Sunday, September 15, 2013

Response Ability?

Being held answerable or accountable is the official definition of responsibility.  No one LIKES to be held accountable...unless, of course, it is to be recognized for success!  Generally, when we hear the word "accountable", our human nature tends to encourage us to quietly step back.  Why is this and what can we do about it to be more successful?

People often avoid responsibility because of the possibility for pain if things don't go well.  It usually means working harder to oversee the activity.  It means showcasing/testing your skills and putting a part of you on the line: Your relationships and reputation.  Bottom line, it requires extra effort and personal vulnerability - not exactly a recipe for drawing throngs of eager participants.

Healthy people generally want to avoid harmful pain.  Risk, change, responsibility/accountability all involve what may be seen as unnecessary pain, unless approached in a healthy way.

So, what is the best way to be accountable?  Justify then support the risk/effort.

Making the circumstances conducive to embracing the opportunity is the first step.  Determine the discomfort/pain threshold and then create consequences that make the risk worthwhile.  For example, to encourage someone to take on a project (or hold them accountable for an action they are already responsible for), make the reward clearly worth the effort - or make the "punishment" worth avoiding.  Quite frankly, it's all about priorities - when not doing it becomes more painful than doing it, people will usually do it.

The second step is to support the process of taking on the responsibility. Having the "ability" to be responsible is proven only by ACTION.  Plain & simple: If a person truly cares enough to do something and is able to do it, they do it.  Period.

As it's been said: We judge ourselves by our intentions.  Others judge us by our actions/results. "response able" are you...really?

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thinking Big...And Long!

"Go big or go home".  I love that saying.  It stirs a desire to be brave, take action and attempt dramatic goals to achieve amazing results.

But risk-taking alone does not often end up with results that are sustainable.  For that you need to include a more long-term, strategic approach as well.

Thinking big and long requires a solid understanding of the fundamentals of success - proven considerations such as:

  • exceeding the customer's expectations
  • consistency in delivery of service by employees
  • effective teamwork
  • an internal culture of excellence, integrity, and passion
  • leaders who model appropriate behavior
  • establishing non-negotiable core values, vision, and standards
  • balancing decisions based on employees, customers, and financial/operational outcomes

Everyone wants success - but they also want that success to be long-term.  When deciding actions to grow your organization, only the best leaders/businesses demand both the long-term sustainable elements as well as the continuous efforts to aggressively strive for "game-changing" ideas that will WOW customers, engage employees, and produce growth and results everyone can be proud of.

Imagine the difference if everyone legitimately pursued world-class excellence.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Does Everything REALLY Happen For A Reason?

Okay, time to vent about a commmon (moronic) saying (there are hundreds floating around out there, eh?)  I recently heard a phrase that is tossed around cavalierly that most people misunderstand because they have a (unaware?) victim mentality.

On the surface, this saying seems fairly innocuous - "Well, everything happens for a reason".  99.9% of people intend this to mean that some cosmic force making things happen and that we don't have control/influence.

What a load of...uh...garbage.  (For this post, I'm making up for curse words with gratuitous parentheses!)

Yes, it is true that everything DOES happen for a reason - but not in the "it's out of our hands" kinda way.  Think about it: Things do happen because there is a cause!  And other than freak circumstances, that cause is our (or someone else's) behaviors.  Change those behaviors and you change what happens as a result.

Why don't people say "everything happens for a reason" with this accurate meaning?  Notice when this phrase is spoken - typically when something happened that was unfortunate.  I think it is a (intellectually dishonest) way for people to feel better about those bad circumstances.  It's certainly easier than to embrace the natural consequences of controllable behaviors.  Instead, we would all benefit from acknowledging that we have influence over the behaviors that cause the outcomes - the first step to actually doing something constructive towards improving our circumstances.

Yes, yes, yes - often times those behaviors are those of other people.  How do you control their behaviors?

