Archive: February 2012

The Ritual

February 29th, 2012

I have come to understand that the hardest part of change for anyone is a new routine. Think about starting a new diet or getting to the gym for the first time after a long break. Ben Franklin said it takes 21 days to build a new habit. He is so right. We tend to start anything new with enthusiasm but fade quickly into old, engrained habits. We are creatures of sameness. As human beings, we prefer the comfort zone of the familiar. Change is hard. But only at first.

I have come to think that altering one’s routine is not good enough because routines are to easy to keep. I think change comes when one starts a new ritual. By definition, ritual means an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite. I will take the term rite and insert leadership actions or even general employee work habits. We all have set ways of operating. And these set ways are often the real barriers to changing one’s lot in life.

If you walk into the wall the same way and continue to hit the same spot, you’ll get a bigger bruise. For leaders this is profound. We can talk about helping someone change, we can try to adopt new rituals, but talking and trying doesn’t make it any easier.

Think about what rituals you may have — we all have them. Who thinks it’s funny that I brush my teeth in the shower? I do, but it is my ritual. This pattern is repeated every day, and every day it gets harder to change. And I’m just talking about a stupid tooth brush. Imagine asking someone on your team, or worse yet, trying to change your own ritual at work? It’s a difficult thing to do, but so necessary too.

Ritual means procedure, compliance, established protocol. Words and whimsical attempts never stick when it comes to rituals. One must think differently to establish new ways of brushing ones teeth. Or to affect any real and meaningful change in their personal or professional habits. If you’re a leader? Well, good luck. Start with some understanding — study the habit and explain the why. And most importantly, help by designing a new way of thinking. Without it? We fade back into the known and the familiar. We are creatures of habit.

What ritual will you establish?

Only Hire When the Glass is Half Full

February 22nd, 2012

As I get older, my belief that less is more grows stronger. For twenty years I have been in and around the world of hiring. Yes, I am so old that my degree is in personnel management and I fell for the lure of human capital too. But buzz words always create a buzz for a little while, right?

Based on my line of work, I am asked multiple times a week about hiring systems. What are the best practices? Should I use tests and assessments? How do I determine fit? Is it skills and experiences that matter or is it competencies? How do I improve my hiring success? Can it be validated? Is it legal? Is it the right thing? Should I reference? Why do you have folks observe their jobs? Too many thoughts. Too complex. Just too much.

For me, it comes down to attitude. We will hire a positive person over experience. We will take a “half full” person over those with the “half empty” view any day. We all control our reaction to life. A negative person blames and and says woe is me. They don’t handle change well.

A positive person deals better with change. They smile their way through tough times. They are easier to be around. They take less energy to deal with, to live with, to manage, to be with on teams. So put away your check book and stop reading every hiring book.

Let’s learn to keep it simple, to keep it positive or leave the open job unfilled.

Strength in Numbers

February 15th, 2012

I have been thinking a lot about how any business creates a sustainable competitive advantage. Some folks call this a choke point. Verne Harnish fans might recall how Rockefeller “choked” his competitors in the oil industry by owning the distribution of his oil, because he bought the barrel company that oil used to be shipped in, which controlled his costs. But sometimes advantage comes from within.

Inside advantage comes from leadership and the way leaders have organized your business. Steve Jobs and Apple were able to clobber Sony with iTunes. Most people don’t realize that Sony had a two year head start. Sony had all of the artists and a history and track record of making cool, hip electronic products. After all, they did create the Walkman!

But Sony was built like most companies. The music business had one set of leadership who had their own P&L, their own agenda and their own ego. And of course the electronics division had all these things “going for them” as well. This “silo-ing” of interests meant they could not compromise and find common ground for the greater good of the entity.

But not Apple. Apple has one P&L and a leader that made collaboration happen across sales, marketing, design and engineering. There were and continue to be less silos than other businesses. And not only did they get iTunes and the iPod to market when others could not, but the departments had common interests, high quality interaction and discussions, speed in making decisions and shared learnings. There was no BS. They limited the building and protecting of fiefdoms. Instead, they all contribute to the success of any organization. Those grey areas waste so much time, energy, resources and money.

