Worst Things First

fish headsHave you ever had one of those days where you knew you had an unpleasant task to take care of but didn’t want to do it?  It may have been a call to return with an unhappy client.  Maybe an uncomfortable conversation with an employee.  Perhaps it was a sales call that you were terrified of.

If you’re like me (or most people for that matter) you probably lost sleep the night before and once at work, began to barricade your time with busywork that would occupy every corner of the day and prevent you from the task.  If you did this correctly, you could honestly say that you would have made that call or had that conversation but were slammed with crisis after crisis.  That bought you some peace, until you came home and realized that unpleasant item would now be waiting for you the next morning…only now the situation would be even more difficult to deal with.

Pain avoidance is normal.  Most of us hate pain and our nature is to do anything to never have it.  Sadly, avoiding just won’t work in most cases.  I’ve learned over time that the best way to deal with it is to use a variation of one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for guidance.

In 1989, Stephen Covey authored one of the most popular business books of all time,

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In this book, he detailed principles for personal and professional success.  One of them, First Things First, was clear guidance for priority and time management.   I modified that one into:

Worst Things First

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, eating your Brussels sprouts first, or doing things like making the scary call or having that dreaded conversation, getting stuff out of the way is the best way to power through.  The longer an uncomfortable task is avoided, the harder it will be to recover from it.

Years ago, when stationed overseas at NAVCOMMSTA Harold E. Holt in Western Australia I befriended a group of SEABEES, the Navy construction folks that ran the public works department on base.  Their division officer was universally hated by the group and after enduring him for two years, they came up with a fitting farewell gift.  The night before his car was crated to be sent on the two-month journey back to the States, they stuffed a bag of fish heads under the front seat.  Imagine what that would have smelled like when he retrieved it?

That’s what happens the longer one of your uncomfortable goes unaddressed.  Fish heads are nasty, but it’s better to handle them on Day 1 then on Day 60.

This week, think about those “fish head” tasks you’ve been avoiding.  Why not get busy doing the Worst Things First and free up your time, energy, and emotional health?

 

 

 

Follow the Leader

s-l300Leadership is a big word in corporate-speak today.  It brings up images of company culture and vision with a little mindfulness tossed in to be trendy.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

There are two kinds of people in this world:  Leaders and Followers.  Which one are you?  Which is the right one?  I don’t have any clear answers except that each has risk and rewards.

This morning (and it seems nearly every Monday or Tuesday morning) I boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to my usual destination typically through Baltimore, MD.  Southwest boards through a structured letter and number system, beginning with those passengers holding an “A” position, followed by “B” and “C” and with numbered positions in between.  Usually the boarding time is printed on your boarding pass and this morning it kicked off at 0530.  About 0520 I decided to take my position at A-23.  I was the first one.  It took exactly 8 seconds for other people to pop up out of their seats and take their places in line.  No official announcement was made.  People just followed the leader.

Now there’s nothing philosophical about this although certainly there is some psychology involved.  It’s really not all that significant but since I had nothing else to write about this week and I notice this all the time, I thought it would be good to talk about.  Being a Leader has the following rewards:

  1. You Automatically Stand Out.  Some people don’t mind this.  Most people prefer to blend in.  Whether you are right or wrong, you make a stand when you take the lead.  If nobody follows, you look a little naked.  If everyone jumps in, you look like, well, a leader.
  2. You Set the Pace and the Trend.  There is a benefit to this.  You can be the first to start a new movement.  You can coin a new term.  You can define a new path and chart a new course.  There is no wrong way for you if you define the way.
  3. You Become Synonymous with the Way.  If you’re first, you become recognized as the standard.  We “Google” things, not search for them.  We drink a “Coke” not a cola.  We sit in the “Jacuzzi” not the hot tub.

