Monday, January 28, 2008

Building Trust on Your Teams

How do you build a team that trusts each other to speak their mind and take risks?  How do you make it possible for the team to engage in passionate and sometimes emotional debate, knowing that they will not be punished for saying something that might otherwise be interpreted as destructive or critical?  It's not about trusting that your team members will behave in a certain way.  It's about building vulnerability-based trust, where it's safe to take risks and face conflict on the team rather than fear it.  In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni writes about building vulnerability-based trust and overcoming the fear of conflict.

Vulnerability-Based Trust is the Place to Be
I've been on many teams throughout my career and there's a big difference between a team that trusts each other to take risks and speaks their mind versus a team that trusts each other in terms of predicting behavior.  Having experienced both, I know that vulnerability-based trust is the place to be.  I also know that it comes from shared experience over time and through the right behaviors.

My personal  favorites for building vulnerability-based trust include going out to lunch and taking the team off-site.  I prefer to do the off-site earlier versus later so that the team can learn each others' styles and learn the rhythms in a low overhead way.  It's actually a working off-site, where as a team, we kick off the project together in a shared room.  Building the shared experience really helps humanize the relationships and improve understanding across the team.

Vulnerbility-Based Trust
Lencioni writes:

"In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers' intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.  In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another."

Standard Definition of Trust
Lencioni writes:

"This description stands in contrast to a more standard definition of trust, one that centers around the ability to predict a person's behavior based on past experience.  For instance, one might 'trust' that a given teammate will produce high-quality work because he has always done so in the past."

Trust and Great Teams
Lencioni writes:

"As desirable as this may be, it is not enough to represent the kind of trust that is characteristic of a great team.  It requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another, and be confident that thei respective  vulnerabilities will not be used against them.  The vulnerabilities I'm referring to include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes and requests for help.

As 'soft' as all of this might sound, it is only when team members are truly comfortable being exposed to one another that they begin to act without concern for protecting themselves.  As a result, they can focus their energy and attention completely on the job at hand, rather than on being strategically disingenuous or political with one another."

Achieving Vulnerability-based Trust
Lencioni writes:

"Achieving vulnerability-based trust is difficult because in the course of career-advancement and education, most successful people learn to be competitive with their peers, and protective of their reputations.  It is a challenge for them to turn those instances off for the good of a team, but that is exactly what is required."

The Costs of Failing Are Great
Lencioni writes:

"The costs of failing to do this are great.  Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing their behaviors and interactions within the group.  They tend to dread team meetings, and are reluctant to take risks in asking for or offering assistance to others.  As a result, morale on distrusting teams is usually quite low, and unwanted turnover is high."

How to Build Vulnerability-Based Trust
Lencioni writes:

"Unfortunately, vulnerability-based trust cannot be achieved overnight.  It requires shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members.  However, by taking a focused approach, a team can dramatically accelerate the process and achieve trust in relatively short order."

Lencioni identifies some tools you can use:

  • Personal histories exercise.  Humanize the relationships by sharing your life stories and backgrounds.
  • Team effectiveness exercise.  Identify the single most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, as well as one area that they must improve upon or eliminate for the good of the team.  Focus on one person at a time, starting with the team leader.
  • Personality and behavior preference profiles.  Some of the most effective and lasting tools for building trust on a team are profiles of team member's behavioral preferences and personality styles.  These help break down barriers by allowing people to better understand and empathize with one another.  Lencioni recommends the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for profiling.
  • 360-degree feedback.  These are riskier than the other tools because they call for peers to make specific judgements and provide one another with constructive criticism.  The key is divorcing it entirely from compensation and formal performance evaluation.  It should allow employees to identify strengths and weaknesses without any repercussions, otherwise it can take on dangerous political undertones.
  • Experiential team exercises.  This includes ropes courses and other experiential team activities.  While they don't always translate directly to the working world, they can be valuable tools for enhancing teamwork as long as they are layered upon more fundamental and relevant processes.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Who's got your back?  One of my colleagues used this as a gut check.  It's amazing how simple, but revealing this simple question can be.  Ask yourself, on your own team, who's got your back?  Who's back do you have?  In your org, who's got your back? ... etc.  Worse, who doesn't have your back?
  • Focus on a supportive, learning environment.  Make it safe for the team to spread their wings.  I'm a fan of learning and growing.  It's tough to grow if you can't take chances.  I find that pairing on the team and using mentors helps a lot.
  • Encourage open and respectful communication.  I think this is critical for the team leader to set the stage for this one.  Asking the right questions and encouraging ideas is the key.
  • The leader has to set the example. By setting the example yourself, you help mold the culture. On example is open, trusting communication. Asking for honest feedback from employees, and then acting on it is another. Examples that run counter: Playing employees off of each other, competition in which the loser gets penalized in some way, public humiliation – as a supposed joke, penalty for honest failure, failure to extend trust – not trusting employees to take initiative and do things right on their own.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Framing Compelling Arguments

How do you create compelling arguments for change? How do you convince others to comply with your requests? How do you reduce the perceived costs of action or increase the perceived costs of inaction? In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about framing compelling arguments.

Reason, Values, or a Combination
Watkins writes:

"Persuasive appeals can be based on logic and data, or on values and the emotions that values elicit, or on some combination thereof. Reason-based arguments have to directly address the pragmatic interests of the people you want to convince. Value-based arguments aim to trigger emotional reflexes -- for example, by evoking patriotism to win support for sacrifices during wartime."

Appealing to Core Values
Watkins summarizes appealing to core values:

Core ValuesWithin the Business Environment
  • Commitment to an ideal
  • Sacrifice to realize that ideal
Commitment and Contribution
  • Service to customers and suppliers
  • Creating a better organization, society, or world
Individual worth and dignity
  • Respect for the individual expressed as elimination of exploitative or patronized practices and promotion of decency and opportunity for all
  • Providing the means for individuals to realize their potential
  • Respect for the letter and the spirit of the law
  • Ethical and honest behavior
  • Fairness in all interactions

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Frame your arguments. One approach is to just ask for what you want and see what happens. If the stakes are high, you'll want to frame a compelling argument.
  • Know whether you need logic, emotion or a combination. In general, I find a combination is most effective. That said, some people are more emotionally-driven while others are more data-driven. For those that are more emotionally driven, I find that metaphors or emotional picture words work well. If you know somebody is more data-driven, be sure to do your homework. See Know It Alls.
  • Know an individual's convincer strategy. You need to know the recipe to how an individual gets convinced. See Seven Meta-Programs for Understanding People.
  • Don't misrepresent your argument. There's a difference between improving your argument and manipulation. Present your argument in a compelling, relevant way, but don't mislead. Integrity matters.
  • Know the meta-programs. If you know how people filter the world and what they value, you can make your argument more relevant. See Seven Meta-Programs for Understanding People.
  • Know the Five Thinking Styles. If you know how people think, you can better frame your argument. See Five Thinking Styles.
  • Create a compelling business case. You can use a business case to show how big is the pie and what's your slice. You can use a business case to either support your argument or to argue against an alternative action. See Eight Rules of businessThink.
  • Calculate the impact. This includes the impact over time. Many people are driven by impact. They like to know they make a difference. If you help show them how they will make a difference, this will help you frame a more compelling argument. See Calculating Impact.

