How to Optimize Your Strategic Planning Retreat To Prevent Failure

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I was recently called by a company interested in having 60 attendees at their one-day strategic planning event. As they described the desired outcome I decided to give them the bad news up front: they had unwittingly put their goal in jeopardy.

In short, the design of their workshop was in opposition to their intent to produce a quality plan. Too many participants and too little time would guarantee it. In addition, they were increasing the odds of people walking away feeling as if the activity were a waste of their efforts and the company’s money.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that fixes itself during the retreat. In fact, it’s possible to complete the event without hearing a single complaint.

How could this happen? In the Caribbean, we are polite, unlikely to create waves in the middle of a workshop unless things are going very badly. Compared to other work cultures, we give blighs instead of feedback. The empty-handed reality would only creep in later when everything has quieted down.

Unfortunately, based on the retreat’s “success”, the following year would be likely to see a repeat. Often, it’s easier to go with the flow than to make a fuss, allowing the company to slip into a strategic planning rut from which it cannot escape.

If you are the retreat sponsor, here are a few interventions you can launch to bring new life to your strategic planning meeting.

 

  1. Define What a Successful Retreat Looks Like

The main purpose of this kind of workshop is to make unprecedented decisions. It’s not business-as-usual. This event should be difference-making, not status-quo-reinforcing.

Some mistakenly define the gathering as an opportunity for a team to rubber-stamp the thoughts of a CEO, chairman or outside consultant. If that’s all your company wants to do, save your time and money and have a conference call or pass around a document.

Instead, you should be trying to make the most of everyone’s time, allowing participants to bring their best thinking to the occasion. In this unique space, the range of possibilities becomes dramatically expanded. A new vision for the company may be forged at will.

In a similar vein, you can catalyse complex decisions involving multiple tradeoffs. In the right context, each stakeholder shares his/her expertise, contributing a unique perspective. Together, they shape the firm’s journey from the present to the future, in an effort which requires everyone to be at their best throughout the entire exercise.

Imagine the creation of a fresh strategy which rescues the company from ruin, saving jobs. Or, endorses a new product that becomes a best-seller. Or, carves out a path for decades to come that preserves the organization for future shareholders. These are the kinds of results which make a strategic planning exercise a special opportunity.

  1. Encourage a Balance of Inquiry and Advocacy

 

In a retreat, there is a natural flow between generating more input (“diverging”) and driving towards a conclusion (“converging.”) This movement from one extreme to the other is unlikely to take place by itself, hence the need for someone to play the role of facilitator.

It does not have to be someone from the outside. But an internal employee cannot execute the position without deliberately setting aside their substantive role while they are leading the discussion.

If they do a good job, preserving the balance between inquiry and advocacy, the entire activity comes alive as the tempo shifts from one energy to the other in a structured way. Attendees feel as if they are being heard and no-one departs with an unexpressed thought. The empty space this creates is satisfying, even if it is intensely exhausting.

  1. Control the Number of People

Given the objectives and the flow which must be achieved, there are some limits to the total attendees in a typical two-day activity. (One day is too short to get past polite banter.)

We recommend that between 10-18 people attend. Smaller numbers are dangerous because a single, strong-willed individual can dominate other participants. By contrast, in larger groups, introverts and lower -level attendees get lost, their voices never heard.

However, there are times when a client insists on involving all 60. If you cannot veto the idea, there is a bypass. Simply recognize that the workshop is actually comprised of two distinct exercises: the “real” retreat in which decisions are made plus an additional activity which is intended to achieve other goals.

Act to ensure that the “real” exercise is conducted with high fidelity, using my recommendations. Then, handle the second activity as the engagement boost, fact-finding mission, rubber stamp or feel-good event it honestly is.

In this way, you can avoid the distractions and pitfalls which doom these interventions, and optimize the time spent. As a result, your strategic plan will meet the true needs of your company.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Why Leaders Need to Embrace Their Role As Best Performers

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Do your company’s top leaders need to be just like everyone else? Or should they publicly strive to achieve the highest levels of performance? Does it make a difference?

I recently advised a client: “Why don’t you try to run your meetings more efficiently?”

The manager viewed me suspiciously, then laughed. “How effective do you think Bob’s are?” (His CEO was infamous for poorly managed meetings.)
He continued: “And you want mine to be better than his?”

In three decades of work with executives, I have noticed leaders being ambivalent about their place at the center of attention.

Some are narcissistic, and revel in the limelight. Competitive extroverts, they prefer to be included in everything. To make sure they remain the primary focus of others, they push themselves into every available leadership position.

Others are reluctant. They are shy, avoid attention and fear the repercussions of a long fall from the top. They insist on equal treatment to other people and resist perks and benefits usually associated with their position of authority.
Neither of these extremes provides people with the one thing they crave: an obvious example of how they should act.

