Engineer Your Happiness, Count Your Blessings Every Day

How you perceive your world and look at opportunities is much more influenced by your mindset than by your circumstances. External events will influence your happiness in the moment, but after a short time you will bounce back to your ‘natural’ level.

The good news is that we can train our mental frameworks and over time change our perspective on the things we encounter in daily life. We can make ourselves happier and more positive human beings. And by making ourselves more positive we will encounter more encouraging situations and as a result follow more fulfilling opportunities.

Worst day of my life

Every night at the dinner table we do a little round robin where everyone talks about the experiences of the day. It took our kids a while to get there, but now they love it and can’t wait to tell their story.

For a while our 7 year old son had phase where he always started with “worst day of my life”. For some reason he thought it was cool, but we could see how it always dragged him down emotionally.

We can observe the same in us. As grownups we often look back at how hard a day was, all the things that went wrong, all the annoying interactions.

With that we train our brain to pattern match. If we pay attention to something, our brain will look for more of the same and proudly present it to us. When you think about buying a new car, you will all of a sudden see that model everywhere.

Indulging on the things that were bad or went wrong will train your brain to only see things going wrong. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Change your mental frameworks

Instead of thinking back to what went wrong in your day, spend time every day to reflect on what was great, fun or just positively memorable. You can do this throughout the day or in the evening before you go to bed. But do it every day!

Reflect on the positive things that happened every day. Write them down.

Focusing on the positive things will train your brain to pattern match for those. It will help you see the good more easily and more often. It will help you see opportunity to get more of those positive interactions. It will make you happier and more successful.

I bought a little notebook for myself in which I write down 3 positive things that happened to me every day. It’s a great exercise to reflect and boosts your happiness.

We also changed our dinner routine and added the question “What were your 3 most positive things today?” Question before we get into talking about our days. Our kids are fighting for who can share those first and usually end up with more than 3.

I also haven’t heard the “worst day of my life” sentence anymore.

Being happy is in your control. So is being unhappy. You decide.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Develop an Accountability Mindset and Culture

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High performing teams trust each other. Like raising an orchid, building trust requires a lot of attention and dedication to nurture, but it can be broken by a single mistake.

If you cannot trust your teammates, morale will go down. If you cannot trust your manager, you will hate to go to work. If you cannot trust your employee, you will avoid giving them important work.

Accountability matters

Accountability is one of the big inputs to trust. Can you depend on your co-worker’s deliverable to be ready in time and quality when you need it? Or do you need to chase them down, or worst case have to fix issues yourself in the last minute?

Decide if you commit, but once you do it, do it fully.

Accountability does not mean that you have to say yes to everything. However, once you do, make it a personal promise. Make it a matter of personal pride and values to come through on your promises.

Asking for help – be specific

Be specific when you ask someone for help. Don’t make ambiguous statements like “Someone should do X.” No one will feel responsible. In first responder training, they teach you to point to a person and tell them exactly what to do, otherwise no one will hear you.

Ask directly, explaining the ‘why’: “In order to achieve X, can you do Y by Z?”

Agreeing to help – treat it as a personal promise

When you are asked to help, you don’t have to say ‘yes’. You don’t have to agree to the timeline right away. It’s ok to explain tradeoffs if you take on that new task. It’s ok to ask what drives the timeline and offer a different date that you can make. Ask questions, understand reason and priority, be clear what you can do by when before you commit.

Once you commit you commit. It’s not ok to pay lip service and then let the other person hang. It’s not a badge of honor to miss a promise because you were “too busy”.

You need to make a personal promise or say “no”. Right there and then. Don’t leave it ambiguous, hoping a miracle happens along the way or everyone will forget.

When you do commit and confirm, be specific: “I will do X by Y.”

After you committed, block time in your calendar right away. Treat your commitment as a personal promise. Delivering against your commitment will not only impact how you are viewed in the team, it also subconsciously reflects on how you perceive your own personal integrity.

In many ways, the worst impact one has by not delivering on promises is onto oneself.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: If You Make a Mistake Keep Going

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What’s the difference between a beginner making a mistake and a master making the same mistake?

The beginner will notice the mistake, stop, blame himself for making the stupid mistake and maybe even stop altogether for the day in frustration. He might contemplate for a long while, why this mistake has happened and how embarrassing the situation was.

The master accepts the situation and keeps going without a blink. Later when there is time, she will reflect on what led to the mistake and how she might be able to prevent it in the future. She will practice the situation and be prepared to deal with it the next time it might occur. She will not waste energy to dwell in self-blame or pity.

