Keeping it front and center

As some of you know I started back to the gym this year after a long absence with some legitimate excuses, I had a hernia that made exercise excruciating and that took a long time to fix while I waited for insurance to kick in and even longer to recover from, and some lame one’s, any other excuse I came up with for the past few years. In order to track progress I keep a calendar up front and center on my computer. It shows how much I weigh everyday and what amount of exercise I have done. I have a few set routines that work on cardio and strength development I picked up from my personal trainer I had in Shanghai and track how much I do each time go . Most importantly the calendar shows that I go. Showing up is really the key here, if I show up the exercise is easy.

So let’s just say the calendar is there de-bunk my own bullshit. I realized today that I hadn’t been to the gym in ten days. I was out of town for a few days, but the doesn’t justify missing ten days strung together. Sooo… either I go today or it adds up to eleven days. The calendar doesn’t lie. It’s incapable of lying it records data, so I will be going to the gym to fix the situation. Forget the excuses and just get the calendar back on track.

The other side to that is to examine my schedule and look where I can find time to squeeze in my gym time when things get busy. At some point I have to make those ten lost days come into focus as a chance to break what ever habits I let get between me and the gym. To me the whole reason of keeping track isn’t about seeing where I am going. I have a scale and a mirror for that. The calendar is for catching my own bs. It is for letting me know when I have used my normally best friend, my “bad-ass rational thinking,” and used it to substitute a reason to move off track. The thing is failing to hit the target or listen to my inner bs doesn’t make me “bad.” It shows me that I have the luxury to miss my target. I know have the luxury to figure out how to get on track. That’s worth celebrating.

Since I write this Blog about doing business in China unsurprisingly I can find a way link my own gym experience back to my work experience. The thing I find here coaching young leaders is that as their companies are find ways to better measure their out put and how they benchmark their KPI it is getting clearer. As a direct result it is getting harder for them to substitute BS and lay blame in other places for missing targets. As companies here learn how to keep it front and center it means that the young managers and leaders here have a tough evolutionary jump to make. At the same time older leaders are failing to make the jump to work in a results driven system.

This leads to a couple of serious issues for leaders both young, let’s say 35 and under, and old, let’s just say the folks managing the younger leaders since many of them are also under 35. Let’s start with the first common problem I see, demanding to just see the results. Strict adherence to results is great if you are landing on the Moon, for example, when you have no error for margin. You also have no way to exceed results either you land on the Moon perfectly or you fail and something goes wrong which can in fact be disastrous.

What happens when you miss the Moon and hit the stars...

One can in most business cases not only both fail to hit your targets but also exceed them. In my gym experience this would equate to going five time a week instead three or four. Yes, you sometimes hit your targets as well. By strictly demanding results you find a few things happen. The first is you make excuses impossible and by keeping metrics up front and center keep the pressure on to perform according to those metrics. In essence there is nothing wrong there since it eliminates passing blame and excuse making both of which are fairly common no matter where you are and create no useful results for anyone. The second is you stop serious recognition of what worked or what turned out to be a lucky break when you hit or exceed your target. Most seriously you turn off the ability to reflect on success or failure and learn from what works and what doesn’t. If your goal is to become results driven this means in the long run your drive to focus on results starts to kill excellence rather than drive it forward because you don’t learn how to replicate success or reduce factors that lead to failure.

On a more serious note I find more and more young leaders and specialists internalizing failed results as a sign that they are failures. From a measurable psychometric point of view we see this in increased emotional volatility, higher stress levels, and lower mental health. In other words when you turn results into a pure metric evaluation you not only turn off learning you injure the psychic fabric of the people you are responsible to develop and lead to greatness. Now that clear metric evaluation is starting to take hold here in China the next big challenge that those of us in the field of people development face is turning how we interpret those results into a meaningful action that both drives business but also keeps the younger and more emotionally vulnerable leaders moving forward rather than breaking down and burning out.

Since we can actually measure the damage done (and positive emotional support as well) to young leaders I suggest we turn this into part of the leadership metrics in China. I also suggest that we actually create dialogue among our people leaders as to what they are doing to damage their successors and high potentials or conversely what they are doing to foster greatness. Keeping this sort of discussion front and center with business results makes for a more empathic and healthier work experience.

Standardization versus Repitition

I wrote last time that I felt that it was important for anyone who wants to create a brand identity based around themselves to go through a process of education and developing skills as a journeyman/woman.  Let’s be clear though there is a HUGE difference between 9 years of experience and doing the same 1 year of experience nine times.  There is a fundamental difference between being very good at doing the basics and understanding how to cover the basics from a business perspective.

I know some people who can make phenomenal slide shows.  Other folks can write a particular strong of code better and faster than other designers.  I also know some gurus of spread sheet making who can do things with Excel that I can’t even fathom.  I have seen people run software that crunches statistical data in new and creative ways.  All of these skills overlap into my business field, but the danger that we face is finding ourselves sealed away in a cubicle mastering the tricks in our Office software and applying them over and over again without ever going out and bringing the outside in.  We become experts, valuable cogs in a factory model, but we miss making the step to see the whole picture and understand our true value to the market.

Did Ben Franklin drink the Kool-Aid, this historical rendering seems to indicate he did...

Ben Franklin is attributed with saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results.”  I would go one step forward and say that it is even more insane to think that just because we know how to do one thing well and we have been doing it for years that we think the right new thing to do is to take that thing and keep doing just independently like we did in our old factory lifestyle.  In fact in this day and age the Factory model of thinking would very much look like insanity to Mr. Franklin.

Before you break away to be the Master of Your Destiny, and believe me I think you should, ask yourself these questions?

  1. Have I brought the outside in?  Do I have a complete picture for how to apply this skill to meet my clients’ needs rather than my employers’?
  2. Have I been doing the same thing over and over?  Do I have experience in doing business with my craft or am I experienced in only one aspect of my craft and not the business?
  3. Will I feel satisfied with my life and work ten years from now, or will it become routine?  Will I try to replicate a factory approach to what makes me special?

Let’s be clear factories are not inherently bad, but a factory lifestyle and way of thinking is.  A factory makes stuff, and stuff is not inherently bad.  Taking the people factor out creating or the creativity out of creativity though is what traditional factory thinking has mastered.  It creates repetition.  It asks us to stop looking for newer better ways.  It teaches us that change is bad and that adaptability is not an essential aspect of work.  People with factory thinking will always be left behind by people with an entrepreneurial mindset.  To quote Ricky Bobby, “It’s the fastest who get paid.” and agility and speed are not part of a factory mindset.

But anyone who wants to be great will tell you that Eli Whitney had a good idea when he brought about a revolution based on interchangeable mass produced parts.  He created a mind set of efficiency that was later co-opted by factory thinkers.  Be efficient, standardize the methods of production and practices that drive your economic engine to promote speed and adaptability.  Don’t stick your thinking in a cubicle and demand repetition that is the definition of insanity.

This came out of writing a training report today.  The definition of repetition and boredom in my job.  I like the direction my reports have gone over the years.  For a core leadership program I can generate a standard 1 page report in about 5-6 hours.  A lot of this is through standardization.  My reports or some of the best (to toot my own horn the best) I have seen in the China market, but one of the challenges was to figure out how to simplify the process while customizing the result.  The same with workbook creation.  Excellent results, highly flexible, almost fun to do.  The break through was understanding why reports mattered to a client and not just knowing how a report should look and feeling good about the product I give to my client…