You don't.  You may be able to influence them (if it's worth the effort), but you can't control them.  What you CAN control are YOUR behaviors.  You can choose to distance yourself (a behavior you control) from the negative behaviors of other people.  Doing so will result in much better natural consequences.

After all, as the saying goes: "Everything Better consequences happen for a reason" (...your choices/actions!)

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Monday, July 15, 2013

What's Next For You?

Feeling "stuck" - or like you aren't realizing your potential?

Maybe you need something "pulling" you to your future?  Maybe you need to clarify what you don't want as much as what you do want?

The most successful people have both: 1. Some kind of "north star" that provides a purposeful reason to move in a particular direction in their life and 2. Boundaries that keep them on track. 

For the first part, consider developing a "next goal" that guide your decision about what steps to take each day/week/month to move you in a direction that is best for you.  Otherwise, you end up taking random choices/actions that lead...wherever you end up.  Hint: Wandering is NOT a productive long-term life strategy.

Another thing that helps prevent wandering is the second issue: boundaries. It's been said that "a worthless, dead swamp is just a river with no banks".  Having something to guide your "water" so it is productive and alive is critical.

(Cue wails from naysayers whining "But we don't want to live some boring, pre-determined, robotic life!")

Consider this: It's important to realize that having some kind of plan does NOT mean being restricted to everything being planned.  Life is too unpredictable to expect everything to go according to plan.  The most successful people create a "plan as of now based on what I know about the current circumstances - while being open to any opportunities that pop up that align with my definite dreams/desires" approach.  Having and working the initial plan, but always being aware of Life's surprises/options as they become available on the journey.

This allows you to realize your optimal potential - taking advantage of life's "surprises" when they happen, but in-between those moments, forging ahead towards goals you know you want (resisting those things you know you don't want!)

But it requires you to consider, decide, and take action!

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Denying The Denying Denial

We all mean well, but sometimes we don't do well.  Take for instance, leading (raising) children.  Too often parents say that they love their children so much they refuse to deny them anything. 

As some trendy folks say: Epic FAIL!

The problem is, that very action denies them something critically important - vital, actually.  When giving children everything they want, you actually deny them the character-building benefit of struggle - of effort and work and sacrifice.  Without those experiences, they are denied what creates an appreciation for achievement. 

By making it easy to have their desires, there is no reason to have  discipline or a good work ethic.  This is why many young people these days are viewed as spoiled, lazy, unappreciative slackers - the natural consequences of being raised in an unchallenging environment.  They become weak-minded by having most true work "denied" them.

If only those enablers cared enough about them to deny them.

Likewise, in the workplace, bosses inappropriately deny their employees challenges that would strengthen them and make them more able, healthy, productive, and ultimately satisfied.  Growing loyalty and passion will never come from giving employees everything they desire.  It comes from challenging them to achieve something worthwhile that is j-u-s-t beyond their ability - and involving them in the struggle to grow towards the solution.

As difficult as it may be to allow them to "stumble" and feel the pain of (temporary) defeat, in the long run, you are truly helping them.

And isn't that what you do for anyone you genuinely care about?

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Priorities Get Done

Most of us wish we got more done during a typical day.  Specifically, more of the right things (and less of the wrong things...but that's another blog entry!)  Anyway, the truth of the matter is this: We do what we most want to do.

[Enter howls of pained disagreement here]

Don't believe me?  If you can find one person (just one!) who is getting as much as you want to do, then it is possible.  The problem is that you are not doing what it takes to get it all done.

Studying the most successful people shows a very interesting pattern:
  1. They are crystal clear about what they want to accomplish and why
  2. They say "no" to (almost) everything that doesn't include #1
  3. They prioritize the things that they want to accomplish
What makes this interesting to me is that all three depend on each other to work.  Here's a litmus test: Create a common hypothetical action - something like "see a doctor".  If that action is important enough, you will make it happen.  Period.

Okay, now most people start creating hypothetical excuses: What if I get a flat tire?  What if my boss calls me on the phone?  What if...?

