Monthly Archives: February 2013

Measurability Measures

(Measure twice, cut once – old carpenter saying)

measurabilityBusiness is dependent upon certain tenets to continue: maintaining, or better, growing is one.  Shrinking is usually a bad sign – unless it references your cost of doing business.  Knowing if a business is healthy requires metrics or measurement of some type.  Financial input and output should be tracked, employee development, sales volumes, and other aspects depending upon your type of business.

 

Measuring progress is critical to understanding, but must be a balanced part of your business diet.  All diets are best when balanced, and if you compare information about your business to a type of diet then you should make an effort to keep things balanced.  If businesses focus too intently on one aspect, for instance short term earnings, the portion of effort applied to this facet of the business can become bloated in respect to the other aspects of the business.  The health of the business is dependent upon this diet.

 

“When an institution becomes the sum of what it measures, it risks valuing only what it measures.”

~Steven Harper

 

Businesses usually develop rules around the metrics or measurements that they track.  An employer has a responsibility to evaluate the rules that are created: to ask why the rule is important, what is the impact of the rule on cost, quality & customer service?  As an employee, you can prudently assist in your organization’s effort to create a healthy business with a balanced diet or perspective of all business and organizational aspects whether tangibly measurable or not.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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February 28, 2013 · 8:28 am

When ‘Why’ is Not the Right Question

whyI have already written a couple of times about the importance of knowing why you are doing something because it will allow you to be more successful.  However, there is a downside to asking why as well which can get you mired in place and unable to move forward.

Why becomes a trap question when you turn it on your own situation – ‘Why did this happen to me?’.  You abdicate the ability to redesign your situation, extricate yourself, move on because you are making someone else responsible.  (Maybe someone else is, but that is beside this point.)

The question to ask when you are in a place that you don’t like is ‘How’.  How do I redesign, extricate, move on from here to a place/situation that suits me better?  Now it doesn’t matter if someone else is responsible for getting you in this spot because you are going to get you out.  You don’t need to do much to get started, just open your mind to the potential that is out there.

Once you are free of the passive ‘why’, you could ask yourself what you want to do instead, what would it take to make some small changes that could make the world of difference to your sense of fulfillment.  This would move you from the passenger seat of your own life into the driver seat.  You hold the control over your own choices.

How exciting, think of the possibilities.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Creating Understanding

understandingCommunication is a beautiful thing, except when it isn’t.  Which is unfortunately frequent.  Something came out wrong, a word or phrase was misunderstood, or any variety of things can derail clear communication.  Communication breakdowns, conflictions of interest or expectations cause all sorts of difficulties both large and small.

 

Think back on the last several conflicts that you are aware of or participated in in some fashion.  What did it take to turn the encounter into a constructive situation?  Without some type of intervention it is possible that there will be an escalation of hostilities at some later point whether overt or not.

 

It is preferable to communicate clearly and create understanding from the start than to have to take action to repair any rift and then try to get momentum going forward.

 

“That is the one thing that I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later.  I used to think that once you really knew a thing; its truth would shine forever.”

~Lucy Greeley

 

My reaction when I read this quote was wow, I never thought about it quite like this before but she’s got a point.  If we once knew something, aren’t we less likely to rethink it later?  Scenarios like this play out daily and could easily lead to a lack of understanding, especially if the other person is suffering from a similar confusion of retention.  How often do we find ourselves in a group hoping that someone else will ask for clarification on a point, but not step forward to be that someone?  The leader of the group should pick up on this mass confusion, but if they do not and no one in the group speaks up suddenly the original intent of the gathering is moot.

 

Whose responsibility is it to get things back on track?  Plenty would say it is the leader’s sole responsibility but why other than refusal to accept part ownership?  I would pose that it is the responsibility of everyone in the gathering to ensure understanding and successful completion of the communication.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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February 26, 2013 · 9:28 am

Throw it Over the Wall

wallJust about the worst habit to get into in the work place is the following phrase, “It’s not my job.”  This is a powerful toxin to your career and should be assiduously avoided.  ‘Not my job’ shuts down the conversation or activity and throws all responsibility over the wall.

