The Art Of Making Progress

Making progress is about knowing what you have and making the most of it…

Making progress is about moving in the direction that we want to move, irrespective of the circumstances..

Making progress is about knowing when to stop, step back and re-think about where you are going..

Making progress is about keeping our heads down and keeping at it..

Making progress is about knowing what we can’t influence and what we can and influencing what we can influence.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to change things that are often out of our control, instead of taking action on the things we can influence and impact.

We only begin to make progress when we stop trying to control the outcome and do the work…

This post is inspired by Bernadette Jiwa’s post:

The Art Of Making Progress

 

Why Are Meetings so Important and How to Make them Effective and Fun

Premise:

Not a day goes by when I dont hear someone complain about yet another meeting that they need to attend and how it is such a waste of time, money and effort.

Yet, there is enough written about the way Alan Mulally, the ex-CEO of Ford, turned around the company in his stint as the CEO, primarily using a weekly cadence meeting with his entire leadership team , called The Business Plan Review. You can read more about this and how he ran these meetings here.

What he has shown is that meetings can be extremely productive for organisations and have the potential to even transform an organisation. So, if we think our meetings are not effective, it is the way we run these meetings that is the problem.

Meetings Are Reflections of the Culture

Also, I believe that the way we run our meetings is reflective of the culture of our organisation. If we think that our meetings are not effective, that reflects on the culture of our organisation. Ineffective meetings are the symptom of a much deeper cultural issues within an organisation. Just as meetings offer a peak into the functioning culture of an organisation, they also offer a way to transform that culture by transforming the way meetings are run.   

I recently read “Read this before our Next Meeting” written by Al Pittampalli. In the book, Al talks about 7 principles of Modern meetings: 

The Modern meeting

supports a decision that has already been made.

moves fast and ends on schedule.

limits the number of attendees.

rejects the unprepared.

produces committed action plans.

refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.

works on alongside a culture of brainstorming.

Issues with Meetings

In my opinion, there are two issues with meetings – They are boring and they lack accountability. 

Meetings are Boring:

Most meetings are boring because they follow the same pattern. There is no clear agenda or preparation behind the meeting. The responsibility of preparation rests with both the host and the guests of the meeting.

The host of the meeting, the one who calls for the meeting, is responsible for:

  1. The host should have a clearly defined purpose for the meeting, shared with all the participants.
  2. The host should prepare all the background information that is needed ahead of time and shared the same with his guests.
  3. The host is responsible for driving the meeting and achieving the result that he/she expected from the meeting.
  4. A meeting is the scheduled as a last resort. The host has to first explore if the purpose can be achieved either by an email discussion, an online poll, a survey, 1-1 meetings or a combination of these. As this is the last resort, this needs to work and it is the responsibility of the host to make this work.
  5. It is the responsibility of the host to ensure that only and all relevant people are participating in the meeting. 

If we are invited to attend a meeting, it is our responsibility to:

  1. Read all background material that has already been shared and come prepared based on the purpose of the meeting. We should not attend a meeting, if we are not prepared for it.
  2. If we don’t get all the background material for preparation, we should not attend the meeting.
  3. Be on time and be prepared. Be present in the meeting and offer our full support to the host in achieving the purpose for which the meeting was called for.

Meetings lack Accountability:

Any meeting that doesn’t enforce accountability on all the participants of the meeting is bound to be ineffective. It is the role of the host to ensure that everyone in the meeting is held accountable for their part in the meeting and the actions that come out of the meeting.

Most meetings are convened to

– either decide on something,

– discuss on a decision already made,

– debate about a specific situation or

– Assign roles and responsibilities

It is the role of the host to ensure that roles are defined and agreed upon before or at least at the start of the meeting.

Roles in a meeting – Scribe and a TaskMaster

We need a scribe (who makes notes) and a task master (who makes a note of all the action that someone has either volunteered to do, has been assigned to do or has to get done). Having the second role ensures that there is nothing that gets missed. It is then the role of the host to circulate these notes and the tasks to the relevant people and the role of the task master to ensure that everyone who has some action that they need to do know what it is and by when it is due.

Post Meeting follow-up

The role of the host doesn’t end with the meeting. It is the responsibility of the host to ensure that every deliverable and action that was committed in the meeting is actually completed in the time frame that was agreed upon. In case, this is not the case, it is the responsibility of the host to escalate this with the right people until the action is completed.

In conclusion:

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our meetings are not only effective but also reflect the kind of culture we want in our teams.

