How CEO’s Optimize Their Time Budgets

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If you are a top executive, you face a unique challenge: The weekly demands on your time regularly outstrip 168 hours. Yet, as you know, most CEO’s receive little formal training in time management on their journey to the C-Suite. Fortunately, new research can help close this gap.

Harvard’s Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria recently published the results of a multi-year study of CEO time usage. Their findings can help you allocate time more efficiently, even despite variations by industry, nationality, and tenure.

Four Major Findings

  1. CEO’s schedule a whopping 75% of their working hours. Most of their day is occupied with meetings, translating into precious little time spent alone in blocks of uninterrupted time. Recommended: use your calendar as a tool to carve out quality solo efforts.
  2. CEO’s work, on average, 62.5 hours per week, which include 3.9 hours per day on weekends, and 2.4 hours per day on vacations. They also spend about half their non-working, awake time with family. For many, this pace isn’t sustainable. Given their long days (9.7 hours per weekday) they must be strict to meet their own minimum standards. Recommended: Follow a set schedule on both off-hours, and off-days. Include time-slots to do “nothing.”
  3. CEO’s spend some 43% of their time on their core agenda, and the rest on routine items or unplanned surprises. Recommended: Use your administrative assistant as your partner to ensure that your schedule continually reflects your priorities.
  4. On average, few CEO’s track their time. Sadly, they have no idea how they’re really doing against these average numbers. While they know much about their financial budget, its time equivalent remains a mystery or at best, a vague gut feeling. Recommended: Commit yourself to this commonsense habit, via the use of suitable tracking software.

The CEO’s Two Social Problems

However, applying the researchers’ recommendations isn’t enough. Every CEO I have met faces two ripe areas for improvement which are difficult to tackle: They spend too much of their precious time processing email and attending meetings. Fortunately, these twin problems have a common root.

Case 1: The CEO who replies to every email within five minutes may seem, at first blush, to be “on top of things”. To wiser heads, it’s a clear sign that he’s doing little else but playing an elaborate, wasteful game of email ping pong.

Case 2: The CEO who avoids calling meetings, may think she’s making the most of her time by working on tough problems behind a closed door. However, her lack of communication leaves people guessing about her true priorities, causing a level of infighting she pointedly ignores.

Both of these practices are typically hard to solve. Anyone who has rolled their eyes while suffering through a pointless meeting or email message knows the feeling. The demand on your psyche it creates slowly creeps up, robbing you blind of time and energy. Before you realize it, you have become trapped in a sticky web of social waste.

Furthermore, this all takes place on an open stage. People watch what executives do in meetings and email for hidden cues as to their true, unspoken intentions. As such, they represent far more than personal logistical challenges. They are public performances undertaken by actors who are mostly unaware of their platform. It’s why their unwitting, mixed signals quickly become other people’s marching orders.

Where is the escape?

Launch Improvement Projects

Fact: The average employee spends two hours per day processing email. She also devotes four hours per week preparing for status updates meetings, 67% of which are failures.

However, individual employees who try to solve email or meeting problems frequently fail. There’s just not much a person can do on his/her own if they are part of a wider culture.

Fortunately, the CEO is in a unique place. As the sole person who unifies all employees, he is in a position to affect this kind of change. Therefore, a CEO who fails to launch campaigns to improve these twin evils is allowing productivity to erode.

While specific causes and remedies to these two complex challenges are beyond the scope of this article, there’s a mindset every CEO can initiate immediately. It starts by declaring the truth about this rampant loss of productivity. It continues by creating a series of company-wide games to “Achieve the same results, using far fewer emails and less meeting time.”

As the CEO, if you engage a critical mass of your staff in such a goal, it should provide an immediate, positive impact on your time usage. Instead of losing steam in email and meetings, you should be able to create more long blocks of solo, creative problem-solving, plus more time with your family. This should be a welcome start, but it requires all employees to cut away the wasted time and effort inherent in these two practices.

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

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How to Scale Up a New Innovation

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Sometimes, good ideas for new products and services include the seeds of their own destruction. How can this problem be discovered and prevented, thereby ensuring the success of your latest, greatest idea?

As a company innovator you are excited. Your original concept has taken off with higher-than-expected sales or conversions. Customers are buying because you uncovered an unmet need before anyone else.