I once saw this mindset live in perfect demonstration. Tsuguo Sakumoto, a 9th degree black belt and the leader of Ryuei-ryu karate, demonstrated a Kama kata. Kama are Okinawan sickles. They have razor-sharp blades and the kata consists of lightning fast movements swirling two of them through the air at the same time.

Master Sakumoto made a mistake while demonstrating this kata to a crowd of about hundred people, all highly ranked karate-kas. One of the blades came in contact with the handle of the other. it cut right through the wood and made the other blade fly high through the air. Master Sakumoto was lucky that he hadn’t cut off some fingers.

This was a scary moment, a pretty bad mistake and could have been embarrassing. Other athletes might have gone in frustration and maybe thrown their tennis rack on the ground, storming out of the court. Not the karate master. He kept going as if nothing had happened. Not a moment of hesitation, not a blink, not a flinch. He was a hundred percent committed and finished the form. After that he bowed, went, picked up the other blade and was ready for questions from the audience.

Be in the moment. Finish what you have started. Don’t get thrown off by what you didn’t expect. Don’t dwell in analysis and get stuck in something that has already happened and which you can’t influence anymore. Think about it when you have time and then move on.

When you make a mistake in your practice don’t miss a beat. Realize and acknowledge what has happened. Decide if you need to adjust and move on in the same instance. Don’t let it throw you off.

The same is true for life. When you hit a bump in the road you need to keep going. Practice this mindset in martial arts. Make it your second nature and then make sure you apply the same mindset in your daily life.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: The Importance of Presentation and Attention to Details

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Presentation and attention to details is about making your ideas and content more impactful after you have covered all the bases. It’s an ‘and’ not an ‘either/or’. It’s about ‘Insisting on highest standards’ all the way through.

Not form over function but form and function.

Design matters and attention to details matters

Steve Jobs famously turned around Apple by obsessing on details – even those that aren’t visible to customers, like the visual clarity of the physical layout of the components in an iPhone, or the visual design and cleanliness of Apple’s factory floors.

Should that matter? Why isn’t function the only thing we should care about? Do we really need to refine the presentation of our content once the facts are there? YES!

Details matter. Presentation matters. Fit and finish matters.

Think about your own experiences. You (probably) like Apple products. Why? You could use any other computer/phone and would be able to do the same things: write documents, make calls, catch up on stuff. But you don’t, you find pleasure in things that are well crafted and where attention to details has been amply paid.

You likely had much more fun with your phone when it was new and without scratches. Why? It still fulfills the same functionality. Why should you care about it no longer being flawless in every aspect of its appearance?

How would you think if someone scratched your new car? It still drives just the same. Will it matter to you?

How about a precious gift for your loved ones? Would you wrap it in ugly, crappy and crumbled paper?

Everything is a sell. Everything is a presentation

Ok, here is where I’m going with this:

Everything is a sell, even if you sell primarily through data (function), you still have to sell.

All too often I see people spending a lot of time in thinking through problems, collecting data, working hard on the details – and then dropping the ball on presentation.

Supposedly small things destroy the overall impression that your content makes: hastily copy-pasted emails that are painful to read, documents where formatting of lists, paragraph alignment or spacing changes from paragraph to paragraph, inconsistent bolding, Xs and Ys that are forgotten in the text (do a simple search!), appendices that were not updated, supporting data that doesn’t pass a simple sniff-test…

If you don’t give your content that last final touch, you give away a significant part of the impact that your hard work could have. Doing a final check on ‘design’ and ‘details’ is probably the best bang for the buck you can get on any document that you have worked on for several hours. Invest that time!

Word has grammar checkers, go to full-page view to check alignments, search for Xs and Ys, check every appendix and make sure it received some love. Read your document or presentation one more time as if you didn’t know it. Better even, ask someone else to read it – not for the content but the presentation.

Don’t undersell your work. It’s not only the data, but also the presentation. Even if people tell you that it doesn’t matter, subconsciously it makes a huge difference. Would you rather get the scratched phone handed down or the same model that’s sparkly new?

Make it readable, engaging and make it look like you care. What you do matters, make it count! Have pride in your work and show that pride!

Obsession for detail differentiates Great from just Ok.

Last not least you are also sending a message to the reviewer: “This is good enough for you, I don’t care enough to make it nicer/clearer.” Sometimes you might do that consciously and strategically, but I assume in most cases you didn’t have that intention.

