March 31, 2009

Authentic mission requires potential loss

What are you willing to sacrifice in order to truly fulfill your authentic mission?

Hopefully, compassion isn't on that list, but before you simply read on, really take a second to consider this.

Suppose you are on your way to an important interview, or meeting, or some other potentially life altering event, and you see someone stranded alongside the road. Would you stop? Would it make a difference if you were ahead of schedule or on schedule? What if you were running late? What if helping might cause your freshly pressed, tidy clothes to become soiled? Would that change your course of action?

Of course, most people would probably say that they would make the decision to help those in need, even when it could possibly come at a loss to themselves. In reality and application however, the story comes together somewhat differently. How many times have you been faced with this opportunity and simply kept on driving? Maybe, a brief pause is taken to say a prayer for those that are in need. Maybe.

What keeps you from answering the call to service when it is placed in your path? Fear of losing your job, or missing out on the once in a lifetime opportunity to better your career situation? What are you truly and authentically willing to sacrifice for others? Perhaps potentially missing your child's ball game or that dinner out with your spouse? You can be certain that you will be called to serve in the area where you are most likely to resist, and where there appears to be the greatest personal loss.

It is a challenge to not become so involved in the mission that you fail to serve those that you are here to serve. You must not forget, even for a moment, that the mission is not about yourself. It is about the people that you encounter daily. Living for others is going to cost you something, perhaps even everything.

If you can get to that place where you are living for others, more concerned about their well being than your own, you will be better equipped to understand the fullness of life that you have been designed for.

March 30, 2009

Invaluable Resource

I have heard it said that if you want to be successful, you need to become invaluable to your organization. You need to know how things work in the organization, the culture that exists, and the processes that are in place. While it is true that knowledge is important, acquired knowledge should not be something that is locked away hidden only for selfish gain.

As you acquire knowledge, you must be willing to open up and share what you have learned with your team. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that our families and organizations are naturally made up of pockets of knowledge. Each individual remembers certain things that are of value. As a result, the community becomes an intertwined repository of knowledge that is built on the framework of interdependence and interaction. Organizationally, we know more as a team and community than we do independently.

The goal then, should not be to become the single person who knows everything in the organization. Your goal, if you truly want to be invaluable, should include making full use of your strengths every day, directing your focus on building relationships, and working towards being the person who knows the individuals who possess the knowledge. Once you know who has the knowledge, encourage them to share that knowledge with everyone that they possibly can. Ultimately, your organization will be far more productive, efficient, and innovative.

As the saying goes, it isn't what you know that makes you successful, it's who you know.

March 26, 2009

What Are You Cutting?

In case you were not aware, the global economy is in a tight place right now. The Italian economy is affected just as much by the global economy as the rest of us are. It seems that the Italian economy is largely based on the influx of American tourism dollars. As a result of the down economy, fewer Americans are traveling abroad to Italy right now. Of course fewer tourism dollars means more problems for the Italian economy.

Right now, in an effort to return the flow of tourism dollars into the economy, several of the luxury hotels and other areas of interest to travelers are reducing rates for the good and services that they provide. From a pure profit and loss perspective, this seems to make sense. Reduce rates, make things more affordable, and then people should be more willing to travel.

However, rates are not the only thing that these businesses are cutting right now. They are also cutting back on what they deliver. Again, from a pure profit and loss perspective this seems to make some sense. If I reduce the amount that I charge, then I need to reduce what I provide in order to yield the same profits that I expect.

The trouble behind this is that they are sacrificing the brand that they have built in order to accommodate the market. Unfortunately, this is how many organizations are reacting to the current economic conditions. Eventually, the economy will make a turn around. And when it does, customers will once again be willing to pay substantially for luxury hotels and spectacular getaways. Sadly though, many of these businesses may no longer be around to enjoy the fruits of restored economic prosperity.

This economy provides the perfect opportunity for your organization to create powerful word of mouth epidemics like never before. Discover how you can provide service that is superior to what you currently provide, especially when times are tough. Your customers will know that you are committed to providing out of this world service, even when it may come at a loss of profits for you, and as a result, they will be more willing to continue to use the products and services that you provide in years to come.

