Keeping up expectations

“If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal.” Norman Vincent Peale

You may have heard me talking about my wife and how we are complete opposites. I like to see it as a “yin-yang” relationship. Of course this also means there is constant tension, which is both good and bad. Good because we are always exploring the limits of our individual comfort zones, and bad because this process requires an endless amount of patience and understanding. One of our recent debates was about a weekend escape I’d planned for the two of us. After 20 years of marriage, I finally convinced my wife that it was okay to leave our kids at home alone. (Our eldest will be 18 in September, and his brother is only 17 months younger.) Eventually, it was agreed that we should go somewhere for the weekend – but where?  This seemed to be an impossible question to answer; there were just too many variables. In the end we conquered our indecisiveness: we just got into the car and left. I figured we would get as far as Zagreb (which is about 25 km away) and then make our decision just where the motorway splits in two. I’m all for adventure and this was certainly testing the limits of my comfort zone. Deep down I believed my wife was afraid of being disappointed; however, not knowing where we were going to end up meant that we had no expectations.

But it is one thing for my wife to choose not to have expectations about her vacation, it’s another when this becomes your guiding principle. Expectations are the carrots that dangle in front of mankind; they pull evolution forward. We see them at the personal level, for instance, a scientist would not perform an experiment if he did not expect some kind of result, or you would not go on a diet if you did not expect to lose weight. However, we also see them at the societal level, where expectations are derived from religious norms and beliefs and guide our social maturity. Expectations are the seeds of hypotheses and science.

You may ask yourself why I chose to write about this; after all, there is nothing new here. But you may be surprised to discover that I regularly observe missed opportunities that are simply due to low expectations. I have also realised that setting proper expectations feeds the “Strength of the Workplace” model of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, published in their book First Break All The Rules. The model depicts three main elements of employee satisfaction: meaningful work, opportunity to contribute and feedback for good work. Setting expectations reinforces all three elements and enables employee growth and development. The same is true for personal development. Expectations of one’s own performance – be it about staying in shape, attaining at school or triumphing on the sports field – dictates one’s success. Without expectations there are no champions. It is through having expectations that progress is made and learning takes place. You see, expectations allow you to calibrate your efforts and set “smart” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) objectives that will help you overcome challenges along the way to your goal.

In consulting, one of our favourite tools is getting people to describe what a perfect day would look like and how others would know it was a perfect day. Similarly, we like to ask the “consulting genie question”: if you had three wishes, what would you change about your work, in terms of your job and the company you work for? This line of questioning raises awareness and helps create a vivid image of an ideal situation – even if it’s only a dream at that moment.

By creating a contrasting image of a better environment we raise awareness, which allows us to see the deficiencies and opportunities for improvement in the current work environment. Once we have this information we know where we’re heading. It is then a simple task to divide our journey into several stages, each with its own milestone. These stages, in turn, will get broken down further into smaller measurable criteria and units that will provide the basis for your planning.

It is easy to set expectations for yourself and your team when the purpose is clear, the task is meaningful and you are contributing to make things better. The other vital ingredient is feedback: expectations don’t work if you don’t measure results or don’t get any feedback about your effort. It is all very well if we diligently measure our performance using certain indicators; what is crucial is that we seek an explanation for any deviation from that which we had expected. The indicators you use to measure performance will take on a new meaning when you not only understand them but also are able to influence them with the quality of your work. Analyse the deviation and learn from it, no matter whether it’s positive or negative in its outcome; that is the essence of continuous improvement.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 12 June 2013

The importance of habits

First I must apologize for the long absence of this blog. Facts are, I just lost my groove. So I reflected of the events in order to draw a lesson that I could share with everyone. During my analysis, I realize the importance of the habit. Sure, nearly every self-improvement book theses days peaches the importance of the habit, but it only when you have experienced it yourself that you truly understand the effects of habits have on your productivity.

