I’m in a terrific new program that networking guru Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone, Who’s Got Your Back) is running and a recent exercise asked participants to describe ways they’ve kept their teams (and themselves) accountable. My submission got some positive feedback and it’s pretty simple, so I thought I’d share it.
I had a team of account executives in remote offices, each of whom managed a number of alumni-association partners. We weren’t always their highest priority so executing on a long list of initiatives wasn’t always easy. I started a 20-minute Daily Huddle (first thing in the AM-if you couldn’t make it, no problem) and gave each person two minutes to list their biggest accomplishment of the previous day, what they wanted to accomplish that day, and what they needed from me or someone else on the call. I kept track of what each person wanted to accomplish and asked the next day (and for a number of days after, if need be) what was getting in the way of completing that task. One benefit of the daily call was that other team members often offered advice based on having dealt with a similar problem with another school and very often someone would volunteer to role-play or help in some way to get the goal accomplished. In addition, having to outline your goals in front of others led to more tangible goals that would have a real impact on the team’s results.
As a result of this and some other execution-focused initiatives, we renewed 100+ relationships (with no losses), protecting $250 million in revenues and significantly reducing the sponsorship fees we were paying, while increasing group-satisfaction scores by 20%. We also surpassed our goals for launching our Affinity Checking product by 200% (endorsements and accounts). All because we spent a little bit of time every day focusing on initiatives that would move the needle.
Interestingly, someone in the class responded to my submission with the observation that people probably worked that much harder to complete tasks and come up with good objectives for the day because they didn’t want theirs to pale by comparison to other team members. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s probably true
To be effective: Keep it short. Keep it focused. And try to have it at the same time every day — first thing in the AM.
How do you help your teams — or yourself — be more accountable and execute more effectively. Please share!
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As one group of students prepare to leave college and another batch of high-school seniors prepare to take their place, the importance of technical knowledge takes center stage. Whether you’re talking about undergraduate or post-grad admission offices or potential employers, GPAs and test scores that demonstrate students’ abilities to get the one “right” answer are seen as the primary determinant of future potential.
David Kelley — the IDEO chairman, not the legendary creator of great TV dramas — recently energized the Stanford d.school during the opening of the design school’s new building by arguing that while technical knowledge has its place, it is far more important to teach our future leaders how to work on solving challenging problems where nobody knows the answer. As Bob Sutton, a Stanford d.school professor who attended the speech explains it, the Stanford d.school teaches creative confidence — “the ability to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work and failing forward through the disconcerting process.” He went on to say that the d.school process — which I discussed in a January post on its publication of the Bootcamp Bootleg — encourages people to “have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas, and even when the deadline for the project comes and they do not have a decent solution, to believe that if they just had another few days, they would have come up with a great solution.”
Kelley has added a great personal-branding phrase to our lexicon. Even without the benefit of a Stanford d.school education, I think there are a lot of people with have struggled to describe a similar skill set on a resume or interview without the benefit of the “creative confidence” phrase. It’s a skill that many displaced corporate executives are using as they look at consulting or 1099 contract work, whether they use the phrase in the sales process or not.
But Kelley’s Not Alone In This
Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel imagined what he’d say if asked to speak to this year’s class of graduating seniors in a posting on the Huffington Post. He also speaks of looking beyond the GPA and the job that awaits and judging oneself on a different set of criteria that mirrors this concept of creative confidence:
“What matters, and this is the heart of what I want to say today, is not how I might assess what you have done, or how your professors graded you, or what your friends and family might say, or even how a professional school or employer is going to view you, but rather how you would now evaluate yourself.
I wonder if you have thought to do this as yet, to measure yourself by standards that you would have to justify and explain, not to us, but only to the man or woman in the mirror. Not only are you the only one in a position to make a full and candid assessment, but you are the one to whom the assessment ultimately matters.”
He goes on to list some questions that might help in that self-assessment; most focus on the intangible. It’s a right-brain approach, which as Daniel Pink and others have argued in recent years is taking on increasing importance over the fact-based left-brain emphasis that has driven business for many decades.
All this resonated with me because I believe creative confidence is a more elegant way — with a bit more structure — of saying Bulldog Simplicity. I believe schools and corporations both need to spend more time focusing on developing creative confidence. And for those who have it, they need to spend more time documenting it as a skill and how it enables them to make a difference in their companies’ or clients’ success.