If it is truly a priority, then you would make it happen.  While we're dealing in hypotheticals, why not consider THESE situations: What if it was a life or death doctor's visit for a loved one?  What if I lost my life savings if I didn't go?  What if I was getting a million dollar check by making that appointment?  Yep, "magically", you'd be able to make that doctor appointment.  You'd do whatever it took to arrange everything else to make SURE that you were there.

Because it was that important to you.

If you want things done, make them enough of a priority to push less important things out of the picture.  If they truly are not a priority, then work them out of your life.  (Yes, you CAN do that.)  With a little extra effort (of the right kind), you may find that YOU are the role model for getting things done!

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best Practices AND Next Practices

On occasion, people complain about how best practices are a waste of time.  That the far better thing is to focus on "next practices".  Whenever I hear that, I get all tingle-y.  Which is a sarcastic way of saying I think they are soooo wrong.

Not that best practices are the sole solution.  My experience (and the practice of world-class businesses everywhere) is that BOTH are critically important to earn and maintain your competitive edge.

Here's the real deal: Picking up best practices (current actions that industry leaders are performing on a regular basis to exceed expectations and get the best results) is an incredibly valuable thing to do...for the short term.  Professionals and their companies get in trouble when they latch on to a cool, new gem of an idea and then implement it so obsessively that they can't consider any NEW new idea.  This thinking only locks them into a temporary result - that will certainly slip away as the rest of the competition improves their performance over time.  In this (misused) approach, best practices are the first great steps towards a slow spiral down Darwin's business evolution.

Bummer.  Cue the sad trombone sound.

The better (and yes, proven) approach is to take advantage of any quick wins by adapting best practices - with the commitment to push for daily discoveries that will also develop next practices - that will guarantee your competitive edge.  Constantly striving for ways to create a better customer experience - think all five senses at every step of their experience - for both your external customer AND your internal customer (employee/team).  Then and only then will you take advantage of both aspects of the practices that create your results...and reputation...and legacy.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Take A Creativity Time...In?

The experience is all too familiar: As most people when they get creative ideas, and they will often say "in the shower" or "when I'm dozing off to sleep".  I often hear people complain "I had the best idea as I was drifting off to sleep but I can't remember it"! Have you ever wondered why so many people share this phenomenon? 

Think about the similar circumstances that each of these situations share: You aren't distracted by other "mentally demanding" activities.  You're "forced" to limit your attention to more "inside time".  Your body is (generally speaking) on "auto-pilot" and your brain continues to hum away - coming up with those fantastic ideas hidden away inside your mind.

So, what can you do to consistently leverage this insight to make the most of those creative and innovative ideas?  Schedule - by design - opportunities to recreate those situations each and every day!

Here is a popular approach that Disney Imagineer colleagues of mine do:
  1. Block out a time of day that allowed for flexibility afterwards (assuming you were going to have inspiring ideas you will want to implement immediately)
  2. Purposefully make recording options available (written materials, recording equipment, etc.)
  3. Minimize distractions for 15-30 minutes and limit your senses (shut eyes, put on headphones with no music/exterior sounds, sit in a comfortable chair without moving, etc.)
  4. Record any thoughts you have, then immediately return to your "Time In" session (as in "spending time IN your thoughts") until you feel like you're finished
  5. Stay in your "Creativity Cocoon" for another 10 minutes (for some reason, you always get the juiciest ideas after you think you're done)
You can also set the stage to capture those common situations - like putting a notepad/pen by your bedside, or outside your shower...or anyplace else you find that you have creative thoughts arise.  (As my grandmother used to say: "The best memory is at the end of a short pencil".)

Once you've successfully bubbled up some fresh new creative ideas, your job is to begin putting those ideas to good use, so it evolves form creativity to innovation.  One way to accomplish this is to share the ideas with trusted colleagues who can partner with you to grow/build your amazing new ideas.