Selling out your vision and mission temporarily will only get you by temporarily. Optimistically making an investment in the future will help to ensure that you are still around to serve in the future.

March 25, 2009

It is your problem

When your customers are calling you on the phone to ask for assistance, they may appear to be somewhat frustrated. Whatever the issue or problem that they are experiencing may happen to be, you can be certain that it is important. Regardless of how trivial you may think that the issue is, it is truly something critical to your customer.

As a responsible, professional, reliable, service provider, it is your self accepted responsibility to treat the needs and concerns of your customer as though they are of true concern to you. Even if the problem is not directly related to the product or service that you have provided, your customer sees you. Or hears your voice. Or they have received an email from you. What I am getting at is this; Although the problem may not be one that you initiated or even in your officially sanctioned area of responsibility, it is in fact your problem now. You have established that you are the point of contact for the customer and the issue that they are experiencing, and you must follow through on ensuring that appropriate steps toward resolution are taken.

It is not good enough to make the statement that it is not my code, or my server, or my database. It is not enough to say that it is not my department, or it it's not in my job description. Regardless of whether you are closing million dollar deals or creating an aesthetically pleasing experience by ensuring that the floors are clean, you have a responsibility to serve others before yourself.

This is not simply some rule that is necessary for creating out of this world customer experiences. It isn't about your image or the image of the organization that you work for. This concept is simply a requisite for being a part of the human race.

Believe it or not, you have been designed and created with a servant heart for others. Focus more on authentically serving others, less on the job description or corporate borders of your function or the function of your department, and start serving the other people that you are in contact with each and everyday.

Rewards of satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment are found when you move past living for yourself, and start living for others.

March 24, 2009

Mutating the Virus of Urgency

The other day, I wrote a post introducing the concept of the virus of urgency. In summary the virus of urgency is a phenomenon that occurs in organizations when people need to get something done, but the supporting cast has not historically met the need. Individuals that need to get something done that is of value to the organization will find a way to get what they need, even if that means cultivating a false sense of urgency.

Destroying a mindset that has been ingrained into the fabric of the organization is challenging, and often, not of tremendous value. Instead, it is more valuable to identify how you can mutate the virus in the organization. Change it just enough to really get things done, and it becomes less of a push for people to adopt the idea.

You can actually use the original strain of the virus of urgency, and re-engineer it to better meet the needs of the organization. This is cost effective, and will enable you to provide a better service to your customers and partners. The truth is, there is still a desire for a sense of urgency to exist in our organizations. The challenge is found in ensuring that the sense of urgency that is being cultivated is focused on responding to issues related to the mission and vision that your organization exists for.

A couple of strategies for mutating the virus include the following:

  1. Ask the question, 'When is this needed?' Typically, in an organization that has historically neglected the requests and needs of the customer, the response will be tomorrow. When this response is given, simply be honest and transparent to your customer, and explain that you cannot address the issue by tomorrow, but do provide a time that you will be able to provide what they are seeking. As a courtesy, make certain that your customer agrees to the time line given, and then, be sure that you provide what you promise by the agreed upon date, if not sooner. Set the expectation and then deliver. If you truly find that you will not meet the deadline, keep your customer informed early and often so that they are not surprised when the date of delivery arrives and the hopes that they had are dashed to the ground!
  2. If it's broken, fix it! If there is a problem that is preventing something from working correctly, get on it and get the problem resolved. If you cannot address a true emergency, your customers will not trust that you will follow through on the long term promises that you are making.
  3. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. Keep your customers informed of the status of things as you are working on them. Try to avoid becoming the black hole for projects, where something is requested, and then something is delivered. Challenge your customers, invite them to be a part of the solution, and encourage innovation. Allow them to own the solution. Your role should be primarily focused on enabling your customer to get the job done that they have been designed for.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it is a common sense place to start. Sadly, too many organizations lack following through on these simple, yet powerful concepts. By beginning to apply these three concepts, you will gain respect from your customers again, and the organization will be better able to fulfill the obligations, commitments, and mission that it has been commissioned for.

Transparency, communication, accountability, and a servant heart go a long way to earning back the trust of your customers.

