Saturday, January 29, 2011

Five Steps to Overcoming Procrastination

As January draws to a close, I can sum up the start of the new year in two words: Time Management. More than any other topic that I help my clients with (and the list includes Leadership, Communication, Managing Change, Engagement, Building Teams, Coaching, Problem Solving, and Stress Management), Time Management has been numero uno so far in 2011.

My clients are diverse, including food and beverage, home furnishing, information services, non-profits, and hospitals. But they all have one thing in common: they are suffering from overload and overwhelm.

It's a dire situation. I believe it is one of the after-effects of the Great Recession. While CEOs found that they could rake in millions by slashing headcount and expecting more productivity out of the remnant workforce, HR managers are seeing the underside: stress is up, engagement and morale are down, and people are starting to fray around the edges.

The answer? Time Management. It's more than keeping a To Do list, though that simple practice is a must these days with so much overload.

If fully embraced and put into action, Time Management can have a number of benefits including:

- setting goals for the aspirations of most importance to you
- clarifying priorities in your worklife as well as your homelife
- focusing on the things that need to get done now, while not losing sight of the vitally important things for the future you desire
- reducing stress

And another benefit is that Time Management can help you to get going on things that you may tend to put off. We all procrastinate from time to time. And the overload state that so many are experiencing right now feeds this. But the danger is that habitual procrastination can actually add to your stress if you keep putting certain things off until they reach a crisis state.

So what can you do? Well, according to one of my clients, you can BEGIN* any overwhelming task right away by following these five steps:

B = Break it down: Take any overwhelming project and break it down into the component tasks.

E = Energize yourself: Is your outlook toward the project a negative one? Shift your attitude and change your self talk. Pump yourself up.

G = Go for "low hanging fruit" first: Start small and fast by doing whatever tasks you can do easily and quickly. You'll establish momentum.

I = Involve others: Could you use some help? Would the advice and input of others help you get to the goal? Ask them to join you. Don't go it alone.

N = Nibble. Now. Next: Keep on nibbling via "The Swiss Cheese Method." Adopt a "Do it now" proactive stance. And keep asking yourself "What step can I take next to keep moving on this?"

Do a quick assessment of your company. How are you and the employees in your organization doing? Are they overloaded and overwhelmed? If so, don't wait. Help them before they drown.

*A special nod of appreciation to the Ikea Operations Team for the ideas and the spirit in the BEGIN approach to overcoming procrastination and getting more done.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on January 29, 2011. For more ideas on managing time and stress, getting more done, and achieving nirvana, invite Terry to your organization.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tossing the Baby Out

You know the old saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." It's a good one. Very cinematic. You can visualize a wee baby flapping its chubby little arms as it sails in slo mo through an open window with a shower of grimy bubble bath.

The essential gist of the saying is, When you decide to toss something, make sure you don't lose a thing that's worth keeping.

This is a message of the utmost importance to anyone in business who is trying to improve things. An individual improving their time management. A team improving a work process. A continuous improvement guru improving how an entire business unit operates.

In a nutshell: When you are improving things, be careful to preserve what is working well now. In other words, take good care of the baby.

What's tricky, sometimes, is when the baby is ugly. And you think it ought to be tossed right along with the dirty water.

When is an Ugly Baby worth keeping?

Over the years, I have often entered the arena when the fight is about performance reviews. You can read some of my past postings here at Here We Are. Now What? As one who advocates "blowing up" (or "throwing out," or whatever destructive metaphor works for you) the annual performance appraisal, I usually can't resist jumping in.

As a change agent who understands the wisdom in the old adage, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water," I ask: Where is the baby?

In other words, before pressing the detonator on the process of performance review, step back and ask, What's right about this? What could be great about this? How can we re-think and re-imagine this tired old practice so that it actually engages people and improves the organization's performance?

With that frame of mind, here are the babies I'd rescue from the bathwater:

- Goals: Everyone in the organizations needs to know the goals and objectives of the business and their team. This way, everyone can align their thinking and their efforts toward the performance and results the organization needs.

- Coaching and Feedback: Look at the Olympics. Every high performing player and team has a coach. Coaches continuously provide specific and helpful feedback intended to bring out the best performance in each player.

- Development: The best performers are never satisfied, are always working on their performance, and are always looking for ways to improve themselves. Development plans are key to building a high performance organization.

- Recognition and Reward: When someone turns in an extraordinary performance, or brings home a win for the team, why would you wait until the end of the year to praise it or reward it? If you want more of something from an employee, you've got to recognize it, reinforce it, and reward it there and then. Timing is everything, as they say, and in the case of great performance, it's essential.

And one more:

- Self-appraisal: Great performers are often their own toughest critics. A structured self-appraisal, guided by a coach, can be a healthy and effective way to identify strengths and pinpoint areas for improvement.

A final thought: Anyone studying to become a Change Agent should take a course in The Wisdom in Old Sayings. During my education in change management, I had the good fortune of being taught by David Hanna, author of Designing Organizations for High Performance (1988). He had lots of good maxims, perhaps the most famous being: "All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting."

