As I sat in the passenger seat of Debbie’s car, she gave me a tour of the beloved Ft. Worth children’s hospital she had worked at for the past 43 years.  She spoke with love and respect about what she had helped build over that time.  She reminisced about the two small buildings they had started in all those years ago and pointed to the numerous blue-topped roofs and sprawling grounds they decorated with adorable, welcoming-to-children topiary landscaping.  We saw the Ronald McDonald House and the staff childcare center, as well as the numerous areas for reflection and relaxation for those suffering a physical setback.  She talked about how the pandemic trauma of the last two years had impacted the culture they had built and even threatened to crumble it.

Regardless, as we pulled into the parking garage, she greeted the parking attendant warmly and asked how he was feeling, saying to me, that he had just recovered from surgery.  As we strolled the brightly colored hallways, Debbie chatted and hugged her way across the campus.  She would quickly point out those individuals who had been with the hospital for decades and were so dedicated to the cause of helping children heal that they wouldn’t think of leaving until retirement.  During this tour, I fell in love with this new hospital client of ours and told Debbie how inspired I was to be a part of their purpose on this planet.

The whole experience was remarkable and seeing so many long-term employees reminded me of another group I had worked with the week before who had recently been acquired by one of my clients.  During our joint company strategic planning session, we were discussing the “talent war,” and we all listened intently as two of the owners of the acquired company talked about the team that became family over the years.  They had started at the age of 16 working in the lumber business and were set to retire from that same company in the next 5 or so years.  They talked about others in the business who grew up together, got through school, enjoyed fishing trips as a team, went to one another’s weddings, and celebrated when they had children. We are talking retention of 31…28…19 years, which are unbelievable numbers in today’s world.

So how is this possible and do we have any chance of recreating this in today’s job market?  Some will say “No way, today’s workforce isn’t nearly as loyal, and it is not realistic.”  But is that true?  Or can we at least aim to be a significant part of an employee’s work history?  I believe we can.

Develop a Great Retention Initiative
Many employers are no doubt wishing that the Great Resignation, where employees have been quitting their jobs in record numbers since the Spring of 2021, would suddenly become a very different trend: the Great Retention. But research suggests that many workers remain confident about their prospects in the current hiring market, in fact, 41% of respondents are currently looking or plan to look for a new role in the next six months.  This means employers must still be vigilant about the risk of top performers walking out the door.

This, in my opinion, is the number one issue, outside of finding talent, for companies today.  Every single coaching or consulting conversation I have includes the current challenges with talent.  And it’s not getting better anytime soon.  We have to look at those companies who are doing it well, come up with creative strategies, and listen to what our most-valued employees are telling us. Based on research and my own anecdotal evidence there are 8 areas that I believe you need to focus on as a leader to retain your talent.  I hope these resonate with you and inspire you to work on at least one of these:

1. Create and Support an Inclusive “Family” Culture
Having a “sticky” culture where people take care of one another and truly care is crucial.  Through the years that is one common thread in companies I have seen be successful in keeping their employees long-term…they are one another’s work family and it would be unthinkable to leave that family.  Now with that kind of vulnerability, you must make sure there are good boundaries in place so there is no “family dysfunction”, but essentially these teams support one another through the good times and the bad.

2. Find Each Team Member’s Motivation ‘Lever’
“Money” is not the reason people stay in a job.  It can be demotivating if they are paid unfairly but thinking about throwing money at an employee who is thinking of leaving is the wrong strategy. Every person has his or her levers of engagement and motivation: Fun. Authority. Development. Responsibility. Autonomy. Respect. Recognition. Challenge. Variety. Figure out what each individual needs, then figure out how to best work towards it. Meeting those individuals where they are is one of the best things you can do as a leader.

3. Emphasize Shared Non-Negotiable Core Values
From the beginning, recruit people whose values align with yours and the company. This builds a positive atmosphere and culture, which resonates with people and keeps them on board. Consult with your people, find out what they care about, and build collaborative solutions that inspire their loyalty and commitment. People like to feel included, and valued and that their contribution makes a difference.  The great thing about this is that if there is a value mismatch the team will pick it up instantly and advocate to keep the shared values on track.

