Structure

TO SCHEDULE OR NOT TO SCHEDULE: THAT IS AN INTRIGUING SCHEDULE

Do you schedule your exercise time? Dates with a significant other? Meditation? Thinking time? One to one meetings with your direct reports? Lunch?!

If I had it my way, then I would not have a daily schedule. I enjoy spontaneity and letting my energy dictate where I spend my time. However, with an awesome wife, 4 fun kids, fantastic customers and more ideas than time, I find I must schedule to get things accomplished. What about you? What do you schedule and what do you hope you have time for?

I am coaching a physician who leads a group of physicians who is always double and triple booked. I asked when did he find time to take care of himself, learn new information and have fun. He sheepishly answered almost never. I asked what he would say to his patients who weren’t accomplishing what they need to and he quickly said, “start doing this”. Thus, we started to schedule his work-out times, 1:1’s and even dates with his family members. Did this feel weird at first? Absolutely! However, he has lost about 10 pounds, gets to the gym about 4 days per week and has really connected with his family again. I can hear you saying, yeah but what about his performance at work. I can tell you other people in his organization have noticed and are asking what has changed with him. His attitude is fantastic, his ability to focus and make hard decisions has improved and he is cranking our much better work and loves connecting with his patients.

Is this all do to scheduling? NO!!! The most important first step was mindset shift. He had to stop putting everyone else in front of his own needs. Yes, he had to get a bit selfish to make sure he was able to be the best husband, dad, physician and leader. This was hard and there were excuses for the first couple of months. However, as he started to see success by scheduling these activities in, it got easier to do it more often and his ability to say no to lower level tasks improved as well.

Here are some tips to get you started:

·       Identify you key goals-personal and professional. Put these on the calendar first. This is easier if you look out about 2-3 weeks when starting out. Next week is already packed so it may be hard to start everything then. And yes, you should be scheduling time for personal stuff too. If it is not on the calendar, it probably will not get done.

·       Next, what are some things that you could stop doing or shorten. For example, take a 1 hour meeting down to 45 minutes. Do you still need to meet with every direct report each week? What about the project that just keeps going? Can someone else represent you in the meeting?

·       Schedule some thinking time on the calendar—this will improve your ability to prioritize and work on the big stuff. Also, think about your best times of the day and match your energy with the task. For example, I always have a sinking spell after lunch so I try to avoid tough meetings or conversations then. Friday afternoons are great for cleaning up the week and writing blogs.

·       Put some fun on the calendar. This might be recognizing your team, going out for ice cream with someone or a date with your significant other.

I know this sounds structured but see if it works for you and then make adjustments. Try to review your calendar at least weekly and look to eliminate 3-5 activities to give yourself some time for higher level activities. I believe you can survive without scheduling these activities but I think thriving and having an awesome life is hard without some of this structure. Good luck and let me know some of your best practices.

HOW TO TAKE GREAT NOTES AND GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR MEETINGS

You’re there again…sitting with the team or the boss or maybe a client or colleague and want to make sure you don’t miss anything important. Later, as you review the meeting notes, you may be struggling to understand what they mean. How can that be? After all, you were there and wrote the notes. Though some of the notes may resemble a really impressive collection of doodles, meaningless symbols or some foreign language. Other than this meaning that you were supposed to attend medical school, it is a very common affliction we could call “Notus Incompletus.

You almost never need to write everything down that’s said in a meeting; in fact, you probably shouldn’t. Writing too much during a meeting can keep you from being totally engaged with the conversation happening right in front of you. However, you do want to capture the important themes and to do’s from the meeting.

Fortunately, Voltage Leadership has some helpful options for making your notes super-efficient. Try one of these strategies in your next meeting:

  • One Summary Sentence. If one person is speaking, then, you only get to write one sentence to summarize what they said. This forces you to process the information they shared (as opposed to automatically writing it down) into what is meaningful to you.
  • Make Each Meeting Point a Single Word. Try to distill each person’s point into just one word. Often, a person is really only trying to express one main point, even if they use copious words to get there.
  • Only Write Down Questions. When you have a question, write it down. When you get the answer, write that down. That way, you have a record of everything you thought was important enough to ask about.
  • Go Last - Wait until the end of the meeting to take notes. What did you learn? What do you need to take action on? If you had to get someone else up to speed on this meeting, what would you tell them?
  • Be Present for Whomever is Speaking. If you’re having trouble focusing on the topic at hand, try focusing on the people instead. Set a goal to give every single speaker your undivided attention.
  • Ask if You Really Need to be there.  You don’t have to be rude in order to get out of a meeting. Ask the organizer if you are really needed in this meeting? If are not essential for the meeting but need the information, ask if you can read through someone’s notes after the meeting.
  • Develop a Team member by Sending Them.  Make sure the organizer is not expecting you to bring something your proxy won’t be able to provide. You can catch up later on what you need to know.