You might be thinking what is wrong with it, especially if I’m asked to do something that isn’t part of my job description?  It’s a true statement in that case.  Well, technically it might be true but it is a narrowing thought.  The more that you allow yourself to use it; the more you are putting yourself into a box.

A job description is just a starting point, not a road map.  Train yourself to think expansively about your job requirements and you open up all kinds of possibilities.  Your main job, regardless of industry or job title is to help your organization to succeed at the current strategic objectives.  The way that you accomplish this is streamlined by the department that you are in; you are one part of the whole as defined by the regular activities of your department.

You are also most likely to provide the most quality within your area of expertise, but part of that should be knowledge of the expertise of your co-workers.  Then ‘not my job’ can be a much more productive advisory of ‘let me talk to the expert in this area.  One or both of us will then follow up with the plan to resolve.’

‘Not my job’ might have some similarities to ‘I’m not the best person to resolve this, and get it done right’, but are really worlds apart in mindset.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Challenge Your Self-Defeatist Notions

challengeWe all have them, these thoughts that start ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m not’ and go on to describe some feature of ourselves in a negative light.  Sometimes these are echoes of past voices, sometimes amalgamations of bits and pieces of our growing years.  Wherever they originate, they are self-defeating in nature.

 

If there is something that you would really like to do and your own immediate response is to tell yourself why you can’t do it, stop right there.  Ask that defeatist thought why not – why can’t I go after that promotion, go back to school, take that vacation, etc.  Uh, well, hmmm, because I said you aren’t worthy because that’s what I’ve always said.  Listen, I’m protecting you from potential failure here, why are you suddenly questioning me?

 

Because I’ve matured to a point where I’m not so sure you are protecting me, that’s why – because I am starting to think that you are an outdated and unhelpful notion that should be challenged, that’s why.  Maybe once I spend some more time fleshing out my idea I will find that there are valid reasons to change it or not continue.  But your rubber stamp ‘Can’t’ isn’t valid.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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February 23, 2013 · 9:27 am

How Things Work, Or the Tools that We Need

toolsMy dad had a workshop in a corner of our basement.  He had a big, sturdy workbench made of wood with a vise grip clamped to one side and a variety of interesting tools, an assortment of little necessities sorted into compartments, and shadowy larger items on the shelf below.  Then there was the whole wall of metal shelving that had rows of coffee cans full of screws and nails plus more tools, scraps and mystery items that I only left alone because there might be spiders lurking.  In the middle of his workshop area, he had an old door hoisted on two sawhorses where he would keep his larger projects.

My dad was not a natural teacher, but I learned early on that if I could watch quietly without distracting him with questions, then I was welcome to sit on a stool and observe while he created.  So I did.  I remember being drawn down to cross the dark lengths of basement in my pajamas, skittering toward the halo of light over his workbench.  I remember sitting perched on that stool until the cold from the basement crept up the stool and all through me, but fascinated by whatever project he had set up and not wanting to retreat to the warmth upstairs.

Dad loved to work with his hands; he knew carpentry and other useful household repair information like electrical and plumbing.  He also had a strong artistic interest and out of this came many decorative items like taking a Pennsylvania Dutch design from a tissue box and reworking it to paint onto an old milk can.  He made models of ships and took over a few diorama school projects of mine and my siblings.

I’m not sure if my love of process came out of the hours that I spent watching my dad, or that I was so drawn to watching him because I enjoyed the process.  I know that I have learned more than I realized and this has come in handy, and in situations that bear no resemblance to any of dad’s projects.

One of the tools that I really just had to touch was the level.  It is a long and narrow metal (well these days, plastic) item with two or more glass areas, filled with liquid and an air bubble, that are angled and perpendicular.  It is used to help ensure that something like a table top or a picture is level, hence the name.  But what if you could apply the concept to human interactions?  Is the interaction ‘level’, i.e. are all parties understanding the direction and intent?  Sometimes I can clearly get a mental picture of a level where the air bubbles are not lining up while observing a conversation.

