It’s not all sunshine and rainbows

I am generally a positive and optimistic person. I believe that people and organizations should focus on their strengths, unless the weaknesses are debilitating, and build from a foundation of strong fundamentals.

BUT, I am also a realist that knows people don’t always operate at their top-level all the time. We are human and we need to recharge. We are human and we can make mistakes. Everyone has a story, such as health challenges or job loss or some other travesty, that can have a negative impact on their attitude and general demeanor.

So I cringed a bit when I saw the outline for a presentation that is being given in  the near future. The description notes that everyone should be in a happy place and we can all create the change necessary in our work culture and world place. The end goal appears to be to reduce the amount of hard work. Lofty target, for sure.

AND, I am not so foolish to believe that “the secret” is just to believe and things will happen.

In the movie “Rocky Balboa,” Sylvester Stallone’s ageing fighter gives his son a “talking to/pep talk.”

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. “ 

Finding the common good/goal in a workplace should be easy – center your activities on the customer. We all know this is harder than simply making the statement. If we commit to the plan, believe in ourselves and each other, and work hard like Rocky told his son, we improve our opportunity for success. Hard work is always going to be an integral part of any successful effort.

Why do we want to shy away from hard work? Working hard and accomplishing the task, project, etc., gives us a feeling of accomplishment. And this is what we should be focused on.

Some of my most satisfying professional moments have been achieving our goal after many months of hard work by everyone. Genuine joy is important to share. And it is so nice to see people being appreciated for their efforts.

Paul Harvey, the famous American newsman, wrote one of his insightful stories about hard work. Here is a link. He claims there is no gospel looked down on more than the gospel of hard work. Listen to the rest of the story to hear how he sums it up.

I believe most people work hard, or at least try to work hard. When you go to work you are paid to work. It is called work for a reason.

I remember my Dad telling me a story about when the employees in his department “worked to rule” because of some union negotiation with the government. My Dad and his manager colleagues said “fine” and started to track how long people took for coffee breaks and lunches according to the union contract. When the employees started to get written up for being late or taking too much time, they complained. This was not what was done before. But, this is the “work to rule” that the employees wanted and they didn’t like the consequences. Needless to say the work to rule ended quickly.

We do legitimately have an opportunity many times in each day to build towards a better person, organization, and culture. We can look for ways to get better. We can make solid suggestions on how to improve things or eliminate waste. We can set up special activities to give back into the community to make our communities better.

We must be willing to dig down and get to work on a consistent basis. I believe that our hard work in these areas can get us closer to sunshine and rainbows than simply wishing it to be.

It’s March…It’s Madness!!!!

A CNBC report two weeks ago estimated that U.S businesses lost $6.3 BILLION in productivity during the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. This is the third worst productivity drain behind texting and Facebook.

The tournament is exciting. Heck, I am in two pools. Even though I watched precious little college hoops this year. Estimates are that wagers of greater than $10 Billion will be placed.

Now, some companies try not to fight this time-wasting scourge. They have office pools. Some tie in favorite teams into sales contests during the year with winners going to a tournament Final Four game.

The interest, excitement, and enthusiasm are factors that leaders try to harness all year round. Here are some questions that come to mind:

  • Do your employees talk about your product or service with the passion that they cheer on their teams?
  • Are they as focused on the details of their job, and how they are helping customers, as they are on the basketball games?
  • Do they “bring it” all year round, or just when “the boss is watching?”
  • How do they respond to defeats? As a fan you have no influence on a game, and yet we (yes, sometimes me too) all too often analyze the heck out of the game and our team’s performance.
  • When things get tight, like so many March Madness games can become, how do we center ourselves so we can focus on our performance when the game starts again?

This last point is one that is often addressed when a player or team “chokes.”  How was that player and their team prepared to respond when the score was tight and time was running down? How does your team respond to a major customer issue and a response is needed immediately?

Do you:

  1. focus, regroup, and get back at it?
  2. panic and “drop the ball?”
  3. cave completely and lose your composure and fail to perform at all?

Some employees phone in sick when things get a bit tough at work. Every competitor is fighting for a share of the customer’s wallet. Those that have a winning game plan, train, and execute, are the ones with an increased chance of long-term success.

