Ideas to Inspire Your EXTRAORDINARY
Follow me and be notified of new blogs and articles:
After many years of hard work building a positive reputation, Jules and her team were suddenly struggling to keep up with customer demand for their services. As the client relationship manager, Jules met with customers to identify their specifications and report back to the development team. She also managed all communications with the client during testing and implementation.
After Jules shared this story with me during our coaching session, I asked her to tell me more about the work that kept her on her computer late into the night. She stated that she reviewed the team's work before implementation. When she found issues, she felt compelled to correct everything herself because the deadline was looming, and she didn't want to risk being late. From her point of view, the time required to explain the needed changes to someone on her team took longer than the time for her to do the work herself.
This repeated decision becomes a trap, however, because it robs her team of the opportunity to learn about their mistakes. Jules is missing the teachable moment with her team. She is leaving on the table the possibility to increase the capability of the organization. Instead of growing with her, their knowledge deficit widens and keeps them trapped in the cycle of not delivering to Jules' expectations.
Breaking free of the hero's trap is tricky and requires a commitment to change by everyone involved. Through our coaching conversations, Jules identified that she wanted to don her hero's cape to empower her team rather than rescue their work.
Jules had to let go of her self-image as the person who delivered for the customer. Now she was responsible for creating, maintaining, and growing an organization that shared ownership for that customer experience. As Jules embraced her new role, she watched her team step up and thrive.
Vince was successful. His had reached his five-year income goal, and his company was growing. His book of clients was increasing, and so was his staff to service them. Despite this, Vince had a big concern keeping him up at night - cash-flow. Recently he had to use his credit line at the bank to cover payroll.
All of us can think of a version of this story from our work experience. It is far from uncommon for employees to ignore policies, cut corners on procedures, or treat rules as general guidelines. Our HR systems have designed many solutions for improving employee compliance.
When the firm was less busy, entering time into the billing system was typically completed on Fridays. Thus, employees lacked the habit of capturing billable hours daily, let alone multiple times a day as work shifted from one project to the next. As the pace of work increased, the thought to change the timing of input did not change. Everyone continued to focus on the end of week deadline for capturing their billing information. Lacking accurate capture of the information, employees estimated their time on client work and listed the balance as administrative time.
Additionally, as the complexity of the work grew alongside the volume, more work hours were required late into Friday and even the weekend. The time that many employees used to complete entries into the billable time system was now taken up by client work, and so they forgot to make their entries. Deep into the creation of deliverables the following week, many people ignored the requests to enter billable time from the prior week, planning to enter two-weeks worth of billable time when Friday came.
I shared my findings with Vince and assured him that employees meant no harm and did not understand the issue that they had helped to create inadvertently. I explained that the challenge he and his team faced was shifting a habit, which is often difficult to achieve. Vince needed more than compliance by his staff in using the billable time system. A quick and lasting change necessitated their participation in more efficiently integrating time tracking into their work processes. Together we agreed on this outcome: create shared ownership for accurate and timely reporting of hours worked.
As our coaching work moved forward, I advised Vince to educate his team on the lifecycle of client work, including the contractual assumptions about completed work and payment by clients. Providing this context shifted the reporting of billable hours from an internal administrative task. Employees now understood how they played a direct role in the finances of the firm. They had a compelling reason to change their habits, and the conversation expanded to using systems to automate some aspects of billable hours reporting. Vince and his team were using their collective knowledge to find ways of working smarter.
Non-negotiable requirements exist in every business, and as a leader, you are accountable. It often seems expedient to demand compliance. The lack of understanding, however, makes this an act of servitude rather than an act of ownership. Having employees who are co-creators in your business success requires meaningful conversation, and the extra time it takes is an investment in your Extraordinary.
Jennifer opened her business eight years ago. She was proud of the growth of her reputation and her earnings, and she saw the potential for a significant infusion of customers and growth. Her core team had steadily grown over the years, showing consistent dedication and commitment to the success of the firm. Recently, two of the most respected team members moved into management roles, freeing Jennifer to focus on sales and business development. Jennifer knew that this required an adjustment by everyone, as the managers took responsibility for work that was previously directed by her. She was tired after eight years of being everything to everyone and eager to see this transition complete.
And even though common, the above scenario often creates a downward spiral that is costly.
It is common to want to assign blame. Are the managers not capable? Is Jennifer a control freak? In my experience, those are the wrong questions. The dynamic at play is complex and subtle, making the use of simple characterizations - good/bad, right/wrong - unproductive. I'm offering an alternative, empowering construct for uncovering the source of this commonly experienced roadblock to success.
Humans are complicated thanks to our evolved brains - yes, the primary enabler of your success is often responsible for tripping you up. Our brains function on two levels, the conscious and the unconscious, and it is the unconscious mind that acts as the stealthy, unseen challenger to our expressed commitments. Let's look at it in action.
