Building Your Success Engine - Part 6
As I bring this series to a close, it is time to talk about the importance of double-loop learning, which comes from the work of Chris Argyris (1923-2013), a professor and researcher of Organizational Behavior. Double-loop learning goes beyond improving systems that already exist (coined single-loop learning by Argyris). It is expansive learning because it examines our underlying assumptions and beliefs while seeking improvement.
Thus, the final step of repeat is more than the idea of continuous improvement. Returning to Step 1, where we examine the chain of thinking-behavior-results, is double-loop learning in action. It is vital because, as evidenced by the changes in response to COVID-19, you can be doing everything right, and then the external world shifts, and you have to shift with it.
Acting from your future doesn't mean that you won't encounter a few detours along the way. In 2007, Seth Godin released The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), an excellent read about confidently quitting the right things and navigating the resistance we encounter in pursuit of our dreams.
"The resistance is real indeed, and it fears being best in the world, it fears being on top, it fears being seen as the winner. So the resistance is just fine with pushing you to wander, to quit the wrong things at the wrong time, and most of all, to seek out the sinecure of mediocrity. The resistance will cajole and wheedle you until you compromise and get stuck with what you believe you deserve, instead of what you are capable of. The resistance wants a map, when you really need a compass.
This video is one of the best summaries of the principles in Godin's book that I could find to share with you.
In conclusion, building your success engine is a journey without a terminal point. Just when you've achieved your vision for success, a new vision awaits you. Even when your next pursuit is retiring, you have work to do. You may have a succession plan to execute. You may seek a buyer for your business. Even if you decide to close up shop, this is merely a milestone in your retirement roadmap.
No one knows how long the COVID-19 restrictions will continue or if they will increase. No one can say with certainty that when we emerge, life will resume as it was before this event happened. Many businesses are already pivoting and repurposing their people and equipment to create products that are needed, such as hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Many temporarily shuttered service providers (hair salons, nail salons, and estheticians, to name a few) cannot offer curbside pick-up or virtual services to generate cash flow. No matter where your business is on this continuum, I am confident that these lessons can guide you moving forward.
If you are interested in sharing your stories of inspiration or participating in crowd-sourcing of ideas and resources for small businesses, I invite you to join The Pivot Project on Facebook.
Building Your Success Engine - Part 5
CONGRATULATIONS and THANK YOU! We are in the home stretch of this series, and I appreciate you joining me each week.
Today is all about the importance of celebrating because it is the oil that your success engine requires to keep running. Let's start with a quick primer on engines.
"Any lack of engine oil in the system, or even dirty oil, will lead to extreme engine wear, and driving a car low on oil can lead to some pretty bad situations. If you run out of engine oil, your engine will fail. ... If the engine runs out of oil, it will start to grind, and then seize up, stalling the vehicle." (Feb. 16, 2012, carsdirect.com)
The great news is that adopting a celebratory mindset is easy to do, and enculturating this into your organization requires focused purpose and consistent execution. The key to creating a culture that appreciates and celebrates is frequency and quality. Here are the three basic principles to get you started.
Catch people doing the right things and acknowledge them at two to three times the frequency that you give them feedback about errors and missteps.
Reflect on the value and gifts that teammates bring to your work relationships and make a point of stating those openly.
Always be authentic and specific.
What I am proposing is not parties, contests, and awards; no budget is required. Nor am I recommending vague social media shout outs and pats on the back. In every instance, the communication I am espousing requires authenticity and specificity. [Top 10 Tips for Authentic Communication] Let's look at some specific examples.
Authentic appreciation is an ongoing conversation of positive, specific communication. It doesn't default to generalizations and labeling, such as smart, approachable, valuable, amazing, terrific, and so on. Replace these words with reporter details - who, what, when, where, how, and why it matters - just like the examples above. Making this shift requires intention and focus initially, but rest assured that it will quickly and easily become your default communication.
Let me leave you with a tip on increasing the frequency of celebration. Stop waiting for big events and milestones. Remember, celebrating is the oil to make your engine run optimally, so more frequent acknowledgment of progress is beneficial. While developing the habit, it may be helpful to set a daily reminder to catch someone doing something right and communicating your gratitude for their work using the authentic communication guidance above.
As of this writing, COVID-19 has sent many businesses into virtual operations. Celebrating and communicating ongoing appreciation is more important than ever when people are physically distant. Whether you send a quick message or jump on a video chat, take the challenge to model a culture of celebration and appreciation no matter your position or level, and add happiness to someone's day. Stay safe!
Building Your Success Engine - Part 4
Let's begin with a quick review. To build your success engine, we've discussed three steps.This week we add over-arching guidance that is an exponential factor for success.
I recently read Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis (2019). One of my favorite takeaways is her guidance to stop comparing yourself at the beginning of your journey to someone who is years into theirs. Many business owners get stuck in this trap. They aspire to have the success that they see around them and lose faith in themselves because they are not achieving those results right now. As business owners, you must travel the path. There is no teleportation device that allows you to skip to your future. Time and effort are required.
You can move faster and with more ease by adopting this one, simple habit
Ask For Help
We associate success with know-how. If we manage a team, then we know how to direct their work. If we own a business, then we know how to run a business. However, most small business owners will tell you that their business grew from their passion for a product or service that they wanted to make available to others. They followed their hearts, started their business, and quickly found that they had a lot to learn - regulations, marketing, financing, bookkeeping, and so on.
Learning is a tentative state. It requires acknowledgment of our current limitations and a willingness to open ourselves up to the acquisition of new skills and information, and this process is imperfect. If you are one of those gifted individuals who need only read to gain understanding and apply the principles to your work, then you are lucky. For the rest of us, avoiding the pitfalls of trial and error requires access to an expert who shares their knowledge and teaches us how to apply it to our situation.
