A Word to the Wise and Anyone Else Who Might Be Listening

Lecture for business people

I just had my 40th high school reunion and recently the 28th anniversary of starting my business.  These numbers are sounding really big.

At my reunion, I heard people talking about being grandparents.  I immediately reached out to my children to “check in.”  While I may be ready to be a grandma, I’m not ready to be called “Grandma.”

Meeting young(er) entrepreneurs and watching them start their businesses makes me reminisce.  (Sidetrack…for those who know me well, reminiscing is unusual because I have a terrible memory.)

Therefore, I have words of wisdom (28 years of it) that I thought may be relevant to those that are just starting out.

Do what you like….The money will come.  I am a big believer in this one.  I think that if you enjoy what you are doing, it is easier to get passionate about it.  Passion is usually one of the key ingredients in helping me run my business.  If I didn’t believe in what we do and our results, I wouldn’t have been able to maneuver through the many ups and downs of my business.

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Don’t listen to naysayers.   I can’t tell you how often in the 28 years of my business that I have been told that I should change my model or that “I’ll never succeed”.  Yet, I live by my favorite movie line, “I triple dog dare you.”  I’m very competitive so if someone has told me that what I’m doing won’t work, I translate that into a triple dog dare you moment.  I dig my feet in deep and take whatever action I believe is needed to “prove them wrong.”  Some may say that’s “demented.”  Could be, but it has worked for me ever since I started this business.  I believe in it in and will do what I need to succeed.  We are a multimillion dollar business.  Just remember that sometimes people find judging others easier than doing it themselves.

Don’t start unless you have the passion for it.  See #1.

Define what you are willing to give up before you are forced to give it up.   I wrote a blog awhile back about changing the phrase “having it all” to “having your all.” I knew this was important enough for me to start my own business but I had just had my first child and wanted to be around while the kids were small.  So I created a work model that would give me what I wanted…setting the infrastructure for a new consulting firm  while being the room parent for my children’s class (as many years as I didn’t have to duke it out with another Mom).  Balancing was tough.  My kids were little and my company was beginning to grow from a single contributor to a growing staff.    I couldn’t “have it all,” so I prioritized.  I made sure that my mental list of what I wanted was prioritized, and that those priorities were met…first and foremost.   I chose to have someone come in the home to watch my children even though there were times that my income went straight to the nanny. I don’t regret it.  Those things that were not prioritized were delegated. Success by my book!

Children absorb as much from your example as they do from your words.  At the time that I started my business and had my first child, I lived in a bedroom community.  At that time, there were few women in my neighborhood that worked, let alone owned a business.  I had no role models and no one in my family had worked in business.  I had to learn on my own.  This took tons of trial and error and the entire time I was trying, I felt guilt.  And here’s what all that guilt produced.  I have two daughters that are smart, independent young women with (and working on) secondary college degrees.  Whether I believed it at the time or not, I was their role model. The only thing that I wanted for both of them was to be happy in what they do and to be self-reliant.

Note: This is important for any parent that might wonder if they will screw up their kids if they go back to work.  There is no guarantee in life but showing them that there are options for them in life is a viable model.  That was one of my highest prioritized items.

Busy mom.

Many will tell you better ways to do something.  You are the only one dealing with the consequences of your actions.  Earlier in my career, I was so unsure of myself that I consistently told anyone that would listen about my current situation.  I wanted their advice or some kind of confirmation that I made the right choice.  I’ve learned through my many years in business that everyone will be free with an opinion if you give them the opportunity.  Some opinions may even be worth your consideration….trusted advisors, mentors, family.  What I often have to remind myself is that in the end, I am the only one that has to live with the consequences of my decision.  So if you end up taking only one piece of advice away from this article, it’s don’t listen to anyone’s advice in the end (this blog being the exception).  You can gather up any opinions you need to make a decision but remember that you are the only one that has to live with the result of that decision.

In the end, listen to your own voice.  It is the only one that matters.

The Queen of Awkward Conversations

I was recently told that I am the queen of awkward conversations.  While that may sound like an insult….to 95% of the population, the person that said that to me knew that I would wear it like a badge of honor.

