Controlling Email Flow Can Transform Your Company

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In most companies, “email” means more than having a messaging app on your computer. Its ubiquitous nature, plus its tendency to be addictive has turned it into a productivity killer most people abhor. Gaining control has become more than a personal choice for individual benefit – it’s a matter of boosting corporate capacity.

Readers of this column may know that controlling one’s environment is a skill that’s essential to high productivity in the digital age. Visual distractions, audible disruptions, and haptic alerts are the modern contrivances of clever designers, intent on pulling your attention away at random times.

Email is no exception. It exerts a unique influence due to its central role as a communication medium used by all companies. It cannot be avoided: all professionals must teach themselves to cope with ever-increasing volumes of email if they hope to grow their business or ascend the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, as I have explained in prior columns, most don’t cope very well at all. Using stale techniques, they struggle, falling short of expectations. The evidence? Inboxes filled with thousands of unprocessed messages.

A few try to keep up by remaining hyper-alert to every notification, checking for new messages over 100 times per day. It’s called a FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. By contrast, the best alternative is to shift to batch processing: going through all your messages a few times per day, emptying the Inbox each time. Here are three steps that may help you implement these two difficult changes.

Step 1 – Learn how to control your personal flow of messages
One way to gain control is to avoid checking your email outside pre-scheduled times. To stay focused, turn off all email-related notifications so that you aren’t tempted to break the practice.

To help accomplish this discipline, use software to pause email downloads between visits. In Outlook, this trick is achieved by hitting Ctrl+Alt+S. Up pops a screen with each account displayed. Select the one(s) you use, and un-tick the setting for “Schedule an automatic send /receive every [ ] minutes.” Now, when you revisit your Inbox to process messages, hit the Send/Receive button and all your unread email will be downloaded in a single batch.

If you are a Gmail user an add-on such as “Inbox Pause” can be used to the same end. In either case, you may discover a new ability to focus on the task at hand. How can you maintain it?

Step 2 – Start to Manage Your Mind
Many of my productivity trainees argue that their notifications cannot possibly be turned off. Repeating the same arguments, they announce the need to be available to respond to a possible “emergency.” As proof, they cite stories of instances when they picked up an important, urgent message and avoided a disaster. It’s all the proof that’s needed, in their eyes.

Unfortunately, they are committing a cognitive error called the “Availability Heuristic.” It implies that an action which works once shouldn’t necessarily become a regular habit. According to several studies, being hyper-responsive to electronic notifications carries a tremendous cost.

Once you decide to turn off notifications in order to focus, you must learn to manage your mind by not falling prey to a FOMO. If your anxiety won’t go away, I recommend techniques such as meditation or Byron Katies’ “4-Question + a Turnaround” technique.

However, in the typical company, these personal changes are not enough: you must involve other people.

Step 3 – Launch a Movement
By far the biggest obstacle to overcoming this problem is one that’s social. In a prior article I showed that it’s maddeningly easy to destroy the productivity of others: just insist that people respond immediately to urgent email. This ties up untold amounts of attention as people check their Inboxes over and over again, just in case something important happens to have just arrived. This wasteful habit is made worse by the fact that some 10-15% of messages get lost in cyberspace.

The problem that gets created affects people at all levels, so your movement must include them. Don’t waste time looking for a single person – no individual ever owns this issue. Instead, become the educator-in-chief even as you look for people who are already implementing the right solution: insisting that other channels be used for urgent communication instead of email. Encourage them to make the switch, even as they gain control over their Inbox.

Even though this may make sense, be aware that things won’t change overnight. Although the problem is widespread, your real enemy is not people, but their ignorance. As such, be prepared to act as a lonely voice of reason until you can build a critical mass. Only then can you join others who have also produced this transformation which, in the end, benefits everyone.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161218/francis-wade-controlling-email-flow-can-transform-your-company

How to Avoid Costly Responses to RFP’s

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A juicy Request for Proposal (RFP) could be a dream or nightmare. As a business-owner, how can you tip the scales in your favour so that you end up winning a higher percentage of better opportunities?

It comes as a pleasant surprise. A casual scan of the Gleaner reveals an RFP that fits your company’s work. From all appearances, it’s an easy shortcut: a lead which has fallen into your lap without any marketing effort.