When I started my blog some of my friends that already warned me about starting strong and quickly running out of steam. “The first three are easy, maintaining the pace is the real challenge”. But I was not to be fazed; I have discovered a good rhythm and created a habit. By the time November came around I have consistently delivered and I was proud of myself. The only problem now was that my environment surrounding my habits had changed. You see I have discovered that my most productive time is early in the morning; and we are fortunate to have a wonderful terrace where I like to sit and, depending on the time of year, watch the sunrise. These moments, alone and surrounded by nature, are truly priceless to me and where I am in my most productive state.  The only problem now was the temperature. When the snow came, even my jacket could not save me, it just made no sense to be sitting outside any more. Then of course came Christmas and everything that comes with it, many distractions and activities, but I still managed to get one article out. However by the time January rolled around I had completely lost my groove. Not only was it to cold now, and the snow firmly controlled the terrace, I had started a new project which required me to drive long distances every week and there just did not remain enough time for the blog.

This just happened to be the time, when I found out about podcasts. One but one particular podcast, “accidental creative” by Todd Henry, gave me some great insights about building habits and how to integrate my new work life with my creative side and my ability to deliver, quality material on a regular basis.  In fact I was so impressed by his podcast that I bought his book “the accidental creative”.  The insight that Todd shared in his book is that often people under pressure, who generally can’t find enough hours in the day, need to perhaps add something to their routine rather than cut back on their activities. That something is a  “point of reflection”. By stepping back and going through your plan of activities of the day you can correct your focus and increase the amount of time you are most effective, by rationalizing the urge to stray from the task at hand. This simple exercise will allow you to challenge your behavior and maintain a much higher level of focus. By increasing your awareness of distractions, over time it even allows you to alter your behavior and sustainably increase your productivity.  Make a plan of your activities everyday and take a few minutes each hour to review your plan. Make corrections as you see fit to maximize your outputs. You will also need to create the right environment as to minimize distractions. For example: I write on a piece of paper as not to be distracted by the lure of email; man’s instinct is to respond to the stimulation of that familiar email “ping”, as you sit there wondering who sent me an email. No having a computer in front of me completely eliminates the temptation.

Fortunately for me the sun and warm weather are back and the terrace season is opened.

Zabok, HR – 28th April 2013

The duality of individuality

Is the glass half full or half empty?

The answer to that question is limited only by our imagination, and each one of us will have a different way of answering it. Some of us will respond instinctively, others will analyse the glass, trying try to calculate where the 50% mark lies, so that they can give an accurate answer. There will be others who will try to figure out why you are asking that question in the first place, in order to come up with the answer they think you want to hear.

Each one of us will process the question in a different way. This happens because the sum of our life experiences is what drives the response process. We all have different frames of reference. That, amongst other things, is what makes us individuals. Although we all share similar emotions, such as motherly love, anger, rejection, success, pride, etc., the environment, timing and context in which we experience these emotions is different for all of us. This makes the mental imprint we have of that experience unique. It is precisely these experiences that we then use as filters to process situations and information during our lifetimes. A child has a relatively clean mental slate, and it is easy to understand the weight and importance that these mental imprints can have on a child’s future.  When and how this happens early in life makes a huge difference to a child’s potential. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the story of Lewis Terman and his still-running longitudinal study called the Genetic Studies of Genius (known today as Terman Study of the Gifted). Terman was convinced that geniuses (people with an IQ higher than 140) would achieve great things in their lifetimes. As it turned out, all he was able to prove was that, when it comes to their achievements in life, geniuses are also normally distributed. However, when the data is segmented in a different way, it shows a clear correlation between social class and academic performance. This is related to upbringing and the tendency for well-to-do families to encourage and support academic education, whilst the socially disadvantaged parents generally have little time to encourage and support their child through education, and in some cases may even be ashamed that they themselves do not have an academic ability.  We all see the world through different eyes, and no two eyes are the same. When we answer the question about the glass of liquid filled to 50% capacity, not only is the process of answering different for each individual but also it all happens in the blink of an eye.