Simple, yet often overlooked.

March 20, 2009

The reality of dreaming...

I learn some of the most valuable lessons about leadership, life, and purpose when I am hanging out with my kids.

While reading with my son last night, a character in the book The Silver Chair said something that really got me to thinking about our lives and how we allow fear and the system of the status quo to control our actions. In this scene, a witch was attempting to convince the heroic few that stood in opposition of the multitudes, that all that they had ever lived for, all that he had ever loved, and all that they truly believed in was really only a lie. Several of the characters were dissuaded from believing what they knew in their hearts to be true. However, one character, Puddleglum, made a speech saying that he would rather live in a world that was full of good and light, even if it were not real, than to live in the witch's dark world of reality.

The system of the status quo does this all of the time. It keeps us 'grounded' and focused on 'the truth'. It attempts to open the eyes of dreamers and visionaries in an effort to dissuade them from desiring something more. Sadly, too many of us fall victim to this attack on what we believe is real and right. We become convinced that our biggest and most audacious dreams are simply that; Dreams that we tell ourselves to get through the darkness of the reality that we live in. The status quo seeks to dissuade us from dreaming, even when the dream is more real to us than the system that we are presented with, because it threatens the foundation of the status quo.

You must believe that the dreams and vision that you have are real. There is more beauty and passion in the life that the status quo tells us is non-existent than there is in the reality that they cling so tightly to. Dream big, put action behind your mission, and live boldly, accepting the reality and responsibility of the life that you have been uniquely designed for.

As for me, I would rather live in a world of possibility than to accept the 'truth' that the status quo offers.

March 19, 2009

Part of Your Story

We all want to be a part of a story that is meaningful.

That is why I choose to eat Clif bars as opposed to the other energy bars that are available on the shelves of supermarkets. No, I am not being compensated by this company. I do not own stock in this company, and I am certainly not receiving free energy bars!

However, they do have a story to tell, and principles that they believe in. Clif Bar & Company was born out of something practical and real. There is a story about why they started doing what they do, how they got started, and if you are willing to read more into it, where they want to go.

They buy into and practice that the product that they create is not simply something that they sell to consumers. They believe that they are creating a community that grows together that shares a common vision, goals, and great food.

Why do I eat them:

  1. Clif Bars taste good, and they are made with good, wholesome, natural ingredients. Most energy bars taste bad because they are full of unnecessary chemicals.
  2. They have a story that they are telling, and that they encourage other people to be a part of.
  3. They are anchored to something grander than simply selling me an energy bar. There is more to it than that. They have a mission, and they seek to make a positive contribution in this world every day. They understand responsibility, they accept responsibility, and they have fun doing so! This is outstanding!
Is there a story behind your products and services, or are you just trying to sell us something? Tell the story of why you are here, let people become a part of it, don't sell out your vision and mission, and you will gain respect and true fans.

Who knows? Maybe instead of your marketing team writing a blog about how great your products are, your customers may end up sneezing the story that you are inviting them to be a part of.

March 18, 2009

Nosiy Tools

Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Ning, Squidoo, blogs, web pages, and the Internet are noisy. They are all tools, merely there to enable and support people in communicating a message that they believe in.

Too often, we lose sight of the fact that these tools are not the mission. The tools are not even the strategy. We use them to tactically achieve the things that we actually want to get done. We use them to see our mission move forward. To see our strategic initiatives reach fruition.

However, we trade a whole lot of our time playing. Playing is good to an extent. It helps us to learn more about the tools that we are going to use. Playing helps us to better understand how the community that we are leading will react to our use of the tools that we select. And playing equips us with tools that could be useful to us in ways that are not immediately understood.

We need to be extremely careful that we do not allow the tools to dictate how we are going to get things done. We should already have an idea about what it is that is important to us and how we plan to make certain that we align ourselves in such a way that we are able to achieve what is important to us. We must consider the problem that we are trying to solve, and then determine the best tools and tactics to achieve resolution.

The tools can change, as well as the tactics.

But the mission doesn't. The mission is static.

March 16, 2009

The Virus of Urgency

My friend Lynn has helped me to understand that we need to manage to the expectations of our customers.

