The Coonawarra. Of Dreams, Rest and Cellars

May 7, 2021 10:44 am

DREAMS
I recently took a few days off in the Coonawarra wine region: a small strip of fertile land replete with numerous wineries. A delightfully immersive experience. 

Standing at the tasting counter of Wynns Coonawarra Estate, I sampled some of their spectacular wines. I recounted to Luke (who was conducting the tasting) that sometime around 2005, a friend of mine introduced me to their Cabernet Sauvignon. He had bought a pallet of the 1998 vintage (if memory serves me correct), stored it for a few years and then sold half of it, recouping the total amount he paid for the entire pallet. Clever man. And ever since that time, I had wanted to visit; and here I was, another dream fulfilled. 

Many of us have entertained long term dreams and aspirations, but waiting for them to happen, sometimes never happens. It’s too easy to get caught in the busyness of today, pushing dreams off to another day.

For consideration: What is an unfulfilled dream you could make happen this year? 
 

CELLAR ITEMS
Upon tasting the silky Wynns Black Label which I had known about for many years, Luke suggested I try the Limited Edition 2013 John Riddoch, and opened a bottle especially. I fell in love and opened my wallet. It was about six times the price of the base range. 

For consideration: Your customers know you for your base range: the standard work you perform. But what about those cellar items – those highly specialised services and products that mostly sit unpromoted in the dark yet provide significantly higher value to the customer with a higher margin for your business? How can you more effectively promote these?

REST
I have learned that personal freshness is paramount to the effectiveness of my work, and thus, a four-day break in the Coonawarra felt like four weeks. Upon return, I was sharper, had fresh insights into the complexities of the people and businesses I am working with, and a greater level of inspiration for the work I do. 

In a world that places high value on incessant busyness and people who overwork, sometimes we feel guilty for taking a break: whether that be a daily nap, putting our feet up on the desk and allowing our minds to wander or taking time off for vacations and play. (Volumes of research completed has proven that rest and recovery are essential to optimal performance).  

For consideration: What specific rest and play activities can you incorporate into your schedule to create higher degrees of effectiveness in your work?

 
I hope you enjoyed this article and as always, thanks for reading.
Ray

 

*Photo by Alpha 

** For a detailed read on the science of rest, check out the book Rest. Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

 

 

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A Leadership Lesson From The Pavement

April 14, 2021 2:51 pm

Today, I was reminded of my street friend Travis. While I have never lived rough nor begged for money, I gained an appreciation and respect for this man from sitting beside him.  As we huddled together on bone-chilling pavements in the depth of Melbourne winters and engaged in late-night conversation (where we agreed that what was said on the corner stayed on the corner), changed my view of the world. Instead of rushing past and glancing down at a street person, I was now on his level, looking up and out at the world.  

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Gaining understanding from another’s point of view takes purposeful effort. It means discarding judgement and embracing acceptance. It means sitting at their level, stopping long enough and frequent enough to gain insight into their world: their patterns of feeling and thinking; their greatest joys and deepest challenges; how they approach life and work; what is meaningful to them. 

The more I understood Travis, the more I could contribute to his world and, on the flip side, as he got to know me, he then provided insights and assistance to the challenges I was facing. It was a two-way street on one street’s pavement.   

In over thirty years of coaching others, I consider this lesson in empathetic leadership to be one of the greatest realisations I have ever received. And I hope this small story does the same for you. 

The original post about Travis can be found here. 

Photo by Hamza NOUASRIA 

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Candid Conversations

March 5, 2021 6:47 am

A managing director had a candid conversation with one of his underperforming team members. The employee handed in his notice shortly thereafter. 

Averaging only 50 percent of budget, a sales manager was told his performance was unacceptable. The business owner explained he would do everything to help him, part of which was my coaching him. He fully committed, doubling his sales volume over the subsequent 12-months.

Another company was experiencing multiple issues in one of its divisions. The causes all seemed to originate from the related supervisor of which I candidly expressed to him. He said he enjoyed working with the company but was over the responsibilities that came with the role. We changed his position, his happiness and engagement returned and the divisional problems self-corrected. 

When there’s a situation, deal with it. If we put our head in the sand and hope things will get better, it conveys to the employee (and the wider team) that sub-par work is acceptable and that management is weak. Also, try to approach it without prejudging. Have the candid conversation and let the situation unfold. If you take a supportive stance, you have a chance of changing things for everyone’s best – whether they buy in or jump out.

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Drops of Kindness

February 24, 2021 10:11 am

An old lady from across the road ambles on her walker to the neighbour’s place. Stiffly bending, she picks up the newspaper from their garden and resumes her journey to the front door, placing it there for late morning collection. There is no need to do this – the neighbours flex and walk faster than her, but she does it, most mornings. 

She gives me a silent smiling wave as she slowly makes her way home. 

My neighbour seems a kind person and every morning, my neighbours and me, are better off for having encountered her presence.

Drops of kindness. A small task for another. A smiling wave or greeting. It doesn’t take much but those seemingly insignificant gestures of kindness impact others greatly, turning an ordinary day into a significant one. 

 

 

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Upstream Issues Affecting Downstream Productivity

February 19, 2021 9:28 am

I asked a client what the upstream issues were that impeded her productivity. She immediately identified two areas (1) accurate information from the field service technicians and (2), accurate scheduling from the service coordinator.

I suggested one correctional activity. Coach them to accuracy.

One element of coaching is identifying key questions to help the employee arrive at the solution themselves. Banging on with the same complaint again and again simply trains team members to develop selective listening disease to tune you out.

… and you don’t want that.

So, when you need to solve an upstream problem such as improving accuracy, approach the relevant person as coach rather than manager, and ask “what do you propose we do about this? How can we resolve the issue?” Once you’ve asked the question, stay silent.

Using the word we, positions both of you on the same side. Remaining silent creates a context for them to “learn, improve and grow rather than to just get something sorted out”.Solutions that employees identify are more likely to work too. They often know the details and therefore the mechanics of solving it; and, also because having solved it, they are more likely to stick with it to prove it works. After that, the rest is supporting them to implement their changes.

Protecting and enhancing your productivity is vital. When workloads increase and people are involved, upstream issues often affect downstream productivity. A coaching approach can make big problems easier to solve and foster positive work relationships where people feel valued and respected for their contribution. Bringing such issues to a halt well before they hit your desk is always a happy outcome.

If you want to lead people more effectively and/or create efficient processes, my two books will help. Download for free here or purchase from Amazon. The Business of People and Smash The Bottleneck.

1 Bungay-Stainer Michael (2016). The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. Box of Crayons Press. Toronto. Canada.

*Photo by Cristofer Jeschke 

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Collapse From Increased Load

February 8, 2021 9:32 am

In January 2006, “the roof of one of the buildings at Katowice International Fair collapsed in Chorzów / Katowice, Poland.” Subsequently, “a forensic investigation found numerous design and construction flaws that contributed to the speed of the collapse. The snow from the roof was not being removed which resulted in construction overload by more than 100%.” **

This story illustrates what increased load does to a building if it is not designed to handle it. In organisations, business structures are also created to support load. Those structures may either be designed for scalability or, may simply emerge in an ad-hoc and reactive way that can never adequately accommodate increases in workload. And when neglected amid times of heavy load, collapses are common.

Right now, many trade and construction-related businesses are experiencing increases in workload and are running hard to keep pace. Now is a strategic time to review and address key structural pillars that may have served well but that could be vulnerable to collapse under load.

Here are eight areas worth reviewing to ensure scalable business structures capable of flexing in response to changes in load.

1. Leadership
Leadership is about taking care of the team as much as it is about taking care of the business. Whether you work in a large organisation, a small team or are a solo operator – it’s important to dedicate time towards the creation and maintenance of scalable business structures. An ad-hoc spreadsheet here and a sneaky work-around there, are never going to sustain things when the pressure’s on. Leadership for scalability involves gathering data, as well as listening to and hearing from the team about where the “pain-points” and bottlenecks are. Involving them in finding solutions helps with buy-in. Remember too, organisational change places extra load on your team, so check in with them frequently to make sure they are on board. It’s one thing to bring flailing business structures into a bright new scalable world, it’s another to create a positive environment so that the people want to come with you.