My Related Posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Action-Forcing Events

How do you get people to take action?  If your results depend on other people, how do you set the stage for action and help build momentum?  In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins write about how to use action-forcing events to help move people into action.

Eliminate Inaction as an Option
Watkins writes:

"How can you get people to take action at all?  It is all too easy even with the best intentions, to defer decisions, delay, and avoid committing scarce resources.  When your success requires the coordinated action of many people, delay by a single individual can have a cascade effect, giving others an excuse not to proceed.  You must therefore eliminate inaction as an option." 

Setting Up Action-Forcing Events
Watkins writes:

"One approach is to set up action-forcing events -- events that induce people to make commitments or take actions.  Those who make commitments should be locked into timetables with incremental implementation milestones.  Meetings, review sessions, and deadlines can all sustain momentum:  Regular meetings to review progress, and tough questioning of those who fail to reach agreed-on goals, increase the psychological pressure to follow through."

Don't Push Them Toward the Opponent Side
Watkins writes:

"Be careful though: Avoid pressing for closure until you are confident the balance of forces acting on key people is tipping your way.  Otherwise, you could succeed in forcing them to take a stand, but inadvertently push them toward the 'opponent' side of the ledger.  Again, you need to rely on your conversations with the people involved and with your 'intelligence network' to get a sense of where the situation stands."

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Identify who does what when.  There's a big difference between agreeing to actions and having owners that are accountable.  There's also a big difference when you have a timeframe for the outcome.
  • Use timetables and incremental milestones.  Rather than wait for a big bang at the end, chunk the work down into increments.  This avoids large surprises downstream. 
  • Leverage review sessions.  Review sessions are a great forcing function.
  • Ask the right questions with the right people in the room.  This is one of the most effective ways to drive results or at least clarify roadblocks and issues.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three Pillars for Building Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is your belief about your ability to influence events that affect your life. Your self-efficacy beliefs determine how you think, feel, motivate yourself, and behave. If you have a strong sense of efficacy, then you approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about how to build your foundation for self-efficacy.

The Three Pillars of Self-Efficacy
How can you create virtuous cycles that build momentum? How do you avoid vicious cycles that sap your strength? You build a foundation for self-efficacy. Your build your foundation with three pillars.

  • Pillar 1: Adopting Success Strategies.
  • Pillar 2: Enforcing Personal Disciplines.
  • Pillar 3: Building Your Support System.

Pillar 1: Adopting Success Strategies
Watkins outlines the following success strategies:

  • Promote yourself.
  • Accelerate your learning.
  • Match strategy to situation.
  • Secure early wins.
  • Negotiate success.
  • Achieve alignment.
  • Build your team.
  • Create coalitions.

For more information on the strategies, see Ten Key Success Strategies. To see how well your are doing with the strategies, see Checking Whether You're on Track. Also see, Avoiding Vicious Cycles to make sure you're keeping your balance and staying focused on the right things.

Pillar 2: Enforcing Personal Disciplines
Watkins identifies key personal disciplines:

  • Plan to plan.
  • Judiciously defer commitment.
  • Set aside time for the hard work.
  • Go to the balcony.
  • Focus on influence process design.
  • Check in with yourself.
  • Recognize when to quit.

See Guidelines for Structured Reflection.

Pillar 3: Building Your Support System
Watkins identifies the keys to an effective support system:

  • Assert control locally.
  • Stabilize the home front.
  • Build your advice and counsel network.

Quickly setup your basic infrastructure at work, develop your routines and set expectations. This will free you up to work on the tough stuff. Don't let home, rock the boat at work. See Building Your Advice-and-Counsel Network for tips on building your support system.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Don't fail at the basics. Get the basics right. Either you master administration or it masters you. This is also a case where a stitch in time saves nine. If you start off on the right foot, you make it easier downstream while folks are making their minds up about you. Impress them up front and life gets easier. You'll build momentum for success if you establish good habits early on.
  • Grow your support system. You can roll with the punches if you have an effective support system.
  • Leverage the success strategies. They're a proven recipe for results.

My Related Posts

Fundamental Do's and Don'ts for a Productive Relationship with Your Boss

How do you build a productive relationship with your new boss? You need to first focus on the fundamentals. In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about how to start off on the right foot with your new boss.

Fundamental Don'ts
Watkins provides some fundamental don'ts to build a productive relationship with your boss:

  • Don't trash the past.
  • Don't stay away.
  • Don't surprise your boss.
  • Don't approach your boss only with problems.
  • Don't run down your checklist.
  • Don't try to change your boss.

Fundamental Do's
Watkins provides some fundamental do's to build a productive relationship with your boss:

  • Take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work.
  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss.
  • Pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Own the relationship. You stand the most to gain. Own it.
  • Change yourself. It's faster and more effective to change yourself than to change your boss. If something's not working, change your approach. This doesn't mean compromise your values. It means be flexible and adaptable in your approach.
  • Be a problem solver. It's one thing to raise issues, it's another to bring solutions to the table. If all you see is problems, but no solutions, then you're part of the problem.
  • Be available. Out of sight, out of mind. You shouldn't be impossible to reach. You should be around for important meetings and gatherings where visibility counts.
  • Know what your boss cares about. You can spend a lot of effort on something that your boss could care less about. Find out earlier vs. later. The more you line up your work with what your boss cares about, the more support you get.

My Related Posts

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Reading is an Investment

Photo by cesarastudillo.

Do you get return on your reading investment? Do you turn insights into action? In Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life: How To Get More Books In Your Life And More Life From Your Books, Steve Leveen writes about reading as an investment.

Your Notebook is Not a Miser's Sock
Leveen writes:

"'The time you spend in reading is an investment,' Walter Pitkins advices us. 'You ought to get good returns on it. But, in order to do so, you must salt down the essence of books and articles in whatever form proves most usable.' And don't put your notes away. 'A notebook is not a miser's sock in which treasure is to be hidden,' he reminds us. 'It is a tool drawer, which ought to be opened daily.'"

Key Take Aways
Well, I know I use reading to give me an edge in all areas of my life. I also share what I learn with others to give them an edge in life. That's part of what this blog is all about.

My Related Posts

Proven Techniques for Remembering

How can you retain more information? What are the most effective techniques for remembering information? After all, what's the point of learning if it's not there for you when you need it. In Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life: How To Get More Books In Your Life And More Life From Your Books, Steve Leveen writes about proven practices for remembering information.

SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review
Leveen writes:

"In the 1940's Francis Robinson, a professor of Ohio State University, came up with something of a breakthrough for learning college course material. It is an eminently practical method based on psychological research that he called SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. The idea is to survey each section of a textbook, starting out high and coming in lower for successive passes. Key to this method is transforming the textbook's subheadings into questions. 'Naturalistic Substage' becomes 'What Is Naturalistic Substage?' Then read to answer the questions, practice reciting the answers without looking at the text, and after short breaks, review what you've learned."

Prompting Questions
Leveen writes:

"At about the same time that Robinson was developing his method, a scholar named Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, who had studied and lectured at the Sorbonne, came up with his own, similar method for extracting the most from texts. In The Art of Study: The Sorbonne Method, Szekely recommends that you underline key passages on the page of the text, rite pithy summaries of these points in the right margin, and then write your own questions that these points answer in the left margin. Use the top margin for your own ideas and the bottom margin for things you don't understand. By covering up all but your prompting questions on the left, you can practice your recitation. Later, your notes at the bottom about the points that were unclear may become your most valuable notes of all. 'In this way ou become your own examining professor and your own judge,' says Szekely."

Cornell System: The Question-in-the-Margin Method
Leveen writes:

"Current college-level recommendations carry on the same basic idea: to learn most efficiently, you need to become your own instructor. Walter Pauk is the creator of the Cornell System for taking notes. With this method, students leave a wide left-hand margin for the questions they ask themselves after class or after reading, which their notes answer. Students then cover up the answers until they can recite them. In the seventh edition of his How to Study in College, Pauk still recommends his question-in-the-margin method for twenty-first-century students."

Frame Questions
Leveen writes:

"Whatever you wish to remember after finishing the book, it will help if you frame questions that will elicit these facts and ideas. Returning to Panama, for example, I asked myself: 'What was the startling, counterproductive practice hospitals were following for their malaria patients?' Answer: 'Putting bedposts in pans of water to keep ants away -- meanwhile breeding mosquitoes in hospital wards.' This is a proven way to seize the most from your reading."

Recite Soon After Learning
Leveen writes:

"After learning something, how best can we retain the information for the long term? The college study books pay lots of attention to this question, and one overriding lesson is to recite soon after learning something and then repeatedly, at lengthening intervals, as often as you need. Usually it takes surprisingly little time to do this, and you can retain an impressive amount of information for years to come."

Refresh Your Memory Quickly
Leveen writes:

"College texts still refer to the pioneering work in memory that Hermann Ebbinghaus did in the late nineteenth century. A German psychologist, Ebbinghaus discovered that most memory loss occurs very soon after learning something. The best way to counteract this natural loss is to refresh your memory quickly -- for example, later in the same day. Then refresh by recitation the next day, then perhaps a few days later, a week after that, and again at three weeks. These reviews, which may take only minutes, will yield surprisingly good results for your long-term retention. While this technique applies mainly to textbook and nonfiction learning, there's no reason you can't use it to remember the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird if you wish."

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Chunk it down. Our working memory can only hold so much at a time and it fatigues fairly quickly. Chunking down information makes it easier to absorb. When I blog, I chunk information down and this helps me absorb and retain more.
  • Ask questions. Questions engage your mind. Similar to driving a bunch of miles and not even noticing, it's easy to read a bunch of information passively and walk away with nothing. If you ask questions, you'll notice the landmarks, insights, and "ah-has" along the way.
  • Improve your questions. Thinking is just asking and answering questions. If you ask better questions, you'll get better answers. The answers will also stick better since you're using a question-driven approach and you're engaging your mind.
  • Write it down. The act of writing it down also engages your mind. You need to think about what you're going to write, so when you write your notes, you're transforming the information with your mind engaged.
  • Revisit the information. I make a habit of scanning my notes, asking questions and finding the answers. This helps remind me of important things, while the unimportant stuff just sloughs off.
  • Turn insights into action. The most important thing you can do is turn what you learn into something you can use. Always ask yourself, "How can I use this?" You may be surprised by your own answers.

Why You Should Write in Books

Are you a Preservationist or a Footprint Leaver? Do you leave your books riddled with notes and turned down pages or do you leave them in pristine condition? In Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life: How To Get More Books In Your Life And More Life From Your Books, Steve Leveen writes about writing in your books as a helpful way to learn, along with arguments for Footprint Leavers and Preservationists.

Writing in Book is Helpful
Leveen writes:

"When in the trance of good fiction -- when one is carried away by a story -- writing in a book is unnecessary and can even be distracting. It is in expository writing, when one is reading to learn, that writing in books is so very helpful."

If You Already Do It, Do It More
Leveen writes:

"If you already write in your books, I encourage you to do even more of it and to take this art to a higher level. If you do not write in your books, I urge you to start, even though I know it goes against the grain."

Footprint Leavers and Preservationists
Leveen writes:

"I wrote a column for the Levenger Web site on this subject, describing those who write in books as Footprint Leavers and those who do not as Preservationists. Within a week, more than two thousand readers responded with arguments, many of them quite eloquent, either for or against leaving footprints. Ironically, both camps based their reasoning on a fervent love of books."

Arguments for Footprint Leavers
Leveen writes:

"'A book unmarked is a book unloved," pronounced one Footprint Leaver. 'An unmarked book is like a canister of undeveloped fil, an unopened bottle of wine, a violin with sagging strings,' said another."

Arguments for Preservationists
Leveen writes:

"Preservationists felt otherwise. 'I never would write in a book, my thoughts are just that, my thoughts. Books should be left in a pristine condition. Notes are for notebooks,' said one Preservationist. 'It just makes me cringe to think about writing in a book of mine or event turning down the page to mark your place. That's what bookmarks are for!' insisted another."

Post-Its: A Solution for Those in the Middle
Leveen writes:

"Other people were in the middle and sometimes conflicted, as this reluctant Preservationist was: 'Alas, I am a Preservationist. I have tried numerous times to be a Footprint Leaver, but have failed miserably! I would love to be able to write in books; I just can't bring myself to do it.' For such wistful readers, today's stick-on notes allow them to write in books without actually doing so."

Key Take Aways
I fall into the middle camp. I've tried to write in books, but it just never felt right. While I like the idea, I think I've found a way that works for me. What I do is I stick post-its in my book on pages I find noteworthy and I write a quick note to remind me of the point. This way I can quickly flip to what matters. This also works well for books I take out of the library. Another thing I do is I carry a batch of sticky notes with me so I can jot down notes as I go along. That way I can bring the notes wherever I need them and it helps turn them into action. Lastly, I share the nuggets that I find most useful, here on this blog, as I get the chance.

The Truth About Speed Reading

How important is speed reading in today's information overloaded world? What do the experts do to read faster and retain more? In Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life: How To Get More Books In Your Life And More Life From Your Books, Steve Leveen writes about the truth about speed reading.

Speed Reading Then and Now
Leveen writes:

"In the Space Age '60's, speed reading was seen as a scientific way to train people to cope with the ever-increasing amount of information. Yet today, in our Information Age, you don't hear much about speed reading. You can still find Evelyn Wood training sessions, but they have withered from six-week courses to one-day seminars. What happened?"