Bring your work over the finish line and make it matter!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Don’t Sabotage Your Wins

Constant dropping wears away a stone

And paper cuts can kill you…

Most people are focused on the big, challenging and shiny projects, and that’s important. However, while we’re driving the big blocks and highly visible deliverables, we must not drop the ball on the more mundane promises we have made (e.g. project updates, the task we promised our co-worker, newsletter updates, that email from our boss,… – you name it).

Don’t undermine your big wins by being sloppy on the small and mundane tasks.

The problem with (many) little misses

We all miss something every now and then. That’s normal and ok. The problem arises, when it happens repeatedly, so that people start assuming you will miss a promise with a high-enough probability. They will lose trust in you and your reputation will erode. Once it looks like a pattern, you have a problem that you must solve.

Bringing in the big wins and celebrations is awesome! Be proud of it! Others will see them and recognize you for the achievement.

However, if there are small misses sprinkled throughout the big wins, people will remember the constant small signal much more than the sporadic big signal. What would you remember more, if I brought you a nice hot latte every morning or a $100 bill once a month? No, sorry, I won’t do either, it’s just a thought experiment.

Visibility is in the small things. If they don’t create confidence, we have a problem. Little mistakes add up and can neutralize all the good stuff you worked so hard for.

As managers, coaches, or even parents, we all know the situation. We want the best for our employees, coachees and kids. We want them to stack up wins. As we watch them over the weeks we all too often go: “Nice, nice, nice – oh shit, WHY did they do this?”. Then we start back from square one.

Tactics to Avoid misses

On the highest level, there are three key strategies to avoid creating a pattern of little misses:

  • Accountability: Track your promises – This is the most basic and simplest one. If you sign up for an action item, write it down right away. Block time in your calendar. If you can’t do it, say ‘no’ right away (read that Friday musing). No excuses after that.
  • Quality: Slow down and double-check – Don’t just try to get rid of an annoying task. Chances are you will miss a key point or your numbers or answer won’t make sense. Usually one of two things will happen as a result: either you will look like you don’t know what you’re doing, or an escalation will happen further down the road. You don’t need either.
  • Comprehensiveness: Ask yourself ‘what am I missing’ – The most frustrating thing for a (senior) leader is to have a question or count on a deliverable and then getting something that doesn’t solve the actual problem or answer the core question. Now the leader has to spend time following up and chasing down what you need. Prevent that from happening. As yourself what you’re missing and what the logical next question would be.

A word about managing senior leaders

Senior leaders have to fight a hundred fires at any given time. They need to constantly switch context between vastly different problem spaces. In meetings that is every 30 mins, in their inbox it is from email to email (i.e. within seconds). They don’t have all the details you have, and they might have forgotten a detail you shared a few weeks ago. They need to compartmentalize problems, quickly switch their thinking, recreate the full context of a new problem, get issues solved on the spot, and move on. Hundred times a day.

If they are not super-efficient with getting into a new context, understanding the problem and proposed solution on the spot and moving on, they will drown. Because of that, they usually have a very allergic reaction to anything that lacks context, is not thought through, doesn’t add up or leaves key questions open. Unless specifically booked, they don’t have time to brainstorm with you.

Understanding these constraints, here are critical things to do when responding to senior leaders:

Provide context – Don’t make them have to follow-up with questions to understand what you mean.

Be concise and crisp – Don’t make them have to search the answers to their concern in vast deserts of random data and words.

Close all loops (or at least provide timelines for when they will be closed) – Don’t make them continue keeping the topic on their worry list.

Get it done in your first reply – Don’t make them have to continue context switch in an email brainstorming conversation over days.

Double-check – Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Go over your answer and pretend to not have the context. Does is still make sense? Does everything add up?

Understand the intent

In order to achieve the above qualities in your response, specifically ‘getting it done in your fist reply’, it is key to not just answer the question at face value but to understand the intent.

Don’t just answer the immediate question or drop the data. Understand the intent! Ask yourself: “What is the requestor trying to achieve?”.

Once you understand the intent, what the requestor wants to achieve, you get a better sense of what additional information or context they might need. What additional questions were not asked but are required to achieve that intent? Provide the answers proactively!

Now make it consumable. Structure the data such that it serves the question and the underlying intent and the flow is easy to follow and understand.

