motivation

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

Drain. The. Swamp.

They can be a little distracting...

They can be a little distracting…

This has been a reoccurring theme for me lately. Why are you there? What is your mission? The sum total purpose for your existence in this place, at this time, is to do… what exactly? Some helpful questions to ask yourself periodically to help avoid alligators: 

  1. What am I doing here? Why am I in this position? To accomplish what?
  2. What am I uniquely positioned to do here that no one else can do?
  3. What efforts can I undertake to make the most progress towards my stated goal?

Anything else is lateral drift, mission-creep. Don’t get bogged down in the reptile wrestling of minor things: Office gossip, admin squabbles, paper cuts, petty territorial disputes, the opinions of people that don’t know any better and don’t ultimately matter.

Remember what your purpose is. Drain the damn swamp. Alligators attack? Try to use one hand to fight them off and keep one hand on draining that swamp – it’s why you’re there in the first place.

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation TED talk

This is an absolute classic and one that has helped me decide what kind of work I most enjoy doing. The three keys towards fulfilling, cognitive work, are (summarized briefly):
*Autonomy – Do you control a majority of your time at work and what you’re working on?
*Mastery – Are you doing something you can get better at?
*Purpose – Do you feel like you’re a part of something larger than yourself?

These have been guide posts for me for the last three years since I first saw Mr. Pink spell out what I’d long suspected. My quarterly bonus of thousands of dollars as a Regional Manager wasn’t nearly as motivating to me as was the joy of helping one of my Managers succeed, or creating some new metric/model/marketing platform that would help propel our success. Sure, I love money, but I love my team and the thrill of winning a lot more. Especially when I get to create and collaborate in order to get there.

Give this a view and really check your current motivations for why you do what you do. Are you propelled by your bonus potential, or possessed by your passion?

The 9 Questions Leaders Ask

A friend recently commented on a post where I stated that great leaders ask great questions. In fact, I believe that to be the bulwark of their mission. But what kinds? Here are a few from the top of my head:

  1. Who are we and who do we want to be as an organization? Everything flows from this question and its importance shouldn’t be overlooked – and it begs the next one…
  2. What does that look like in practice? If we’re going to do it, we should have an idea of what we’re aiming at.
  3. What does success look like in this instance? How do we know if we’ve achieved our mission? If we don’t know there’s not much point in pursuing it.
  4. What traits does an organization possess that we aspire to be? Who are our role models? Is there someone doing it incredibly well already? What do we want to adopt from what they’re doing?
  5. What’s the craziest thing you’d do if you owned this company? Often times asking questions without the limits of rational conditions gets the mind to say things it wouldn’t normally. Pick at the thread and trace it back to the underlying point of the statement – see what it’s trying to say.
  6. Does this fit our mission? Southwest airlines is famous for being “The low cost airline” so their CEO famously stated they wouldn’t  add salads on a flight from Vegas to Seattle as it didn’t fit the mission. What are we doing that’s outside our mission?
  7. Why are we doing this and not something else? A number of factors pop up that make us do things: pride, ease, cost, budgets, etc…. this can be a great moment to educate our team by explaining the thought process of what we do and why.
  8. If you were a client/customer would you buy this? How would you feel about the policy/practice? It can be a good reflection to see how our decisions affect others and if we’d be OK with them. It may seem small internally, but it always resonates outward.
  9. What’s our guiding philosophy say in regards to this proposal? A leader is never done wondering if their current practices are in alignment with the companies goals and ethos.

Ultimately, I think the leader is tasked with keeping forever in mind the ultimate goals and philosophy of the organization and further charged with keeping them sacred – to make sure that everything taken on comports with that world view. Or, if confronted with a new situation that compels change of the founding philosophy, to make the hard changes and sell them to the rest of the team.

As always, nothing important happens without meaningful communication.

So what which questions do you think your group should ask, often?

Not Quite Ready to Live…

Not Quite Ready to Live...

I’m not sure why it feels this way, but I’m sure it’s not just me. In fact, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who actually said it first, and hell, that was what, 130 years ago?

Sure, there’s the tired expressions like “life is what happens when you’re making plans” and “life is the journey not the destination.” True to both of those, though not very useful in ridding us of this annoying tickle in our brain stem – the one that nags us that we’re just not LIVING, you know?

I think what Emerson meant, and what bothers me most, is the recognition that the “living” we’re never doing, is the kind that forces us to meld our highest desires and our most basic actions.

We want to be productive, but ‘damn it! the Oscars are on!’ We want to be more connected to our friends, but we can’t put down our smart phones for the person in the room telling us about their day. We want to get further ahead in life, but we neglect to take the steps to make it happen on our own.

Obtaining the authentic kind of living, the only true happiness available, is a process that requires nearly reckless independence from the rest of humanity. It requires that no one else set the docket for your day or your life besides you – even if that means you’re out of the loop on a lot of trivial things.

I don’t mean run off to a cabin in the woods (it’s been done before), I mean one has to reject a whole slate of obligations, or observances of custom in order to pair it down to what ultimately matters. To give those things, and little else, the total time and attention to live an authentic life.