2. Strategy
Strategy is about endpoints. It connects where we are today to an ideal future state whilst providing a framework for decision making aligned with the direction of the organisation. Checking in to ensure your business strategy has been adequately adjusted to enable responsiveness to the uncertainties inherent in 2021 is an activity well worth the investment of time and effort to safeguard against collapse under load.

3. Time Management
When workloads increase the tendency is to run harder, faster and longer. While busy periods demand heightened responsiveness and adaptability, the undergirding structure of planning our time and managing ourselves often takes a hit. No matter how hard it is, it’s valuable to step back and enshrine time for yourself to think, plan and to manage your own wellbeing. It may seem like you are losing valuable time when you could be just “getting on with it” but it will pay you back many times in the long run with improved foresight and stamina.

4. People
When our people feel the love, they are more likely to show the love. When management: communicate the value of each team member; express interest in their broader life; provide the opportunity for advancement and training; ensure people are placed in the right role according to their personality and skillset; define their responsibilities and performance measures while supporting and holding them accountable; this provides significant strength to the organisation. And in times of increased load, people who have been treated this way, often go the extra mile for their leaders.

5. Workflows
Smooth effortless workflows are a feature of businesses with scalable structures. Existing systems may have worked well in the past but as incoming work increases, they may be vulnerable to collapse. Creating smooth and effortless workflows is an art and a science. It demands a commitment to finding simple solutions to big problems and then to simplify those. To get started, pay attention to the repetitive things that give rise to staff unhappiness, try to identify themes that can be wrapped into a systematic solution. Do the same for customer complaints, look to the themes to see if there’s an overarching solution. Try to avoid duplications, or having more than one system with overlapping functions. Think about what kind of data you need to be able to access from these systems. The power of effective workflows to reduce waste, improve morale and increase profitability make them worth the time investment to create.

6. Marketing
This area often takes a secondary position when work increases and sales are strong. However, I have observed that companies who stop marketing when things are good are left floundering when the tide turns (and it always does). You will do well to be consistent in your marketing efforts.

7. Sales
Similar to marketing, sales efficiency is relegated down the chain in good times. Training those who are responsible for winning quotations and business development, along with establishing performance metrics provides an underlying strength. It will also give you a competitive advantage as most companies don’t invest in strengthening this area.

8. Money
It’s far too easy to get caught up in doing the work and neglect the fundamentals of financial management. Too many companies have collapsed because they focused on top-line growth and forgot about profitability. Incorporating a rigorous financial management process that includes diligently monitoring cash flow, attention to key financial ratios, job monitoring and completion reviews with a stringent collections process is essential to provide a bedrock of strength in this area.

Business structures require ongoing time, attention and investment to ensure they will support you strongly. Creating one or two key indicators for each area assists in quickly identifying which are scalable and those that are likely to yield under load. If you do this regularly it will help ensure that your organisational roof doesn’t collapse.

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** Al-Marwaee, Mohammed. (2017). Structural Failure of Buildings: Issues and Challenges. The Scientific World Journal. 66. 97-108.

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Brian

February 4, 2021 8:06 pm

Brian woke when it was dark. Kissing the cheek of his still resting wife, he grabbed his favourite jeans, shirt and boots, and headed to the kitchen for coffee.

Catching sight of himself in the glass splashback he noticed the once slim figure was showing signs of neglect. The early morning gym sessions had given way to before-dawn office starts. He promised himself he’d go after work; but this gave way to long days, working weekends and too much travel, not to mention the management team’s constant demands on him (and his demands of them). There were only rare moments dedicated to catching up, and never enough of these to make a genuine dent in the unrelenting stream of work.

Early on, he’d told himself the busyness would abate. He knew that building a business from scratch would take everything, in the short term. It wasn’t going to just build itself, was it? That was over a decade ago. Always feeling behind he managed his daily anxiety on five double espressos, a six-pack of beer and often finishing with a late-night double whisky and potato-chips before returning home.

Leaving just before 4.30 a.m in his Mercedes, one of the first business-related rewards he’d allowed himself, he had determined that today would be different. Things were out of control. Conquering the desk-mess was first on the agenda and then bringing order to his diary; check-in with the team, respond to the mounting piles of overdue calls and emails. Maybe he’d even make it home to share dinner with the family tonight.

Unlocking the building’s front door, he walked down the dimly lit hallway to his office, feeling lighter already. It was quiet – just as he had hoped. He knew he could get through almost a day’s work before everyone arrived. Sliding into his chair, he took in the scene—numerous unread emails populated the screen, paper stacks and miscellaneous items lay about on the desk and floor. Notebooks, the whiteboard…

Overwhelmed, he went to the kitchen.

“You’re here early,” a bright voice broke the silence from behind. It was Sheree, his general manager.  “I thought I’d be the first one here but you beat me to it. Don’t you ever sleep?” she asked. “I thought I’d try and get some shit cleaned up before the interruptions started” he replied. Walking to the door, Sheree turned and said, “Do you have a minute to discuss last month’s reports? I’ve found some significant performance issues that may impact the next quarter’s results….”

Two hours later, he emerged from Sheree’s office, exhausted. Heading for another coffee, Steve, his operations manager stopped him. “Could I see you for a moment?” he asked. “Sure,” Brian said, “take all the time you need.”

Arriving home well after dark, Brian hauled himself into bed, kissed his resting wife, and hoped tomorrow would be different.

Personal Note. 
Our main character Brian is fictional. However, parts of his experience were evident in the early days of starting my own business, many years ago. Thankfully, I got help and found a way through and out. It has been a great pleasure to have coached others over the past decade to find their way forward – to keep pace with business growth whilst simultaneously expanding their capacity to create and enjoy personal ease and a more balanced lifestyle. Touch base with me if you’d like to discuss your situation further. 

Ray

*Photo by Wonderlane

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The Magic of Showing Up

January 28, 2021 5:59 pm

At rare times I’ve discovered with pleasure, that the perceived magic of attaining a particular goal, is enough to carry me through all of the drudge work required to get me there. However, for other goals, it’s easier to put-off starting by telling myself there is always tomorrow.

Recently, I set a goal to regain fitness. This goal was definitely in the, there’s always tomorrow basket for me, so I engaged a personal trainer and registered at a local gym. Some days I look forward to training but mostly, I would prefer to sit, have another coffee, and read a book.

For me, I’ve discovered a different kind of magic to help me persist. It’s called the magic of “showing up.” I tell myself that I will just show up, do 10 minutes on the treadmill, and then if I want to, I can go home. This approach generally leads to me staying for an hour’s workout, sometimes more.

Instead of waiting for the fickly winds of motivation, I recommend showing up. By showing up and agreeing to commit to one small thing in service of your goal, you will most likely find that the magic of motivation will arrive and empower you toward achievement.

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Frankie’s Holiday Advice

December 18, 2020 12:54 pm

Meet Frankie, our busy little Kelpie. Each morning he sits and looks intensely at my partner, Michelle, eagerly waiting for her direction. At 15 weeks of age, he already has a terrifyingly strong work ethic and requires meaningful work from us constantly. Without it, he becomes depressed, destructive, and quite lost. He’s given me a lot to reflect on when it comes to work and rest, and with the Christmas holidays just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to share with you some lessons I’ve learned from Frankie.

1. Sit – A powerful tool for calming the mind and focussing the attention. When things are overwhelming for Frankie, Michelle sometimes simply asks him to “sit” a few times. This simple action is very calming and helps him regain composure.

2. Drop – A helpful addition to “sit”. Sometimes regaining composure is a multi-step process and “drop” is a great next step towards calm composure.

3. Stay – As I watch Frankie’s internal struggle to sit still and “stay”, I reflect on the value of staying the course on important projects in my own life this year.

4. Heel – Stop – Slow – Stop – Fast – Stop is a game that Frankie has been learning to play. When he’s out walking, we invite him to walk at various paces and to stop, for fun and treats of-course. This helps him to develop good impulse control which is valuable for keeping him safe. It’s nice to know he’ll “stop” when asked to avoid harm. For me, it’s a reminder that going slow is valuable at times, even necessary. So is “stop”.