Regardless, you can't implement unless you capture the idea.  And that spark of an idea won't capture itself - you have to prepare in advance.  What creative ways can you come up with to capture your best creative thought?  It only takes one amazing idea to lead to the breakthrough that you've been hoping for all your life.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pixar's 22 Rules For Storytelling

More insights from fellow Disney colleagues: The following list was shared by Pixar Story Artist Emma Coates.  Consider each when deciding how to best engage those you want to influence - whether customers, employees, or partners.  Very insightful!
  • You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  • Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  • Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  • Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  • When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  • Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  • Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  • If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  • No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  • You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
 Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The "Pucker Factor"

We all go through good times and bad times.  As service providers, it is easy to give good service when things are going well - plenty of time, plenty of resources, low stress.  Easy.

However, what about when things get busy?  Crunch time?  When the pressure hits?  When "the pucker factor" goes up? 

Here's a tip practiced by world-class success stories: Prepare in advance.  Communicate about the ways you can make your customers feel welcome and special when things are easier.  Invest the time and effort during the good times on exploring how to exceed expectations when conditions are at their worst.

When your customers will need you the most.

And you'll have the least resources (time, energy, etc.) to serve them.

Yes, it's difficult to sacrifice your precious down time.  It requires discipline and extra effort.  Discussing the tough moments in your operation isn't enjoyable.  It can sometimes even be painful.  But talking about it in the midst of the hectic times never results in effective and efficient solutions.  No one "gets the chance" to fix the problems during those times when all you can do is survive.  Even though you can predict the naturally-occurring heavy demands on your organization, how much time do you take to thoroughly prepare for that dynamic - like a lunchtime rush that hits every day at the same time?

Thriving requires strategic discipline.  It demands commitment and foresight.  You have to earn it.  Being the different and better choice takes setting aside the opportunity now to resolve the anticipated challenges that will arise in your future.

Well, at least that's what the most consistently successful world-class organizations do.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fire Your Way To Success

One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to orchestrate your team to perform at their optimal level.  In the daily changing dynamics of the numerous individual personalities, every team member experiences hills and valleys.  At some point, however, you may find an employee consistently falling short of their responsibilities.  When this happens, you are obligated to make some important decisions - and actions.

The cost of doing nothing is far too high (to your operation and to your customer experience), so what is the best way to deal with this?  Obviously, not hiring a wrong-fit employee is the best tactic, but if an employee chooses the wrong behaviors, the process world-class companies follow is this:

• Step 1: Ask if the standard for the expected behavior was understood. If not, inform the employee and fire them up for implementation. If they knew they were expected to perform the behavior, then...

• Step 2: Ask if they are able to perform the behavior. If not, train them and fire them up for best results. If they are able to perform the behavior, then...

• Step 3: Ask then if there is anything preventing them from performing as requested. If so, then work to remove the obstacle - if appropriate and fire them up to achieve their best potential. If there isn't anything preventing them from performing, then...

• They can perform, they just don't want to. If this is the case, they are lazy and/or defiant. Either way, the next step is to FIRE THEM.  (Yes, at Disney I would fire "deserving" cast members, although we termed it "encouraging them to find their happiness elsewhere" - which made me laugh and gag...all at the same time!)

The critical thing to realize is that THEY have made the choice, not you. You are simply responding to their choice by implementing the natural consequences.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Most Important Service Traits?