If we want a culture of experimentation, our meetings need to reflect that. Click To Tweet

If we want a culture of accountability, our meetings need to reflect that. Click To Tweet

If we want a culture of fun and community, our meetings need to reflect that. Click To Tweet

Zetland magazine starts every team meeting with community singing. They even started their customer event with a song. In this blog post Stephanie Vozza, shares some examples of how teams are making their meetings interesting, effective and fun, all at the same time. 

As we can see, meetings are a great way to define the kind of culture we want to create in our organisation, while at the same time can serve as an effective way to move forward.

Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time or suck energy out of all the participants.  

So what do your meetings tell you about your culture? Click To Tweet

This post was inspired by a post on the David Guerin Blog.

A Simple Guide to Building an Engaged Team

Premise:

We don’t need tons of research to tell us the importance of having employees who are engaged in their work. It shows up in a lot of different ways that we can see. The result of an engaged set of employees shows up when an employee goes beyond his call of duty to serve a customer or when a team gets formed organically to address some specific issue that has cropped up during the day.

It is no surprise either when that having such an engaged workforce can and does become a true competitive advantage.

This also means that in a world with transient competitive advantage, businesses that are able to build an engaged workforce, which is also agile, becomes one of the top priority.

However, a leader can not expect to get an engaged workforce as a default. We need to build such teams, one at a time.

As they say,

This is simple, but ain’t easy.

It is also not a one time process that you increase the engagement levels and it will remain there. One needs to work hard to raise the engagement levels and work harder to keep it at that levels.

Having said that it is not easy, it need not be too difficult either. If done for the right reasons, building engagement can be a lot of fun and is definitely the right thing to do.

Building an Engaged Team

Here are a few things that we as leaders can do to work towards building an engaged workforce:

Hire & Fire people for their Attitude.

The engagement starts right from the first contact with an employee. It is important that while hiring people, we give more importance to their attitude towards work and if this fits the kind of attitude we want to have towards work inside of our teams. While some basic level of skills are needed to perform any job well, most of us can be trained to skill up but its much more difficult  to train for attitude. So, this means that we need to be slow to hire and be quick to fire (for attitude).

Compensate Well:

It is important that the issue of pay is taken off the table as early as possible. Pay the team well. If the business can afford, pay them better than your peers. If not, be creative and find different ways to compensate your employees (financially, psychologically, emotionally or physically). As long as employees think that they are not being compensated well, they can’t bring their whole self to work. Unless they bring their whole self to work, true engagement is not possible. So, take care of their compensation.

Respect & Trust:

Once the compensation is taken care of, then comes the emotional, psychological compensation. This is paid in terms of respect and trust. Respect to the different voices in the team, trust so that everyone feels it is ok for them to speak up, irrespective of what they are about to say. This is again something that one needs to give first in order to receive. So, as leaders, we need to respect every employees opinion and trust their judgement. We need to trust that they have the best interest of the team and the business in mind, irrespective of how conflicting they might sound to us in moments. We need to give the respect and trust in order to gain their respect and trust.

Train People for Skills:

We also need to constantly find ways and means to up-skill our teams. The cost of doing this is far less than the cost of not doing this. This need not break our balance sheets as there are a lot of different ways for us to continue to train people at low or even minimal costs. We need to be creative when it comes to learning. It is not sufficient to train people so they are able to up-skill, but equally important to find ways and means to create opportunities for the teams to put these learnings to use. It is only when something learnt is put to use, do we truly have the opportunity to internalise the learnings.

Culture or Stories: People like us do things like this:

Then comes the part that culture plays in building engagement. We need to be extremely clear in our communications about what is acceptable in our teams and what is not. What is expected and what is not. This can be done in three distinct ways that feed into one another and create an upward spiral.

The stories we tell: One of the most elementary trait that teams possess is their sense of identity – people on this team do things like this. Stories can be a very powerful medium to reinforce what behaviour is expected, appreciated and will not be tolerated.

Living the stories: As leaders, we not only communicate these stories but need to be living breathing examples of these stories. If we say that diversity of thought is important, do we allow and appreciate diversity of thoughts in our daily behaviours? If we shut out every voice that doesn’t agree with our vision and thoughts, we can forget about building any kind of engagement.

Rewarding the stories: Once our teams see that we truly live the values that we espouse and they start trusting us enough that they start living out the values themselves, we need to actively find these acts and recognise or reward them appropriately, in public. This gives others who are still on the edge confidence to come over to our side and start playing as a team.

Play:

Teams that have fun together are some of the most engaged teams. It requires us to let our guards down in order to really have a lot of fun. This only happens if we trust everyone around us. What this means, is that if we want to build engagement in our teams, we need to find ways and means to create the opportunity so that the teams can have fun together.