5. Free – After doing a few minutes of training Michelle instructs Frankie to be “free” and waves her arms about to indicate he can go where he wants and do whatever. I laugh to myself as I watch Frankie’s confused facial expression and I reflect on how difficult it can be to know where to go or what to do following intense periods of work.

This year has had a bit of everything. For most of us we’ve had to “sit” and “stay” at home, “drop” some things that were important at the time; as best as possible embrace “slow” or “fast” and at times simply “stop” whether we liked it or not. With this year nearly at a close, hopefully, there will be an opportunity for you to have some “free” time however you like to experience it.

I wish you all the best for the Christmas season and am looking forward to reconnecting with you in 2021. 

Best,
Ray

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Comfort Zones

November 5, 2020 9:28 am

A woman I met many years ago recently sent me a note which read in part: “You popped into my thoughts this week as I was reflecting on the anniversary of my sister’s death. I just wanted to share that your words of encouragement about grief have been helpful to me…I realised I’m much more aware of how grateful I am that she was born than how devastated I am she is no longer physically here.”

This woman was speaking of a time where I shared my own journey of losing my brother in a car accident. Stepping out of my comfort zone to share my personal pain and the insights I had gained, unknowingly planted a seed that brought a “zone of comfort” in her time of need. 

Sometimes we opt to stay within our walls of safety. Venturing outside of them often means having to walk in uncomfortable places and unresolved spaces. But in doing so, not only do we bring hope and help to others but often find more of ourselves in the process. This courage of vulnerability, of moving out of our comfort zones to provide a zone of comfort to another is necessary, not only for the benefit of others but for our own healing, freedom, and well being. 

 

*Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

 
 
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The Simple Power of Observation

September 23, 2020 4:52 pm

Walking around the offices of one of my clients, I noticed the receptionist completing a simple task that seemed overly complex in its fulfillment. I asked her why she was doing it that particular way and looking up she responded with, “it’s the way I’ve always done it.”

Noticing a whiteboard on the wall of another client, I asked why they still used it when there was a digital system in place. It seemed a duplication and unsurprisingly, was a carryover from the pre-digital days. They were still using it despite adding no value to their process.

The simple power of observation.

In both the above stories, changes were made to drive efficiencies simply from being at the actual place:¹ simply observing, simply questioning, asking the employee for their input and advice, and then making the subsequent corrections.

For leaders, this means getting out of our offices to observe where the actual business is being performed. While reviewing reports—that most often reflect end results—is important, taking time to observe others in action (where those results are produced) is critical.

 

¹The Japanese word Gemba (or Genba as it is less commonly spelt) means “the actual place,” and in those companies who practice Lean principles, Gemba refers to the actual place where value is created.
*Photo by Aleksey from Pexels

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The Unseen Buds of Winter

August 28, 2020 5:10 am

Midway through winter I often hear people’s verbal longings for summer. They are over the cold and desire the warm. And if we could listen in on the plant world, I am sure we might just hear the faint whispers of their summer longings as well. It seems they have an inner knowing that one day, things will turn and despite the cold, they endure with quiet persistence, hanging in there, even in the absence of demonstrable growth. 

I know for many this year, in both their personal and business worlds, the pandemic delivered an early winter along with the rollercoaster it brought with it. For others, it was the natural course of life that delivered undesired events. 

It’s hard at times to keep going. We want to pull the covers over our heads and sleep till the hardship is over. And while hibernation is part of the winter season it’s in the giving up too early where we can miss the magnificent display of the blooms we had been hoping for and working toward. Like this tree in my garden. Four weeks ago it looked like it should have been chopped down but unbeknownst to me, the unseen buds of winter had been quietly forming and almost overnight, bloomed. 

There are times for rest and course changes, and there are times for enduring the barren and bitter winters. And while it is often hard to exercise wisdom in the midst of these periods, what I do know is that undetected growth buds are nevertheless forming. The resulting blooms may not be what we expected but spring will be ushered in when it is ready. 

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell 

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Are you delegating or abdicating?

July 24, 2020 1:23 pm

Delegation is an effective leadership and time management tool. It allows us to hand over individual tasks and greater areas of responsibility to capable others enabling us to focus on higher-level work. However, while many think they are delegating they are actually abdicating.

The word delegate means the assigning of powers or functions to another, whereas abdicate means the giving up or relinquishment of power or responsibility. In delegation, we are assigning a person to act on our behalf but in abdication, we are renouncing our right, handing completely over to another.

In recent discussions with a managing director, we were discussing the differences between the two words and the importance of accountabilities. While many in leadership value giving capable others autonomous authority in their roles, sometimes it is more abdication in nature rather than delegation, as per the graphic below.

Delegation Abdication

 

You will notice that control is central to the management process. On one end it represents intensive control, where managers fail to let go and micromanage their people. This drives skilled people crazy and on the other end is no control—where leaders completely let go, fully trusting another with no oversight nor accountability.

While abdication has its place and is relevant in some situations it can’t be confused with delegation.

One of the most memorable examples of abdication was a business owner who had “delegated” the role of operational management. The manager was left to their own devices, was fully trusted, never actively managed, not accountable, ran his own show and caused great chaos over time. He was never reined in for his sloppy work nor poor leadership of his team. The business owner feared exercising any control at all. What he thought was delegation was pure abdication.

In over 30 years of leadership and management coaching, my experience suggests that effective delegation sits somewhere in the middle of the control continuum. While someone acts on my behalf in the fulfilment of tasks and roles, as the leader I still need to maintain some level of control in that, I guide, support and hold them answerable for their role performance and accountabilities. If I don’t do this, I have set them free to the winds of whim never really knowing that they are doing, how they are performing and hoping things will be okay. Not a great way to manage. 

The other item of note is the extent to which management control is required. Someone early in their career or those with shortfalls in certain areas obviously require higher degrees of training and management to those who have shown themselves to be fully capable. However, even those who are deemed to be fully competent in their roles, still require our oversight, support and the knowledge that they are responsible for certain outcomes and are accountable for such.

Effective delegation is about a personal connection with the delegatee and maintaining ones authority to govern and to lead. Abdication is fully letting go and hoping for the best. 

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When Not To Do The Hardest Things First

July 9, 2020 10:56 am

While the adage do the hardest things first has merit and is useful to counter procrastination, it doesn’t make sense to do high concentration/hard things, first up in the day if our energy is low. The adage should be re-written: do the hardest things when your energy is in its peak zone.

The set hours for one of my client’s employees was 8 am – 4 pm but the person struggled to get going until around 10 am. I suggested that if the person wasn’t required first thing in the day their hours could be changed from 10 am – 6 pm. The employee was extremely happy with the suggestion with both they, and the business, winning from the time shift. 

Aligning our tasks—according to the degree of difficulty and demand on us—to the rise and fall of our energies creates higher productivity than if we treat all hours the same. Seek to do your easier mundane tasks in the troughs and your most demanding work in the peaks. 

Photo by Vivek Sharma

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Strategic Future Gold

June 18, 2020 6:01 pm

As the economy is starting to feebly fire back to life, there is gold to be discovered by those with a keen eye and courageous spirit. Some of that gold is in plain sight but some won’t be found unless we do the work of prospecting for it. Now is the time to be strategically rethinking and potentially, redesigning our future.

Some of the pertinent questions to be asking right now are:

  • What are the key things we have learned in lockdown?
  • What have we implemented throughout this period that should remain?
  • What is truly essential and what has shown itself to be redundant?
  • What products/services will serve us best in the next 1-2 years?
  • Which markets should we focus on and what are those we should let go of?
  • Where are the high potential revenue streams?
  • What is our strategic enabler, our driving force?
  • As the economy rebounds, how can we strategically position ourselves for high profitability?

The above are strategic questions that provide a framework for your organisation’s direction and decision-making toward an ideal future state.

From the rear-view mirror of the last couple of months, there is potential future gold ahead if we look for it.

