A Tap on the Glass

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Tap on the Glass - 87 - Don't Panic!

I have a great love and respect for the quote: “It’s hard to remember you were here to drain the swamp when you’re surrounded by alligators”.

Unfortunately, many of us work in an environment where the business is not well managed and ongoing crisis is the norm. When you live from one crisis to another it can be difficult to be strategic with the business, much less your own career. At some level we all realize that chaos is a very energy-draining situation and simply making it through the day stomping out fires is about all you can muster.  At times in my own past, I made sure I wore black shoes everyday so you didn’t see all the ash on my feet.

So, is it possible to think or act strategically for you or your business in this state?  Well, yes, but it takes some strong discipline and will to prevail during the event. One good reason to do so is that eventually strategic thinking, planning and execution will pay off. It could pay off with creating some calm in the business and, wow… wouldn’t that be worth it?

BUT, how do you drain the swamp without being overtaken by the alligators? 

Utilize think-and-plan time. We all realize that most crises have an ebb and flow to them. You assess the situation, deploy a fix and wait (pray) for the results.  So, look for those times when the crisis no longer requires your minute-by-minute focus. Shut the blinds, lock the door, crawl under your desk and hide away for a full hour to work on something that will help your career and is more strategic and helpful to the business. You might find that a well-placed hour in the morning before everyone comes in to assemble around the crisis will work. Adjust your thinking if using that time for anything other than the crisis seems self-indulgent.  

Heck, SOMEONE has got to think about the future!

Look for a fix. Granted the crisis that arises may be rooted in poor management, but it can take just one person solving the root cause to avoid the next one altogether.

Is it really a crisis? Just because someone’s hair seems to be on fire doesn’t necessarily mean it is a crisis. A couple of people come to mind…so ask questions so you know for a fact that your immediate attention is warranted.  If not, step back and assess.

Adjust your expectations. For an environment that seems to never settle down, you may need to lower your expectations of how much strategic planning and career work you can do. This may be cultural. Some people thrive on chaos and think that’s just how things work.  God help them.

Make crisis your expertise. Some people are simply better at working fast. They are like a sprinter. In and out fast and then on to other things. If you are speedy and have a good capacity for a big load, then consider turning this situation into your personal brand. Make a name for yourself.  You still do the strategic work and the crisis while demonstrating that both things are important.

The simple fact is, some leaders begin their professional lives in crisis environments and never really realize there is any other way to do business. “Reacting” is not a strategy, it’s a skill. An often hard learned one.  Being proactive is also a skill. Become more strategic by planning ahead. Your career deserves it.

Thanks for reading…

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A Tap on the Glass - 86 - Finding Your Voice

by Michael Darling

aving someone stand up for you and your business can go far to increasing sales and gaining clients quickly. After all, it worked for Albert Einstein.

It’s interesting to note that one of the most historic scientific theories of all time actually caught on for one reason—and it's not the reason you think.

I was perusing one of my many blogs and found this fascinating story of an amazing moment in our history, over a hundred years ago…and the lesson that a small business can use today.

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A Tap on the Glass - 85 - The Anti-CARB Diet

Before he died, Dr. Robert Atkins made a healthy living and created a cultural phenomenon teaching people to reduce their intake of carbs. In a strange way, team-building efforts have taken this advice unknowingly. My advice counters Dr Atkins; I teach encourage teams to indulge, even delight in their CARB intake.

CARB is an acrostic representing the four major dimensions ultimately responsible for a team's effectiveness:

Commitment to the team and each other
Alignment and goal agreement
Relationships among team members
Behaviors and skills

This advice then could be described as the anti-Atkins diet for teams -- it takes more CARBs (or more of each of the CARB components) for teams to be successful.

Of course team commitment can (and often will need to be) built -- it won't pre-exist when you put people on a team. Since team formation, their development, and success is a complex thing, several other factors will aid in the development of this commitment. But recognizing its importance is a good first step. 