It’s a shame because our local employees routinely grant executives extra-special powers. Compared with their counterparts in Trinidad and the US, books like Why Workers Won’t Work make the difference clear. Jamaican employees greatly prefer the clarity of strong authority. In their minds, the big man (or woman) plays a role which cannot be abdicated, even if he is a next-door neighbour and also sits beside them in church.

Unfortunately, most leaders squander this unique opportunity. If you happen to be a manager, here are three ways to make the most of your leadership role. Each of them happens to bring out the best in you, your colleagues and your company.

1. Having The Clearest Vision
Many executives are weak at the skill of defining an inspiring future for others to step into. Even though they came of age at a time when Michael Manley provided a powerful example of how to do so, they mistakenly assume that it’s a capacity someone must be born with.

As a result, a local company which lacks a visionary at the top tends to drift into a vacuum: no-one else steps up to provide the necessary direction.

In part, it’s due to a lack of awareness. The truth is that visionary skills can be learned from companies like Landmark Education and others. In their workshops, leaders learn to be open, sharing their grandest aspirations for all concerned, while staying grounded in their daily experience.

2. Being The Most Productive
Many top leaders believe they have earned the privilege of operating beyond the level of the average employee. They don’t need to be punctual or reply to email. They are allowed to indulge in the worst multi-tasking behaviors. When their position dissuades challenges, they persist.
They fail to realise that they are, at all times, setting an example which others not only remember but repeat as gossip.
In this sense, their personal habits, practices and rituals are highly contagious, and so is their standard of productivity. They shouldn’t expect their employees to attain a higher level.
3. Being The Most Transformed
While employees may find the need for continuous, inside-out improvement exhausting, it’s the leader’s job to generate the required energy. The best ones also share their journey with others, including its ups and downs. They highlight the latter so colleagues can appreciate the difficulty of pursuing individual excellence.

In addition, they empower themselves by looking for their contribution to specific failures. For them, the discovery of a personal cause leads them to understand what can be changed to turn things around.

By contrast, the weakest leaders only focus on the changes required by others. As “expert” diagnosticians, they examine their colleagues’ faults in detail, thereby misunderstanding their role. Their ability to pick apart other people’s improvement needs is only a small part of their success. By comparison, their skill at clarifying their own personal transformation is huge.

The sad fact is that staff who are on the receiving end of a leader’s constant, punishing criticism only learn how to avoid blame and pick apart other people’s faults. On the other hand, the employee who witnesses the top leader identify a problem, search for his role in creating it, craft interventions and measure the difference, learns how to effectively deal with a wide range of issues.

Leaders who appreciate and honor the opportunity to be at the center of attention empower others to be their best. They offer their behavior as an inspiration… not just their words. It takes effort and training to become that kind of person, but it’s exactly what Jamaican companies need to make progress.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170730/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-embrace-their-role-best-performers

 

How to Get IT and HR to Cooperate on Change Initiatives

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Many top executives find themselves in a tricky spot. Human beings and technology, two essential ingredients for a company to thrive, don’t naturally work well together. Here is one way to tackle the issue, using the case of Business Process Management (BPM).

A recent McKinsey Journal article described the advent of a new role: a “Chief Transformation Officer.” Operating with the trust of the board, this change-agent operates like an extension of the CEO, holding top managers to account.

As a CTO, your mandate would be simple: cause the organization to change itself, even as it continues to do business. With excellent emotional quotient and technology skills, you would be able to join the expertise of two organizations which usually avoid each other: Human Resources (HR) and Information Technology (IT).

In most Jamaican companies, these functions operate in silos. As a result, HR is slow to adopt (let alone envision) new technologies, while IT is ill-equipped to implement the human side of digital solutions.

Case in point: the introduction of email in the mid-1990’s. This happened to be the single biggest culture changing intervention since the advent of personal computing over a decade earlier. Unfortunately, HR never saw it coming and was often the last department to be trained in its use. It’s counterpart, IT, still has a hard time predicting and managing the behavior changes ensuing from newly introduced technology. The smartphone is a ubiquitous example.

More recently, CEO’s are demanding that executives implement another change: enterprise-wide Business Process transformation. They want to see the benefit of continuous improvement on a massive scale, in preparation for disruptive innovations which are just around the corner. At the same time, they understand that new technology cannot simply be bolted onto old methods of doing business.

Plus, BPM projects don’t take place on the sidelines: they affect core operations and, with them, the bottom line. Local companies have responded to this imperative in two ways.

 

The Human Resources Leadership Option

When HR is placed in charge of a firm’s BPM program there’s an immediate credibility problem. Usually, HR business partners are lacking critical technology depth and just haven’t studied the combined impact of inventions such as cloud computing, mobility and security.

