It gets worse before it gets better

You want to make a change.  You’re tired of the status quo.  You decide to take the leap.

You’re going to have that long overdue conversation about the relationship.

You’re going to leave your job for a career that truly aligns with your passions.

You’re going to improve your performance to meet management expectations.

And you will suffer.  And struggle.  And wonder why you bothered.

Change. It’s both sharp and slippery.  It’s exhilarating and exhausting. It’s enticing and repulsive.  And it’s not just our own.  Any change we make, by extension, makes others change.   And they don’t like change any more than we do.

Be clear. Be courageous.  Be patient. Persevere.

 

Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”

Managing Expectation (Notice there is no “s”)

I was having a conversation with my friend Barry (an astute observer of social and interpersonal relationships) last Saturday night about the perils of misaligned expectations.  We were reminiscing about the time that he and my husband Rick had gone ocean kayaking and come back much (much, much) later than Barry’s wife had expected.

He recounted the tale of the two of them making their way to shore after four (four!) hours of playing in surf and, as they approached the beach, seeing the dark and stormy clouds on the horizon.  It wasn’t weather.  It was Amy.  His wife.  And she was – understandably – madder (and more worried) than a wet hen.   Did I mention it was during a hurricane and there were 15 foot swells?

Long story short: she expected a “couple” of hours and the guys interpreted that as…well…they probably didn’t really interpret it as anything.

I chuckled knowingly (having been there, done that, gotten the t-shirt) and said sagely: “It’s all about managing expections”.

“No!”, Barry said. “That’s the problem.  It’s about managing expectaTION.  Singular.  There shouldn’t be more than one expectation.  That’s when the trouble starts.”

He’s right.

The better we are as individuals, teams and organizations at coming to agreement on a shared definition of success, the more likely we are to succeed.

Tangled Necklaces

Behold: the hopelessly tangled necklace – the thin and delicate chain somehow snarling itself into a tiny unyielding ball of fused metal; relegated to the back of the jewelry box to languish in the vain hope that someday, someone will have the patience to unleash it from its sad tight bonds.

I must have a specific strain of OCD that compels me to take on the tangled necklace.  I can’t let it be.  I can’t let it go.   I WILL unknot that knot.  I WILL unsnarl that snarl.

How to unsnarl a tangled necklace:

1. Find a clean, clear, white table or counter with lots of light as a workspace. Place the necklace on the work surface.

2. Using the ball of your fingertip, roll the snarl around gently to take stock of your challenge and to begin to loosen the bonds

3. Using your fingernail, tap gently on the snarl until the chain begins to loosen.

4. Using your two pointer fingers/finger nails, continue to tap and spread the chain as it begins to loosen.  Do not attempt to unsnarl the chain yet.

5. Continuing to spread the loops of chain out on the work surface and begin to notice how the chain is twisted around itself.  If there is a clear twist, carefully untwist that one loop careful not to disturb the other loops. CAUTION: Though you may feel relief and excitement as a result of this small progress, do not pick up the necklace and do not attempt complex untwisting.

6. Continue to gently tap the knots and spread the loops until you expand the mess to the ends of the necklace.  At this point it may become clear that the ends of the necklace can now be drawn over/under/through the loops.  Take care to address one loop at a time and keep the necklace on the work surface so as to avoid screwing it up. (Note: “screwing it up” is a technical term in untangling)

Untangling a necklace takes time and patience.  More importantly, it takes will.  Many of us live with sad tight snarls in our work and in our lives and relegate these important parts of ourselves to the back of the jewelry box. Over time, we no longer have the resources to get new necklaces or to unsnarl the ones we have.

(Are you responsible for motivating and engaging others?  Do you need a new way to move individuals and teams tangibly forward? Find out more.)

Happy Firing

There should be absolutely, positively no reason for someone to be surprised upon being fired.  Ever.

Now, I’m not saying there won’t be a measure of shock.  But the fact that the two of you have arrived at this point should not under any circumstance be a complete surprise.