4. Rally Everyone Behind an Emotionally Driven Purpose
Most employees want to feel part of something bigger and to be proud of it. In addition to rewards and positive feedback, leaders can inspire others by consistently and regularly communicating a clear purpose that people connect with emotionally. It is easy to get mired in the day-to-day details; step back and connect those details to a broader vision. This means embedding it in your everyday work not just from a “marketing” perspective (posted on your website), but in daily conversations as evidence of working towards that incredibly important purpose beyond making money.

5. Change Old-School Thinking Against Flexibility and Track Results Instead
In 2022, people value flexibility more than ever. If someone is in a role that can be effectively carried out through flexible work, then offer this. Not only is this hugely rewarding for employees, but it also gives them a sense of comfort, knowing that you trust them to carry out their role effectively and manage their own time.  And don’t automatically assume the younger generation will take advantage of it.  Depending on what stage of life and career people are in will determine how much or how little structure or time in the office they will need or want.  Track results, not “butts in chairs”.

6. Get Everyone Directly Involved in The Company
Money is the result of successful work and not a sustainable source of motivation. Other important forms of compensation include having fun, working on something great, recognizing and appreciating colleagues, and the feeling of having achieved something challenging. Coming from this mindset, rather than just exchanging their time for money, the culture should encourage an “owners’ mindset” in the employees.  The employees can then be a part of building something inspiring that they can be incredibly proud of.

7. Recognize Your Team Member’s Humanity
The most meaningful way to recognize employees amidst all the difficulties we are facing in the current challenging business and social environment is to first and foremost recognize their humanity. Know the individuals on your team and recognize each employee’s unique challenges as the year unfolds.  Command and control are out.  Prioritize time, space, and opportunity for them to thrive and reach their goals by guiding their growth and investing in them. Compassion is one of the most overlooked leadership traits to leverage, especially after a couple of tough years.

8. Share What Each Employees Role in Your Vision for The Future Is
Inspire people to want to work with you and each other by sharing your vision and their role in it. You might be working your way through current challenges, but your eyes are on the future. Tell them about three indicators informing your vision for the future and why those give you confidence. Assure your people that they are building the foundation for a future in which all of them play a part. Be honest, specific, visionary, and hopeful.  People love making a difference and being a part of something big.

The list above is near and dear to my own heart.  The two that were highlighted by the clients I was working with the last two weeks were knowing one another on a personal level and ensuring people understood how relevant their contribution was to the success of the organization.  This aligns nicely with Patrick Lencioni’s work on employee engagement.  I would hope that you might look at the above list and rank yourself from 1 to 5 on each.  Then ask yourself which one you might need to work on from now till the end of the year.  If you are diligent in working on it, it will pay off…I promise!  If you need more resources, please let us know, and, as always, best wishes in your leadership journey!

Have you made new years’ resolutions before that did not stick? I have. I vowed to change my behavior with dieting, exercise, getting outdoors more etc. etc. Why can’t we acknowledge the behavior that we want to change and just change it? Well, it’s not that easy and we tend to bite off more than we can chew with a long list of ambitious items we want to work on. I learned long ago, that if you focus on too many things to change at once, it does not have as big an impact than if you focus on one thing in behavior that will make a huge difference. We are talking small tweaks here and there.

I remember being on the receiving end of my first 360 degree feedback about 10 years ago and I had to contain myself as I was being debriefed on the results. Needless to say the results were not great! I had a lot to work on as a leader. My coach took me through the process of focusing on one thing at a time, and now 10 years later the 360 feedback was a lot better. Behavior change is about habit and routine. How can we shed an old behavior and create a new behavior!

