Strategic Time: Are you at 10%?

Strategic Time: Are you at 10%?

How much time do you, as a leader, spend on the strategic work of your business?

Wondering what strategic work is? First, here is what it’s not:

  1. Simply being in a room with your peer leaders and your team leader: Harvard Business Review (Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael Mankins) did a study on leadership teams and found 65% of them focused on talking at each other with information and not with each other to solve the biggest issues for the organization.
  2. Building an agenda with what the team wants to talk about: When studying leadership teams and how they structured meetings, the outcome was 3 hours per month spent on strategic issues. Ever been in a meeting where ‘input into your area’ or ‘issues being raised about your team/group’ ended up in you defending your team with the outcome being low trust, no decision, and multiple people leaving feeling like ‘that was a waste of time’? Be honest – given the choice, we build agendas that keep people ‘out of our business’ and don’t invite their input and help.

The solution is actually pretty simple, and yet not easy because too many leadership teams don’t fit the description of healthy (a cohesive, functional, open and honest, fun-loving team that enjoys working together).

Here is what strategic work is:

Weekly

  • Getting into a room each week to do a quick review of the health of the business (metrics and people/customer stories)
  • Providing an open and honest update to peers on the status of the big work for that quarter (we call them Rocks in EOS) and closing the loop on all the things people committed to doing after last week’s meeting
  • Picking 1 to 3 big issues the team feels need to get addressed and fixing them
  • Leaving with a clear idea of things to do, messages to cascade, how effective the meeting was, and what we can do next week to make it more effective

Quarterly

  • Spending a day together reviewing the long-term plan, getting on the same page around the progress to the plan for the year, updating the biggest issues/obstacles/opportunities for the year, putting a new 90-day plan in place for what has to get done, and solving a few big issues
  • Doing a fun activity together where work is NOT the topic, but connecting with each other on a more personal level is

Yearly

  • Getting away to do the quarterly work in a longer term way

It is always about spending time on the important things, and it begins with a commitment to spending 10% of your time being more strategically focused as a team. This quote showed up today in my inbox and I hope it challenges the excuse I hear most often from leaders when I share a picture of strategic time:

“I don’t have the time.” …almost always means, “this is not a priority.”

Seth Godin – sethgodin.com

If your team is spending too little time on strategic stuff or you want to step back and really look at your time, here are two great lenses to help you:

  1. Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael C. Mankins
  2. Read pp. 165 – 198 in Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman

Time is a gift, so use it for the most important things. I hope this helps start a great conversation with your leadership team.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Most Valuable Hour in Your Week

The Most Valuable Hour in Your Week

We get busy.

The ‘To-Do’ list on Monday often starts with what was left on Friday. Then the messages start coming in from the people that depend on us for things — boss, peers, customers, kids, spouse, aging parents, our team, and friends. Then we respond like we have on every other Monday — we get to work.

If you stood back and considered your day, how confident are you that you are working on the most important stuff? How confident are you that you are successfully balancing the competing priorities in your life?

I was coaching a highly intelligent and capable leader who was struggling with this feedback: “You are not following up with some of your peers on key work, and are getting the reputation of not following through.” Her life was much like what I described in the first paragraph. I simply asked the question, “How do you prioritize your work when the list gets long?” Her response: “The list is always long, so I just get to work.”

The good news — she did not need marriage counseling, a spa weekend, or even a job change. She just needed to practice managing herself.

For this practice, I asked her to set aside an hour a week to step back, reset her priorities, reset herself, and THINK about the work/business that was being entrusted to her. The result? The top 2-3 priorities started getting done every week, her follow-up was more timely with key peers, and she made time for the important things while letting a few other things go. The feedback from her leader three months later supported the impact: “The sales team is feeling more connected to your work and the impact you are having on our business is exactly what I expected when we hired you.” Her feedback was: “I feel like I am having an impact and I worry/think less about work when I am not there.”

This is a practice Stephen Covey called sharpening the saw, and Gino Wickman calls a clarity break™. The people targeted with this solution are leaders who have big goals, many resources to get focused, and a world that wants a great deal from them because of their position, personal capability, personality, and power. The simple solution? Spend an hour or two a week to reset yourself and make sure you are focusing on the things that matter to you, so the barriers that are getting in the way of your own focus and joy get removed. Is your life more like this last sentence or the first paragraph of this post?

In working with and coaching leaders who live that first paragraph every week, and ironically becoming that person, the only habit I have found that allows us to be our best is to stop doing and spend some time thinking. To work ON our life and take a break from being IN our work. Try it — get away from your desk to a quiet place, turn off your phone, and spend time to review your priorities, think about the people that matter, solve a couple of big issues you or your team has placed in your hands, and plan your return to work with new focus.