How will you know when your teams has built a level of commitment, or what are the factors that will build that commitment? High levels of commitment correlate with several factors, including:

  • Belief -- People will believe in each other. Individual motivations are clear and generally understood. People are able to believe in the team, its individual members and the work of the team. The results of the efforts are clearly visible.
  • Agreements -- People have mutually agreed to a set of behaviors that are acceptable to the team. By building a set of agreements on performance, behavior and "how things are done," productivity is greatly improved. Why? Because effort and energy isn't spent on these distractions. Effort can be directed to the work at hand.
  • Trust -- A major underpinning for team performance is trust. Trust in each team member to do what they are supposed to do and trust in the leadership for direction. It is clearly necessary for the levels of commitment required for high-performing teams.
  • Support -- Support is a critical factor, but it is also a bellwether for the rest of these factors. If people are supporting team decisions, commitment is likely present. If people are supporting each other through tough parts of a team's life, they are likely committed. Is it possible for a team to get results with low commitment? Sure, you can get some results.

But, you will never approach the results that could be achieved with people who are committed to the team and each other.

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A Tap on the Glass - 84 - It's All an Act

 

Act Your Way to Success

Constantin Stanislavski, a world famous director, wrote a well-known book called An Actor Prepares. This great book, in addition to being one of the best for the profession of acting, is also a fascinating book for salespeople. Surprisingly the book describes many useful techniques for improving sales performance.

Stanislavski advised actors to add more life to the characters on stage by acting “as if” their imagined role were real. One of his key methods for adding more life to the character lies in the realization that a new role does not need to be the beginning of a new experience, but the continuation or expansion of a past experience.

In other words, the actor can play the new role as if it were a replay of emotions generated by one of his real experiences in the past. Given the tremendous success of this method employed by actors like Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson or Dustin Hoffman, it can even become a powerful self-management strategy for our thoughts, actions and feelings in a selling situation. By choosing positive “as if” assumptions, we can influence the outcome of a sales call. Here are a few examples:

1. When you present your product, act “as if’ it is the most precious item in the world. For example, Ed McMahon used to sell fountain pens on the boardwalk in Atlantic City long before he became a famous television personality. He learned to hold a fountain pen as if it were a fine piece of jewelry, and he set new sales records in the process. He added more life to his selling performance and more income to his pocketbook.

2. When you meet your next customer, act as if you are enthusiastic, even when you are not. Mary Kay Ash, the founder of a $1 billion cosmetics company, used to tell her sales consultants, “Action creates motivation. If you act enthusiastically, you will soon feel real enthusiasm.”

3. Here is another “as if” exercise: When you give your next  presentation act “as if” you were the kindest, most caring and most confident person in your company. To add more life to this new role, think of your own past experiences when you have felt kind, caring and confident. Then replay this feeling of success and the sense of confidence in your new role and you will soon become the best salesperson you can be.

Another technique taught by Stanislavski is the “invisible circle.” He told actors to imagine an invisible circle around them that protects and shields them from any outside influence. Anyone inside the circle would be subject to the actor’s influence, but nobody on the outside could penetrate the actor’s invisible, protective shield. That shield creates a powerful feeling of confidence and comfort.

Good acting requires more than surface skills such as striking a pose. Good actors make their art disappear by creating an authentic character from within. Likewise, good salespeople make their art disappear, and as a result of their skills, their customers never feel that they have been “sold.”

Thanks for reading

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A Tap on the Glass - 83 - Just Get Better...

So, I get this article in my email box yesterday...  "Characterizing Spatially Inhomogeneous Non-Criteria Pollutants in the Los Angeles Air Basin".  Interesting stuff from the Air Resource Board in California (Yawn).  But it outlined the process that Trucks in the L.A. Basin are having to prepare for if they have any chance of operating successfully in this State.  Frustrating for Carriers, no doubt.  California continues to figure out ways to drive business out of it.  

Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox and segue into what this prompted me to think about....and that's preparing for success in everything you do...

Earl Nightingale once said that if a person does not prepare for his success, when his opportunity comes, it’s only going to make him look foolish. You've probably heard it said repeatedly that luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. I think that means that it’s only when you've paid the price to be ready for your success are you in a position to take advantage of your opportunities when they come up.