While congratulations are in order, it’s also a dangerous moment because you are entering uncharted waters filled with new obstacles.

They are not coincidental. Your success has bred them. Being ready for them takes real ingenuity, and you must use your imagination to deal with this unique situation. Here is a useful framework.

The Five-Part Model

The Balanced Scorecard is built on the notion that a company’s strategy can be viewed through four distinct perspectives: Financial, Customer, Process and People. While your firm is actually an interconnected
whole, there’s value in viewing it in-depth from these separate angles.

In addition, the PESTER Model offers a fifth “External” perspective. It’s shorthand for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory/Legal forces which affect every company.

Here’s a way for your planners to use all five dimensions to examine your company’s existing state, and future dangers.

Step 1 – Create a current day snapshot

Together the team develops a joint view of the performance of the business via the five perspectives. This involves far more than looking at a few numbers. It means finding the drivers of today’s successes and failures in a group discussion which includes every stakeholder.

While it’s a challenge to bring all members of your team to common agreement, the effort is necessary for subsequent steps and shouldn’t be rushed. In both technical and emotional dimensions, there must be a meeting
of the minds.

Tip: use layman’s language.

Step 2 – Simulate Future Growth Scenarios

Here, you imagine different kinds of success. For example, contrast hyper and moderate sales increases and their impact. What if the market were to grow in response to your product as it did when Digicel first offered mobile phone service?

As you detail these scenarios find one you are most willing to realize. Then, carefully assign it a future year which takes you just beyond the moment when the current burst of sales is projected to end.

Step 3 – Look for Hurdles in the 5 Dimensions

Now for the creative part. As customers respond where is your system likely to fail first within the five perspectives?

– Financial: Will cash-flow problems develop? Many companies who experience rapid growth wind up with high receivables that run them straight into bankruptcy.

– Customer: Can success bring new competitors into the market offering fresh discounts or features?

– Process: Where would you run into a lack of capacity? Will ad hoc processes begin to break down once volumes increase? The fact is, most new products and services are developed by small, informal teams. They work well in the early days, putting in extra hours at little cost to them and their families. It’s a sacrifice that’s not sustainable.

– People: Where will you see a lack of talent? To develop the initial offering, you probably used well qualified, trusted individuals with a depth of experience. Now, to match new sales volumes, you must hire from the second and third tiers. By definition, they aren’t as productive and need to be trained.

– External: In a highly regulated industry, is it likely that the regulatory rules may change in response to your product? Could the authorities react by limiting the market, reducing your profit-making potential?

While taking these five perspectives are a beginning, my experience tells me that the most difficult topic to discuss is that of leadership. Founders, CEO’s and Chairpersons are often reluctant to craft plans for succession, putting off such uncomfortable issues for others to suffer through. They neither train their replacements, nor make provisions for catastrophes which may render them unable to lead.

There’s also an unwillingness for companies which belong to conglomerates to consider changes driven by their ownership. It’s easy to overlook the fact that in these groups, other people can decide to use a company’s profits (or surpluses in the public sector.) The owners, in the absence of compelling counter-arguments, may simply choose to invest elsewhere, pay dividends or reimburse the group office for the original risk.

Companies which don’t properly consider all these factors expose themselves to rude surprises, thereby jeopardising the enterprise. Fortunately, it’s not expensive to make plans to meet these challenges – they
represent a critical investment that’s well worth the value.

 

 

 

 

How New Managers Prevent Email Overwhelm

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When the excitement of a promotion wears off, newly elevated managers sometimes struggle. Often, they blame their new responsibilities, but this limited view dooms them to failure. Instead, success comes from expanding specific skills which were once suitable but are now inadequate.

Email is a case in point. All of a sudden, as a newly promoted manager, you need to stay late or work on weekends just to keep up with a mountain of discussion threads. When you don’t stay on top of them all, your competence and readiness are quietly questioned.

Given the fact that email takes up 20% of the average manager’s day, the sad truth is that you weren’t trained to analyse your email practices with a view to making improvements. Today, the prevailing notion is that you can learn just as fast as Millennials. They change apps faster than they change their clothing.

However, even these twenty-somethings struggle when they experience a boom in email volume. Like everyone else, they blame their circumstances, a grave mistake.

