Sometimes Less is More

I was recently working with a group of managers and we were sharing lessons learned from the past year.

In one case, a manager mentioned that because he was so overwhelmed with the technical aspects of the job, he had far less time to focus on managing the people in his department.

You might expect that this led to decreased productivity and poor performance, but in fact it had the opposite effect! Productivity skyrocketed and the team was more motivated. In this case, less management actually led to better performance.

Sometimes less is more. I know that short blogs get better open rates than long ones. A short, more intense workout produces better results than something long and draw-out. A short story is sometimes more entertaining than a long novel.

As you look through your routines and habits this week, see if there is anything where less would actually lead to more. You may find the results are better and you have more time to focus on other projects and idea.

The end. Less. Not more.

Why You Need a Timeline

We’re getting close to the start of a new year. As you wind up this year, you’re no doubt thinking of things you want to do differently next year. You probably have a sense of excited anticipation.

Others of you though have grown weary of the annual New Year Resolutions. Try as you might, you fail to make any significant changes and feel as though you have nothing to show for your effort. What you may not realize is that you probably have made some progress…and you’ve also done some things to sabotage your efforts.

Whether you see yourself in the first or second category, you will certainly benefit by developing a timeline. You won’t be able to chart a course for future success unless you know where you’ve already been.

A good friend of mine was setting up some business initiatives for the coming year and he told me he was going to start changing things up. He felt as though he was hitting a wall and was concerned about what could be a perceived lack of value from his department.

I first met this guy during his first year on the job. In the five years I’ve known him, I’ve seen significant changes in his department and progress. From my perspective, he had added value. I suggested he develop a timeline that showed every initiative he took on in the five-year period. When he looked at it that way, he could actually see what progress was made and it impacted how he shifted priorities for next year. By seeing where he’d already been, he had a clearer path to where he needed to go.

I know we’re told not to look back. I think looking back is important. It identifies patterns, events, and decisions that led to our current reality. If we want to change our current reality, we have to know what to do differently.

Let’s say that you want to get your finances in order next year. You know you don’t have enough money saved up and you think you probably could do better at your budget. You also know you have to plan for your retirement. From where you are to where you want to be seems like a difficult journey.   To tackle this monster, go back at least five years and map out your financial journey. Identify times you came up short and borrowed money. Look at the major purchases you made. Take a hard look at your spending patterns. By seeing what got you here, you can identify what you need to avoid next year. If you see that each year you bought the latest gadgets, took a vacation not because you wanted to but because you felt pressured to keep up with your nosey neighbors, or had significant dips in income because of your career field, avoid those things. On the other hand, you might realize that you were actually doing some things right. Maybe you managed to save up some money for one of those vacations rather than putting it on a credit card. Those good practices and decisions can now be refined and repeated.

Looking back is different than staring back. We look back to build a timeline. We stare forward because that’s where we need to be.

Don’t let this New Year be a simple re-run of last year. Identify the re-runs now so you won’t repeat the bad parts next year. I have big plans for next year and I hope you do too!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Best Practices)

I learn a lot from my clients. I see people who do some really dumb things. I see some who do bad things. I also see people doing things that make sense.

One of the most common questions I get from workshop attendees and folks who sit in my keynotes deal with best practices. They want to know what other companies successfully so they can copy it and use it. More than one company has asked me what I think of Google’s company culture and if I think it will work for them.

It all comes down to one question: What is it that you REALLY want to accomplish? That takes the focus off a BEST practice and puts it onto what is a GOOD practice. Then, a good practice that you adopt and adapt becomes the BEST practice that you wanted in the first place.

During my 15-year in the Navy, I saw a lot of dumb practices. Things that didn’t make a bit of sense. One was the seabag inspection. It required us to have a certain number of uniform items. Some things we never used. Everything also had to be stenciled with our names and Social Security Numbers (this was way before identity theft was an issue obviously). The purpose was to not run out of uniforms or lose stuff when aboard ship. That made sense. The problem was having a seabag inspection on shore duty, which normally was a four-year period in my rating. For me to have to write my name on my underwear as a 35-year old man was asinine.   It was a good practice at sea but a dumb practice on shore duty.

The Navy also had some good practices though. One of them was morning quarters. It was a 15-minute all-hands meeting where we would go through the plan for that day and talk about any issues that were needing a solution. It was marked with the tradition of calling everyone to attention. Everyone stood. The meeting was quick. When it was over, you headed to your work area and got busy.

That good practice now works for one of my clients. When I started working with them, their meetings droned on and people dreaded them. They tuned out, looking at their Instagram feeds. Nothing got passed along and nothing was solved. It was a waste of time. When I brought up the GOOD practice of morning quarters, the client loved it. Calling people to attention got their attention. Nobody could look at their phone. Because they stood, nobody got too comfortable so they didn’t drone on and on about meaningless topics. Quick and to the point. The GOOD practice became their BEST practice.

We can learn a lot from others. By engaging with people and learning about what works for them, we can find GOOD practices that we can turn into our BEST practices.   But looking for somebody’s BEST practice and adopting it blindly (like trying to mimic Google’s culture) may have a bad outcome.

This week, become clear about what you and your company want. Next, talk to as many people as you can to get ideas. Find the ideas that would fit your culture and tailor them. Make that GOOD practice your BEST practice.

How to Solve GIGANTIC Problems

I think the most difficult year of schooling is the 11th grade. I remember being stressed out with it back in 1980. I watched my son toil through it four years ago. Then, just last week, I saw it again my 16-year-old.

She came home late on Tuesday night, having spent two hours in an ACT prep class. I could tell she was stressed by the way she looked when she walked in the door. She didn’t say much as she headed to her bedroom. I asked if she was ok and her answer confirmed she wasn’t.

“I’m fine!”

Then she slammed her bedroom door.

I’ve learned over time to just give her some space when she gets to this stage. About 15 minutes later she reemerged. She told me how stressful her life was. The ACT exam. Picking a college. Taking tests. AND (tell me if you’ve heard this one before) it seemed that each teacher loaded her down with assignments as if THEIR class was the only one she had.

The kicker was a one-page essay for her AP English class assigned that morning and due by midnight.

When I finally calmed her down, I told her about an article I read that day written by a Navy SEAL. In order to successfully pass the initial phase of SEAL training known as BUDS, trainees are taught to break insurmountable problems into small management steps. Then, just tackle them one small step at a time. If you look at the whole problem, you might quit…or die. If you just solve one, then move the next and the next, you navigate your way out.

I told her to forget everything else right now and focus on that essay. She was brain dead on a topic so I suggested one base on a current event (fortunately, she’s a news junkie like her dad!) and 20 minutes later she proudly read me a perfect essay.   Breaking the massive problems down into small steps gave her some momentum.

My concern for my daughter is a bit deeper. She aspires to take over my company, Munro Worldwide when I choose to step down. We’ve mapped out her career path (which doubles as my succession plan) and she needs to understand that running a business presents very similar overwhelming challenges.   Maybe for her, a college-prep high school is her version of BUDS. Success in the face of adversity now will translate to success later when she takes over this business.. and I spend my last days perfecting my BBQ skills.

This week, why not try this process for yourself? Identify those seemingly insurmountable problems and break them down in to a series of small steps. Then, just solve one at a time. Look at the small challenge in front of you. Don’t look up, forward, or back. When you solve it, move on to the next one. It’s worked for me. It worked for my daughter, and I know it will work for you.