A Business Carol: Don’t be a Scrooge with Your Story

John Leech illustration used by Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/John_Leech

John Leech illustration used by Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/John_Leech

In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a fun way to make sure your business is engaging for you, for employees and for customers. Pay a visit to the ghosts of business past, present and future.

The Ghost of Business Past

Have you captured your origin story? Do you share it with employees and customers? On his Brand Autopsy blog, John Moore gives some great examples of this from the early days of Whole Foods.

By visiting the Ghost of Business Past, you can inspire folks with the original purpose and drive that was the genesis of your organization. The challenges overcome in the beginning can encourage folks when they face adversity today. Your origin story can also instill a sense of purpose and belonging for employees and customers alike.

The Ghost of Business Present

Sharing your origin story is a good start, but it’s not enough if people don’t understand who you’re serving or why you exist. Is there a clear understanding of your business’ mission, the purpose it is fulfilling TODAY? We need reminders of the unique needs you are serving, so we have a clear picture of the hole that would be left if your business disappeared.

I’ll allude to another Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Maybe your business is like George Bailey. By realizing how some customers and employees would miss your business if it never existed, you can recognize the unique value you bring. Once you’re aware of the value only you bring, you can put more emphasis on that value and let it drive your mission as an organization.

Chick-Fil-A’s corporate purpose reinforces the decisions employees make on a daily basis, because it instills purpose:

To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

When employees understand why your business exists today, they can be decisive knowing they are in line with the organization’s purpose. It also gives customers the confidence of knowing why they should choose you over your competition.

The Ghost of Business Future

Once you’re clear on how you started and where you are today, you need to paint a picture of tomorrow. Have you cast a vision of your company’s future? I’m not talking about, “We’ll be doing the same thing for twice as many people.” I’m talking about a compelling vision that will show what has to change in order to move from HERE to THERE.

Your mission will help everyone understand why they do things today, but a vision will help them know what has to change to reach tomorrow. And just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, you have the opportunity to change that future.

Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

So, if you tend to say “Bah, humbug!” to putting time and effort into capturing your origin story, branding your business or crafting mission and vision statements… maybe you need a visit from these 3 ghosts to transform your business.

Being Aware of the Bird in Your Hand

bird-in-hand

A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.

So, have a firm grip.

There are strong winds of change blowing.

Hold onto that bird tightly. 

Question everything and trust no one.

Don’t let anyone see what’s in your hand, lest they take it.

Worrying is like gripping a bird tightly for fear of losing it. Then you look down too late, only to see your fear has crushed it and to realize the bird was your own soul.

We worry because it gives us a sense of control. If we can’t control circumstances or other people then we turn that control inward. We squeeze ourselves with anxiety and fear. Often, this is fear of something (or some things) that may never happen. We anticipate the worst in the future while missing out on the best of today.

Are you worrying today? If so, what are you gripping tightly? What are you squeezing life out of? Maybe if you’re aware of how you’re reacting to stress – you can lessen your worries, relax your grip and enjoy today.

You don’t have to always beware. Sometimes you just need to be aware.

The Secret Force Directing Your Life

directionsThere is a small, but powerful force that pushes you every day. It can move you just left of success. Left unchecked, it veers you away from your goals. It taps, pings, distracts and redirects you in subtle ways.

What am I talking about?

The Nudge.

The Nudge is the unhealthy snack at your eye level in the pantry.

It’s the audible email alert on your phone.

It is the arrangement of your living room furniture centering around your TV.

The Nudge is the social media app on the first screen of your tablet; the book reader on the last.

But…

… if you pay attention, you can use The Nudge to your advantage.

Notice what you put in your line of sight. Give yourself reminders that reinforce what you value. Center yourself around the things that move you toward success.

Put success in your own path.

(HT to Charles)

5 Tips for Finding Your Best Ideas (Infographic)

I decided to try something different this week and create an infographic to go with my post. (Hat tip to my friend Sandy and the members of my Master Mind group who have been encouraging me to do something like this.) Let me know how you like it.

I like to write about creativity, but stimulating your own creativity can seem elusive. You may find yourself stumped by a problem that requires an extra amount of resourcefulness. And, at one time or another, all of us have fallen into a routine where we default to the same ideas. Sometimes you need a strategy for conjuring up a little creative “magic.”