See….I am not afraid of difficult conversations.  Between hating surprises and being a problem solver, I don’t like loose ends.  When I read the room and understand that someone’s words don’t match their actions, I will approach them to find out the real story.  While some may feel awkward to having that conversation, it is natural for me.  What I find is that most people wear their feelings on their sleeves yet they won’t clearly discuss those feelings unless pressed.  They believe they are being polite or afraid of the potential conflict that might incur.

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I am a strong believer in the adage; you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.  So if someone is saying “yes” but acting out “no”, it makes the task harder to accomplish.

My advice on how to have those difficult conversations may be hard for some to address but having the conversation has never ever failed me.  A few reasons to have the conversations:

  • Even in situations where the result may not be in my best interest, by being on the same page with my antagonist, I even the playing field.
  • I can impact my destiny and help direct the conversation. If I don’t know their objections, I am at the mercy of their decisions.
  • Knowing the other side’s point of view may open up my mind to other options or ideas. They may have some good points that are worthy of some action but I won’t know if I don’t push the envelope and ask
  • Offering to listen to their concerns has often bridged a dispute or a potential dispute. Sometimes people are just looking for someone that will listen
  • People try to hide their unhappiness but it never really goes away and it might come out in other ways. Talking about it and getting it out in the open can help redirect emotions to  drive out a better option

How Do I Start?

So how do you go about having the difficult conversation? Here are the ways I make sure I take advantage of the opportunity:

  1. Take out the emotion.  This is the hardest part for most people.

I had a client that told me that my people were no good.  Since I knew that wasn’t true, I tried to arrange a meeting with this individual.  This individual didn’t want to meet with me but I finally got a chance to get this person alone and I requested the meeting.  This person did not want to meet to talk about the insults that were thrown out.  However, I addressed the insults in a different manner.  I told this person that I wanted to understand why they felt this way.  See, I shared that I take the quality of our work quite seriously.  I told this individual that I couldn’t do anything about the insults but if there were situations that caused them to feel that way; I could attempt to address those situations.

That approach allowed them to agree to talk.  No justification as to why my people were insulted.  I took out the emotion.  I just wanted to know the facts.  Just the facts (I feel a little like Dragnet).  When we did meet, I focused on incidents that upset them.  I listened.  I may not have agreed but I let them talk.  Once they were finished and got everything off their chest, two things happened.  I was able to tell them some things that were going on in the background that they were unaware of which helped them to understand our actions better.  I also learned some things that weren’t being communicated properly that created a communication vacuum.  That was something that we could fix.  I was unaware of this fact until I had the conversation.

Did I resolve the people problem?  Probably not, but I did manage to diffuse it a little.

It would have been easy for me to take the defensive position in that conversation.  It would be where most people might have gone.  Yet, if I had gone in to the meeting and been upset for what I deemed to be misplaced anger, that individual would have had the opportunity to dig in their heels.  I might have even given them the justification to feel the way they did.  Or I could have also continued to ignore the situation and not have the conversation.  Then, I would not have had the opportunity to remedy their feelings and have a conversation to address what I could do better.

  1. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Whenever I have had a problem with a client, I’ve told my people to take the individual to lunch.  Getting to know someone better can build bridges.  Like my Mom used to say,” You don’t have to like everyone but you should be nice to them.”  Having a lunch with someone that doesn’t like you or has “something out” for you, allows you to be the bigger person.  It is the olive branch of business negotiations.  An offer of food goes a long way (see all my other blog references to food…).  You may learn why they have a bug up their butt about you and be able to address it (or at least diffuse it).
  2. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.  You can guess but until you ask for and have the meeting to discuss potential contention, you can only ensure success if you are a soothsayer.
  3. Depersonalize the situation. (See #1).  If there are issues, you will most likely hear something that offends you.  Rather than getting defensive, try to understand the reasons behind what they are saying.  I’ve found that more often than not, there is usually some value that can be drawn from the most contentious situation.  Negative Nellies often are ignored in organizations but if you listen and probe (through all of the noise); there is usually some truth to be found…some actionable things that can make a situation better.  Negative Nellies are often just poor communicators.  Listen through the noise of the negativity for the message.
  4. It’s just business. Different personalities share the same message in different ways.  If you are focused on the emotional ones and ignoring the message, you will never resolve the situation. I know that sometimes I might have a mean or angry client.
    It doesn’t matter if that is a problem with us or if they are just mean and angry to begin with.  If I avoid that individual, I am destined to fail since I won’t be part of the conversation.  So I ask the questions.  Because if I realize that there are issues that we can fix or address, I come out looking better because I have the opportunity to resolve them.  If I avoid the situation, it will simmer until we get to a boiling point which is way harder to resolve.

