Making a Fresh Start

I recently read Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and it had lots of useful information about timing. Interestingly, a fresh start can occur more often than just on New Year’s Day. So, for all of you who missed setting or initiating your New Year’s Resolution, there is still hope. There is a whole, brand new fresh start. In fact, by Pink’s count, there are 86 days available for a fresh start. Well, that is, about 1 in 4 days, so that means you can get a fresh start right around the corner, if not today.

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His theory is that there are eighty-six days that are especially effective for making a fresh start:

  • The first day of the month (twelve)
  • Mondays (fifty-two)
  • The first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter (four)
  • Your country’s Independence Day or the equivalent (one)
  • The day of an important religious holiday—for example, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr (one)
  • The first day of school or the first day of a semester (two)
  • The first day back from vacation (two)
  • The anniversary of your wedding, first date, or divorce (three)
  • The anniversary of the day you started your job, the day you became a citizen, the day you adopted your dog or cat, the day you graduated from school or university (four)
  • The day you finish this book (one)

It’s ironic, but some of my fresh starts were not on Mondays, not at the beginning of the month, and not around a holiday. The most significant for me was getting sober. It was a Saturday, four days after July 4th. But I made that fresh start stick. I can’t remember the day I gave up animal products, but I do remember the last time I had meat was at the DFW airport, and I didn’t end up finishing some sausage links on my breakfast plate. That was the last of my meat eating. It wasn’t a Monday or on an important anniversary.

The thing is that fresh starts can start right now. If you want to give up sugar, alcohol, chicken, or smoking, throw all that mess out right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here. It’s amazing how fast you can get rid of whatever is tempting you. I was kind of surprised how easy it can be if you can let go of the guilt tied to whatever is in the garbage can and the waste of money it has been. I’m pretty sure I threw out 7 bottles of wine when I embraced sobriety. I didn’t give it to a good home. I threw it in the garbage can. I can sort of visualize that I am not a garbage can. Why do I think that chocolate cake should go into my stomach instead of the garbage can? Yes, please donate what you want to give up if it’s feasible. If it’s not, then throw it out.

So, I decided to look up famous birthdays on July 8th: John D. Rockefeller and Kevin Bacon. Now I know that I got sober on their birthday. It’s not why I chose that date, but it’s auspicious none-the-less. It might work to go backwards to make your fresh start more memorable.

The key to it all is to get started. Pick what you want: whether it be exercising, napping (highly recommended by Pink), writing, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, walking the dog, or saving money. If you need more ideas, check out my 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits. What do you need a start?

5 Reasons to Cut Your Employees Some Slack.

Remember the first time you were in charge?

Someone promoted you to supervisor or lead or manager or Chief French Fry Cooker. You were then Chief PooPaw and everyone had to bow to your desires. You promised to make sure that everyone on your watch had their nose to the grindstone! And you, the Chief, would squeeze your direct reports to death to make sure you had the greatest productivity.

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Not so fast.

There is recent evidence that holding the reigns too tightly on your employees might be the worst thing you can do for their productivity. Happy employees make for more productive employees and, in turn, more profitable businesses. I’m not suggesting you have a daily corn hole tournament but cutting your employees some slack might just get you that next promotion. Validation and empowerment are the secret sauce to success. Don’t you want to be acknowledged for your efforts and know that you can make a difference? So do your employees.

So what are the reasons? Here they are:

1. Short breaks actually rejuvenate employees to be more productive. This was found in a study at Baylor University. Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu looked for ways to enhance breaks. The employees who were studied who completely left their work (i.e. not multi-tasking) and were permitted to use their time to engage in activities like social networking or meeting with friends’, experience greater recovery. I knew a manager who unilaterally I outlawed breaks. Anecdotally, I found that her employees were less productive, called in sick more and generally had lower morale. Make sure your employees have time for breaks.

2. Give employees autonomy. This is one of the main drivers from Daniel Pinks’ book, Drive. From the age of two, you exercised the right to say “No.” Your employees have the same need. They want to be able to choose. And being able to choose means being able to say, “Yes or No.” I’m not talking about insubordination. I’m saying that if your assistant wants to do the report in Access versus Excel, give him the autonomy to decide. When your employee decides on the best avenue for success, they will have been brought in and make sure it’s a success.