Unfortunately, “easy” is a misnomer. By definition, each RFP wastes the time, money and resources of losing respondents, who are in the majority. In the worst cases, they fail to be awarded so no-one benefits. How can you protect your firm from costly distractions? Here are three suggestions.

1. Adapt Your Approach to Your Offering
There’s a big difference between responses to the following kinds of RFP’s:
(a) a delivery of five computers.
(b) the installation of a new plumbing system.
(c) teaching a farm how to use different kinds of soil to grow better crops.
(d) helping a business overcome the sudden loss of its founder.

RFP’s are ideal for commodities like example (a) which involve a tangible object delivered via a single transaction. Usually, price is the main criterion. In the case of its extreme opposite (d), that factor is modified by the length of the engagement. In this case, a mutual relationship of trust with the client organization is critical.

Understanding these differences is the first step.

2. Read an RFP Critically
If your product or service offering has a high relationship component (c) and (d) you must be wary about RFP’s which are poorly written. They are the ones which treat all products or services as if they were just like a commodity (a).

Also, keep an eye out for the RFP which makes no attempt to stimulate your interest. The most basic ones are little more than cut-and-paste jobs from prior projects, intended for desperate vendors with a lot of time on their hands. They are the ones happy to gamble on an RFP, even though they know the odds of winning are low. They ask nothing of the prospect, even when obvious facts are missing.

Take note of these discrepancies. The client’s lack of foresight is your opportunity to shine. For example, the company may not appreciate the trust and partnership required the make the project a success.

3. Act in an Extraordinary Way
Most vendors squander opportunities to forge a relationship with the company issuing the RFP. Don’t be like them: take the initiative to create a relationship as early as possible, much as you would a “normal” prospect.

There are many approaches to take, even when the RFP limits them.

One ethical alternative is to ask the kind of questions that make it obvious your firm has specific insights which are critical to the success of the project. This not only builds credibility, it also allows you to subtly shift the decision criteria. Better yet, conduct such a Q&A session in person. Try to include decision-makers who you need to work with closely if your project is to succeed.

Regardless of what’s written on paper, or espoused, you should understand that no-one wants to work with people they don’t like and trust. Your use of smart, caring questions can enhance both.

Of course, this strategy works if you actually do possess adequate expertise. That’s why I recommend that you avoid RFP’s where you can’t demonstrate a significant difference in capability.

The fact is, your knowledge and experience usually far surpass that of your prospective clients. Their self-diagnosis is often piece-meal, while the decision-making process they intend to follow is likely to be crammed with more legalese than anything useful.

Given your experience, once you have made your best attempts to follow the above steps, don’t rush to write the proposal. Sit back and ask yourself whether or not the project is adequately defined, and if you have significantly improved the odds of winning. If you can create a checklist to help you think through the pros and cons, that would help.

As you may imagine, the greatest risks arise from unwritten, word-of-mouth RFPs. When responding, be prepared for random, unpredictable behaviour – the client may be protecting a pre-selected vendor. To prevent this problem, ask if there are additional bidders who have already been invited. For this and other reasons, it might be wise to cut your losses and walk away from unresponsive, inept, un-clientable companies.

If you proceed to respond, fill your proposal with unique insight and details that make you professionally proud. By eliminating the faults, you have made your best effort to make your involvement in the project a success.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161204/francis-wade-avoiding-costly-responses-rfps

For what job would you hire a patty?

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2016-11-20-17-06-25Most corporate executives and entrepreneurs would agree that true innovation is hard to come by. It’s easier to copy what someone else is doing. In this article, I share an approach that opens the door to innovative product thinking – it starts with an unusual question which I have applied to the simple Jamaican Beef Patty.

The question of patties doing jobs may be a bit strange, but it’s an important one that Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, would ask the owners of Tastee or Juicy Patties. He wouldn’t be facetious. It’s a step he takes to spur his clients to innovative product thinking, a topic he’s spent the better part of three decades researching.

I have no idea how these owners would respond, but here are the three jobs I hire my patty to perform for me.

Job 1 – To Satisfy My Hunger
A patty provides me with a quick feeling of satisfaction. While it’s not my first choice of a meal due to its high calorie and fat content, when my time is short it’s the default.

So I haven’t been happy to see patties get smaller, thinner and emptier over the years.

If this job I want my patty to perform is typical, then owners should be asking: “How can we alleviate immediate hunger?”