As facilitator of the 2-year leadership development program that I am currently running, the cohort of high performing leaders are working on their one big improvement goal that will make a big difference in their leadership and bring them to the next level as leaders. As I started working with one of my clients a few months before, we debriefed her 360 feedback results. There was nothing surprising in the results, it was just now amplified in black and white from a number of evaluators. We narrowed it down to 3 things to work on. From there we prioritized and only focused on delegating and setting boundaries for herself. As we talked through where the behavior came from, she uncovered that it was deeply engrained in her at an early age to help everyone in her family and always be busy. This was an aha moment for her. Just acknowledging where this behavior was stemming from made a huge difference in shifting her mindset to shedding her old behavior. We then talked through the WHY. Why did she feel she needed to take on all the work and say yes to all the projects and tasks. Once we thought about the behavior that she was currently portraying, we talked through the new desired behavior, which was to set her boundaries (to be able to say no without feeling bad), and delegating to others on her team. From there we discussed what would make her feel “safe” to delegate to others and set boundaries. For her, she wanted to know that the work quality would be excellent like her own work. So she decided to create time for a morning team huddle to track progress and establish space for 1:1 check-ins with team members. Once we talked through where the habit stemmed from, what assumptions she had about the work or task, then she started to test her assumptions. For this part, we decided to use a text message to remind her of her habits. The commitment on the reminder went something like this: “When I come into the office each morning, instead of working on my tasks right away, I will prioritize what only I can work on and delegate other tasks to my direct reports”. We set the reminder for every morning. She received a text at 8:00am as she walked into the office of this reminder for 28 days. I can proudly say that after 6 months of coaching and consistently working on this behavior change just making little adjustments and tweaks along the way, the new behavior and habit is starting to solidify in her daily routine.
What is your new desired habit and how will making that behavior change impact your leadership for the better?

I will never forget the first time I went to India. I was sent there to oversee a market research project and was welcomed by my hosts, Mamata and Rajjat. I usually rent a car when I travel, but in India, I didn’t dare drive for several reasons.

The first one concerns navigation. While GPS works well in big cities, it doesn’t work so well in the countryside. That is not due to poor reception (even though that’s the case for some parts of the country); rather, it is because many streets have no signs, and many of the roads are winding.

As Pulkit, an Indian friend once told me, directions in India are given like this:

“After you see the tree on the corner, you will see a one-eyed cow. As you pass the cow, turn right.”

Of course, he was joking. But I totally know what he means.

In many countries, there are no formal rules of the road the way there are in countries like America. For instance, Brazil has lanes exclusively for turning left or right. Brazilians seldom obey these rules, however, because they know there will always be someone who will let them in. Not only that, but there is an unspoken rule in Brazil that if you follow the rules to a T, you are considered a bit too square and can be taken advantage of easily. This perception has been slowly changing, but I think it will take some decades to take full effect. Also, speed limits, stop signs and traffic lights are rarely acknowledged — unless a police officer, a speed camera or a red light camera is nearby.

I have been living internationally for 22 years, and every time I go back to Brazil, my friends tell me how lucky I am to live in countries where order exists and people respect the rules. My response is often, “Brazilians would obey the rules if they were more strictly enforced.”

A case in point: in one of my trips back to São Paulo, I was driving just over the speed limit (you didn’t read that) at Avenida 23 de Maio, and I noticed that everyone was going “really slow” compared to what they used to do. That’s when I noticed that there were speed cameras mounted along the road roughly every 200 yards! Who says that Brazilians cannot follow rules?

Going back to my time in India, the most fascinating aspect of driving there is the hidden code of conduct that is not apparent to the outsider. In Europe, the US and some other first-world countries, street signs exist that signal when to stop, when to go, and who has the right of way. As you learn those rules to pass your driver’s license exam, you become more competent as a driver. In India, some of these rules exist, but a more intricate and fascinating unwritten code of conduct is at play. It’s not explicit; it’s just known.

For instance, when you get to a roundabout, it seems like everyone is entering it at the same time, but there is such a magical flow that no car bumps into another car, tuk-tuk, motorcycle, bicycle, camel, cow, pedestrian. (You get my drift.) To a foreigner, it feels like they have a very developed sixth sense, like those schools of fish swimming in synchrony that we have all seen on nature channels.

In many ways, being a leader in the 21st century is like learning to drive in a different country. Some basic rules exist, like don’t run over pedestrians or kill people. But beyond that, the nuances and expectations of leadership do not adhere to a common set of principles and can change depending on what region you find yourself needing to navigate.