 

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Swinging a Blunt Axe

May 28, 2020 3:56 pm

markus-spiske-BjIR85EHWt8-unsplash

“If the axe is blunt, and one doesn’t sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength.” ¹

Without pausing, reflecting and observing, we can easily end up swinging a blunt axe. Maintaining sharp skills and organisational effectiveness warrants constant attention and application, but far too often, we accept things as they are rather than attempting greater effectiveness through a sharper blade.

Here are some examples to reflect on.

  • An accounting firm had lost its edge, having plateaued for 8 years. They took 8 months to sharpen the blade and launched off the plateau to report record growth in subsequent years.
  • Another business, after analysing who its buyers were, sharpened their blade and went more directly to the decision-maker with reported improvement in the following quarter.
  • A supervisor lost his work fulfilment edge over a period of time which started to show in the quality of his management. Once reassigned to a different position he regained his happiness and corresponding sharpness.
  • The 90+ debtors for one company was well out of hand. Sharpening the retrieval blade, we reduced the amount by 97%.
  • A salesperson, disheartened from the realisation they were swinging a blunt sales axe, took a week for reflection and review, found the fail-point, made corrections to their process and went from a 25% to 72% win rate in the following 7 months.

These examples all refer to people gaining insight into their current situations and then responded by the sharpening of their efforts.

In recent times I have had the pleasure of working with a manager who exemplifies a more ahead of the game approach. Recognising an opportunity to sharpen his blade, he requested a rehearsal meeting prior to a sales call with a prospective client.  He wanted to ensure he was swinging a sharp conversational axe. Smart.

A blunt axe equates to increased effort with minimised results whereas a sharp axe reduces required effort but dramatically shifts results and in many cases, almost immediately.

 

 

¹Solomon is generally attributed to writing this around 935 BC

Photo by Markus Spiske

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The Girl On The Phone

April 23, 2020 9:53 am

Man crying

A girl in her late teens walked past our home in tears at the weekend. Crying into her phone I heard her say, “I can’t go out to see my friends and have a drink with them. All I do is stay at home and study.” I felt the personal suffering behind her words.

For some, adapting to the current social-distancing measures has been relatively easy. The opportunity to focus on valued areas of life such as wellness, enhanced productivity and time with family has been a happy outcome. However, for others like the girl on the phone, it’s a tough gig. A tough gig too, for leaders at every level, as they prioritise human health and safety by enforcing social-distancing; juxtaposed against the unknown quantity of individual distress, isolation and poor mental-health.

And when isolation and distancing rules leaves us bereft of choice, living and working in a contented, productive manner becomes a matter of personal choice — both to survive and to thrive.

I for one, have not found these past weeks easy. I have missed a lot of my freedoms and social connection points with people and am learning more about myself in the space of five short weeks than I have for years. I have had wonderfully productive days, emotionally “wobbly” days and times of wanting to go to sleep and wake-up when the world has recovered. My greatest happiness professionally has been working remotely with business-owners nationwide. Day by day, with each conversation, I am discovering the value of connection, albeit at a distance—and just how much can be accomplished by phone and teleconference.

Personally, a walk at day’s end along the beach with my fiancée Michelle has become a therapeutic routine along with a post-dinner driveway dance party where Michelle is teaching me to dance the tango.

In the early days, I found myself resistant to the distancing constraints and Michelle said: “give into it and allow space for the difficult emotions to fully dwell within you; then see what happens — sometimes the difficulty evaporates when you grant it space, but you have to allow it to be first.” That was the starting place, and I have indeed found that “giving in to it” has helped me. I’m also learning that the decisions I make and the actions I take, in the midst of this enforced enclosure, set a powerful context for either personal anxiety and despondency or happiness and productivity. About his experience of living three years in a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl said, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I mention my own journey because I know that for some, a journey shared can be a journey helped. I also mention it to help heighten awareness of reaching out to others who perhaps are doing it tougher than others. For those of you who have staff, some will be doing well in the present climate while others may be struggling.

Whether man or woman, having a good offload or cry into the phone, like the girl who walked past our home, can make all the difference. Afterwards, it’s the mainstay of the decisions we make and the actions we take that can either liberate us to move forward or keep us locked in personal confinement.

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Uncertain Times Call For Certain Leadership

April 15, 2020 3:43 pm

Last week when speaking with the business owner of a nationwide company, he told me his current mode of operating was like a Commanding General. Recent Australian research suggests this guy has got it right. Catherine Douglas, head of C|T Group’s Australian research said that “People are really looking for their leaders to take the bull by the horns and make decisions to get things done and are perhaps less concerned about people’s feelings right now” She goes on to say, “What people don’t care about right now is a kumbaya approach and patting people on the back – that has really changed 180 degrees in just two weeks.”*

Over the years I’ve observed the most effective leaders bring the best out of others by adapting their leadership style to that of the individual employee.  And different times call for different leadership styles and in the current climate, a more assertive style is required. Andrew Mohl, the former director of Commonwealth Bank in an article entitled Crisis Calls for ‘Ruthless’ Leadership, “argued that the turmoil created by the coronavirus pandemic called for a more direct style of leadership as old business strategies were torn up and decisions needed to be taken quickly.”**

While the well-being of our people never ceases to be important, decisive actions with clear communication are critical if we are to lead our organisations through the prevailing turbulent waters.

*AFR, 02/04/20
**AFR 15/04/20

 

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Assessing Impact

April 2, 2020 6:32 pm

Impact Meter

As I have spoken to many business owners and managers across the country in recent weeks, I have come across a range of impacts being experienced. From those whose businesses are experiencing a boom in the current crisis; those for whom it is business as usual; and those who are experiencing significant negative impacts.

I’ve designed the Impact Gauge as a tool to help you assess where the greatest areas of attention are required.

Using The Impact Gauge 

Across your business. Hypothetical Scenario

  • Staff – positive due to increased productivity and happiness from working from home. GREEN
  • Systems – neutral. YELLOW
  • Sales – slight impact with a potential medium impact forecast. RED
  • Financial – holding but potential medium impact. RED
  • Action required: Review current pipeline and offer incentives to finalise sales; complete outstanding work orders; tender submissions to increase by 25%. Offer existing clients other services that will be of significant benefit in the current business climate.

Particular areas of concern

Example 1 – People. Who on your team is experiencing a significant negative impact from the current crisis? Gauging who is in the red zone will help you focus on the people who need your leadership the most at the moment.

Example 2 – Sales. Where sales and work orders are declining, you can overlay the gauge across your highest potential markets for your products and services. Which of your prospective customers are in the neutral to positive zone and then concentrate your efforts there? And, who do you already supply to (who are being significantly impacted) who would be helped by what you can provide?

Example 3 – Personal. In your own life, where do the largest challenges lie? Overlay the gauge and then where the highest negative impacts are being felt, seek to bring change to shift toward the green zone.

To summarise:
1. Assess the current impact;
2. Ask “what is the future impact likely to be?”
3. Seek to immediately implement risk mitigation and pivot strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pivoting Through Crisis

March 20, 2020 11:16 am

When partner-dancing on a crowded dance floor, I have sometimes spotted an impending collision, most often because the crowd has swelled and is closing-in and restricting our potential dance trajectory. Over time, I have learned to pivot away from these situations. By swiftly pivoting on one foot, I can change direction and move us out of harm’s way.

This week, many of us have experienced the current restrictions put into place nationally and globally and no doubt for many, you have spotted some potential risk requiring mitigation in the days to come.

I’ve enjoyed reading how some have pivoted just this week:

  • A gin company has started to make hand sanitiser from the tailings of the distillation process, adding a few other ingredients and making it available online;
  • A yoga company has taken their classes online;
  • Restaurants are pivoting to providing takeaway service;
  • A trade service company is pivoting to provide an extra service to ensure heightened safety in the workplace;
  • A lawyer came out promoting the need to get our Wills and Enduring Power of Attorneys in order;
  • A make-up company posted an online recipe for homemade sanitiser;
  • A laundromat has shifted to a collect and deliver model.

When I pivot on the dance floor, I keep dancing but change direction as the situation demands. 