I’m no expert in physiology, but a simple cup of water for customers, while they wait in line, could help. So would a single complimentary piece of hard-do bread.

Job 2 – To Provide Fast Relief
A “long line for patties” is an oxymoron. The pastry is meant to be purchased and eaten quickly, which is why we enter a shop to “pick up” one that’s fresh from the oven.

When a company doesn’t manage the expectation of a speedy purchase it violates the job I want to get done: to minimize the gap between decision and consumption. Unfortunately, the staff in most shops appear to be blissfully unaware of this fact. They drift around like the worst civil servants, in a seeming stupor. They affect that “I hate my boring job” facial expression which indicates that they wish they were doing something else with their lives.

Perhaps you have also abandoned a patty shop because the line was too long or moving too slowly. In these cases, we would rather go hungry than be late for an appointment. This act of seeking an alternative is what Christensen would call “firing a patty” because it’s not doing its job.

Job 3 – To Be A Portable Solution
Unlike other meals, a patty is often meant to be consumed on the go. It’s perfect for those awkward moments when you are caught between places: stuck in traffic, walking between meetings, heading out the door. While other meals require you to sit down, concentrate and use two hands, a patty doesn’t get in the way of your physical motion or activity. It doesn’t even need utensils.

However, its crumbs (which make it so tasty) are a problem. When they show up around your mouth, or on your clothes, you hate it. Ask for an extra napkin beforehand and you might be lucky to get exactly one more.

Is the standard brown paper bag the ideal receptacle? It meets some needs (disposable, inexpensive, environmentally friendly) but not others (it hardly stops the crumbs from falling out.) In this case, I am short of answers but the company which can find a way to improve portability could be at an advantage.

As you may tell, my three responses are just the beginning. Once you start asking the “Jobs to Be Done” questions you can generate powerful new insights, especially if you recognize that customers have a blend of two kinds of expectations.

The first kind is functional, where your product or service meets certain tangible requirements. Job 2 (i.e. a speedy transaction) is a good example – it’s easy to measure and is easily extended to other factors such as “available parking.”

The second expectation customers have is one that’s purely emotional, related to their feelings. For example, some use it as comfort food because it reminds them of their childhood. Patties happen to remind me of my father, who asked for them almost every Saturday.

Unfortunately, many companies don’t dig deep enough, leading them to miss big opportunities to help customers get jobs done. When customers turn around and fire their products, they shrug off the episode, failing to seek fundamental improvements.

For example, few firms make sustained, disciplined efforts to make their products better and cheaper. However, such efforts would fit a job every single customer is trying to get done: to improve the value/price equation. The framework offers an approach that helps companies meet their customers’ needs in unique ways.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161120/francis-wade-would-you-hire-patty-tasty-take-innovation

How to Give Videogame-Quality Feedback

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3016-10-23There’s a good reason millennials spend so much time playing computer games. These programs are designed to deliver fast, consistent, and objective feedback after every action a player takes, helping them to make rapid improvements. When they also offer carefully crafted levels of achievement, it’s hard not to become addicted. Given their success, what you can you as a manager learn from them in engaging your staff?

In my last column (October 9th, 2016), we saw that companies crowd out employees’ intrinsic motivation when they rely on carrots and sticks. While managers think that these contrivances work, they are weak and unsustainable in the long term. The truth is, most companies don’t want fickle employees who must be “incentivized” at every turn. Instead, they want self-starters. Unfortunately, most do little to encourage them along this path.

My Story

As a young AT&T consultant I found myself with a new boss after a reorganization. Tanya was a smart, likable professional who I had admired from afar. However, she didn’t know that I had quietly made a big decision.

A few months prior, my colleagues and I learned that the difference in raises between the best and worst performers worked out to
less than a dollar per day.

We were stunned. Until then, performance review was held as an important indicator of success. Individual efforts to improve one’s rankings involved acting to be noticed by the “right” people. Now, the gig was up. As I explained to Tanya in our first meeting, I no longer cared about the results of the rating process. I would only focus on doing a great job that met the needs of my clients.

She nodded politely, but when we met a few months later I had to remind her of my decision. As we sat down in a New Jersey cafeteria for my annual performance review she appeared nervous. To put her at ease, I brought up our prior conversation.

“Remember, it doesn’t matter to me. There’s no monetary reason to care and only a few of your peers who judge performance know what I do. So, if you can offer me your advice on how to do a better job, that would be the part I really care about.”