Speed Just Isn't That Important
Leveen writes:

"It turns out that speed just isn't that important. It is no magic cure for information overload. You can increase your speed, even dramatically, but pure speed is only part -- and not the biggest part -- of reading well."

Don't Let Your Eyes Limit You
Leveen writes:

"By the time Mortimer Adler revised How to Read a Book in 1972, he had to respond to what he termed the 'fad' of speed-reading courses. He agreed that they are useful in letting your reading speed be limited by your mind and not your eyes. By simply using your fingers together as a pointer and disciplining yourself to read in this fashion, he wrote you can read twice or three times as fast. Speed reading, says Adler, can improve elementary comprehension -- that is, what a book says. But speed reading can't help you understand what a book means. That says Adler, is controlled by your thinking speed, not your reading speed. Go ahead and take a course, he allowed; it won't hurt you. But it won't help you much either."

What The Experts Say
Leveen writes:

"Speed reading is no more likely to make you a good reader than the ability to run quickly will make you a good tennis player. None of the professional readers I've interviewed - editors, writers, publishers, booksellers, book reviewers -- believed that a speed-reading course made any difference for them. In fact, a surprising number said they consider themselves slow readers (although this is obviously a self-assessment). Only two people I've interviewed, both attorneys, reported that they profited by a speed-reading course. They use their skills today mainly for reviewing lengthy legal documents."

The Far Away Look
Leveen writes:

"When you think about it, aren't some of the most important moments in reading, whether for pleasure or for learning, when you stop and gaze off with that faraway look? At these moments, your reading speed slows to zero, but your understanding soars. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, 'The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts.'"

Key Take Aways
I read a lot of information every day, on the job and on my own time, whether it's books, blogs, email, sites or feeds. If there's a better way I'm always looking for it. Here's my key take aways:

  • Don't let your eyes limit you. I didn't realize how limiting your eyes could be if you don't train them. A while back, I bought a product called EyeQ: Read and Process Faster in Just 7 Minutes (Package Edition, and I took it for a test drive. It's purpose is to improve your reading speed by improving your eye speed. I was already a fast reader, but by using EyeQ, I became very aware of where and how my eyes slowed me down. I was surprised by how quickly the training exercises improved my reading speed. I love the fact the program shows you measurable improvement in your reading speed. It feels more like a video-game than training.
  • Focus on comprehension over speed. Assuming your eye speed isn't limiting you, the next gate is your mind. What's the point of racing through a bunch of material if you don't understand it?
  • Use focus and priority over speed. Carve out what's important. There will always be more information than you can possibly read. If this approach is good enough for the experts, then maybe this is actually the proven practice for more effective reading.
  • Be flexible in your pace. At work, I have to parse a lot of email to get down to the actual points that matter. I do that in books, blogs and sites too. I selectively slow down or speed up, based on purpose and scale. If I have a lot of email, but I'm time-boxing my results, I set a faster pace. If I'm researching a topic and I have to hack my way through the information jungle, I set a faster pace. If I'm reading for leisure, I soak it up all in good time, at whatever pace feels good.
  • Slow down for the good stuff. Slow down for the "ah-has" and fully absorb the impact. Savor the good stuff.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ten Key Success Strategies

What are the keys to successful transitions into new situations or roles? How do you learn, set priorities, create plans and direct action to build momentum? How do you gain confidence and get energized by your accomplishments? You can adopt a proven set of success strategies. In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about ten key strategies that provide a roadmap for success.

Key Success Strategies
Watkins identifies ten key success strategies:

  • Promote yourself.
  • Accelerate your learning.
  • Match strategy to situation.
  • Secure early wins.
  • Negotiate success.
  • Achieve alignment.
  • Build your team.
  • Create coalitions.
  • Keep your balance.
  • Expedite everyone.

Key Success Strategies Explained
Watkins explains the key success strategies:

    • Promote yourself. This doesn't mean hiring your own publicist. It means making the mental break from your old job and preparing to charge in the new one. Perhaps the biggest pitfall you face is assuming that what has made you successful to this point in your career will continue to do so. The dangers of sticking with what you know, working extremely hard at doing it, and failing miserably are very real.
    • Accelerate your learning. You need to climb the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. This means understanding its markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures, as well as its culture and politics. Getting acquainted with a new organization can feel like drinking from a fire hose. You have to be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn and how you will learn it most efficiently.
    • Match strategy to situation. There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. Start-ups, for instance -- of a new product, process, plant or a completely new business -- share challenges quite different from those you would face while turning around a product, process, or plant in serious trouble. A clear diagnosis of the situation is an essential prerequisite for developing your action plan.
    • Secure early-wins. Early wins build your credibility and create momentum. They create virtuous cycles that leverage the energy you are putting into the organization to create a pervasive sense that good things are happening. In the first few weeks, you need to identify opportunities to build personal credibility. In the first 90 days, you need to identify ways to create value, improve business results, and get to the breakeven point more rapidly.
    • Negotiate success. because no other single relationship is important, you need to figure out how to build a productive relationship with your new boss and manage his or her expectations. This means carefully planning for a series of critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and your personal development. Crucially, it means developing and gaining consensus on your 90-day plan.
    • Achieve alignment. The higher you rise in an organization, the more you have to play the role of organizational architect. This means figuring out whether the organization's strategy is around, bringing structure into alignment with its strategy, and developing the systems and skill bases necessary to realize strategic intent.
    • Build your team. If you are inheriting a team, you will need to reevaluate its members and perhaps restructure it to better meet the demands of the situation. Your willingness to make tough early personnel calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions is among the most important drivers of success during your transition. You will need to be both systematic and strategic in approaching the team-building challenge.
    • Create coalitions. Your success will depend on your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. Support alliances, both internal and external, will be necessary to achieve your goals. You should therefore start right away to identify whose support is essential for your success and to figure out how to line them up on your side.
    • Keep your balance. In the personal and professional tumult of a transition, you will have to work hard to maintain your equilibrium and preserve your ability to make good judgements. The risks of losing perspective, getting isolated, and making bad calls are ever present during transitions. There is much you can do to accelerate your personal transition and to gain more control over your work environment. The right advice-and-counsel network is an indispensable resource.
    • Expedite everyone. Finally, you need to help everyone in your organization -- direct reports, bosses, and peers -- accelerate their own transitions. The quicker you can get your new direct reports up to speed, the more you will help your own performance. Beyond that, the benefits to the organization of systematically accelerating everyone's transition are potentially vast.

Assessing Your Success
Now that you know the key success strategies, how do you check whether you're on track? You can use a set of diagnostic questions for checking whether you're on track. What's important is that the sum of strategies is better than the parts. As you put the strategies into practice, make sure you assess your success and tune as appropriate.

