We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

We all do it: We all ask questions day in and day out. But have you ever wondered if you are asking the right questions?

A few days ago I stumbled across a book I hadn’t read in years, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, written by John G. Miller as an aid for reframing questions in order to generate more personal accountability, which in turn results in a shift in attitude and resulting behaviors.

As I thumbed through the book, I reread his guidelines for creating a QBQ:
1. Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why," "When," or "Who").
2. Include an "I" (not "they," "them," "we," or "you").
3. Focus on action.
You get it. Not "When are they going to do something about this?", but rather "What can I do?"

Sounds simple until you start putting it into practice in difficult situations where you’d like to blame someone else. By using the model you’ll find yourself taking some personal accountability for the solution that is needed. Isn’t that what our bosses are looking for today? Employees with creativity and a willingness to take risks in order to make a difference?

So when the book opened to the short chapter (it’s only two pages) entitled, "The Risk of Doing Nothing" I saw the conundrum our workplaces are dealing with having one foot in old school practices and beliefs and one in the new, yet to be defined. We’re asking employees to avoid failure, but at the same time be creative problem solvers. How can we expect new solutions and new thinking if we’re not prepared to applaud mistakes?

Is Inaction a Viable Alternative?

Some people will avoid taking a risk at any cost. This avoidance is usually fueled by fear. A fear of failure, of losing credibility, of stepping into the spotlight, or worse, a fear of making a mistake and losing a job as a result. But in today’s highly-competitive market, can anyone afford to allow fear to hold them back?

We all recognize that no job comes with a guarantee of job security – just look at the unemployment statistics. And it may seem like not rocking the boat will afford smooth sailing, but the counterintuitive reality reveals that the fear of taking initiative because of the perceived risks that may be involved could just land you in the unemployment line tomorrow. As Miller writes, "Taking action may seem risky, but doing nothing is a bigger risk!"

Organizations that have embraced lean manufacturing and Six Sigma methodologies recognize the importance of taking action through a process of asking the right questions. The right questions come from examining processes with the primary goal of maximizing customer value while minimizing waste.

When organizations encourage and nurture cultures where employees can safely step outside their comfort zone and take actions that have an element of associated risk, those employees are:
  • Learning and growing. Inaction on the other hand leads to stagnation and the inability to deal with change.
  • Discovering new solutions to old problems. Inaction is focused on the past, not the future.
  • Demonstrating courage and leadership. Inaction speaks volumes about fear.
  • Building confidence. Inaction shines a beacon on self-doubt.

As Miller writes, "It’s better to be one who is told to wait than one who waits to be told." Which behavioral style is your organization seeking?

So What’s Next?

Many organizations are still built on models of competitiveness and reprimands for failures. Performance management systems that rank employees against their peers. Reward and recognition programs based on the success of "established" processes, regardless of their current value to customers. It’s time for HR and OD leaders to take risks – to step out of the box and embrace bold changes. Inaction in this global, fast paced environment could cause the organization to stagnate and die.

I believe it’s time for leaders to develop organizational transition plans geared at shifting cultures. We need to embrace collaborative and supportive environments where individuals are encouraged to share knowledge and information, working together to find new solutions to organizational problems - and that means getting comfortable with failure. Did you know that Henry Ford, known today for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, failed in early business attempts that left him broke five times before he founded Ford Motor Company? Making mistakes is an important part of the growth process. As information evolves and is transmitted so quickly, we need organizations filled with employees willing to share knowledge, not hang on to it because they want to be promoted over their colleagues.

It’s also time to re-evaluate our performance management systems and move toward continuous recognition of individuals for their strengths and contributions, as well as how they partner and work with others to improve workplace performance, profitability and customer satisfaction. In an environment where knowledge and ideas must be shared across disciplines and business lines in order to survive, it just doesn’t make sense to support old HR processes that undermine teamwork. The old "forced ranking" system that American businesses came to love as a result of its success at GE appears to be fading. A recent report published by the Institute for Corporate Productivity indicated the percentage of "high-performing" companies using forced ranking systems has plummeted from 49% to 14% in just two years.

Successful organizations are realizing that it’s not only time to ensure we have the right individuals doing the right work, but we need to be asking the right questions. A one-size-fits-all approach to operational and people management isn’t practical. These organizations are recognizing the value of cultivating a solid approach to organization development planning and implementation. They know there is no magic bullet or short-cut to good management practices of people, and ultimately the management of the business. It’s not about ranking or the numbers, it’s about dialogue.

So, are you and your business leaders asking the right questions? As you prepare for your fall retreats and strategic planning events for the coming year, I encourage you that this might be the most valuable question you can ask.

As always, I welcome your comments to my article. Please share your thoughts below. If you found this article helpful, I appreciate you sharing it with others. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, CEO and Sr. Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are passionate about change and embracing the organizational designs and needs for a successful future. Contact Debbie for more information: Debbie@evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Be Successful, Manage Your Morning

I don’t know about you, but when the calendar turned to July 1st, I was asking, "What happened to May and June?" And does anyone else feel like you just get your day started and the next thing you know it’s time for dinner? What’s happening to make our days spin by so quickly?