Furthermore, they often lack the engineering skills to lead such an effort. Most HR professionals have no exposure to process baselining, measurement, analysis, improvement and automation. By contrast, these are skills taught in most IT programs, albeit at an abstract level.

The Information Technology Leadership Option

Based on this realization, it might be obvious that IT should take the lead. However, even though professionals in this unit have all the technical skills needed, they are often short of interpersonal, political and change management capacity.

To worsen matters, most local companies have manual processes which have never been baselined. Therefore, incumbent staff must be appropriately engaged in order to continue daily operations which they, and only they, understand.

Their lack of experience on BPM projects drives up resistance, forcing IT professionals to start by launching trust-building exercises, an unfamiliar tactic for them. Furthermore, the first round of changes only requires common sense, not newfangled robotics. When this fact is discovered, the business case for fancy automation is often found to be inflated, due to poor, improper information.

 

Lastly, the IT professional who ends up in charge of implementing behavior changes which don’t require new technology is likely to struggle: it’s just not his/her cup of tea.

 

Given the shortcomings of both these approaches, McKinsey’s ideas offer a third way.

 

How to Install a Chief Transformation Officer

A CTO is not simply another functional role in the usual lineup of corporate officers. Instead, if you were in the job, you would be the driver of behavior change, the one who makes a difference in the practices, habits and tools used to do daily work. Pulling on all resources, you would need the trust of other executives to share their people’s expertise. As you form cross business unit teams, you would help them implement process changes across silos.

You would be the advocate of the customer’s journey – the moments of truth the customer faces as they interact with different touchpoints.  Spanning the enterprise, you would be one to see where revenue generation and service levels are being thwarted by organizational gaps.

In BPM efforts, it’s critical that HR and IT continue to play their roles but don’t make the mistake of saddling them with responsibilities they aren’t capable of implementing. It sets them up for failure, minimizes their impact and reduces their role to enablers of small improvements.

 

When a company needs to be prepared to make big changes, only a CTO-like function can succeed. Combining human and technological expertise, it’s the only way to drive practical, large-scale change.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170716/francis-wade-getting-it-and-hr-cooperate-change

Why a huge email inbox means low productivity, not high popularity

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How many items of email do you have sitting in your inbox? Are there 20 messages? 20,000? What difference does it make?

Perhaps you are already suspicious of others who oversee a permanent pile of unprocessed email. Remember that recent message you sent them? They don’t remember seeing it. It annoys you because it included a critical question. Now, you stand next to them, forced to repeat the request in person while they complain about “people who send them too much stuff.”

In their minds they are too popular, or too important.  To them, it’s not their fault. They cannot be expected to get back to all the people who ask for an answer.

If you suspect that something else is afoot, you aren’t crazy. Their inability to reply to your message reveals a lack of productivity. The other explanations are excuses.

 

The fact is, most people dislike email management with good cause. It takes up to 20% of the average employee’s work day, partly because the techniques they use are self-taught. Their lack of sophistication is more than a curiosity – it’s a drag on your organization. How do you make sure you don’t become just like them? Start by understanding the problems an unsorted email inbox causes you and others.

 

Confusion that Keeps You Paralyzed

If you fail to completely empty your inbox for several weeks (or even years), the messages held within fall into three categories:

  1. Usually, there are some messages you have not read at all. They contain demands on your time, including emergencies, requests from other people, warnings of trouble, useful information you need to use plus other potential dangers. Lurking in the shadows like duppies, they nag you all day with quiet but distracting reminders
  2. Inevitably, you glance at a few messages which indicate tasks to do later. Often, you mark them as unread: a signal that you must return to attend to them. Unfortunately, this tactic makes these old messages look just like new ones, which leads to them becoming lost. Now you have a mountain of stuff you know is important, but you can’t quite remember what or where it is in your stack of messages.
  3. Most of the messages remaining are ones you glanced at but decided to leave until later. Why didn’t you get rid of them? You didn’t immediately know what to do so rather than make a decision, you took the path of least resistance and left the message right where you found it.

 

If you receive a tiny number of messages each day, these tactics may actually work. However, they just don’t scale for the average person. Instead, if your inbox contains more than 20 items, you are really attempting to use your memory to track too many ill-defined commitments. The end result is a mental avalanche of confusion.

 

Commitments which overwhelm your calendar

These unprocessed messages have a cumulative effect: they make you feel as if you don’t have enough time. Each one requires a few moments to re-read and decide what to do next. Altogether they lead you to feel extremely busy, even overwhelmed. Each time you glance at your inbox you experience a sense of dread… it’s no wonder why, according to one study, 33% of people would rather clean a toilet than clear out their email inbox.