Being the Leader also has risks:

  1. You Automatically Stand Out.  Once you’re out there, there’s no turning back.  If you jump up to be first just realize you’ll get the blame if things turn out poorly.
  2. You Set the Pace and the Trend.  Innovation has a high probability of failure.  Your great idea might start off with a great deal of promise (Blackberry® or QR Codes) but quickly become the face of dated futility.
  3. You Become Synonymous with the Way.  Decades ago, Earl Scheib developed an innovative system of painting automobiles in branded shops.  It was revolutionary.  Unfortunately, Earl Scheib’s quality was notoriously low.  As a kid, I remember going with my dad to pick up his newly-painted truck and seeing overspray on the tires and several drip marks.  He made Earl Scheib a verb in his lexicon (“don’t do an Earl Scheib job when you rake these leaves”).

Every day brings opportunities to lead and to follow.  You’ll have ample opportunities to do both.  Don’t be taken in and influenced by the label though.  Make good choices and learn to balance the two.  It’s a quick path to wisdom, which may be more valuable in the long run than being seen as a leader.

Enough with the Quotes Already!

As a big user of LinkedIn, I am seeing certain trends that concern me.

  1. Putting stuff on it that really belongs on Facebook (political opinions, “can this WWII veteran get 1,000 likes?” and religious stuff).
  1. Self-congratulatory aggrandizing (“Honored to be the keynote speaker at the Colonoscopy Coalition Annual Meeting”)
  1. 3 photos of self or a book cover asking strangers to pick which one looks best by selecting A, B, or C.
  1. The Boss/Leader graphic depicting bosses driving slaves while the leader is pulling them forward on a rope (and other boss/leader comparisons).
  1. People straying from their lane of expertise while positioning themselves as experts (Tony Robbins now becoming a financial and investing expert or Dave Ramsey pitching pre-packaged meal plans – this being different than a regular endorsement)

Yes, you probably think I’m arrogant and opinionated and maybe I am.  Or maybe I’m just someone who expects quality content from my network.

Which brings us to my latest pet peeve:

The cliché quotes with incorrect or assumed attributions.

Take a look at the following:

lincoln quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jesus quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) on 5 Pounds 1968 Banknote from Israel. German born theoretical physicist regarded as the father of modern physics.

Which one is legit?

Actually, if you picked Einstein you might be correct but even this attribution is not 100% confirmed.  What’s more worrisome is the fact that people look at these, nodding as if there is some pearl of great wisdom here and spreading it throughout their network.

If you ask me (and you are since you’ve read down this far), I’ll tell you my recommendations for establishing credibility and sharing wisdom via the quote.

  1. Make sure the quote is accurate.
  1. Make sure the quote is attributed to the right person.
  1. Make sure the context of the quote is correct.
  1. Don’t quote anyone. Develop your own wisdom and expertise and blog and write on it.

Sending out clichés is the lazy person’s way of attempting to inspire an audience.  You have an amazing brain in your head.  Develop and share your own wisdom.  There is always room for more in this world.

The 4 Common Behaviors of a Losing Team

I was smiling because another losing season was finally over!

I was smiling because another losing season was finally over!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been on losing teams.  My high school football team had 4 losing seasons.  My company in Navy boot camp was last in the division.  I’ve worked at companies that were financially struggling.  While my business is doing well, I often have to work with losing teams in the business world.

You can learn a lot from being a loser.  If you don’t, then there’s a good chance you’ll continue to lose.  Since none of us can really afford to lose, maybe we can take some lessons from losing teams and do our best not to repeat them.

In my experience, losing teams share these common traits:

  1. They Expect to Lose. It doesn’t start out this way.  Each season begins with hope.  But, with one loss, disappointment sets in.  Then after another a sense of apathy.  Finally, after a few more, losing becomes an expectation.

My high school football team lost every first game of the season to the same school, Pacific Christian.  They were a tough, but not an unbeatable school.  Then we had several non-league games against some really hard teams.  By the time we got to our league schedule, we expected losses.  Unfortunately, league games essentially cleaned the slate since making the playoffs meant we only had to win league games.  It rarely happened and most of us just phoned it in waiting for the season to mercifully end.

When you begin expecting to lose, you’ll never have enough motivation to try to pull out a win.

Solution?  Make winning an expectation.  Don’t get disappointed by a loss, get infuriated.  Harness that energy to get a win next time.