In your business/organisation, where is the space you can pivot toward that provides  opportunity through this current period of adversity?

 

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Planning and Writing it Down

February 28, 2020 6:14 am

I have completed many executive coaching assignments with business owners, managers and supervisors and one of the predominant challenges they have is balancing reactive and demanding workloads with being planned and forward-thinking.

The observed behaviour follows similar patterns:

  • Not responding to calls and emails in a timely manner;
  • Forgetting critical tasks that delay projects, cause cost blow-outs and create dissatisfied clients;
  • Neglecting their team members;
  • Not delegating effectively;
  • Internally rushed and bouncing from one urgent item to another.

I could go on…

Two foundational habits that require changing are those of taking time to plan and writing stuff down.

I have found, (and what I coach others in) is that the time invested in planning my day and week comes back at least fourfold, i.e., if I invest 15 minutes at the start of the day to plan it I generally get at least an hour back. Then, if I write everything down and don’t rely on my memory, I avoid all manner of negative outcomes—also saving time in the process.

Remember: whatever time you invest in being better organised always comes back in a manner greater than the initial investment.

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When Two Strangers Met

February 19, 2020 4:48 pm

image001

Once upon a time, there lived two people on either side of a small village: Miss Strategy and Mr Tactics. Each of them lived alone and were unknown to each other.

To the outside world, Miss Strategy was one of those inspirational types. She envisioned a bright and powerful future, inspiring all she met. Walking into her home, one saw displayed the many future statements she had written, to remind herself of what she believed in. She had: Purpose Statements; Vision Statements; Mission Statements; Value Statements—all of which initially made her feel powerful and optimistic. Over time, however, despite her belief, the vision wasn’t manifesting itself in her everyday world.

On the other side of town lived the action-oriented, no time for deep thinking, Mr Tactics. He was good at making lists for the day and making stuff happen. However, over the years he had an ongoing sense that while he was busy he really wasn’t getting too far in life.

And then it happened.

Miss Strategy, after a day of despondency from the realisation that she was no closer to her vision than what she was five years ago, decided to take herself to a bar in the centre of town for a time of quiet reflection over a Gin & Tonic (or 5 as it turned out). Mr Tactics, also from a day of absolute weariness of running but getting nowhere decided to go to a bar to ease off the pressure.

And so they met. A chance meeting while ordering drinks led them to realise that the connection between them was strong. And while in many ways it seemed they were opposites, strangely, they were incredibly complementary.

They ended up marrying and while most of life was harmonious, when they did squabble it always seemed to come back to the default position each of them held. Mr Tactics,  would often revert to “you can’t think about this forever – just do something.” And she, Miss Strategy (or now Mrs Strategy-Tactics) would lose it on occasions with, “you can’t keep doing stuff just to make you feel like you are busy.”

One of the things they did, to remind themselves of how to work best together, was to pin this chart up on their wall.

Tregoe model

Every time they got a bit lost, they would sit together and discuss how best to live in the upper right quadrant—The Competitive Advantage zone. They realised that when they had absolute clarity on their direction and combined that with strong planning and tactical execution, a powerful force they were.

They found over time, that to work effectively with each other and to realise their ideal future (which they did by the way), they needed to honour the fact that together they were strong but isolated they were weak.

 

*Graphic –  Adapted Tregoe model as represented by Dr Linda Henman

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That Round and Round, Busy-But-Getting-Nowhere Kind of Work

February 14, 2020 7:41 am

It’s already February (Happy Valentines Day by the way) and I’m writing on this topic. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of year it is for those who are involved in a leadership capacity in busy work environments but too many tasks with a finite amount of time can take the joy out of work and make us feel weary at days end.

Many struggle with overloaded schedules and the corresponding coordination of tasks: to get done what needs to be done in a timely manner. Our automatic response is often reacting to the next thing on our plate and before we know it, the week has passed and we feel like we have achieved nothing apart from having exhausted ourselves.

I would like to propose a counter-intuitive solution:

The busier you are, allocate more frequent, smaller amounts of time, for thinking, task prioritisation and scheduling. 

Yes, it’s counter-intuitive but do it we must if we are to avoid the running on the circular, busy-but-getting-nowhere path that many of us unwittingly run on.

Thinking, prioritisation and scheduling helps us to:

  • create an inner equilibrium where we are clearer about what should take priority, what should be secondary and so forth;
  • gain a sense of progress as we move through our tasks in a more orderly fashion;
  • move to more of a methodical planned approach to our days rather than living in constant response and reactivity;
  • strangely…achieve more of what’s important.

Actions you can take to get off that circular, busy-but-getting-nowhere path are:

  • Have your day planned before you start it;
  • If you lead a team of people, always be asking, “who else could do this?”
  • Take frequent 1-2 minute planning breaks to look ahead at the next few hours;
  • Batch similar tasks into blocks of time so that you maintain clarity of mind and focus;
  • Ensure that all activities are aligned with your goals and required metrics. Don’t do something just because…;
  • Seek to ensure that you are regularly on top of email, phone calls etc. There is nothing like a hundred undealt emails in your inbox when you leave work to make you feel swamped and it is this sense of overwhelm that slows our pace.
  • Ease up. Instead of leaning forward and attempting to run at 110%, try easing back to 95%. The 5% energy/pace margin—again counter-intuitive—helps us work more effectively.
  • If you, like me, get to the end of a day or a week and wonder what you’ve actually done, start keeping a what I did well today list. This only needs to take a couple of minutes and can include the major tasks you’ve completed, the people you were kind to, the fact you took time for lunch and so forth. This list also provides feedback. Often, we don’t receive external reinforcement for a job well done. The what I did well today list sets up an inner feedback loop that can provide great encouragement that we are doing well and moving forward.

I would suggest that if you are on this circular path where you are busy but not getting very far, take one of the action points above and once it becomes more habitual, enact a second and so on.

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Aborting Strategy Work for the Ease of Tactical Execution

February 7, 2020 6:23 am

Planning is relatively easy. Come up with a bunch of tactics, assign them to people for execution, keep them accountable for results and progress is hopefully being made.

However,  in the absence of a strategic direction, tactical execution is similar to heading out on a road trip with no set destination in mind. We might see a lot of countryside, meet a lot of people and enjoy the gratification of knowing we have driven many miles but we never actually arrive. We make plans up en-route but given there is no destination in mind, the roads we take and the places we stay are more spontaneous choices along with way—good ideas at the time. This might work for a “let’s see what happens, driving holiday”  but running an effective and profitable organisation in an ever-changing world without an established strategic direction can be extremely ineffective in the long run.

Strategy Work is Destination Work.

Strategy is a thoughtful, top-down process where we define who we are (and who we aren’t) along with where it is we are headed. It doesn’t involve tactics.

For planning and tactics to be effective, they must be formed in relation to, and aligned with, our strategic direction. If they do not represent this “strategic relationship”, they result in a collection of well-meaning but isolated tasks on the road to nowhere.

Strategy work involves looking at some of the following areas:

  1. What is our Purpose?
  2. What is our Vision?
  3. Our Values. What will we stand by?
  4. What are our ideal Markets and where are they based (location)?
  5. Where will our Revenue come from?
  6. Competitive Advantage. What makes us unique and distinct? 
  7. Critical Points. Critical issues needing to be addressed.
  8. Critical Objectives to achieve our vision.
  9. Metrics of Progress.

These all are indicative of the big picture, the ideal future.

The Strategy – Planning Relationship

Below I have sought to represent the relationship between Strategy and Planning to demonstrate how they are linked.

Strategy Planning Relationship

Aborting Strategy with Tactics

Given that strategy is thoughtful and deliberate work, we sometimes opt for getting immediate runs on the board via tactical planning and execution. “We can’t think about this forever so let’s just do something” is the abortion tool. Tactics identified and implemented too early in the strategic identification process aborts strategic clarity and direction. If the strategy is birthed, it is likely to be ill-formed from a shortened incubation period.