Key Take Aways
I find this set of strategies to be very grounded in the real-world. It's not theoretical success -- these strategies work. I've used these strategies on the job for getting results. Here's my key take aways:

  • Know the key success strategies. While this might seem like a large set, it's actually a very concise set that when used together, produces outstanding results.
  • Be flexible and adaptable. The real key here in responding to new challenges is your ability to change your mindset and approach. What got you here won't get you there.
  • Don't go it alone. One of the big mistakes I see on a regular basis, is a smart person with great ideas that doesn't leverage the network. The network either works for you or against you. Why push rocks uphill? You'll also need your network for support when your plans don't go as expected.
  • Keep a balanced scorecard. Turn failure into lessons and keep your wins in mind. Your wins build personal momentum.
  • Focus on the big rocks. The key here is not doing everything that's possible. It's about focusing on the right things. I think the secret here is not only figuring out what your group considers valuable, but making sure that you carve out time to work on the tough stuff. It's all too easy to nail a bunch of little stuff to end up with insignificant results. It's also all to easy to put your all into something, only to find out that the business, your manager or your team doesn't care. Find out what's important and nail that.
  • One size doesn't fit all. The beauty of this collection of strategies is that it's a system for success. It's not a hammer. It's an adaptable framework of approaches and measures that you can leverage to make sure you're doing the right things, the right way, and keeping your balance. I think the biggest insight here is keeping in mind that your people, processes, and products can be in various maturity levels. Diagnosing your portfolio will give you a better vantage point so you choose the right strategies.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Checking Whether You're on Track

Are you focused on the right things and balancing the right priorities? How do you gauge your progress towards your targets for success? As a new leader, how do you know whether you're trending in the right direction? In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about questions you can use to determine whether you're building momentum or losing your balance.

Assessment of Core Challenges 
Watkins provides the following questions to serve as your gyroscope for keeping your balance and orientation.

Core Challenge Diagnostic Questions
Promote Yourself Are you adopting the right mind-set for your new job and letting go of the past?
Accelerate your learning Are you figuring out what you need to learn, from whom to learn it, and how to speed up the learning process?
Match strategy to situation Are you diagnosing the type of transition you are facing and the implications for what to do and what not to do?
Secure early wins Are you focusing on the vital priorities that advance long-term goals and build short-term momentum?
Negotiate success Are you building you relationships with your new boss, managing expectations, and marshalling the resources you need?
Achieve alignment Are you identifying and fixing frustrating misalignments of strategy, structure, systems, and skills?
Build your team Are you assessing, restructuring, and aligning your team to leverage what you are trying to accomplish?
Create coalitions Are you building a base of internal and external support for your initiatives so you are not pushing rocks uphill?

Key Take Aways
At the end of the day, the questions help to make sure that you're setting yourself up for success by avoiding common traps.  The big traps include using the wrong strategies, failing to adapt to your new situation, and failing to build an effective support network.  Using the questions above can help make sure you cover your bases.

My Related Posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Building Your Advice-and-Counsel Network

How do you build an effective support network for getting results? To be an effective leader, you need a combination of technical advisers, cultural interpreters and political counselors. In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about how you can build an effective support network.

Why Build an Advice-and-Counsel Network
Watkins writes:

"No lead, no matter how capable and energetic, can do it all. You need a network of trusted advisers within and outside the organization with whom to talk through what you are experiencing. Your network is an indispensable resource that can help you avoid becoming isolated and losing perspective. As a starting point, you need to cultivate three types of advice givers: technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors."

Types of Advice Givers
Watkins identifies the types of advice givers and how they help you:

  • Technical advisers. Provide expert analysis of technologies, markets, and strategy. They suggest applications for new technologies. They recommend strategies for entering new markets. They provide timely and accurate information.
  • Cultural interpreters. Help you understand the new culture and (if that is your objective) to adapt for it. They provide you with insight into cultural norms, mental models, and guiding assumptions. They help you learn to speak the language of the new organization.
  • Political counselors. Help you deal with political relationships within your new organization. They help you implement the advice of your technical advisers. They serve as a sounding board as you think through options for implementing your agenda. They challenge you with what-if questions.

Assessment of Your Advice-and-Counsel Network
Watkins provides a table for assessing your advice-and-counsel network:

-Technical AdvisersCultural InterpretersPolitical Counselors
Internal advisers and Counselors (inside your new organization)
External Advisers and Couselors (outside your new organization)

An Effective Support Network
Watkins outlines an effective support network:

  • The right mix of technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors.
  • The right mix of internal and external advice-givers. You want honest feedback from insiders and the dispassionate perspective of outside observers.
  • External supporters who are loyal to you as an individual, not to your new organization of unit. Typically these are long-standing colleagues and friends.
  • Internal advisers who are trustworthy, whose personal agendas don’t conflict with yours, and who offer straight and accurate advice.
  • Representatives of key constituencies who can help you understand their perspectives. You do not want to restrict yourself to one or two points of view

Internal and External Advice Givers
Watkins writes:

"You also need to think hard about the mix of internal and external advice-givers you want to cultivate. Insiders know the organization, its culture and politics. Seek out people who are well connected and who you can trust to help you grasp what is really going on. They are a priceless resource.

At the same time, insiders cannot be expected to give you dispassionate or disinterested views of events. Thus, you should augment your internal network with outside advisers and counselors who will help you work through the issues and decisions you are facing. They should be skilled at listening and asking questions, have good insight into the way organizations work, and have your best interests at heart."

Think Ahead
Watkins suggests preparing ahead:

"Will your existing network provide the support you need in your new situation? Don’t assume that people who have been helpful in the past will continue to be helpful in your new situation. You will encounter different problems and former advisers may not be able to help you in your new role. As you attain higher levels of responsibility, for example, the need for good political counsel increases dramatically.

You should also be thinking ahead. Because it takes time to develop an effective network, it’s not too early to focus on what sort of network you will need in your next job. How ill your needs for advice change?"

Key Take Aways
I think this is a particularly important post. Too many people with great ideas, can't get results because they don't have an effective network. The other scenario is a great person with a great idea, has to work too hard. An effective network would help both scenarios. Here's my key take aways:

  • Use technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors. This is a great breakdown. If you have the best of ideas, but you don't have the political support, you won't get your ideas implemented.
  • Include internal and external advisers. Keeping a set of external advisers will help you keep perspective. Otherwise, you can end up the frog in the boiling pot.
  • Don't just rely on your past network. Situations change. Needs change. Evolve your network for your changing needs.
  • Build your network before you need it. While a friend in need is a friend indeed, building your support network ahead of time will help you avoid desperation. Also, building an effective network takes time.

My Related Posts

Monday, January 14, 2008

Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve

Are you working harder but producing less?  While stress can initially help your personal performance, sustained stress at too high a level can  decrease your performance.  As you try to compensate for your decreasing performance, this creates more stress, further decreasing your performance.  It's a vicious cycle.  In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about the Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve and how it explains the relationship of levels of stress to your performance.

Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve
Here's an example of the Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve:

Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve

Working Harder to Achieve Less
Watkins writes:

"Whether self-generated or externally imposed, you need some stress (often in the form of positive incentives or consequences from inaction) to be productive. Without it, not much happens - you stay in bed munching chocolates. As you begin to experience pressure, your performance improves, at least at first. Eventually you reach a point (which varies from person to person) at which further demands, in the form of too many balls to juggle or too heavy an emotional load, start to undermine performance. This dynamic creates more stress, further reducing your performance and creating a vicious cycle as yo go over the top of your stress curve. Rarely, outright exhaustion stress in and the new leader burns out. Much more common is chronic underperformance. You work harder and achieve less."

Key Take Aways
As with so many things, balance is the key.  If you don't have any stress, you won't get your best performance.  On the other hand, if you sustain too much stress, you'll start to degrade your performance.  Here's my key take aways:

  • Distinguish between good stress and bad stress.  Some stress improves your performance.  At some point, your performance is negatively impacted.  You need to identify when you're spinning your wheels.
  • Distinguish between types of tasks.  For some physical tasks, a higher-level of stress will help motivate you and sustain your performance.  For difficult, complex or highly cognitive tasks (such as requiring a high-degree of concentration), stress can reduce your performance faster.
  • Distinguish between stress and anxiety.  Stress is your body's physical reaction, while anxiety is your cognitive association.  For example, you might feel anxious and associate your anxiety with stressful scenarios.
  • Avoid sustaining high-levels of stress beyond your capacity.   As you can see from the curve, performance rapidly diminishes once you are beyond your stress threshold.
  • Don't stress about stress.  Part of why your performance can deteriorate so quickly is because you notice your performance is deteriorating and this creates more stress, further diminishing your performance.
  • Reduce your stress through checklists.  It works for the air force.  See How To Avoid Task Saturation.
  • Know your own stress patterns.  You're your best gauge if you pay attention to your performance.  You'll know when your concentration is off, or your motivation is off, ... etc.  You know how you react to various scenarios and whether the stress works for you or against you.  Simply increasing awareness of situations and your performance and levels of stress is a great start.  You can then either tailor situations to suit you, or you can find ways to adapt to certain situations, or you can avoid situations all-together.

My Related Posts

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Avoiding Vicious Cycles

If you're a new leader, how do you know if you're working on the right things and keeping your balance?  What are your key gauges to make sure you're not falling into personal traps?   In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about the traps you can fall into, and the questions to help you stay self-aware.

Watkins provides a set of self-check questions.  When you ask yourself the following questions, pay particular attention to where you agree or strongly agree:

  • Am I very busy but not finding time for the most important things I ought to be doing?
  • Am I doing things I should not be doing at the request of others (e.g. my boss, my direct reports)?
  • Am I frustrated that I cannot get things done the way I want them to be done?
  • Do I feel isolated in the organization?
  • Does my judgement seems off these days?
  • Am I avoiding making tough decisions on key issues (e.g. personnel)?
  • Do I have less energy for work than I usually do?

Where you agree or strongly agree, these are potential flags.

Personal Traps
Watkins identifies seven personal traps that correspond to the self-check questions above:

  • Riding off in all directions.
  • Undefended boundaries.
  • Brittleness.
  • Isolation.
  • Biased judgement.
  • Work avoidance.
  • Going over the top.

Riding Off in all Directions
Watkins writes:

"You can't hope to focus others if you can't focus yourself.  You can be busy and still fail every single day.  Why? Because there is an infinite number of tasks you could do during your transition, but only a few that are vital.  Perhaps you tell yourself, "If I get enough things going, something has to click," and dissipate your efforts.  Perhaps you over-estimate your capacity to keep all the balls in the air.  Every new leader has to do some parallel processing.  But it is easy to reach the point of mental lock-up, where you find yourself pulled form task to task faster than you can refocus on each new one.  Whatever the explanation, if important problems remain unaddressed, they could explode and suck up more of your time, leaving you even less time, and so on.  The result is a vicious cycle of firefighting."

Undefended Boundaries
Watkins writes:

"If you fail to establish solid boundaries defining what you are willing and not willing to do, the people around you -- bosses, peers, and direct reports -- will take whatever you have to give.  The more you give, the less they will respect you and the more they will ask of you -- another vicious cycle.  Eventually you will feel angry and resentful that you are being nibbled to death, but you will have no one to blame but yourself.  If you cannot establish boundaries for yourself, you cannot expect others to do it for you."

Watkins writes:

"The uncertainty inherent in transitions breeds rigidity and defensiveness, especially in new leaders with a high need for control.  The likely result: overcommitment to a failing course of action.  You make a call prematurely and then feel unable to back away from it without losing credibility.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to admit you were wrong and the more calamitous the consequences.  Or perhaps you decide that your way of accomplishing a particular goal is the only way.  as a result your rigidity disempowers people who have equally valid ideas about how to achieve the same goal."

Watkins writes:

"To be effective, you have to be connected to the people who make action happen and to the subterranean flow of information.  It is surprisingly easy for new leaders to end up isolated, and isolation can creep up on you.  It happens because you don't take the time to make the right connections, perhaps by relying overmuch on a few people or on "official" information.  It also happens if you unintentionally discourage people from sharing critical information with you.  Perhaps they fear your reaction to bad news, or see you as having been captured by competing interests.  whatever the reason, isolation breeds uninformed decision making, which damages your credibility and further reinforces your isolation."

Biased Judgement
Watkins writes:

"Biased judgement -- a loss of perspective because of well recognized weaknesses in human decision making -- can take several forms.  Overcommitment to a failing course of action because of ego and credibility is one version.  Others include confirmation bias, the tendency to focus on information that confirms your beliefs and filter out what does not; self-serving illusions, a tendency for your personal stake in a situation to cloud your judgement; and optimize overconfidence, or underestimation of the difficulties associated with your preferred course of action.  Vulnerability to these biases is a constant, but you are particularly at risk when the stakes get higher, uncertainty and ambiguity increase, and emotions run high."

Work Avoidance
Watkins writes:

"You will have to make tough calls early in your new job.  Perhaps you have to make major decisions about the direction of the business based on incomplete information.  Or perhaps your personnel decisions will have a profound impact on people's lives.  Consciously or unconsciously, you may choose to delay by burying yourself in other work or fooling yourself that the time isn't ripe to make the call.  Ron Heifetz uses the term work avoidance to characterize this tendency to avoid taking the bull by the horns, which results in tough problems becoming even tougher."

Going Over the Top
Watkins writes:

"All of these traps can generate dangerous levels of stress.  Not all stress is bad.  In fact, there is a well-documented relationship between stress and performance known as the Yerkes-Dodson curve."

Key Take Aways
This is a gem.  Watkins did a great job outlining, but I'll summarize this to say that focus, boundaries, flexibility, and balance are key.  So is knowing your capacity, building a great personal sounding board for your decisions, and making sure that you grow your network where you need to.