Too often, internal customers say that they need to have something completed today, if not five minutes ago. The fact that your customers are asking for something to be completed now is an indication that there is a much larger problem to tackle. The reason that your customers are asking for things with such immediacy is because their needs have been neglected in the past. Your customers feel that the only way to get what they really need is to create a false sense of urgency. In other words, what the customer is really saying is, "I am going to tell you that I need something today to make my request seem urgent, because if I don't, you aren't going to work on it for me." This behavior has been nurtured over time, and it has become a part of the culture. Like a virus, it has even spread into the way that we work and interact with each other.

The results of this include the following:
  1. You are reactive, not proactive. - Rather than responding to issues that are actual emergencies, everything is treated as an emergency. This prevents your team from doing the work that is actually of real value and importance to your organization.
  2. Your customers find other ways to solve problems. - Sure, we want people to innovate and come up with out of this world ideas, but they should be focused on how they can solve the problems and answer the questions that are unique to what they do, not how they can work around a group that is unresponsive. If they don't need you, then why are you even there at all?
  3. You fail to grow, because you fail to learn. - When you are determining the work that you will commit to, based on your own needs, you fail to meet the needs of your organization. This is a selfish way to approach business. It is your primary responsibility to enable your customers to be as successful as they possibly can be. By focusing your efforts on the projects that you perceive will return the greatest value to you, you fail to enable your customers. There is a lot that we can learn from those that we serve. If we are not serving, we are not really learning.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to changing the cultural mindset that has grown in so many of our organizations. The first step is identifying the problem. Then we can start to come up with solutions.

March 11, 2009

Part of the herd?

Too many of our organizations are far too bureaucratic to be successful. As a result, the people that are supposed to be the life of our organizations fall into this trap of bureaucracy. And those that do not fall into the trap are often ostracized, excommunicated, or ripped apart in defense of maintaining the status quo. We take beautiful, creative, strong minds and force them to think rigidly and linearly, while at the same time, asking them to come up with innovative ideas.

Take a number, step in line, wait in line, fill out form, repeat. I don't know about you, but that sure doesn't seem to be very conducive to growth. Waiting in a line to fill out some forms? For what purpose? Because we are told that this is the way that it needs to be? This does not seem responsible from an organizational or personal perspective. Why waste and squander the talents and strengths that people have to offer?

"Mature" organizations have strict guidelines and policies in place. This is why business costs so much, and this is why our businesses and non-profits are closing their doors. Our organizations are too big. Too many people are doing work that isn't even remotely related to what is needed or wanted. Work is done, simply to keep busy until quitting time. There are people sitting on top of talented, motivated, and innovative people, barking orders, asking for forms to be completed, and demanding a full account of our time. And still we wonder why we are not innovative, creative, passionate? Seriously?

We need to be lightweight again, and return to the core of what we exist for. It is time to get smaller on policy and procedure, and begin providing extreme value to our customers and employees. If you really want your organization to grow and reach its full potential, you are going to have to refocus your efforts and energize the tribe. We cannot afford to be so heavy anymore. This economy will not support it. Your customers will not support it. And your employees and volunteers will certainly not support it.

Cattle move in herds. They are slow, they spend hours upon hours grazing, and if they are not prodded, they do not tend to move a whole lot. Wolves on the other hand travel in smaller leaner packs. They are cunning, and they are quiet. With stealth like agility, they can sneak up on their prey and pick off the herd on one by one.

Will you and your organization be the wolf, or will you be the beef?

March 09, 2009

Giving life up for the status quo

There is beauty and joy all around us. Inspiration, innovation, excitement, and passion are not hard to find, for those who truly want to see it.

In fact, we have all been designed with joy and creativity hard wired into our DNA. However, at some point in our lives, most adults, in an effort to be mature and responsible, push away creativity and side with the obese and bloated system of the status quo. We tend to live under the false premise that siding with the status quo is safe, secure, and without risk. That seems to make a lot of sense, until you begin to see the status quo begin to crumble under the enormous weight of self induced process, policy, and procedure. The economic crisis that we find ourselves in today is a result of our over reliance on the status quo, as opposed to relying on the strengths and talents that we have each been uniquely created with, for a mission that is just as unique.