Here’s an action for you

Spend a minute to reflect:

  • What action items and promises to others did you miss the last two weeks?
  • How may email threads with leadership did you have that required multiple inquiries and follow-ups from the leader?
  • How often was the quality of content not where it should have been for a review because you haven’t thought it through deeply enough?

What can you do to avoid and change that in the future!?

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Keep Heading Towards Your Big and Daunting Goals

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Do you know where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years? Do you know what you want to achieve in your life? Do you know what you want to proudly look back at when it’s time to make the big tally.

Know where you want to go and keep your goal in focus. Find opportunities to celebrate and award yourself along the way. Suck it up if times are tough, but also be gentle and forgiving to yourself – not everything will always work out exactly as you thought.

I hope you don’t just idle along from day to day, getting blown around by the random winds of life.

Know your goals

It all starts with knowing where you want to go. Don’t merely think about the next step you could do from where you are. Think about where you want to be when all is said and done. Then work backwards from that end goal and lay out the path that gets you there.

Think longterm. Prepare, invest and build for your future. Don’t fall prey to the easy way out or the instant gratification. Keep your eyes on the goal post.

Find little rewards on the way

When you have a goal that’s a little out there and maybe even daunting, it’s important to find and set rewards along the way.

Do what engaging games are doing: establish little goals and rewards along the way. Celebrate when you achieve those milestones. Keep yourself moving to your distant end goal by setting in-between goals that you reach along the way. Set rewards with those goals that keep you excited and keep you going.

Train your resilience

Some times, probably many times, it will be hard to push to your goal. There will be many temptations to go the easier way that provides instant gratification but distracts your from your desired outcome (e.g. plucking down in front of the TV instead of going for a run).

Here are some things you can do when ‘the going gets tough’:

  • Look forward – keep your goal in mind, keep the forward momentum in focus
  • Get perspective – put things into perspective, don’t get stuck in the current feeling but look at the bigger picture
  • Know your why – be clear with yourself why you are doing things, what drives you
  • Build on your passion – find the things in the current moment or the challenging situation that you are passionate about, spend as much time as you can on those

80:20

While all of the above is true and good, sometimes life happens. If you head towards your goals 80% of the time, you can be proud of yourself. If you strive for 100% you will get hard, myopic and will probably miss out on bunch of equally important things.

Always remember:

The art lies in the empty space.

Give yourself some slack every now and then. Be focused but also let go when the pressure builds up too much. Even the strongest tank needs a pressure valve.

Be focused but also let go. Don’t force yourself too much. Take a day off. Forget all your rules and duties, put down this guide and just enjoy life for at least one day the week.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Be Deliberate About Your Growth

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I wanted to share how I think about career development in general but also specifically at Amazon. Take is as what it is, my personal view. However, to go with Colin Powell: “It worked for me.”

 Grow your equity

Invest in yourself!

In my mind, career growth is primarily about how you invest in yourself. It’s about what new skills you can learn, what new experiences you can gain. It’s about how you can expand the scope of your impact as you get better at what you do.

You can think about it through the lens of a job interview. We all do plenty of those as interviewers. What stories from candidates excite us? What stories can you tell and what do you need to do to expand the set of interesting stories about your professional life. Your career growth plan is how you build up the examples that will excite other people and yourself. As experienced interviewers, we know that it’s never about the title a candidate brings, but it’s always about how they solved complex problems and overcame challenging headwinds in creative and inclusive ways.

Promotion is a by-product of career growth

Career growth doesn’t equal promotion. Promotion is a by-product of career growth.

At Amazon, we deliberately only have a few levels. Therefore, the time between promotions is longer than in many other companies and the difference between levels is greater. However, the growth opportunities in a level are plenty and will allow you to build the anecdotes and data to prove that you are ready for the next step when you are ready.

Looking back to a previous life that seems far away, I remember that at Microsoft we plopped from level 63 to 64 to 65 every two years. There was lots of instant gratification, but it was also somehow meaningless, since in most cases the job title didn’t even change. At Amazon, we take big deliberate steps with longer personal growth periods in-between. The scope, responsibility, and impact we are given as individuals during those growth periods are mind-blowing in comparison to other companies.

Know where you want to go and start being that person today

Where do you want to be in 2-3 years?

Be clear in your mind what you want to do in 2 or 3 years. Understand how you will operate in that role. Look at people who are already performing in that role or at that level and understand what they do differently from you. Then look for opportunities to do the same. Work in the same way (the ‘how’ much more than the ‘what’). Talk to your manager and make sure she knows where you want to go, can provide you with proper opportunities and give you relevant coaching and feedback along the way.