My Related Posts

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Positive Thinking vs. Positive Action

While positive thinking is a good guideline, it's not a mantra to use while you're performing your task. When you're performing, the key is to stay focused on the task and take positive action. In Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance, John Eliot, Ph.D. writes about how great performers use positive action over positive thinking to produce great results.

Exceptional Thinkers Act
Eliot writes:

"Negative thinking is extremely powerful. If you believe a catastrophe is one step around the corner, then it will be hard to be genuinely committed or confident. 'Think positively' is generally good advice, but it also can be an obstacle to exceptional thinking. Positive thinking tends to be goal-oriented. It also tends to put performers in the Training Mindset, analyzing their stream of consciousness. Exceptional thinkers learn to trust their consciousness. They teach themselves the power of positive action. They don't stop to think about how great the act is going to be. Instead, they act."

The Best Result Possible for That Given Moment
Eliot writes:

"This is a big difference. A great surgeon is not carving away at your innards thinking to himself: 'I'm a great surgeon, I'm doing a great operation, yes I am.' Such self-talk would strike a surgeon as not just silly but potentially very dangerous. Surgeons do not even think, "First I do X, then I do Y, and what is it that comes after that? Right, I do Z.' Good surgeons go to work, cut by cut, stitch by stitch, trusting their training and experience. During surgery, they no more think about what they're doing -- positively or negatively -- than a good salesman in the middle of a deal thinks about the steps in the company sales manual or a great pianist on stage is thinking about what note comes next. Nor are they thinking about the perfect result; they are just doing what they're good at and enjoying it, and they know if that's all they do, the best result possible for that given moment will be there."

Confidence is in Gear
Eliot writes:
"They do not have to contemplate the importance of being confident because genuinely confident surgeons, salesmen, and musicians arrive with their confidence already in gear. They perform based on their philosophies, not a set of instructions. They no more have to remind themselves to be confident or committed than truly religious people have to jot down 'keep the faith' on their to-do list. Being faithful is just who they are."

Think Exceptionally
Eliot writes:

"A philosophy of performance is not a mantra that you repeat over and over to yourself as you perform. It's a guideline to help you keep thinking exceptionally regardless of the factors pushing you to revert to your old habits or socializing you to think like the masses."
Key Take Aways
I like the distinction between thinking about performing and actually performing. Here's my take aways:
  • Don't second guess yourself. Great performers don't analyze their stream of conscious. Instead, their fully engaged in their performance.
  • Don't allow negative thinking. Negative thinking holds you back.
  • Trust your abilities. Don't doubt yourself. Great performers trust their abilities.
  • Be in the moment. Great performers aren't stuck in the past, or distracted by the future.

I think the real key here is that great performers don't mix practice with performance. They lose themselves in the moment. They act with competence, commit with confidence, and fully embrace the task at hand.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shouts, Hits and Awareness

How do Zen masters point students to awareness without using words? In Simple Zen: A Guide to Living Moment by Moment, C. Alexander Simpkins PH.D. and Annellen Simpkins PH.D. write how Zen masters point students to awareness through hits and shouts.

A Nonconceptual Experience
Alexander and Annellen write:

"Chinese Zen masters Ma-tsu and Lin-chi often resorted to shouting or hitting in response to students' questions. This created tension in the students since they never knew when they might receive a smack from the master. The purpose, however, was not to terrorize the students but to give them a direct, wordless, nonconceptual experience."
The Unborn Mind
Alexander and Annellen write:

"If you think about a time you were surprised by something - for example, a ball thrown at you unexpectedly - you probably extended your arms and caught it without thinking. Bankei referred to this as the Unborn Mind. This is the nonrational awareness that Zen helps us awaken. Frequently, students who were
struck by Lin-chi's stick discovered sudden enlightenment."

The Student and the Master
Alexander and Anellen write about a typical exchange between Lin-chi and a student"

"The Master said to a nun, 'Well come, or ill come?'
The nun gave a shout.
The Master picked up his stick and said, 'Speak then, speak!'
The nun shouted once more.
The Master struck her. (Watson 1993, 99)

A Means to an End
Alexander and Annellen write:

"Like any teaching device, koans, shouting, and strikes with the stick are not the awareness itself. They are aids to engage students toward awakening. Words can point to the experience, like the finger pointing to the moon, but they cannot become the experience itself. When you meditate on koans, do not mistake the means for the end ... or the beginning. Employ them as a useful vehicle to help you get to the other shore. "

Key Take Aways
Well, that's different. I wonder if that's where the expression "knocking some sense into you" comes from. If nothing else, this got me to think. Here's some thoughts:

  • Do the hits help more than they hurt? Does a Zen student consider the experience positive or negative? Is the stick seen associated with great awareness? Do students become fearful of asking questions? Obviously it will vary by individual, but I'm curious about the cultural view.
  • Does it mean, look to the answer within? If the answer to the question is a hit or a shout, does that mean find the answer within or that the answer is already there and you just need to stop thinking and just experience it?
  • Is the shock value meant to amplify the experience? I know that our greatest "ah ha" moments create a physiological response.
  • Is the wordless approach meant to bypass our filters? Do our words get in the way? We all have filters concepts, beliefs and assumptions -- it's how we filter the world. What's your reaction in the moment, without these filters? Is this technique really for tapping into your "Unborn Mind." I try to tap into intuition at work by asking myself and others, "what's your gut say?" It's a practice I learned from my manager. It seems particularly effective at both helping tease out other perspectives and concerns, or finding motivation to find a way to make something happen.
  • Is it a way to reach non-linear conclusions? Sometimes in the morning, I just wake up with answers. It's not linear. It's as if I stopped being blind and the answer was there all along.
  • Is it a way to create referential experience? Just giving somebody an answer doesn't always stick. Socrates used questions. Does a Zen master's stick help encourage similar reflection?

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Choose-Tos Over Have-Tos

Do you find yourself saying, "I have to do this" or "I have to do that?" Well ... stop! You're draining yourself, and taking away your chance to enjoy what you do. Instead, tell yourself, "I'm choosing to do this." You may not actually like what you're doing, but you are choosing to do it, either to gain pleasure, or avoid pain. In The Power of Focus: What the Worlds Greatest Achievers Know about The Secret of Finiancial Freedom and Success,Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Les Hewitt write about how to turn your have-to's into choose-to's.

Stay Out of Have-To Land
Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt write:

"When you constantly live your life in Have-To land, you put yourself in a position of pressure. This causes resistance and resentment and drains your life of energy.

When you live each day from a position of Choose-To, you are your are in a position of power. You feel in charge and in control of your life."

Master the Mundane
Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt write:

"This takes a conscious effort to consistently think about your everyday decisions -- even simple tasks like washing the dishes.Say to yourself, 'I'm choosing to wash the dishes now, and I'll do the best job possible.' This is much better than,'Oh no, I have to do the dishes, what a drag.' If you really detest doing mundane tasks, choose now to create a lifestyle where you won't be required to do those things. Delegate them to someone else, or hire the work out. "

Consistent Choosing
Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt write:
"It's also worth noting that the resistance caused by your Have-To jobs often leads to chronic procrastination, and you know how unproductive that can be.