Beauty and design are elegant. They are lightweight on process. They require that we focus on doing what is important, doing what is important well, and keeping the solution elegantly simplistic. However, elegance and simplicity come with a cost. There is a lot more effort that is required when you are trying to do something different than it has ever been done.

Creating something elegantly simplistic requires digging into the core of who we are, the part of our souls that we have neglected for so long in exchange for assumed security. Another challenge that we face as we begin to do things that are meaningful, passionate, and creative is that we will all to often look internally for the best ideas. Rarely are the best ideas found within. They are often found as a result of looking at all of the beautifully crazy ideas that others have had, and then marrying them into an elegant union. Finally, doing something creative and extraordinary will require us to be uncomfortable and to step into a place of constant uncertainty. This sounds scary at first, but ultimately, you will find joy and contentment when you are able to escape the bonds that we willfully accept when we blindly follow a broken system.

Keep in mind, the status quo is established in order to keep you from fulfilling a mission that is uniquely your own. It is there, intentionally, to distract you from the work that needs to be done. Whether or not you decide to step up to the mission of your life is completely a call that you must make on your own.

March 08, 2009

The Champions of Economic Recovery

Over the past several weeks, people and organizations have been provided the opportunity to propose projects and ideas to state government agencies in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Essentially the federal government has committed funds as a means for moving our country out of the economic situation that we find ourselves in today.

As a result of this, I find myself somewhat hopeful again. When posed with the question on how to use this money, the American people have responded. Sure some of the ideas that have been submitted are pretty crazy, but at least this proves that people are still willing to think of doing things that are much bigger than themselves. There are still people out there who have visionary ideas that they are willing to put out there. When it comes down to it, we are innovative and creative people at the core of who we truly are.

I am hopeful again, because I see the American people returning to the innovative roots of the American spirit. Without thinking about financial limitation, people are coming up with some pretty crazy, inspiring, and great ideas. Some of these ideas may appear to be terrible, but the truth is, even these ideas could be coupled with other ideas to create something great!

The government is not the champion that will pull us out of the economic struggle that we find our nation in today. It will be the American people returning to generating and communicating ideas with one another. The American people will be the catalyst for turning this economy around, and as a result, individuals will once again realize the power that comes from using the brilliantly beautiful minds that they have been uniquely designed with.

Although I am not certain if this was intended, the government has provided the platform for people to dream again. Now is the time for people to think of doing phenomenal things without limitation! If we truly want to turn this economy around, then we must answer the call to creative freedom!

Now is the time for us to do something great!

March 05, 2009

Love and Respect

In a post by Seth Godin, he brings up a couple of really great points when it comes to presenting. He explains that when delivering a message, the presenter needs both respect from the audience and a love for the audience.

Regardless of how you choose to tell your story, you are a presenter. Whether it is in an auditorium or theater, your office, or through a blog, you are presenting ideas, concepts, and a vision to the individuals that you are attempting to connect with, otherwise known as your audience.

We are all storytellers. This is a fact. Call it your personal brand, or vision casting, or leading your mission, you are telling a story everyday. Sometimes, the story spans multiple days, weeks, months, and years. Other times, you only have several minutes to convey your message. That being said, it is crucial to gain respect from your audience quickly. The way that you gain this respect is through consistency in your actions, being responsible and assertive, passionate and engaged. You need to be aware of and accept the fact that quality is essential in all that you do. You may only have one chance to grab hold of someone and speak to them, especially in a world where there is so much competing for our attention. Your audience has already made certain judgements about you before you even begin to speak. If you want your message to be heard and accepted, you need understand that you get one shot to earn that respect. A damaged brand is extremely difficult to overcome. It can be done, but it takes significant time and effort.

Why do you even care if anyone listens to what you have to say in the first place? What does it matter if you gain respect from your audience? Because, the story that you are designed to tell is important to those that are listening. You need to realize and understand the weight of the responsibility that you have accepted. People will listen to the story that you have to tell and will actually look for a way to become a part of the story that you are presenting, when you are able to get beyond any potential gain for yourself and focus on the importance that your message has in the lives of others.