So what gives us the ability to do that? Well, it’s our brain, of course, but more interesting it’s the duality of our brain. On the left side of this organ there is the rational part that thinks through problems and structures thoughts – this part will filter the challenge itself, in terms of physical and factual data. On the right side is the emotional part that filters a different type of data: body language, context, company, etc. Each part plays its role in transforming this data into information on which we make a choice of responses. Whilst we have the ability to think rationally, we are driven by emotions. This is why in the US supermarkets when you get your receipt you see in big letters how much you’ve saved, while the total of what you’ve spent is in normal text – they want to make you feel good about how much money you have saved at their store, never mind that you’ve maxed out on your credit card!

Modern psychology has made a lot of progress trying to understand how the two sides of the brain function and complement one another. There have been many analogies used to describe the tension between the two halves, but perhaps the most vivid is the one used by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Professor at New York University Stern School of Business) in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt sees our emotional side as an elephant and our rational side as its rider. Sitting on top of the elephant holding the reins, the rider may give the appearance that he is in charge, but, in fact, if the elephant were to see a mouse or be in any other way scared, it is quite clear that the rider would not be able to hold the elephant back, no matter how hard he pulled on the reins. It is precisely this tension between the rational and emotional sides of our brains that makes it so difficult for us to change. The elephant side is instinctive, and always on the look out for instant gratification. The weakness of the elephant is the rider’s strength: the ability to plan long term – the knowledge that calories saved today will enable me to lose weight. Put another way, everyone knows that smoking is bad for you (rider), but getting the elephant to stop procrastinating and coming up with excuses is difficult indeed. The challenge is for our riders to keep the elephant on the path long enough so that we can reach our destination. To achieve this the rider needs to resort to tricks, such as avoiding people who smoke when you are trying to stop smoking, or strategically placing a device that makes pig noises every time you open the refrigerator door.

There is no strict recipe for this: everyone is wired differently, every situation will require different measures and certain things will work for some people but not for others. It is important to recognize that the rider needs to and can manage the elephant – even if this occasionally requires putting a blindfold on the elephant’s head. Learning to manage our elephant is not that difficult: the rider needs to observe how the elephant behaves, orchestrate life with fewer temptations and reward the elephant for every step it takes in the right direction. After all, gratification is what it is craving!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 17 December 2012 (originally written 29/05/12)

Austerity vs. Prosperity

Ok, I got distracted by the election and was so flabbergasted by what I was hearing in the media that I was too emotionally charged to be writing anything.  Now the election is over and we are back to square one, yes Obama has been re-elected but the status quo in the House of Representatives and the senate has not really changed the divisive political mood; not to mention long list of other threats menacing us, Greece and the rest of Europe have not resolved their debt problem and the US is heading for the fiscal cliff, let’s just hope this is not a remake of Thelma & Louise.

Consequently, there is a lot of talk about austerity in Europe at the moment, and in some cases it makes good sense but people tend to forget that austerity is by design a constricting measure for the economy. One of the things I have learned during my consulting career is that unintended consequences can sometimes undermine the very effort to fix a problem.  This is where “system dynamics” and causal loops diagram can be useful to explore and express the dynamics at play in a given situation. To help explain what happens with austerity, I have developed the following model. The model is quite rudimentary and as it was created in Insight Maker, it is available to anyone to expand on, improve or correct what is already there. (so if you have any input to making my model better, please update it yourself or let me know). You will notice that austerity has the potential to be a severe vicious cycle depending on how it is applied.

Quite frankly I don’t believe Greece will ever be able to repay it’s debt, especially not by cutting spending alone. The current depressive cycle the country is one is only exacerbating the problem. In fact just like in the US, the debt problem needs to be a balance approach of revenue generation (ie Tax reforms) and spending reforms. Let’s face it the tax system in Greece is a disaster, and this is nothing new. The Greek politicians have kick the tax reform “can” so far down the road that the “can” is falling apart in pieces and there is nothing left to kick.

But, whatever gets done on taxes, it will have to be attractive. Greece needs urgently to get its population back to work, so creating private sector jobs has to be a priority.

