An often forgotten best practice: “Starting with Why”

As organizations finalize their new year strategic planning, many are now shifting toward communicating and socializing their strategic direction so that their constituents not only “get it”, but are engaged, energized and inspired to take action.

Having worked with many clients in the practice area of change management, we have learned that many organizations miss the compelling “WHY” component. In other words, organizations launch into what we’re going to do and what we’re going to achieve, but do not include as part of the communication process why we’re asking you to change, why it’s important to be engaged, why we need you as part of the process, etc.

I recently came across a great book that reminded me of the importance of the WHY. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, argues that we all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way – and it’s the complete opposite of what we all do. He refers to this powerful concept as The Golden Circle – and it provides a framework for building organizations, executing initiatives, and inspiring people to take action.

Any organization can explain what they do and how they do it. However, few are able to articulate why they exist. It is not about profit targets (those are results), or how we’re going to achieve our goals (those are strategies). The WHY is about communicating why your organization exists, why you do the things you do, why customers buy your products, and why your employees are loyal and proud to be associated with your organization. It seems intuitive which perhaps is why it’s often overlooked!

Starting with WHY works in big business and small business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them do so because they want to, not because they have to.

Check out Sinek’s book. A great read over the holidays.

Learning to love your inbox

Take a look at your inbox right now. How many unread or unanswered emails are in there? If your answer leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. But, your inbox holds more importance than you may think.

Experts say that in the next year, we will spend 30 to 40% of our workday addressing emails, and that today’s business professional receives and/or sends about 115 emails each day. No doubt that’s a lot to keep up with.

Let’s do the math: If each email takes on average about two minutes to either create or respond to, that turns out to be 230 minutes a day, or about four hours.

What we’ve heard from our clients is they’re working in their inboxes early in the morning, during lunch, before dinner, and right before bed. Some have said emails are like coffee – they’re both addictive! (For the record, we find coffee much more satisfying!)

There is some hope to the inbox inefficiency madness. Before you let your inbox start to manage you, learn how you can manage it.

Strategies for email efficiency

1. Empty your inbox daily – This has actually been the most challenging for me to implement because I like having everything in one searchable box. I think I know where everything is, but do I really? The problem is that this method increases the likelihood for missing an email that is important. I’ve adopted the two-minute rule that was discussed in David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.’

Allen suggests that the first thing you do is evaluate whether the email is actionable or not actionable. If the email is actionable, determine whether you can do it in two minutes or less. If so, do it immediately. If the action can be delegated to someone who can do it better, delegate it. If you anticipate it will take more than two minutes, move it to a processed inbox and come back to your emails later when you have time to process them.

If the email is not actionable, delete it or put it into a reference folder or folders.  Although not recommended, I do have multiple “reference” folders created that include admin, clients, projects, etc. It’s a matter of preference and what will work for you.

2. Less is more – Be intentional about sending less, and receiving less emails. In the book  ‘The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before it Manages You,’ authors Tim Burress and Ken Blanchard talk about how to deliberately pause before pushing the ‘reply all’ button and ask if the email needs to be sent to everyone on the original distribution list.

We continue to see a proliferation of “reply all” emails going out, and the interesting thing is that Burress’ research says that almost 80% of people say that others send too many ‘reply all’ emails, but when asked if they send too many only 13% fessed up to overusing the ‘reply all’ button. People don’t like doing it, but don’t think they’re guilty.

If you’re trying to send less with the goal of receiving less emails, think about who you’re sending the email to before you push the ‘reply all’ button.

 3. Quality over quantity – Ever get those emails that ramble on and it takes two minutes to identify the reason for the email? With emails, being concise is key. People have short attention spans, so get to the point in the first paragraph. Another suggestion is to use the subject line to effectively communicate the purpose of the email. Connecting the subject line closely with the content/purpose of the email will make it more searchable should you have to go back into your process inboxes and/or reference folders.

There are a lot of best practices out there to work smarter. If you have any email management ideas that have worked well for you, we’d like to hear from you!

The ROI of time: 3 ways to maximize it!

The other night I was watching my favorite reality show “Shark Tank” when Mark Cuban pondered whether or not to invest in a new entrepreneurial venture. When he finally responded “I’m out,” Mark clarified that he really didn’t know much about the product space and that his primary resource was his time, and he really didn’t see that his investment of money and time would realize a solid ROI.

I’ve thought about Mark’s comment multiple times this past week and have been more focused on assessing whether my time is getting a good ROI. Honestly, I was surprised at how many times I stopped and redirected my time and energy toward something that was adding value to StarQuest, our team, and my priorities.

It’s easy to get derailed on our time. Some would say that our culture is addicted to busyness, and it’s only getting worse. There are a lot of distractions in our daily lives (e.g., emails, meetings, problems), with plenty of opportunities to invest our time in places that really don’t generate a good ROI.  Furthermore, what happens when we busy ourselves is we get tired, less focused and then are unable to be effective on the things that matter.

So here’s what I’ve learned to help me stay productive and maximize the ROI on my time:

1.)   Be clear on where you add value. What are you good at and what are your strengths? Mark Cuban is very clear on where he adds value and he sticks to that rule. If you’re not adding value, then you may want to evaluate whether you’re the best person to get the job done and perhaps delegate.

2.)   Be conscious of where your time is going. Raise the yellow flag when you find yourself doing things that you like, but do not necessarily add value to your company, your team and/or priorities. It’s easy to get sucked into “stuff” that really doesn’t maximize your value. Trust me, this is an area that I have to constantly monitor and assess.

