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Cooperation With Croquet Mallets

Croquet Score“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”- Dave Barry

Cooperation is something that every child has to learn. Sometimes it takes a lot to learn it. One of my cooperation learning sessions involved “Sally,” the girl next door. Sally and I were the same age, went to the same schools, and grew up together. Our families were great friends and we spent a lot of time together as children.

Did I mention that Sally was sometimes infuriating? In my memory it seems that every game we played ended in us fighting and every time we played together, one (or both) of us would end up running home to our mothers in tears.

Then there was the croquet mallet incident. I really don’t remember the exact incident, but I do remember the aftermath. Evidently, Sally extremely irritated me while we were playing croquet and I hit her over the head with my croquet mallet. As I said, I don’t remember that incident but I do remember how much trouble I was in afterward. (And the spanking.) I needed a big lesson in cooperation.

Cooperation isn’t for just on the playground. It should, and must, happen every day in the office. One of the examples of a way we cooperate is to have a meeting.

Unfortunately, many meetings are a waste of time.  When you consider man-hours, if you just have eight people in a meeting and meet for one hour you have used an entire eight-hour day. Was that meeting worth a whole day’s work? Many times, unfortunately, the answer is no.

There are many things that leaders can do in order to maximize meetings. But let me share just one simple thought today that I think might be the most important: make the purpose of each meeting action steps.

What is an “action step”?

Very simply, an action step is a specific action that must be taken. It will also help to keep in mind that each of these actions must be measurable (so that you know if it’s been accomplished or not) and timed (so that you know when the action must be completed).

If you don’t already do this, here are three simple ideas to get you started that I believe will revolutionize your meetings.

1. Measure the success of each meeting in action steps. If the members of the meeting have specific things they need to do once the meeting is over, then the meeting is very likely successful.

2. Make sure every action step is owned by a specific person in the meeting. Any action steps that are not assigned will never be completed.

3. End each meeting with each person articulating what their action steps are. Be sure to keep a record of each person’s assignment and hold everyone accountable.

John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

A good meeting ending with actionable steps will prove him wrong.

One more bit of free advice: leave the croquet mallet home. Sorry Sally!

I Was In A Panic…

Calm Panic Buttons Show Panicking Or CalmnessThe huge Pakistani man standing in front of me thrust out his hand and suddenly I didn’t know what to do.

Was he threatening me? No, he was smiling.

Am I fearful of Pakistanis? No, all my barbers are Pakistani and I let them flash razors around my head all the time.

Why was I so afraid?

It was his big, yellow truck.

He was there to empty the septic tank and I knew that he had spent his day sucking out sewers… and now he wanted to shake my hand.

For many of you that wouldn’t be a problem, but Cindy sometimes accuses me of being “germophobic.” My response is that I’m not afraid of Germans, although I am pretty wary of Italians with super-spicy meatballs. She thinks I may have mysophobia, or the fear of contamination or germs.

I’m not afraid of germs, I just feel the same way about them that I do about heights—I have a very healthy respect.

Now he wanted me to shake his hand. I gulped.

The truth is, we miscalculate danger all the time. For example, one Noble prize winning psychologist asked people the question, “Are you more likely to die being eaten by a shark or by falling airplane parts?” nearly everyone thinks that sharks are the biggest danger. In fact, you are 30 times more likely to die from falling airplane parts than you are by a shark attack. I guess your chances of dying must skyrocket if you live on a beach near an airport.

This kind of miscalculation not only effects our vacation plans, but also our lives in interactions with people from other cultures. The problem is information and the fact that we bring familiar information to mind first and make decisions based on easy information instead of correct information.

Here are 3 pitfalls that we often fall into.

1. Availability Error-
That’s the problem in the shark/airplane question. A shark attack is big news, so we hear about it more, so it seems to happen more often. Unless we actually do the research, we feel like a shark attack is a greater danger.

I sometimes call it the fortune cookie problem. In America, most Chinese restaurants finish each meal with a fortune cookie. When Americans travel to China and eat real Chinese food, they are shocked not to get a fortune cookie. Fortune cookies are an American Chinese thing and not a real Chinese thing. (Wikipedia reference)

Error Correction: Do your research!

2. Confirmation Error-
Have you ever considered buying a certain brand of car and suddenly it seems that everyone is driving that kind of car? It may not actually be as popular as it seems. When we hold an idea or attitude, we are constantly seeking confirmation that we are correct and will grab onto small verifications that are really not proof at all.

Error Correction: Think objectively!