The other side of the coin is spending. You may have picked up that I just the term spending reform rather than spending cuts. That is because I believe there is a fundamental difference and that one is sustainable and the other isn’t.  Spending cuts equal less services or investment in the future, and as you have seen in the model they constrict the economy. Spending reforms reviewing what you spend money on and what you get in return.  There are some great success stories of how one man was able to transform the purchasing process within government, under President Clinton, there by savings 100’s millions $ in the process. My experience tells me there are still billions $ if not 100’s billions in inefficiencies within government processes, in six sigma we call this the hidden factory. In fact perhaps the best way to think about this is the illustration with the iceberg.

The estimated cost of poor quality, expressed as % of turnover

The estimated cost of poor quality, expressed as % of turnover

The sad part, and often overlooked, is that the majority of these inefficiencies are known or have even been documented. The organization, in our case government, is just not capable to foster the kind of organizational maturity that would allow such opportunities to be addressed. And although the government may be often ranked at the bottom of the scale when it come to “appeal”, there are only a few organizations, world wide, that have the necessary transparency and values to motivate their workforce to truly strive for perfection and continuous improvement. Look at it this way:  how many people do you know trust their boss and organization so much that he would be willing to tell his boos how o make his own job redundant; because he would know that was the best way to demonstrate his value & commitment to the organization?

Ok some of you may have some Japanese friends where something like this is more likely to take place, precisely because they have developed mature organization where the workforce feels stronger together than the sum of the individuals, creating a strong identity! Identity is one of the magic ingredients that separate “groups” from “teams”. But wait a minute we are talking about government here, not Google! Looking for saving opportunities in government processes should be like looking for eggs in a henhouse. There may not be an egg under each hen but you pretty certain you will find some eggs.

As I mentioned above the first step of sliming down government were initiated under Clinton, and a lot of services and processes have been out sourced. In fact the Bush administration conveniently rode that wave when the same trimming down effort and clarification of “core competences” was applied to the military and the military contractor industry was created, suspiciously creating huge profits for companies like Blackwater & Halliburton in the process.  This is also the message Obama is trying to tell the American people when he says that some things are best done together. He has put a canvas that has some broad strokes on it but the question remains whether the other politicians will be willing to shape the landscape and add the color. Nevertheless the road to sustainable prosperity would clearly be smoother with a reinvigorated workforce of loyal civil servants that pride themselves on their work and looks after the governments interest as if the were his own.  Seeding the seeds for continuous improvement in government could be a low cost endeavor with immense potential returns.

Zabok, HR – 14th November 2012

How much baggage do you carry around?

As I continue to think through the time question I have realized that there just is so much to cover. So the upcoming posts will be related to optimizing and helping you make the most of the time you have.  The beauty of this is that you decide how you use the tools and what you do with your time. Whichever way you decide, the whole point is to make you aware. If you followed the last post and did the exercises you will now be more aware of how you spend your time. And like every thing in life, some things are relatively easy to fix others require fundamental change. Today’s segment is of the fundamental type, as I believe that building on a solid foundation, ultimately provides longevity and sustainability.

Rule number 1 – the more stuff you have the less free you are. Every material thing, not only takes up storage capacity and effort (cleaning moving around etc.),  it takes up brain capacity and processing power as well. Think about it for just about every thing you posses have it’s own story: where it came from gift bought when where with whom etc. So all that stuff in the attic, although out of sight is not out of mind. It weighs on you without you realizing it. Sometimes letting go of stuff can be emotionally wrenching, I know, I still got stuff from the seventies and I’m a pack rat by nature. Nevertheless sorting through your stuff it’s easy to keep the emotional stuff and get rid of the other stuff. To do the sorting, I have developed the 4 G approach: Good to keep, Give to someone else, Garage sale, Garbage. You should run through the cycle at least once per year and your “Good to keep” pile should not be getting bigger (and unless your income is expanding at the same rate, chances are you are over-consuming). I have shrunk my to good to keep stuff to a large oversea trunk. When I pass away I know that my kids will have a laugh at all this junk that has sentimental value to me and no one else. But one trunk over almost fifty years that’s not bad, I guess?