3. Stay away from working lunches. Employees are most restored when they actually get out of the building. Staying at one’s desk and plodding through some project will invariably lead to poor quality. Even thirty minutes outside of work can help you focus better when you return. Some employees may feel like they have to work at their desk during lunch from a work culture standpoint. Be the manager who is making sure that Jane has left her desk for lunch. As a consequence, you will get better quality end products from Jane.

4. Give your employees the tools to be more productive. I have facilitated Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity. After learning how to fully utilize Microsoft Outlook in the class, employees reported being 50% more productive and the main reason was how they used Microsoft Outlook. With a clear understanding of how to use the Outlook tools (there are hundreds), I can tell you that when they reported back to me sequentially after 5 weeks, 2 months and 4 months they were much less stressed out. Who do you think is more productive? A stressed out employee or a knowledgeable, trained employee? Right.

5. Understanding the SCARF model. As developed by David Rock, the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) model shows that when an employee is in the same room as their boss, they immediately have a fear reaction. Fear is not good when it comes to productivity. Your employee is in the back of their head or in their “lizard” brain as it is frequently referred to. You want to make sure that you have your employee working in the front of their brain or the prefrontal cortex. This means you need to make clear instructions and then get out of the way. The more you pester or micromanage, the worse your employee will do.

I have found in my career as a manager that, the most difficult thing is to get your manager to loosen the reigns on employees. I hear manager’s say that “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. Not delegating in the long run is a career killer. Empowered employees end up making you look good. Loosen the reigns and watch everyone grow. What has been your experience?

You Aren’t a Doctor, Those Are Not Your Monkeys

You’ve worked for bosses like this. They dole out all the advice. They tell you precisely how to do everything; never let you make a decision. They keep your hands tied tight so that you don’t make a move without permission. When you do take a chance and make a small decision, they slap your hands so it never happens again. Your motivation drops and essentially, you give up and stay at your job, waiting for the next edict to come your way or the next prescription to be written by your boss. They aren’t really doctors but they play them at work.those are not your monkeys

So think about it. Where are you prescribing to the people in your life? “Honey, can you mow the lawn before it gets too hot out?” “Suzie that work around is ridiculous, do it this way.” “You should use Excel, it’s much faster and ask Joe for help.” Sounds harmless. You’re just getting things done. But how do the people on the other end of that exchange feel? Perhaps more robot than human. “I don’t get paid to think. I’ll just sit here and wait for the next set of orders. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook.” Yep. Checked out.

So how to stop prescribing? Here are some ideas.

Ask for help in solving the problem. This is part of the essential skills suggested by Development Dimensions International (DDI). When you ask for help people feel more confident, more empowered. I know this requires a bit of vulnerability. You’re thinking, “But I’m the boss. I will look weak if I ask for HELP.” Help is not a four letter word. OK, it is but it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of engaging your employees. Who would you rather work for or with? A prescriber or an empowerer? Make sure you ask for help.

If humanly possible, use your employee’s idea. Why is that? Buy in. Whose idea do you think that employee is going to bust their tail to make sure it works? That’s right, their idea. “OK Suzie, so you think Access is the better route for using this data?” Suzie will jump hoops to make sure Access is the right software for the data. If the whole idea seems too expensive or will take too long, be sure to use a piece of their suggestion. Maybe they know an internal resource that can help with the project. Use your employee’s idea. And be the team player you want them to be.

Don’t remove responsibility. When I teach this concept in workshops, I refer to the responsibility as “monkeys”. So when you are done with the conversation who is responsible for the care and feeding of the monkey going forward? If you look up on your shoulder and there is a monkey sitting there, be sure to clearly delegate that monkey back to your coworker or direct report. It doesn’t mean you don’t check in on the monkeys to make sure they are clean and fed. They aren’t sitting on your back. Clearly keep the responsibility with your coworker.

Share thoughts, feelings and rationale. This is another caveat from DDI. When a doctor prescribes you medication, you want to know why the heck you are taking it. What’s in it for me? In an organization, this means over communicating. Constantly. By all means necessary. As I tell my Human Resource students at Duke University, Human Resources is in charge of the communication piece. So if there is a new corporate strategy, tell them, email them, call them, and meet with them. Over and over and over again. Everyone will stay in lock step if they all know the mission. Share the rationale. If something does inadvertently get prescribed they are much more likely to follow through.

As Daniel Pink wrote in his book, Drive, “Harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration can be thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding”. An employee who is being engaged and allowed to direct their own ship is far more motivated and successful. Don’t dampen that spirit so that you can have the last word “as the boss”. Put your prescription pad away.