Listen & Engage

One of the most important criteria for engagement is that it is always two ways. We can not expect engagement unless we ourselves are engaged as well. What this means is that we need to know the pulse of our teams and are completely engaged with our teams and the work that we do together. This means that we are there for the team members when they need us – as friends, colleagues, managers or just another empathetic fellow human being.

We need to continue to look at the team and explore if they need anything that they themselves are not aware of yet.

Are they on the verge of a breakdown?

Are they having some difficulty in their personal lives that they need to give precedence to?

Are they in a phase of their lives, where spending more time at home with their families more important?

Are they in a phase of their lives, when they need to make a lot more money than they have in the past?

If we as leaders are able to find this and help them deal with these before they have to bring it up with us, we demonstrate that we are as much engaged, if not more and that each one of the team members matter to us.

Recognise & Reward:

As Ken Blanchard says in his legendary book – The One Minute Manager, we need to constantly look for behaviour that we can recognise and reward. Usually, we are looking for mistakes so we can punish people. Instead, if we are constantly on the look out for good behaviour that we can recognise and reward, we will find a lot more of them. The side effect of this is that every now and then there is a celebration in the air. This celebration creates opportunities for the teams to have fun together and revel in each other’s success.

Goals

Last but not the least, we need to set very clear expectations in terms of our goals. What I mean here is that it is better if we learn from the military and set a commander’s intent and constantly communicate the intent rather than having a very specific goal to gun for. Commander’s intent is a simple statement that tells us the objective and by when we want to achieve this objective. Every subsequent military leader then uses this commander’s intent to decide the best course of action on the ground so that the team can achieve the intent. This allows for the teams to bring in their full creative power to play and even change course as they see fit as long as they are operating in a way that suits our culture and takes us towards our objective. This is when true engagement can be seen in action.

In Conclusion:

Building an engaged team is not easy work. It takes a lot of intent, planning and an engaged leader who trusts his/her team.

Yes, it takes time and effort. But as I said earlier, it is simple but it ain’t easy.

The 12 Stages of Burnout

Premise:

As leaders and entrepreneurs, we are people with a lot of drive and motivation to do stuff. In our hustle to make progress, we often don’t realise if we start suffering from burnout until it’s too late.  So, when I looked up for a reliable way for us to find out if we are suffering from burn out, I came across this white paper written by Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North.

12 Phases of Burn out

They have divided burning out  into 12 phases. You can read their entire paper here.  The 12 phases are as below. The important thing is that they need or may  not occur sequentially. So, if we are showing multiple symptoms from this list, we need to take care of ourselves.

The Compulsion to Prove Oneself;

This compulsion is often found at the beginning as excessive ambition. This is one’s desire to prove themselves while at the workplace. This desire turns into determination and later into compulsion. While determination is good and is a positive indication, compulsion is not.

Working Harder;

When we enter a phase of our life when we find ourselves unable to switch off and are driven to prove to others and start believing that we are indispensable, we are in dangerous territory. This generally means that we take on too much work. This is also characterised by inability or unwillingness to seek help or delegate.

Neglecting Own Needs;

This phase kicks in when we start experiencing erratic sleeping patterns. Lack of sleep or signs of tiredness when we wake up is a clear indication that we should take seriously. Similarly, our eating pattern is also disrupted. This phase is also accompanied by a lack of any kind of social interactions.

Displacement of Conflicts;

We are in this phase when we become aware that what we are doing is not right, but we are unable to see the source of the problem. This could lead to a crisis. This is when the first physical symptoms are expressed and we may start to feel threatened, panicky and jittery.

Revision of Values; 

In this phase, our values get skewed. We are no longer spending time with our family and friends. We lose track of our hobbies and think of them as irrelevant and consider them to be a waste of our time and attention. The only remaining focus of our lives that remains is our work.

Denial of Emerging Problems;

We become intolerant towards everyone around us. We start perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined. All social contacts become difficult and social conflict becomes extremely difficult to handle. We turn into permanent cynics and become aggressive. We start blaming every problem to be caused by time pressure and demands of our work. It becomes difficult for us to see that we are responsible for this state of affairs.

Withdrawal;

We are in this phase when our social life is extremely small or even non-existent. We want to feel relief from stress and turn to stimulants like alcohol or drugs or something similar.

Odd Behavioural Changes;

We are in this phase when our changes in behaviour becomes extremely obvious to our friends and family. They start showing their concern and we seem to be totally oblivious of these changes in our behaviour. They start getting very concerned for us. This is also when friends and family might start asking us to seek professional help.