The silence between us was deafening. She was shocked. Caught off-guard, she offered little more than some vague advice. The conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

Now, looking back, that moment was pivotal. It was my first opportunity to become a full “self-starter.” I felt the kind of inner motivation companies like to see.

However, I also placed myself well outside Tanya’s control. As a manager, how do influence employees when they aren’t afraid? Is there something you can borrow from videogame design principles?

1. Provide obvious feedback.
Videogames are designed to give players crystal-clear, unambiguous  feedback on their actions. It’s the only way to induce players to change their behavior and observe the result. By contrast, most corporate feedback is vague and based on flaky opinions. They have more akin to politics than reality. As a result, employees who are self-motivated  learn how to separate signal from noise, fact from fiction,  like I did.

As a manager, the onus is on you to create feedback mechanisms which are impartial. Also, you need to craft measurements which help an employee see and learn to manage the drivers of top performance. Most employees crave this information and without it, they get bored or disillusioned. Work hard to meet the new, highly engaging standard.

2. Set up frequent feedback.
Reluctantly giving employees an annual review just won’t cut it. The recency effect – the tendency for a review to focus on the last few months of the year – undermines the effort. It’s far better to set up regular, frequent reviews so that not a single employee is left wondering how they are doing. Leaving an employee guessing is a sure sign of trouble.

Remember, videogames provide feedback every few seconds. That’s what you are competing against.

3. Make the feedback timely.
Studies show that the best time to give feedback is near to the moments of success or failure. If you pay close attention, you will be able to detect these moments and set up occasions to provide feedback. The quicker, the better.

I imagine that these principles are not new to you. However, today you must appreciate that your staff craves the high quality feedback it gets from Pokemon Go, Angry Birds and other games. When it’s not provided, they probably suffer without complaint, simply waiting for the weekend. That’s when they can become engaged.

Don’t allow this to happen. Your company expects you to bring out the best of your employees during the 9-5 weekday. Not after. Overhaul your feedback methods and get them in line with today’s high standards.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161023/francis-wade-how-give-video-game-quality-feedback

Special Report – The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad

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Ja prof in Tdad projectWhat are the challenges faced by the Jamaican professional who moves to work in Trinidad?

While there are lot of rumours and stories, my personal experience made me wonder if I was alone in my observations, or whether others were also having the same experience.

After a conversation with Dale, my colleague (and wife) we decided to mirror a prior effort completed in 2006.

trini exec 1The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica was a unique study intended to capture the experience of c-level managers who had transferred to work in Jamaica. It’s available as a free download here.

The Jamaican Executive in Trinidad is not a perfect mirror image, but together, you may find that they provide a unique, fascinating look at what it’s like for professionals from one culture to work in another, and vice versa.

To download a copy of the report, just provide us with your name and email address below.

How to Stop Demotivating the Highly Motivated Person

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2106-10-09Why is it that so many employees reach their one-year anniversary on the job, only to be less motivated than when they joined? Does it represent an inevitable decay, a psychological disaster that cannot be overcome? Or is it a result of outdated mental models?

An old man in rural Jamaica lived in a house with a zinc roof. One day, schoolchildren passing by on foot decided to stone his roof, delighted at the loud sound it made. He ran out, alarmed, and chased them away angrily. The following day, they returned with a few more friends and repeated the act. Once again, he ran them off. On the next day, just before they could escape, he approached them calmly. This time, he offered them $100 each to come back the next day and do it again. They looked at each other, agreed that he must be crazy, and arrived the next day to comply.

As promised, he paid them off, and asked them to return the next day for $50. They did, and he repeated the offer, this time promising $25. As they receied their third installment, he apologized profusely. Money was running out. Now, he could only promise to pay a mere $1 the next day, and even less in the future. “No way! Who do you think we are?” they shouted and never returned.

As you consider this tale you may wonder: “As a manager, how do I escape this trap?” Perhaps you have given up trying to motivate employees ranging all the way from your household gardener to a fellow company executive. “It’s all a matter of luck” you argue.

Fortunately, recent research explains why a different mental model for motivation might help.

1. Understand Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
At first, the schoolchildren from our story were internally motivated, enjoying the sound their stones made. His initial, angry reaction was a surprise bonus.