3. Out-Group Homogeneity Error-
Out-groups are people from a different group than ours. I am a male, so women are an out-group for men. I am an American, so Italians (and their super-spicy meatballs) are an out-group.

We tend to see people in our in-groups as very different, but people in our out-groups as being all the same. I’m sure not all New Yorkers are rude and and all Koreans like rice.

Error Correction: Notice differences!

Back to the Pakistani, I did shake his hand and was glad to make a new friend that day. I did, however, go in my house and wash my hands. Twice!

Is Your Strong Personality Hurting Your Team?

Cartoon Man with Bubble-HiRes-Photoshopped-Sized for InternetPeople often say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can judge a book by its title.

For example, if the title of the book is, “The Wisdom of Peter Drucker,” then you can be sure that the book is going to have a lot of good management principles. On the other hand if the book’s title is, “Accounting Made Simple,” you know that the book is full of lies.

Many times, when we say “you can’t judge a book by its cover” we’re referring to people, and the implication is that you can’t know someone just by meeting them briefly. This actually is not true. We all know that first impressions are important and studies have found that in meeting someone for just 7 seconds, people are about 80% right in understanding what that person’s basic personality traits are.

We all know leaders and managers who have a strong personalities.  Many times, the perception is that it is the strong personalities that make them good leaders. That may be true for businesses that are stable and have little change, but it is completely wrong for businesses where rapid change is involved.

A recent study out of Europe* shows that leaders with strong personalities find it very difficult to change.  This hindered the teams and likewise made the teams less able to cope with change. This is explained, at least in part, by the fact that the stronger a leader’s personality is the more they are “stuck” in a certain method of accomplishing tasks and goals.

To quote the researcher, “Teams that had markedly strong personality traits were more inflexible than teams with less markedly strong traits.” He also found that the stronger the personality traits, the less able the teams were to adapt.

 What can we do?

There are at least three ways that we can help ourselves and our teams in this area.

  • Understand the problem and diagnose it

As always, knowledge is power. Since we now know that our leadership strengths can also be our weaknesses when it comes to change, we need to understand who we are and how we function.  If we tend to be rule-conscious, then we need to be willing to work around the rules. If we are more private, we need to work at being more open. If our nature is to be more self-reliant, we need to purposely try to depend on others in a greater way.

  • Get some training in flexibility

There are a lot of great training programs for individuals and for teams that can teach increased flexibility.

  • Get some training in teamwork

Training programs to increase teamwork will also be a huge benefit since different strengths from each team member will tend to offset each other.

Small self-promotion: We have a lot of great training programs like these and others available at Professional Gulf Consulting and would love to be of service to you.

Many times we think that we cannot change; that we are the way we are and are doomed to always be that way. It’s not easy, but we can change and change for the better.

And last, be sure to let me know if you want to borrow my old copy of “Accounting Made Simple.”

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*Jan Ketil Arnulf. Organizational change capacity and composition of management teams: A visualization of how personality traits may restrain team adaptability. Team Performance Management, 2012; 18 (7): 433 DOI: 10.1108/13527591211281156

A Charred Steak in the Garden of Eden

Not an actual picture of my grandmother

Not an actual picture of my grandmother

My Grandmother Williams, a wonderful woman, was born in rural Iowa over 100 years ago. If you don’t know what rural Iowa was like 100 years ago, it should not be mistaken for a place where actual human beings lived—at least not in large numbers.

Rural Iowa was beautiful. Picture the Garden of Eden with more clothing and lots of corn. Except in winter. Then you have to picture snow, covered with a layer of ice, slathered with more snow, with sleet and hail mixed in.

Evidently during that time in rural Iowa, one of the leading causes of death was undercooked meat. According to my grandmother’s idea, the bubonic plague was child’s play compared to eating meat that wasn’t charred beyond recognition.

To her, a steak had to be thoroughly cooked—and by “thoroughly” I mean “black.” If it was recognizable as an actual food-like substance, it was unsafe to eat. Only if it looked like Martians had zapped it with a death ray, could it be safely consumed.

I mention my grandmother here because she brings up an important topic: change. She lived her whole life believing that all meat must be thoroughly cooked in order to be eaten. I know for certain this is not true because I love my steaks rare and yet so far I am apparently still alive. But she was taught one thing and stuck with that plan her whole life.

As leaders and managers we have to be brave enough to implement change.

Change is always hard because it seems that all of us, as human beings, resist change. We can do things to make change easier, though.

  • Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of change or the magnitude of a big change.

Often we don’t know how or where to begin and this causes us to do nothing because we don’t know what we should do. Making a plan will help with this (see below.)

  • Identify what needs to be changed.

This is critical because we don’t want to make change just for the sake of change and ruin something that is working well, nor do we want to destroy what could be effective change because we don’t go far enough.

  • Figure out how much change can your organization or team handle.

Every organization or team has a threshold of the amount of change that they can deal with at any given time. Take stock of how much other changes happening in the organization and make sure that there is not too much change happening all at the same time.

  • Decide before you start how you will measure success in the change.

Before you even begin the change decide how you will know when you have been successful. This includes a way to measure when the changes are accomplished successfully, and the many small goals that must be met along the way in order to accomplish the final goal.

  • Make a detailed plan for how to accomplish the change.

Summarize what the change will look like when you are successful. This is the vision. Think about who the change actors will be and how to get them on board with your plan. Communicate your vision with everybody involved; let them know what their part will be and why it is important. Create a plan with all of the necessary steps to make your change happen.

Hopefully, we will be the kind of leaders who can implement change successfully so we won’t be stuck in the Garden of Eden eating a charred steak.

If You Never Make Mistakes Don’t Read This!

Cat warns Inflatable Furniture- dreamstime_l_27741152-SmallerNow that the perfect people have left the room, let me share a story that I think you will like.

It is told that Tom Watson, Sr., CEO of IBM from 1914 to 1956, once had a junior executive lose over $10 million on a risky venture. When the young man was called in for a meeting with Watson, he offered his resignation. Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you.”

As I write this, General Motors is facing a crisis because they knew about a mistake in the ignition system of millions of vehicles but did not admit it and tried to cover it up.

If you want a different slant on the idea of mistakes, read on!

  • All of us make mistakes and we usually try to cover them up or blame outside forces.

In the creation of the world as found in the Bible, Adam blamed Eve for his mistake and Eve blamed the serpent for hers. It seems to be part of our nature to deflect mistakes from ourselves.

  • Failures are important because they are unavoidable in innovation and experimentation.

Companies that highly value innovation often have a company culture that does not ridicule or punish people who make mistakes. The really great ones encourage and rejoice over mistakes.

  • People actually think more highly of you if you admit mistakes.

Research has shown that admitting a mistake, especially ones that are controllable, make you appear more in control, more powerful, and create a positive impression.

  • Many people do not seek help, even when help is available, because they feel it will make them appear weak.

Research has shown, however, that this is not true most of the time. Guys, that means ask for directions if you are lost! (Interesting side note: Asian men are much more likely to ask for help or admit mistakes than Western men, while Asian and Western women ask for help and admit mistakes at about the same rate.)

  • These things are true for individuals and for companies.

In one research project, people were given identical company reports except that one report blamed outside forces and one company blamed inside factors. The company that blamed internal factors was rated higher than the company that placed blame outside the company. The same was found in the “real world.” Researchers followed companies who admitted mistakes in their annual reports and did not blame outside factors and found that these companies had a higher stock price after one year than companies that blamed outside forces for their problems in their annual reports.

Here are some take-aways.

  • If you value innovation, don’t be afraid of mistakes.
  • When you do make a mistake, admit it early and loudly.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help if it is available and you need it.
  • If you are in a position of leadership, admit your own mistakes and cultivate a culture of innovation where it is okay to make and admit mistakes without embarrassment.

 

I Have a Great Gift For Your Mom. Not!

Wall Street Journal for Mother's DayLast Sunday was the holiday of Mother’s Day in the United States. Many people took time to send their mothers flowers, call them, take them out to eat, and even send them a tweet on this special occasion. In fact, traditionally it is the #1 day of the year for restaurant business in the USA since people want to treat their mothers to a meal and they don’t want to cook it themselves.

I received the advertisement above from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) last year just before Mother’s Day. My favorite sentence is, “It’s a Mother’s Day gift that will delight any Mom.” Really? I think my mom would hate it, actually. My guess is that most of the moms who would want to get it are already receiving it.

Of course, I think the WSJ understands that, but they wanted to use the opportunity to sell more magazines. Understandable.

It does bring three important points to my mind, though. These are things that if we really want to be successful, not only in business, but in life, we would do well to keep in mind.

  • Don’t use things (or especially people!) for our own advancement and to get what we want. That is the feeling I get from this article. It appears to me that the WSJ is using a holiday that is very beautiful and meaningful simply to advance their own agenda.