Coming from Brazil, I know what it’s like not to have rules. Compared to America, Brazil can look like a free-for-all, so where you come from can determine your leadership style, your expectations, and how you communicate.

Leadership in the 21st century needs an internal roadmap. New leaders often feel like they’ve just climbed behind the wheel of a new car and are on their way to Delhi, only to end up missing the turn at the one-eyed cow and finding themselves in Mumbai. Think of the Samurai Samba Vinci Way™ as the GPS for your new role as a leader. It can get you to your destination and guide you through new territories, helping you gain confidence even if you haven’t figured everything out yet. It can help you improve your communication skills and uplevel your executive presence. Because it draws on a centralized set of universal principles on being a great leader, anyone can use this GPS anywhere in the world and experience positive results while avoiding common communication pitfalls and problems, thus increasing trust on the way.

Takeaway Question: In what ways have you changed the way you navigate the new world of work? In what ways could you improve?

Excerpt from Claudio’s book “The Samurai Samba Vinci Way: How to Improve Your Executive Presence, Increase Trust and Lead Your Team at a World-Class Level” available on Amazon.
#leadership #selfawareness #culturaldiversity

This last week I attended the annual professional association conference that I’ve been a part of since 2008.  I look forward to it every year seeing the smiling faces of so many colleagues. One of the keynotes we were lucky enough to hear from this year was award-winning reporter, editor, and producer Dwayne Bray of ESPN.  Over the past 20 years, he has written and produced some of the most important sports stories.  As we listened to stories about Bryant Gumbel and Michael Jordan and Tom Brady, among others…then he began to take questions.

One of the questions asked was about the lack of diversity at the top of the NFL coaching ranks.  Just to be clear, 70% of the players are black, there is one black coach and no black team owners. Just today I caught the story of the football commissioner talking about this exact subject. As I listened, I became curious about the NFL as a business.  As many of you know, I am a huge football fan…enough that my “girl’s” trip this January was going to see the LA Rams play the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium in LA. It was a blast and, of course, this weekend we will all be watching the Superbowl! But as I paused and put on my consultant hat…I asked myself “Within this organization called the National Football League, what do they get right or wrong?” and “How did the two high-performing teams within this organization playing in the Superbowl rise to the top?”

NFL STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
When you begin to really analyze an organization’s goals and strategy, one of the first things you want to look at it is Core Values.  What you want to see are values that really resonate, aren’t stale, and that live in the language of the leaders of the organization.  This is what was posted on the National Football League’s website:

1.    Respect – Everyone matters.  Everyone contributes. We celebrate diverse opinions and perspectives.
2.    Integrity – We do the right thing when no one is looking, and even if it’s unpopular when they are looking.
3.    Responsibility to Team – As a team, we support one another.  We depend on one another. Everything we do has a consequence for someone else.
4.    Resiliency – Everyone matters. Everyone contributes.  We turn losses into lessons.

Overall, if this was an organization that I was consulting with, I would say these seem consistent with what you hear NFL leaders aspire to.  But I would want to understand how they “live” in the organization by looking at policies, talent management practices, community outreach, and their strategy.

Now, just like any organization…sometimes the NFL gets it right and sometimes they get it wrong.  Over time, some of the charges that people have leveled at the NFL is that it favors the owners over the players and fans (ticket prices), that they play favorites with some player and team infractions, they lack making player’s safety a priority, and their stand on player protests, drugs, and domestic violence is not where it should be.  It didn’t feel right to talk about the Superbowl hype without mentioning these issues as well.  These problems are something that many organizations struggle with and try to find a way to overcome.

HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS AND LEADERS
The most important part of any organization are the teams that operate within it.  This Sunday we will see the top two teams in the NFL organization battle it out on the field.  Those two teams have a couple of great quarterbacks in Joe Burrows for the Bengals and Matthew Stafford for the Rams. As you have probably heard from me before, leaders are about 70% of the impact on the culture of a team.  So, what are some of the traits that got these two leaders to the highest stage?

