Monthly Archives: March 2016

How Simple Is Your Vision? Great! Now Make It Simpler!

download (24)The leader is frustrated. “I don’t know why I’m having such trouble getting the team to buy-in to the company vision! It couldn’t be simpler!”

Then he shows me the company vision. It’s five paragraphs long. It contains sentences like, “To enhance the long-term value of the investment dollars entrusted to us by our shareholders,” and “To consistently strive to improve efficiency and productivity through learning, sharing, and implementing best practices.” It reeks of having been written by a committee-a committee that probably included at least three lawyers.

He wonders why he’s not getting buy-in to the vision? It’s because, contrary to his assertion, it could be simpler. It should be simpler. In fact, it must be simpler. Much, much, much simpler.

I’m going to take you into the deep, dark past. I’m going to take you to the 1960s, and then to the 1980s.

In the 60s, there was a musical group known as the Beatles. You can look them up-they’re on Wikipedia. When they were first starting out, one of the things that drove them was a shared vision, and it was this:

They were going to be bigger than Elvis. (As in Elvis Presley. He’s also on Wikipedia.)

Bigger than Elvis! That’s not five paragraphs-it’s three words. It wasn’t written by lawyers. In fact, it wasn’t written at all. It didn’t have to be. The four Beatles didn’t have to read their vision-they lived it. It fired up their emotions, it excited them, it drove them. There was no “buy-in” problem with the Beatles.

In the 80s there was a software company known as Microsoft. When they were first starting out, one of the things that drove them was a shared vision, and it was this:

A computer on every desk.

Not five paragraphs; five words. And everyone at Microsoft knew it. Not because it was written on a document hanging in the break room. Because they lived it. It fired up their emotions, it excited them, it drove them. There was no “buy-in” problem with Microsoft.

If you’re having trouble getting your team to “buy in” to your vision, I’d like to suggest that you haven’t made it simple enough. You’re mired in the forest, in the “how to.” Take a step back. A big step back. What’s the big picture? The one that gets you excited? The one that’ll get them excited?

And here’s a tip: If it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, it’s too long.

A computer on every desk.

How simple is your vision? Great! Now make it simpler!


How to Become a Project Manager – Do You Really Need to Do Formal Training?

download (23)Looking around, I am sure that you have observed good managers and leaders who have little or no formal training. You may feel that you have an inherent ability and have seen others manage in a variety of ways and so are prepared for the job without having to go to project management school.

To some extent, you may be right. After all, isn’t project management or management of any kind just common sense? It’s about organising such that specific outcomes are achieved either operationally or for a specific project and then leading the troops to success. Surely, anyone can organise themselves so as to achieve outcomes. We do it all the time e.g. organise a dinner party, a family holiday or a house move. You know what budget you have for entertaining, holidaying or moving house. You also know what the deadlines are and are able to have the dinner party ready on time or get your family to the airport before the flight.

While there is an element of truth in the fact that some individuals may have an inherent ability, this alone is unlikely to give you much visibility when looking for your first (or even a later) job. There is an expectation in this day and age that you have some formal training. Looking at job advertisements, you will find that employers list project management training as a requirement for many project management positions. The specific requirement may vary e.g. some may want a formal tertiary qualification while others may be looking for training in a specific methodology. In any event, if you decide not to do formal training, you will be limiting your opportunities.

If this is not sufficient to persuade you to sign up for a course, then consider the value you personally will get from the study. We are most fortunate to live in an age with a vast amount of available training. If you are hoping for your first project management job, then it is likely you will find a course of study most beneficial. You will be able to analyse whatever it is you think you already know against the backdrop of the structure of the project management discipline. It will help you put things in perspective and perhaps begin to understand at a deeper level why some projects fail. The experience will allow you to develop your own ideas into a roadmap that you can take with you into your first job as a project manager.

Even if you have some experience, I find that formal study is useful. Studying a generic approach or researching specific approaches can provide a background against which beneficial reflection can take place. Projects are often hard work and intense. Taking time out to analyse and reflect on how you and your teams have operated can provide you with fresh ideas as to how you could do something differently next time. The activity can be likened to the formal process of assembling and analysing ‘lessons learned’ at the end of a project.

If you still don’t think a study activity is worthwhile, then think about the value of meeting other project managers and discussing various challenges with them. Project management can be a lonely occupation; it can be that you are the only individual in an organisation who has a full picture of what is involved, how to get to the end and where you are up to right now. Meeting others and developing a network of like-minded people can be a valuable exercise.

In the final analysis, consider the value of taking a formal course of study, whether you are starting out or have already done some project management work. Use the time to reflect and strengthen your own approach to project management. Consider some specific things that you would like to get out of a course and aim to achieve this through class discussion or coffee break chatting.

Can You Control?

download (25)Seems like everyone I know, myself included, wants to control something- and for many of us, control everything. We all know that is impossible (it rains when I don’t want it to… ), but yet persist in trying. Is it all hopeless?