Seek opportunities to learn how those role models do what they do and then find ways for yourself to show similar behaviors and outcomes (don’t just copy them, nothing is more depressing than a bad copy). Deliver at that quality bar consistently, and people will notice. Once enough people notice you will get promoted.

For example, at promotion Amazon is not a bet of leadership that you might eventually be able to grow into a new level. We don’t follow the Peter principle (i.e., you get promoted until you fail in your level). At Amazon, we promote people who already perform at the next level. We promote once people have consistently demonstrated that they are ready. Promotion at Amazon is an acknowledgment that you already have what it takes, not that we have high hopes that you might eventually get there.

Make personal growth goals

Make a plan, be clear, be deliberate, and understand what the bar is.

What is it that you want to work on? What scope do you want to expand in? Where can you help your organization? What things can you take to the next level to role-model for the rest of your team?

Understand where you want to go. Understand what the expectations are for that role and level. Understand where you need to add to your existing experiences (regular career discussion are a great tool for that). Make a plan!

Those plans don’t need to be tied to a next level though (in my mind in most cases they shouldn’t). I’m coming back to my first and most important point – it’s about how you grow your skills and equity. For example, for me, I wanted to widen my focus and impact beyond my direct PM team. I made it a goal for this year to find ways to help coach the broader org so that we can all be more effective and fulfilled. Will I learn a lot? For sure! Will that get me promoted to Director? No way. Do I worry much about that? Not a minute. It’s a ton of fun and I learn many new things along the way.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears

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A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: How to Develop and Sell a Strategy

Strategic planning is the holy grail of leadership. Or is it?

Let’s talk about mental models for strategic planning (e.g. 3 year plans, business strategies) and also how to best communicate the outcomes – the famous ‘evangelizing’.

Strategic planning is all about setting the right priorities to have the biggest impact on desired outcomes. Strategic planning is setting the goal post, tactical execution is actually getting there (it took me about 10 years of my professional career to truly get that – I can be a slow learner).

Strategic planning is – or should be – true working backwards. The question should not be “what can I do next” but “where do I need to be 3 years from now”. With that, it always starts with getting clarity on the end state, the goals and the big problems to solve.

Where do you need to be in 3 years?

What are the goals (even better: what is THE goal)?

Identify the goals that you need to achieve. How can you measure whether you make progress against those goals?

Understand why they matter and how they might be correlated (positively or negatively) to each other.

What have you learned? What are your fundamental insights?

Goals are great metrics for progress, but there might also be big fundamental or structural issues that need to be solved, but are not immediately apparent from looking at the goals.

It’s good practice to reflect on what you have learned since the last strategic planning. Did new key problems or constraints present themselves that can have material impact on your ability to achieve the goals? Did new opportunities present themselves that weren’t obvious the last time?

Think backwards, not forward!

Don’t constrain yourself by what you know and have (e.g. current capabilities, existing funding, roadmaps and team structures).

Define where you need to be. Figure out how to get there in the next step.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Forget that you have a hammer for a moment, think about what you need to do and only then about what tool you might have to acquire.

What are your big levers?

Now that you know your goals, problems and opportunities – how can you have the most impact on those? What are your biggest levers?

Brainstorm

Make a list of all the things (the means to an end) that will help you to move towards the end state you want to achieve in 3 years.

Again, don’t limit yourself by current structure or what tech pieces you have. Think about what you need to move the goal, solve the problem or seize the opportunity.

Force yourself (!) to not just think about thinks you ‘could do’ but focus on what actually, truly, directly moves the priorities you defined previously.

Prioritize

Obviously, you cannot do everything you came up with in your brainstorming. You need to decide what to do first, what to focus on. No peanut-buttering.

What are the few things that will have outsized impact on your ability to achieve the desired end state?

Identify the biggest levers. Look at the outcome/impact, but also the cost/feasibility (i.e. what’s the Return of Investment, the ROI, of an idea). Make a sorted list of your biggest levers, their impact and their cost. Once you have that list you and your leadership can draw the line wherever you think the right ROI tradeoff is for investments.

Solidify your case

Get data. Make sure your initial assumptions are correct and the ROI story holds water.

Understand more details and make sure the idea is still feasible.

Start making a worry list or risk tracker (i.e. what could go wrong?) and burn it down. This process will not end until your final project will be shipped. Having a risk tracker or worry list is generally a good practice to avoid surprises.