True in sports and true in business.

Remember that we are just human. Not perfect. Prone to lapses in judgment and performance. We can get injured or severely sick.

Remember that we are just human. We can practice to get close to perfection. We can train and prepare so our judgment and performance is always the best we are capable of. We can manage our health with exercise, diet and getting enough rest.

A winning game plan in the NCAA tournament gets tested because of the lack of rest in between games. With limited time to scout and prepare for individual teams, the focus must be on your strengths and the factors you can control. If your fundamentals are sound, then adapting to unique situations is easier. Players can handle pressure better if they have confidence in their personal preparation and in their teammates’ preparation.

The same holds true in business. As your team prepares a proposal for a major new customer opportunity you don’t know exactly what your competitors will be submitting. You need to test some scenarios, such “what about $x pricing?” to see how you will respond when asked about your pricing. Fundamentally, you should spend more time on using your knowledge and relationship that has been built with the potential customer to craft a solution that you can deliver that exceeds their expectation. Your focus on them, not your competitor, is essential so the team is in a positive mind-set as you get ready for the formal presentation. And please practice your presentation. Practice the timing, Answer the tough questions. Be prepared for curve-balls. Get plenty of rest before “game day.”

Are you wasting time on texting, Facebook and basketball pools? If you are not getting yourself and your team ready to perform and create confidence with your customers, well, that’s just… Madness!


Everyone has a first day on the job

From a cashier in a grocery store to a doctor in an emergency room, everybody has a first day on the job.

Different jobs require different levels of training and demonstration of expertise before a person can actually have their first day. We experience the success, or lack of, this training in our interaction with people on their first day.

While there is an obvious level of personal accountability, the range of support and training provided by organizations can vary widely, even with the same job type.

Why does this happen? Certainly the technical training is very important and companies will invest to varying degrees. Certain policies and procedures, like selecting benefit plans, also vary by company. The indoctrination process can also vary by company. This is the description of culture and the enunciation of the expectation of performance and behaviour.

And I believe this is where most companies can make or break success with new employees, regardless of profession or skill level.

Case in point – Disney. I had the opportunity to attend a behind the scenes tour of Disney World in Orlando a few years back. We were underground walking the sprawling tunnels and seeing the vast storage rooms, training rooms, power and HVAC rooms, costume rooms, food service preparation, etc.

Our tour guide was a military veteran. He had the biggest smile and a firm, not crushing, handshake. He looked you in the eye and repeated your name. There were a few ethnic names and he made sure to pronounce everyone’s name properly. He led us on the tour with incredible knowledge, patience, and insight on the inner workings of the company. We had to walk briskly to keep up as he moved us through the tunnels to show us everything within our allotted time. He was in a wheel chair and we had to keep up to him.

He embodied the Disney credo of “guest first.” He relayed a story about Lee Cockerell, who was a SVP at the time, about the amount of training that Disney provided for all “cast members.” It didn’t matter if you were in costume, or in maintenance, everyone received two full weeks, at full pay, of Disney training. This was conducted before the cast member received their specialized training that was dependent on their actual role.

As the story goes, someone asked Lee why there was such a major investment for every person? What if they didn’t stay with Disney?  Lee’s response was, “What if we didn’t train them and they stayed?”

Ponder that point for a minute or two.

It doesn’t matter what the role is, how much time do you spend helping the new person understand the company dynamics and culture? And this holds even for executive level roles. I have read stories, and personally witnessed an event once in my career, where a senior person came on board and within two weeks had left. “Not a great fit.” No kidding!

How does this happen?

Clearly, the hiring process is flawed, right? Or is it the “onboarding” process that has the fatal flaw? I don’t know about your organization, but I would suggest that you take a look at your process, including all the “new person” touchpoints, to ensure every person is properly welcomed, and informed, about your organization. In my experience, most of this information is not thoroughly discussed during the hiring process, save a question or two by a keen applicant. It must be well-crafted in simple language and presented in the right way.

I also hope that when you share your corporate values that every employee greets “the new kid in town” by exemplifying your values.

It would be a shame if your organization didn’t walk the talk.