I have since taken on a different philosophy.  I make it known to my team that we will always say it like it is.  If we tell our clients what we believe is needed and share the reasons why and get removed based on sharing what we believe is in their best interest, I won’t lose sleep.  Yet, I will lose tons of sleep if avoid the conversations and then get kicked out because we failed.

My experience is that having the conversation will always lead me to a better outcome.  Avoiding never has worked for me.  If the situation is dire enough, it will always come back to bite me.

If you’d like to talk more about difficult conversations…when and how to have them, let me hear from you.

Wanna win? Start at the Finish Line!

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This month our guest blogger is Eric Roberts. Eric is the Vice President of M&A at Blackberry and knows a thing or two about getting things done! A longtime friend of Peritius, we are happy to share his perspective on reaching your goals – the right way.

 

Sorta sounds like cheating, doesn’t it?  Here’s what I mean – would you ever run a race where you didn’t know the distance or where the course would take you – or when you’d get to stop running?  You just line up at the starting line, someone blows the horn and off you go…your running friend next to you says, “Boy I hope this is a short one – last year it was really long.”  Sound fun?  Of course not, it’s ridiculous!

So why then do we see companies launch new programs or initiatives or even annual planning cycles without first defining what “victory” looks like?  How do we know when to spike the ball?  When to pop the champagne?  After all, we’re going to expend significant company resources… we’re going to have nights where we don’t get to see our kids go to bed… we’re probably going hit all sorts of challenges along the way – wouldn’t we want to know precisely what winning is going to look like… precisely which mountain we’re going to climb?

If you’ll allow me to extend the sports metaphor just a bit longer – one beauty of sports is that the ultimate goal is absolutely crystal clear before the game begins.  In fact, it’s crystal clear before training begins (actually it was crystal clear before many of us were even born!).  And because of that clarity, the coach knows exactly how to prepare her team, exactly what drills need to be run, exactly where obstacles may pop up that they’ll need to mitigate.  Further, every player understands how his/her contribution aligns with the ultimate goal – and stays aligned to that well-defined objective (rarely do we see a swimmer attempt to tackle an opponent!).

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My good friend Laura hit on this a couple years back when she started referring to it as “outcome management”.  I love the emotional clarity that comes with that phrase – that is, rather than managing the program team to work really hard, hold crisp weekly meetings with tight action item lists and schedules (all very important, by the way) – manage the team to carefully defined outcomes.  Use those words: Outcomes.  Victory.  Finish Line.  The words themselves demand a level of focus by stakeholders on the project end goal.  And isn’t that exactly what you want?  A team of stakeholders who understand the ultimate outcome and how their efforts support that objective?

I have another friend who leads large Civil Engineering projects in Wisconsin.  His leadership mantra is FINISH.  It’s so easy to start projects and often easy to get them to the 90% completion stage, and unless you’ve defined very carefully what it means to be done, the team just doesn’t know when it’s there.  The project isn’t finished until that last orange barrel is picked up and the highway is swept clean!

Now, if done properly, this precise definition phase may take longer and be more uncomfortable (especially the first couple times) than you want.  You’ll need to go deep… much deeper than normal.  What are the KPI’s you’ll track and expected levels at the finish line?  How will the ongoing execution and maintenance of the program be resourced after go-live?  What will that ongoing operational budget look like?  These second order measurables not only provide the clarity needed to efficiently execute, but will drive critical activities & behaviors along the execution path.  As an example, let’s say you’re implementing the latest SaaS ERP system.  Do we get to celebrate simply by going live?  What if our defined victory included a customer satisfaction metric that we score at least 80% satisfied /  extremely satisfied within 30 days post go-live?  Now we’re on the hook to not only deliver the system on time, but also deliver a system that end users love.  That drives better use-case capture up-front, a better UI, more rigorous testing, better communication & training with the user community, etc.  By including precise measures of success at the beginning of the initiative, we automatically drive improved program performance (not to mention fewer arguments when we get to the end and resources begin to peel off to the next exciting project).