And the most remarkable thing is this: The simple act of preparation attracts to you, like iron filings to a magnet, opportunities to use that preparation to advance in your life. You'll seldom learn anything of value without soon having a chance to use your new knowledge and your new skills to move ahead more rapidly.

There is a series of things that you can do to become ready for success. Most are not that hard, but all of these activities require self-discipline and a good deal of faith. That’s where many run into trouble. They require a sense of self-discipline because the most normal and natural thing for people to do is to try to get by without preparation. Instead of taking the time and making the effort to be ready for their chance when it comes, they fool around, listen to the radio, watch television, and then they try to wing it and dupe others into thinking that they are more prepared than they really are.

And since just about everyone can see through just about everyone else, the unprepared person simply looks incompetent and foolish. Yes that’s right. We DO see what you are doing and not doing.

The Golden Hour

We live in an amazing knowledge-based society today, and knowledge in every field is doubling approximately every seven years. Think about that for a moment!

This means that you must double your knowledge in your field every seven years just to stay even.

But you're already "maxed out" at your current level of knowledge and skill. You've reached the ceiling in your career with your current talents and abilities. Now what do you do?

If you want to go faster and further, you must get back to work and begin to prepare yourself for greater heights. You must put aside the newspaper, turn off the television, politely excuse yourself from aimless socializing, and work on yourself. The Japanese call it Kaizen and I’ve referred to that on a couple of occasions here. If you’re not getting smarter and faster and better than your competitor is getting smarter and faster and better, than you’re getting dumber and slower and worse than your competitor, every day.

Get in the habit of waking earlier in the morning and spending the first 30 to 60 minutes reading something uplifting, informational, educational.

Henry Ward Beecher once said, "The first hour is the rudder of the day." This is often called the "golden hour." It's the hour during which you program your mind and set your emotional tone for the rest of the day. If you get up in the morning at least two hours before you have to be at work, or before your first appointment, and spend the first hour investing in your mind, taking in "mental protein" rather than "mental candy," reading good books rather than the newspaper or magazines, your whole day will flow more smoothly. You'll be more positive and optimistic.

You'll be calmer, more confident and relaxed. You'll gain a greater sense of control and well-being by the very act of reading healthy material for the first hour of each and every day.

Plan Your Day

Another thing that highly successful people do is plan and prepare for the entire day. They review all of the tasks and responsibilities that they have for the coming hours. They carefully make a list of all their activities, and they set clear priorities on the activities. They decide which things are most important to do, which are secondary in importance, and which things should not be done at all unless all the other things are finished. They then discipline themselves to start working on their most important tasks and stay with them during the day until they're complete. The most disciplined and successful make a point of actually setting up their next day just before going home at night. You will come in prepared and knowing exactly what you need to accomplish that day. It works.

The natural tendency of the low performer is to do what is fun and easy before he or she does what is hard and necessary.

Underachievers always like to do the little things first. They are drawn to the tasks that contribute little to their careers or future possibilities. But high achievers discipline themselves to start at the top of their list and to work on the activities in order of importance, without diversion or distraction.

In everything you do, preparation is the key. If you want to be ready for success, you have to plant seeds well in advance of the harvest that you expect. Do what the winners do: Think on paper.

Memorize the winner's creed: "Everything counts." Everything you do is either moving you toward your goals or away from them. Everything is either helping you or hurting you.

Nothing is neutral. Everything counts.

A young man once asked a successful businessman how he could be more successful faster. The businessman told him that the key to his own success had been to "get good" at his job. The young man said, "I'm already good at what I do."
The businessman then said, "Well, get better!"
The young man, somewhat self-satisfied, said, "Well, I'm already better than most people."
To that, the businessman replied, "Then be the best."

Those are three of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard: Get good. Get better. Be the best!

A quotation by Abraham Lincoln had a great influence on my life when I was 15. It was a statement he made when he was a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. He said, "I will study and prepare myself, and someday my chance will come." I still believe in that.

If you study and prepare yourself, your chance will come as well. There is nothing that you cannot accomplish if you'll invest the effort to get yourself ready for the success that you desire. And there is nothing that can stop you but your own lack of preparation.

Think about the message in this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

"Those heights by great men won and kept
Were not achieved by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night."