Solution: Make others around us winners and we will also come out the winner. Pushing down someone else to get ahead may work in the short-run, but it is a very bad long-term strategy.

  • Don’t just see the world through our own eyes. Just because I like the WSJ (personally, one of my favorite magazines) doesn’t mean that my mom or other friends of mine who are not interested in business would like it.

Solution: See the world through others’ eyes and hearts and you will have real friends and genuine partners in life and in work.

  • Don’t believe that everyone thinks the same way we do. Many times we are so set in our own opinions and agenda, it is hard to imagine that anyone else could see it any other way.

Solution: Understand that people from different cultures and different personality types will see the world in a completely different manner than we see it. Don’t be shocked when people don’t think like you do. Embrace the differences. Think outside your own “box.”

If your mom wants the WSJ, get her a subscription for Mother’s Day. But, please make sure she really does want it before you do!

The Magic of ‘Just Do It’

trainersMany advertising experts consider Nike’s “Just do it” campaign to be one of the best ever conceived. An advertising magazine, AdWeekly, said this in a tribute to the 25th anniversary to the campaign.

Nike’s “Just do it” slogan, unveiled 25 years ago this month by Wieden + Kennedy, might be the last great tagline in advertising history.

Yes, other notables have come since—among them, Apple’s “Think different” and Volkswagen’s “Drivers wanted”—but none have come close to duplicating the cultural impact and mass appeal of “Just do it.” I frankly doubt that any ever will.*

The phrase has become almost ubiquitous and has been used by everyone from parents, to bosses, to coaches, to used car salesman. I even use it on myself sometimes— and should more!

What is so powerful about this simple phrase? It is magic.

Let me explain.

Most of us think the reason things don’t get done is because of a lack of knowledge. If we knew more, we could do more. The truth is that knowledge alone isn’t all that helpful. There is still one missing factor.

What is the important missing element?

The key to getting things accomplished is motivation—the desire or willingness to do something. Motivation is the key link between knowing something and actually doing it. No matter how much we know, if we don’t have the motivation, we will never translate knowledge into action.

There are two kinds of motivation.
Extrinsic motivation

This is the desire to do something because of outside influences.

  • Cleaning your room because of fear that your parents will punish you.
  • Wearing a certain type of clothes because of fear your friends will criticize you if you don’t.
  • Working hard in your job because you want a higher salary or a promotion.
  • Studying hard because you want to get good grades.

Intrinsic motivation

This is the desire to do something because of influences inside yourself.

  • Cleaning your room because you like it to be neat and tidy.
  • Wearing a certain type of clothes because they feel comfortable.
  • Working hard in your job because you love the work.
  • Studying hard because you love the subject and want to learn more.

The actions are the same, but the motivation is different. Intrinsic motivation is always more fun and more interesting. There is an internal, self-satisfying reward above the outside forces making us do something we might not necessarily like to do. There will always be extrinsic factors motivating us, but we get more pleasure and satisfaction from intrinsically motivated action.

And that is the magic of the Nike slogan. When you can look at something you must do (extrinsic) and say to yourself, Just do it!, it becomes, to some degree, intrinsic. A great way to feel better and to enjoy your life and your work more is to find a way to be intrinsically motivated to do things that are required. As the famous motivational speaker, Mary Poppins, says,

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game
And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake
A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see

That a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down, the medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

(For a video of the song go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrnoR9cBP3o)
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*http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/happy-25th-birthday-nikes-just-do-it-last-great-advertising-slogan-150947

When Feeling Good Hurts

Chocolate Cake- dreamstime_l_1684878-Sized for InternetWe often give in to something that we know is bad because we want to feel good:

  • we buy something we know we can’t afford;
  • we eat the chocolate cake when we know we need to lose weight;
  • we put off washing our dishes because we don’t feel like doing them.

We “give in” so that we can feel good. (Scientists call this subject “self-regulation.”)

But the story doesn’t end there.

This temporary “feel good” comes at very high cost in the long-term.

I remember when I was in music school I had a 25-page paper about a classical composer due on a certain day. I put off writing the paper until the night before. Cindy, my wife now, my fiancé then, spent the whole night typing as I dictated the paper to her. What a miserable night and what a high price she paid for my procrastination. ( I deserved it—she didn’t.)

Of course, I do have an excuse. The part of the brain that regulates these things doesn’t fully develop until about age 25 and I was only 19 at the time. (If you buy that excuse, I have some land I’d like to sell you! I was just showing my immaturity.)