It leads companies to launch projects to cut the number of messages people are receiving. Unfortunately, this rarely makes a difference as two recent, counter-intuitive studies explain: overwhelm isn’t caused by the number of messages we receive.

The first research, by Mary Czerwinski and her team at Microsoft show that the more time you spend checking messages, the less productive and more stressed you feel. Some firms have noticed this effect, leading them to curtail email in favour of other channels such as Instant Messaging or Whatsapp.

The second study shows why these efforts are in vain.

A paper by Victoria Bellotti and her XEROX research colleagues shows that it’s not the volume of email that makes us anxious and ineffective, but the number of unresolved tasks that are buried in these messages.  For example, if you routinely receive 1000 messages per day and a high percentage are newsletters or spam which require no action on your part, your peace of mind isn’t affected. On the other hand, if you receive five high-impact emails per day which spur 30 new tasks, you are more likely to feel pressured.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Zeigarnik Effect: the mental weight of these incomplete tasks. You can’t complete them all at once – that would be impossible to do as a newly promoted manager. Instead, you must manage them effectively, thereby relieving your subconscious mind of its role as Reminder-in-Chief, disrupting sleep, conversations, and quiet moments of prayer or meditation.

How do you take care of these unwanted disruptions, keep your peace of mind and avoid overwhelm in your new position?

  1. Handle email as an all-out sprint

In this paradigm, you must think of email differently. Instead of fitting it in between meetings or other activities at your leisure, do the opposite. Schedule two or three times each day to get through your Inbox as fast as possible in standalone, focused efforts. These sprints need total concentration. Execute them ruthlessly, punting protracted responses until later – you are in “emptying mode”, not “execution mode”.

This is also no space for distractions. Cut them all out and ignore the smartphone. Treat this time slot as the single most important recurring activity you perform each day that should only be interrupted if there’s a bonafide emergency.

  1. Get your own training

Unfortunately, few Human Resource departments are bastions of high tech efficiency. Most have little to do with employee productivity in its modern sense and therefore don’t offer new managers the kind of training required to manage email overwhelm.

On your own, cobble together the fresh skills you need, using a combination of resources such my past columns.

  1. Manage other people’s deliverables as your own

Complicated email threads involving several people, plus weeks of going back and forth, reveal that you are totally dependent on others to do their part. Unfortunately, some of them can’t be trusted.

While most new managers continue to store email in their Inbox, highlighting important ones for later, you shouldn’t. Eventually, you will be buried by unresolved tasks which require a follow-up, but get lost in these threads.

Instead, you must strip out these tasks and manage them elsewhere. This usually means picking up a task management software and learning the self-taught behaviours required to make them work.

The good news is that if you follow these prescriptions, your subconscious mind may reward you. Its endless pinging should stop and overwhelm will disappear.

But be vigilant: your next promotion may cause you to revisit all your methods just to maintain your peace of mind. Consider it to be the price of success in the modern workplace.

 

 

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How to Prevent Biased Interviews

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What’s wrong with holding interviews? Plenty, it turns out. Most companies rely on a series of informal chats with several prospects that ends with a hiring decision. However, there’s strong evidence that this approach needs to be retired in favour of better techniques proven by scientific research.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell.

Interviews are filled with biases. In North America, studies have shown that during the average unstructured interview, the person hired is more likely to be tall, slim, good looking and speak in a deep voice. According to psychologists like Dr. Ron Friedman:

– Tall people tend to be evaluated as having better leadership skills. Decades of research show a relationship between height and salary at every age.

– Hiring professionals shown a picture of a heavy-set woman are more likely to describe her as lazy than other women by 21%.

– Good-looking people are thought to be more competent, intelligent and qualified.

– People with deeper voices are thought to have greater strength, integrity, and trustworthiness.

Here in Jamaica, it’s likely that skin colour, perceived class, and speech patterns are also invisible determinants. It probably helps to have browner skin, Upper St. Andrew pedigree and all the H’s properly pronounced.

Apparently, this judgement takes place in the first ten seconds of a conversation. The interviewer instantly decides what kind of person he/she is dealing with and slightly alters the questions accordingly. This isn’t random but an unconscious, powerful effort to confirm some initial, unwitting bias.

A few disagree, arguing that they are entirely fair and non-judgemental: their gut instincts and intuition are impeccable. They even share anecdotes which prove their superiority. This article is not for them. It’s for the rest of us who suspect that hidden tendencies are always embedded in interviews, requiring us to find provably better techniques.