Let me tell you the story of a client I had and for the sake of anonymity we will call him Fred. He was an engineer in his fifties and having being part of the original new hires during the construction of the site he was now the operations manager in a chemical plant. The man was brilliant and he had a fantastic memory, we could be talking about a subject and he would say A yes, I attended a conference 4 years ago, hold on a minute I’ll be right back. He would then stand up and leave the meeting we were having, only to return 3-7 minutes later (his office was down the hall). Upon his return he would show you the documentation from the conference and get completely off topic. As you reeled him back and got back on the subject, something else would pop up and he would be off again! This guy was a walking encyclopedia but you could not get him to focus on anything. Although he was a hard worker, came in at 6:00 and was usually the last to leave after 20:00. His spent the entire day on the shop floor, something rare for someone in his position. As our project evolved we quickly realized that something was wrong with Fred. His un-ability to concentrate was affecting his work performance, besides something else was weird about Fred. No one had ever been into his office. None of my colleagues, or even clients we asked, could ever remember having been in his office. Ok I know what you are thinking, what about his boss, the plant manager. Well that’s another story, his had an alcohol problem and was fired 2 weeks after we started our project. Anyway I doubt whether he had been in Fred’s office either!  I made it my mission to discover the mystery that was his office. Since he loved to recount memories and look up stuff, I engaged him in this way and slowly broke down his barriers through my curiosity and interest. One night, in early December as we were working late, I noticed the light on in his office and I decided to pay him a visit. As I knocked on his door I heard the shuffling of papers and his voice telling me to wait a minute. He opened the door slowly to see who it was and seemed surprised to see me. I told him I had seen the light in his office and wanted to stop by to show him the new management report I had been working on. With nowhere to go he quickly open the door and closed it quickly behind him before leading me to the conference room down the hall. However he quickly realized by the look in my eyes that I had seen enough off his office to give him away. Even though he pretended to not to notice, I could see I had unsettled him. As we went through the report, he suddenly burst into tears, and when I say burst I mean literally did burst with tears sprinkling all over my report.  I stood up and walk out to go to the washroom for some tissues. When I came back with toilet paper he was gone. That was the last time we saw Fred. He did not come back to work and ended up in a mental hospital. Later we learned that he had suffered from, amongst other things, what was referred to as information overload.  I spend a good deal of time on the Internet looking for a picture that would represent his office.  The one I found does not really do it justice, his office looked worst simply because his office was bigger and the path through the piles of documents was longer and interspersed with the odd plant.

Courtesy of http://www.rentittoday.com/rental-blog/5204/inception-technologies-document-scanner-rentals-us-canada .Electronic document solutions so your office doesn’t look like this!

Most people’s office does not have the chance of getting like Fred’s. His was a particular situation, and living alone he must have subconsciously known this was not normal hence his reluctance to let anyone in his office. In any case, it was a hard lesson on me as I was the one who delivered the wake up call.

Zabok, HR – 5th September 2012

What time is it?

I’m sure you heard this question before, and if you happened to know the time you shared this information willingly. Time is time. Unless you are trying to hide something or get an upper hand on an adversary you really have no reason not to willingly share this information. The clock ticks the same for everyone; time is just another dimension in our lives. Sure we could argue whether you have a preset amount of time until the alarm goes off and you wake up dead in heaven or hell, but even that would be a waste of time.  However long or short our lives are the only time that really counts is the time we have.  Time management is a regular topic in Leadership programs and, when well implemented, can release an incredible amount of energy and value for organizations. If you can get your organization to produce more with less and feel better doing it than you can imagine the kind of “incredible” that I’m talking about.  The idea is simple; you need to align your organization to the same time, reset the clocks in all the departments. The implementation is the hard part. I know, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.  The point is that time is what guides the world, just as our ancestors awaited the right “time” to plant their crops, the ceo’s today wait for the right “time” to release their earnings. Timing is everything!  It’s interesting how we experience time differently as we live our lives , always relative to the amount of time we have already had. As a child, time goes slow, we can’t wait to blow one more candle on the birthday cake, as teenager you already are so distracted that the only thing that seems far away is your driver’s license.  As a parent you watch you children grow, their first word, their first step, first day in school and the next thing you know they are driving your car!  As my grand father used to say “when I was young the weeks used to go by really quickly now it’s the seasons!”