Sell your story!

By now, you have put a LOT of thinking into your proposal. Be mindful that no one else has any comparable context or level of detail. You will need to catch up readers quickly and completely.

The best way to do that is to re-create your thought process for them in your story telling. Here’s a story flow that works.

Start with the goals

What do you want to achieve? What are your measurable priorities?

Why do they matter? Why these and not others?

Proper framing

What is the environment you are operating in? What have you learned (e.g. problems, opportunities)?

What assumptions about the future are you making that further inform your plans and thinking? What constraints do you need to work with?

What multipliers can you leverage?

Prioritization

Why did you pick the things you picked? What did you identify as the biggest levers and why (ROI)?

What did you push below the line and why (that’s a great appendix to have, especially when leaders are looking for additional projects to fund)? What are the most painful tradeoffs and what would it take to bring them back in?

This part is the ‘money piece’, you either get decision makers on board because they can follow your reasoning or you lose them because they cannot re-create what prioritization and tradeoffs you made.

Get tactical

Start giving a preview of how you will deploy your levers.

This is where reality kicks in.

From your current state, what are the next steps? What are rough timelines on how you would go about solving your problems as well as building and deploying your solutions?

What are the big questions you need to answers? Is there anything you need from leadership (play this card carefully and deliberately)?

Go do it!

You have a plan. You have approval. Go Execute!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections from Tai Chi Class Today

I usually don’t share discussions and lessons from class here, but today we talked about one that I think is worth sharing outside of our little Tai Chi family.

Pushing hands – Like water, like wind

We did quite a bit of pushing hands in class today. We don’t do it very often in our regular Tai Chi classes, but when we do, it’s a great way to feel, practice and guide our energy, face external obstacles and get direct feedback on our own actions.

It helps us understand the form on a deeper level, and it also presents broader lessons that apply to all areas of life.

Here’s the key point:

Don’t have a preconceived plan. Listen and react to the situation. Feel the energy and respond to it.

Our as our teacher, Hilmar Fuchs, likes to say:

Keep your mind open for opportunities. When they present themselves, go for it.

With that, we learn to ‘listen’ in push hands, to ‘keep our eyes open’ for challenges (attacks) and opportunities (openings).

Some of the principles we study in pushing hands:

  1. Have your mind on the end goal, on what you want to achieve. Don’t hold yourself back by overthinking the challenges in front of you, or thinking they are unsurmountable.
  2. Don’t try to force your way because you had a certain plan and want to stick to it.
  3. Don’t miss opportunities because you weren’t ready yet, or because they don’t fit in your plan and timeline.
  4. Be frugal, only move when you need to. Only react when you get energy. Don’t be mechanical, if there is no signal, there is no need for response.
  5. Don’t be stiff either, be flexible. The tree bends to the wind, the water flows around the rock, the wind reaches into every corner. On the other hand, the frozen branch breaks upon resistance.

When you get the principles right, you don’t need force

When we need to apply force, speed or trickery to overcome our partner (or obstacle), then we got the timing and the principles wrong. When we can be soft and calm, and still achieve our goals, then we did the right thing at the right time.

Strive to be soft (flexible) and calm, while maintaining course towards your goal.

When there is an opening, allow your energy to flow into it. When you pull a bolder out of the stream, the water will fill the void without hesitation.

When there is resistance, go around it. Every hard spot has a corresponding soft spot that is presented to you as a gift.

And in ‘real’ life?

After class we talked a little about the application of these principles to life and business.

It’s the same thing.

You want to have a general sense of where you want to go (we call it strategy), you want to simulate a few things that could happen to train your sensitivity (often referred to as business plan). But after that, you need to look and listen carefully to what is happening.

Keep your goal in mind, but lock your plan away where you can’t see it. Sense, listen, and react (we often call this experimentation and learning, or ‘little bets’). If an opening (an unexpected opportunity) presents itself, then go for it, whether the time is right or not (it usually never is). The goalpost is durable, the actual path to get there usually is unexpected.

Opportunities you didn’t predict will present themselves (openings), challenges you did’t anticipate will get in your way (resistance). Stay sensitive, flexible, and oriented towards forward momentum (project your energy to your goal, not to the obstacle in your way).

In the military they say:

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Be attentive, be flexible, be nimble, and be open for the unexpected.

Strategy gradually evolves – tactics pivot on a dime.