  1. There is a Sense of Arrogance after a (Rare) Win. After losing, a win is amazing!  Be careful though.  If you don’t know how you got the win, you won’t know how to repeat it.  Arrogance will replace preparation and you’ll lose again.

Back to high school football.  In my senior year, we bounced back from our annual loss to Pacific Christian with wins in the next 2 games.  We then played The Buckley School (a prestigious prep school in Sherman Oaks, CA where Michael Jackson’s daughter would eventually attend) and came within one holding penalty of beating them.  That set us up for a big win against Grace Christian school and then a school that traveled down from the Central Valley to play us.  We ended up beating them too.  Then it was time for league.  Our first opponent was Heritage Christian, a school that was smaller than ours and almost a sure win.  On that Saturday night we had the JV team dress out which meant our sideline looked even larger and more intimidating.  Somehow we managed to lose that game.  The next week was a loss against a much tougher Capo Valley Christian followed up by the last league game (which was my last game ever) against Liberty Christian which we lost 22-0.  None of us could believe it.

Fast forward just 18 months.  I was in Navy basic training in San Diego.  Our recruit company was a failure in every way, from academics to military drill.  Finally we had our sports competition against the other companies in our division.  We expected to do well here since many of our shipmates were athletic, and some pretty big.  As we assembled our tug-o-war team, the anchor, a huge kid named Terry Whisenhunt commented that we should warm up by chaining up to a building and pulling it around the compound.  We ended up losing EVERY athletic event that day.  Which brought about behavior #1 above.

When you become arrogant, you don’t work on a winning formula to sustain wins.

Solution?  Treat every win like a loss and dissect what happened.  Repeat what works and ditch what doesn’t.

  1. There is Discord Among the Team’s Leaders. Losing tends to bring out tension and conflict between team leaders.  By allowing this to be seen, you’re sending a really bad signal to your desperate team.

Shortly after our disappointing sports competition, one of our company commanders, Senior Chief Crabtree made drill a priority (his Navy rating was Musician so he know quite a bit about this stuff) and he worked us hard.  He wasn’t a screamer like our other company commander, Chief David was so we all performed well for him.  We actually started getting our act together.

Then one day Chief David addressed the entire company while Senior Chief Crabtree was gone.  (Try to hear this in a hard Filipino accent):

“I know you mutta*&%$s love Senior Chief but I’ve been a company commander much longer.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Listen to me. Don’t listen to him anymore. We’ll gonna straighten you mutta*&^&%$s out!”

Now with the company divided, we continue to score low in every evolution until boot camp mercifully ended 5 weeks later.

Losing is the BEST time for the team leaders to come together.  Blaming each other simply reinforces failure on top of the current level of failure.

Solution?  You win together.  You lose together.  At least the leaders need to be united.  If not, then things will continue to get worse.

  1. The Team’s Leaders Attempt Desperate Measures to Turn Things Around. Losing makes people desperate.  Desperation makes people do dumb things that simply compound the pain of losing.

With my junior year football team hopelessly mired in a losing season, the coaches became desperate.  The instructed us to run onto the field at the start of the game and they would throw a football onto mid field.  We were, as a team, instructed to treat it like a fumble drill and all dogpile on top of each other to get it.  Of course most of us were nursing injuries (losing at football is often a physical problem too) so this stunt resulted in a couple of players not being able to play that night.   Two weeks later, our coach had one of his mentors, Coach DeWoody, a legend in small school tackle football in California, talk to us at halftime against Liberty Christian.  His rant did nothing to inspire us.  It was more like mass confusion in the middle of game where we were physically and strategically outmatched.  As we headed back onto the field, I overhead Coach DeWoody tell our coach that we had already given up.  He was correct.

Losing can only be fixed by figuring out the reason why and improving on it.  By identifying the contributors to losing, only then can we turn it around.  This is analysis, not pep talks.  Desperation never works.

Solution?  When you lose, become rational, not emotional.  Emotion may produce short term energy but until the systems are correct, the losing will continue.

None of us want to be on a losing team.  We may not be able to change it if we’re on one now but if you are leading or will lead a team, be sure NOT to fall into these 4 behavior patterns.