I don’t have a snow blower or a plow attached to my SUV, but I have a 17-year-old (although the concept of shoveling is more alien to teenagers today than it was when I was growing up in Buffalo).
Shoveling last week wasn’t much fun. My neighbor offered me the use of his snow blower, but he got nervous about the sound of his motor in the face of so much heavy, wet snow that he asked if it was OK that I didn’t use it (metaphor for this post: dealing with a reduction in resources). So I go inside and get the teenager (after the wife expresses reluctance to pay for a guy to plow). The wife — for the purposes of this post — is the manager who has lost his or her mind, but that’s another story.
So this week, I decide to re-engineer the process. Recognizing that we’re looking at another 24 inches of snow — and the wife doesn’t seem to be budging on her “no paying for plowing” edict — I change my approach as the snowstorm kicked off Tuesday night around 6.
- 9:45 p.m., Tuesday: Went outside and got rid of the first 3-4 inches. Went pretty quickly. Used my Snowovel (a great invention combining wheels and a shovel) and the snow was light and fluffy.
- 8:30 a.m., Wednesday: Went outside with the 12-year-old to get the overnight snow (with the prospect of the big blizzard coming after 11 a.m.). Nobody else outside, except one guy trying to move the wet snow with his undersized snow blower. He gave up quickly. Rest of neighborhood sleeps in. Max needs lots of instruction (not a Buffalo native; he’s from this area where everyone is excited that we’re going to break the season record of 50-something inches, which is a light week of snow in Buffalo). I just put on the iPod and get rid of another eight inches of wet, heavy snow. Teenager comes out for last 30 minutes. Wants to know why I let him sleep. Told him I woke him up but he must have fallen back asleep. He saves his life by apologizing in a believable manner.
- 3 p.m., Wednesday. Headed outdoors for the 12-14 inches we’ve gotten since 11 a.m. Neighbors are working, looking irritated. My task was easier than everyone else, but still pretty ugly. My strategy appears to have saved me a heart issue and was a decent alternative to the EFX.
- 7 p.m., Wednesday. Just looked outside. Lots of blowing and drifting. More snow. Some people haven’t touched their driveways yet. They’re pretty much screwed tomorrow. Wife just told me she’s impressed with my effort and she’s OK with hiring a plow tomorrow. Says I better use those negotiating skills I keep bragging about to keep the price down. My wife doesn’t know it, but her 360-feedback just headed north.
Moral of the story. When faced with a problem that involves a big hassle over time, Bulldog Simplicity says break it up into smaller pieces. If the CEO sees that you’re working at it, good things might happen. If he (or she) sees that you’re working at it and doesn’t much care, you’ve at least made your job easier over the longer term. Leaving the problem until it’s really built up means you’re either looking at a really big problem or the need to throw a lot more money at the problem.
That’s why a recent NY Times article about reinventing the MBA curriculum got my attention. As one person put it, “At business school, there was a lot of focus on ‘You’ve got a great idea; here’s how to build a business out of it.’ The d.school said, ‘Here’s how you get to that great idea.’”
The “d.school” is a reference to the growth in “design thinking,” which emphasizes a focus on human needs to decide what problems need to be addressed. There’s an engineering focus to all this (the Stanford d.school is part of the Engineering School), but that’s missing the point of today’s posting.
So here’s the point of the blog. The Stanford d.school has posted a terrific document on its site that is a fairly short primer on the various concepts that drive the development of great ideas. The D.School Bootcamp Bootleg starts with seven mindsets — including “Bias Toward Action” and ”Create Clarity From Complexity” (my favorite) and ”Show, Don’t Tell.” It goes on to introduce modes like “empathize,” “define,” and “test.” And then it outlines a variety of strategies (or methods) that are integral to design thinking.
Lest this sound overly academic — and some of them will lead your eyes to glaze over a bit — there are some great ideas you can use to better understand your customers or come up with that “one big thing” before you go too far down the road.
Business books seem to be getting shorter lately…and packed with more usable information. This one is less than 40 pages and well worth your time.
Read through it. Think about how you’ve used the concepts without actually knowing you were employing design thinking. Pick some things to try. Keep them if they work and try something else if they don’t.