I am still working on being 100% successful on that one hour a week,  so expect it to be hard.

Here is a short video where I explain the form I have created for myself to use during my TRU time. This is named after my focus of generating TRUst and facing some of my important TRUths that I want to live by.

Our work as leaders starts with us working on our own clarity, confidence and energy/joy for our work. Start making that a priority this week by practicing a clarity break!

Extra resources to learn more:

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

We are all too busy.

Do you believe that? I see too many leaders struggling with this feeling, and with the health effects that all too often follow this constant state of being.

At this moment, 20+ leaders from my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) clients are doing a 6-week challenge to develop or reinforce the habit of taking one hour every week to spend time in what Stephen Covey called ‘sharpening the saw’. Gino Wickman calls it a ‘clarity break’™, and like many of the leaders I coach, I have struggled to establish the habit. I believe it is important, and currently I have two straight weeks of clarity breaks going, so here are two tips that have helped me:

  1. I created a template to make it easy to focus on the most important questions I need to answer each week and the work I need to review.
  2. The place is important. I live near Lake Michigan, and have found that a short drive to the water and sitting in my car helps me detach from my work. The picture you see here is the view that I have. My desk and coffee shops did not work for me.

Clarity breaks don’t fix being too busy, but the impact is to help you see your priorities more clearly so that the time you have will be focused on them. (FYI – check out my LinkedIn article about 3 Things Leaders Should Stop Saying in 2018 – “I don’t have enough time” is one.)

I am thinking of doing a broader Clarity Break Challenge in a few months for all of the readers of this blog and I am open to allowing each of you to invite people from your company. If you have interest in learning more, sign up here; if you would like to explore doing a challenge with leaders/individuals within your company indicate that in the note space. I would be glad to explore the possibility of kicking it off with a webinar or lunch and learn to help jumpstart their success.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

I had a clarity issue in my recent trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We only spoke English and all the people we met only spoke Italian. In hindsight, the celebratory dance I did when we were able to get the grocery store owner to realize we were looking for eggs (fyi: uovo in Italian) would probably be embarrassing if it was released to YouTube.

It is impossible to have clarity if we speak different languages, and the irony is each day we go to work and find places where clarity issues exist between people who speak the SAME base language. Some examples:

  • Engineering talking to sales
  • Leadership reporting financials to everyone
  • Accounting communicating to anyone

We have all experienced it, and the irony is that it is always the other person’s fault. One of the reasons every leadership program has a piece on communication styles – using a tool like DiSC or BEST – is because we need a lens to see these moments differently so we can step back and ask, “What can I do to communicate more effectively?”

The place I encourage you to start is with your words. For leaders, I see a huge opportunity to standardize how you talk about the priorities in your business.

I use a methodology called EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) with my clients for strategic planning. It is very clear around setting terms for priorities and commitments we make:

  • To Do: less than 7 days to complete (single owner)
  • Rocks: less than 90 days to complete (single owner)
  • Goals: 1 year to complete (owner is leadership team, or whatever team commits to doing it)

Even with these terms defined, leaders still come back and talk about goals the team set for this quarter or tactics for 2017. It is a simple concept, and yet not that easy to do.

Here are two tips for creating clarity around your plan and priorities:

  1. Commit to the same language: I can help you start this with my ebook Demystifying Strategic Planning (free on Kindle). This simple step will have a huge impact on your ability to create clarity at all levels of your organization. Also, remember that things have to be communicated 7 times before they are retained – so the roll-out is a journey, and not just an email or single all-employee meeting.
  2. Write things down on a single page: The spoken word does not create clarity. The written word does not, by itself, create clarity. But writing it down will help drive a more productive clarity conversation so you will get there faster.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

As leaders, we all have moments when decisions must be made that cannot be fully explained to the organization. Sometimes even your team has to be kept in the dark as to the full truth. Some of these moments include:

  • Firing someone for criminal acts at work
  • Reducing your team by 10%, including the two nicest and most liked people in the department
  • Asking an under-performing and extremely good person to resign in 45 days
  • Negotiating a sale of the company
  • Reassigning a leader due to allegations for certain behavior
  • Firing an executive for performance issues

I remember a conversation with a leader about the impact of one of these big decisions, on both his people and the trust within his team. He had just let someone go and nobody could know the truth. It was immediate, and it was explained by a vague email. I shared with him a perspective I learned in watching trust shifts after these BIG events: in my experience, these events did not alter the trust level because it was the thousand decisions we had made up to the event that made forgiveness easier.  Trust was kind of like a bank account. If the deposits had been made along the way, then the effects of the one big withdrawal were minimal.