Decide how to shift your focus. Make every activity a conscious choice. No more Have-To lists. Starting today, eliminate those words from your vocabulary.

Regain your power. Expand your energy and enjoy the freedom that consistent choosing adds to your life."

Key Take Aways
I like nuggets you can put into practice and get immediate results. This is one of them. You might have heard the saying, "The only thing you have to do is die and pay taxes." Whether or not you agree, the message is to embrace the freedoms you do have. Don't cage yourself with limiting language. Here's my take aways:
  • Don't beat yourself up when you could lift yourself up. When you catch yourself saying, "I have to," remember you're the one in charge, and say, "I choose to."
  • Create choose-to lists over have-to lists. Your To-Do list is really your choose-to-do list. Are you choosing the right things?
  • Don't undermine your dicipline. If you're good at sticking to your routines and schedules, don't sell yourself short, by saying you do what you have-to. You're choosing to stick to your schedules and routines, so good job!
  • Revisit your choose-tos. If they're not working for you, maybe you need to choose a new set.
  • Turn tasks into opportunities. Even the most mundane task is an opportunity for improvement.
  • Consider Personal Outsourcing. Maybe your mundane tasks are another person's opportunity?

My Related Posts

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Improving Job Satisfaction

What are the keys to improving job performance and satisfaction?  In Social Psychology: Theories, Research, and Applications, Robert S. Feldman identifies key dimensions that influence your performance and satisfaction.

Five Key Job Dimensions
The key job dimensions are:

  • Skill variety
  • Task identity
  • Task significance
  • Autonomy
  • Feedback

Job Dimensions Explained
Feldman explains what the five key job dimensions are:

  • Skill variety: the degree to which the job requires different skills underlying the activities that are part of the job.
  • Task identity: the degree to which an individual produces a whole, identifiable unit of work (versus completion of a small unit which is not an identifiable final product).
  • Task significance: the degree to which the job has an influence over others.
  • Autonomy: the degree to which an individual holding a job is able to schedule his or her activities and decide on the particular procedures to be employed.
  • Feedback: the extent to which clear, precise information about the effectiveness of performance is conveyed.

Higher Performance, Motivation and Satisfaction
Feldman writes:

Improving the job dimensions improves higher productivity, increases motivation and job satisfaction, high-quality performance and lower-levels of absenteeism and turnover. The following table is based on Hackman & Oldham (1976).

Summary Table of High Job Satifaction
Feldman includes a summary of table of high job satisfaction:

Job Dimension Psychological States Outcomes
Skill variety
Task identity
Task significance
Meaningfulness of work High motivation and satisfaction
Autonomy Perceived responsibility High-quality work
Feedback Knowledge of results Low absenteeism and turnover

Key Take Aways
While I don't think the categories are a surprise, I like the precision and the mapping.  If you're feeling a lack in the "Outcomes" column, check the corresponding "Job Dimension" column to see what the underlying issue might be.

Personal Invention Quotas

Can setting a quota, help you accomplish more? It worked for Thomas Edison. In Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition), Michael Michalko writes about how Edison used quotas to improve his results.

Thomas Edison's Personal Invention Quotas
Michalko writes:

"Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. He was a great believer in exercising his mind and the minds of his workers and felt that without a quota he probably wouldn't have achieved very much. His personal invention quote was a minor invention every ten days and a major invention every six months. To Edison, an idea quota was the difference between eating beefstake or a plateful of Black Beauty stew."

Key Take Aways
Quotas are a powerful tool for improvement. For example, if you want to change a particular behavior, count the number of times you perform that behavior each day.

Once you set a benchmark, you can tune it. If you first get in your quantity, you can then get in your quality. For example, I wanted to comment more in blogs. First, I decided I would comment in five blogs a day, while I ramp up. Next, once I found my rhythm, I decided to focus on efficiency. From there, I can either improve the quality of my comments, or increase my quota.

I haven't applied quotas to creating ideas. I already have a large backlog. Instead, I'm considering quotas to implement my ideas.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cooperative Controversy Over Competitive Controversy

How do you get a group to make better decisions? In Social Psychology: Theories, Research, and Applications, Robert S. Feldman writes how cooperative controversy is an effective technique for enhancing group effectiveness.

Avoid, Cooperate or Compete
Feldman writes:

"Although common sense might suggest that controversy in groups could lead to poor decisions and dissatisfaction among those in the groups could lead to poor decisions and dissatisfaction among those in the group, some recent evidence suggests that controversy may actually enhance group decision making capabilities – but only if the controversy is place in the context of the cooperation. Tjosvold (1982) placed experienced business managers in one of three conditions: an avoidance of controversy condition (in which opinion differences were to be smoothed over), a cooperative context controversy condition (in which the aim was a “frank discussion of differences”), and a competitive controversy condition (in which subjects were discussing their opinions openly, but also were to attempt to make their opinion prevail)."

Cooperative Controversy Over Competitive Controversy
Feldman writes:

"The results of the study showed quite clearly that the least effective approach was competitive controversy. Subjects had less awareness and based only on their own point of view. In contrast, cooperative controversy resulted in increased understanding and acceptance of other’s arguments, and the ultimate decisions were more complex and integrated. Results in the “no conflict” condition were not as favorable as the cooperative controversy condition; while the managers did try to take the arguments of the others into account, the arguments were not understood very well. "
Why Does Cooperative Controversy Work
Fedlman writes:
"Why, as the results of the Tjosvold (1982) study suggest, should the promotion of cooperative controversy be an effective technique for enhancing group effectiveness? One reason is that group members gain a better understanding of opposing views when cooperative controversy is encouraged. Moreover, uncertainty about the correct solution to the problem, which occurs when controversy about the problem is aroused, leads to an active search for more information, which can enhance the quality of the solution ultimately arrived at (D. W. Johnson & Johnson, 1979)."

Additional Information
I found the following links helpful to explain cooperative controversies:

Key Take Aways
Beating up an idea is good. Resistance makes it stronger. The trick is how to beat up an idea together versus promoting individual ideas. The other trick is how to keep it from being personal where people will get defensive of their ideas. When people get defensive, their fight-or-flight response kicks in and instead of more effective thinking, you get emotional responses.

  • Wear a hat. The most effective technique I've found to help a group use cooperative controversy is to "wear a hat." The team puts on their Devil's advocate hat and beats the idea up toether. We then wear another hat to work together to figure out ways we can make the idea work. The hat makes it comfortable for people to switch perspectives. This is along the lines of Six Thinking Hats.
  • Use focusing questions. Rather than teach the team about the various "hats," I simply use a list of questions that represent the different perspectives, and we move through the questions as a team.

Wearing "hats" and using questions to move through the perspectives helps avoid people defending or promoting their ideas, it promotes more robust thinking, it keeps people from getting defensive, and it leverages a team of minds cooperating together.