How to Figure Out What’s Wrong With You

greatperformancestoolOne of the most common question I get asked by managers when they talk to me about poor performers is WHY are my people performing poorly?

There’s a simple model I use that helps us diagnose great performance. It’s called the 3-Legged Stool of Great Performance™.

In a three-legged stool model, all legs must be in place or you fall on your ass. Great performance has three legs too. Here they are in no particular order:

Skill. The first thing you need to ask if you start performing poorly is if you even know what you’re doing. Skills are the “how-tos” of any task. They are built through training. Training is the only thing that can fix a skill problem. If you don’t know what you’re doing, have somebody train you.

Will. Will becomes an issue when you KNOW what and how to do something, you just don’t WANT to do it. It’s expressed in boredom, procrastination, apathy, and lethargy. The only way to fix a will problem is motivation. When you get WHAT you need WHEN you need it, you’ll be motivated. It could be a hug or it could be a threat. By the way, training won’t work on a will problem. Forget the classes on “how to deal with change” or worse, any type of sensitivity training. That’s a complete waste of time and money.

Focus. Focus becomes an issue when you know how to do something and really want to do it, but something holds you back. It could be minor things like not communicating effectively in an organization, ignoring or violating established norms, or not completely understanding the politics. Focus problems are fixed by coaching and mentoring. Coaching is telling you how to get back in focus and mentoring is setting the example to follow.

If you or the people who report to you aren’t performing well, it’s time to consider the three aspects of great performance. Diagnose well and be sure to treat the real problem. It’s the only way to ensure long term success.

How to Get Your Dream Job

Having your dream job is, well…a dream! It’s the combination of great location, opportunities for growth, a good boss, and of course high salary. If you have or had your dream job, it’s something you’ll never forget. If you’ve never had it, you want more than anything to attain it.

There is one key step you need to take to make sure your dream job is a true dream job.

Of my 15 years in the Navy, there was only a year and a half that I really loved what I did. Ironically, it was on the island of Guam. Now Guam is a small island that you can drive around in about 90 minutes. It’s expensive. It’s hard to get food and other items that you need or want. The locals at that time (early 1990s) were very hostile to us mainlanders and of course you have the constant threat of typhoons, and in our case, an 8.1 earthquake that struck in 1994.

How did I find happiness during this tour? I had the perfect job…for me!

As a dental assistant, working on patients all day, not having control of my schedule, and having to often work late and through my lunch was a challenge. By the time I got stationed in Guam, I had been in the Navy for about 9 years. When I arrived at the clinic on the base in Agana, I was told I’d be working in supply. I was away from the clinic and could function on my own schedule. Additionally, my Executive Officer liked me and often asked for my opinions on things and had me help him plan and strategize. I felt independent, important, and valued. In spite of the other issues of Guam, that tour was the best.

Years later as I considered the current career I have now, I looked back and made a commitment to bring those aspects in. Now I set my own schedule, work with the clients I choose to, provide counsel and advice that they value, and get paid well for it.

Yet I could have done the opposite. I could have determined to base my dream job to eliminate everything I hated about the Navy. That would only have given me partial satisfaction. I’m convinced of it.

This week, as you think about your dream job, ask yourself what POSITIVE tasks, feelings, skills, and functions you want to replicate. Look back at things you loved and bring those in. That will overwhelm the negative aspects (and yes there are negative aspects in every job, even mine!).

Your dream job won’t happen by chance. You have to set the parameters. What are you going to do this week to make that happen?

Time Will Pass…Will You?

Hand behind colorful numbersIt’s amazing how fast time flies. It seems as though only yesterday I walked out of the Navy after 15 years of service. That was over 15 years ago and it’s a blur. In that time I’ve worked a few jobs and built a business. The years between age 30 and 40 went fast. 40 and 50 was even quicker. Now I’m into the next decade and it’s only moving faster.

When I was in 6th grade, we had a clock in the back of the room. My 6th grade teacher Ms. Ufkes had a sign that said “Clock watchers beware…time will pass. Will You?” Time is passing. What are you doing with it?

I use a model in some of my workshops called The Life Odometer. It looks like this:

Wheel of Life

Each spoke represents a year and it goes to 100. I have them mark the following milestones:

 

  1. The age you were when you started your current job.
  2. The age of 67.
  3. The age of 81.
  4. Your current age.

I then have them shade in between their current age and 81.

67 is the average retirement age. 81 is the average age people die. The question then is: What are you going to do with the shaded-in years?

