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Jul 4 20

The Risky Path Forward

by David Brock

Our collective worlds have been disrupted and changed forever. Whether it’s how we interact in our communities or businesses, everything has changed.

Markets and industries have been turned upside down. Some will take years to recover. The nature of work has changed forever–and that change is not just virtual. How we get things done within our companies, how we get things done with our customers, how we get things done with our partners and suppliers, have changed.

As we think of strategies for moving forward, for recovering, for growing; we seek to understand and manage risks. Some seek to minimize or avoid risk, which is problematic.

As we look at the issue of risk, the single highest risk strategy is to do what we’ve always done, to do the things that were successful in the past.

I speak to people, longing for things to get back to normal, to the way things were 4-6 months ago. Implicit in that desire is to get back to doing things the way we have in the past.

All of this is a sure path to failure–or at best–just getting by.

By contrast, the least risky strategies for moving forward is to do new and “risky” things. To experiment, to learn, to drive the changes in how we work, how we engage our customers, how we create meaning and value with our people, our companies, our customers, our communities. As we learn, we adapt and continue to improve.

Our world, our work is characterized by complexity. We live in constant flux and unpredictability. There are many different ideas and views about what will happen in the future–and there are no right answers. We are discovering the old models are no longer effective or relevant.

In moving forward, our most effective course of action is to encourage experiments, to explore new ideas, pursuing them long enough to see what patterns emerge. We need to broaden our interactions and increase communications across diverse groups. Research is telling us the best solutions and the fastest path to solutions is through very diverse groups.

We have the opportunity to help our customers, while at the same time figuring things out for ourselves. After all, we are facing the same problems, only in different contexts. Why solve them separately, when we might be more effective in exploring them collaboratively?

The opportunity we have is stunning. I’m seeing leading organizations recognizing this opportunity, experimenting and changing with the intent of disrupting their companies and how they engage and create value for their customers. These companies will aggressively restructure their industries, markets, and seize share from their competition.

This is a time of great confusion. We don’t know the answers, possibly, don’t know the questions. As we move forward, we want to manage the risks. It turns out, however counterintuitive, the least risk path forward is to rapidly reinvent, restructure, and redefine how we work, and how we help our customers addressing the same issues.

Afterword: We have tremendous tools available to help us manage complexity for ourselves and our clients. I’ve written quite a bit about these tools and approaches in my posts on Sensemaking. Additionally, many of you know I’m a great fan of the approaches in the Cynefin methodology. Here are two references you may find as useful guides: https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making and https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making.

Jul 3 20

“Look At Our Dashboards”

by David Brock

Recently, I was having a discussion with an executive team. Proudly, they said they were data driven and bragged about the dashboards they used to manage the business. They asked me to look at the dashboards to provide recommendations about what they might be doing.

I looked at the dashboards, at first glance, I was impressed–tracking pipeline, tasks, lead disposition, prospecting, mix, accounts, perormance by sales person, and more. Very impressive, pretty much what I would want–in fact it made my job working with them much easier–they had most of the data I would want to look at.

Then I started looking more deeply. The pipeline had lots of obvious “issues,” 15 % of the opportunities had close dates in the past, 30% of the qualified opportunities had no stage changes or even activities in the past 90 days, there were numerous quality and integrity exposures.

I moved on to the next chart in their dashboard–open tasks and next steps on deals, account, and territory plans. Again, as I looked at the detail, 37% of the tasks had past due completion dates, 5% were more than a year past due.

As I went through report after report I found similar issues.

Before you think this is a special case or that I am exaggerating, the majority of organizations I encounter have reams of data, more dashboards than one could ever guess what they could be used for. But when I drill down into the reports and data, there are huge problems.

Dashboards and data are meaningless unless you use them! Sadly, too many managers don’t use them, or maintain their private spreadsheets, or just track the one or two pieces of data they have always tracked (usually orders/revenue for the month/quarter/year.

When I point out the issues I observe-for example those I outlined at the top of this post with this one company, people are often amazed (ironically not embarrassed). “How did you see that? We never realized this! This is amazing insight!” I’m delighted they think I’m earning my exorbitant fees, but they should have seen these things themselves. They see it every day, week after week, month after month. I spend 30 minutes and start asking them about issues they could have seen and started addressing.

Having dashboards doesn’t improve performance. You have to look at the dashboards and begin to understand the data.

Understanding the data, doesn’t solve problems (for those who hide behind their screens staring at dashboards and doing nothing.). But the data helps you identify potential issues to dive into and understand–through talking to your people, working with customers, learning what’s behind the data, what’s actually driving the numbers.

We are fortunate that so many tools provide us data and insights we have never easily been able to get in the past. But you have to use it, understand it, learn what’s causing it, then take corrective action. Otherwise it is meaningless.

Jul 3 20

Coaching Managers

by David Brock

We all know, or should know that one of the highest impact activities managers can do with their people is coaching them, enabling them to discover and learn how to continually improve their performance.