Use this document — but think of it as a toolkit — and when the time comes perhaps you can overcome the lack of an MBA with a skill set that enables you to develop great, marketable ideas.
How about you? How have you used some of these methodologies — interviewing for empathy, powers of 10, and so on — to fine tune your ideas? What worked and what didn’t?
- Is this opportunity a good fit for us from a strategic point of view (e.g.., does it open new markets, keep a competitor out, better serve a key customer)?
- Is the incumbent participating? If not, why not?
- What’s the client’s financial situation? And the corollary to that one, is this a client we would be proud to be associated with?
- Did we influence the RFP specifications? If we didn’t, who did? And did that person or organization insert specifications that make it a bad deal for us?
- What is their budget? Why are they issuing an RFP?
- Do we understand the decision process? If so, are we in a good position?
- Is the client really looking for a new partner or is this a way for them to get some free consulting/fresh ideas that they will turn over to the “winner?”
- Is this a proposal that can be won with a strong value proposition or is the decision going to be made on the basis of money? And do you care?
In many cases, the consultant driving the RFP or the company itself (if it is working without a consultant) may put something in the document that says you can’t ask questions or get additional information (or that you have to go through the consultant). Your goal in those situations should be to change the ground rules and find out all you can about this opportunity. In a future blog, I’ll talk about ways you can do that and still get the business.
If you want it.
I get distracted easily. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can turn off my e-mail notifications while I’m working. I worry this will be the biggest challenge in striking out on my own.
But I’m trying a time-management technique named for a tomato as a way to work through my own personal game of Whack-A-Mole with an increasing number of projects.
Simply put, the Pomodoro technique asks you to work on a specific task — and that task alone — for 25 straight minutes. Then you get a five-minute break before you move on to your next Pomodoro. Shut everything else off. Turn off your e-mail, unless you’re expecting something that’s absolutely critical.
The “system” includes a To Do Sheet, an Activity Inventory Sheet, and a Record Sheet that you can get from the Pomodoro website. You put all the things you need to accomplish on the Activity Inventory Sheet. At the beginning of each day, you put the specific tasks you need to complete on the To Do Sheet, prioritizing them where possible. Then you just work through the sheet. If you’re interrupted, you capture the reasons why.
I could see someone deciding not to do the paperwork and just focusing on the 25-minute segments. But the important thing is the effort to focus, to “get the checkmarks” if you will. How often do we try to juggle a number of different projects, jumping back and forth as input arrives via e-mail or a visit to your office or cube? This technique offers a different way to compartmentalize your day-to-day tasks. There’s even an application to let you put a Pomodoro clock on your desktop.
What do you do to fight all the distractions that rear their heads during the day?
I ate a frog this week.
I’ve always been very disciplined about my To Do list. I have one of those two-page-per-day Daytimers and take time every night to list everything I want to get done, moving the items I didn’t get done forward and adding new ones. My family jokes about my pride in getting check marks as I finish items.
I read a time-management book this week called Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy, who quotes Mark Twain as saying if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that’s probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day. Your “frog,” of course, is the big task you’re most likely to put off all day if you don’t do something about it early.
The book is a lot more than that, but each evening for the past four evenings I’ve spent a couple of extra minutes identifying my frog for the next day and putting a star next to it. I’ve found a couple of frogs twice but, as Tracy says, “if you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.”
I ate my frog three out of four days and found I was much more productive the rest of the day. Give it a try.
I was talking to someone about a job opening recently and he said there was a lot of project management involved. No problem, I said, as I started queueing up examples of past successes in my head.
Then the guy started throwing around a bunch of “project management phrases,” for lack of a better term. No, I had to tell him. I don’t use Gantt Charts, Risk Impact/Probability Tables, Influence Maps, or Critical Path Analysis. Silly me. My approach to project management is far simpler:
Bulldog Simplicity project management is Who Does What By When. When everyone focuses on that simple principle, reporting is easier and everyone understands his or her role. Layer on the constant reminder that People Are the Engine of Project Success and you’re pretty much there. My job as a project manager is to see the threats to project completion when things are going well and make the appropriate adjustments, and to eliminate any barriers to the job getting done the rest of the time.
Make sure everyone does their job and leaves enough time for the next person to do theirs. Recognize people throughout, especially when they make it easier for someone else to succeed.