Intrinsic motivation requires no-one else. It enables you to take continuous action because you control your experience. The interplay between your influence and positive feelings keeps you going, even when you aren’t winning or making progress.

Ask world class performers. They openly talk about the benefit of falling in love with the practice of their avocation. While “love” isn’t an absolute requirement, the fact is that those who reach top levels spend relatively little time in competition or performance. Learning to enjoy the long, tedious process of preparation is a huge plus.

Extrinsic motivation is quite different. It’s an invented reward administered by third parties who set up a connection between your cause and their effect. Like the old man in our story, they craft and offers a new, extrinsic reason to act.

2. How Extrinsic can Destroy Intrinsic Motivation
By offering the kids a cash incentive, the old man helped them forget the pure joy of stoning his roof. In his wisdom, he made a gamble: schoolchildren often lack the self-awareness required to survive such a distracting intervention.

The moral of the story is that someone else can destroy your intrinsic motivation. Even accidentally.

If this sounds like a cautionary tale for you and your employees, it should. Managers at all levels complain to me that newly hired staff members are full of ideas, energy, and willingness. After a short while, it all starts to fade and they begin to put in just enough effort to avoid being fired. Eventually, they sound like everyone else, complaining about a paycheck they were once overjoyed to receive. Their corporate prospects degrade as their career becomes “Just a job.” Whatever intrinsic motivation they can muster is redirected to weekends, parties, hobbies and families.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in West Indies cricket. From all appearances, when the team topped the world, it was staffed by players who were paid little and gave much. Now, players are paid far more, while in return they seem to give as little as possible. Painful, heartbreaking performance is only punctuated by the occasional miracle.

3. Conscientious Rewards
Each company is different, but most treat employees like kids, ignoring the internal battle between the two kinds of motivation.

The solution isn’t to “treat them like adults” in a cursory manner. Instead, your company could help employees deepen their self-awareness of what motivates them and why. They can also learn how to disentangle their thinking so that dis-empowering, tempting but extrinsic thoughts don’t end up in disaster.

The old man won the battle because he was wise. However, this wisdom is not limited to the story’s trickery. It can also be used to make people strong so they gain more of what they want in life. For most, this happens to include a healthy bottom line. As a manager, you may need to update your mental models to discover why intrinsic motivation has been lost and how it can be restored.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20160924/frances-wade-why-strategic-thinkers-leave-leaders-stranded

 

Why strategic thinkers leave leaders stranded

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In today’s turbulent financial and economic environment, there’s no doubt that companies need strategic thinkers at all levels. However, most do little to develop employees who have this skill, leaving it to chance. What should your firm do differently to prepare itself to face real challenges that possibly threaten its very existence?

Most Jamaican companies are led by strong personalities who are, on average, quicker in mind and speech than their colleagues. The corporate model is summarized as “follow the gifted leader.”

This tactic works… for a while.

Perhaps, unlike others, your company is interested in sustainable growth, handing over a healthy, thriving concern to the next generation. If so, it’s likely to be led by a young employee who shows the right potential for strategic thinking.

Unfortunately, your company may not realize such skills are missing until it’s too late. By the time the recession hits, competitors enter or new technology disrupts, the game is over. In preceding years, you failed to take the small steps needed to develop talent in strategic thinking.

I find it challenging to convince leaders a gap is developing. They can’t empathize, because they came to prominence at a time when they stood out by leading from the front in a decisive manner.

In fact, they make things worse. Now, by hogging all the attention, they crowd out others who show potential. Consequently, some leave, others adapt, but the result is the same. When no-one is left to challenge your strategic thinking, all you have left is one opportunity after another to prove that you are “right.” Every. Single. Time.

When you win each argument and outsmart others in each power struggle, you suppress talents you don’t have, or even recognize. You emerge as the champion strategist, but the organization loses.

I have met only a few local executives who actively restrain their tendencies to be the “Alpha Dog.” They are sensitive to the excesses of the power they yield, admitting that personal “winning” can lead to corporate losing. Instead, they focus their efforts on uncovering talent at all levels, nurturing it along. According to a strategy+business journal entitled “10 Principles of Strategic Leadership,” here are the clues they look for to discover the next generation of strategic leaders.

– These leaders tend to be rare and also female. Ten percent of employees with these skills are women, while only seven percent are men.
– They tend to be easier to spot when they are older than 45.
– They have developed the skill of challenging without being bitter or cynical.
– They can see the small and big picture at the same time, showing a willingness to change course whenever needed.