When examined in this light, we uncover the tug of war between equally worthy commitments. Any CEO who failed to embrace accountability for company reputation, stakeholder confidence, and employee satisfaction would put her company at risk and be judged negatively by investors. The roadblock is not about the competing commitment; it is about our unconscious response, which is formed by habit, untested assumptions, and fear. Jennifer is stuck in a cycle that is fueled by good intentions, and nonetheless at cross-purposes.
In their traditional context, roadblocks provide a safety barrier. They communicate, "Don't come this way; it's hazardous." We are compelled to slow down, disengage our "autopilot" brain, and pay closer attention to what we are doing. As a CEO Coach, I call that a learning moment on a silver platter. So go ahead, claim it by following this simple detour.
Jennifer began working with Ignite Your Extraordinary: CEO Coaching. She started asking for feedback from her managers about when and how she involved herself in their responsibilities. She invited her account services manager to travel with her to clients to facilitate a warm hand-off for questions and follow up regarding ongoing work. Jennifer practiced asking questions, creating alignment among her leadership team and confidence in their shared approach to delivering on their market differentiators.
Like many working parents, summer creates a big disruption in my workflow as I add my kids, out of school and busy as ever, to the daily demands that I juggle. More grocery shopping is required. More meal preparation is required. I'm suddenly taking a break during the workday to run my kids to their daytime activities. The house is dirtier, there is more laundry, you get the point, and many of you are shaking your heads in agreement and despair.
This year different I arrived at the middle of summer break with my mental and physical resources depleted. I felt less creative, less focused, less productive, and let's face it - less happy. Then after weeks of working out of my home instead of heading to the office, I took advantage of a break in my daughters' schedule and went to the office for the day. And as Dinah Washington sang, "What Difference A Day Makes." Suddenly I was back to my old self, feeling energized and invigorated by my work and happy to walk away from the demands of my house for a few hours.
For almost fifteen years, I had worked out of my home, only signing an office lease this January. I had not realized how accustomed I had become to having a primary work location that was not inside my home. I just assumed that returning to the work-at-home model I had known for years would be no big deal. Instead, I've realized that my office has become this bright spot in my life where I enjoy getting lost completely in my work.
Reflecting on this, "A Change Would Do You Good" by Sheryl Crow (1996) plays in my head. [This is typical for me as there is the perfect song for any given circumstance in my world.] Change is at the core of all the coaching work that I have done in my career, so I feel appropriate in calling myself an expert on the subject. In spite of this, I can tell you that seeing the change that you need in your own life can be difficult. A colleague from the Women's Networking Group to which I belong encouraged me to make the change to an office space. She could see more clearly than me, the value I would find in having a dedicated workspace and I am grateful to her for sharing this advice.
Whether you are thinking about yourself or the team of people that you lead, if things are feeling stagnant, you can know with confidence that a change would do you good. Studies have shown that people think more freely, are more creative, and are better able to listen and consider alternative opinions when they leave their regular work environment and meet off-site. Taking time away from daily tasks to focus on personal development, industry conferences, or a mini-vacation is consistently reported as rejuvenating to problem solving and creativity. So jump in with both feet and shake yourself loose from the constraints of habit and the ease of the familiar. Even the smallest change can Ignite Your Extraordinary - why wait!
This past weekend we celebrated Mother's Day. As a mother of two teen girls, it is nice that they are old enough to make independent decisions about how to acknowledge this designated day, especially since my husband was feeling under the weather. For my part, I had chosen Sunday to attend to my flower garden in the front yard which had given us a glorious display of Spring bulbs but was now being taken over by baby weeds sprouting throughout the mulch. This is a sizable bed, and I was hoping that my girls would offer to help me with this task. Alas, that didn't happen, but I enjoyed a beautiful drawing and an invitation to take my oldest to work before the start of her shift so that she could cook a special dinner for us to share.
Any mother will tell you that raising children is the most rewarding and most frustrating and at times disappointing challenges of life. It's complicated at times and effortless at others. It's filled with moments of confidence and doubt, mistakes and triumphs, laughter and angry words. No matter the path, motherhood is an occupation of choice that lasts years beyond sending your kids to college or walking them down the aisle.
As a mother and business owner, I find the many similarities in these roles to be striking.
This month as mother to mother and woman business owner to woman business owner, I am offering these gifts: a special price and exclusive services as a business coach in hopes of helping my sisters in business on their journey to raise their progeny - a company that they love and entirely give themselves to daily.
This offer expires at the end of this month, so stop asking yourself "if" and start asking yourself "when." Click the link below to schedule your free introductory conversation and give yourself and your business the gift of an experienced thought partner who will pour into you the way that you pour into your baby! Let's talk soon.