As I researched these two quarterbacks there were three traits that really set each of them apart.  When we work within companies, we are constantly looking for those people either already in the organization or those looking to be hired that are high potential, high performing individuals.  The three traits I chose to highlight here are more hard-wired in nature vs. those developed over time.  As you read through this, be thinking about what traits you bring to the table in your own roles.

SUPERBOWL LEADERS
Matthew Stafford is the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. He played college football at Georgia, where he was a first-team All-American, and was selected first overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft.  These are the top three strengths he is bringing into the Superbowl:

1.    Focused 
As the Rams begins preparation for this weekend’s game with walk-through practices, Stafford is shutting out the Super Bowl hype, leaving ticket requests to his wife Kelly and the team, and keeping his mind focused solely on the game. “Dive into the football as much as you possibly can,” he said of his approach. “My biggest thing is, don’t look at the calendar. Whatever the day is, go out there and execute as best you can.” This is nothing new for Stafford.  Over the years, he has always stated that his only focus is his family and football.
2.    Humble 
Those who are closest to leaders know what their strengths are.  The Ram’s head coach, Sean McVay recently reflected on Stafford.  “I think one of the unique things about Matthew as you get to know him is, he’s just always being himself.  I heard Dan Orlovsky, ESPN analyst, speak about Matthew. He said he has got a great way about him when he walks into a room.  You know he is THE man, but he can also be one of the guys.  He’s got great confidence, but also a sense of humility that comes with that. He just has a great feel for people and that’s just who he is.” On top of that he and his wife, Kelly, have quietly given away millions of dollars to education, food banks, and social justice causes.
3.    Courageous 
Throughout Stafford’s entire career, he has exhibited courage and competitive spirit through his play on the field while enduring numerous injuries. A Lion’s former trainer to Stafford said “Over the course of my time in sports medicine, he stands out for always maintaining selflessness and a professional approach to game preparation and play on game day.” He isn’t afraid to put himself on the line for the team. He also isn’t afraid to speak up. Running back Cam Akers said Stafford is a great communicator and leader, and it’s not difficult to understand what he’s trying to say or what he’s trying to accomplish as a result. “He’s very clear-cut,” Akers said. “He’ll let you know what he wants you to do, or what you’re doing wrong or what you’re doing right.”  Not to mention the fact that he and his wife, Kelly, mother to his four children, courageously battled her brain tumor diagnosis several years ago.

Joe Burrow is the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL and was the first player to win the Heisman Trophy, win the National Championship, and go 1st overall. He was chosen by the Bengals as first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.  Here are his top three strengths:

1.    Calm
There is a certain image that Burrow portrays. He’s inherently cool. And by cool, not trendy or aloof. According to everything I read,  he presents as entirely unselfconscious while remaining self-aware. Burrow moves through the world without fear — the Bengals made it this far even though their quarterback was sacked more than any other QB this season. He takes it upon himself to scramble and extend plays. “We never take him for granted,” his coach Zac Taylor said. “But there’s a lot of impressive things he does that maybe aren’t as impressive to us anymore because we’re just used to it, and it’s kind of his standard, his greatness. But again, we need to step back and always take a moment to appreciate what we’ve got there at that quarterback position.

2.    Tough
Toughness is one of Burrow’s best leadership qualities. “I think Joe thinks deep down he’s a linebacker,” said the Bengal’s head coach Zac Taylor. “That’s what he thinks. And that’s kinda how he plays sometimes, and I gotta hold my breath when he plays that way. But that’s just the mentality he has. And he’s the son of a coach. He’s grown up around football, he’s grown up around being tough and then understanding what toughness is, how that can help you as a leader. “You don’t always have to just be the most vocal guy yelling and screaming at everybody. You lead through toughness; you lead through knowing what you’re going to do and accomplishing the task that you’re supposed to accomplish. And Joe does that. He’s our linebacker playing quarterback right now, and the team really responds and feeds off of that.”