How to (Credibly) Sell Something

That being the case, I’ve found that people who aren’t trained sales or marketing professionals prefer to do everything BUT address pain points.  None clearer than the billboard I saw in Clarksville, TN this week.

Now if you look at it, you’ll probably have several questions:

  • Who is Mr. Murples?
  • If he’s the baboon with the big glasses, what does he know about buying a car?
  • If he does know about buying cars, how do we know that their prices are the lowest?
  • Why is Mr. Murples so huge when the car that has the low price on it is dwarfed?

Does this billboard do anything to convince anyone they should buy at this dealership?

Now I have nothing against this dealership or Nissans for that matter. I even like baboons (but I’m not a fan of bow ties, on humans or baboons). I do have something against spending hard-earned cash on crappy advertising.

And because I do, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for the next time you’re trying to sell something (or yourself) to someone.

  1. Identify Your Potential Audience. Who are they? What do they like? How do they think? In the case of a car buyer, think about what demographic might be interested in a Nissan. Everyone loves buying at the lowest price. Do Nissan buyers like baboons with bow ties and glasses?
  2. Identify their “Pain.” In the case of car buyers, low price is certainly important but what about a buyer-friendly experience where there is no haggling over the price? We want to attract the right people to the lot. Not sure what you’d attract with a bow tie-wearing baboon.
  3. Figure Out the Best Way to Reach Them. Billboards might be great when marketing to people on the road. That may be where your buyers are. Possibly having a baboon on the billboard gets attention in a sea of other car dealer, law firms, and insurance agencies who seem to dominate the billboard methodology. But does this really work? Which leads to…
  4. Measure Your Results. I’m not sure how one would track who comes in based on seeing Mr. Murples. If the dealership actually polls potential buyers, they’d be wise to count just how many were drawn in by the ad. If Mr. Murples is driving up sales, keep him around. If not, move on and maybe try NOT using animals.

These lessons work in sales and in interviewing for jobs. Take some time this week to reexamine your sales and marketing strategy. Mr. Munro thinks it’s a great idea. You’ll have to ask Mr. Murples his opinion.

The Secret to Getting Great Critiques on Your Presentation

Lavatory sinks

This is where your presentation gets REAL critiques. Prepare for this audience and the rest is a breeze!

When I’m in town, I like to attend my local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter meetings.  These are a great place to network and you can certainly learn from the topics that are presented.

At the end of each session, there is a little card on the table that you fill out with feedback for the speaker and the event.  Most people scribble a few notes and check the boxes and then head out the door.  I’m sure the cards are useful, but what really matters is what people say about your presentation in the bathroom shortly after.

I’m always amazed at the critiques speakers get when audience members are in the safety of the bathroom.  I hear criticism of the topic, the slides, the speakers themselves, etc.  People feel a bit more candid I guess when in this unique, sacred place.

Now you can fear this phenomenon if you’re a speaker or you can simply use it as a tool to better prepare for your next presentation.  Here are some of my suggestions:

Your Topic:  If you’re going to present, be sure to present on a topic that’s timely and relevant.  Of course you need to know your audience for this one.  Find out their experience level.  Inquire about some of the “pain” they experience.  Then deliver solutions with a “how to” theme.  Make sure they leave with tangible takeaways.  Avoid subjects that are dated (Generations in the Workplace), stereotypical and divisive (Generations in the Workplace), fads (Generations in the Workplace), or that have been beat-to-death in numerous other presentations (Generations in the Workplace) – You see a theme here don’t you?

Your Command of the Subject:  Make sure you present on a topic where you are either a recognized authority or at least a strong, proven subject matter expert.  If you can’t intelligently answer hard questions at the end of the presentation (and this is common criticism in post-presentation bathroom critiques) then find another topic to present on.

Your Visuals:  Be different and ditch PowerPoint® or minimize the amount of slides you need.  Use relevant videos and debrief them clearly.  If possible, use a flip chart and talk while writing down your points.  Even consider tools like Prezi for a different visual approach.  AND, have a backup plan if you can’t get Internet, sound for videos, or a correct connection from your laptop to the data projector.  Just so you know, I’ve never had a person complain that I didn’t have a PowerPoint® presentation.