Leaders make these little deposits when they:

  1. Tell people the real business numbers when sales records are hit and missed
  2. Publicly apologize for a bad decision that made life harder
  3. Show up at potlucks
  4. Go to funerals, weddings, and other big events in people’s lives
  5. Send a note after seeing someone’s child recognized in the paper
  6. Ask questions about family – and remember their names
  7. Have monthly breakfasts with people where any question is answered
  8. Answer emails from employees that send questions
  9. Embrace policies that make a positive impact on the lives of people

The good news? Big events don’t happen that often. The better news? They will pass faster if you spend the time between them being open and honest with your people, and practicing some of the habits mentioned above.

Just remember – focus each day on telling and hearing the TRUth and building/giving TRUst.

For EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) leaders, at your next clarity break tally all the ‘deposits’ you made this week and pick one thing you can do tomorrow to make a deposit.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

Communication: One reality and three healthy habits

Communication: One reality and three healthy habits

Great conversations start with a question.  Let’s have one on communication.

  • How is the communication in your team?
  • How does your team feel about the flow of information?

In a recent post, Why Growing Past 20 Employees is so Damn Hard (and what you can do about it) by Eric Jorgenson, the author makes the point that a 10-person company can have 45 different 1:1 relationships while a 20-person company can have 190. Think about these numbers – we increase the size of the team by 100% and we increase the communication complexity by over 300%.

The reality of communication, especially for growing organizations, is that complexity grows exponentially as we add people to our team. Layer on top of that the complexity of building trust with new teammates and with you as the leader, and it might make you want to curl up in a ball in the corner.

People-centered leaders face realities like this and overcome them, because effective communication unleashes the talents and skills of people. The other opportunity is having help to do the work, solve the problems that arise everyday, and celebrate the successes that will inevitably happen. If leaders do this well, the health of the business will follow. The other truth is that these do not depend on your leadership style; they are leadership skills that can be learned.

Here are three healthy habits that will help achieve healthy growth using communication:

  • Company gatherings – Quarterly (monthly if you can): What are the key messages that have to be shared and the key questions bubbling through the organization which need to be answered by you? Make this a priority and NEVER cancel it! A best practice is to record it so everyone has a chance to see it.
  • Team gatherings – Weekly (direct reporting team): Review progress, revisit commitments from the last meeting, get aligned as a team, and solve the biggest problems facing the team. If you do these 4 things every week the teamwork and culture will thrive.
  • Individual meetings with your team – (One-on-Ones or 5-5-5™ if you are an EOS® company): I see too many executive teams ignore this because of their calendar, their ego (“I am an executive and don’t need the coddling”), or their fear of sharing they are scared and confused. People must need this, because it is the #1 download from my website.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

. . . and do your organization a favor by passing this on to a few peers and/or teams so you can critique your own performance at your next leadership meeting and fill in the gaps that exist in your own habits!

Notes:

The key to a long journey? Focus on the next town. (Thanks, Gary.)

Yesterday on my daily run with my golden-doodle, I ended up walking with a guy named Gary. We have passed each other on the trail for two years and never really spoken. Sometimes I realize it is time to walk and listen, and this was one of those moments.

As Gary told me about his journey across the 2000+ mile Appalachian Trail in 2008, I asked him this question (remember – great conversations start with a question):

“What is the trick to successfully completing the Appalachian Trail?”

Without much thought he answered,

“You just have to focus on the next town and not think about how far away Maine is.”

I thought of my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System™) clients and how creating a vision for a company is critical, but establishing smaller goals and the disciplined execution of those goals is most critical.

Successful leaders learn to help their teams understand and stay focused on the next town. People-centered leaders invite their people into the process vs just sharing the goals.

Sometimes you just have to slow down and talk to the Gary’s you run into – they have a lot to share.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

I sat down with a leader to talk about succession, and her biggest concern was the age of two key people and the timing of their retirement. When I asked if she had initiated a conversation about their career plans, her answer was, “My lawyer told me not to because they could sue me for age discrimination.” When I asked what their counsel has told them they could do, she answered, “He never told me that.” I was tempted to ask if they had only paid half the standard hourly rate for that conversation, but held back.

This is not a post about age issues, but a conversation around the barriers I see in leaders around career conversations. The reality is there are risks in these conversations because plan <> promise, and yet having these conversations will make you stand out as a leader and will engage your best people even more.

Reason 1: Don’t know where to start (Ignorance) – When I lay out my proven process to leaders, you can see the tension release. They realize how simple it is and come to see their role as more guide/partner than a leader.