3.    Confident 
It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to be confident on the field.  But, Burrow is also confident and strong off the field.  Burrow consistently speaks out against social and racial injustice in America. “How can you hear the pain Black people are going through and dismiss it as nothing,” he tweeted. “How can you hear the pain and respond with anything other than ‘I stand with you.’” He really does have that attitude of feeling confident in himself , taking a stand, and not really caring what others think.  “It never seems like it is forced,” Sam Hubbard, defensive end, said of Burrow’s confidence. “It was always natural, just his leadership and the way he carries himself. So I think from day one, when he walked into the building, people could tell that this was our franchise quarterback.”

In the end, whether you watch the Superbowl this weekend for the football, the commercials, or the half-time show, I ask you to reframe the NFL as a business.  What do you see them doing well or not so well?  How do you stack up in leadership skills (not football skills!) with those high performers on the field?  Is there something you need to tweak or change within your organization or team to be more effective? Someone once said, “In life, as in football, you won’t go far unless you know where the goalposts are”.  Hope you have a wonderful weekend and let’s go Rams!

Well, I realized in the last month that our remote working situation is not going away anytime soon.  Yes, we still are seeing people in person, but we are doing so much work via Zoom that I decided I needed to maximize my workspace.  Probably similar to you, I spend so much time in front of a camera!  For those of you I meet with virtually you will notice a drastic difference in my office.  I can’t tell you what redecorating and reorganizing my office for 2021 has done for my headspace.  Prior to this I still had some hard copy files, tolerated clutter, and just kind of “made do” with inefficiencies in my workspace.  I was very motivated to change knowing a little inconvenience in the short term would pay off in the long run. This is typical human behavior; people don’t make changes unless they feel that the pain of staying the same has become greater than the pain of changing.  After a week of revamping my office, this Monday morning when I walked into a brand-new, amazing space, I can honestly say that I immediately felt more efficient and effective – the little dopamine receptors in my brain were like a pinball machine – happy and satisfied!

So why do most of us let our lives get in such disarray?  There are probably as many answers as there are people, but for me – I love setting up organizational systems…it is maintaining them that I find difficult.  Throughout the day I get pulled in so many different directions that I will neglect to electronically file something or think that I will remember to put something in my calendar.  So the “shortcuts” I might believe I am able to take are all “good and well” if it only impacts me, but it doesn’t just impact me, does it?  It negatively affects all of the stakeholders in my company – partners, support team, clients, vendors, and family.

Here are some facts that make the case for why each of us should spend time keeping ourselves as disciplined and organized as possible:

  • Americans waste nine million hours per day searching for misplaced items, according to the American Demographics Society.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that the average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year searching for missing information in messy desks and files.
  • Cleaning professionals say that getting rid of excess clutter would eliminate 40 percent of the housework in an average home.
  • Crisis purchases related to disorganization could cost as much as 15 to 20 percent of your annual budget— buying duplicates of misplaced or broken items, and last minute shopping at premium prices.

Many of our clients are constantly improving processes and performance. They might work on the “big stuff”, but not be intentional on the small habits and hacks. I thought it might be helpful to understand the brain science and a few relevant tips that might be relevant and helpful as you kick off the new year.

Keeping Area 47 In the Brain “Happy”

In his new book The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin — a McGill University professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience — explores how having a basic understanding of the way the brain works can help us think about organizing our homes and businesses.  He and his colleagues have been studying a little sliver of brain tissue for 20 years – they call it Area 47.

If you put your fingertips on your temples, just above the outside part of your eyebrows, Area 47 is in there. It’s about the size of an almond on each side. Area 47 contains prediction circuits that are scanning and monitoring the environment and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. What they have found is that keeping Area 47 happy is tricky. If everything in the environment is utterly predictable, most people become bored. If it’s utterly unpredictable, most people become frustrated. It stands to reason that when we feel we are working in a chaotic, disorganized environment, our Area 47 part of the brain will begin to feel a loss of predictability and, therefore, a downturn in well-being.  If you have ever been in that place where you feel disorganized and unprepared, especially under time constraints, you know that it is not a good place to be.  Nor do you ever want to go there again.