Unfortunately, these strategic leaders often create trouble for managers who are threatened by their skills. But don’t trust my experience. Gather a number of high potentials of all ages from across your company and ask them: “Are you encouraged to demonstrate strategic leadership skills?”

Once you have them talking openly, go several steps further. The article recommends the following.

1. Conduct “Failure Fests”

These are cross-organizational meetings to discuss decisions that led to poor outcomes. Usually, these episodes are never talked about openly, assuring their repetition.

Addressing these questions makes it much easier to pool theories into a coherent consensus. This inoculates employees from simply repeating the same errors.

Honda and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation both use this approach to great effect.

2. Create Projects with Other Strategic Leaders

Pick out regular opportunities for these high potentials to support each other. If they are given the opportunity to meet and work with their peers to solve problems, you can benefit from their combined energy.

While this activity flies in the face of the military style of leadership – the norm in most organizations – it’s a great way to weed out poor ideas and strengthen the good ones.

3. Give Them Experiences

Most of the skills potential strategic leaders need are learned from actual projects, not in theory. Continuously expose individuals to opportunities which stretch their capabilities, helping them to build mental links between different parts of the organization.

The combination of these three approaches gives new strategic leaders the right blend of challenge and opportunity. It’s a big mistake to think that all you need to do is keep them happy until their moment for promotion arrives. That’s old thinking which may have worked for you, but it certainly won’t work for them.

Instead, assign challenging assignments from the onset which gives them a chance to test their skills in the real world. If this steps on a few toes and disrupts the old paradigm of promotion-by-loyalty so be it. The company will still benefit. Just be ready to step aside at the right time so that you don’t become an obstacle to your company’s future.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20160924/frances-wade-why-strategic-thinkers-leave-leaders-stranded

Why Micro-Management is a Bitter Medicine That’s Sometimes Needed

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2016-09-11What can you, as a manager, do to rehabilitate the performance of a direct report when all else has failed? Do you issue a written warning to scare up some motivation, or is there a more reliable path to restore results?

It’s a familiar scenario – a person who used to perform well has been faltering for several months. As their manager, you have given all the advice you can but nothing has changed. Now, a trend of poor results is infecting the organisation and you must act decisively. What should you do to turn things around?

One technique I have picked up from others is “Controlled Management.” It’s not an everyday mode. But it’s one which becomes necessary when a slump must be reversed. See it as a last gasp effort to reinstate an employee to a former level of acceptable performance, by following these steps.

Step 1 – Advise the Employee He’s Now in Rehab

Let the employee know that he is entering a special period of Controlled Management intended to restore his performance. As you share the steps, let him know that none of it is personal, even if he doesn’t believe it at first. His feelings of failure or guilt may be very real to him, but explain that this period is not in response to his personality – it’s intended to quickly reestablish a result the organization needs to function.

Also, let him know that it’s not permanent. While it will call for a change in behavior, it’s a unique opportunity for him to focus on his weaknesses and re-tool. Then, explain the following steps which usually take one to three months each.

Step 2 – Close-Monitor His Role

The underlying fact is, you have lost faith in his ability to turn things around alone. It requires a significant investment of time and energy on your part. Now, you need to transform his daily activity, using two heads to plan rather than one.

After you have clarified and separated the area of weakness, develop a new reporting mechanism. He reports to you twice per day. In each morning report (better done via a conversation at first) he outlines his plans for the day. By contrast, the closing report is the last thing he does before leaving the office, describing his results.

As you have these conversations, there’s usually not much coaching required. Instead, allow the added intensity to do the work. If he’s interested in doing a good job, you should see an immediate shift, but that’s not to say you should sit back and just listen. Be like a rudder that gently steers his performance back in the right direction. However, when a huge error emerges, jump in wholeheartedly… but don’t be overbearing.

After all, he used to be effective. You are trying to nudge him back to adequate performance, not demotivate him. Also, you are looking to restore your own confidence in his ability to produce results, one day at a time.

At the end of the period, evaluate the results and see if your intervention has been effective. If it hasn’t, take a more drastic step.

Step 3 –  Implement Temporary Control

Now, for a set period of time, you need to step in and take over the critical functions he has failed to perform. For example, if the poor performance surrounds the management of a project, become the project manager. If it’s focused on sales, become the sales manager.