Obviously it has nothing to do with the changes in nature. The earth is still spinning at the same speed – 24 hours. The problem seems to be with how well or poorly we are managing our time. Our expectations for a 9-to-5 work life, with weekends spent relaxing with family or a good book seem to have all but vanished. Instead, our expectations have morphed into an addictive world of 24/7/365 information and connectivity and an illusion that with all this information and technology we can do more. I refer to an illusion because even with all the gadgets we can surround ourselves with, the clock still ticks 60 times for every minute. Other things may be changing, but the human capacity element of this equation is still the same.

Is it Time to Reassess Your Time Management Practices?

Since I offer time management workshops to my clients, I’m very careful to not be a hypocrite; on one hand espousing great techniques for managing balance and order in your schedule, while on the other spinning out of control trying to catch up with my own commitments and projects. But every now and then even the doctor has to take a step back and check on healthy habits.

Recently Fast Company.com published an article by Laura Vanderkam, a nationally recognized journalist and author of the book, What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I’m sure all of us have attended a time management workshop at some point, and have tried to develop and incorporate new habits into our lives based on the techniques shared. Changing habits can be a difficult task. Like with any behavioral change, it’s easy, especially when stressed, to fall back into old routines. So as Laura suggests, periodically monitoring how you’re doing is a good practice to maintain in order to sustain the changes you are interested in.

When I saw Laura’s article I was intrigued, because clearly I needed to take time to assess what I’ve got going on if I’m missing entire months! And she’s right: For most people the early morning hours are a great time to get things done. Mornings usually offer the best window of opportunity for time with minimum interruptions – which we know is a major derailer of our efforts to manage our time.

Personally, in an ideal world, I like to get my 4-mile walk started about 6:30 a.m. This works for me because it allows me time to get in my exercise before some ‘emergency’ wakes up, it provides me a guilt-free schedule that doesn’t cut into my work time, and I get the added benefits of ‘quiet time' - being with nature, renewed energy, and an opportunity to think about how I will organize my day when I do get to my desk. But as we all experience, the world doesn’t always offer the ideal.

In the past I’ve written about time management and suggested techniques such as:
  • Turn off your email pop-up feature when you’re working on your computer so you aren’t inviting interruptions.
  • Put an ‘away message’ on your phone and computer to help others manage their expectations of when you’ll get back to them.
  • Schedule ‘out of the office’ time to work on major projects or chunks of work where you need to be totally focused due to content or schedule.
  • Be mindful that more hours worked does not equate to better productivity; in fact, at some point overtime hours transform into less productive time.
  • Multi-tasking doesn’t make us more efficient; in fact, studies are confirming what we intuitively experience, all those tasks are really interrupters for each other. Best to do one thing at a time.

Here are a few additional points from Laura to help you, if you are interested in reassessing how you start and manage your day:
  • Track your time – To improve how you’re spending your time you have to know what you’re doing with it right now. Be aware of the decisions you are making and the reasons behind what you think you have to do.
  • Picture the perfect morning – As you are visioning how to spend possibly the best hours of the day, consider what you would enjoy doing, as well as utilizing some of this time for personal and professional growth.
  • Think through the logistics – Create the plan and assemble what you need for success.
  • Build the habit – Laura’s 5-step process to optimize a behavioral change: start slow, monitor your energy, attempt one habit at a time, and reward yourself.
  • Tune up as necessary – This is an important step, not to be overlooked. As you step back and reflect on what’s working and not working with your time management practices, be willing to let go of the rituals that no longer work and replace them with others that fit your current life.

So What’s Next?

Change is continuously happening and that change is impacting the way we work and play. We can’t assume the routine that worked for us last year or last week for that matter, is the optimal routine of what we should be doing tomorrow.

In organizational planning, we conduct assessments of the current requirements, consider the needs for the future, and work on plans to close the gaps between the points in time. The same process works for personal change. Consider what you’re doing now, what’s working and not, and how you vision using your time in the future. Once you’ve got a handle on what needs to change, the appropriate actions will become apparent.

If you’d like to read more specifics about Laura’s tips, check out her Fast Company article. Healthy living requires a balance of time for work, play, spirituality, family, friends, ourselves and community - not in any particular order. It’s a constant tug-of-war to find the ‘time.’ However, initiating and monitoring good habits can make it possible.

As always, I welcome your comments to my posting. Please share your thoughts below. If you found this article helpful, I’m very happy for you to pass it along to others. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A King, SPHR, CEO and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are energized about changing individual and workplace practices and can help you navigate a plan for successful change. Contact Debbie for more information: Debbie@evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.

Larry Lewis
(Article or MP3 Options)