But what about managers? We seldom hear about managers, yet coaching managers–at all levels even up to the CEO is critical in maximizing their performance and, in turn, enabling them to maximize the performance of their people.

Perhaps, the most impactful way to help managers understand the importance and impact of coaching, and learn how to coach, is through their managers setting great examples in coaching. Managers will tend to model their behaviors and approaches after what they see from their own management.

At the risk of being redundant, how can we expect front line managers to coach, if they aren’t coached themselves?

In addition to helping improve the abilities of our people to execute, coaching provides managers great insight into how their people are thinking, what’s happening in the business, where there are issues that impact our success. Likewise, senior managers coaching the managers reporting to them keep in touch with what’s really happening in the organization and where the leverage points are for driving organizational performance. It’s far more powerful than sitting behind a desk, staring at dashboards. We get rich context and color that give meaning to the data.

If you are a senior managers, are you coaching the managers reporting to you?

If you are a manager, are you asking your manager for coaching and help.

Jun 30 20

Micro Improvements, An Update — Losing My Way

by David Brock

Long time followers of this blog know that I’m a tremendous fan of the concept of micro improvements. The underlying concept is “how do I get 1% better each day.” Cumulatively, if I improve 1% every day, I will be over 37 times better at the end of the year.

I’m a huge fan of Marshall Goldsmith’s approach, and have adapted some of his principles to my continuous learning/improvement process. I score myself on 20 criteria everyday. Some as simple as, “Did I do my best to exercise? Did I take the time to meditate” Some more abstract, “Did I do best to find meaning in what I do?, Did I find ways to create value for my clients today?”

Every evening, I scored myself on how I did every day, reflecting on the answers and thinking about how I do better tomorrow. I coupled that practice with journalling, good calendaring, and a few other things. Over the past several years I have seen great improvement, I have become more purposeful, more focused, I have achieved much more than I expected, and have found myself increasingly satisfied, happy, purposeful, and fulfilled.

But a little over 8 months ago, I stopped this process. My last entry was on September 27, 2019. I completely abandoned my daily scoring and writing things down. While I was doing everything else, I fooled myself that “thinking” about many of the issues was good enough. I didn’t have to write it down. But my thinking became increasingly sporadic, and my focus/attention slowly disappeared.

Several things caused me to be distracted, to abandon what had served me so well. There were some things happening in my personal life, then later, the disruption of the Pandemic, the economic collapse, and many of the social justice issues we face. Each had a cumulative effect.

Each of these disruptions, took me further from what had served me so well. As I mentioned, gradually, I completely forgot about my worksheet, the discipline of completing it and reflecting on how I could improve. I got sloppy on my journalling, and it was hit or miss in some other aspects of the “systems” that had supported me so well.

I was no less busy. At a nominal level, I was doing very well, my business has grown substantially, largely driven by organizations trying to deal with the current health, societal, economic disruptions we see every day.

But I have found myself less happy, less fulfilled, less purposeful and more distracted. While some elements of my life are improving, I have felt I have lacked purpose, feelings of being disconnected, and wandering. As I speak to others, I’ve learned many are experiencing the same kind of disorientation.

A simple example, learning is really important to me. One aspect of learning that I scored myself on was my reading. I normally about 1.7 books a week—on all sorts of topics. In the past 5 months, I’ve started a number of books, I haven’t finished a single one, those that I am reading, I’m not more than 30% through. I’m reading a lot, but it’s primarily news (which is a problem in itself). My exercise has fallen substantially, where I religiously did something every day, I found myself being too busy/distracted to exercise, going days with doing nothing. My meditation practice has lapsed. I did it religiously up until about 6 months ago, but stopped. Everyday, I see the “reminder” on my phone, but had been ignoring it.

A few days ago, I’m not sure why, I went back to my 20 questions. I’ve reworked a few of them, recognizing current realities. I have restarted the process of scoring them, reflecting on them, using them to help re-establish my purpose, and focus my priorities and activities each day.

I’m scoring terribly on most of them, but I’m doing a few now and I’m doing more each day. I can already see some improvement, mostly in my mindset and attitude. Rather than being busy, but lost, I’m seeing myself more focused. I’m rediscovering my purpose, I’m feeling more fulfilled.

I’m still struggling, I get easily distracted–though I am very busy. There are so many things happening in our world, now, that amplify those distractions.

But every day, I’m doing a little more, with each one of the items I’ve highlighted in my 20 questions. My scores on each item are low, some are improving. More importantly, I’m, slowly, more purposeful, focused and fulfilled.

In some way, it’s good this happened, though perhaps not doing anything about it for such a long time, is a problem. I suspect, I began taking my process for granted. I didn’t realize how important it was to me in maintaining my focus and purposefulness.

But, this is also something amazing about the process. Regardless how long one might be distracted, once you get started again, you start seeing improvements.

1% each day, it mounts up.