Your job is to bring your expertise and authority to produce results, even if you are a relative novice in the area. Don’t shirk the role – you must do what is necessary to become effective in a short space of time. And don’t complain: this is why you are a manager.

If it helps you to pretend that he has just resigned, you may do so, just in order to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Truth be told, in terms of producing select results, he has already “walked off the job” even if he is putting in 20 hour days.

For his part, the low performing manager should keep control of all other non-failing functions. But in the area of weakness, he has now become your apprentice. Let him observe your actions to turn things around. Understand that his biggest Ah-Ha’s won’t come from what you say, but from what he sees you do. As he learns, return his former functions one small step at a time.

To be realistic, these three steps are not guaranteed to work. Sometimes the circumstances are beyond the capabilities of even the most effective manager. Then, you must seek alternate solutions using different talent, or by restructuring the job.

The approach outlined above represents a cold, hard requirement of being a manager. Restoring performance in tough situations involves difficult interactions. The way you execute them makes all the difference in producing the positive results everyone wants.

The original article was published on the Gleaner’s website, here.

How Efforts to Make Employees Happy Kill Productivity

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2016-08-28Recent research shows that there’s a big difference between (H)appiness and (h)appiness. If, as a manager, you know how to separate the two you can avoid the mistake of demotivating your employees.

(H)apiness is defined as employee satisfaction, the kind of overarching experience someone reports after a look back at the past year on the job. It’s all about selected, recaptured memories.

It’s quite different from (h)appiness, the immediate, moment-by-moment experience which flows from one minute to the next. This experience is, for the first time, being uncovered by social scientists who are pinging employees via smartphones and laptops. They are discovering some surprising results.

One is that lots of (h)appy moments are not necessarily correlated with (H)appiness. It explains why executives are confused when their (H)appiness survey scores go up and down without apparent rhyme or reason.

Yet, even if they don’t know what to do, most leaders still believe that increasing happy feelings at both levels is a good thing for the individual and the bottom-line.

Recent research from Microsoft Corporation challenges this notion. The study shows that if, as a manager, you try to increase (h)appiness you can make things worse for yourself, your employee and the company. Here’s why.

1. People admit they are (h)appiest doing rote work.
Rote work is defined as “mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition.” It’s necessary stuff, but produces little value, requiring almost no creativity.

Most positions in the real world include some rote work. Recently, I spent several hours manually cleaning up an Excel database. As boring as the chore was, it could not be delegated. In spite of my lack of enthusiasm and the absence of any fun or creative element, I had to pay full attention in order to avoid making a mistake.

When asked, employees report that they are (h)appiest doing this kind of work, even though the company derives a minimal benefit. If, as a manager, you focus on trying to increase this feeling, prepare yourself for behaviors that lead to low productivity.

2. The best work is sometimes stressful.
The fact is, you want more than (h)appiness. Instead, you want employees to show up at the office ready to do their best work. In prior columns, I shared the notion that this work occurs during the flow state: the times when an employee becomes deeply engrossed in a challenging task which requires their best skills. The result is high performance.

The Microsoft researchers argue that we are wrong to believe that the flow state requires (h)appiness. In fact, when people are in this particular zone they may experience high stress. Just imagine a child who puts forth his/her best during a GSAT exam. As a parent, you would be quite worried if he/she were to walk out and report a (h)appy experience. It doesn’t happen. Yet, it’s often a moment of life-changing, peak performance. Consider it to be the same one you, as a manager, are being asked to create.

3. Cure the problem of boredom with stress.
It gets worse. When you focus on (h)appiness you disengage your staff.

A recent Gallup study shows that 55% of Millennials are “not engaged at work” with another 16% being “actively disengaged.” Compared to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, they are the least engaged.

It’s no surprise. After all, they grew up surrounded by deeply absorbing technologies. Apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are specifically engineered to command their attention and keep it for hours.

College, with its extreme demands, also occupies them fully. However, when Millennials graduate into the working world they are shocked… the office is full of demotivated zombies. Often, managers show up as  tyrants who demand that people “Do it my way or else”. This toxic brew, so adverse to the engaging world they have taken for granted, deadens their souls.

The answer is certainly not to add in a dose of attempted (h)appiness.