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Finally, a word about leadership in this space.  It’s been my experience that the best leaders have learned this lesson – perhaps without even thinking about it – and live & breathe it daily.  They obsess over defining their vision… including specific words that elicit an almost emotional response, inspiring followership.   (In fact, they probably drive their kids nuts with it too!)  Great program managers intuitively think this way – even project milestones use the right words / phrases / definitions.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most subtle but critical roles a leader plays – it’s a leader’s opportunity to set the bar high and stretch the organization to achieve more than it thought it could. The team can constantly reference that ultimate goal when tough prioritization decisions must be made… when obstacles are met or new team members join.  Imagine if every employee in your company (project, initiative, endeavor) not only understood, but could articulate what victory looked like (completely) AND was able to describe exactly how his/her effort contributed.  Wow!  Sounds like productivity.  Sounds like autonomy.  Sounds like the foundation of accountability.  Sounds like victory!

 Next time you kick off a new initiative, project or annual planning process (yep – it’s almost September already!), start by defining what “finished” will look like – be manic about it.  Buy the team pizza, lock yourselves in a room for an all-nighter and come out the next morning with a concrete definition of what it will look like when you win – establish an expectation of victory!  If you can do that, execution is easy.

Eric Roberts, guest blogger

 

Project Management is the Journey, Outcomes are Your Destination

After years of contemplation and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it IS About the Destination!  (See, I’m trying to retire before I hit the ripe old age of 85).

I came late to financial investing in my life.  I never really understood the value of the market and stock options.  I worked for Microsoft early in my career when stock options were plentiful and Microsoft wasn’t that big.  Needless to say by not understanding the value of the market and the stock options provided….I’m still working for a living.  See….I was focused on working for my money rather than having my money work for me.  I forgot about my long term goal (destination) and delayed my retirement by another 40 years.

So I learned, did my research and finally understood that the key part of success in investing is to define your goals and consistently work toward them.

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Mind you, this is not a lesson in investing.  Yet, I always look for similarities in different parts of my life.  For instance, my progression up the investment learning curve and how most companies manage their portfolio of strategic initiatives.

Let’s assume that most companies have goals that are defined in the strategic vision.  These strategic goals plan for their future growth.  Yet how many of these companies monitor their portfolio regularly?  How many companies align their portfolio with their strategic goals in order to measure whether they were able to successful reach their desired outcomes?   If they aren’t doing it, then why spend all this money to create a strategy in the first place?  It is a waste of resources both human and financial.

Unfortunately, I see this way too often.  I previously described this in my previous blog: Project Management is “Broke.”   By the time a project is kicked off, stated project goals are defined as on time on budget and within scope.  But what happened to the project purpose…. the strategic goals? Is the company spending money to check off the box or to solve a problem, grow the business, reduce or contain costs?  I contend that the reason many companies fail in reaching their desired business outcomes is because they aren’t aligning their project with their desired outcomes, monitoring them for changes, and working consistently toward those outcomes.  Implementing a new system or changing a process is great but what were you trying to address by putting in that new system or changing the process.  Don’t train everyone on a new system for 12 hours without understanding what your users need to know and target the message accordingly (actual recent case study with a prospective client)

Companies need to stop focusing on project management and begin to focus on Outcome Management.  Outcome management looks at the big picture.  Take the cartoon that shows two doctors standing over a patient.  The first doctor says, “The surgery was flawless”….the second says “too bad the patient died.”  What are you trying to achieve?  A perfect surgery or a healthy patient?

Outcome management focuses on four things.