The truth would be: “I’m not really busy, just disorganized” but no-one ever admits to this fact. Instead, they complain about not having 25 hours in each day.

 

Adverse impact on your reputation

Even here in 2017, email management is seen by some as an exotic skill which a person is either born with or not. It’s accompanied by the myth that it has something do with your age. It’s almost never viewed as a result of poor habits which can be unlearned.

This mistake leaves individuals to flounder, even as their colleagues exclude them from the best teams. After all, they can’t manage their email messages, let alone a high-priority assignment.

Companies shouldn’t allow employees to ruin their professional reputations because of ineffective email habits. Instead, they should teach them best practices such as limiting their visits to their inboxes to the times of day when they can empty them completely. Studies show when everyone agrees to this habit, productivity soars.

This training should start on the first day of employment. It’s the only way to prevent a mess.

 

Even if the implementation is clumsy at first, this approach is the only way to cope with the increased message-volume we can all expect in the future. For the sake of your organization, time spent processing email must be minimized by modifying employees’ unproductive behavior.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170702/francis-wade-overfull-inbox-means-low-productivity-not-high-popularity

 

How to Intervene When an Executive Starts Acting Like a Victim

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We Jamaicans take many of our cues from leaders. This is never truer than when a leader acts like a victim, blaming everyone else for sub-par results. Eventually, employees join the blame game, actively avoiding responsibility before fingers turn on them. Things worsen to the point where only an intervention can save the company from ruin.

In a recent meeting with a CEO, I listened as he blamed his colleagues and staff for the predicament his organization was in. He had a long list of factual observations. Their actions were saddening, and I had no reason to doubt his veracity.

However, when I suggested that, from my prior experience in many client firms, “The fish stinks the worst at the head” he visibly bristled. Dismissing my suggestion, he doubled down, adding further stories to prove that I was incorrect: he was the victim. The others needed to have their heads examined.

What made the situation maddening were the facts: he had risen to the top after 30+ years. Also, profits were a thing of the past: for the prior decade, the company had barely broken even. Yet, in his mind, he had nothing to do with its poor performance.

As a manager, what can you do to prevent this kind of terrible end-result? How can you make sure it never happens in your organization?

Pay Attention to Hard-to-See Angles

Companies slip into having a culture of complaints gradually. Complaining, normally a rare habit, becomes a team sport played by a critical mass of staff. When you find that valuable meeting time is being spent in old, familiar gripes which never reach resolution, be suspicious.

Start by appreciating that a single complaint is quite different from a culture of complaining. The first requires action, perhaps produced by a fruitful discussion. The latter requires an intervention by someone who understands the peculiarities of dysfunctional corporate cultures. They tend to be bad in many of the same ways.

The intervenor must explain to managers that the behavior is like an addictive drug which carries both a short-term benefit and a long-term cost.

The benefit derives from an avoidance of responsibility. Complainers paint themselves as the weak, helpless recipients of injustice. In the eyes of the CEO mentioned earlier, he had nothing to do with the state of affairs and was permanently innocent of any blame or fault.

As complainers perpetuate this frame of mind, they exact a terrible price. Their feigned weakness renders them inactive. Lacking creativity, they lose their capacity to implement real solutions to problems. They turn themselves into bystanders.

When the complainer happens to be the CEO, it turns the corporation into a battlefield between him and the rest of his company. It’s no surprise that poor results ensue because the behavior is also highly contagious. When employees compete with each other for the right to be seen as the biggest victim, everyone ends up hating their jobs.

These are hard-to-see angles, so few distinguish persistent complaining for what it really is—the start of real trouble.

 

Resist the Temptation to Withdraw

However, seeing the true problem isn’t enough. If you have joined a team which already has a complaining culture, it’s only human to hide out; to make sure you are far away from the gripers-in-chief. If you get caught in a situation where you can’t escape their presence, you go completely silent.

Obviously, this won’t work in the end. In fact, it is a sly mirror-image of the same refusal to accept responsibility.

Instead, fixing the problem calls for the very opposite. When colleagues refuse to assume ownership, the most helpful action is not to retreat, but to expand. Only those who choose to step up and take greater responsibility have a chance of making a difference.

Managers who do so empower themselves. Without waiting for someone to give them permission, they make a private decision to act which is likely to produce noticeable, public results.

Get Help from Others

One of the end results might be a group intervention conducted with the complainers. In this kind of carefully managed confrontation, each person plays a predetermined role in a group discussion designed to call a stop to the behavior. It’s a last ditch, high-stakes effort: oftentimes, an outsider is included to prepare the team or even play the part of referee.

What makes the risk worthwhile is the possibility of succeeding.  In the very worst situations, it’s the best the team can do, and it’s better than cowering in fear. In the end, it benefits everyone concerned and can pull the company out of a bad spot.

