tools, as with anything else of significant value that comes across my radar, have in part been adapted to my own processes which govern both personal & professional life. The pure “Dream Coaching” per-say, I now leave for intimate friends, families or other people who come across my path and inspire me. It’s become yet another hobby, or a way to “give back”.

Now.. looking at the 10 steps, can you see where step #3 “purpose” could be the business term for “mission”? Or how step #4 “dream” could be “vision”?  How about all of the other key steps of intention (goals), integrity, learning, belief, success from failure, serous steps forward & team.. do they all sound familiar?

What could you learn from exploring your passion & turning it into a profession?

My greatest gift & take-away from the 7 day Dream Coach certification course was the thought that “the only thing standing in the way of you realizing any desire (dream) is either a limiting belief or an effective strategy”. And both of these can be quickly overcome by surrounding yourself with the right like-minded individuals. 🙂

Another quote that I love to mimic is “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” by Arnold Toynbee. How’s this coming along for you these days? How much of your life seems to feel like work? How much of the time you’re spending on work, do you feel is contributing to your “living”?

Content Rich & Implementation Poor (part 2)

December 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday I shared my concern over the recent focus & hype on content (tools & frameworks) in sacrifice of implementation & execution. In part 2, I’ll get into some examples of how I’ve gone about in some cases.

When I do finally engage in offering solutions, many times I start with recommending a book or seminar as parallel work before I can actually make serious progress with an individual. And once we do move forward with a collaborative relationship, then a recent first step I’ve introduced is the Extended D.I.S.C. exercise to better understand the person’s natural & non-natural states, as well as their lifetime and “adjusted behavior”. Sometimes before I can effectively share my experience & help someone “take their game to the next level”, they’ve got to do a little homework and therefore I’ve got to ask them to read something like Loving What Is by Byron Katie, The Lost Art of Listening, The Road Less Traveled or Synchronicity.

I’ve also been know to refer people, or their staff to, Landmark Forum, acupuncture or other forms of disruptive intervention that will have them look at their behavior in a different light. And even once they’ve recognized the need for change, that is only the first step. Just like in AA, you have to first admit that you are powerless over the force that is governing your behavior, and then ask for help before you can effectively change. AA & the 12 Steps are only the tools or frameworks, it’s still up to you to reach out and put those tools & frameworks to effective use. Let me share a frightening but awakening statistic with you. Did you know that on average only 10-20% of alcoholics stay in recovery over a lifetime? Why? Because only a few of them are able to consistently make the choice to walk down another street, one without a hole. The hole is symbolic, I believe, for the emptiness within that we try to fill with external stimulus.

What’s the relevance between personal/business coaching & AA? In order for an effective change to happen, one must (1) first recognize the need for change, (2) then have the desire to change for the right reasons, (3) followed by the appropriate & necessary steps for their particular situation, (4) including the appropriate network of support. Once you’ve tasted success, then it about (5) repeating the right new steps until you (6) reach your desire outcome. In short, this is a strategy.. a series of steps to facilitate a predestined/determined outcome.

And here is where I have a challenge with coaches who haven’t had real life experience. The best they can hope for is to be content rich & implementation poor. And when you head down this path, you’ll get exactly what you’ve paid for… 😦

Now, how do I measure impact on a client coaching/mentoring based or strategic consulting situation? Well, first there are the tangible business results or customer testimonials that are frequently available. A more recent example being a key-stakeholders in a client of mine, judged by his CEO at practically a zero, on a scale of 0-10, when I was first engaged. Just a few days ago I heard how he was now at a 7.5 just two days after attending a Landmark Education Forum. The previous 2 or 3 sessions I had with them were limited until I could reach this “breakthrough” point, but now we can make some serious progress, as long as they are willing to put in the hard & smart work.

The key message I’m hoping you’re taken away from this article is that if someone is going through a challenging time, the discipline that may need to be applied might not just be straightforward coaching. Depending on where the subject is “within their journey”, maybe they just need to read a good book, or have a great conversation before they can get to the next stage. Sometimes, unfortunately, they still need to feel a little more pain. In regards to business coaching, question the overload of frameworks & tools, without practical support with implementation. The next time you’re thinking about getting some help with a particular situation, I hope you will think as hard about the relative experience of the individual you’re about to engage, as much as the multitude of tools & frameworks at their disposal.

That’s when you’ll be better prepared to make the best decision possible.. for you, as well as the person you’re about to engage.