Who gives a damn if you’re fast approaching 40 and there’s not a suitable candidate for a spouse in sight? Are you happy with your life? Do you do the things you’d ultimately love to do and say to hell with the rest? Do you work to make yourself the kind of person you’d like to be? REALLY like to be?

I can promise you this: If you are truly happy – No bullshit, actually, infectiously, enthusiastically, forest-fire-of-confidence-happy, then you won’t have a problem finding a spouse. Or a job. Or a friend. Or a good time on a Friday night.

Because you’ll make those things happen on your own. You’ll decide for yourself what a good time is and won’t have it decided for you by some televised guidos with a penchant for fist-pumping. Unless you like fist pumping, in your heart of hearts, in which case go nuts.

I think the “getting ready to live” is the idea that one day, we’ll just wake up and ‘want’ to; do all the things that are good for us, or what others would like us to do, or what we think we’d like ourselves to do. That doesn’t happen – it just results in more waiting for us to magically align with something we think we want or are told we want.

Don’t wait. Don’t think your going to wake up with a series of immutable desires that compel you to; work out, fall in love with accounting, or go to church three times a week.

Do: focus on what you love and what an actual life you’d die for looks like, and what steps exist between you and that life.

The happiest people around never hide their passion, and give few damns about what anyone ultimately thinks. No way that’s a coincidence.

Your Silence Isn’t Helping Anyone…

Your silence isn’t helping anyone. Least of all you.

Sure, it fits with all the things you’ve been told. That it’s better to “fly under the radar” and to “live to fight another battle.” The problem is you aren’t looking for any battles. And you definitely aren’t looking to live another day – because you’re not doing any living right now. At least not the kind that matters.

I’m not talking about rock climbing and cliff diving and all the risky things one does with one’s life that might provide a rare dose of adrenaline. I’m talking about the day-to-day living that would do a lot to make you happier and more successful. It’s easy to be daring when jumping out of a plane with a trained instructor strapped to your posterior, but another thing altogether to open your mouth at the next meeting and say the unpopular thing that needs to be said.

Forgive me, I’ve been reading/listening to an insane amount of Seth Godin lately, and like all good philosopher poets (we’re calling a “marketing guru” this now? – I am) they have their ONE. BIG. THING. And Godin’s is seductively simple: Make Art. Cause a ruckus. Be bold. Sure, there’s a lot more, but this is the overarching summary in my eyes. And it’s a summation that rings big ass church bells in my noggin.

As a business leader and overall fan of the human condition, I’m constantly motivated by learning what motivates people – or as I’m finding out – what holds them back. My current project is leading a team of 40+ in the daily operations of an off-campus Student Housing community near UCF. It’s exhilarating and every bit a seething mass of awesomeness. At the same time, a big part of my role is as teacher to a number of them whom are still in college and finding their way in the world. This is the messiest part, and also my favorite.

On certain days (read: the best days) I pontificate a lot. My passion gets to run free and I become a whirling dervish of know-how. I try to start with underlying principles and work up from there to the more concrete issue at hand. If you don’t know the “why” you won’t care about the “how”, I always think.

With that in mind, and a good dose of Godin in my ears, I’ve come to believe the biggest restraining force working on anyone is the fear of being wrong. No one likes it and frankly, we’re not taught how to deal with it and accept it. In fact, we’re taught to avoid the whole possibility entirely:

  • If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Everyone has their own opinion
  • Who are you to say?
  • There’s a time and a place and this isn’t it. (Never is!)
  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. (this is my favorite)

It’s all part of the same thing. Sit down. Stay quiet. Hide your art. Hide your knowledge. Hide your passion. No one can crap all over your dream if you don’t actually do anything to make it concrete. This extends past dreams to mere notions of “wouldn’t this be cool…” so we don’t dare do anything we’re not explicitly told to.

It sucks. And I’ve known this for as long as I can remember. I’m done with it.

I’ve had a great career thus far and I owe it entirely to my inability to shut my pie hole. I say the wrong things at the wrong times. I break rules and conventions when they don’t suit the mission and act as obstacles to our goals. I don’t do this recklessly, but do you realize how many rules exist because some idiot not following it could do real damage?

And failure has been a big part of it. I’ve screwed up royally for sure. Mostly, I’ve finished with far more success than not, and in failing, have cleared a new path of others who could benefit from my failure. It gets seen, it gets celebrated. “Whoops, I did something stupid guys – but this is why I did it.”

So speak up. Stand up. Be counted on. Be a part of whatever it is you’re already a part of instead of just dipping in your seat to avoid getting called on. Guess what? They know you’re there and they know you’ve got nothing to say. Isn’t that way worse than being thought stupid?

Prepare. Learn. Think. And sit up straight next time, lean forward and open that mouth god gave you. Your living doesn’t happen on the weekends or in a mountain – it happens wherever you are, everyday.

Worst case? They fire you for looking/thinking/saying something stupid. You move on, get a new gig, and you are in a better place for it. And most importantly you’ve learned something.

Your silence? No one wants that. Unless a movie is on. Then by all means shut up.