Carrot or Stick?

How do we get people to fall in line?  Is it best to use a carrot (incentive plan, appreciation or chocolate cake) or a stick (“you’re grounded”, late payment fees or speeding tickets).  As Daniel Pink outlined in his book “Drive”, it can be a puzzling question.  There is a study outlined in a book done by Dan Ariely where three different groups in India were given tasks to do in a same period of time but they were compensated at three different rates.  The equivalent of $.50 (a day’s pay), $5 (two weeks pay), or $50 (five months pay).  The group at $.50 and $5 were comparable in results but the $50 group underperformed! More compensation had the opposite affect.  Those who receive the larger amount of incentive actually perform slower.  This really doesn’t seem to make sense.  Wouldn’t more money mean more output? Wouldn’t 5 months pay drive performance in an underdeveloped  country?  It didn’t. Carrot or Stick

I was in training at a “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop taught by Harold Stolovich.  In one of the sections of the training, we all did a Boggle challenge with 16 letters to use to make as many 3 letter+ words as possible.  On my page, it stated that “You have 3 minutes to make at least 20 words of 3 letters or more.  People at your level usually obtain this result.” Half the group had this instruction, the other half did not have it.  I was in the group that had the expectation that I would be able to make at least 20 words.  My brain locked up!  The expectation for performance shut my brain down.  The group that didn’t have the expectation of 20 words out-performed my group. So how do we go about motivating people?  How do we get them to perform in a maximum way?

Here are some tips to drive performance:

1. Simple.  If the job is simple, the carrot will work.  If it doesn’t take creativity, imagination or analysis, then use the carrot.  I have a very weak stomach.  If someone says their kid is throwing up at home, I immediately feel queasy.  I inform you of this because once my beloved dog got sick in the middle of our living room.  I went to my purse and took out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to my son and said “Take care of it.”  Simple and straight forward.  Telling him to clean it or be grounded, would not have worked. There are times when a carrot will work.

2. Pain.  There are some things that require pain to drive performance.  Pain generally will work if the result is immediate and is obvious.  If there is going to be a painful result, such as a late fee, or loss of use of a cell phone (oh no!) and the person knows that will be the result of paying the bill late or staying out past midnight; it will drive performance.  I implemented a wellness program some 4 years ago in which the penalty was up to $200 more per month additional for health insurance premiums.  We had 100% participation.  Most other wellness programs with a reward attached were considered successful with 30% participation.  Pain works in the right situations.

3. Autonomy.  Most of us want to decide for ourselves what we are going to do today.  Micro managers who dictate every “dot of an i and cross of a t”, in the long run actually diminish performance.  I can assure you that if I come in the house and tell my son to clean his room “right this instant”, I am not likely to have a great outcome.  But, if I say, “I’d like your room cleaned.  Can you get it done by 6PM when your grandparents arrive?” the outcome will likely be better.  Now my son understands the rationale and is given the latitude to decide when and how he will get it done.  Autonomy sparks performance.

4. Time Warp.  I get my best work done early in the morning after I have mediated, eaten and exercised.  My daughter gets her best work done in the afternoon and rarely is well rested.  My son is a night owl.  His peak performance could be from 8PM until 2 AM.  Here is the problem.  Many bosses, teachers and organizations want you to work a certain set of hours….or else! So what are we giving up in creativity and performance by shoe horning folks into certain hours.  Find your (or your employee’s) best time warp.

There is a time and place for all carrots, sticks and autonomy.  They all don’t work for all situations.   If you want to drive the best performance, you might want to try out a few of these ideas to see if you can move the needle on performance.

Listen up

I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.”  His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people.  So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework.  Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine.  We are all trying to move someone to do something.  The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening.  If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening.  We can’t move people without listening.  We can’t sell without listening. images 6

My son and I share a love of listening to stories.  One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts.  These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories.  They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco.  The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story.  And it takes practice.

So what could you be missing?  Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:

1.  Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head.  This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking.  It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.

2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact.  Hold their gaze when they are talking.  Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!

3. Understand.   Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening.  Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.  “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.

4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements.  Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon.  But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in.  This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.

5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience.  It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship.  Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui.  Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again.  Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached.  Be generous.

6. Yes, and.  One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters.  In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion.  First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished.  None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration.  In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas.  Try it. It’s inspiring.

Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you.  It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.