Gaining respect from others and loving your audience require that you gain the understanding that none of it is about you or your organization. It is all about others, and helping them to become the best that they possibly can become.

Simply put, your story is important out of your love for others. And the only way that you can deliver this story is to gain respect from the audience and to love the audience.

March 04, 2009

Possibly Creative

There is almost nothing that energizes me more than being surrounded by creative people! I love to hear people thinking out loud about different ways that things could be done, seeing challenges as mere fodder and opportunities for doing something great!

Being creative is fun, and while it does require a ton of brain power, discussion, and the ability to look foolish from time to time, it energizes me completely! Get a room of people together to solve a common problem without citing all of the limitations that we have established in the form of policies and procedures, and big problems can start to look trivial.

Conversely, there is nothing that drains me more than being surrounded by realists. It isn't that they don't necessarily want to do something great, they just have a different approach to getting there. Of course, I argue that if they cannot dream about what could be regardless of what they are faced with now, they don't have a very clear picture of where they are heading.

The world simply needs more possibility thinkers, or at least people who are willing to live past the fear of failure, and embrace all that they could creatively become!

March 03, 2009

The Open Mind Principle

When a problem comes along that needs solving, where is the first place the we tend to look?

Internally. The trouble is, the solution is rarely found solely within ourselves. Sure, we have certain resources, passions, and inherent strengths and talents that are available for our use. It is absolutely wise to know and make use of these. However, without some idea of how to use what we have, we often find ourselves mulling over a problem without having any idea how to resolve it.

Part of the issue with only looking internally is that you only use what you have now. There are other possible ideas that others have that may be able to solve the same problem that you are trying to solve. Ironically, the ideas that they have may not even be ones that are directly related to the issue or challenge that you are looking to resolve.

Something else worth considering is that there may be other people or organizations that feel stuck on an issue. No matter how many great ideas that they have, they are not able to make any progress towards resolution due to limited resources. However, combine what you have with what they have, and then, you might be able to talk about the possibility of finding a mutual resolution to the complex issues that you are trying to resolve.

A few things that need to be kept in mind:

  1. You will never solve problems with a closed mind. Closed minds take nothing in, and share nothing. This is akin to the open-hand principle. You cannot receive if you hands are not open. If you hold on to tightly to what you have, your hands are not able to abundantly receive. With a closed mind, you don't grow.
  2. You don't need more stuff to solve your problems. You have everything that you need to solve the problems that you have been entrusted to. You simply need to be willing to excercise your creative muscle and make use of what you have. This is going to require you to perhaps do somethings that are completely crazy, heretical, and maybe even a little scary. But, you accepted the responsibility, so get over it and make a difference!
  3. You need more thoughts to solve your problems. Regardless of what you are going through, you need to have, at the very minimum, a sounding board that you can bounce ideas off of. You need people in your life that will hold you accountable, that will be completely honest with you, and that will even share ideas with you. You need people that are passionately bought into the mission that you exist for. They may not be necessarily bought into you or your organization, but they fully grasp and understand the mission and vision, and want to see it be successful. By the way, the worst thing that you can do with these individuals is to ignore them. Get them involved in the idea generating process, and listen to the thoughts and ideas that they have!

March 02, 2009

Intermingled Composition

A great composer can produce astonishing and vibrant works that can stir emotion in even the coldest of human hearts. The composer is essentially telling a story.

Sometimes, the music that we hear is sad, but then, someone picks up the tune, and injects their own story into it. And before you know it, the whole song has been transformed. What was once sad and dark is now filled with light and life. Passion and energy take over, and the message being conveyed is completely changed.

The stories that we tell are no less different than the stories that a composer or author skillfully arranges. The stories of our lives have beginnings, middles, and ends. How we allow others to change the context of our story is of course a decision that we must make on our own.

Regardless of the tempo of the story you are telling, you can choose who will have influence of injecting pieces into your story. The real beauty is found when two or more stories can come together in a beautiful masterpiece, where it is not recognizable that the intent of the message was divergent.

The two become one, in a matter of speaking.