There’s no guarantee whatsoever, but a top executive who stops being a victim can make a tremendous difference to the health of the bottom-line and the company’s culture.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Don’t write off stupid employees – here’s how they can deliver smart outcomes

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Are you stuck with employees who don’t have what it takes to make necessary improvements to the way work is done? If so, avoid the mistake of believing they can’t improve your company’s processes. Here’s why.
As you analyze your operations, you may already recognize there are processes which need to be dramatically improved. If high unit costs, poor customer service, long lead times and bad quality are some of the problems you face daily, consider these to be signs confirming the need for an urgent change.
But as you survey the situation, your heart sinks. Your staff appears to be unable to implement even the most obvious improvements. They are happy to repeat the same broken processes each day, producing identical, poor results.
In response, you may be tempted to take a shortcut, by following the three steps of Method A:
1. 1. Find an expert to define better processes, preferably automated.
2. 2. Train people how to use the new process.
3. 3. Measure the results.
It looks simple and commonsensical. By itself, it’s hard to imagine any other approach. But there is another, Method B:
1. 1. Select a team of in-process employees to improve the process.
2. 2. Heavily facilitate their improvement efforts.
3. 3. Measure the results.
By comparison, the second approach looks to be more difficult, and take longer. Yet, it’s the better method to follow under the following three conditions.
#1 – When current knowledge is lacking
Most local companies don’t have documented processes. This leads to an inevitable gap between the way a process is supposed to work and the way it actually functions. To survive, staff members develop shortcuts and workarounds, then pass them from one person to another by word-of-mouth.
Outside experts cannot understand these nuances by conducting a few informational interviews. Their attempts fail because an unmanaged process falls apart in unpredictable ways. Some of these failures are rare, with remedies known only to a few insiders. While sitting in an interview, they forget to mention these errors, blinded by their unconscious competence.
 
To make things worse, in people-intensive processes, knowledge is widely distributed. Discovering the true nature of a process’ performance has to be a group activity where knowledge is combined and documented in real time. Usually, such sessions raise a host of surprising issues. Together, these reasons support Method B.
Reason #2 – You may require more buy-in than you think
Implementers of automation often believe in Method A due to its simplicity. However, they overlook the fact that there must be a time of overlap and transition between old and new processes. During this period, which is required to keep the business running, staff must undertake behavior changes.
However, if they see the new process as “The Enemy”, a foreign object to be expelled at all costs, prepare yourself for passive-resistance.
In extreme cases where the new process cuts jobs, be ready for sabotage. Critical information is withheld as mistakes multiply, causing the overlap to drag on. By the end, if the transition ever takes place, the savings are minimal, the pain maximal.
Once again, Method B is the remedy.
Reason #3 – Future improvements require people
Often, when the new system is implemented, project leaders walk away, thinking their job is done. Unfortunately, the effort has just started.
Ideally, the future should be filled with further improvements. But there’s no such thing as a process which improves itself – it involves people reexamining it to make additional changes. When outsiders are the ones who decide what must be tackled (Method A,) it leaves insiders without the skills to make additional upgrades.
Therefore, the dominant rule is: include people executing the process early and often. But there is an exception.
When the underlying process to be improved is short and simple, like boiling an egg, Method A works. However, with a complex process which cannot easily be automated, like making a soufflé, only Method B succeeds.
Sometimes, leaders create problems for themselves by arguing that they have complex processes, but they are staffed by “stupid” people. Craving Method A, they say “employees cannot be trusted” because they either “won’t take ownership” or “lack the skills”.
This is a grave mistake. Often, from the heights of the executive suite, every process looks simple. If your company has little history of process management, it’s safe to assume there is hidden complexity, and therefore a high risk involved. You must use Method B, giving employees the tools and expertise needed. This includes team-building activities so that together, they can function far better than they can working separately. This is why a team of “stupid” employees can outperform smart individuals acting separately.
Including employees is more challenging in the short term, but it hews far closer to reality. In most cases, it’s the best approach to implement the lasting change your organization needs.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
 

Why leaders need to develop productive superpowers

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Recently another negative report came out confirming the continued decline of Jamaica’s productivity. In a recent speech, IDB official Therese Turner-Jones understated that “firms in Jamaica are not particularly efficient” and “private sector workers are as inefficient as the Government.”

As a business leader, this is a song whose tune is probably familiar. But it is frustrating, because as far as you know, you are working as hard as you can. However, it’s obviously not enough because there is considerable empirical evidence that we are almost as far as we can be from being the Usain Bolts of productivity in the world.

