What's in a word? L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P

Spelling it out!
Sometimes middle managers are called upon to give a presentation or a talk on some theme relevant to their business situation. Past posts on this blog have offered a few suggestions on how to organise thinking around a theme. This one deals with a simple technique of focussing thinking on aspects of the theme itself.
I call the technique "What's in a word?" To use it, spell out the theme to be considered. Then taking each letter in turn come up with other words that are relevant to the theme. Let's take an example. Suppose you have been asked to explore the theme of leadership in your team or organisation. What would the characteristics of good leadership be? Let's spell out the word and see:

L: For me good leaders are people who Listen and Learn
E: They need to be good at Enabling and Encouraging. Energy helps
A: Staff note a leader's Attitude or Aptitude and sometimes their Adaptability
D: Leaders have to show Determination, be good at Decisions and chart Direction
E: How about Envisioning or Enthusing colleagues and staff?
R: Leaders focus on Results, are good at Relationships and Recognise their people
S: They need to be Sincere. Sure they can be tough but Sensitive when needed
H: In a workplace squeeze we need leaders to be Honest. Humility not Hubris
I: Integrity is a must. They need it to be able to Inspire
P: Passion and Positivity in leaders are vital and they have to put People first.

When you spell the theme out like that, the words follow naturally. So do others!

Proposing a solution: Strain the peas!

straining the peas
Ever had a workplace squeeze where you had to propose a course of action for your team or department?
Where do you start? How do you organise your thinking to get it right?
Here's an easy to remember technique that might come in handy when you are asked to write a position paper or outline a proposal for a course of action or solution.  A former colleague taught me the technique many years ago and I have used it ever since.  Here is what he shared.  Think about the issue around themes, each beginning with the letter "P".

1: The first "P" is for Position. It describes the present circumstances. . Keep this bit short.  It's an introduction to the issue - a "Where we are now" statement.
2: You are probably having to suggest a course of action because something isn't quite right.  That brings us to the second "P" - the problem.  State this as objectively as possible, sticking to the facts.
3: What might happen as a result of this problem? What's the worst case scenario, the least and the ones in between? Take a moment and consider the next "P" - the possibilities.  Again be as objective as possible and try not to get too worked up about the negative impacts of the problem.
4: Most of the possibilities are unlikely to materialise but there are some that probably well.  That brings us to the next "P" - probabilities.  Get a sense of those and write them down.
That's a fair bit of analysis so far but make sure it doesn't lead to another kind of "P" - paralysis.  Now's the time to think solutions.
5: Based on the points that you have considered so far: Position | Problem | Possibilities | Probabilities move to make your last "P" - proposals. This is the time to be action-focussed. Make your proposals, get a decision and go for it!
It can be a tighter workplace squeeze if you have been asked to keep this to a single side of A4 but with a bit of practice you could probably be quite effective there too.
The technique is also useful when thinking on your feet to verbalise a solution.
Think of those "P"s, keep it simple and strain them.

Making haste slowly? Hurry up and slow down

Are you good at getting things done quickly?  Or are you known for being slow and methodical?  It seems to me that in this fast-moving world it is the first of these skills that is most appreciated.  However, I will be making the point in this piece that there is a need for both these states. The trick is how to be good at both.

Workplace squeeze:
It’s holiday time in the office and many of us are focused on trying to get things cleared up before taking leave.  Have you ever noticed how productive and selective you can get about work when the holiday season arrives?  Wouldn’t it be something to maintain that kind of momentum the rest of the year? 

It’s not really possible of course as we need time and space to re-energise and keep sharp.  When we work at peak levels we need time to recover and recreate otherwise we suffer burn out.  The advent of cut-backs and shortages sometimes means that fewer workers have more to do to make up for the shortfall in staff and resources.  It is too easy to simply ask workers to relentlessly push harder and faster. That’s not how we are most productive. 

The French have a saying, “reculer pour mieux sauter” – which means taking a step back to be able to jump better.  When did you last take a step back to measure up the job and consider ways of doing it more effectively?  If you haven’t, would it help if you did? 

What’s that I hear?  Too busy?  Not enough time?  Have to get this done!
Tell me, if you haven’t enough time to get it right, first time, where do you find it to do it right next time? 

Don’t get me wrong here.  I am all for a proper sense of urgency and occasionally we simply have to pick up the pace.  We can put ourselves into that frame of mind by simply moving faster.  Taking the stairs more quickly or taking a brisk walk away from the desk often does the trick for me.

But I am also a fan of slow food and taming the pace of life.  When I take breaks and slow down an interesting thing happens.  Ideas come.  And some of these ideas help me work smarter.
The fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare comes to mind.  The tortoise won.

I thought about this today on my way home from work.  If you drive then you’ll know that you have to change speed many times to match the particular speed limit for the area you are in.  That might be 30 mph through town; 20 around schools; 50 mph on the open road and a max of 70 on the motorway.  Yes, there are maximum speed limits.   Here’s the thing: My car can travel much faster than the top speed permitted, so there are other factors to bear in mind.  Safety for one! 

And so with the workplace there are times when we need to slow down and other times to speed up.
What would help you speed up sensibly in your area of work?  Will you practise it?
I decided to pick up momentum writing this piece; aiming to have it written, checked and posted within 45 minutes, (I usually take twice that time).  I have a minute or two to go then time to slow down.

A goal for a smarter workplace

How do you stay focussed on your goals?  Assuming you set them of course.
Having a goal and a plan to reach it is generally agreed to be an important personal and career development strategy.  Some set SMART goals in which the desired state is specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound.  In John Adair’s Handbook of Management and Leadership he added two further criteria for goals that made them SMARTER, and these additional criteria were: evaluated and reviewed.  Adair went on to propose that goals should be smarter to the power of two.  His SMARTER2 goals were Strategic, Meaningful, Attainable, Rewarding, Teambuilding, Empowering and Rewarding.  I buy that!
Some writers suggest that goals should be outside our comfort zone and that we should aim for HUGGs, Huge, Unbelievably, Gigantic Goals.  Dreaming big in other words.
Whatever the goal, most agree that we need ways to keep it in mind.  Some writers advise that goals should be written out each morning.  In that way they become a focus for attention throughout the coming day.  Some personal development writers suggest writing the goal on a sticky note and placing it strategically so that we are reminded of it when we see the visual reminder.  Such notes might be positioned on a fridge door, on a bread-bin or on a car window visor as visual reminders of what we are aiming for.  You might guess from the first two that I am focussed on weight loss!
Others in the personal effectiveness literature say we should sleep on our goals.  They recommend that we review them last thing at night and go to sleep positively visualising the desired outcome.
Over the years I have used many of these techniques and it has to be said I have achieved many of the things I have aimed for.
I am a fan of focussing on something for a month at a time.  If it’s a new positive habit I want to develop I figure that daily action over a month is a good start.  Develop a positive habit and then add a new one.

Here’s how I use it in the workplace.

In my job our IT managers require staff to change their computer log-in passwords once a month.  I used to see this as a chore but now I view it as an opportunity to come up with a password that reflects my positive action focus for the month.  I take time over this, aiming to be as creative as possible.
How would your password support your goal if you were to type at each log-in a related word or phrase?  Phrases like Improving, Connecting, Customer focus and Effectiveness turn a routine IT requirement into a useful reminder of a meaningful and rewarding goal.  Is this worth trying?  If so, give it a go.
And then develop it further and consider applying it to a screensaver or desktop wallpaper where the opportunities to use pictures as metaphors for greater effectiveness are enormous.

Got a goal?  Me too!  At least to the end of this month!