I also couldn’t help but play with the vise grip – what a handy item, literally.  It could hold something in place when you needed both of your own hands to perform a task on the item.  Wouldn’t it be useful to hold a slippery idea in place while you examine it more closely?

I don’t work with my hands in the same way that my dad did, mine type or answer the phone or write notes.  But I have an understanding of tools, process, and how things work thanks to those quiet hours in that circle of light at my dad’s workbench that I build on every day.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Potpourri

DSC03125My siblings used to get frustrated with me because I could keep my Halloween candy and just eat it in small amounts.  I was able to figure out fairly early on that I didn’t enjoy getting sick from the candy, but that certainly didn’t mean that I didn’t love candy.  Check out this post from the Passionate Problem Solver’s blog:  Skills for Success, Delayed Gratification

 

I admit that I hadn’t thought about the subtle differences between self-esteem and self-acceptance before reading this post on the Job Box Report: The Power of Self-Acceptance.  I heartily agree with Rachel and would add that I find self-acceptance much easier as I get older and gain broader experience in the world.

 

An interesting read with a different perspective on the way that groups interact: The Six Thinking Hats by Edward DeBono.  “Thinking is the ultimate human resource.  The main difficulty of thinking is confusion.  With the Six Hats method the emphasis is on ‘what can be’ rather than just on ‘what is’, and on how we design a way forward – not on who is right and who is wrong.”

 

“It is up to us to give ourselves recognition. If we wait for it to come from others, we feel resentful when it doesn’t, and when it does, we may well reject it.”

~Bernard Berkowitz

 

Keep yourself mentally awake, from Forbes: 10 Brainteasers to Test Your Mental Sharpness

 

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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February 21, 2013 · 8:42 am

The Importance of Persistence

Panama Canal - persistence on a multi-year, multi-national level

Panama Canal – persistence on a multi-year, multi-national level

We admire someone with stick-to-itiveness, a person who single-mindedly pursues a goal.  Persistence does not mean adhering to a specific path, but keeping eyes on the intended goal.  Methods can change, as well as participants; even some aspects of the goal may be altered to achieve the essence successfully.

Let’s say that you and your co-workers were sitting one day discussing a particular issue that affects your ability to get tasks done and a new person says that they know about software that will make the task much more efficient.  Excellent!  You share this information with your boss as soon as possible, but she lets you know that there just isn’t money in the budget.  Blast, now what?

Well, you and your team mates could just continue to discuss the problem periodically and lament the stupid budget limitations.  But you are persistent.  You and your buddies split up some tasks to convince your boss that the software is the best answer.  Some people do research on the software itself – how it works, some alternative software platforms, reviews from people who have used the software.

Another part of your group starts to track the time lost on the task using the current process, not only time within your team but within the organization as a whole, perhaps on the part of your customers as well.

Now you can go back to your boss with a great deal more information that includes information to calculate the cost of keeping things the same.  You don’t necessarily have to compute these numbers (you probably don’t have enough of the data to do so anyway) but now the company can take a clear look and make an informed comparison.

Hopefully your persistence will pay off with a new solution to the methods in your task.  If not, regroup and start to plot plan C.

“Plenty of men can do good work for a spurt and with immediate promotion in mind, but for promotion you want a man in whom good work has become a habit.”

~Henry L. Doherty

[We’ll purport for the sake of the modern age that Henry was not excluding woman in his thought on purpose, merely making assumptions of his era.]

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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What’s Your Agenda?

agendaYes, you do have one – whether it is a well thought out 5 year plan or near utter abdication from making any active plans or most likely something in the middle of these extremes.  Whenever you do anything, you have a reason, one that hopefully you have put some thought into.  Stringing the reasons for each of your actions together becomes your agenda even if you intended each to be a separate and distinct action.