If You Are the Interviewer

Here is a simple improvement to make: ask each person the same set of questions.

Another quick one is to phrase queries in specific terms that relate to actual events versus general what-if’s. For example, discard questions like “Share what you would do if you came across a difficult customer”. Instead, use the simpler “Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer.” Unfortunately, research shows that 81% of people lie during interviews in their attempts to appear impressive. This technique is a great separator of future fantasy from factual, past-based reality.

However, the best approach is to treat the entire affair as an audition. In other words, find ways for interviewees to demonstrate their abilities in real time. It’s the ideal way to compare actual performance in critical skills with other prospects.

For example, musicians trying to join an orchestra or band should play a given piece on their instrument. Draftees in NFL and NBA try-outs (known as “Combines”) actually perform physical drills on the field.

In the corporate world, Google and other tech companies ask prospects to write code. McKinsey & Co. famously poses an unstructured problem for the prospect to reveal their best methods. Some companies require individuals to work alongside a team for a day. Other firms prompt them for solutions to case studies relevant to actual projects.

If you find yourself unable to craft such interviews, try using audio and videotape recordings. Ask each prospect to perform a typical task. Then, review the recording as a team to undertake an impartial comparison.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t bother. The creative challenge is too much, so they use no more than a nebulous test: “If mi spirit tek to dem or not.”

If You Are the Interviewee

On the other side of the table, you can turn the conversation into more of an audition.

Start by being prepared to show them your intentions. With whatever information you have, walk in with a mid-term plan of action to address the key issues.

As you share your plan, and its underlying assumptions, ask the interviewers to correct your data and add new facts. Use clarifying questions to uncover the true meaning, then adjust your plan in the moment based on this new input. Doing so reveals the flexible approach you take to solving difficult problems using scarce data. It’s as if they are looking over the shoulder of a composer masterfully creating a new melody.

In this way, you transform the conversation from a pre-prejudiced chat into a real-time, problem-solving session.  Plus, you learn something about your new manager’s level of expertise, engagement and EQ.

As you may imagine, in such a scenario, both sides win. The biased, old-style interview is replaced by an experience which produces fresh information everyone 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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

When Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals Produce Poor Performance

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If you lead an organization you may have asked yourself: what is the effect of setting big goals? Most leaders know that such objectives can be empowering in some circumstances but produce the opposite result in others. If so, some recent research might help the next time you sit down with a subordinate to set performance targets.

The management bestseller “Built to Last” by James Collins and Jerry Porras coined a phrase that is now used widely: BHAG, a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.”

Most Jamaican executives have heard the term in the past and try to use stretch goals to awaken their organization from stale, static patterns. Once enlivened, breakthroughs become possible.

As a result, managers who have accepted the idea, encourage employees to commit to difficult goals.

Some push hard, using the force of their personality to get direct reports to acquiesce. Sales managers, for example, try to inspire their people to leave their comfort zones to accomplish big revenue targets, sometimes refusing to take “No” for an answer. Their occasional success leads them to repeat the tactic as often as they can, especially with fresh recruits.

However, new studies show that there are actually two different kinds of goals which should be set. Gary Latham from the University of Toronto has studied the question for the past three decades, concluding that it’s easy to set goals which end up doing more harm than good. Here are the strategies he recommends to avoid this problem.

Strategy 1 – Create targets which are not too hard, but not too easy
Scientists call it the Goldilocks Effect. The most effective goals need to be challenging enough to get someone’s attention, but not so difficult that they believe it’s impossible and therefore give up. Leaders must calibrate targets carefully.
For example, in the 1930’s, Manley and Bustamante didn’t immediately strive for the objective of complete independence. While they probably saw it as the ultimate objective, they took their time. The Jamaican people were shepherded through a long struggle which started with earning the right to form trade unions. It continued through the formation of political parties and the fight for Universal Adult Suffrage which eventually led to self-rule.
In retrospect, their strategy of taking one step at a time was probably best. It’s a lesson for all managers who want employees to produce extraordinary results, and it happens to be supported by empirical research. Don’t ask for “too much, too soon” or its opposite: “too little, too late”.