3.)   Clarify your priorities and plan daily. I recently heard of a study that said the majority of executives don’t get to their important tasks until the afternoon primirarly because they get derailed early in the day on the unimportant, urgent tasks. Keeping your priorities clear and planning daily will help you stay focused on the tasks that maximize your value and ROI.

Carl Sandberg once said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

What are some practices, disciplines, tools that you’ve used to maximize the ROI on your time? Also, what is the hardest thing about maximizing your team’s ROI on their time? Please share your comments with us.

Tough conversations: Just do it!

Your palms are sweaty; you’re rehearsing what you’re going to say over and over in your head. Yep: You’ve got a conversation in front of you that you need to get out of the way.

You’re probably avoiding the conversation or already tried, failed, and are reluctant to try again. It’s easier to stay quiet than bring up a possibly confrontational talk, isn’t it? And as much as we wish they would, they just don’t go away; they often grow, fester, or worse— lead to broken relationships, resentment, and in some cases as dramatic as human disasters.

By definition, a tough conversation is one where the situation affects all parties and involves high levels of emotion, high degrees of risk, and important outcomes for all those involved. Maybe in your case a tough conversation is with your teenager, or with your under-performing team at work. They come in all shapes and sizes.

Today we’re outlining three proven strategies to help you improve your communication skills, and that will equip you when it comes to having positive and productive tough conversations.

When you think about these conversations, it’s no wonder they are so often avoided! But, we all know that the risks of not having these types of conversations often outweigh the risks of having them. So, the question becomes: How can I better prepare myself to be successful?

Try these proven efforts before diving into that tough conversation:

1)      Get yourself right – It’s important that before you conduct a tough conversation you get yourself right. This means learning ways to calm your emotions because we all know that when we’re emotional, we’re not able to reason and make good sound decisions. A couple strategies that I’ve found include going for a walk, or taking deep breaths. Another way to get yourself right is to be aware of your own beliefs and thoughts going through your mind. We all create our own “stories,” but whether they are reality-based or just head trash is something of which to be aware. It’s important that you get centered before launching into a tough conversation.

2)      Check your motive –Motives define your desired outcomes, and are your reason behind your actions. For example, you have a team member who is not performing to your team’s expectations; you’re the team leader and you need to provide feedback and address the issue.  If your motive to criticize and belittle your team member into submission, your conversation will progress differently than if your motive is to provide direct and honest feedback on a performance issue that is impacting the team. So, ask yourself: “What is my motive?”

3)      Speak with intention – When you prepare for a tough conversation, make sure you know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. What works great is to use “I” statements vs. “you” statements, and avoid placing blame, which will put the other person on the defense almost immediately. ‘You’ statements without the ‘I’ tend to elicit defensive responses, which are not what you want. Here is a quick example: “When you said [insert statement], I felt [insert feeling]”; or “I get frustrated when you [insert behavior].” You want to keep the communication lines open, not shut them down.

So here’s my question: Since “getting yourself right” is such an important strategy, what have you done to get yourself right?  I’d love to hear from you!

Interesting new research on why people dread Mondays!

According a recent article in USA Today 75% of you indicate the worst and most stressful part of your job is your immediate boss. According to Robert Hogan, a psychologist and expert on personality assessments, the consequences are significant – from disengagement to health issues. Hogan goes on to say that “bad managers create enormous health costs and are a major source of misery for many people.”

So what’s the antidote? They say better training for managers, and a more intentional focus on employee engagement.

We are not experts in employee engagement, but we are experts in the learning and development area and so we felt compelled to comment on this recent workplace research. Based on our experience in developing leaders, we do know the following management practices will drive employee engagement and increase your effectiveness as a manager.

Following are three simple practices that will increase your team’s engagement and the perception of you as an effective leader:

  1. Communicate the “Big Picture” frequently. Ensure your employees understand the big strategic picture of what you’re trying to accomplish including how their contributions fit into that bigger vision. In other words, make sure your people understand the big goals of the organization, and how their contributions enable those big goals to be achieved. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, people need a clear purpose for why do they do what they do. If managers regularly communicate business strategies, then people are more likely to link their daily contributions to those bigger goals and are more connected to purpose.
  2. Recognize small achievements. According to research by Teresa Amabile, a management professor at Harvard Business, progress is very important when engaging employees. Having small goals that are achievable and attainable, and then recognizing those achievements will greatly affect employee engagement. Craft small goals, then be relentless about attaining success with those goals.
  3. Develop your team. Professional development is another engagement driver that we as managers can affect. People, and particularly the younger generation, place great value on their development. Take the time to meet with your employees on a quarterly basis, and to discuss what they’re doing well and what they want to change. Twenty plus years ago, I worked for a leader who understood the importance of development. Each month she’d meet with me and we’d have a focused discussion on my development – her development tool? A blank sheet of paper. She would fold the sheet in half, and on the top section we’d make notes on my strengths and what I needed to continue doing. On the bottom half she would discuss what I wanted to work on that would help me be a better leader. My point is don’t overthink development – some of those best practices are simple and very user-friendly for both you and your employees.

Honestly, I was shocked at the USA Today article and that 75% of people dread Mondays because of their immediate supervisors. Bottom line – it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe you’re not in the 75%, but we all could do a better job of engaging and motivating our teams. So my question is what have you found to be effective tool to engage your employees? Are there simple practices that you use regularly? How have you made sure your team understands the big picture of where you’re going strategically? We’d love to hear your ideas. Please provide your comments in the section below.