It is then normal that we learn to value time, as we get older. However we don’t all use our time in the same way. My mom read me the fable from Lafontaine, one of which was “La cigale et la fourmi” where the cigale spends the whole summer having fun while the fourmi (ant) spends it’s summer preparing to survive winter. When fall comes the cigale looks for help but the the fourmi tells him : You sang all summer long, now you should dance”. Unknowingly at the time, that was my first lesson in time management.  Time has value, and it is ultimately our decision what we do with it. You can spend your time studying, learning & growing or you can spend it playing & socializing. There are obviously millions of different combinations and socializing should not be seen as wasting your time.   It all depends on your own wiring. There is one thing we have in common, As man has evolved, we have more and more time on our hands. Cave people didn’t have more time as keeping the fire going through the winter months, alone was a full time job your life depended on. For millennia most people worked 6 days a week, from dawn to dusk, as stated in the bible. It’s not that they had more time; they had exactly the same amount as we do. Everything just took longer and tasks we now take for granted consumed hours out of our daily lives. Can you imagine doing your wash down by the river with a washboard and a bar of soap?  That and thousands of other things have made life easier. Although not always so effective many things are more efficient today, giving us more choice about what to do with our time. A choice our parents and grand parents did not have.

If your are interested in finding out what time it is in your life than you might like the following exercise. The first step is to get conscious about how you spending your time.  One of our favorite tool in management consulting is the DILO (a Day In the Life Of). Basically it is a log of the events that happen during a normal day. It is useful because it is an impartial record of a normal day, all you are doing is recording the events. This record of event almost always provides a different perspective for the employee. Think of it like a video recording of your golf or tennis swing, with the right coach you can analyze and optimize your moves. The dilo does the same just in a different context. So we recommend that you take a piece of paper, fold it to a size that will fit in your pocket and register all your activities during the course of the day.  For the more sophisticated ones, most mobile phones have a voice recorder, which also provide an excellent way to log your day. Whichever way you decide on you will also need to think about the analysis part, the paper version already provides the overview.   Now for the analysis bit, an easy way to look at how you can categorize your time is to split it into a 4 box matrix where you weigh your activities according to two criteria, for example: Urgency vs Importance.

Less important More important
More Urgent
Less Urgent

Of course you can pick whatever category you want to analyze for example a teenager may want to weigh physical vs mental activity or type of activity: active- passive vs like dislike. Whatever your case it will provide you with a fresh perspective from where you will be able to start answering what time it is in your life.

OK! Now that you have that in your hands, are you happy with the way it looks? Does it need a bit of tweaking or a complete overhaul?  That will depends on your situation and your ambitions. However your situation is, just remember it can better from here, because at least now you are aware and can do something to improve it.

How do you know when your time has come…?

Chances are, if you are asking the question yourself this question, your time has already come; it’s just waiting for you to make your move. So why don’t you?

Well as we have learnt in my last blog (The individuality of duality), it is most likely that your elephant is holding you back. If you remember the elephant is in charge of “now” and unfortunately “now” is when action happens. Your rational side, the rider can come up with the best ideas and make great plans, it’s all in vain if you can’t get our elephant to take action and stay focused on the task at hand. Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to tell you about my current internal debate. My rider has planned that I sit here now and write (because it’s early in he morning, I feel at my best, it’s quiet and I’m comfortable).  My elephant is restless and is constantly bombarding me with ideas of other activities that need doing and would be a lot more gratifying write now. So how do I manage this debate? I breakdown my plan into small steps and reward my elephant with gratifying moments every time I accomplish a step; in my case completing this page or paragraph before making another cup of coffee.