Give these note taking methods a try to find the one that works for you. We hope they'll help you become more focused and engaged during your meetings.

For a more detailed discussion on getting the most out of your meetings, check out our radio show, VoltCast: Illuminating Leadership.

WHERE HAS ALL THE FUN GONE?

Remember the 90’s and early 2000’s when we were so worried about retaining our staff that most organizations tried to create cool, fun places to work? There were ping-pong tables, pac-man machines, free food, and bring your dog to work days. Oops, the financial crash of 2007-08 hit, and many of these perks went away or if they stayed, many people did not feel comfortable playing ping-pong when people had been laid off the month before.

Why am I writing about this? I have been noticing that most of the organizations I work with are doing well, working hard, having solid success but I see very little fun in the workplace. The engagement scores continue to decline in American workplaces and now almost 70% of managers feel disengaged! Yowsa, this means the staff below them are probably even more disengaged!!!

I can see some of you rolling your eyes already and saying we are so busy these days, who has time for fun in the workplace? Yep, you are probably right but if you do not take the time to create some time and space for fun, then you will continue to have a disengaged workforce. Guess what, your best talent will leave for greener pastures and the hope of a better workplace. Your medium to low performers will stay due to lack of options and a belief that it may not be great here but I also do not have to put out a maximum effort.

Ping-pong tables, free food and video games are not the answer either. I would encourage you to have a meeting with some of your key employees and ask them what would help them become a more engaged workplace. Ideas could range from: training to mentoring to potlucks. The important thing is that you listen and try a few ideas. After you try a few things, ask for more ideas and start to see if the ideas get more innovative and creative. Let the group try a few more things.  Next thing you know there should be some more smiles, laughter and maybe even some fun in the workplace. I would encourage you to try a few things and see what happens.

Here are a few of my favorite activities that I have participated in:

  • Scavenger hunts
  • Habitat for Humanity Work Days
  • Theme Days with Trivia—Ex. 1980’s theme, dress and trivia
  • Dinner for employees and their families; Senior management served in black tie or formal wear
  • Bowling
  • Jeopardy with the answers being facts about our customers
  • Ice Skating where only about 2 people knew how to skate!

Let me know about some fun ideas you have for you and your team! Remember to plan some fun at home too!!!

 

WATCH OUT FOR THAT ICEBERG!

Do you have conflict on your team?  When a conflict arises, do you view it as a problem with an individual or between two individuals? Does it feel like your workplace is always stuck in drama?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on to learn about a model I like to use with teams.

The Waterline model below is from Harrison, Scherer and Short.  There are other models out there, but I will use this one to explain some of the challenges in your organization.  

An executive team I was working with recently was having significant challenges.  We used the Waterline Model to start the conversation.  You can use this model to start a meeting when you are off target on your goals.

If everything is working, meaning your tasks are leading you to accomplish your goals, then you stay above the waterline.  You keep doing what you are doing, celebrate, capture lessons learned and try to keep up the momentum.

Watch out, iceberg ahead!  We all wish it were that easy.  Unfortunately, an obstacle or iceberg gets in the way and we need to dip below the waterline to diagnose the challenge and get back to accomplishing our tasks.  In this highly caffeinated world, we need to do this ASAP.

There are four key areas below the waterline:

1.      Structure (Clarity of goals, results, mission, vision, decision-making, sponsorship)

2.      Group (Inclusion, roles in the group, decision making in the group, who’s in and who’s out)

3.      Inter-personal (drama between 2 people, conflict, feedback and communication breakdowns, misunderstandings and who did what to whom!)

4.      Intra-personal (values and beliefs, stress, emotional intelligence, assumptions)

When a problem arises, where do most people go?  Yep, you’ve got this…right to the blame game!  We throw the individual off the bus with their intra-personal challenges!  I would say 80% of my clients start in the bottom two areas.  Sometimes this is effective, but really 80% of the time should be spent in the top two areas.

I would challenge you to start at the top and work your way down.  Ask yourself questions like:

1.      Do we have clear goals?

2.      Do we know who the decision makers are for this project or work?

3.      Does the work we are doing align with our mission and vision?

4.      Do we have the right people on the team/project?

5.      Do they have the authority to make the decisions required to get us back on task?

Generally, I find that when a team or individual is not hitting their goals, it is because of unclear expectations, poor decision making criteria, unclear roles, or lack of clarity of purpose of the team.  I ask leaders to make the assumption that people come to work to do a good job and want to accomplish their goals (yes, I know there are a few slackers, but those are the exception not the rule.)  If we reset expectations, clarify decision making and ensure the right people are in the room, then we normally get back to accomplishing our goals and do not have to get down to inter-personal or intra-personal conflict.

