Tag Archives: business

Can I ask a bigger question

Too frequently, we get stuck in a small thinking just because that is where our idea started. An entrepreneur may review is P&L and realize he’s spending too much on hotels when he travels, so asks the question, “how can I pay less for my hotel stays?” That is a fair question but is it big enough. Instead the entrepreneur could ask, “how can I reduce my travel expenses?” The difference in the two questions may not seem like much but they can lead to very different answers. In the first case, then entrepreneur may try to negotiate better pricing or travel on cheaper days. In the larger question, the entrepreneur may question is some trips could be replaced with Skype calls or trips could be combined.

On a personal level, someone trying to get into shape may ask, “how can I make my workouts more intense?” A bigger question might be, “how can I adopt an active lifestyle?”

When you discover an obstacle or opportunity, pause for a few minutes and ask yourself, “can I ask a bigger question?”

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Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.

People Incentive Process

I was reminded the other day of some advice I gave in a mastermind group a while ago.  A business owner was having problems with absenteeism.  His business was small enough that when one person was off, the owner ended up doing that person’s job, leaving him no time or energy to do what he needed to do to grow his business.  Unfortunately for him, the absenteeism was getting to the point where someone was absent nearly every day.  I suggested he consider P.I.P, People, Incentive and Process.

The first thing to look at when there is a persistent and pervasive personnel problem in an organization, first look to People.  Very frequently, especially in small organizations, one or two people are the “bad apples” that are creating the environment that contributes to the entire organization’s underperformance.  I suggested that if one or two people are the major contributors to the absences, then he needed to let them go.  Not only would replacing them reduce their absences, it would help send a message to the rest of the team that attendance is required.  Next look to see if anyone is creating a hostile or unpleasant work environment.  That can contribute absences.  Then look to who are you hiring, where are you hiring them from and how are you vetting them.  There is something wrong with this process.  A great example is one of the college house painting companies.  It started when someone figured that most house painting happens in the summer and college kids need summer jobs.  He could give the kids jobs, paint houses and make money.  The college kids were not looking at house painting as a “real job” and weren’t showing up consistently.  Within a couple of summers, he went from having nearly 100% college kids to nearly no college kids.  He found that middle-aged laborers who had kids to feed at home showed up every day.

Next thing to look at is incentive.  Is there any incentive for showing up every day or, alternatively, disincentive for not showing up.  I remember reading an article about a company who had an absenteeism issue.  They started with a game.  For every pay period that you worked every scheduled day, you got a playing card.  After seven pay periods, they played a hand of 7 card stud.  The winner would get rewards like iPads, gas cards, a night out, etc.

Finally, look at process.  Basically, how do you handle the issue.  In this owner’s story, when someone was absent, he went and covered for them.  I suggested that if he was forced to live with a certain amount of absence, he needed to change his policy.  Options included having other employees cover the effort, hiring some floaters for his team, having some people on-call, etc.

Out of balance

Are you out of balance?  Balance is not a point in time, static state.  It is a process of constantly shifting and adjusting.  How long could you stay up on a bicycle without movement and adjustment?

For most of us, getting out of balance is a process too.  It is typically not a result of one decision but rather a series of decisions or indecisions.  Most of us don’t take the time on a regular basis to stop and reassess, “Am I spending my time on what is truly important to me?”

The good news is that you don’t have to stay out of balance.  Take an hour and evaluate your time vs. your values.  Odds are pretty good that you are doing a lot of things, spending a lot of your resources, on activities that you don’t value.  It is ok to say “no.”  Drop some of your commitments.  Other commitments do “good enough” instead of to the best of your ability.  Find other people to take up some of your commitments.

Your reaction is greater than your situation

Excerpt from Greater Than, on sale at Amazon for 99 cents today and tomorrow:

My wife once told me about a man who was given a tour of Heaven and Hell.  In Hell, many gaunt and miserable people sat at long tables filled with wonderful food.  The people were trying to eat with three-foot-long chopsticks.  The food would drop to the floor before they were able to take a bite, so they starved.  Apparently there is no five second rule in hell and you can’t eat with your fingers.  I asked.  My wife said, “No.”  In Heaven, they sat at the similar tables with similar food and similar three-foot-long chopsticks.  They were happy, singing and well fed.  What was the difference between Heaven and Hell you ask?  I’m so glad you asked because the rest of this chapter would be rather dull if you hadn’t asked.  The difference was that while in Hell the people were trying and failing to feed themselves, in Heaven they were feeding each other.  Each person would put a bite of food on the long chopstick and feed it to the person across from them.

What do we learn from this story, other than it is sometimes permissible to eat with your hands?  First, yes, working together is a wonderful thing.  Kumbaya and all that.  Second and why I’ve brought it up in a chapter about the importance of your reactions, is that the situation in both Heaven and Hell were both exactly the same.  The difference was the reactions people had to their situation.  The more positive and proactive your reaction, the better the final outcome.  The reaction of people literally made the difference between Heaven and Hell.

What is your yardstick?

How do you know when you are successful?  How do you know if you are “good” at something?  Are other people better at something than you are?  A “yardstick” helps you answer all of these questions.  Basically a yardstick is a measurement you pick before you start something that tells you if you are achieving the results you want.  Your yardstick must be consistent with your goal.

A yardstick works in both personal and professional lives.  For example, if your goal is to be president of the company, your yardsticks might include being the first one in the office every morning, being the go-to-person for your boss, getting promotions every year, etc.  If your goal is to spend as much time with your family as possible, then your yardstick is when you choose family over other activities.

There are two important things to NOT do.  One, do not apply other people’s yardsticks to your own life.  Other people have defined their goals differently than you.  They have prioritized different aspects of their lives.  Two, do not apply your yardsticks to other people.  What you value does not apply to them.  They have every right to choose their own yardsticks.

A lot of a little or a little of a lot

Many people attack a challenge with massive effort.  Starting from day one, they drop everything else and commit themselves to the challenge one hundred and ten percent.  This can be anything from someone trying to start a business or beginning a new jogging program by starting out with a five mile run.

The problem with this approach, I have found, is that it lacks sustainability.  Yes.  It is true that some people are successful at making this sudden and intense change but most people fail miserably at it.  The first day or even the first week, they are able to put off all other distractions and summon up intense amount of motivation to make ridiculous amounts of positive changes.  Then the second day comes.  Then the third.  The amount of effort they put in starts to fade.  They frequently think this reduction of effort is a failure, which further dampens their motivation.

Alternatively, people who start small but focus on moving forward a little every day won’t see that initial rush of success.  Their little bits of effort are more sustainable and as their start to see success happen, they are more ready to add a little more effort.  This slow and steady increase of effort quickly leads to larger and larger positive changes.  At the same time, the person has had the time to transition the rest of their lives to include these changes.

My experience and the experiences of my clients has taught me that a little of a lot – that is a little extra effort added every day – yields much better and lasting results than a lot of a little – that is a huge but unsustainable amount of effort.