Put an End to Relentless Beatings and Remove the False Sense of Security!

The P&L commands attention. The general mood of an organization is in tight correlation with the year-to-date, month-to-date or even daily numbers. When those are up, everyone’s happy, money flows, meetings seem to have an added bit of fun. If they shift in the other direction, it seems we can’t escape the comments along the lines of, “that’s nice in all, BUT…”

There is a good time to make some changes. When the business results are poor and the team’s collective actions (project execution) are also poor. The tough thing is truly knowing when project execution is poor. Just after the Great Recession, Alan Mulally spoke to graduate students at Stanford about his turnaround of Ford, at the time he came in Ford was projecting a $17 billion dollar loss on it’s P&L. After weeks with his leadership team showing chart after chart (300+ if I recall correctly) of the actions and projects in their area as green, Alan asks, “Guys, we’re going to lose $17 billion dollars, is there anything that’s not going well?” Although this gave the group a chuckle, it reminds me how often I’ve seen project reporting as all green when most everyone knows it’s not.

The relentless beatings come from the healthy scepticism Mr. Mulally describes. Since it’s common for ‘all green’ to be reported, when the business results are down, it’s natural to fire back at every project team that they must be hiding something. Maybe they are executing poorly, maybe they’re working on the wrong things, or maybe the project’s success is being evaluated on the wrong goals.

On the other side of this fault, is when that warm blanket of security takes a turn for the worse. Your business results are riding the wave of pure luck and the winds change. All of a sudden you’re going down and you don’t know why (titanic anyone!).

How do we fix this? Bring project execution into clear view, like the P&L is:

  1. Clear project goals – We all know SMART goals, and don’t stop reading, I’m not going to reiterate them! In my experience, the ‘R’ is misunderstood. It even changes names (Google “SMART goal images”, ironic if you think about it). Relevant is the key. Anyone can make something specific and measureable, just throw out an ROI and you’re done. In comes the relentless beatings or false sense of security. If all projects are tied to the P&L, then the P&L going up or down determines if the project execution is up or down. But that may not be the case. Take for instance brand awareness. You want to invest in your brand, so you set a project out for some ad spend and creative ideas. You decide counting impressions doesn’t have the oomph you’re looking for, so you tie it to sales. Busted! Who can prove where those sales came from? Was it the billboard? The Facebook campaign? The promo? Or that all-star salesperson? Relevant needs to mean both from the business perspective (it makes money) and the project perspective (it’s tied to the planned actions). Clear project goals are ones that have a tight correlation to the planned activity and are important enough to care about.
  2. Evaluate projects on their merit – Once you’ve done a good job of #1, hold project teams to that goal regardless of the outside business results. This may seem uncomfortable, but if you’ve done the upfront work of setting your projects to move the business properly, then there is no reason to compare back to outside influences.
  3. Look at the project portfolio for completeness – If #1 & #2 are done well and you’re still finding your business results lacking, then you may not have a complete perspective of what it takes to move the needle. Take a step back, and determine key projects to add in or take out.

Rob Darrow | Director of Change Management, Nivel Parts & Manufacturing Co., LLC.

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Practice Attitude

I had a long weekend playing in a golf tournament in a very hot La Quinta, CA.  I participated in three rounds of golf with a new team every day.  This tournament has been going on for 20 years and this year was particularly special.  The second generation of players is now starting to come to the event and play very well.  I was able to meet two outstanding young men.  They came because their father’s initially played in the event for years, and now they are of age to come and play.  And they played well.  But that’s not the story. 

Day two had just ended and we were grabbing a quick lunch before we went out to play more.  Play more in 112-degree heat.  Yes, we are that crazy.  I had just played 18 with JT Peppe and he was a great player.  He could drive the ball over 300 yards on a consistent basis.  But that wasn’t the real reason I was impressed with him.  His father walked by our table and I said to John, “JT is a great kid.”  John replied, “He’s a great player.” To which I shared, “That’s true, but that is not what I meant.”  “He is polite, humble, has a great sense of humor and is very comfortable in who he is.”  It is a compliment that was not pre-thought.  It just came out.  It was a compliment to both John and JT.  This is a fine young man who will have an impact on everyone around him.

On the flight home on Sunday, I was sitting on my Southwest Airlines airplane when I heard a voice ask is he could jump in next to me.  I looked up and it was Pete Amrein.  We had not played together and really hadn’t had a chance to interact before the flight, but I was so impressed with his humility and professionalism.  Pete had just won the tournament and he was so humble.  He also is 22 years old and in his second year of being a financial planner.  He is starting his own business.  This after graduating in 4 years with two degrees from an academically challenging private school.  This while playing basketball and running track. 

The key to what I saw in both JT and Pete is their humility and confidence.  In getting to know both of them, all be it in a short interaction, I know they will be successful in life.  There is a lot of knowledge about having a great attitude and how it affects your level of success.  The makeup of a great attitude is having a positive view of life.  But it’s the quiet confidence of being humble and polite that makes it so alluring.  It’s what draws people in. 

Can it be taught?  Good question.  I believe it can be learned.  It comes from positive role models growing up, but you can also choose to overcome a lack of positive role models.  By the time we are teenagers, we have pretty much locked into what our aptitude is.  But our attitude can be changed.  Our attitude can be adjusted as we learn.  We get feedback from others that what we are doing is positive and we will keep doing it.  If we get feedback that what we are doing causes other stress, we can adjust our behavior and attitude. 