Here’s the four step continuum of progressive discipline with which every manager should be acquainted:

1. Suggest: “You might try this next time…”

2. Direct:  “I’d like you to handle it this way next time…”

3. Alert:  “It’s important that you remember to…”

4. Notify:  “We’ve talked about this several times.  If this isn’t corrected, your employment could be affected.”

These four steps happen BEFORE any mention of losing one’s job.

What’s Working?

The “What’s working?” question is a corollary to the constructive venting I talked about in an earlier post.

The organizational development approach of Appreciative Inquiry posits that identifying and leveraging the good stuff is as or even more effective than finding and fixing the bad stuff.

I’m not quite as idealistic as the hard core AI’ers so I like to start with a spirited and invigorating bitch session (for lack of a more delightfully appropriate phrase) followed by the “baby out with bathwater” question.

Spent from the exertion of spewing venom about one’s circumstances (ie: management-doesn’t-support-the-goals-we-don’t-have-the-resources-to-do-our-job-leadership-is-inconsistent-I’m-not-paid-enough-for-this-s$#t-why-does-XYZ-department-get-flex-schedules-and-we-don’t?-…) folks are ready for it.

Wow.  There’s A Lot Wrong

A team in the throes of improvement needs to hear some acknowledgement: “Wow.  There’s a lot wrong.  Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”  The thing is, if your team thinks there’s a lot wrong, then there is.  Until your team feels like things are going reasonably swimmingly, you will continue to peer through from the sorry-end of the knothole.  So you might as well acknowledge it so that they can move to the next stage.

Baby Out with the Bathwater

Once we’ve vented and once we’ve acknowledged the monumental problems that need to be addressed, we wonder: “Is there anything working well that we should take care to preserve?”  Afterall, we wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

If you give the venting enough genuine space and time to breathe, then when you ask this next question, you are likely to hear about some pretty important (and leveragable) aspects of your organization that can help you get to goal.

Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”

Addressing the Ball

In Ireland last year I had the privilege and pleasure of playing at Bantry Bay Golf Course in County Cork in the company of an accomplished golfer.  I am eternally grateful that he was also a respectful and patient instructor.

I learned about belt buckles, V formations and coiling the spring – all of which markedly improved my nascent golf game.  I also learned that the “Hail Mary” – though a particular favorite of mine when learning new sports – is not a strategy that transfers appropriately to golf.  And neither should it apply so often to management.

We find ourselves too busy or too overwhelmed or too burnt out or too harangued to take the time necessary to quiet the course, site the goal, survey the conditions, and align our efforts before charging forward and making the play.

You may still end up throwing a Hail Mary.   But it will look and land better for having taken the time to respectfully and patiently address the ball.

Dependency on External Motivation / Seth Godin

The following post is taken from Seth Godin’s fabulous blog.  See the original post here.  (And subscribe to his feed if you know what’s good for you)

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“One of the characteristics of the industrial age was the reliance on external motivation.

Go to work on time or the boss will be angry.

Work extra hard and the boss will give you a promotion.

If you get paid to work piecework, then your paycheck goes up when you work harder.

This mindset is captured by the Vince Lombardi/pro sports/college sports model of the coach as king. Of course we’ll have our non-profit universitiess pay a football coach a million or more a year, of course we need these icons at the helm–how else will we get our players to perform at their best?

I was struck by a photo I saw of male fencers at Cornell who practice with the women’s fencing team. Clearly, they’re not allowed to compete in matches (though the university counts them for Title XIV). I got to thinking about what motivates these fencers. Are they doing it because they’re afraid of the coach or getting cut? Would they fence better if they were?

The nature of our new economic system, that one that doesn’t support predictable factory work, is that external motivation is far less useful. If you’re looking for a big payday, you won’t find it right away. If you’re depending on cheers and thank yous from your Twitter followers, you’re looking at a very bumpy ride.

In fact, the world is more and more aligned in favor of those who find motivation inside, who would do what they do even if it wasn’t their job. As jobs turn into projects, the leaders we need are those that relish the project, that jump at the chance to push themselves harder than any coach ever could.”

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It is extraordinarily critical for those of us who are leaders, change agents and educators to understand the implications of this.  Where do we currently build skill in internal motivation?  We understand the why of it.  We need to develop the how.