If you like, download that graphic and do the same exercise. Many folks I talk to just look forward to retirement. If it follows the data, that only leaves them 14 years before they die. Now you may live longer. You may work longer. What won’t change is that each year, a year will pass.

If this depresses you, then get busy figuring out what you want to accomplish in the remaining time. Don’t put off that savings plan, that career change, or starting that business. All of us are always one step away from death, but aside from that, we probably have some time left on the clock.

This week, figure out how to best use that time.

Time will pass…will you?

How to Sell Your Self (and Your Ideas)

Cultivate an ideaNothing turns most people off more than being told they have to sell something. There are a few folks who thrive in that role and if they’re good, they’ll make a bunch of money.

For the rest of us, selling is scary, difficult, and at the lowest end of our skillset.

The challenge is that unless you figure it out, you’ll never get your ideas listened to or have people take you seriously.

Fortunately, we have the FBI to help us!

Now this isn’t the FBI you’re thinking of; the ones who wear trench coats, dark sunglasses, and wiretap your phones. I’m speaking of the sales acronym that you can apply to your self and your ideas.

F = Features. Features are simply attributes. They’re important, but not THE most important. The TV commercial for Dyson® vacuum cleaners touts the fact that they use wind tunnel technology and are bagless. That’s a feature.

For you, the feature might be your MBA or a particular certification. It might be the technical specifications of your idea or proposal. It’s important, but it’s not going to sell it.

B = Benefits. Benefits are what we get as a result of the features. For the Dyson® vacuum, the benefits of the wind tunnel is that it sucks up my black lab Sonny’s dog hair more efficiently. Not having bags saves me the hassle of changing them or having to keep bags on hand.

For you, the benefit might be the results you got a company or client as a result of that degree or certification (“Skills resulted in a 35% decrease in cycle time”) or that your idea will help save money, solve problems, or build rapport.

I = Incentive. Incentive is the final push to seal the deal. While I know that Dyson® is bagless and will do a number on Sonny’s massive amounts of dog hair in my house, the incentive might be that this weekend there is a sale and I’ll get it at a discount. That pushes me to buy.

For you, the incentive might be that you happen to willing to relocate for the position or are willing to do the job a little cheaper than the competition. You might be ready to start this afternoon while the other candidates need to give a 2-week notice. For your ideas, it could mean that you can do the job better, faster, and cheaper. Your idea might be based on your own skills and you won’t need to bring in a team of others.

If you look at sales through the lenses of the FBI tool, you realize that it’s not all that difficult. You have to know yourself and what you bring, know your audience, and know how to address their pain.

What are you waiting for? How about selling yourself or your ideas this week?

The Power of Pessimism

Grave stoneJuly 19, 1989 was marked by the crash of United Airlines Flight 232. The flight, bound for Chicago had a catastrophic hydraulic system failure causing it to lose control. Miraculously, in spite of the crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, there were 185 survivors. The fact that most passengers survived was chalked up to a steady stream of good luck. There happened to be a flight instructor on board that was able to assist the crew from the cockpit. The Sioux City airport was isolated with a very open runway surrounded by cornfields. The city’s emergency responders had recently performed a mass casualty scenario exactly like Flight 232. It seemed as though the planets aligned on this day. The story was later used as a team-building case study by a major corporate education firm. It’s what happens when luck, timing, good fortune, karma, and perhaps help from the Man upstairs comes together.

Except that scenarios like this are exceptions, not the rule.

I’m not a pessimistic person by nature, but as time goes on, I am learning to embrace the power of it. Pessimism isn’t negativity, although the two are often used interchangeably.   I prefer to define pessimism as trust, but verify. It means that even though you HOPE things will work out, you have a back up plan just in case.

In order to put the Power of Pessimism to use, there are two steps:

  1. Don’t paint yourself in a corner. Check out my previous post on not getting caught up in a tree. Avoid the following types of scenarios:

You know you can barely afford that car payment not to mention the higher insurance, but you figure that things will work out.

What if you lose your job?

You know down deep inside that if you get into that mortgage you’ll barely have enough money to furnish the house, but you are pretty sure it’s a good investment.

What if the housing market tanks?

Your boss likes you and you think you have job security so you bypass an opportunity to take on a new role.

What if your boss moves on?

You gain a big client that promises to keep you busy so you decide to turn down other business.

What if the champion of your program leaves the company?

You feel you are physically invincible and think you can work forever. You plan your finances and spending accordingly.