Strategy 2 – Distinguish outcomes from learning
In Latham’s work, he further distinguishes between “outcome targets” and “learning goals”. The former relate to end-results, such as a salesperson’s total sales per month. They are easy to understand and define because in the end, measurable accomplishment counts the most in any business.
However, managers are not usually aware of his major finding: outcome targets are only suitable for employees who have mastered their jobs.
By contrast, most employees are still developing critical abilities. His research recommends a different approach for this cohort: the use of “learning goals.” These are defined as targets which are linked to the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. They focus employees on “discovering, mastering, or implementing effective strategies, processes, or procedures necessary to perform a task.”
For example, new salespeople barely understand their product, the market, or required sales tactics. They should concentrate on setting learning goals related to mastering the fundamentals of their specific craft.
Latham’s work shows that managers who fail to make the distinction court failure, producing frustration and anxiety. In the worst case, people end up blaming themselves, then quitting, experiencing a drop in self-esteem. They have no idea that their manager should have explored an alternative.

Strategy 3 – Shifting Expectations
The above finding indicates a level of nuance most organizations don’t realize. Instead, those who employ salespeople often kick off the year with over-the-top “Rah Rah” sessions. They are entertaining but do little more than produce hype.
What’s a better choice if you are a manager? Skip the use of such blunt, short-term instruments, and train yourself to understand the two different kinds of targets. With this skill, you can set learning goals, look for the early warning signs of employee maturity, then shift your approach to targeting outcomes at just the right moment.
If you commit yourself to developing these surgical skills, you won’t get stuck on the one-size-fits-all thinking which permeates companies and demotivates employees. Instead, it may be the key to moving each of your direct reports to higher levels of performance.

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Why employees need the power to say no

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This week, I created a video summary of the column.

 

 

 

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager’s request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience or its opposite: independent choice? While there are no easy answers, the times are changing and so must leaders in your company.

 

Fortunately, managers who believe that their job is to do all the thinking while employees solely follow instructions are becoming rare. Yet, when the pressure is on, many managers become bossy. In the heat of the moment they give orders, and expect them to be followed without question. Resorting to anger they issue threats, stirring up fear in the hearts of others.

The worst rely on this tactic exclusively. Better managers initially start off being nice then turn into monsters later, arguing that people take advantage of the softer approach and therefore deserve this treatment.

They point to their personal experience as proof, which science supports. However, studies also show that this dominating technique has severe limits. While it gets action started, should it be a manager’s preferred tactic?

 

New research demonstrates otherwise.

 

A recent study led by Rom Schrift at the University of Pennsylvania shows that experimental subjects persisted longer in a task when they had the option to say “No.” It revealed that when they were granted a degree of autonomy, they performed better than others who weren’t given the same choice.

If you are a manager, it’s not hard to see why. In general, intrinsic motivation is a far better tool than its counterpart. In other words, you must give employees the option of saying “No” if you want them to perform at their best, especially if the task at hand involves more than a quick, physical action.

Let’s consider the extreme: what about the person at the bottom of your pyramid who is a simple laborer? I invite you to question your assumptions around this example from three angles.

  1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?

A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today, and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor quality work, indiscipline, random departures and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring “mere” workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different one: even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a “simple” laborer.

  1. Should employees be calendar-trained?

Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee’s calendar. In other words, they don’t trust staff to prioritize their work without being directed.

The solution isn’t to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time management skills so that their calendar actually reflects the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people’s appointments. All other tasks are left to memory – a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realize they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their “No” is a reflection of a tough call, rather than a whim.

  1. Should managers be retrained?

As a manager, it’s tempting to jump in, give orders and negate your employee’s choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities, than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important?

Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive: highly reactive to small slights which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single, harsh interaction to demote a newly hired eager-beaver. In the quint of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions. This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won’t change soon means that managers must un-learn the habit of routinely negating an employee’s “No.”

These three recommendations have a magical benefit: they grant employees the opportunity to say “No” in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

 

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

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Connecting Strategy, Performance, and Daily Activity

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How do you ensure employees are balancing their time between routine activities and long-term, strategic projects? Managers and their HR Partners have been tackling this problem for decades but continue to fail to separate the two different energies essential to sustain high performance. Here’s why.

Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was a cult hit, but his follow-up book, “Lila” offered important, practical ideas for every organization. He outlined two kinds of value in everyday life: Dynamic and Static Quality.