Your Style:  Have someone evaluate your style before you present.  Pay attention to the amount of times you use fillers such as “um” and “ok.”  Don’t start off every statement with “So” (“So today we’re going to talk about how to deal with generations in the workplace.” “So you know all those Millennials want a trophy for just showing up.”  “So you know you should always tell Gen Z how their job relates to a clean environment and workplace harmony”).  Unless of course you’re pitching a product on Shark Tank.  Then you look weird if you don’t start off every statement with “so”.

Your Appearance:  In my experience, women don’t have issues here but men do.  Guys, spend some money and get a suit that actually fits you.  Shine up your shoes.  Brush the dandruff off your shoulders if you wear a dark jacket.  Take a long look in the mirror before leaving the house.  If you look there and see Andy Rooney staring back, take a beard trimmer and shear those eyebrows.  Start with the highest setting and work your way down.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Look up your nose and trim out all of those nose hairs.  Then look at your ears.  Same thing here.  You want people to talk about your amazing presentation, not your lack of style and personal grooming.

I know this is a lot to think about but it’s the little details that make your presentation a success.  Plan out the presentation and prepare for those inevitable bathroom critiques.  They happen whether you like it or not but preparation before will certainly give them something positive to talk about, while they’re hopefully washing their hands.

The Not-So-Secret Formula for Success

Business Success Concept - MotivationIt seems like everyone wants to know the secret to success.  Is it skill?  Work ethic?  Tenacity?  Mindfulness?

Actually, it’s none of the above.  If you’re asking me, it’s TRUST.  Are you WHO you say you are and will you DO what you say you will, and will you do it WHEN you say you will?  The formula looks like this:

Reliability + Consistency = Trust

Reliability means I can depend on you:

  • You show up when you say you will.
  • You perform the way you tell me you will.
  • You perform to a high level and exceed my high expectations.

Consistency means you are predictably dependable:

  • You’ll be on time.
  • You’ll Always be on time.
  • You’ll perform to the same standards of excellence each time.

When you do these consistently, I won’t worry anymore.  In other words, I TRUST you.

It seems simple but it’s not.  When you get let down enough times, you lose trust and begin to get skeptical.

I get lots of calls and email from people who want to meet with me to network, “pick my brain,” or just talk.  I don’t mind these but will absolutely drive me crazy are no-shows, particularly since I live in way out in the country and this means I travel at least an hour to the areas of Middle Tennessee where most people live.  What kills me?  No-shows.  It’s happened enough times that I’m skeptical.  When somebody does show, I’m almost surprised.  Of course learning the hard way, I have my assistant now call the day before to verify the appointment.  I just don’t trust folks as much anymore.

I’m a huge fan of National Car Rental.  As a frequent traveler, it makes me happy to just hit the lot, pick any car and go.  I won’t rent from anyone else, least of which the parent company of National, Enterprise.

But sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Enterprise has older, dirty cars and a rental system that requires you to wait in line, sign in, wait to be escorted to your car, walked around it to look for damage, and then allowed to leave.  It reminds me of being at the doctor’s office.  They are notoriously unreliable to be on time (for pickup) or for having your rental ready (much like the classic Seinfeld episode “we have your  reservation Mr. Seinfeld, unfortunately, we ran out of cars.”)  Well unfortunately they are also the contracted rental company from USAA, my insurance company.

A few months ago I was hit by another drive while in business in Tunica, MS.  I dropped my car at the body shop in Erin, TN and was supposed to have the Enterprise people meet me there with my rental car.  I had a bad feeling about it based on past experience but went ahead and trusted they’d be there.  Sure enough, they were a no-show.  I called the office and they told me it would be at least 2 hours.  Unacceptable. After some assertive leveraging from me, they were there in 45 minutes.  But since this already fed my negative perception, I vowed never to use them again.  Tweets to customer service yielded nothing but a canned reply (which I used previously resulting in no resolution) suggesting that this was standard practice.