Save Your Desert For Last

I have always considered being able to delay gratification as a sure sign of maturity. It is one of the main differences between childish behavior and adult behavior.

Sure, that piece of cake really looks good, but do I really want to spend an extra 15 minutes at the gym because I gave in to my emotions? The mature, self-regulating person says, “I’d rather not have those extra calories. I can achieve the long-term good.”

Maturity is allowing the long-term good to outweigh the emotional attraction of the current, short-term desire.

What Is It You Want To Do?

Do you want to lose a few pounds and get back in shape?
Do you want to stop watching so much television and read good books instead?
Do you want to finish that big project that you keep putting off?
Do you want to save money ahead of time for a vacation instead of going into debt?

Be mature and let the long-term goal outweigh the emotions that seem so strong at the moment.

BTW, staying up all night writing that paper worked out well after all. It was such a bad experience that I made a vow to never do that again and I have pretty-much kept that promise. For the rest of my college career I turned in my papers before they were due and (almost) never “crammed” for an exam. My grades dramatically improved as a result.

Be mature.

Self-regulate.

See the long-term good.

Feel REALLY good later instead of feeling slightly good now!

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Past blog postings about similar subjects:

How To Make Better Decisions- Part 1
Oh-Tot-Mut-Fuss’n

A Great Way to Improve Team Performance

Count on me-dreamstime_7405973-smallerIf you’ve ever played a team sport on a competitive level, you probably know the difference between a bad coach, a good coach, and a great coach. For me, the difference is often the coach’s approach to improving performance in the team members. A bad coach will tell you that you did something wrong. A good coach will tell you that you did something wrong and tell you how to do it right. But the best coaches, I think, are the ones who make you evaluate your own performance and find ways to improve.

That kind of thinking is highlighted in some recent research on business teams from The University of Alabama in Huntsville*. In the study, teams that used “structured reflection” improved performance by a statistically significant amount when working together to play a team video game.

In applying this research to “real” teams in the “real” world, team leaders need to provide a time for teams to communicate together to reflect on their own performance and how to improve the team effort.

Here are some keys to implementing structured reflection.

  • Team communication is imperative. Time spent in training team members to communicate better is time and money well spent. They need these communication skills to be able to do well in a structured reflection situation.

 

  • The time together needs to be guided. The team leader needs to have a plan for the meeting and where it should be headed. The team leader should even have specific guiding questions that will direct the discussion.

 

  • The meeting needs to be reflective. Each team member should be able to look at their own performance, evaluate it, and develop a plan for future improvement.

 

  • Each team member needs to know the skills of the other team members. In communicating, each team member learns what the other team members are good at and can pass off items that are better handled by someone else. That leaves team members available to commit to tasks that they, in turn, can perform better.

 

  • In theses guided discussions, the team discusses the tasks, the goals, and the plans to achieve those goals. This is done in a team setting and is guided by the team leader.

Structured reflection may be able to help your team create better team performance. It might be one tool that will help you win the big game!

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*University of Alabama Huntsville (2013, April 8). Structured reflection improves team performance.
ScienceDaily.

How Deep Is Culture?

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image4877637

I was thinking about this post from a few months back and wanted to share it again. I think it is extremely important. Enjoy!

When I’m speaking or conducting workshops about culture I usually ask, “What is your definition of culture?” Usually, there are many good answers that come forward like “things we learn from our parents,” “music,” “clothing,” and “language.”

A couple of definitions that have become popular these days are “software of the mind” (Hofstede)
or “the right way of doing things” (unattributed).  All of these point us in the right direction, but I think culture is much “deeper” than that.

As I am exposed to more and more cultures and think deeply about my own culture I’ve come to the conclusion that culture is much deeper than we often realize. One prominent culture scholar (Trompenaars) puts it this way, “Our own culture is like water to a fish. It sustains us. We live and breathe through it.”

My favorite definition of culture is: “The human-made part of the environment.” That idea includes everything that we do and think. A tree growing outside in your yard is not culture, God made it. But as soon as we trim the tree, use it as the support for a swing, or make something from the wood of the tree, culture is involved because your culture will decide what the swing, chair, or table will look like.

Everything you have done or will do today from the time you wake until you go to sleep is affected by your culture. But like a fish that doesn’t notice the water he is swimming, breathing, and moving in, you have probably given little, if any, thought as to how culture is influencing you today.

So as an experiment, for the rest of today give some conscious thought as to how culture has formed the way you are acting and thinking.