Dynamic Quality is the energy needed to make change happen. He defines it as a disruptive force which upsets the status quo, drives improvements and makes a difference. Its opposing “yang” is Static Quality, the energy needed to keep things the same. This is the source of maintenance chores; the continuous reliability which allows daily life to function.

Most people prefer one or the other, but in Pirsig’s brilliance, he brought the two together. Instead of seeing them as enemies, he imagined they exist in a symbiotic, alternating partnership.

He explains that each kind of quality has its season. There are dynamic moments when change must be driven versus its static counterpart where gains have to be consolidated. The key is to ratchet between the two at the right tempo, without getting stuck in either “harem-scarem” chaos or brain-dead stasis.

How does this idea apply to your organization?

Each year, when your firm conducts its annual strategic planning retreat, it’s allowing dynamic quality to run unbridled and free. Representing a dramatic departure from the routine of daily activity, it deserves its vaulted place in the calendar.

However, static quality probably reigns supreme on every other day. Immediately after the event, the status quo re-asserts itself, adding friction. Innovation degrades into wishful thinking. Customers remain upset, processes are never fixed, and profit margins don’t improve. The retreat is ultimately judged as an expensive waste. Some companies stop having them altogether.

In the 1990’s, to answer this problem, Drs. Kaplan and Norton invented the Balanced Scorecard. Along with the Strategy Map, these tools were intended to connect long-term plans with daily activity. After two decades, we now realize much more is needed.

The duo never imagined the mistake most companies make in implementing their ideas. In direct contravention of Pirsig’s call for clear separation, they implement performance management systems which throw dynamic and static quality into a single lump. As a result, staff is unable to answer: “What do I need to do to keep things the same, versus change, and how do I achieve a balance of time and effort between the two?”

The result? Staleness. Boredom. Failed improvement initiatives. Here are three tactics which will begin to break them out of their predicament.

  1. Bravely Separate Dynamic and Static Quality

In my firm’s planning retreats with executives and board members, we find ourselves working hard to keep the two energies apart. “The effort to envision a shiny future must be informed by the status quo but not limited by it,” is our mantra as participants reach for Dynamic Quality.

The very purpose of a retreat is to consider a brand new vision: a courageous act for most teams.

To wit, I have been in retreats where attendees risked their jobs to birth a breakthrough future. In one case, executives were collectively and ultimately successful; but they paid the price before their vision came to fruition when some were summarily fired. Needless to say, this is an extreme example, but Dynamic Quality always requires courage.

  1. Create Organizational Strategy and Business-as-Usual (BAU) Metrics

To strike a balance between the two energies, companies need to measure two kinds of activities after the retreat. The first set applies to the annual strategy and tracks its implementation. The second, BAU metrics, are ones required to maintain company functions and change little from year to year.

At the highest level, the CEO and employees must keep track of both. However, boards should demand to see the former, while saving any interest in the latter for the exceptional circumstance.

  1. Deploy Blended Performance Management

In most companies, the individual employee has no clue which parts of their job are strategic versus BAU in nature. Therefore, they have no idea where to focus. In its place, provide each person the means to define separate targets in both areas. Also, appreciate the fact that while some employees will only be doing BAU activity, everyone must be able to explain the difference between the two.

These practical steps help staff-members step out of muddy waters where Dynamic/Static quality, Strategy/BAU metrics are confused. Their clarity increases the odds that your futuristic plans succeed, while simultaneously ensuring the continuity of previous, hard-earned gains.

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

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How Leaders Can Train Employees to Enjoy Their Jobs

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How Leaders Can Train Employees to Enjoy Their Jobs

What intervention would make a difference with employees who aren’t motivated? One novel approach is to teach them how to fall in love with their work.

The recent U.S. television series “Dirty Jobs” fascinated millions. Each week, it highlighted a group of employees who specialize in filthy or dangerous jobs. For example, an episode featured Mexican workers who scuba dive into the capital’s underground sewers, just to keep them flowing.

You should be forgiven for believing that they must despise their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s not because they are grandly paid. For the most part, they simply love what they are doing. Unlike the two-thirds of employees in the average company who are disengaged, they are highly motivated.