What can someone do (even if they don’t think of themselves as “creative”) to come up with more and better ideas?

I thought about this for a bit and came up with these 5 Tips for Finding Your BEST Ideas:

5-tips-for-finding-best-ideas-infographicTip #1: Speed Date

Don’t fall in love with your first idea. “Date around” a little bit before settling on a solution too quickly. Even if you eventually decide your original idea is best, considering options can add to or improve your first concept.

Tip #2: Interrogate

Curiosity can often breed creativity. So, ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid of asking a “stupid question.” Be brave. Seek to understand what the goal is and why you want to acheive it. Break down assumptions and discover where the real boundaries are.

Tip #3: Hunt Your Muse

Seek out things that inspire you. Notice when you find yourself full of ideas:

  • When you’re in nature
  • When you experience art
  • When you read
  • When you listen to music
  • When you spend time with others
  • When you are in solitude

What works for one person, may not inspire the other. Find what speaks to YOU and then listen.

Tip #4: Symbolize

Don’t be so literal. Instead, use metaphors to describe your ideas.

What is an important attribute of what you’re attempting?

For example: If you want customers to have a sense of adventure when they enter your store, then “exploring outer space” could be a metaphor you use. You could have “launchpads” where customers find quick help information. Areas around key merchandise could be “orbits.”

Tip #5: Boil It Down

We started with the idea of “speed dating” lots of ideas, but you have to boil it down eventually. Strip your ideas down to their essentials. Dieter Rams called this “less but better” design. By removing what isn’t necessary, you can focus on what is important. If you don’t know what is essential, go back to step #3 and interrogate with more questions to find out.

Do you have any other methods you use for finding your best ideas?

(and let me know if you want to see more infographics like this in the future)

4 Reasons Your Team isn’t Performing

Reasons Your Team Underperforms

Last quarter, your team didn’t reach their goals. You chalked it up to market circumstances or a seasonal anomaly. Halfway through another quarter and things aren’t looking any more optimistic. It’s obvious this is a trend and something has to change.

Before you assume you should restructure bonuses or send folks through training, you should consider different reasons your team isn’t performing. If you assume you know what the problem is, then you’re guessing at the solution. And applying the wrong solution may be worse than doing nothing at all.

So, what could the problem be?

Here are 4 reasons your team isn’t performing:

1.     Lack of knowledge

Either people don’t know what to do, or how to do it (or both). Leadership will often assume this is the problem, because training seems like a simple solution.

Signs you may have a knowledge problem:

  • The same questions are asked by different individuals
  • There is a steep learning curve with every project/undertaking
  • Quality is inconsistent

Knowledge Solutions:

  • Training
  • Quick Reference Guides
  • Mentoring
  • Continuing Education

2.      Lack of structure or process

The steps to get things done in your organization are undocumented and it is unclear who has authority. Consultants will often assume this is the problem, because they have methods to address this.

Signs you may have a structure or process problem:

  • Decisions are often delayed
  • People are doing the same work (redundancy)
  • People step on each others’ toes unintentionally
  • It is difficult to report status of projects/undertakings
  • Quality is inconsistent

Structure and Process Solutions:

  • Organization charts
  • Outlining roles & responsibilities
  • Process maps / flowcharts
  • Decision framework

3.      Lack of Tools and Resources

People are not equipped to do their work. They do not have the hardware, software, people, and/or budgets they need to accomplish their responsibilities. Front line workers and line managers will often assume this is the problem because they see the workload, feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel supported by leadership.

Signs you may have a tools and resources problem:

  • Tools are not evenly distributed and those with proper tools are your highest performers
  • The use of existing hardware or software is a consistent bottleneck (be sure it’s not lack of knowledge)
  • Multiple workers are putting in overtime on a regular basis
  • There is a large area of responsibility within a group for which no individual has the required skills or experience

Tools and Resource Solutions:

  • Assess needs through outlining team goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Research industry best practices on staffing and tools (could be informal questions asked of employees who worked elsewhere)
  • Assess ROI of additional budget for staffing and tools

4.     Lack of Motivation

People have no incentive to perform better. Entrepreneurs will often assume this is the issue, because they believe others share similar motivations to themselves.