 

There is usually a theme or two behind your actions such as interest in making a lot of money, consistently shirking responsibility, eagerness to learn, fear of being singled out, and so on.  Even if you haven’t put much thought into tracking your agenda, the people around you probably have done so.

 

I’ve been known to say that the agenda goes to the bold.  By that I mean that if a situation doesn’t appear to be led by anyone it becomes an opportunity for you to show your capabilities.  Especially if part of your agenda includes being seen as a leader.  Leaders step in to resolve when something seems to be floundering or worse when there is some type of a vacuum.  Conversely, if you don’t define the theme of your actions, then whoever of those around you is bold enough may take the opportunity to name your theme, thus branding you within the organization.

 

So unless part of your agenda is to allow yourself to be co-opted into someone else’s agenda, by all means get busy figuring out your own agenda.  Your agenda must be realistic and suited to your temperament, skills and set you in the direction that you want to go.

 

Here are some ideas from Chris Kyle to get you started, How to Craft a Successful Career Plan.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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February 19, 2013 · 8:59 am

The Natural Ebb & Flow of This Life

From our early days we are acclimated to an increase and decrease of activity similar to the ocean tidal flow.  This pattern of activity exhibits itself most notably through the school calendar.

As children, we each know that September will bring a flurry of new activity as we enter a new grade, adjust to the new dynamic of teacher and a slightly different mix of familiar kids.  After a few weeks we will settle into a routine until about Christmas when the weather changes and we get a long break from our school schedule.  January brings a new adjustment as we get back to school but anticipate snow days and then back to the routine except for standardized testing, then spring break.  Spring weather, growing warmth a bit of rain and finally some green come with restlessness that makes routine hard to concentrate upon until; YES another summer is upon us.

We experience this ebb and flow for years, though looking back it seems to have gone by in a flash.  The movement of seasons and activity dance about us without much conscious thought.  We have trouble keeping up with it all when the flow is rushing at its highest and plenty of time to ruminate when the ebb is upon us.

And then, depending on the profession that we have chosen the pattern reduces or ceases entirely.  Each day can flow endlessly into the following day without much to distinguish one from another except for those brief moments of weekends, holidays and vacation days.

Regardless of the amount of activity, or the amount of your energy expended it is almost as if adults have entered a permanent state of what old time sailors called the Doldrums.  Back when ships were powered by the wind, a lack of wind could be deadly.  Areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which were affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which is a low pressure area around the equator, were called the Doldrums because ships could be stuck in the calm seas for periods of time.

Ebb & Flow

The Doldrums have featured in various types of entertainment such as The Phantom Tollbooth(an excellent book, where I first encountered the idea of the Doldrums), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and most recently in the Johnny Depp movie series The Pirates of the Caribbean.

What we experience in our daily work lives isn’t something that will be covered in a children’s classic, a poem or a movie most likely.  If we were likely to bump into Captain Jack Sparrow dizzily attempting to get out of a long meeting, well we wouldn’t need weekends, holidays or vacation days.

While the ebb and flow of our school schedule carried us through our childhood, we dreamed of how fascinating our adult lives would be because we would have the freedom and the means to do anything we desired.

“When you’re young, you have a great contempt for the lives people end up living.  You think people have more choices than they have.  Now, I admire people who’ve paid the mortgage, sent the kids to college, maintained a relationship, no matter how pedestrian that all is.”

~Susan Alexander (U.S. News & World Report June 6, 1994)

We could consider our young selves foolish; we could further sit in frustration waiting for someone to realize how great we can be if they’d only give us the chance.  We could consider ourselves trapped in the Doldrums of modern life with a job of limited opportunity for varied activity.

Or, we could look closer and see all the little changes that occur daily, that we have within our power to affect.  We could learn some new thing every day, we could choose to reach out to someone, we could realize how far we each have come along.

Like many things as we move from childhood to adulthood, from play to work life, the ebb and flow is still there, it is just more subtle.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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