The strategic process doesn’t need to be a long process but it does need to:

  • be deliberate and focused;
  • incorporate “what if” scenarios;
  • involve big picture thinking;
  • be exploratory in nature;
  • have everything questioned;
  • be given time to settle and then reviewed;
  • be documented;
  • be embedded in our organisation’s culture.
Dust Covered Strategy

I’ve often come across business strategies and plans in beautiful binders but covered in layers of dust. They were formulated and documented sometime in the past but never seen the light of day for many years.

The strategic document should be a living, breathing piece of work that is constantly reviewed, changed if required and used for all ongoing decision making. “Does what we are planning now, relate to our strategic direction?” is the question that should always be asked when considering tactical planning and execution in any area. This keeps our organisations on track to the pre-established destination. If markets change, new opportunities emerge or disruption is occurring in our industry, the strategy can be reworked where and as required with new plans implemented for its fulfilment.

Summary

Strategy work is thoughtful work and involves thinking and collective senior leadership processing.

It is courageous work because it places us in a short-term zone where we feel we are not doing anything. (From all my work with organisations over the years, thinking and planning time is most often ascribed to as waste). Our penchant is for activity which provides more immediate gratification and the sense of movement, despite the fact that the movement might be in the totally wrong direction.

And it is worthwhile work, driving us into the future with a destination by which we can evaluate everything against.

Most are good at tactical execution but aligning these actions against a clearly defined strategic direction provides a powerful driving force into the future.

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Efficiency. Converting Wasted Labor into Surplus Time

January 30, 2020 2:51 pm

person-hands-on-assorted-color-plastic-lid-lot-761297

I recently reviewed my efficiency and labour intensity across my business and identified one primary area of waste related to marketing. One activity I do weekly takes around five hours to complete and was tedious, to say the least.

Upon identification, I set the goal of reducing my labour in the most tedious part of it by fifty percent. I realised, that if I could outsource this part of the work I could achieve my goal.

The result: an estimated saving of two hours per week (not quite 50%) or when annualised – one hundred and four hours or two and a half workweeks.

In consulting to organisations, I have come to see that efficiency gains are to be found everywhere. The issue is, we are so busy doing the work that we’ve forgotten to step back from our work in order to look at what we are doing, why we are doing it and how it’s being completed.

What took me four hours in reflection, waste identification, creating a plan and initial implementation, provides a beautiful ongoing ROT (Return on Time) and a possible holiday in Tuscany with my surplus weeks:-))

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The Customer Disservice Department

January 21, 2020 7:22 am

I am a member of the Europcar Privilege Elite Program. Due to an issue I was having with booking a car, I called the Customer Service Department and was told that due to the nature of my request, I had to email (they don’t take calls) the department that looks after the Elite Customers.

Upon sending an email, this was the opening line of their automated reply: “Dear Customer. Thank you for contacting our Customer Services department, we will aim to respond to you within 7 working days.”

7 days???

I have been a member with them for years, have spent thousands of dollars and have recommended their services to others. When I am treated as a no-name customer and given a response time of 7 days, it makes me rethink who I should be using to hire cars and the referrals to them will cease.

On the flip side, I met with a large reputable building company this week and one of their stated values is: “We take ownership of our customer’s problems.” I love this and that is how it should be.

Taking ownership of customer problems means that responsiveness is quick (not seven days) and the company is on the front foot to drive a resolution for the customer. Too often it is not this way and we wonder why we don’t get repeat business.

You want to make sure your Customer Service Department is not the Customer Disservice Department.

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Failing Forward

January 7, 2020 3:41 pm

John Maxwell wrote a brilliant book some years ago called Failing Forward but often, we see failure as a backward motion.

I heard a story about champion ice skaters who, when falling on the ice, knew they were pushing their current limits of expertise. It was the edge of new growth for them.

Failure is part of attempting and learning something new and just like a child learning to ride a bike, the spills come first before the thrills.

If we are not failing, or failing often, it most likely because we are not pushing the limits of our own boundaries or attempting to develop new skills.

May this year be one of growth beyond your current skills and one where you fail often in the pursuit of expertise.

Best,
Ray

 

 

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The Reward Is In The Writing

December 18, 2019 6:50 am

IMG_0161

As my newsletter Mindful Motivation enters its fifth year, I have been reflecting on its origin and its meaning for both myself and those of you who read it, of which I thought I would share here with you.

Mindful Motivation was born out of the dark womb of depression. While I thought that all potential seeds of life had died during that time, there was at least one seed that hadn’t been snuffed out.

I revisit the many lonely, sleepless, 2 AM mornings where I would sit despairingly in my office looking at the picture (above). On one of these occasions, as I was sitting quietly, the following words came to me: “write your way forward.” And thus, Mindful Motivation exited the womb and came to life.

That was four years ago and for me, writing this piece regularly has been one of the most rewarding and therapeutic tasks I have engaged in and has, in fact, moved me forward in ways I could never have imagined.

As I’ve been reflecting on it this week I would suggest that it is critical for there to be elements of our work that are personally rewarding, where we find inspiration and fulfilment. These rewards also help fuel us for the more difficult parts of life and business, keeping us going in the tougher times.

The other reflection is that in periods of lostness and darkness, light can issue forth and “foundness” and newness can both germinate and spring to life in the subsequent season.

I want to express my deep gratitude to all of you for being part of my broader community: for the work we’ve done together; for your attendance at my speaking gigs; your responses, sharing of and publishing of my writing; for your promotion of my work; for the drinks we’ve imbibed and the bread we have broken.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Years and I trust you will take some time to fill in the following to help guide your efforts and fulfilment in 2020:

“I find my reward in the …………….”

All the best,
Ray

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When Crap Rains On Your Best Laid Plans

December 10, 2019 11:39 am

I read a story about a staff get together last week at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide. As the physiotherapists were meeting they heard a gurgling noise above. To their surprise, the ceiling ended up caving in, dumping a load of raw sewage on them, and all due to a plumbing contractor whacking the wrong pipe causing it to burst. There was no escaping it.

And sometimes, organisational life and leadership are like that.

We create ordered, clean and efficient operating methods and workplace environments; clarify strategy, create our plans and milestones, focusing forward on the achievement of such. But then, out of nowhere, shit rains from the sky. In some cases, we couldn’t have planned for it but in other cases, if we had taken some time for “peripheral risk/threat identification” we just might have been able to completely avoid it or at least mitigate its potential impact.

In your thinking and forecasting for 2020 and the decade to come, ask yourself and your leadership team, “what shit could possibly come our way this year?” and then, put some risk mitigation and annulment plans in place.

And, if you experienced an unpleasant “out of the blue” dumping on you this past year, do as the medical team did. Clean up the broader mess but ensure you scrub it off yourself. The cleaner you are and the freer you are of past dumpings the more you will be able to lead effectively and confidently move into the New Year.

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Soul Weather

December 5, 2019 9:37 am

car-drops-of-water-glass-rain-1553

Years ago when going through a dark spot, a psychologist gave me a useful strategy. Every day I would give myself a “mood rating” between 1 and 10—1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. I followed this process long after I came out of the black hole, until I was regularly hitting 5 and above.

It was useful for:

  • Tuning in to how I was feeling;
  • When my rating was less than 5, I had different strategies to help me ride out the troughs;
  • Understanding the links between certain events that had happened on the previous day(s) to how I was feeling on the current day;
  • Ascertaining the impact of integrating new activities into my days and the effect these had on my mood.

And while I took anti-depressants, this was in many ways, the pragmatic side to doing a rough journey.

Speaking with a business owner yesterday, the subject of depression came up and how tough the business road can be at times. These tough periods, when encountered and endured for long seasons can be impactful beyond what we thought possible. He mentioned the constant knock-back of tenders as an example. Another business owner I know was saying how tough things were at the moment and jokingly said that they were having a strategy and planning day and was hoping that the future plan was to shut up shop.

Sometimes, it’s long seasons of drought or hardship; other times we just run out of steam from having been in the game for so long.

Running a business is certainly not for the faint-hearted and the “take a dose of concrete and harden the f**k up”, while it may work for short term obstacles, doesn’t cut it for longer-term marathons.

Maybe you’ve never been at the point of taking medication or a daily mood rating but my guess is that some of you have, and that others of you have employees, friends, and family that have or are enduring similar.