Signs you may have a motivation problem:

  • It is unclear what is rewarded and recognized by your organization
  • You have a hard time retaining people who have a healthy sense of competition
  • People complain about expectations and adopt a victim mentality
  • Opportunities are unaddressed

Motivation Solutions:

  • Clearly stating how and why individuals are rewarded (meeting goals, taking good risks, giving extraordinary effort, etc.)
  • Have a system for tracking and reporting performance
  • Give employees honest feedback on their performance (more often than once a year)
  • Be consistent with rewards and recognition

So, when it appears your team is chronically underperforming, take stock in these 4 key areas. By identifying a specific cause, you can define a specific solution and increase your opportunity for successfully reaching (or exceeding) team goals.

What have you done to improve your team’s performance in the past?

I’d love to hear other thoughts and solutions you’ve seen work before. Share your experience by commenting below.

Envision Versus Division: Which Will You Choose?

In your organization, you have a choice. You can envision something bigger than yourself that others can rally together around. Or you can cut things down to size and try to divide, because you’re afraid of hoping for something bigger.

When you have a mindset to envision, you unite people around a common cause. You share in the responsibility and in the credit. You inspire others to “step up to the plate” and challenge themselves. You include people who bring different skills and experiences to the effort. You motivate everyone to achieve something great, and you focus them on what is truly important.

When we divide, we separate people into “us” and “them.” This restricts what we’re able to do, because “we” don’t want “them” to show “us” up. So, things become very political and begin to alienate people from the team and the organization’s goals. This can deflate any energy and determination our teammates had, which makes our whole organization weaker.

Envision-versus-divisionThink about whether you support a culture that ENVISIONS or one that is DIVISIVE.

Why is it so easy for us to lose sight of how counterproductive divisiveness can be in our work environment?

 

 

How to Deal with Your Insecurities

In my previous post, I outlined an approach for dealing with insecure leaders or coworkers. Of course, it’s hard to do this for someone else when your own insecurities are controlling you. So, maybe it’s better to start with our own “stuff.”

Our insecurities can hold us back at work and at home. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we can act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others we care about. We sabotage our own efforts and erode the trust of friends and colleagues. How can we manage our insecurities and avoid destructive behavior?

Some of the same steps I stated before can be helpful. Here’s a quick summary from last week’s article:

Dig Deeper

Know thyself. Understanding your personality through an index like the 9 Domains, the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you know when you are operating in a stress behavior. (The Birkman Method is another more advanced / thorough tool for the workplace.)

Give Complements

Surround yourself with people who balance out weaknesses and strengths.

Follow Up

Check back on your progress. Without checks and balances, it is easy to fall back into old habits and veer off course.

What else can you do to deal with YOUR insecurities?

  1. Keep a Log
    Notice when you act out in unhealthy ways at work (e.g. avoiding responsibility, blaming others, becoming territorial, procrastinating, claiming someone else’s reward). Next time you do, write yourself a note. Describe what was happening and how you felt. Keep a log of these incidents and look for patterns. Do they occur around deadlines or when work is added to your plate? Maybe it happens when you are confused or when your requirements are not clear.  Some people may exhibit stress behavior when they feel alone, or when they feel others are ganging up against them. (Here’s a list of common causes of workplace stress)
  2. Get a Reality Check
    Once you’ve identified the source of your insecurity, you can ask yourself whether it fits with reality. Do you actually miss deadlines or just worry about it? Is there really no one who will help you with your full plate? Can you not ask for clarity on expectations?Ask a trusted friend or coworker for their perspective. You may be putting unneeded pressure or expectations on yourself. You may discover what you are worried about isn’t even happening. And if it is happening, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By worrying about missing a deadline, you start micromanaging and interrupt other people’s work. They can’t get their work done because of the interruptions and you end up missing your deadline.
  3. Be Patient
    Lifelong habits are hard to break. So don’t expect to “cure” yourself. You will likely fall back into your old routines. The trick is to be aware of yourself and to manage your reactions. Give yourself (and others) the grace to fail, and the courage to try again. This process takes time, but can be more fulfilling if you’re patient with yourself.

Do you know your tendencies? Are you doing anything to manage your insecurities? If you don’t take intentional action, you’re unlikely to improve your behavior and more likely to hamper your own success.

This is not exhaustive and you may have other thoughts or suggestions. Feel free to share your comments below.