What happens when old age and time decides to make an appearance?

  1. Create a backup plan. Make sure you build in contingencies. I’ve read that Navy SEAL missions are openly debated with each and every possible anomaly discussed and planned for. Then, duplication and triplication is built in to plan. One of their mottoes is “Two is One, and One is None.” It’s why a second chopper was available to evacuate the members of SEAL Team Six when the first chopper hit the wall of Osama bin Laden’s compound and crashed.

What is your fallback plan? How will you handle the loss of a job, market, or client? “Hope” is not a strategy. It’s also not a strategy to be pessimistic all the time and NOT take some chances. Be smart and be balanced here.

This week take a look at your career, your finances, and your future. Are you pessimistically prepared or simply hoping things work out?

How to Succeed at Work

building blocksWhen my son started his first REAL job, it was an interesting experience. It wasn’t his first real job. He worked for a couple years at Burger King while in high school. This one was different though. He worked as a general laborer at a construction company in Nashville. His first experience working with MEN. Experienced men that were  much older and seasoned. I knew he was a bit intimidated by that.

As we drove to the Wal-Mart yesterday to get him some steel-toe boots and Dickies work pants, we talked about how to handle it. He wanted my advice on how to be successful. I’ll share what I shared with him and it’s based on my observations at client companies I work with.

  1. Don’t be on time. Be early. In a world where mediocrity has become the norm, punctuality has suffered. Want to make a good impression? Be ready to go at start time, not running in half-prepared.
  2. Do your job completely, then find something else to do.  You’re paid by the hour so work for the full hour. Looking for something more to do will show your boss that you’re a hard worker.
  3. Don’t complain. It’s called work for a reason. Get your job done and keep your mouth shut. If you are being treated legitimately unfairly, use the proper channels to address it. Whining won’t help.
  4. Work like an owner, not an employee. If you owned a business, you wouldn’t tolerate slackers and malcontents. If you act like an owner, you’ll keep profitability in mind and make the most of each moment.
  5. Measure your productivity against the standard, not the other workers. Generally speaking, what I find is that most workers do the bare minimum required and hope for the highest salary possible. They justify it by saying “well at least I work harder than Joe does,” or “Sally comes in late every day, I just come in late every now and then.” Be the high standard rather than conform to the expected standard.

He had a great summer even though he worked his ass off. It affected him to the point that he determined never to do a labor job again.  Regardless, he has some good experiences to share and he’ll always be able to tell the folks he manages that he’s done his time in the trenches.  Maybe someday he’ll have this same conversation with his kid.

Are You the Real Deal?

true versus false dilemma concept compass  isolated on white bacI heard a radio preacher the other day tell a story about how somebody rudely whipped around him in a parking lot and took a parking space he was waiting for.

“I wanted to give him a piece of my mind,” he said. “Then I remembered that I’m a preacher.”

When people act like who they say they are, it makes sense. When companies operate like they claim to, it’s expected. When there’s a disconnect, then we have a problem.

  • Years ago when I was in the Navy, I was perpetually on the “fat boy” program while stationed at Naval Hospital Long Beach. Ironically, the dietician who was giving us all the advice on how to pick the right foods and eat in the right proportion must have weighed 300+ lbs. I wasn’t impressed.
  • In 2006, I was the lead trainer and project manager for a training project contracted to the Air Force. It was my job to staff the project and the Air Force wanted trained mediators and conflict resolution specialists. I have never worked with a more difficult, childish, and petty group of trainers in my life. They bickered over everything from training partner assignments to who would teach what part of the course (these were team taught). And these are the folks who are trained experts at “getting to YES” and “achieving a Win-Win.”
  • My old neighbor in Maryland used to be the manager of the Circuit City (before they went out of business). He was an expert in how to set up a home theater and helped suggest the stuff I needed to fix mine up. Ironically, he had an old console type TV (remember those? Several children were crushed to death by these things falling on them back in the late 90s) and no sound equipment. Nothing wrong with that. It just struck me as kind of odd.

On the other hand, when a person’s or organization’s actions actually match their purported reputation, it’s a pleasant surprise.