As we come into the holiday season, take time for self-reflection. If you feel you haven’t been hitting your straps for a while, push into it rather than dismissing it. Talk to trusted others about what you are experiencing and maybe, like I did, seek professional help.

Also, be aware of those you are connecting with over the break. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is an empathetic, attentive, listening ear.

And soul weather, just like natural weather, has its seasons. And while we can’t control the weather outside, we can take steps to understand, nurture and shift the weather inside.

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The Expertise – Teachability Model

November 27, 2019 4:51 pm

At a recent workshop on Adaptable Leadership, I presented a four-quadrant model (below) that I developed to capture the relationship between an employee’s expertise—associated to their job-related ability—and then the degree to which they are teachable.

The vertical axis is the degree to which someone is personally teachable with the horizontal axis highlighting the degree to which someone has job-related expertise or competence in their job

Expertise - Teachability Model v3

 

Quadrant 1. The Poor Fit

If this employee has been with the organisation for some time and has shown little or no progress in job competence, teachability and enthusiasm for the job are the most likely cause.  Current lack of job expertise combined with little or no desire to learn makes forward progress challenging and time-consuming for management. It does not mean there is anything wrong with the person; it’s more likely to be explained by their place within the organisation, or that the organisation itself isn’t a naturally good-fit to inspire them to learn and grow. This type of person would probably be better placed elsewhere  (perhaps in someone else’s business). The arrows in this quadrant indicate training and coaching are required in both job-related expertise and personal teachability. The red arrow suggests helping them depart could be the most mutually agreeable outcome.

Quadrant 2. The Know-it-all

This team member (actually individual player) is: highly competent in their work but their lack of teachability is reflected in resistance to change. Mostly, they simply don’t see the need for a personal or professional shift; they live in a zone somewhere between the ostrich – with its head in the sand – and God himself.  They generally reject the notion that they could possibly improve; believing the organisation revolves around them. I’ve even heard the Know It All say that the boss would never sack them because they are too valuable. The vertical arrow represents coaching is required in teachability.

People in this quadrant may change in the direction of teachability if they are fortunate enough to experience a perspective enhancing  “moment of truth” to shift them out of the potential complacency that makes them vulnerable to changes in the organisation, technology, context, legislation and customer preferences.

Quadrant 3. The Fast Mover

This person may not have fully developed expertise in their role but because they are naturally higher on teachability they approach each day as an opportunity to develop new skills that will make them proficient in their job. This person is a “gift” within the organisation and is the perfect recruit whether early or later in their career. Nurturing such an employee along the horizontal arrow via mentoring /training will foster even faster growth and promote loyalty.

Quadrant 4. The Autonomous

The combination of teachability and technical skill means this employee will meet and exceed the demands of their specific job requirements. People in this quadrant are likely to be innovators within the business, blessed with the insight and foresight needed to perceive and respond to change.  This type of person can function autonomously; with the horizontal arrow recommending further growth tailored to the individual’s personal and professional goals. To retain employees of this calibre, managers/business owners need to work with the person to identify meaningful ways to reward and sustain exceptional performance, noting that providing financial or promotional opportunities are only two of many ways to reward outstanding contributions made by employees.

A Note On Teachability

In over thirty years of coaching people, teaching people to be teachable is plain hard work. On developing this model I did a web search on “how to teach people teachability.” Zero results. Every entry on the first few pages spoke to the individual of how to cultivate teachability within themselves. The issue for the manager is when you have someone that doesn’t demonstrate teachability, how do you teach it when they don’t want to be taught?

Someone early in their career—apprentices come to mind—can sometimes reflect this unteachable attitude. Being patient with them, praising them for even the smallest task completed well, explaining that because they listened and did what was asked of them resulted in a great outcome, can sometimes inspire them to begin opening up to further instruction.

Others I have coached who I would have deemed to be unteachable at the start demonstrated a growing enthusiasm and teachability when I helped them connect their daily responsibilities to what motivated them personally. Others I have noticed to be unteachable in one particular environment or role, but when shifted elsewhere, began to learn and shine.

Get it Right in Recruitment 

The best place to ascertain the degree of personal teachability is at the recruitment stage. Here are some questions you might like to consider integrating into your initial interview process.

  • Tell me about what you have been learning, reading etc?
  • What areas do you feel you need to grow most in?
  • What are some of the things in life that you love doing? How have you personally developed in these areas?
  • If you were to be successful with this application, what areas would have the most challenge with? How would you deal with those challenges?
  • Tell me about a time how you handled criticism or a constructive critique from your boss?
  • Tell me about a time how you handled criticism or a constructive critique from your peers? What did you learn from this? What did you do about this?
  • Tell me about a time where you were allocated a task that you didn’t know how to do?
  • How do you stay up to date with this industry?
Summary

This model seeks to help employers and managers understand where a person sits on the two scales and corresponding quadrants and is useful for determining: someone’s current role placement; the type of coaching/training required; what leadership style to adopt along with being a useful recruitment model.

If you would like to discuss how this might enhance your organisation or to have an assessment completed of your key personnel please feel free to reply here or call direct on 0403 341 105.

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A Spinning Wheel Kind of Life

November 14, 2019 9:45 am

Spinning Wheel

Ever felt like this fella in the photo? Most of us, from time to time, experience the feeling of being a mouse on a spinning wheel: running hard but going nowhere. And perhaps, this is the way life has always been.

A frantic pace with fragmented peace.

Sometimes this wheel spinning kind of life:

  1. Is a result of being successful. We’ve worked hard and the resultant incoming work and promotions have created that “keep up, frantic, do what it takes momentum.”
  2. Is due to having grown up on the tools, taken orders and got used to a reactive schedule. Then, when we’ve gone into some form of leadership we still operate in those same kinds of “wheel spinning ways.”
  3. Happens because we want to do our very best and don’t want to disappoint others.
  4. Is related to an inner sense of, “if I am busy then people will deem me to be successful.”
  5. Is driven out of an inner disquiet. “If I keep myself active I won’t have time to think about all the shit in my life” or, “I’ve got too much on to deal with this now.” (Ten years later we are still saying the same thing).
  6. Results from the all roads syndrome. Many, if not all roads within our organisations lead to us and through us and because we keep spinning, we can’t get off long enough to plan a road re-route to utilise technology and effectively delegate to others.
Jumping off the Spinning Wheel

The above are but a few of the inherent reasons for wheel spinning but there is a way out, and this is what one person I am coaching is doing.

These are the recommendations I gave him and which, in a short period of time, he has successfully adopted.

  1. When you are working on something, keep a writing pad beside you to write down all the other items that come to mind. This way it keeps you focused on the major item in front of you. (I recall one client saying she received a Telco bill while working on a major task, got sidetracked and two hours later arrived back to what she was originally doing). Sound familiar?
  2. Give your phone to administration, hit Do Not Disturb or let it go through to voicemail when working on significant tasks. Take only urgent calls but leave the rest till later.
  3. Schedule your days. In my client’s case it was primarily:
    a. Quotes in the morning,
    b. Meetings and callbacks in the afternoon.
  4. Plan tomorrow, today.

Simple but effective.

These are but four disciplines that are taking him from the manic pace of the spinning wheel to the planned, disciplined and productive pathway on the ground.

If you feel like you are on the spinning wheel, the only way out is by getting off, even for short periods of time: to think, to plan, to utilise technology and others and to outsource wherever you can.

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Endorsing Poor Performance

November 1, 2019 7:05 am

Having been involved in change management over the years, I have noticed that systems and process change, take place relatively easy. One of the major reasons is that these changes don’t involve personality, ambition, power or will. A system simply performs in the manner that it is designed to do; people on the other hand…

Teams are made up of individuals, brought together for a common cause. The challenge for any manager or business owner is aligning the whole team toward achieving the outcomes of the cause but sometimes, individuals within the group don’t want to play ball. They dig in, they protect their space and position and feel they are a protected species.

I’ve seen many occasions over the years where a leader, in their desire to keep the peace, won’t address these situations and over time, teams never rise to their potential; the good people within the organisation become disgruntled and sometimes move on, the business the poorer for their departures.