Another one Hanna liked, related to the baby and the bathwater, has really stayed with me over the years:

~ When setting out to change (and improve) an organization or process, be careful not to lose what's working well right now.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday January 17, 2011. For more ideas on performance, coaching and recogntion, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your managers.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tips for Change Agents in 2011

Gradually recovering from a bout with the flu, my arms still aching and almost too tired to type this blog entry, I find myself thinking once again of what it takes to be an effective agent of change.

Right this second, as I write, a friend of mine, Ferdi, is being celebrated at a funeral Mass. He died last week after a long battle with cancer. By his living witness, he taught us about courage, perseverance, and hope.

Additionally, he was an agent of change.

Several years ago, he became aware of how many homeless families there were in our area. He also learned about a church-based network that existed to help such desperate families. He thought that our parish should join the network and become part of the effort. After patiently pushing the idea through the thick resistance he encountered, we finally joined the IHN, the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

If I were to distill some guidelines for change agents from Ferdi's example, I'd pinpoint the following:

F = Focus: Focus on the need you see that must be addressed. Help others to see it too. Confront the fears that keep us from stepping up and facing the problem.

A = Assert: Arrange to speak with the people you must convert. Get on their agenda. Advocate for the needy. Argue with the inertia.

I = Insist: Don't take "No" for an answer. Insist that they see you. Inspire them to act. Encourage them to imagine the improvement they could bring about in the lives of others.

T = Trust: Trust in what you know is right. Don't waver. Don't forsake the mission even when it feels like nothing is going your way. Trust in truth.

H = Hope: Without hope, the darkness closes in. Ferdi knew this. And he never lost hope. Even in the darkest of times.

A friend of mine used to say of Ferdi that he knew how to "poke you with a stick," but do it in a way that made you glad later, glad that he did prod you to do the right thing.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to interview Ferdi for an article I was writing for the parish magazine. He said: "I grew up in the Philipines. My family used to feed the poor in our village. My family has always been giving. My parents used to take care of the poor. I learned that you have to be more than yourself in helping the poor. Follow in the footsteps of the Lord. Search for him by doing as He did. You will find Him."

Ferdi walked by faith. He was living proof that faith + good works equaled a life well spent.

Looking around at the many needs in our communities, it's time we started to apply such wisdom to the daunting task of improving this world. Let's get the ball rolling this year.

Pick your spot. Keep the faith.

~ This post is humbly dedicated to Ferdinand "Ferdi" Achacon, husband, father, disciple, agent of change.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday January 14, 2011.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The 10 Habits of Engaging Leaders

Throughout 2010, as I delivered management training for my clients, I found that the topic of employee engagement kept surfacing.

As we are learning from recent research, the more engaged a workforce, the higher the productivity and profitability of the company. It also says that among the factors that most influence employee engagement, the quality and effectiveness of managers is foremost.

So let's revisit the question: What must managers do to become Engaging Leaders?

Here are ten practices that can make a big difference for you and your organization:

1 and 2 - Align & Appreciate: These two practices are about Focus. By Aligning, the Engaging Leader gets everyone focused on where the company is going (Goals, Objectives and Plans) and how each person can play a part (Roles) in getting it there. By Appreciating, the Engaging Leader gets to know each person on his or her team, especially their talents, their strengths, their aspirations, and their life concerns.

3 and 4 - Listen & Learn: These two practices illustrate the Leading By Example principle. By Listening, the Engaging Leader adopts an open posture, receptive to all points of view, even those that are different from his or her own. By Learning, the Engaging Leader continues to grow, replenishing and revitalizing his or her own sources of creativity.

5 and 6 - Involve & Improve: These two practices tap into the human yearning for Purpose and the desire to Participate and Grow. By Involving, the Engaging Leader treats each person like a partner in the business and asks "What do you think?" By Improving, the Engaging Leader uses collaboration and teamwork to find better ways to do things, solutions to operating problems, and even innovations that can lead to breakthroughs for the company.

7 and 8 - Communicate & Coach: These two practices, along with the next two, are the keys to High Performance. By Communicating, the Engaging Leader establishes a clear channel of dialogue with each member of the team so that information and ideas flow back and forth continuously, resulting in Understanding and Commitment. By Coaching, the Engaging Leader gives on-going performance feedback to each of his or her players, supporting and encouraging them to develop and do their very best.

9 and 10 - Energize & Empower: These two practices replace the old "Command and Control" model of leadership with a new model based on motivation and trust. By Energizing, the Engaging Leader activates the excitement of Mission, tapping into the human desire for autonomy, for self-determination, and for self-mastery. By Empowering, the Engaging leader galvanizes and authorizes the team to Execute, to decide how best to get to where its going, trusting that a well-trained team will use its resources wisely to reach a high quality decision.

By doing these ten practices consistently and continuously, the Engaging Leader does what it takes to create and sustain a High Engagement Culture.

Start the new year right by resolving to become a more engaging leader in 2011.

This post was written by Terrence Seamon on January 1, 2011. For more leadership and employee engagement ideas, check out Terry’s website Facilitation Solutions and invite him into your organization as a speaker.