Remember that preparation requires self-discipline, because your natural tendency is to do more and more of the things that come most easily to you and avoid those areas that you don't enjoy because you're not particularly good at them yet. I can see a head or two nod out there.

It requires character for you to admit your weaknesses in a particular area and then resolve to go to work to develop yourself so those weaknesses don't hold you back. In other words: Prepare yourself for success ... or when opportunity knocks, it will make you look like a fool.

 

IT'S NOT WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ...
It's not what you don't know that can cause you to miss out on success; it's what you think you don't need to know.

Perhaps you have never studied the process of how to raise money to support a new venture ... you have never needed to. But, how many ideas have you had that get dispelled because they are "too big" or would "cost too much money"?

Maybe they would seem smaller, more achievable — allowing you to entertain them — if you knew how to obtain venture capital. You don't need to learn every subject in depth. But, take the time to learn what you think you don't need to know — at least at a cursory level. If the occasion comes to dig deeper, then dig.

Here’s to your success. Thanks for reading.

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A Tap on the Glass - 82 - But He's Got a Great Personality

As you may remember, I’m an avid reader of books and blogs and articles of all types.  I’m amazed how articles on “The Fundamentals of Thermodynamics” or “How to Sabotage the Ass in the Next Cubicle” can both provide snippets of information that can be massaged into something of value.

For instance, have you ever picked up a book on organization and thought, “Wow, this person is kind of over the top”? Or maybe your thoughts were a bit more along the lines of, “Aaarrg, don’t come near me with your labeler!”  Yes, me too.

Overwhelmingly, authors of organization and  my kryptonite, time management books, use those pages to describe their systems. It’s simple, they think – just follow these precise steps and everything falls into place. Wrong, Wrong, WRONG!


There’s a major glitch in this approach. All those systems were created by someone that has no idea how you live. Their system may work just fine for them, but we are all different. In fact, I'd argue that there is no simple solution that everyone can simply follow and magically become organized.  Managers at offices all over the world would argue with me on this…but here me out:

When it comes to time management, productivity and organization, I’ve found that your (MY) personality and habits play huge roles in determining the techniques that are natural to you. Recent studies have shown that there are four, and ONLY four,  productivity personalities, and today I’m going to walk you through the basics of each and get you started on creating a system that fits with your brain. Because, the more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to create a workable system that will organize your life.   We could all use that, right?

Ok, so here we go:

The Fantastical
The Fantastical is a visual thinker. These are pretty amazing people. I’ve found that a LOT of creative entrepreneurs tend to be Fantasticals. If you’re a Fantastical, you excel at taking interesting problems and producing unique solutions.  They rarely color within the lines and like to play outside the box of traditional thinking.  They are both a source of amazement and frustration to their contemporaries.

Fantasticals fall farthest from the traditional files in alphabetical order organization scheme. If you’re a Fantastical, you need to have all the pieces of your work spread out in front of you. If it’s not within your line of sight, it may as well not exist. So when you organize your environment, leave space for all of your current project piles. You’ll know what’s in them. ;)

The Analytical
The Analytical is driven by ambition and logic. This is a person found in the board room, occupying the CEO’s chair, or in some other position of power. If you’re an Analytical, you’re able to quickly assess situations and link them to longer term outcomes, and you need information at your fingertips almost instantaneously.  Several people I know fall into this class. They want facts that are irrefutable at their fingertips and struggle to deal with any “gray” thinking.  It’s black or it’s white.  Period.

You might think that lends itself well to alphabetizing, but that’s not necessarily the case. Analyticals often do well with entirely electronic systems that allow the necessary files and folders to appear with just a few keystrokes.  Just as long as everything is in its proper place and instantly accessible.

The Environmental
While the Fantastical focuses inward and the Analytical looks toward the future, the Environmental looks at the people around him or her. Are they comfortable, feeling well, and enjoying themselves? An Environmental is the person everyone goes to when they need help, advice, or a shoulder to cry on.

As might be guessed by the name, environment is extremely important for an Environmental. Sterile filing cabinets and strict systems don’t work well for you, but you will enjoy organizing by color and creating a system that’s whimsical and welcoming. You also tend to keep things indefinitely – someone might need them at some point – but instituting a toss after ten years rule does wonders to cut down on the volume.