Instead, as a manager, look to borrow the emerging principles that app and game designers are using to make software engaging. The core “gamified” actions they apply are:
1. Craft objective goals
2. Set unambiguous scores
3. Create feedback mechanisms
4. Give employees the autonomy to make certain choices
5. Offer coaching

Work hard to fix any weak spots as you look to craft an environment that’s as engaging as a smartphone app or game. Keep in mind that human beings naturally love to learn and enjoy being intrinsically motivated.

So, your job is not to make employees artificially (h)appy. Instead, add in the kind of stress that challenges them to be engaged. They can handle it. It’s more likely to produce the (H)appy results everyone wants.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

How High Performers Convert Single Behaviours into Habits

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(This week I have included the audio version of the article. Use the graphic above to listen in.)

2016-08-15There’s no way to achieve long-term professional success without learning how to convert critical behaviours into habits. It’s a skill that’s not taught in the workplace, even though it’s key to accomplishing all worthwhile goals. How can you develop this ability?

Let’s start with a definition. A habit is an action that is initiated without conscious effort or motivation. If you have ever found yourself turning your steering wheel for home only to realize that you are supposed to be going in the opposite direction, you may understand their power. They require little energy to get started, making them a powerful ally. Of course, some can also become life-threatening enemies, causing us to focus on them exclusively.

That’s a common mistake.

For example, in my training I make a big deal about the negative influence of smartphones and their pervasive ability to turn people into dangerous users. For many, the act of purchasing a mobile phone is a precursor to, and predictor of, practices such as texting while driving.

However, there is a flip-side. Anyone can harness smartphone power to develop beneficial habits. Unfortunately, according to a recent University of London study, mobile apps and PC programs which are supposed to help us consciously build new habits fail to do so. They ignore existing research, rendering them impotent. Their failure is instructive: here’s what we can learn in our attempts to develop positive new habits.

1. Repetition Isn’t Enough
Habits aren’t formed just because we engage in the same practice over and over again. While repetition is important, habits also need cues and triggers that initiate a specific behaviour.

Cues and triggers are defined as specific events which lead to the habit being executed. For example, your decision to retire for the evening sets in play a number of sequential behaviours that occur even when you are tired and can’t think clearly.

Furthermore, when developing long-term habits, it’s much better to link themn to events rather than the clock. This feature is one your doctor exploits by assigning your medication for mealtimes rather than clock-times. Therefore, to keep a habit in place, you need to be a good builder of these events.

2. Cues and Triggers Sometimes Don’t Work
There are times, however, when events aren’t enough. When you are learning a brand new habit, you may not know which events to use. In these cases, using a planned reminder such as a smartphone alarm can be effective in, for example, learning to take a 10:00 AM morning break. But, there is one catch.

While this tool is effective in the beginning, it’s a short-term crutch. In the long-term it presents a danger. According to the research, over-reliance on timed reminders can interfere with permanent habit formation. They are helpful, but become harmful later on.

Fortunately, there’s a more effective technique to use. Instead, turn on a reminder to help you notice which event occurs at the same time. For example, when the mid-morning alarm goes off, you may notice that the break coincides with a hunger or thirst pang.

After a while, you could wean yourself off the alarm, paying attention to the pang: your new trigger.

3. The Use of Rewards
The final piece of the puzzle is the role of positive reinforcement. Someone who wants to build new habits needs to become a smart cheerleader, rewarding him/herself appropriately. However, herein lies yet another catch.

In general, intrinsic rewards (such as a sense of personal satisfaction) are far better than extrinsic rewards such as a financial incentive granted by your manager. The question is, how do you tap into intrinsic rewards on a regular basis, given their intangible, ephemeral nature?

One key is to treat external rewards as dangerous distractions that may take your attention away from the joy inherent in the task. The other is to allow time for reflection (e.g. by journaling) so that you can stay present to positive inner experiences.

These insights imply that managers need to be cautious in their application of rewards. When tempted and distracted by external “Big-Ups”, many employees are prone to lose track of intrinsic motivation entirely. This is a recipe for trouble, putting all their satisfaction in one basket: their company’s.

It’s far better to train employees to be self-reliant on their own habits. Unfortunately, most companies don’t deliberately teach this skill and waste time in crafting manipulations. In the long-term, they never work as well as positive habits which are intrinsically motivating, especially when they happen to drive value to the bottom line.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.