  • My friend Eric Buratty is a fitness guru.  His workout and diet plans are challenging and extreme.  If you look at Eric and see his discipline, you know he’s the real deal.  He’s cut and ripped.  If he tells you how to diet and exercise, you can believe him because he personifies it!
  • I had a client that manufactured wall outlets and electrical fixtures. The training room had more outlets than I’d ever seen. It’s exactly what I would expect from a wall outlet manufacturer. Super convenient for me!
  • When I lived in MD, everyone told me I needed to take my car to Cochrane Automotive as Eddie Cochrane was good and fair. I finally did. He replaced my brakes in record time and at a low price I thought was a misprint. Needless to say I used him from then on. Too bad he’s not here in TN.
  • My plumber Steve Udzinski of US Plumbing in Charlotte, TN did some great work for me. When he told me he also renovated bathrooms and kitchens, I was a little nervous but based on his previous work, I contracted with him and his wife Donna. Not only did they do a world-class job, they only charged me $400.00 for labor!

The bottom line here is that your reputation and your behavior and your performance all have to align for you to be taken seriously. Keep that in mind this week. Are you who you say you are?

Bosses: Why Your Employees Think You’re a Moron

I have no ideaA few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Why Your Boss Thinks Your Idea Sucks.Lots of people read it. One of my subscribers said her issue was different. Her employee thought HER ideas sucked! She asked if I could address the issue. So I will.

When employees don’t respect their boss, there is one reason only. It’s because they have no respect for their boss. First let’s define respect. Respect means you’re being taken seriously. Yesterday I let my 18-year-old son run the chain saw as we cut up some tree limbs. He was afraid, but I told him to not fear the chain saw, just respect it. Take it seriously. Know it will make your life easier, but if you’re not careful with it, it could end your life.   When an employee has no respect for their boss, it means they don’t take them seriously. When they don’t take the boss seriously, then anything and everything the boss says or does goes from legitimate to comedic. It’s sad and I’ve seen it happen.

How can a boss prevent employees from losing respect for them? Here are five ways:

  1. Know what you’re talking about. Nothing worse than working for a boss that’s dumber than you and yet professes to know it all. If you’re going to be the boss, know your stuff.
  2. Build rapport with your people. Get to know them on a more personal level so that they know you genuinely care about them. If you don’t genuinely care about them, find another job. You don’t have to love your employees, but you do need to treat them like human beings.
  3. Learn how to think strategically. If you ask your employees to do something, make sure you’ve thought it through. What is the end result you want? What are the potential pitfalls? What’s your Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work.
  4. Control your emotions. Some bosses are screamers. That’s unacceptable. Keep cool. Some bosses are a bunch of wusses. They are afraid to confront poor performers. They don’t want to come off like the bad guy. There is a healthy balance between screamer and wuss. Find it and embrace it.
  5. Don’t treat your people like imbeciles. That could be real or perceived. Either way it can affect your credibility. Some highly intelligent folks need to feel smarter than the boss or at least acknowledged for their intellect. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you need to consider it. Have an honest conversation with this employee about it but remind them that you ARE actually the boss and it’s your job to delegate and evaluate the work. Sometimes it’s real. I worked with a guy once that said a boss he had referred to the employees as “bodies” as in “I need two bodies on that process over there.” Don’t do this.

So that’s the list. I’m sure there’s more. If you can think of any, be sure to suggest them in the comment box below. If you’re a boss, implement the steps. If you’re an employee who has a moron boss, forward this link to them. If you want to be the boss someday, begin learning this now.

Time Management is a Stupid Phrase

A few years ago, I was approached by a company to write a time management course which I would then deliver at a conference for HR reps with the Department of Veterans Affairs. When I asked them what the objectives were for the course (kind of important if you want to ensure the course you teach hits the target) there were none. That made me happy.

I’ve taken a few time management courses throughout the years, including those given by the Covey people. All of them advocate a cumbersome tool or key principles such as “never touch a piece of paper more than once.” None of them worked for me, and as far as I know, nobody else either.

Why?

There is no such thing as “time management.”

Time can’t be managed. It’s nothing we can control. It’s no different than doing a class on How to Manage an Earthquake. You can’t manage it, only your reaction and response to it.

Think about it. There are 24 hours in a day. We all have the same 24 hours. How then do you explain someone who manages to get a host of tasks accomplished in a day while a co-worker in the same job gets nothing done? Time has nothing to do with effectiveness. The only think you can control is your ability to manage yourself in relation to time.

So back to the workshop. Without the constraints of somebody else’s “system”, I put together an outline that addressed all the things that get in the way of a person’s ability to manage themselves in relation to time. Then I simply developed strategies around them. If you figure out what your challenges are, you can implement changes that will solve your unique issues.