To state the obvious: closing the gap means doing things differently from ways we have ever done before

It won’t be easy. There are only a handful of local companies who treat their operations like finely tuned machines. They are vigilant: always looking for first indicators of an incipient problem. In addition, their leaders treat their own individual systems in the same way. Seeking to be as personally effective as possible, they perform like Formula One Drivers.

Why We Need a Change of Mind

Culturally, we prefer to favour the underdog. Just listen to us re-tell the story of the “likkle guy on his push-cart” flying down Mount Diablo past a “big man in a Benz”, skating on just two wheels the whole way. However, this propensity to “big up” the unsophisticated shouldn’t be taken too far. Lewis Hamilton, multiple Formula One Champion, didn’t become a winner by luck. He spent years perfecting his craft and mastering his equipment, continuing to develop his skills every day.

During a 100 mile per hour race, he has learned to track a tremendous number of changing variables using sophisticated instruments. Off-track, he’s trying to find ways to save a few grams here and there, or cut wind resistance with the slightest of alterations.

Too many of our executives settle for much less in their personal productivity, as if they are push-cart men or women. They run late, forget commitments, allow their email to pile up and let their lives drift dangerously out of balance. In other words, their employees view them as cautionary tales rather than role models. While they may dress the part, speak well or have the house and car which befit their status, they don’t view personal productivity in the same vein.

It’s optional.

In this respect, our local executives are satisfied being moderately better than the worst employees. They fail to hold themselves to a high personal standard; instead they are happy to barely beat a low social standard.

However, the best executives view their personal productivity as an extension of their company’s operations. As a result, they tackle it with high effort and rigour, developing two superpowers along the way.

Superpower #1—Detect Early Warning Signs of Trouble

The most productive leaders have a kind of “spidey-sense”: the ability Spiderman has to sense trouble before it occurs. In like manner, they can detect the moment when their personal system first starts to fail.

For example, if you had this skill, you would be able to see when it’s time to upgrade your technique for managing email. All it would take is the disappearance of one or two messages into the proverbial cracks; long before an actual complaint is received.

This ability to detect early warning signs of trouble is rare, much in the way Hamilton has the kind of foresight other drivers cannot even imagine. It gives him an edge in a close race.

In a tough economy, companies need leaders who demonstrate these abilities while actively teaching them to others.

Superpower #2 – Develop Diagnostic Skills

Once a problem is detected that’s just a start. Few take the next step: discovering why the issue exists in the first place.

For example, the challenge of email overwhelm is hardly solved by purchasing an expensive smartphone. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. The person with weak diagnostic skills would commit this error without understanding why.

The few who have developed superpowers waste little time scouring the internet, talking to friends or polling their colleagues. Instead, they know how to scrutinize their current practices and tools. If you have ever watched an episode of “House,” the television show about a doctor with fantastic diagnostic expertise, you may understand. These skills are hard to develop, but they save tremendous amounts of time and energy, enabling someone to make precise interventions.

When Jamaican executives start behaving like Formula One Drivers, we may produce role models with superpowers. Rather than Parliamentarians who are perpetually late, or CEO’s whose lives are unhealthy and unbalanced, we would live to see something new: leaders who take their personal productivity as seriously as their most recent haircut, watch or shopping trip to Miami.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, contact columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170521/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-develop-productive-superpowers

The Cure for Listless Employees

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It’s remarkable how quickly a new employee, once excited by the job, becomes just as ordinary as others who have been in the company for years. As a leader, what difference can you make before the rot sets in? In this article I share one practice suggested by psychologists which works.
 
Managers shake their heads in bewilderment. There’s a disappointment they feel when they realize that a fresh new hire, in whom they have invested a modicum of hope, has lost his way. All of a sudden, when compared to his listless colleagues, he is just as disengaged and lackluster. What happened?
 
There’s usually more than a single cause, but an employee can benefit from learning how to remain resilient. As a supervisor, you can fill the gap with the right lessons. If you intervene early and equip him with the skills and awareness he needs, you can help him keep his optimism intact.
 
Consider one powerful practice which has emerged from the research of Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. In an effort to distinguish the elements which make for a great day on the job, she discovered that people’s satisfaction and productivity are strongly tied to the belief that they are making progress. She noted that if you can help them notice their positive movement towards their goals and stay present to it, they are more satisfied.
 
However, the average manager is quite unaware of this finding, often acting in a careless, if not reckless way. Here are a few things he/she fails to do which are quite damaging, but can be easily remedied.
 
 
1. Train Employees to Wake Up
New employees eventually adapt the cynical mindset of those around them. They divide the week into two phases with respect to their time: “mine”, which I experience on weekends, holidays and vacations, and “theirs” which consists of every working weekday. It leads them to act as if “A bad day on my own time is better than a good day on their time.” Before long, this mantra becomes their modus operandus.
 