De-personalization;

We are in this phase when we stop seeing neither ourself nor others as valuable. We are no longer able to perceive own needs. We lose touch with ourselves and what we want. This is the phase when we are not sure why we are doing whatever it is that we are doing.

Inner Emptiness;

We are in this phase when we start feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs. In this phased all our activities are often exaggerated. We tend to move towards extreme forms of expressions and behaviour.

Depression;

We are in this phase, when we start feeling lost and unsure. We start feeling exhausted – mentally, physically and emotionally. The future feels bleak and dark. We dont see any reason to get up and go do what we were doing all this time. We stop seeing the value in everything that we have done so far.

Burnout Syndrome;

When we are in this phase, we can have total mental and physical collapse. This is also the time when we might have panic attacks and might even start contemplating leaving everything behind and moving on. This is time for full medical attention.

In Conclusion:

When we push our creativity and productivity to its limits, we can easily find ourselves teetering on brink of burnout. And there’s a fine line between being in the zone and falling down the slippery slope of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.

Therefore, we would do ourselves a favour by occasionally referring back to this list to self-diagnose. And when we see multiple symptoms, to start seeking help. It would also be a great idea to share this list with someone close to ourselves – spouse, business partner, friend or a mentor and ask them to let you know if you wander close to any of these phases so you can take corrective action.

In the same white paper, both the authors also share some coping mechanisms that are worth exploring.

If we find ourselves burnt out, Andew Ayres-Deets, wrote insightful and practical blog post on how to bounce back after burning out, that’s worth a read.

Some other very interesting posts on this topics are as below. Do take some time to read through them.

3 Kinds of Burnout

 11 Ways to Avoid Burnout.

How Overachievers Stay Sane

How to Spot Burnout (and Recover).

Nik Shuliahin

Leap When You’re “Almost Ready”

It was almost 9 years ago. We were at a team building outbound in an adventure camp. Among other adventure games, we also had the opportunity to try out Bungee jumping. It was not very high, maybe about 250 ft tall crane from which we were supposed to jump off of.

Having participated in all the adventure games, we wanted to try bungee. Out of the 12 odd people in the team, only three people were willing to jump. I was one of the three. One of my friends who thought that this was a crazy act warned me and asked why did I want to even think of attempting.

My response – “How hard could it be? Any way we will have all the safety precautions to ensure that there are no accidents. Also, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and so why lose it?”

I wanted to go first. So, I got ready and wore the harness and all the other safety gear and went up to the platform from where we were to jump off. The instructor at the top of the platform first congratulated me for having the courage to be the first to attempt this in my team. He also suggested that this is an experience that I will not forget for a long time. He then warned me – “Don’t look down and you will be alright”.

Now, as it happens, when someone says, “Don’t look down”, the first thing we do is to look down. I have since read that our brains don’t understand don’t. So, for the brain, there is no difference between the instruction – “Don’t look down” and “Look down”. So, we instinctively do that. The moment I looked down, my primitive brain started working overtime. Fear kicked in. I was no longer sure if I wanted to do this.

The instructor said that I will have to jump off on the count of three. He counted – 1, 2 and 3. Nothing happened. I told him that I don’t want to do this and I would like to go down. He said, the only way down is by jumping off. He again reiterated that it is perfectly safe for me to do this. He again said, that I need to jump off at the count of three.

He counted 1, 2 and just pushed me off the ramp. The first few seconds was terrifying. Then I really enjoyed the jump thoroughly. The adrenaline hit that you get when you do this is something that can’t be explained. It needs to be experienced and felt.

I guess life is like that as well. We are never ready for anything in life. We need to take off before we are ready.

If we are lucky, we might have someone around us who believes in us and can nudge or push us,  just like the trainer did push me.

This could be our coach, friend, mentor or anyone else, who is around to interrupt our deliberating, doubt and procrastination — and push us out the ramp before we realize what’s happening!

We don’t wait to start a company when we feel ready to, because we’ll never feel ready. We start a company when we feel almost ready.

Let’s not take the job that we feel fully prepared for. Lets stretch ourself. Push ourself. Let’s take the job we feel almost ready for.

“Almost ready” is similar to The 80% Rule. Ronald Reagan argued that you don’t need someone to agree with you 100% for them to be “with you” — you just need them to be with you on 80% of the issues. That’s usually enough for them to pledge their support.

The 80% Rule applied to ourself would mean we don’t need to be 100% sure of a decision for it to be the right decision. We just need to be 80% sure — or, almost ready.