So are most Jamaican executives. They enjoy unusual levels of daily mastery, purpose, and autonomy, a key factor in their high motivation and frequent promotions.

However, there’s often a skill they fail to develop: they aren’t equipped to help others attain this mindset. In their single-minded pursuit of personal excellence, they don’t pay much attention to those who were outperformed and therefore left behind.

Unfortunately, newly minted executives must turn around and find a way to motivate these “losers”. Untrained for this particular task, they often flounder. Instead, they complain about the bad culture – the same one they helped create.

Perhaps that makes them hypocrites, but this realization doesn’t assist them to figure out what to do. Logically, they realize that folks have real bills to handle, kids to feed and school fees to pay. But they don’t know how to motivate someone who just wants to work as little as possible to maintain a minimum flow of cash to their bank accounts.

This dilemma keeps leaders up at night. They (and their companies) can lose everything if they are unable to find a way to engage staff. While many approaches exist, here’s one that’s unusual: teach employees how to enjoy their work, just like their executives. Try these three steps.

Tactic #1 – Don’t Try to Merely “Give People What They Want”

According to “Why Workers Won’t Work, The Case Study of Jamaica,” multiple studies reveal the crude assumption born in new managers upon their promotion: people are greedy mercenaries who only respond to money. As I have pointed out in prior columns, this conclusion is demonstrably incorrect.

Even in jobs like teaching which are long overdue a raise in pay, employees know that giving everyone

all the cash rewards they want won’t work. Therefore, the first tactic is to bypass simplistic polls, intuitions or old wives’ tales which only reinforce this old explanation. They only sustain an “us vs. them” dynamic.

Instead, look deeper, beyond demeaning questions and pat answers.

Tactic #2 – Don’t Leave People Stuck With Just the Work They Like

Some managers believe the answer is to bend over backward to provide employees with the work they prefer. In other words, ask (or psychometric test) them to find the stuff they like, then devise ways to give it to them.

Once again, research shows this to be a mistaken approach. It produces a blend of unhappy workers in the long term, and a company lacking the skills it needs to thrive.

Tactic #3 – Teach People How to Find Inherent Meaning in Any Job

When employees have a supportive boss, they can learn how to enrich all aspects of their work by doing the following:

1) linking to a higher purpose. Look around: there are people who risk their lives daily for a big enough, non-monetary reason. By contrast, are your team members playing it safe, refusing to exceed their comfort zones? Is doing the right thing seen as all-important versus going along with the status quo?

  1. ii) finding an opportunity to challenge themselves. While competition appears to spur innovation, it really is a trigger or excuse for someone to push themselves beyond their normal limits. Is your environment sufficiently gamified to do the same? Or is work merely a nasty, week-day tax they pay in order to find growth, fun, and joy on weekends?

iii) experiencing newfound levels of independence. People who act as if they are in charge of their destiny love the feeling of ownership. By contrast, do your managers systematically treat staff like idiots who must be told what to think and when?

If you guess that this also has something to do with a manager’s skill at coaching, you’re right. But instead of leaving this competence to chance, train managers to help employees craft their best, most fulfilling work. In small steps, you’ll create an environment which bridges the gap between executive and employee motivation.

 

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180325/francis-wade-how-leaders-can-train-employees-enjoy-their-jobs

No such thing as ‘basic’ time management

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“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!

As a manager, you may advise a subordinate: “You need a basic time management program.” While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.

Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit so you want to help.

But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them, in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated—it’s all important.

Yet, their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe, you think, “They don’t understand the basics of time management.”

While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.

  1. They are adults, not kids

In the world of adult learning, there’s a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it’s because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.

In this context, teaching Jamaicans Latin isn’t the same as teaching us patois. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.

With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.

To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create “time demands” – your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Over time, you evolved, having learned the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and family.

However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools… the question is, “Which ones?” Only nuanced (not basic) training can help them uncover and close these gaps.

  1.      They need personal diagnostic skills

Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours (the stuff of basic programmes) adults need to learn how to analyse and improve the habit patterns they are currently using: the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.

In the second edition of my book, Perfect Time Based Productivity, I condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.

The first step is to E*valuate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.

Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveals that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there’s a unique way they use the program. Over time, you each developed routines which are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.

Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with a deeper than average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical Jamaican, or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?

  1. Instant, magical change won’t happen

A “basic” training which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.