  1. Solutioning. This is the alignment between strategy and execution. Are companies using their investment money wisely? Have they prioritized their project portfolio to ensure that they are spending their money on the optimal initiatives that have the best chance of getting them to their goals? Through a better understanding of the organization’s strategic goals, you can ensure that the project is both on point and aligned with strategy.
  2. Execution. This occupies the space where most place project management. But I contend that by today’s standard, not in the proper way. A mix between art and science (see Sept. 2014 blog), focusing on ensuring that the effort is on time, on budget and within scope while keeping a consistent focus on the prize is the only way to be truly successful. As an example, a large public company involved in a merger was looking for synergies in every department to help cut costs. However, early on in the project, they realized that the original goal had been met. By measuring throughout the life of the effort, it gave the organization an opportunity. They could continue cutting through every department or they could use the fact that they had already met their strategic objective to retain their employees to provide an even greater competitive advantage. They choose the latter. They made a course correction mid-way through the execution of their plan and were able to surpass their stated goal. My experience has shown that the typical organization would not have been measuring their progression to their strategic goals. They would have continued through their original plan and cut their employees to the bare minimum. Here is the important distinction. The merging companies could have decided to continue down that path but by measuring outcomes, they were able to create and take advantage of an unforeseen value that resulted from the formation of a new organization. They were able to make a business decision rather than have one forced upon them.
  3. Adoption and Adaption. This is the soft mushy side of making things happen that many organizations think is baloney. If you’ve been in business long enough (say 6 months), you will most likely live through an example of a project that completed and brought no discernable value to the company. This could be for many reasons but I would bet that the majority of reasons are based on a lack of buy-in from the necessary parties. I’ve been involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions. It’s amazing how many of them (95.8% but who’s counting) have not focused on bridging the cultures. The companies’ focus on the integration of process, technology and people but not the culture. Some companies will attempt this in the form of change management but either that is cut or skimped on in the budget, or it is addressed at the tail end of the initiative. It takes seven times to hear a message for it to sink in. It takes 30 days of constant focus to change a habit. People don’t change easily and they resist it where they can (directly or indirectly). Adoption is about communication. Frequent, transparent and early. Keeping information quiet or sharing on a “need to know basis” never works out well. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, give your users an opportunity to hear about something from the beginning. They will feel like they had a part in their destiny. Getting people to adopt a new process or technology is not as hard as you might believe. Even if they don’t buy-in, understanding who might stand in your way is better to know early than it is after they’ve dropped a piano on your head.
  4. Last of all are the Metrics and Measurements. At the beginning of every effort, reengage your strategic goals. Ask two key questions. What does success look like? And, when is done done? From those questions, you can define the proper metrics to track from project initiation through implementation and into operational mode.   Measurements should start at the beginning of the initiative.   Think about your financial portfolio. Your financial consultant would be reviewing your investments and course correcting all along.  Many organizations don’t want to measure due to a fear of being held accountable. If they are found to be wrong, it brings eyes on what might be viewed as failure. But if you are focusing on all of this from an outcome perspective, this information will give you two opportunities. First, it will allow you to course correct earlier. If you aren’t going to meet your objectives, you will find out sooner (easier to course correct at the beginning than towards the end of an initiative). Second, if you fail and you’ve been measuring your progress to your strategic goal, chances are that the strategy might have some false assumptions. These metrics allow your company to integrate this knowledge to create a revised strategy for the future. How can that be possibly be a bad thing?

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I’m guessing that at no point did corporate America decide that “Our key strategic goal is to get all of our projects completed on time, on budget and within scope.  If that goal is accomplished, we will reach our desired business outcomes”

Managing to desired outcomes brings companies back full circle to their overall strategy.  Outcome management is changing up the way things are done.  It creates accountability (a whole different blog), and a focus on adoption for which the benefits are huge! Better returns, better information yadda yadda.

I bet my Microsoft earnings (if you can find them).

Laura

Welcome

After frequent humiliation from my colleagues’ statements that I’m not hip enough because I don’t blog, tweet or participate (much) on social networking sites, I’ve decided to create a blog. On this page I will be sharing my perspective on everyday events, both work and personal; the lessons I learn from my observations; and how at times, those work and personal observations go hand in hand. This page will be a mash up — please note my appropriate and hip use of this term — of Seinfeld, CNN News and Dilbert. I think that I can be funny and make people laugh with me (or at me for that matter) … but you be the judge.

On second thought, don’t be the judge and let me think I’m funny. I look forward to and welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions. I may not be hip but at least I’ll have a blog. Welcome to my corner.

Laura

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)