Sounds easy to be more like Apple than Sony, right? Yes. Until you go back to your organization and see all of the silos, fiefdoms, and leadership egos that are in the way.

Who would have thought that teaming and collaboration was actually so contrarian and rebellious?

The Best Possible Thing

February 6th, 2012

One year ago on Super Bowl Sunday, I felt like my world was changed, dented, bruised, and altered forever. 365 days ago at 12:30 pm, I got the call that you never think about or expect. Frankly, I never thought getting this type of call was even a remote possibility. My business partner stopped by our office on a Sunday afternoon to grab something and called in the best panic/non-panic voice I’ve ever heard. “Chris, this is Chris, just get to the office now!”

I arrived in 5 minutes flat to see water rushing out our front door in a torrent. Our office was pitch black and cold. The noise and the smell — Oh, I can still remember it all vividly. Alarms, water rushing, lights flashing. The smell was that acrid burnt plastic or fork in the microwave smell. All-in-all it was just an onslaught to my senses. And to my emotions. Here I was, just hours away from enjoying our national holiday; watching the super bowl, eating wings and discussing the year’s best and worst commercials. And than WHAM! Fire and water are quite an unpleasant combination. Gnarly, actually. The damage kept us out of our office space for almost two months. And I lived through every single agonizing step with insurance company, landlords, electricians, plumbers, remediation crews, telecom and IT companies, furniture companies… You name it, we dealt with it.

BUT there is something amazing in all of this. It was the best possible thing to happen. In one of my new, favorite books, Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss, Chris writes, “everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me. That when you find yourself in a trying situation, that’s when you go to work, reminding yourself of this truth and causing yourself to act as though whatever is causing the difficulty is for your maximum benefit.”

I know it is crazy, but we determine internally whether we are happy and how we respond to the world around us. On this fateful day I chose to lead. And to be happy. I had spent twenty years practicing leadership for challenges like this. This was my chance to show it and I recognized it immediately. And it was positively going to be the best possible thing. They were tough days and weeks and it was the hardest leadership time ever for me, but I liked it. People noticed. My staff noticed. And it turned out to be the best possible thing.

We had no choice but to alter how we do business. We made a hard left turn going really fast. We had to adopt new technologies over night. We had to risk. Some of my staff had to work from home and the rest piled into a small conference room where we could all hold hands at times.

What happened was a gift. CBI Group is stronger top to bottom. We have technological advantage. I know that CBI Group can survive and thrive in any environment, well, because we have. And I know it was my choice that day, to become negative and distressed or I could lead. And lead was the best possible thing.

Trust, your culture!

February 1st, 2012

Culture requires trust. For a leader to delegate they must trust their team. For team members to work on a team together, they must trust. Staff need it and want trust to be able to follow you. Try getting someone to do anything for you without it. Any relationship, personal or business, requires it. In a time of growth the ranks can swell, new staff arrive, new vendors are required, and more and more projects exist with real deadlines and budgets. This when trust matters the most. And perhaps, is the hardest to come by.

This critical time is when culture can really make or break your company. Trust comes from shared experiences and common belief. In many ways, our work belief comes from the culture of the business. It is probably why we joined the team. It might even be what we love about our work. And most likely will be why people leave. Trust and culture can shift as leaders change.

For me, culture exists so that everyone has an idea on what to expect in terms of behaviors or norms. We have a set of simple credos and guidelines that are there for everyone to count on and use when I am not around. Which, I hope is often… Not for lack of want for time in my office, mind you. But because the world requires it. Trust happens when we all know the playbook. When we know what to expect from our teammates.

For me as founder and leader of several businesses, I wanted a company culture that was honest and real. Where trust came from folks being themselves and being willing to trust that they can be that way without repercussion. I also dreamed of a place where we are one team with a focus on customers and that this charge unified us and made us equal in status and focus! Eleven years later, I can proudly say it exists. Some years better and stronger than others, but it exists nonetheless.

And through it all my team trusts, the culture!

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