The Structural
The Structural is the final personality type, and they’re the ones writing all of those books that the rest of us struggle to implement. Organization comes naturally to a Structural. Everything has its place and everything happens on its own schedule. They don’t understand the trouble that the rest of their colleagues have with their systems.  Analyticals struggle with Structurals because they beat to their own drum and have a hard time relating to other personality types.

Trouble for a Structural comes in the form of volume. Their systems are often complex, and can buckle under an increase in work load. If you suspect you are a Structural, spend some time now looking for ways to break your system. What scenarios would cause problems? Are there changes you can make to streamline and avoid those problems?

Now that you know the basics, you can start creating systems that cater to your personality instead of working against it. You’ll find that these systems fit you perfectly - they’re easy to maintain, easy to tweak and when life hands you an emergency it will be easy to pick them back up again.

Blogs….amazing stuff…

Thanks for reading.

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A Tap on the Glass - 81 - Mistake Learned

In the last couple of days I've come across two contrasting, intriguing quotes.

One, from Franklin Roosevelt when he was facing the grave economic crisis of the Depression, exhorted "... Above all, try something."

The other, "Avoid mistakes, so you will be ready for surprises," is from a financial advisor of one of the nations largest banks. He said it was his father's advice to him. He then went on to admit several mistakes, which left the bank ill prepared for the surprise of mortgage-backed securities failure.

His father's advice is good, but it needs a big qualifier. Maybe, the saying should be, "don't make BIG mistakes." Little ones can be a good thing—if you learn from them.

Few people (that I know) have made more mistakes than I. Some of mine were so impossibly stupid that even their memory makes me cringe. I'm not proud of them, but I am proud of two things: 1) there was a lot of learning from many of them; and 2) most of them were not very expensive—at least in dollars.

I often reflect that one of the reasons that I'm still in the business I am is that I've had the freedom to make some mistakes and no one fired me.

The reason that the mistakes never killed the business was that, most of the time, we've been prudent enough not to bet more than we could afford to lose. If you totaled up all of the collective mistakes, we've probably paid millions for our education, but it was in relatively small installments over a long period of time. (The bank, on the other hand, made a couple of hundred-million-dollar bets all at the same time, leading to some severe problems.)

Helping Others Learn from Mistakes

Part of management's job...in fact their responsibility, is to help others learn from their mistakes. Of course, I'd prefer that they not make the mistakes in the first place—at least on our nickel. But, realistically, if we're going to innovate, we have to take chances. And if we take chances, we're going to be wrong some of the time. That's the price of admission  for this ride of ours. I often see management say “listen to what I'm telling you and you won't make the same mistakes I did”, but human nature being what it is, I know they're going to do it anyway. Input from those that have gone there before them can hopefully at least minimize the impact.

Part of management's job is to make sure we don't make big mistakes. If we're trying something new, we try to make sure we test our way into it. If it is a new class or training style, we make sure customers think it is a good idea before we invest too much. If it is a new way of selling, we make sure we know sales costs, renewals, fulfillment expense, etc., before we roll it out in too large a fashion.

If a manager wants to try some wacky way to motivate his or her employees, it might be OK to test it in a small way. It's usually a mistake to go too far, too fast.

But Try Something

It's also managements' job to make sure that people don't get penalized unfairly if they try and fail. There are all sorts of caveats to that, of course. No company can afford one of their locations to “go rogue” on them because people who make the same mistake over and over again, or who risk too much too soon, do not do the company—or their careers—any good.

This brings us back to the Franklin Roosevelt quote. He said, "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

The advice is good for a business, or a career. Try something. Don't just sit there talking and speculating. Control the experiment so you learn, quickly, as much as you can, and don't lose more than you can afford.

So, I offer to that bank CFO a revised quote, "Avoid big mistakes, so you will be ready for surprises."

Managers have a reputation for being cautious. That's not an evil thing—but experimentation is a necessary ingredient for growth and improvement.

We can help our careers and our employers by looking for easy, inexpensive ways to test our innovations.

Thanks for reading.