I was in an amazing conference this past week on Being A Leader which included work on neuroscience. I am also in an intensive study program on neuroscience and affecting change in the conversations we have utilizing neuroscience. It is fascinating and I want to share a few things I have discovered.

I had something happen where someone got verbally aggressive toward me (completely unprovoked). I had a physical reaction. I thought to myself “this is not about you” and “there is no real threat, we are in public and he is not going to hurt you”. I noticed as time went on, I was physically holding myself still so as to not ‘get hurt’ or ‘attacked’ again. I had to really work on talking to myself to do this. Then, it happened again and was more aggressive than before. I sat still and asked him to stop doing it- and he got more aggressive (louder, cussing at me, and physically leaning toward me). I got up, said ” I am done” and left while he continued his verbal tirade. Physically, I was shaking.

I left the room and sat down with someone I trust and talked it through. Here is what I discovered through my conversation and the work I am studying in neuroscience. My brain reacted to a threat and I was moving without thinking. (Thank you, brain!). Once I talked it through and got the level of threat my brain perceived was inconsistent with the real threat (words were the only REAL threat, there was no real physical danger), I could downregulate my brain’s response and physically be calm. That was triumphant, personally. The conversation was the key.

I talked with the author of Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser, and the group that I study with about this. I got our brains are reacting to threats, which then have a physical reaction. How we can control it is simply by having a conversation to get what is really happening. Conversations actually then impact the brain’s chemistry and alter our physical state. The key, as I mentioned, is the conversation with another person to get what is really happening.

The point is, you and I try to control things over which we have little to no control. The things we can impact only can be impacted when we talk it out with others. I do mean talk it out from being committed to get past it, and not from wanting to get someone to agree with us about how bad or wrong someone or something is. The kind of conversation where we just find someone to validate our viewpoint, makes no difference, really. What I am speaking about is the kind of conversation where you talk about what happened to purposefully get past something that happened and be curious to discover what happened. It is an amazing process that when you have that kind of conversation, you are actually impacting your brain chemistry, and can shift your state of mind. I did it, and I know you can, too.

Next time, something happens that gets you upset or unhappy and you want to control it, try out having a conversation with someone. See if you can discover what happened, really, and if you can learn to calm your brain and alter your reaction. Let me know how it goes!

Is Your Company Stuck in a Circle of Frustration

images (8)The business alignment process starts with taking three steps. The first step is recognizing when a company is misaligned and not making progress on fixing the problem. Those companies and their unhappy owners are stuck in the Circle of Frustration. Escape is difficult because the owner’s behaviors and decisions keep repeating themselves.

From my experience there are at least three signs of the Circle of Frustration:

1) Repeatedly asking versions of “Why is it so difficult?”

2) Grasping at clichés

3) Circular logic – “When things get better then we can start dealing with the problems.”

Let’s take a closer look at each sign.

Lyrics from ” Why is everything so difficult?”

Every frustrated business owner I have ever worked with has their version of the song, “Why is it so difficult?” Like country music, the different versions of the song have a pattern. Instead of references to lost love, broken pickup trucks, rodeos and beer, the misaligned company song usually references horrible meetings, lost talent, reply all email battles and fighting fires all day every day. Most business owners have asked versions of these questions:

“Why is it so difficult to…

•… make a hiring decision?

•… hire people that deliver results?

•… finish a meeting on time?

•… keep the ‘A’ players?

•… get through all the long emails arguing about the same things over and over?

•… put out all the fires and have time to work on the business?”

If you often sing the song, you may be stuck in the Circle of Frustration.

In Case of Emergency, Grasp for Clichés

As things get worse thoughts of whether the company or you will survive fill your head each night. You wake up in the middle of the night and reach for the first reassuring cliché that comes to mind. You might latch onto thoughts like the following:

• “If I could just get one great sales person, then things would turn around.”

• “If we win this account, then the cash would start coming in and we could hire ‘A’ players.”

• “I need ‘A’ players. If we had l ‘A’ players, things would be different.”

• “I just need to fire myself and hire a real CEO, I am an entrepreneur not a manager.”

If these are your comforting thoughts, you are sleeping in the Circle of Frustration, and dreaming how to escape.

When Things Get Better…

I know what you are thinking, “alright, alright I am probably stuck in the Circle of Frustration, but I don’t have time to change. I can barely keep the daily fires from burning this company down. Once things get better (insert favorite cliché) then we can sit down and start to change things.” But things won’t get better on their own and the daily emergencies will continue to keep you from doing something different.

Albert Einstein understood the key to escaping the Circle of Frustration and expressed it like this:

“You can’t solve current problems with current thinking. Current problems are the result of current thinking.”

Albert’s assessment of the situation makes it clear that your current thinking is what keeps you trapped in the Circle.

Okay, we want to get unstuck. Now what?

Once the leaders of a business recognize they are caught in the Circle of Frustration then they can turn their attention to steps to escape it. In the next installment, you will learn more about the three methods of escaping the Circle of Frustration: death, luck and choice.