When I was early in my career I accepted an offer to move into Marketing with Black and Decker.  I ran the Material Removal portfolio for the Accessories Division.  I was responsible for the profitable revenue of a portfolio made up of grinding wheels, wire brushes, and polishing bonnets for use on power tools.  I was young and full of questions, but also fairly locked in on myself.  My ideas were so important I couldn’t hold back.  I needed to tell my boss immediately, or so I thought.  I was constantly interrupting him and his work.  It was not good behavior.  It was attitudinal, not skills related.  I really hadn’t recognized what I was doing to my boss.  In interrupting him, I was killing his productivity.  He would have to handle me, then regroup and start on his current project.  Ben Abell was a great leader.  He took me aside and shared with me that I had to slow down.  I had to realize that I was not the only one working.  It was humbling, but I learned.  I adjusted my attitude and my style.  I learned to be respectful of others time.  I learned to have humility.

I’m not a great golfer and I don’t really practice.  I can get frustrated by my lack of talent in hitting a ball long and straight, but it’s a choice I’ve made.  I play golf for the social part of it, not the wins.  I enjoy the competition and I want to win, but it’s not such a driving force for me that I must win at all costs.  If it was, I’d practice more.  Golf forces me to be humble in its own way.  It’s a great equalizer for me.  When I think I’ve figured it out, it showers bogeys, plus, on me.  My swing goes away and I can’t putt.  If I want to be good, I must practice. 

It’s the same in my life.  If I want to be good at my marriage, with my relationships with my family and friends, and in my business, I must practice.  Practice brings the quiet confidence to succeed.  Success will be a topic for another chapter.  Practice attitude.  Practice humility and confidence.  Maybe as I get older I can become more like JT and Pete.

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My Son is an Exceptional Athlete

My son is an exceptional athlete.  He is not a kid that I’m bragging about.  He is 36 and he trains CrossFit every day.  He is a certified coach of CrossFit and holds personal training certificates for several levels of training.  But the fun part is watching him compete.  He has a 40”+ vertical leap.  He lifts weights more than double his weight, and watching him climb a rope of do muscle ups is staggering.

Again, this is not just a proud dad bragging about his kid (although I am bragging just a little).  What impresses me so much is his level of commitment.  Every day, rain, shine, cold, heat, whatever; he trains and he works hard.  And this is not even his job.  This is what he does for fun.

Imagine what could happen if we had a team of people so committed.  What could happen if that team was as passionate about their jobs and their lives, that they would put in that amount of work.  We see examples of that all around us.

There are many business books describing these exceptional teams. They help us see how we stack up against those teams.  They create a vision of what we can aspire too.  Unfortunately, they also set us up to fail.

We see others and we wonder why we are not good enough.  We secretly hold onto that lack of confidence that we are not good enough.  It gets masked because we don’t want to show our vulnerability and it works against us in that we don’t really know where to focus our efforts to get there.

My son has trained with many people that were better than him.  He has competed with many people that are stronger, faster, and able to perform better than him.  But he keeps practicing.  He keeps lifting and running and climbing and doing the gymnastics so that he can improve.  I get text messages every time he sets a new PR (personal record).  He competes against himself.  He competes to improve.  He practices techniques and he does the work.

I’ve set an end goal for life.  I know what I want to look back on in my life when I’m on my deathbed.  I also know what I want my business to be about.  I have a practice I follow every day, much like my son.  I do my physical work, but I also do my mental, emotional, and spiritual work daily.  I practice it every day, not to beat others, but to reach my goals.

Do you have a goal for your life?  Do you have a goal for your part of the business?  Do you have a practice that you follow?  Are you willing to put in the work and share your results?  That is what it takes.  Verbs, not just nouns.

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Becoming Aware of Our Bias

This weekend my wife and I flew to San Diego for a short break.  I decided to take an Uber instead of renting a car.  As we were riding from the airport to our hotel, the Uber driver was friendly and conversational.  It was an enjoyable ride, until he started talking about the flooding in Houston.  He shared that it was poor planning because there wasn’t enough regulation by the city on how building was being done.  He has never been to Texas, and certainly never been to Houston.  He has never been in a hurricane.  But he “knew” if the city was more diligent in planning, there wouldn’t have been the devastation.  I asked him one question he couldn’t answer.  I asked how you plan for 50 inches of rain in a week.

My point is not political.  I refuse to weigh in on that mess.  My point is, how do we become “experts” on something we have no first-hand knowledge of?  I’ve seen this in the business world.  I’m sure I’ve done it myself.  I’ve heard from friends that the restaurant business is very difficult to turn a profit.  So, I believe it.  I have no first-hand knowledge of it.  Is it true?  Some do very well, some do not.

How often do we share our opinions on things we really know nothing about?  We say it with conviction and confidence, so we appear more knowledgeable than we really are?  Why?

I have a good friend who has a deep knowledge of behavioral economics.  He shared “Confirmation Bias” with me and it has changed my thinking.  He shared that we read, and listen to people who share our bias.  This “confirms” our views, because they match ours.  I view things from a business perspective.  I read the Wall Street Journal and the Kiplinger Letter.  I believe them because they match my views most of the time.  Are they unbiased and correct?

I don’t have the answers to the questions I’ve raised.  My only contribution is to suggest we become aware of our bias, and aware of our contribution to a conversation.

I live in Texas.  I’ve seen first-hand the outpouring of love for the coastal areas hit hard by Harvey.  I’m not a native of Texas, but I chose to move here over 13 years ago.  Seeing the effort by the “average” Texan and the effort by people from neighboring states, gives me hope.  It gives me hope that we can become more aware.  Hope that we can overcome our bias and reach out to one another to truly do what’s best for everyone.  God bless Texas!

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