As we enter this holiday weekend here in the United States, and as Dorian bears down on my home state of Florida, best wishes for a safe return next week to the world of management. For now, stay safe, play hard, recharge. Management Blog will return Wed, September 4. -Tom
“Hey, how is it going?” I asked. It seemed an innocent question.
“Oh, man, it’s rough. Our biggest competitor just lured away our Project Manager. The price of raw materials is going through the roof. We had a glitch in our computer system last week. I don’t know. I guess things are okay,” replied Marshall.
I stopped in my tracks. On the surface, it seemed like small talk. An innocent question. A little commiserating.
But words mean something. You are what you think. The only way I can tell what you are thinking is to listen to the words that you use. How do you describe yourself? How do you describe what is happening around you?
You are what you think. What you say is who you are. But take it one step further.
What you say is who you will become. How you describe yourself is who you will become. How you describe the world around you, is the world you are destined to live in.
“Hey, how is it going?”
How will you respond?
The best measure of performance is performance. – Lee Thayer
Fitness. A team can have all the necessary elements, but if they don’t have fitness, they will not be able to pull off the strategy. My colleagues get that blank stare when I talk physical fitness. The eyes glance from side to side. “He’s not talking about… being fat, is he?”
If the project calls for a ten hour day, can you work it and then go home with enough energy to be with your family? No way, unless you are in shape. Yes, physical fitness, exercise and nutrition.
And mental fitness.
- Create four alternative solutions to every question, to make sure we include unlikely possibilities.
- Create an argument for the other side when this side seems so obvious.
- Pull the team together for fifteen minutes to make sure we “check-in” before we make a major decision.
- Discipline – use a consistent mental process for problem solving and decision making.
- Discipline – focus on a single task until it is complete.
- Discipline – follow-up on due date projects.
- Discipline – have the difficult conversation when it is easy to avoid the confrontation.
Physical discipline and mental discipline go together, critical for execution. Most companies do a fair job of planning and organizing. But effectiveness is all about execution, physical and mental discipline. I will take a mediocre plan well executed, anytime, over a great plan that is poorly executed. Where does your team stand on the fitness scale?
Physical strength is built by pushing the limit to the maximum, breaking the micro-strands in muscle. The repair of the micro-strands builds the muscle, makes it stronger.
Mental strength is built by pushing the limit to the maximum. The experience of mental pushing is moving from comfort to discomfort. We learn the most when we leave the familiar to discover the unfamiliar, when we shift from the land of certainty to the land of uncertainty.
We still need time to repair. Mental repair is called integration. Mental repair is integrating the new experience from the land of uncertainty with things familiar that we know. Integration builds mental strength.
Pushing to the maximum requires risk and discipline. Sometimes the risk looms too large and discipline too hard. So, all we do is the minimum. And, if all we do is the minimum, pretty soon, our minimum becomes our maximum.
You will never ever get what you want!!! You will only get what you focus on.
At first I am disappointed, because I really want what I want. And, it makes me feel bad to understand that I will never get what I want.
If I really want it, I have to focus on it.
“It is really hard to find good people these days. We just never seem to hire the kind of people we really want.”
YOU WILL NEVER EVER GET WHAT YOU WANT! You will only get what you focus on.
It’s not that you can’t find good people out there. You have not focused your concentration and energy to find good people. What does focus look like? Think about finding good people, talk about finding good people, have meetings about finding good people, plan a campaign to find good people. Roll out an action plan to find good people.
You will never get what you want. You will only get what you focus on.
“But habits can help and habits can kill,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” Muriel replied. “We just talked about how competence and habits go hand in hand.”
“Yes, they do and like many things, your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.” I could see Muriel’s face scrunch up, mixed in resistance and curiosity.
“Competence requires a set of habits. Habits help us, habits hurt us. Think about a new problem that must be solved, like that change in production last month.”
Muriel winced. “I know, I know. We practiced hard on producing that left element. We were really good at it, and it was difficult. Then we got the machine. Using the machine was even harder, so my team kept doing it manually. Someone even sabotaged the machine configuration that kept it out of the loop for two days. All in all, it took us three weeks to become competent on the machine, when it should have taken only five days.”
“Habits can sometimes be a powerful force in resisting change. Habits are grooves in the way we think. They can be helpful, but sometimes, we have to get out of the groove and it’s tough.” -Tom
“How are habits connected to competence?” I asked.
Muriel looked at me and remembered. It was a short trip down memory lane. “When I first became a manager,” she started, “I was awful. I thought I was such a hot shot, walking around telling everyone what to do. Within a couple of weeks, productivity in my department was at an all time low, and I couldn’t figure it out.
“So, I started asking questions. Instead of telling my team how to do the work more efficiently, I began asking them how they could do the work more efficiently. I didn’t do it very often, but when I did, remarkable things happened. Over time, I got better at asking questions. Practice. Practice makes permanent. Now, asking questions is a habit.”
“So, describe the competence connected to the habit?” I pressed.
“The competence is challenging my team. Challenging them to higher levels of performance, productivity, efficiency.”
“So, competence is about acquiring a new habit.”
“I understand,” Marietta replied. “I got it. The way you explained it, now I know what to do.”
“You understand, in one part of your brain, but in the heat of the day, another part of your brain will want to do what it has always done,” I observed.
“But, now, I know what to do differently,” she protested.
“And, when you walk into the situation, that other part of your brain will take over and you will fall back on your habits, your grooved behaviors, even if they were not successful.”
“I hope that won’t happen,” Marietta flatly said.
“The only way to act in your new understanding, is to practice, practice and practice, until your new understanding becomes a habit. Only then will you be able to execute in a new way. We think we choose our success, but we don’t. We only choose our habits and our habits will determine our success.”
“But, I am back to my original question,” Marsha wanted to know. “How many skills can a person be good at?”
“You can be good at as many skills as you have time to practice,” I said. “Right now, you are good at the technical stuff that flows through your department?”
“Yes,” Marsha replied. “Because I practice. We get problems every day that have to be solved. We get technical bulletins all the time that we have to pay attention to.”
“If you focus on this new department, it is a different skill set, with a learning curve. What will happen to your technical skills related to the work in your current department? You will stop reading the technical bulletins, you will stop solving those technical problems. As you practice new skills, your old skills will begin to go away. You can only be good at as many skills as you have time to practice.”
“How different is this new department?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s different. The department I run now is full of technicians. This new role is all about merchandising and promotion. I will have to learn a lot,” Marsha replied.
“But, it sounds interesting to you?”
Marsha nodded. “Yes, it sounds interesting. More than that, I have always had an interest in marketing. I mean, I know I am in charge of a technical department, so this would be a challenge for me.”
“What will have to change?”
“There will be a learning curve, to get up to speed. There are lots of things I don’t know,” she admitted.
“Here’s the thing about any skill. There is always technical knowledge you need to know. But technical knowledge is learn-able. And, to get good at it, you have to practice. You may have an interest in marketing. You may have read a couple of books about it, but you have not practiced it. If you want to get good at it, you have to commit to practice.”