This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills which don’t change overnight. To help, I recommend the remaining steps of the ETaPS formula.

–          Ta*rget new levels of accomplishment for each skill.

–          P*lan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps.

–          S*upport each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.

The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.

If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalized plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then, show them how better time management could improve every part of their life:  relationships with significant others, children’s performance at school, work-life balance, health and engagement in their community and family.

Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all “basic” training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, fool-proof changes.

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180311/francis-wade-no-such-thing-basic-time-management

Toxic Culture Resistance

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Leading in a toxic culture? Transform it by absorbing, not resisting

How do you escape a corporate culture you hate to work in each day? Should it be attacked head-on, or is another more subtle approach needed?

Perhaps you know the feeling of being trapped in a toxic work environment. The stress you experience each weekday is real. It can’t be escaped by positive thinking, thoughts, and prayers or any of the other techniques that work on lesser problems. Plus, simplistic advice like “Just quit, nuh?” isn’t helpful in a weak economy where everyone you know is scrambling to hold on to a job.

Unfortunately, we are taught from early on to conquer evil by launching strong resistance. After all, this approach worked to end slavery, get the vote and achieve independence. It also works in wars.

Fighting hard to win seems to be the best way to change your company’s culture. It appears to be a far better strategy than merely surrendering making it the tactic most corporate leaders use.

Unfortunately, it has faults which only makes things worse. Here are three examples.

Denial

An executive sits at her desk looking at the exit statistics. The best performers are consistently leaving for other companies, siphoning away the second-bests within a few months. Before long, only third-bests will remain—a recipe for disaster.

The head of human resources tries to convince her there’s a huge internal problem. But she refuses to accept it. Her people are being stolen by those with deeper pockets, an injustice. She angrily denies that the culture of her company is driving people away.

In her mind, she is the big victim.

Scolding

A CEO scrolls through the survey results. The staff has spoken: employee satisfaction and engagement scores have dipped even further. Obviously, the prior year’s interventions didn’t work, in spite of his hard work and extra effort. In fact, they actually made things worse.

“They shouldn’t feel this way.”

His response is all-too-human. As a species, we have a remarkable ability to argue with reality even when it’s staring us in the face. The response is instinctive – a way to protect ourselves from bad news.

It’s also beside the point. Given his goal of changing a toxic culture, the new scores provide valuable data which tell a nuanced story. Instead of being discarded, they need to be the basis for new plans going forward, as the leadership team “wheels and comes again.”

However, whenever he repeats the refrain in every executive meeting, real discussion stops. Lots of words are spoken, but his comment inserts a dangerous fiction at the moment the team should be grappling with hard truths.

As a result, they make no progress.

Selfish Disengagement

A Managing Director is stunned by the ungrateful nature of his staff members. His official Coffee Chats, an opportunity to meet with small groups of employees, has not turned out the way he wanted.

“Is this all you people do each day… just b***h and moan?” he finally lashes out, frustrated. All future open conversations are cancelled.

In his mind, they only became a bottomless pit of complaints. Instead of presenting a useful balance of positive and negative experiences, they dwelt on the bad stuff.

In response, he withdraws, turning into himself: an act of self-preservation in which he can lick his wounds in private. He limits his meetings to people he knows are happy, eschewing group gatherings. After all, no-one seems to care that he is also a human being who has real feelings.

The First Step

The behaviors displayed in the above examples are commonplace among leaders.

In each case, they experience unwanted internal feelings, triggered by other people’s unhappy expressions. To cope, they attack the source in the hope it will go away.

This tactic sometimes works in life, on simple problems. However, it fails to transform complex corporate cultures. In the high stakes positions they inhabit, the only answer is to learn how to fully accept, absorb and “be with” the stuff most people resist. In other words, instead of turning unwanted internal feelings into the enemy, they must mature to a place when they can be embraced.

While this is much easier to write or say than to practice, top executives need to evolve to the point where they can step aside from their own instinctive reactions. It’s the first, unavoidable step towards transforming themselves, demonstrating the radical kind of inside-out change that people need to see.

 

As such, this message isn’t only for top executives. It’s for any employee caught in a toxic company they can’t stand, but can’t immediately leave. Acceptance rather than resistance is the most powerful first step.

 

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 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180225/francis-wade-toxic-workplace-resistance