But, don’t worry — your favorite psychological MacGyver (wink, wink) has answers to this ongoing dilemma (some that I currently use successfully and some that I am committing publicly to start using).  I never want to bore you with cookie-cutter solutions…for staying organized the list might consist of “get up earlier” or “only check your email twice a day”.  Here at Steople, we try to color outside the lines a bit – hopefully, at least one of these hacks will resonate with you.

Organizational Hacks (Based in Science) That Will Make You More Effective and Efficient

1.  Establish You MIT.
As soon as you sit down at your desk spend a few minutes thinking about what your Most Important Task (MIT) is for the day.  It’s very simple: your MIT is the task you most want or need to get done today. In my case, I’ve tweaked it a bit so that I usually have three MITs — the three things I must accomplish today. Do I get a lot more done than three things? Of course. But the idea is that no matter what else I do today, these are the things I want to be sure of doing. So, the MIT is the first thing I do each day, in the morning, right after I have a cup of coffee to get my day started.

2. Color Code Your Schedule.
Your calendar represents how you use your most valuable asset – your time. It represents your priorities, and if used correctly, it is the best tool to help you achieve your goals. I use this system, and, at a glance, I can tell how much time I am spending in direct client services, business development, internal meetings, and project time.  Additionally, by utilizing this across my team I can also look at people on my team and understand what they are focusing on daily.  The most important thing here is to keep it simple, consistent, and make sure it makes sense for you.

3.  Use Down Time for Education. 
We all wish we had more time in our schedule to read and learn new relevant information, but few of us have that kind of time.  If you’re commuting 30 minutes each way every day at the end of a year, you’ve spent 6 weeks of 8-hour days in your car. If you don’t commute and are working from home either utilize your workout time, your wait time (hairdresser, doctor, curbside pickup) for that educational pick me up.  Instead of scrolling through Instagram or listening to music, try using some of that time to listen to great books on audio, excellent podcasts, and valuable TED Talks. Research shows the fastest way to double your income is to triple your rate of learning.

4.  Purge Anything in Your Life That is No Longer Beautiful, Relevant, or Useful.
How often do we hang onto things that served us well at one point in our lives but are no longer relevant or useful?  Or how about that out-of-date item that we paid too much for and can’t quite part with?  While our attachment to these items makes sense on a certain cognitive level, by continuing to carry them around we limit our ability to invite new experiences, opportunities, and growth. The best way to get moving is to free up your space and time of the things that no longer serve you well.  Remember, mess creates stress.  In fact, Tennis icon Andre Agassi used to say he wouldn’t let anyone touch his tennis bag because if it got disorganized, he’d get distracted.

5.  Brain Dump at the End of Every Day.
At the end of your workday, stop and write down all the clutter housed in your brain…the scientific basis for this ritual is real. The conscious mind can only pay attention to about four things at once. If you’ve got these nagging voices in your head telling you to remember to pick up almond milk on the way home and email so-and-so, they’re competing in your brain for neural resources with the stuff you’re actually trying to do at that moment, like getting a project budget completed or a blog written.  Dump it and then transfer it to your to-do list.

The key to behavior change is making one small tweak at a time and it has to be one that you really believe in and are committed to.  Even better, connect that change to something you are already doing (MIT and coffee in the morning), you will certainly make it a habit.  Getting more disciplined and organized can lead to a better understanding of yourself, your goals and make you laser-focused on getting what you want. Crazy as it sounds, it can be a road to a better life.  Let us know what your organizational “hacks” are and have a productive, disciplined week!

Picture this scenario…Jeff just had to lay off half of the people on his team.  Some of the individuals had been with the company since day ONE.  Last week during a board meeting he found out that one of his executives was threatening to sue the company. Just two weeks earlier an investor who was about to sign a big check pulled the plug on the deal.  All of this in the midst of a global pandemic that is deeply impacting the economy.  Looking at all of these events you might think Jeff is on the verge of losing his company.  Here’s the truth…while what is happening is definitely stressful, there were already serious underlying issues that were creating real gaps that would have hindered his growth, crisis, or not.

