A fish out of water. Well, a sea urchin, actually. Well, ME, actually

I just came back from a vacation with my daughter to Japan. It was her graduation present. She graduated 2 years ago but better late than never. It took me that long to stop nixing all of her choices. We finally agreed on Japan. Fast forward, even though I had set low expectations, I had a great adventure.

My favorite experience was when we walked into a restaurant in Kyoto thinking it was a different one. It was nondescript.  It was a tiny sushi restaurant with just a counter and 3 patrons. When we walked in, the kindly looking older sushi chef and his assistant had a look of fear on their face. We were about to turn around when the nice couple from Seattle sitting at the counter stopped us.  They explained that the chef’s fear was that they didn’t speak a word of English and it had taken them 20 minutes to decipher how their restaurant worked.  My daughter was all gung-ho to stay.  Not so much me.

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Full disclosure….I eat like a kid. Sushi has never been my thing.  I’ve gotten away with this as an adult so far.  Yet, I saw that I was about to be called out.  The couple said this restaurant came highly recommended by a friend. I was being triple dog dared.  My daughter talked me into staying (ok, belittled me into staying).  It didn’t end there.  My daughter enthusiastically shared my lack of adventure in eating with the Seattle couple so they decided to stay and watch me eat. (No pressure)

Long story short, I ate the chef’s choice (minus the sea urchin which no one on earth should have to eat that)… (if I offended any sea urchin lovers please forgive). It was an adventure and I am still standing. It wasn’t the best meal of my life but it was well done and beautifully prepared. So let me get to the other half of my story.

While I was freaking out about the sushi, it was obvious that the chef and his assistant were freaked out about us.  The restaurant didn’t have much signage and I’m guessing that their clientele are mostly locals. The chef was this kind older man. It was obvious that he took care and great pride in his preparation of the sushi.

This was not our first meal in Japan but we pulled out our dictionary at the end of the meal and told him in Japanese that “It was delicious”. OMG… The reaction we received was amazing. Now maybe they lit up because I said something funny but after many words between them, they came out from behind the counter and presented my daughter and I with a gift of two handkerchiefs.  The chef had a huge smile and kept bowing to us (a sign of respect).  He was genuinely thrilled by our compliment.  And here’s the thing….it didn’t take any effort. It was easy.  We gave him a genuine compliment given the love and care he put into preparing our meal.   3 words turned a concerned face into one of joy. So much that he followed us out of the restaurant and we continued to bow to each other.  A small moment made that meal one of the more special moments of our trip.

Gratitude changes everything

There are times I realize that I neglect to properly acknowledge the work that people around me do. I say thank you but don’t go beyond.

So this little lesson about a Japanese sushi chef, reminded me of the power of words. Most people are so busy that they forget to thank someone for putting in a little extra effort. It’s a simple lesson that we should all remember now and again. So reach out today to someone you work with or works for you and find something nice to say.  Make sure it’s genuine.  Look for those things that you always assume will get done since “that’s their thing.”   Those kind words will go a long way.

Laura

P.S. Thanks for reading this!

 

 

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?

make the change concept with related word cloud hand drawing on blackboard

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

Lemons verses lemonade

When life gives you lemons….make lemonade.  Yeah… Yeah… Yeah.  But It is so much easier being a sourpuss!

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As a consultant I often try and focus on ways to resolve my clients’ problems.  Yet often I find that the problems that they face are exacerbated by their own team, the corporate culture or even in some cases, themselves.

Making change is hard.  No one will ever deny it.  I use a small experiment to prove it.  Fold your arms in front of you like you’re mad.  Now fold them with the other arm on top.  Doesn’t feel right to you, does it?  If that is so hard, think about making bigger changes in your life. I’m convinced that is why  people complain.  Because complaining about the situation and doing something to change it are two very different things.

Complaining is easier.  Think about it. You complain to someone and get them to agree to “come to the dark side.”  You have succeeded in getting someone else involved. Everyone knows that misery loves company… Bring the drinks and you have a party (pity).  Not particularly useful, huh?

Next time….start making suggestions to make changes.  Try to engage your colleagues to get involved to help…  Chances are the majority of people you ask will scatter to the wind. They may want the change but change takes work and it’s a thankless job.  My experience has shown that while every corporation wants change agents, once those change agents attempt to make change, lemons are thrown their way.  They are sometimes reviled in the organization.

The more set in our ways we become, the more we seem to push back on change.  When we are young, we can do anything; whether it be running  for President or running the waves on a surfboard…We can do it because we are fearless and flexible. When we get older, our perspective seems to change. This change keeps us from doing the things we are most capable of doing.  We look for precedent. Want to do more analysis. Become fearful of leading the charge…stepping out…These excuses (yeah, I said it) just reinforce the box that everyone is always trying to get us to ‘think’ our way out of…LOL

So in tribute to Einstein’s definition of insanity…the next time you catch yourself complaining about something at work, stop yourself.  Use that energy to become a catalyst for change.  Start by thinking about what would make it better….What can you do to make it feel less “stinky?  Use this as an exercise in strategic thinking.  Try and come up with a working solution that both addresses the problem and provides a solution that you can live with.