Want to accelerate your success?
Get honest with yourself about your limitations and seek guidance from someone who knows more.
Asking for help is a valuable skill that you can quickly master. Sometimes that help is available freely. Look for free training programs offered by your local business associations or reach out to your network to find a colleague who is willing to help you. Sometimes you can trade your product or service for help from someone whose expertise you need.
And sometimes, purchasing is required. I know that as a small business owner, cash flow can make decisions to spend money difficult. I remind you, however, that we are talking about asking for help in service of our goal to achieve success faster. When learning diverts your attention from money-making activities, spending money to power through the knowledge acquisition process is a smart investment that nets a better return in the long-run. [see math examples]
Becoming comfortable with asking for help serves you through every stage of your business growth. Anytime you struggle, lose confidence, or suffer indecisiveness, your ability and willingness to ask for help from someone with an outside perspective is the catalyst you need to get unstuck.
Building Your Success Engine - Part 3
Are you a "To-Do List" junkie? Go ahead, no judgment here. You can admit it. Whether you use Post-it® notes or a sheet of paper, if you are writing down your to-dos, I applaud you. Why? Holding information in your short-term memory taxes your mental capacity. It is always better to capture your thinking for quick reference and free up your brain to focus on completing tasks. The problem with long to-do lists or a desktop covered in Post-it® notes is that it overwhelms your mind and creates stress.
The human brain optimally functions when presented with no more than three inputs. As a result, selecting up to three priorities each day is cited as increasing productivity and outcomes achievement. Responding daily to the question, "What are the most important things I can do today to move my business forward?" and limiting your efforts to three essential tasks, is a powerful success habit to adopt.
Here's my process. I use a virtual Post-it® note app to keep track of my action items, which is pictured here.
With a little bit of thought, I created categories with my notes (sales, marketing, financials). I also capture thinking about more extensive projects such as Website/SEO that have no urgency, but need my attention when I have available time. Using this system releases me from the stress and anxiety of staring down a big to-do list. I know what is important at this moment and focus on those limited things. Everything else is just a mental placeholder until I move it to my priorities list.
One more tip. Decision fatigue is real - decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making (Wikipedia). Thinking about your priorities when you are mentally fresh, typically the beginning of the day, significantly reduces the potential for erroneous thinking.
If you do not practice this prioritization process, I invite you to try it for the next three weeks and then let me know what differences you experience.
If you are newly finding this series, click the links below to catch up on the first two installments.
For an overview of the entire series, watch this short video.
Acting from the future is compelling. Standing in the future you desire and creating the roadmap that made it possible gives you the perspective not visible from your current vantage point. It becomes a touchstone that creates shared meaning and purpose with others who are essential to your success.
Our model for this is children engaged in imaginary play. Children participate in elaborate thinking with little regard for relevancy to what they know or what is realistic. Their plotlines are epic and often center on otherwise impossible activities - having superhero powers, conquering dragons, you get the idea. Unencumbered by thoughts about limitations and acceptable norms, children express their most joyful ambitions during imaginary play.
What would be different for you as a business owner if you tapped into your most joyful ambitions? Would you feel differently? Would you think differently? Would you make different decisions, and would they be better?
The answer to all of these questions is YES! And, in business, we don't call this dreaming, we call it visioning because we focus our attention specifically.
Like imaginary play, visioning suspends what we know, and lets go of all our current constraints. We transport our thinking to a future state in which we have achieved our most joyful ambitions. We pay attention to who and what we are in this future state and create a sharp visual image of our future selves. From this future, we look backward to name and appreciate the essential milestones on our journey. [for a free template, go here]
Maybe you are like me, and when you read this, your head and heart recognize a compatriot. If not, let me share some real business examples of the power of stepping outside of your current reality and all its limitations. All of these household products required people to set aside traditional thinking, overcome technical constraints, or believe in consumers' willingness to adopt a product for which they didn't even know to ask. Do you or have you owned any of these?
The market-disrupters mentioned above were successful because their vision was unrestricted. And, unfortunately for many, as they grew their market, other companies suffered tremendous setbacks.
Likely, these companies had great business plans predicated on the world remaining static. Standing behind their boulder and focusing on gaining market share prevented them from seeing the importance of adapting their strategies to a changing consumer landscape.
If you want to build your business success engine or fine-tune the one you have, it is essential to have a robust vision of the success you want to create and a roadmap of the significant milestones that made your success possible. This vision and roadmap have the most power when they are committed to paper and placed where you and others in your company can use them to guide your plans and decisions. When you begin to act from your future success, you increase your ability to see new opportunities, short-cuts, and non-essential issues that you can ignore. As a bonus, you boost your happiness and energy.
To tie back to lesson 1 from last week, let me share a more personal example of this shift in perspective.
Many people focus on losing weight at some point in their lives. The traditional guidance is to burn more calories than we consume. Our internal conversation focuses on high calorie, nutritionally deficient foods that we should eliminate or significantly reduce from our diet. With our thoughts focused on what we can't have, we start an internal war with ourselves centered on deprivation. Statistics show us that most of us do not win this war and re-lose those same ten pounds over and over.
Acting from your future is aligning your current behaviors and choices as if you have already achieved your vision. It requires clarity and a vision that ignites your passion and joy. Acting from your future requires you to deconstruct your path to success so you can focus your effort on the critical actions that made achieving your vision possible. You can't do it alone, so those on the journey with you must share your vision and passion. Make it an essential reference tool by writing it down and keeping it visible. Most importantly, step away from your boulder and change your line of sight. The path forward may be easier than you can currently see.