I need to stress that there is not one recipe for this. Each rider needs to learn what works best with his elephant and every situation will demand different steps and rewards. However if you understand the dynamics of rider and elephant, you will quickly see patterns of this dynamic in your own behavior. Opportunities will emerge that you can use to tame your elephant and set you back on your path.

Ok, so what if you haven’t asked yourself the question: How do I know my time has come? Well maybe you are on the right path already and are a master elephant rider. However if you are like most people, you are trapped in a somewhat comfortable and unfulfilling life path.  You may be asking yourself the question all the time but don’t know where to start and what to do.  Fortunately there is hope.   Now that we have learnt that for change to succeed you have to control your elephant and what better way to do so than with emotions. In their book “Success Built to Last” Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson make a case that successful people all share one thing in common, they are passionate about what they do.  Here is a quote:

“It’s dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll lose to someone who does! For every person who is half-hearted about their work or relationship, there is someone else who loves what they’re half-hearted about. This person will work harder and longer. They will outrun you. Although it might feel safer to hang onto and old role, you’ll find your energy is depleted and, miraculously, you’ll be the first in line for he layoffs when they come.”

It makes total sense, if we stick to our example, it could not be easier for the rider.  The path he wants to follow is a breadcrumb trail for the elephant. Because passion means emotional engagement, what for someone is work is for someone else fun. Following the path naturally satisfies the elephant’s hunger for gratification, thereby minimizing the efforts of the rider.

You may say that this is great advice for kids entering high school, but not practical for 50 year olds’ who are approaching the sunset of their careers. Of course you are right, however I believe that it’s never too late to change, by the time you are fifty, you should be well aware of what you like and what gives you pleasure. If you are not doing this for a living than it may be too late to change careers, but it’s probably not too late to reorient yourself in a position where you can make use of your work experience to date and do something else that will bring you closer to your passion. And don’t feel bad because the 15 year olds’ may still have a lot of time ahead of them but it is rare that the already know what the are passionate about.

Here again I would like to make a reference to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and their book “first Break all the rules”[1] . They make a reference to  a model that constitutes employee satisfaction:

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “first Break all the rules”

Basically for employees to be satisfied they need to understand how their role or position is linked to the organisation’s vision and mission. They need to constantly be reminded of the importance of their work as to stimulate their sense of pride. The opportunity to contribute is obvious, who wants to work in a place and be considered a robot. You may have heard some of these classic statements: “ just do what you are told” or  “you’re not paid to think, you’re paid to produce”.  Although this one seems obvious, you would be amazed how many times, in my 20+ years as consultant, employees complain that the issues we identified through our observations and analysis have been known for years but no one does anything about them. Finally, feedback for good work, again this may seem obvious but a lot of companies have not even defined what good work is, so it’s difficult to measure against it. As for feedback, let’s not talk about your direct boss that you probably see every day, what about your boss’s bosses?   Can you remember last time you saw them, let alone received feedback from them?

Whatever you are doing in your career at the moment you can use the model above to test how satisfied you are with your job, it may help you answer the  original question

However, before you can answer: How do I know my time has come?  You will first have to fill in the blank  “my time has come … (to what?) : look for another job? Ask my girlfriend to marry me? Start exercising? Have another beer or position myself in front of my boss? Start a change program in my company? Start my own business and follow my passion. However you phrase it, your answer will ultimately lead to change.

 

Zabok, HR 31st May 2012


[1] They have also developed a very simple but effective employee questionnaire that can be used in association with organizational maturity model.

Your time has come

The company had been experiencing difficulties. After years of changes in it’s sales engine it was not getting traction in the market and as a result was not growing. Well there were some good explanations: the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Euro debt crisis, industry cycles etc. However things started to go astray long before that. People familiar with the company will tell you the company reached its peak shortly following the management buy out.   Which of course one could say was good for the management behind the buy out and potentially bad for the banks and investors, at the time.  Of course that is easy to say now, with hindsight we know there were changes in leadership and management. We also know we lost talent along the way and all too often theses talented people in turn set up their own competitive business or strengthen the racks of the competitors.