You see Jeff has a great product, but he is doing too many things for too many people, massively impacting his profitability.  His team is well-intentioned but fat and unfocused.  There are too many people who are not A+ players.  He is tolerating too many performance issues because he doesn’t know how to fix it.  There are no systems in place to allow his team to understand the metrics around being accountable and successful.   So he ends up wasting his day fighting fires and trying to control everything, while not being able to be the leader his company needs him to be.

The turnaround for Jeff would be if he realized that this is the season of opportunity for him.  During the impending slowdown, he can prepare his company to be ready when things speed up again.  Right now is his time to get lean and focused. Clean house and top-grade his team.  Take advantage of the talent flooding the market.  Strengthen the foundation of the company by putting the systems and leadership development in place that allow his team to flourish.  And most importantly, have the time to develop even stronger relationships with his employees, his customers, and his community.

Past Lessons to Apply to the COVID Crisis
Just as in today’s crisis, executives during the 2008 crisis were faced with making quick decisions in an extremely uncertain situation with very limited visibility. Decisions that would impact employees, customers, shareholders, and, in some cases, the survival of the companies. Now I realize that there are important differences between the COVID-19 crisis and the Great Recession, but there are definitely some key takeaways we can observe and learn from.

In the 2010 HBR article “Roaring Out of Recession,” the authors found that during the most recent recessions, 17% of the 4,700 public companies studied fared particularly badly: They went bankrupt, went private, or were acquired. But just as striking, 9% of the companies didn’t simply recover in the three years after a recession—they flourished, outperforming competitors by at least 10% in sales and profits growth. More recent research by Bain using data from the Great Recession reinforced that finding. The top 10% of companies in the Bain analysis saw company earnings climb steadily throughout the period and continue to rise afterward.  So, what was the difference?  Beyond being well-positioned financially (which is huge), those CEOs who were able to take a big picture approach – being able to focus on growth, fixing internal processes and doubling-down on relationships – were the ones who successfully navigated through tough times.

Be the Company that Survives and Thrives
Based on research these are the 3 key factors to consider:

  • Focus on Growth Opportunities.  When leaders reflect on strategic decisions made during the recession and what they would have done differently, the most common answer is that they would have focused more on an opportunity mindset. They wish they had shifted from preservation to growth earlier and regretted not investing more heavily. While some companies started reinvesting in growth within the first six months of the Great Recession, others waited until after the recession was over. So, what is meant by growth opportunities?  It means you taking a good look at acquisitions, leadership development, product lines, acquiring better talent, etc. Leaders in the research group resoundingly said their competitive positioning suffered as a result of not having a change in strategy as early and aggressively as their industry peers.

 

  • Focus on Internal Excellence.  A global crisis doesn’t have to be seen as catastrophic, but actually as a redirection. Now is the time to focus on other parts of your business that you may not have had time to “fix” for without a pandemic. Internal processes and team functioning is at the top of the list for those companies that survived and thrived. This includes restructuring roles, setting new goals, and reorganizing information. It’s time to evaluate each position and what role it plays in meeting your business goals. This may include shifting one member to a new role, restructuring what a current role does, and possibly getting rid of a specific role altogether. Bolstering a team by redefining clear goals is key as well.  Finally, taking time now to organize physical AND digital resources will allow you to put more time into shifting everything back to the physical space once the pandemic is over.

 

  • Focus on Stakeholder Relationships.  Anyone who touches the business – employees, vendors, customers, shareholders, and the community – all are stakeholders who are equally important.  Being able to take care of your employees by providing clarity, being empathetic, and supporting their efforts, is essential.  Vendors and suppliers will be anxious about the relationship and need some direction about what the next few months look like – take the time to do this because it will pay off in loyalty from that group.  Proactively work with customers who are challenged with continuing to pay for services at a time when they’re most needed. Customers will remember companies that helped them during difficult times.  Shareholders will be looking to you for directions and answers.  Be sure to over-communicate and collaborate with this group so you all stay on the same page.  Finally, the community – in an economic downturn being able to “give back” in any way that you can is key.  And with all of these stakeholders make sure you continue to emphasize your “Why” and your core values.

Our hope and prayer is that all of you are leading well throughout this crisis. Please know that you are on our mind constantly and will do anything we can to support your efforts towards continuing to build great places to work!