Recently, I was asked by a client if I've seen any trend of "must have" traits for hiring employees to give superior service that transcends industries/international cultures.  After working with dozens of best-in-class service organizations in 49 countries around the world, I believe I've identified the most important - all of which are non-negotiable in order to achieve an extraordinary service experience:
  1. Awareness of others.  Until someone has the ability to get beyond their own self-absorbed interests, they will never be able to effective engage customers - or their team.  Being able to truly understand another's perspective is mandatory to be successful in any service-related position - especially if you hope to exceed those expectations.  The field of Emotional Intelligence is founded on the awareness of & ability to connect with others.
  2. Consideration of others.  More than simply being aware of them, being considerate also involves caring about the well-being of others and desiring to help them in whatever way matters most to them.  Compassion, kindness, and valuing others are what set the stage for this trait.
  3. Bias for action.  Internal thoughts merely create academic concepts or theoretical strategy.  Unless there are behaviors that implement the service ideas, there will be no tangible results.  Legitimate service requires interaction...with ACTION being the key part of that word.
Coincidentally, they are also the key traits for leadership excellence, in my opinion, since great leaders - and their organizations - succeed by serving their "internal customers" (employees).

I've often shared with my teams at Disney and the FAA that the simplest guidance I could think of for great service was "Be aware & care" - the intent being to be aware of yourself, those around you, your environment, etc. and then care enough to take action and do something about improving the experience.   

So, whether you are considering hiring a new employee or promoting someone into a leadership position, ask yourself how they rate regarding these critical traits - or you (and your customers/business results) will suffer the natural consequences...which will likely be painful for your people, your organization, and you.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Cost Of The Wrong Employee

Too many times, I hear managers complain about how it is "impossible" to "get rid" of an employee that is not producing.  The truth is, ANYthing is possible - with sufficient motivation.  If the CEO said "Fire him today or you will be fired", there's little doubt about who would be walking out the door.

That said, a significant problem is that most managers don't consider the true cost of keeping the wrong employee. 

Internal costs:  Team finds it more difficult to complete tasks.  Internal strife lowers morale.  Other employees stop trying to achieve higher standards because there is no consequence (proven by your willingness to allow the "bad apple" to get away with the poor behaviors).  Attitudes/behaviors are "dumbed down" to lowest level you accept.  More mistakes.  Slower work due to lost efficiencies.  Higher costs to do business must be either absorbed into budget (less profit or less invested in internal benefits) or passed on to customers (less value for their investment).

External costs:  Customer experience suffers.  They visit/buy less.  They tell others about lukewarm or disappointing experience.  Brand/reputation suffers.  Others won't do business with you.  Sales decrease.

Then, senior executives WILL get upset at bottom line results and look for the root cause - and what (or who) allowed it to continue.

If you don't hold them accountable (YOUR responsibility), then there are costs...for which YOU will be held accountable.

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Are You Driving Change?

We all know that change is a constant, but get (appropriately) skeptical when people drone on about how "Change is good".  Why are people resistant to change?  Because some change is NOT good.  People become supportive only when we believe the change will be beneficial.

So what do world-class leaders do to optimize the process of change?

Here's an apt analogy a former Disney colleague of mine shared:

If you were riding in a car someone else was driving with the intent of going to a specific location, and they started driving along an unfamiliar route, what would you do?

1. Confirm the destination and make sure that you both intend to arrive at the same place.  If not, then you must determine whether or not you want to go to this new location.  If the final destination is the same, then you might...
2. Ask if the current route is better than the route you are used to.  If it is better, then support the new route (change) and learn something helpful.  If it isn't better, then you would suggest your more effective route (solution) to get to your mutual goal.  If you have nothing better to offer, then you would just let them drive and support the unfamiliar approach.
3. If you don't want the driver's destination or route, you can either disembark or take over control of driving the car.

Ultimately, the choice is yours.  Actively support the process or actively make it better, but get involved one way or the other (being passive is simply abdicating any responsibility).  It does not help to sit in the passenger seat and complain about the route or destination.  You don't improve the outcome - and you actually make the process worse.  The best option is to determine whether or not the "new way" is better or not, influence the driver if your way is legitimately better, or do the driving yourself.

Have you determined your destination?  Are you doing whatever it takes to appropriately influence your situation?  Or are you letting someone else do the "driving" and "taking you on a ride" you don't want to be on?  Are you willing to take the bold action of taking over or disembarking?

Think about it.  But more importantly, do something about!