Here are the challenges:

  1. Your personality and style of interaction. All of us are conditioned and “wired” to plan and interact in a certain way. Some folks get very distracted by other people and can’t focus. Others need to be around people and activities to focus. I used my own personality assessment, The Bug Factor™ to give my participants some insight on their style and how it affects them.
  1. Your ability to plan. Some folks can structure their day around a set plan of events while others need flexibility.
  1. Your ability to organize. Prioritization is different than planning. Planning gives the sequence, prioritization dictates the order. This is dependent on the task, outcomes, stakeholders, an of course the individual.
  1. Your ability to direct. Direction is the action steps of getting things done. It’s how to execute the plan. It also involves marshaling other resources to help you. Sometimes this is impacted by a person’s personality, other times by their willingness and need to engage others.
  1. Your ability to control. The best plans fail if there are too many distractions. By identifying what the distractions will be, you have a better chance of minimizing them by planning for them or avoiding them all together.

Now notice here that I didn’t give you a formula. The tools are there and your job is to pick and choose which ones can solve the problem. I told the attendees to visualize the workshop as a buffet where they could take whatever looked good to them. If you’re hungry for Mexican food, hot dogs won’t do. If your time management challenges are around distractions but you plan pretty well, leave the planning tools alone and deal with distractions.

So all in all it was a big success. The attendees left happy and hopefully are implementing what they learned. The biggest lesson they got (which I repeatedly drilled into their heads) was that “you can’t manage time, only your ability to manage yourself in relation to it.”

This week, think about what prevents you from “managing” time and think of strategies to fix that.

The Perils of Following Your Passion

Man draws a green bulbI used to believe that if a person pursued their passion and did well, the opportunities would jump out and the money would follow.

I don’t believe that anymore.

It’s not that I’ve become more negative or pessimistic.   It’s just the cold reality that exists. This isn’t designed to be a downer post either. It’s actually just the opposite and should motivate you even more.

First though, why I don’t believe it anymore. Here’s what I’ve observed:

  • Too many failed businesses where a person is passionate about something, very good at it, but nobody else sees value in it.
  • Too many young people encouraged to follow their passion and get degrees in liberal arts, women’s studies, sociology, or similar then graduate without a job, get a job in hospitality and as a fallback, and move back in with their parents.
  • Too many job seekers taking their severance packages and putting together ill-prepared home-based businesses and projects without getting (or just simply ignoring) good advice on how to do it correctly and then fold shortly after with nothing to show for it.
  • Too many entrepreneurs who are simply craftsmen or specialists or consultants but don’t know the first thing about how to grow a business and thus burn out after a few years.

In all these cases, pursuing passion was foremost. Common sense and sound business skills were second (or absent).

Now I’m all for a career where you do what you love. It’s rewarding. It’s what I do now. What people don’t know is that I gutted out 15 very unsatisfying years as a dental assistant in the Navy followed by a few years in some boring jobs before breaking out and launching on my own. While it was tough, the payoff was that I founded my business on some good lessons learned and the wise counsel of experienced professionals I surrounded myself with. Had I started this out of high school, after getting my MA, or even directly after leaving the Navy, I know I wouldn’t have been ready.

What SHOULD you do?

  • For young people: I love that you’re passionate and want to save the world. Good. Get a career that has viable job opportunities (anything in the STEM fields is a good start) and make some money and get some experience first. Then think about how to save the world when you’re a bit more seasoned.
  • For parents of young people: Do NOT let your kids get degrees in fields that are dead or dying. Unless they want to go into teaching as a profession, keep them away from non-STEM degrees. If they’re not “math or science people” then get them a tutor. It’s much cheaper than feeding and housing them until they turn 30.
  • For school counselors: Get away from your desk and start networking with professionals and find out where the careers of tomorrow are. The advice you gave last semester might be outdated by now. Enlist the help of parent volunteers who can give you and the students a reality check on what careers are viable and which aren’t.
  • For wannabe entrepreneurs: Bottle the passion for now and get some good sound business and professional advice from a mentor before launching a business. There are tons of opportunities but you have to be careful.
  • For job seekers: Find a job first that has the pay and benefits you need, then think of this job as a stepping stone to pursuing your passion. Job satisfaction won’t be much comfort if you can’t pay the rent or put food on the table.

We live in a country with unlimited opportunity and technology enables us to be creative in how we build and promote businesses. It simply won’t replace the difficult and sometimes common sense information you need to be successful though.

That said, I wish all of us much success in following the sometimes-difficult path to personal and professional success. I never said it wasn’t do-able. It just takes planning and patience.