Reason 2: Bad past experience (Scared) – The example I shared above is a great example of scared. The other situation is a bad past experience with career plans because they were laid off in 2007-2009 and still see ‘keeping my job’ as a career goal. They are afraid to say it or assume that is what the answer is. One reason I start my own process with capturing strengths and successes is to energize people.

Reason 3: Too much other work (No time) – I received this from a leader, and when I asked, “How much of your time do you think this will take?” they started a list: meetings, having to fill out a bunch of forms, constantly monitor progress, schedule future meetings, and generally do lots of extra work. When I shared with them my process and their role of being present, asking questions, and giving the ownership to the individual, they were pleasantly surprised and this barrier disappeared. It is work, and the work is largely on the individual if it done correctly. Time is a concern, but it should not be a barrier.

In 2015, I wrote Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance. This stemmed from my experiences helping leaders become more people-centered, in which I noticed them struggling with some of the basic performance conversations with their people. Own It! was written to be handed to someone so they saw their role and each tip becomes a step in the conversation between leader and team member.

Step 1: Ask if it would be of value? If they say yes, hand them Own It! and Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review) to read. If they say no, and you are okay that they have no plan, then focus your efforts on other people on your team.

Step 2: Have them pick the questions around long-term or short-term goals (p. 4 of Own It!). Make the first meeting about reviewing their answers. Ask questions to better understand their answers, and provide them with input on how those fit into some of the challenges you face as a leader and organization.

Step 2.5: Write down their answers and any goals/actions set because of the conversation; set a date to review them in 6-12 months. (Here is a template if you need one.) Around 80% of the time there will be some tangible things the individual can do, either start exploring their plan through gathering more information or actually doing work or start learning around a role they aspire to do.

One of my favorite quotes to frame this whole effort is:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song ~ Maya Angelou

 

How would it change your own journey if you saw your career plans as a song you wanted to sing instead of an answer you were trying to find/provide?

Go Own It!

My top blog posts on this topic:

 

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

I was talking to a group of graduate students and the question was asked, “What advice would you give to someone about finding a mentor?”

I asked the follow-up question, “How many of you have ever had a mentor?” 

Less than half of the hands went up. So I started at the beginning because, from my experience in working with learners of all ages, I knew most of them (even the ones with their hands up) were missing some key knowledge they needed to create a great mentoring experience.

Mentoring is a personal growth and development strategy where a mentor supports the mentee by sharing resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies.

 

The short version –

Mentoring is finding someone smarter than you and learning from them so you get smarter faster.

 

As I work with leaders of high growth companies, I encourage them to find people who have faced the same challenges they have faced and learn from them. I do this because as a consultant and coach, I need them to own their development and find people to help accelerate their development.

I believe that in growth transitions (double-digit growth or moving into a new leadership role), there is tremendous opportunity for growth and tremendous risk. Having a support team around you in those transitions that is focused on your development is critical. I am confident in what I can do as a coach or consultant, and I also know I cannot do it all. Encouraging mentors is my way of asking for help without eroding their confidence in me as a consultant and coach.

Here are the 4 Steps for creating a positive and productive mentoring experience:

  1. Identify what you are trying to learn or what problem you need help solving.
  2. Do some research: Who do you know that has the knowledge or experience that you are seeking?
  3. Determine who is the best fit and how long you think it will take to meet your objectives.
  4. Make the ask by reaching out (or being introduced); be ready to provide this information:
    • What input/expertise are you looking for?
    • Why are you asking them?
    • What is the time commitment? (guide is 1-2 hours a month for 3-6 months or until objectives are met)

Recently, I reached out to a friend who is about 10 years ahead of me in consulting. I am reaching a point where I need to run my business differently to continue the growth I have experienced in 2016. I followed these steps, we had two sessions, and I left with a pretty big assignment: analyze my time and use it to create filter on my work in 2017. In this way, I can focus on the most important things, find help for some things, and say no to other things.

My commitment was to follow up with her by the end of the year with my progress. In my experience of mentoring dozens of people, this follow-up is the #1 missed step. Remember, at the heart of every mentor is a desire to help. Follow-up lets them know how they helped and demonstrates our ability to follow-through on commitments. It is also a fundamental belief/value of my business:

Learning + Doing = Growth

 

Whether you are a leader charged with developing your team, an HR leader supporting questions around development, or an individual that is committed to mastery in what they do, mentoring is probably the most powerful and accessible tool to help achieve your outcomes.

Here is a document I share with coaching clients to help them build powerful and positive mentoring relationships.

Lead well . . .

My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study

My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study

Book study groups are an easy way to get leaders at all levels of your organization connecting and learning together.

One of my core beliefs is Learning + Doing = Growth, so I’ve also offered some tips on how to put this learning into action.

Here are my top 7 book recommendations, plus book study tips.