The moral of the story?  Trust is key.  I trust National, not Enterprise.  I trust you once you make your appointment with me, but NEVER if you miss it.

So if you want to be successful in your business or your job, be trustworthy.  Remember:

Reliability + Consistency = Trust

 

The Secret to Effective Time Management

Time management is one of those areas that all of us struggle with.  I’ve been asked to teach time management seminars and I’ll always caveat my agreement that “you can’t manage time, just your ability to work within it.”

I recently worked with a team that struggled with competing priorities which lead them to be operating in a constant state of crisis.  While listening to them, my mind wandered back to some of the training I had while in the Navy many years ago.  My rating was Dental Technician.  In peacetime we served aboard ships and in clinics taking care of the dental needs of patients.  In wartime however, we were either sent operational on ships or augmented the medical teams with the Marine Corps units.  Our counterparts, the Hospital Corpsmen worked in this capacity full time which meant we had to bone up on casualty care treatment.  It was in this context that I learned about the important concept of triage.

In wartime, casualty sorting is key.  Basically, there are four categories of wounded, each of which demands a different level of priority.  Therefore, casualties are grouped into one of the four:

Expectant.  This means they are dead or beyond help.  No treatment is given.

Walking Wounded.  These patients are wounded but are not in a life-threatening state.  They can be used to assist in the battle aid station or sent back to the rear (hence the term “walking wounded.”)

Delayed.  These patients are in bad shape but not so critical that they need priority.  Most of time if they have IV fluids and some sort of monitoring, they can wait until treatment resources are available.

Immediate.  This is the worst condition.  These patients need treatment somewhere in the range of two minutes to two hours or they will die.  This is the highest priority.

This system is demonstrated on the following model:

Time Triage Model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what do that have to do with us and our ability to manage our ability to work within it?  It’s all about triage.  One key element must be identified first though – the Most Crucial Task (MCT).  The MCT is the highest value activity that must get done.  If we do it, we’ll accomplish much and add value.  If not, we’ll get set further behind.  It’s different for everyone, but let’s use the example of a financial advisor.

The MCT for a financial advisor is to call prospects.  The business grows only as new clients come in.  This is absolutely job #1.  Nothing else matters as much as this.

But of course in any day, other tasks seem to get in the way.  When they do, and they potential take away from the MCT, we use the triage method.

Here are some examples of tasks and how they should be triaged:

Immediate: 

Client has a death in the family and needs to activate life insurance, etc.  This requires immediate action.

Delayed:

Client needs to sign some really important paperwork to start insurance, investments, or their financial plan.  This is important, but not necessarily critical.  It should be scheduled soon though. (“scheduled” is the operative word here).

Walking Wounded:

Non-urgent calls and emails to return.  A walk-in client that wants to talk to someone about debt consolidation. These should be scheduled for later or delegated.

Expectant:

Rearrange the files, work on a spreadsheet, or other non-vital administrative tasks (which should be delegated to the admin assistant).

If the MCT is slated for a two-hour block of time, the rest of the day then can be used for scheduled appointments (some Delayed or possibly Walking Wounded tasks).

Sounds easy doesn’t it?

It’s not.  Often the MCT is one that’s not fun or in some cases, frightening or intimidating.  When this happens, it’s easy to let the Walking Wounded or Expectant tasks filter in because we feel like if we’re busy, we’re actually accomplishing something.  But don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.  The MCT is what needs to get done FIRST and FOREMOST!

All of us get the same 24 hours per day.  Those who make the most of them take ownership of them and don’t allow themselves to be managed by the tasks.  That’s the secret, and it’s no longer a secret.  Make your calendar your slave.  Don’t let it do the same to you.

Don’t Make Your Solution More Complicated Than the Problem

Complicated or simple.I recently spoke to a group of learning and development professionals on the topic of performance management.  I always start the talk off with my Top 10 list of the Biggest Mistakes Made by Companies in Performance Management Programs.  I start with #10 (a la David Letterman) and then get down to #1.  With this group I let the suspense build by making the #1 mistake a multiple choice quiz question.  Can you figure out the biggest mistake?