Then just go do it.  Don’t be part of the problem,   be part of the solution.  Make lemonade….and make sure to add a little sugar.

Laura

Out Of My Comfort Zone

Recently I went to Zimbabwe and I experienced things I never expected. See…I’m a city girl thru and thru. I didn’t plan on a safari because the thought of being with exotic animals was foreign (and a little bit unnerving).

I was visiting my daughter in Cape Town and took her to Zimbabwe. Under duress, I took the Lion Walk with her. That was on our last day before flying home. I was pretty sure my travel insurance wouldn’t cover me if the lions decided that I looked like breakfast. You may believe that the Lion Walk is herding of the lions while you watch from a distance in an enclosed space (that was my hope).  The truth is that the Lion Walk is walking alongside the lions in their habitat.   I went anyway.

Pride of Lions on the move

I was the one in the group that everyone was making fun of, “You look scared…you’re sweating a little.”  I was sweating.  I kept thinking of that old joke about two campers coming upon a grizzly bear.  You know the one…. Camper A saying ”I don’t think that we can outrun the bear.”  Camper B yelling back, “I just have to outrun you”.  I was a goner…. Everyone else was more fit.

Yet…. with all of that….It was amazing. Lions are truly magnificent creatures and I actually walked with them.

It made me start thinking about stepping outside of my comfort zone in other respects, too. My business, for instance…how many times do people stick with their routine and never venture outside of their norm?  Isn’t that what growth is all about?  We know that people gravitate to what they are comfortable with…. their routine.  Changing that routine and trying something else may go against your instincts at first, but we all know what they say about doing the same thing and expecting different results, right?  Granted, businesses strategize all the time on new ideas and continuous improvement but how well do they execute? Perhaps the failure comes down to the mindset of each individual tasked with making the change. If people are fearful about venturing into new territories, strategic objectives won’t be met with fresh ideas and innovation.  Managing growth or encouraging change in your business is a lot like scheduling for the lion walk. It sounds petrifying but once you try it, you see that you are capable of adjusting and possibly even enjoying the process!  So the next time you’re asked to try something that makes you uncomfortable, do it.  You may find that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities that you enjoy.

Laura

Battling my demons…..City squirrels

I recently moved to the city from the suburbs of Chicago.  I’ve been waiting for most of my adult life to be back in the city.  I have always loved it!.  As a matter of fact,  when I used to drive into the city, I felt a surge of excitement just  seeing the skyline in the distance.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved my suburban life.  I raised two wonderful daughters there and wouldn’t change anything about those years.  I had a nice home with a healthy, productive peach tree that gave me fruit, birds and squirrels that would eat the fruit and leave the pits all over my lawn.  Mind you…while the squirrels were pests that ate my fruit, I lived rather “harmoniously” with them.

Fast forward to my city life.  I have turned into the screaming, mad woman of the neighborhood.  I HATE squirrels.  City squirrels are mean little things.  It turns out that we have the only food source for squirrels in the entire Chicago Metro area.  Our chestnut tree feeds more squirrels than you can possibly imagine.  They run between the front of my house, back of my house and over our roof (I’m insisting that they are stopping on our roof and depositing the nuts in my attic).  When we are out on our deck, (which happens to be the highway for all Chicagoland squirrels), they will sit there and scream at you until you move off the deck so that they can pass through.  Did you know that squirrels make an annoying screeching noise? Have you heard this??

My new neighbor must hate me.  Twice now, I was screaming at the squirrels to, “Get the &*^@! out of here!”  While that might sound crazy to some, please note I didn’t see my neighbor both times (and of course she didn’t see the squirrel).

We resorted to buying an owl with a rotating head to try and scare the squirrels.  Yes…we have an exorcist owl.  I don’t know if it has managed to scare the squirrels but it does make for interesting dinner conversation when friends come over. 

 So I’m trying to take the situation a little lighter.  As I’ve gotten older in my business, I have done some self-exploring and have come to understand that I can’t manage everything and sometimes, I have to learn to pick my battles.    When having troubles at work, I try to put things into buckets.

  • Things that I can change and what I am  going to do to make change happen
  • Things I can’t change and what I am going to do to deal with it

So, unless I buy a lot more owls with rotating heads and place them strategically around the house, I think that I am just going to have to share my space.

A few weeks ago, I spent 4 painful hours sweeping all of the chestnuts and their shells from the sidewalk and lawn.  Mind you, I am not a gardener and didn’t enjoy it, but it was getting hard to walk on the sidewalk.  As I finally finished the last scoop into the 5th bag, I looked behind me and the lawn was covered with chestnuts and shells again……It seems that the squirrels have a sense of humor too.

Oh, by the way did you know January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day?

Laura