Okay, I see you rolling your eyes.  Yes, there are times when it is inter-personal or the individual’s work.  Here is my challenge to you:  be open to starting higher in the model and then work your way down.  If it is an inter-personal challenge, I suggest a 3-way conversation where you facilitate clarity on goals and set-up ground rules for how these two individuals will get along.  If it is an intra-personal challenge, then I think you give clear, specific feedback on where they are missing the mark and follow-up consistently until either the performance is up above the waterline or you ask them to exit the organization.

Wrapping up…the team that I originally discussed realized that they had done a poor job assembling teams.  They put people together, but did not give them the ability to make decisions.  Also, they tended to see their peers as obstacles and not assets that could accomplish the goals that they all wanted to hit.  Once they realized this, they set clearer expectations, changed the membership of the teams and they were PERFECT!  Well, not perfect, but they did get much better and they are much closer to their results now thanks to using the model and sharing feedback with one another.

Your challenge:  if your team is off target, have you diagnosed where the breakdowns are?  I encourage you to start just below the waterline and work your way down.  Good luck and let me know your results.

TRUST AND YOUR BOTTOM LINE

Trust has a bottom-line benefit because

1.      Trust turns groups into teams and

2.      Trust shortens the time it takes to get things done.

We are simply faster and more efficient when we trust people. (Stephen M.R. Covey makes a beautiful case for building trust in his book, The Speed of Trust:  the One Thing that Changes Everything.)

Let me describe two work environments.  You choose the one you would rather work in:

Workplace A

In this workplace, fear rules.  There is an absence of laughter, and stiffness in the way people move and speak.  Great care is taken before someone utters a word in a meeting.  You can almost see how tightly wound people are.  They are tethered to the demands and expectations of their job.  Duty and obligation define the day.

Workplace B

In this workplace, there is both swift movement and laughter.  People speak and move easily around one another.  Many ideas are put forward in meetings, and those ideas are challenged and refined by others present.  There is focus and engagement.  People are committed to a common cause, not in love with their own ideas.  A shared sense of purpose creates momentum in the organization.

The rest of this article will not help you if you would prefer Workplace A.

But if Workplace B appeals to you, here are 5 Tips to Cultivate Trust on Your Team.

1.      Ask questions for which you do not have an answer.

These kinds of questions show real curiosity and allow for creativity and collaboration.

2.      Share your desired outcome openly at the outset of the meeting or conversation.

This allows people to relax because they know what your expectations are from the beginning.

3.      Honestly share and discuss the threats and obstacles that are present.

Open discussion shrinks our fear, making the real challenges easier to overcome.

4.      Listen.  Actively.

Your act of listening calms everyone in the room, you included.  Listen to learn and understand.

5.      Celebrate success.

Notice and celebrate the successes on your team as shared successes of the team.  This simple pivot ties individual achievements to the entire group, and allows people to enjoy the successes of others more deeply.  It is easier to build team spirit when we share the wins!

When trust begins to emerge in a workplace, the pace of that workplace increases for one simple reason:  distrust takes time.  Do you want your people spending their time thinking of ways to protect themselves from colleagues and criticism or would you rather have your people spend that time and energy working on your business? Building trust has a bottom line:  trust increases the pace by decreasing the friction between people and teams.  The dividends of trust are both speed and creativity.  It pays to cultivate trust on your team. 

CRACKS IN THE CEILING

I recently moved into a new home.  You notice a lot of things about a home once you buy it and move in that you never noticed before.  There are cracks in the ceiling, leaky pipes, broken glass, and loose floorboards.  Most of these things are not important. They are cosmetic.

What does matter is the foundation.  Is it solid?

The people who previously owned this home did not spend time in their basement.  It was obvious when we walked through the house before buying: the interior was pristine.  The basement was a mess.

The first thing my husband and I did to our new house was to clean and repair the basement.  We addressed the cracks we found down there:  problems that no one would ever see but which were, ultimately, important.  A house needs a strong foundation and so we started in the basement and worked our way up.

The same rational applies to organizations.

Is the foundation solid?  When issues arise, and they will, do those issues get traced back to their source and addressed at a systemic level, or is your organization a series of patchwork fixes?

Here is one easy way to check and see if you have a foundational problem or a cosmetic problem:  does it recur?

Recurring problems indicate there is something flawed in the system itself.  It may be that the processes and procedures have not kept up with the times, and a new way of doing business that relates to the current contest is necessary.  It may be that the size and scale of the business has changed, but the system is still functioning as it once did.  In this case, the issue is two-fold:  the organization does not have a habit of planning for growth and, therefore, does not have the necessary infrastructure to deal with changing demands.

Take some time to do a walk-through of your current business.  Don’t be distracted by the cracks in the ceiling.  Look instead for the deeper foundational issues that are facing the organization.

Competition, a changing business climate, a dated organizational structure, leadership habits that so not speak to the current generation:  where are the flaws in your foundation?  It is of much greater importance to investigate and invest in those deeper issues:  they are what will deliver you long term success and vitality. 

Fix the foundation!  It will be worth the effort and investment and, ultimately, you will have fewer cracks in the ceiling!