A more useful focus would be to look for progress towards meaningful goals. When taught this lesson, employees can instantly recite their daily accomplishments on demand. For example, The Ritz Carlton is famous for including acknowledgements in its daily mandatory huddles. Keeping your achievements top of mind becomes a habit in this environment.
 
Employees also must learn that humans have a lopsided reaction to failure and success. According to the research, a setback has a greater impact than a win, when measured in emotional terms. This remarkable fact can be used to train employees to be extra-vigilant during moments when their results are poor.
 
However, managers who don’t know the importance of these elements leave employees to discover them by chance. The result is predictable: they don’t have a clue which leads them into a deep sense of resignation.
 
 
2. Teach Employees to Practice Daily Accomplishments
The few managers who try to wake employees up sometimes overuse trite clichés or sermons. These put people to sleep. There’s a more effective alternative: uncover the physical activities which guarantee results.
 
For example, instead of telling employees to “focus on the positive” it’s far better to give them a diary on the first day of the job, along with specific questions to answer each day which help them capture their progress. Don’t stop there. Also set up one-on-one meetings in which the first order of business is a report on their most recent accomplishments.
 
3. Stop Making Unforced Errors
Most managers have given little thought to the above two actions, but they still make mistakes which dent employee enthusiasm. They share casual stories, jokes and anecdotes which don’t help: they end up robbing and undermining employees of any sense of progress. The same happens when an employee’s work is reassigned, her ideas are dismissed or when her attempts to improve the way she does the job are rebuffed.
 
These minor, daily occurrences don’t register as important events for most managers, but they burden employees. When the manager is the cause of the damage to an employee’s progress, the wound is double-deep and likely to scar the psyche of even the most motivated employee. Over time, a negative track record is built which drives out high performers who can get jobs elsewhere. When they leave they explain “I’m getting more money” when in fact, they just want to feel as if they are not wasting their careers.
 
Managers need to more disciplined, and less cavalier, about their utterances and actions so that they don’t create unintended setbacks. The best are aware of these dynamics and use them as leverage to achieve results, starting with the very first day on the job.
 
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170507/francis-wade-cure-listless-employees

Why You Shouldn’t “Try to Do It Now, Before You Forget”

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Why is it that when you are overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s hard to escape this unwanted feeling? Sometimes it’s caused by unconscious habits such as the phrase many Jamaicans utter when we are under pressure at work: “Let me Do It Now Before I Forget.” While this practice comes from a good place, there’s a big drawback.

Recently, psychologists discovered that we don’t trust our future selves. It’s the version of you which is supposed to get things done later, the one to whom you delegate incomplete tasks. Where did this sentiment originate?

A first thought might be that your parents taught you this mistrust. After all, they were the ones who insisted that you pick up your socks NOW, because you could not be trusted to do so later, on your own. What you may not realize is that hidden behind their words was a subtle, negative message.

Today, your mind (or your boss) has taken over their judgmental tone. It has examined your past performance and decided that you are unreliable. So, it screams at you to do stuff now, to prevent it from joining a bungle of other promises you failed to fulfill. Although it’s a shrill, guilt-filled reminder of your mistakes, it justifies its existence because there are times when it has saved you from disaster.

Unfortunately, you won’t achieve high productivity and peace of mind with this voice shrieking in your ear. Here is the reason why, and how you can surpass it.

Why You Can’t Do Everything Now

When you were young you learned that it was better not to put things off: doing it now was the only way to guarantee peace of mind. Unfortunately, this conclusion is false.

It’s impossible to do everything now, unless you happen to be a pre-teen with few responsibilities and a strong backup network of parents, teachers and friends. It’s a habit which doesn’t scale – it falls apart when this network disappears or your work becomes too complex.

For most people this happens by their late teens. Like them, you became interested in completing projects which have a span of several months, encompassing lots of tasks. Insisting that you do everything right away became a bit like trying to study for every exam now – impossible.

As an adult, telling yourself to “Do something now before you forget” is actually an admission of failure. It implies that your own methods cannot be trusted, so you must resort to extreme measures.

Some falsely believe that this tactic is mandatory because they have a poor memory. Others blame it on a lack of character or a personality defect. Certainly when we are in a position of power and force someone else to “Do It Now” we are finding fault – it’s something they could fix if they wanted.

Maybe we have it all wrong and it’s not a matter of guilt. Here are some better options which are based strictly on behaviors.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 1 – Small Wins

Research by the Mayo Clinic in the area of fitness shows that people limit themselves with their focus on positive or negative self-talk. A better approach is to make a shift in focus towards habits, practices and tools: visible behaviors. Self-talk rarely works. Contrary to popular opinion, our mind responds more favorably to a regular pattern of behavior than it does affirmations.