That’s not the way to set up any person for success on the first day of their new job.

Your carelessness may cause your new hire to take their talent to your competitor. And all your recruiting time is wasted and you have to start over. Meanwhile, your previous number one candidate has turned into a star performer for your biggest rival.

I hope that doesn’t result in you having to experience a first day on the job at another company because you have been made available to the market.


Personal Accountability

Johnny Manziel was a NCAA quarterback who capped his redshirt freshman college year by leading his Texas A&M Aggies to a resounding victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl (a major US bowl game) by a 41 to 13 score. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and other personal awards. He was a first round draft pick in the NFL and signed a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Manziel was also very immature and irresponsible. His off field shenanigans and horrible missteps led to losing his spot on the Browns after two years. Despite all the talent in the world, he chose to make really poor personal decisions relative to his actions and the types of people he hung around with.

But, he worked to clear up his image and eventually earned an opportunity with the Hamilton Tigercats in the CFL. By every indication this young man had turned his life around. He was still athletic, despite not having played in a couple of years, and was shown as the willing new player just trying to make the best of his opportunity to play pro football again.

A major trade in 2018 took Manziel to Montreal where he would be reunited with a previous coach and was thrust into the starting role. His first game was horrible. He made rookie mistakes and genuinely looked frantic and frustrated. But, his coach and teammates had faith and he started to play better. The team did not make the playoffs, but no matter, Johnny would be back and better in 2019.

Johnny Manziel was kicked out of the CFL this week…forever.

He did not do all the actions required of him when he was given the chance to join the CFL. He missed meetings and did other things that have not been detailed. And now he is out of the league.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

In a recent discussion with the esteemed Winnipeg sports psychologist, Dr. Cal Botterill, we talked about performance and the responsibility that each player or employee has to do their best.

Training, nutrition, game study, and individual programs highlight the essential components of the plan high level athletes employ. Dr. Botterill told me about Ingemar Stenmark, a Swedish slalom and giant slalom skier that started competing in the early 1970’s. Over a 16 year career, he won 86 international races, which is still a record. This total includes 2 gold and a bronze in the Olympics and 3 gold and a silver at the world championships. The closest skier has 67 wins up to 2019. One of the tools that Stenmark employed was to rush past the timing table and to a quiet spot where he would literally close his eyes and bob his head as if he was running the course again. Which of course he was. This was a way for him to make each subsequent run better.

Unlike Manziel, who just wanted to have more fun.

This type of focus that Stenmark displayed is also useful for high performance in business. Jeffrey Gitomer, king of sales, makes a point, regularly, that you are not making money watching reality TV shows. His contention is that to achieve better results, you need more discipline in your process. You need to do the things that your sales competitors will not do. Instead of watching “Survivor” take a self-study course and improve your ability to ask great questions to set yourself apart form other sales reps.

As a business leader, do you take care of yourself first? This is where the airplane analogy kicks in. In case of emergency, you always put your oxygen on first before you help anyone else. This is part of the safety message on every airline. In business, how effective are you as a leader if you are not putting on your mask first? And this means your physical, mental and work preparation. If you are not sharp, you will not be able to make the tough decisions, or, when needed, the right decision. You can become a worse leader, a worse parent or spouse, and even a worse friend.

It is the ability to trust the process, and not focus simply on results, that will serve you better in the long run.

This is a case where you need to be selfish in your preparation of yourself so you can be a better overall person and leader.

Unlike “little Johnny” who is selfish, but in all the wrong ways and for all the wrong reasons.

I really feel sorry for his parents, who must be wondering “where did we go so wrong with this kid.”

I hope they don’t beat themselves up too much. After all, Johnny is ultimately responsible for Johnny.

End note: My basketball team, Old School, decided to play this one more season. We got a couple of new guys, and although we were much more competitive and consistent, we finished the regular season with 3 wins and 13 losses. We played a team that was 8 and 9. And we played without our two leading scorers. We played with a calmness and trust and tenacity. And although tied at half time we won by 10 points! For Milt, OBG and Cal, the leaders who have 41 years with this team, we trusted the process and each other. Round 2 is next Thursday and I’ll let you know how we did.