What is interesting is the dynamics of the decline. A classic tale of austerity!   As the company fails to meet expectations year after year, the investors get more and more worried so they get more and more involved, over time filling key positions with trusted people, who don’t necessarily have experience in the business.  These people then take decisions without the full understanding of what makes the company successful. So we start with the classic track: Expenses need to be reduced.

As the one big-ticket item, management first delays the annual regional meeting and celebration (European Company Meeting). The event is a celebration for all the hard work and success stories we individually, or at least as project team, experience on projects. It is also often the only opportunity many people will have to meet there colleagues from other offices and build their networks. Above all it is an opportunity to share and bond together, thereby releasing and incredible amount of energy that always lasts until the early hours of the morning. At first it is just a 6 months delay, then slowly but surely it becomes an, “every two year event” and finally becoming and exception. Unfortunately it is people that make up the assets of the company and thinning out the so-called “ECM” may seem like a wise thing to do, unfortunately it undermines the very fabric of the company.

Of course the annual party is not the only expense that is cut back. Since operations make up 90% (or at least it should) of the workforce it was decided that “Non billable expenses” are to be eliminated in operations. The logic being that operations people work on projects where clients pay the operational expenses. This policy was effective in two ways: it reduced expenses and thwarted all other operational activities that one couldn’t morally expense their clients.   Training some became the next victim of eliminating non-billable expenses. During it’s peak the company invested a lot in training, in fact I was personally involved in upgrading our training initiative, taking the ownership for the “Operational Fundamentals” course in 2005 and delivering the course 9 times to roughly 200 new starters until 2009, when training was sacrificed altogether.

But in the end these cuts are not enough, now the company has started cutting personnel.  The company is downsizing and to be sure it has the biggest impact on its payroll, it is the people with the highest salaries who are targeted first, never mind that they have the most experience and knowledge.  That’s how I got my notice the other day, yep after years of dedication I had finally become a number on a piece of paper, someone who was perceived as “non value add”.  At first I was shocked, but then, thinking all this through, I realized that my time had come.

If the management did not see the need to keep me around then why would I want to stick around? It is kind of paradoxical that the company that preached “linking the top floor with the shop floor” has itself become so disconnected.  Quite frankly I’m happy I got laid off, because it’s no fun to work where you don’t feel appreciated.   So “adios” old job! And hello new opportunities!

To stay true to my motto of  “ helping people”, I have decided to share my experiences, ways and methods, to look at, and deal with change, both personally and organizationally.  You see I have learned that change does not have to be painful and it does not have to be hard. After all, the essence of our being, the cells that make up our bodies, are constantly changing. And just as a year is made up of changing seasons, our lifetimes on earth are made up of different chapters.  Evolution is change!  Yes learning something new does require more mental effort, but it can also be rewarding so whenever you are faced with a life changing event don’t be afraid. Just because it “looks like” you have been dealt a lousy hand, does not mean you are out of the game. Who knows if “what looks like a lousy hand” turns out to be the best hand at the table?  You have to make the best out of what you have, and as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have wonderfully captured in their book “first Break all the rules”, stop focusing on trying to repair yourself and start focusing on what you are good at (what you enjoy doing) because that is what you will excel at.  Getting laid off is kind of like coming to a “ T ” intersection in life. You can turn right or left, you just can’t go straight! It provides an opportunity to truly assess ones life and take a different turn. Many people are not given that opportunity and continue doing a less than satisfying job until the day they retire. Why? Because they themselves are afraid of changing, they are reasonably comfortable with what they have.

So just like Greece, the company is stuck in a negative dynamic current, brought on by austerity. The mismanagement of the past has to be paid by the citizens / employees of today. Unfortunately focusing on reducing expenses and costs does not help generate more revenue. The glass is always half full or half empty depending, which way you look at it.  Picking your way to look at it will decide, like the intersection in the road, where you end up.

Zabok, HR – 28th May 2012