  1. Confusing the ROI of training with the value-add of performance management.
  2. Juxtaposing the syntax of Kirkpatrick’s Model with the Reuterbaga Model of Performance Excellence® Model for peak performance enhancement.
  3. Combining mindfulness with strategic learning and thinking.
  4. Looping change management complexities with the principles of learning management and knowledge transfer.
  5. I don’t know.

The answer is actually “I don’t know” (which leads to the real #1 problem which is making performance management a once-a-year event).  In fact, the other four choices are just a bunch of training mumbo jumbo I threw together.  Everyone fell for the bait though and thought since it was the BIGGEST mistake, you would need the BIGGEST and MOST COMPLICATED solution.

In my experience, sometimes a complicated solution makes a complicated problem even bigger.  How can we tackle a complex problem more effectively and efficiently?  Try the following steps:

  1. Clearly define the problem.  A problem is simply a condition where current reality doesn’t meet our expectation.
  2. Narrow the problem down to its root issue.  Think actual condition, not symptoms.
  3. Identify if it’s a people problem or a process problem.  Don’t get these two mixed up.  If you blame a problem on people but they can’t be successful because of a broken process, fix the process.
  4. For people problems, use my 3-Legged Stool of Great Performance® model to figure out if it’s a Skill (needs training), Will (needs motivation, or Focus (needs guiding or coaching).
  5. For process problems, start by mapping out the process the way it currently exists using a flowchart.  Be honest here.  Show it exactly like it is.  Then draw out the ideal.  Where the discrepencies are, begin your intervention…
  6. …Which should always be done in small steps that should be tested.  Don’t tweak everything at once.  Small step, test, next step, test etc.

Don’t be afraid to admit the problem is simple and needs a simple fix.  Big problems are simply a whole bunch of little problems joined together in a tangled mess, much like that big ball of Christmas lights you have to untangle every November.

Problem-solvers are respected, compensated well, and sought after.  Why not work this week to improve your problem-solving skills.  Think simple, not simplistic and you’ll be on your way to solving those big, complicated problems.

How Do You Feel About Puppy Breath?

Elvis

Elvis

I’m an animal lover.  Dogs and cats.  As a kid growing up I had both and now as an adult, not much has changed.  They are especially fun when they’re small, full of energy and very animated.  And with puppies, there’s that wonderful smell of puppy breath.

Now a lot of folks love puppy breath but plenty of others don’t like it.  When we added to our dog family this year with our goldendoodles Rusty and six months later Elvis, it brought all of that warm feeling back.

But then, one morning driving on some back roads, I saw a dead skunk on the road.  Then it hit me:  puppy breath smells exactly like a skunk.  It’s no wonder some folks don’t like puppy breath.  The associations are really strong.  It didn’t matter to me though.  I still associated it with young Rusty and Elvis.

Associations are common and important to identify.  All of us are impacted by people, places, and events.  Our senses keep a permanent reminder and it brings it back, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a negative way.  I hear certain songs and they bring back good and bad memories.  I smell a particular type of floor cleaner and it brings me back to the bad old days of Dental Technician “A” school when I was in the Navy.  I’ll hear smooth jazz songs and they remind me of a particularly boring job I had while living in the Washington DC area (I listened to a jazz station on my way to work…in awful traffic!)

The key though is to distance ourselves from the negative triggers and associations and compartmentalize them.  If we don’t, we risk never moving past them.  To help you process this, I recommend the following steps:

  1. Identify the trigger.  Is it a song, smell, or sound?
  2. Identify the feeling it elicits.  Anger?  Frustration?  Sadness?
  3. Now look at the trigger from a different perspective.  Reframe it with your CURRENT state rather than the PAST state that cemented the mindset.
  4. Make a commitment to move forward!

I don’t expect you to love puppy breath but just for a moment, think about how a playful puppy can put a smile on the sourest face.  Focus on that and not on a dead skunk and you’ll maybe develop a new appreciation for it.  If you aren’t feeling that, then do the personal inventory and follow those four steps.  I’m working on it and I hope you will too!