If we don’t work with these people to rise to the expected levels of performance; if we don’t address poor behaviour and attitudes, we are simply saying to the good people, “it’s OK for you to do what you want, when you want.”

If we don’t correct it, we are effectively endorsing it.

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Focus. A Fresh Set of Eyes

October 13, 2019 5:32 pm

A fresh set of eyes

I recently had an eye test completed and subsequently followed through on the specialist’s recommendation to purchase glasses. Little had I realised that over time, I had slowly become accustomed to blurred vision. Now, with a fresh set of “eyes,” things that were unclear and hazy have become sharp and distinct.

At different times in our personal worlds, our careers and business endeavours, the focus that was once crystal clear becomes a little muddied. We find ourselves so deep in the trenches that all we see are the trench walls, losing sight of what is beyond. We find ourselves going through passionless motions that once brought us life.

If you find yourself doing that daily trench trudge make a move to jump up on top. Some things that might be helpful are:

  • A change of routine;
  • Meet with some inspirational friends or colleagues;
  • Incorporating something fun into your life;
  • Pursuing something that you are curious about;
  • Taking a risk in something you’ve been delaying;
  • Hiring a coach or mentor. (I have just hired someone to coach me again from the US and 3 weeks in I can tell you it’s well worth the investment);
  • Schedule think time into your weekly schedule;
  • Get some fresh input which might include further training or reading.

A fresh set of “eyes” helps raise us from the footslog of the trench to the freedom of the mountain. And often, it is just the simple things that help gain that shift.

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Relational and Leadership Disconnects

September 24, 2019 7:00 am

I recall working with a client many years back who was the salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He was heartfelt and easy-going, loved to personally connect with others, speaking gently and purposefully.

On my drive to his office, I would purposefully slooooooow down my brain and demeanour to more effectively connect with him, which worked perfectly. Instead of my running in and rattling off MY agenda for the next few hours, I would get into his space: listening, asking questions and genuinely connect with him prior to getting to the work side of things.

He was also a man who disliked conflict and hard conversations. While his natural disposition was to “keep the peace” at any cost, it came at a cost with his leadership effectiveness undermined by this one trait. His people walked all over him, did what they wanted when they wanted. The workforce was highly unproductive; reflected a bunch of self-centred individuals and job errors were everywhere. Yet, he feared to address the issues. Peacekeeping, in this environment, didn’t work.

This was one of my early, on-the-ground relational and leadership lessons.

Relational. In order to connect well and communicate in a way that he heard it, I had to reflect his behavioural style in our meetings. This way, we got on the same page and arrived there quickly.

Leadership. Each person in our organisation is at a different place and need to be led differently. If I lead from a singular style, my effectiveness is going to be severely limited.

I have come to firmly believe that the more self-aware we are, the more other-aware we become and it’s from this “other-awareness” and the adaption of our relational and leadership styles to who the person is and what they require, that our effectiveness is significantly enhanced.

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When Good People Leave

September 19, 2019 1:48 pm

When good people leave our organisations it can be a painful experience. In many cases we spent years of investment in them; training them coaching them, supporting them, providing opportunity, rewarding them and so on. We’ve become to rely heavily on them with them playing and important part in the fabric of now our business and to receive their resignation comes as a slap in the face and in many cases and arrow to the heart.

If I can provide any perspective of the many companies I’ve worked with over years, the majority if not all, six months down the track and often sooner have been grateful for the departure.

Often, the newcomer to fulfil their position has different skills than the previous role owner, provides higher levels of ability and breathe fresh air into the culture of the company.

A previous business partner of mine always had the attitude that as long as people were working with him they needed to perform and perform highly but they were always free to leave if they didn’t follow suit. He had an abundance mentality that allowed him to free people because he knew there was somebody else waiting just around the corner.

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The Nests of Spring

September 4, 2019 5:58 pm

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A bird flew onto the fence this morning with a beak full of straw, momentarily resting on its flight path to building a nest for a new family.

Nests represent a supportive structure for new life.

Many of the people and organisations I have consulted to have had the smarts to anticipate upcoming changes to their business and diligently prepared “the nest” for growth. Or, if they have been suddenly inundated with new work, the supportive structure gets built at a fast rate while growth is in progress.

This has often meant:

  • ensuring the right people are in the right places and all understanding exactly what they are to do and the outputs they are responsible for;
  • giving thought to, and creating the workplace culture they desire;
  • process flows are streamlined with waste eradicated and throughputs maximised;
  • procedural documentation is created or refined;
  • key performance indicators are thought through and established with regular reviews and accountability measures enacted;
  • financial budgets and cashflows are prepared;
  • marketing and sales opportunities are carefully inspected, planned and targeted;
  • leadership are more fully equipped; people are trained and coached.

These are but some of the areas that make up the supportive organisational nest structure and whilst growth can be an exhilarating experience, the lack of structure can see declines take place at a depressing rate.

If you are desiring to hatch the new growth of spring, or, are already experiencing the fruitful plenty of summer, take time to purposefully and strategically work on the nest. It will serve you, your people, your customers and stakeholders incredibly well if you do.

PS. You might like to review the points above and give yourself a score out of 10 for each. Then, review the lowest 3, and begin lifting these to a satisfactory level initially. Also ask yourself the question, “what one, of these three, that if worked on will have a peripheral effect on the others?” If you would like help with any of this, feel free to reach out. 

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The Minutes of Tomorrow

August 20, 2019 1:18 pm

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Sitting at my desk and watching the twilight hue gradually being absorbed by the night, it prompts me to reflect on the day.

I wonder if my time was just spent completing reactive administrative tasks or did I add significant value in my meetings and client work?

Was I focused and productive, accomplishing what I set out to do?

Was I happy and light-hearted, working with a sense of inner ease and peace?

I reflect on my relationships. Could I have engaged deeper, being more present in my interactions with those I love?

Did I listen well today? Did I ask more meaningful questions, demonstrating an interest in others rather than just enjoying the sound of my own voice?

Was I kind, patient and respectful to all I met?

Did I put myself first where appropriate to do so, in my work and my personal standing?

What have I learnt today that I didn’t know yesterday? And what of these new insights did I practice and speak of in order to more fully learn them?

I am reminded of my mentor, Dr Alan Weiss, and his sage advice, “You can always make another dollar, but you can’t make another minute.”

As I complete this piece, the day has grown dark and I am grateful that while we may not be able to make another minute, we do have the opportunity to use the minutes of tomorrow in ways that we might have done better with today.

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Where Did The Day Go?

July 30, 2019 3:57 pm

where did the day go

My phone, for the first time, alerted me to the Screen Time analysis for the past week. I was astounded as I reviewed the data. Fortunately, most of the time was spent in productive activity however, it also helped me identify time waste, especially in how often I pick up the phone.  From this data, I now have the opportunity to make corrections to assist in concentrated focus and converting pick up time to more productive time.

Where Did The Day Go?

How often have we arrived home after a long, busy day and asked ourselves, “Where did the day go?” We were busy but achieved little.

Just as my phone gave me the Screen Time analysis, we can conduct our own Work Time analysis. From this, we can see both where our time went and then where we need to make corrections to increase concentration focus and productivity levels.

I conducted this analysis with a business leader, having him document, in 15-minute time increments, how he spent his time over the course of the week. One of the many insights was that his quoting preparation was happening all over the place due to incoming phone calls. From the data, we were able to ascertain when the peak levels for these calls were, allow for this in his schedule and then block a solid time for quoting on a daily basis. This enabled him to work with a singular focus, reduce the likelihood of errors on his quotes and overall increase his output. If we hadn’t completed the data analysis we could never have made such corrections.

Being busy is one thing. Being productive is quite another.

Analyse where the day went and then use the review-reflect-correct method to increase your outputs.

If you would like to look at where your day went, you can access a free Time Analysis template by clicking here.

Best,

Ray

PS. If you do this exercise, I’d love to know what your findings are from the analysis and the subsequent changes you are going to make. Feel free to email me at ray@rayhodge.com.au.

 

*Photo by Michelle Sexton

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