Set up a long list of small actions and accomplish them one by one. Over time, your mind’s judgement will follow.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 2 – Keep Finding a Match

Ultimately, as you progress in your career, you want to prevent the kind of failures which cause you to lose trust in your future self. The only way to do so is to ensure that there’s a match between the volume of tasks you are trying to manage and your techniques. Whenever there’s a mismatch, you will make things worse.

This means that you must pay close attention to two things. First, early warning signs of trouble inform you of potential problems, showing you when it’s time to make improvements in your task management methods. Second, you should know what your next upgrade to your habits, practices and tools consists of long before you need it. Both these pieces of knowledge come from a sound diagnosis of your current time management skills.

Most people don’t have this kind of insight – they stumble around in the dark hoping for the best. However, if you follow these steps you don’t ever find yourself lost in overwhelming feelings, unable to find a way out. You’ll be able to do what it takes to correct the situation, freeing yourself from a need to do everything now, because you will be someone who never forgets: a reliable colleague.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170423/francis-wade-why-you-shouldnt-try-do-it-now-you-forget

 

 

How to eradicate the pain of broken promises from your company

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Are you the kind of business-person who sometimes keeps your word and sometimes doesn’t? What difference does it make to your company?

A few years ago, a client advised me that he had a policy of not paying for weekend work. Unfortunately, I had already worked on Saturday and Sunday at his last-minute request. To make matters worse, he conveyed this news over the phone when I called to ask “Why is this cheque less than I expect?”

While it’s easy to paint him as a villain in this story, the fact is that there are many business-people who have a loose relationship with their word. To some extent, we all do. When push comes to shove, and things become inconvenient or awkward, we abandon our original intentions. In that moment, we justify our actions to ourselves: they make perfect sense. Unfortunately, they create problems for others.

Most of the time, we cannot see this impact. But we should take note. Every organization depends on a network of employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are tied to each other by an invisible web of promises.

In great companies, there is a strong relationship between making and keeping promises. Employees see the interaction as one which is sacred, engaging the honour of both parties. Fulfilling promises is critical to the firm’s success, so everyone treats them as important, existing only in black and white terms.

By contrast, weak companies operate like the client I mentioned. Promises are wholly contingent on circumstances; only a poor signal of intent, which often changes. Often, no one is sure when a reliable promise has actually been made.

How can you use these two extremes as an inspiration and a warning to move your company in the right direction?

— Teach Everyone a New Discipline

Recently my firm undertook a study of Jamaicans moving to live and work in Trinidad. One of the surprises our subjects discovered is that promises aren’t viewed as seriously as they expected in the twin-island republic.

This is a practical difference which has everyday implications. For example, when we lead transformation programs, one principle people remember is that of “integrity” which can be taken to mean “doing what you said you would do.” As you may imagine, teaching this principle effectively means varying the way we deliver it from one country to the next, and between companies.

For example, in Jamaica, we want our colleagues to act more like Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, but for ourselves, we still crave the freedom to get away with Bredda Anansi tricks. While this point of view is inherited, it reflects a failure to see the big picture: companies thrive when people make a supreme effort to stick to their word, regardless of the situation. matters. When they stick to their word when no-one is watching, with others who are powerless, on even small issues, it’s no minor matter.

It’s important because anyone who makes a promise puts herself in a battle against life’s circumstances. The random nature of our world resists this person’s commitment. It also militates against organizations who dare articulate a clear vision.

This is why a certain resilience around promises must be taught in companies – it cannot be taken for granted, and it doesn’t come for free.

— Learn techniques to prevent promises from disappearing

But making an effort to keep one’s promises isn’t enough. In this technology-driven time with lots of distractions, it’s also become more difficult to remember all the promises you make. Now, you need far more than your memory – you must use external devices if you hope to avoid falling behind. Furthermore, the more you progress up the corporate ladder, the more promises you are expected to be able to make and keep. Mastering promise management is a requirement.

Fortunately, the tools required to become skillful are to be found on the average smartphone or laptop. (Paper can also be used, but it has its shortcomings.)

Most companies leave employees to develop these skills and learn to use these tools in an ad hoc manner, leading to haphazard results. Then, promises aren’t kept because the skills to do so aren’t taught. This can be corrected via training or coaching.

— Open up and reveal hidden promises

The few companies who master the above steps soon realize they are not enough. Hidden in the culture of each company are unwritten, unspoken expectations which are every bit as powerful as explicit promises.

For example, every organization has invisible expectations around the speed of email replies. Making these standards transparent would save employees from the trial and error process they usually have to navigate.

Companies who get people to forge a strong relationship to their word can thrive when others fail. Sometimes it’s a direct way to produce a breakthrough in performance that meets everyone’s aspirations.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170409/francis-wade-erasing-pain-broken-company-promises