Archive for August, 2009

6 Steps to Optimize Results When “Business as Usual” Doesn’t Work Any More

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Is your organization one for whom “business as usual” no longer works? Whether that result is precipitated by fewer customers, budget cutbacks, employee layoffs and/or furloughs, or some other unplanned change, the point is that you find yourself having to do more with less. The question I hear most often is, “How do we operate given our new reality?”

Although not an exhaustive list, here are six steps to get you started on optimizing your results now and on positioning your organization for success in the coming recovery.

1. Identify clearly the value the organization provides for its customers or clients.

Organizations cannot optimize results if the value they provide is not crystal clear to all parties. Value is the benefit customers/clients receive (from their perspective) as a result of having purchased the products or services.

2. Make sure everyone and everything in the organization supports the value it provides.

Every person, process, program, and policy must contribute to the organization’s value. If they do not, the organization is wasting resources.

It is critical that every employee see clearly the value the organization offers and, importantly, how he/she contributes to providing it. When both these conditions are met, workers are inspired to perform their best because they understand the importance of the roles they play.

3. Empower employees by teaching them that they always have choices.

While there are many situations over which we have little or no control, we have two sets of choices about how to address them. First, we always have control over how we view our situations because we get to choose how we experience them. For example, we can choose to see the current economic downturn as an opportunity to be leveraged, or we can decide to see it as an obstacle against which we are helpless to act.

Second, we get to choose what types of action to take. In a program I offer called Influencing Options®, I teach people about the three empowering, healthy options they have in any situation:

1. Influence – i.e., try to change the external circumstances.

2. Accept – i.e., change their internal mindset and truly let it go.

3. Remove – i.e., leave, either immediately or in the future.

4. Prioritize by assessing the extent to which every person, program, process, and policy supports the value the organization provides.

Once the organization’s value is clarified, management must be relentless about judging everything in the organization against this standard: “How much does it contribute to the value we offer?” If the answer is “nothing,” stop doing it or get rid of it! Keep those people and things that are critical to providing the value – i.e., the organization would be unable to provide the value if they were missing. As resources permit, add the people and things that are very important (from the customers’ and clients’ perspective) – i.e., they add significantly to the quality of the value – then those that are important. Under no circumstances should management add or retain people or things that fail to contribute to the value provided by the organization.

5. Support and nurture your managers, especially those on the front lines.

It is more important than ever for organizations to support their management team, especially those who work most closely with employees. This is not the time to skimp on the training and development that prepares them for their critical roles! If they do not feel supported, how can they possibly be expected to inspire and support their employees? Researchers repeatedly have shown that
supervisors’ behaviors have a direct impact on employee behaviors and attitudes.

6. Be as open and transparent in providing information as possible.

It’s in everyone’s best interests for employees to be fully informed. Let them in on as much of the decision-making as possible. Communicate process and results frequently and widely. If people believe the decision-making process is fair, they will accept the results even if they don’t like or agree with them.

You may think that you cannot afford to take any of the above actions. My question is, how can you afford not to take them? The organization’s short-term survival and its long-term ability to thrive are at stake.

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

Why Taking Care of Employees Makes Good Business Sense

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Employee-centered workplace™: an environment in which every individual, system, process, and program is focused on helping employees become fully successful.

I was contacted today by a prospective client seeking help for his public sector organization. Because of drastic cuts in the state budget and subsequent mandatory furloughs for employees (i.e., 1-2 days of unpaid leave each month), the organization clearly must make major adjustments to its structure and processes, essentially re-creating itself so it can operate successfully given its new reality.

What impressed me was what the executive reported the organization has done already to begin to address its challenges. Concurrent with the steps it is taking to obtain assistance in handling the business aspects of the change initiative, it is providing a program to support its employees’ personal concerns. Specifically, it has scheduled a series of workshops open to all employees that addresses a number of issues of concern to them in these challenging times. Topics include, for example, how to manage personal finances, understand their credit scores, reduce stress, and talk to their kids. Clearly this organization understands that employees who are worried about personal issues at home cannot possibly perform at optimal levels at work.

Why does placing a high priority on employees’ personal concerns make good business sense? A concept called perceived organizational support provides one compelling answer. Employees who perceive a high level of organization support believe that senior management really cares about their personal well-being. Research shows that such individuals reciprocate by performing at a higher level, by being more forgiving of organizational missteps, and by going above and beyond what is required by their jobs. So in addition to responding in a very human way to their employees’ concerns, this organization has made a smart business move that will serve it well long after the economy has recovered.

What is your organization doing to help its employees become fully successful? I invite you to share your positive story with us!

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

Transformative Self-talk

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Just as asking life-affirming questions and using bold, provocative language lead to transformation in organizations, those behaviors can initiate equally dramatic results in one’s personal life. The principles of Appreciative Inquiry hold true in any context: the questions we ask point us in the direction of the things we will find. If we seek people, situations, and behaviors that are positive, we certainly will find them – in abundance. In contrast, when we find negative things, most likely it is because we are looking for them, intentionally or otherwise. And their numbers will be legion.

To see how easy it is to change our behavior by the perspectives we choose, try this quick exercise. Think of an upcoming social engagement or event about which you feel ambivalent. Now jot down all the reasons why your going would be a really bad idea. Your list is likely to cause you to decline the invitation immediately! Next, write down all the reasons why you would love to attend. Without a doubt, that list will make you wonder why you ever considered skipping the event!

The point is, the way we talk to ourselves (and others) creates our reality, which means that we get to choose how to experience the situations with which we are faced. Do we want to go down a life-affirming path, or an energy-draining path? Our behavior will follow the images we envision based on the words we select and the questions we ask. Each of us has total control over our language. By the questions we pose, we can guide others to go in positive or negative directions as well.

Here are a dozen suggestions for affirmative self-talk that can dramatically affect your perspective:

  1. What are my most exceptional qualities?
  2. How do I feel when I am most alive and energized?
  3. In what ways do I inspire others?
  4. What is the kindest thing I can do for myself today?
  5. What opportunities are presented in this seemingly negative situation?
  6. If someone else were in my situation, what is the most uplifting advice I could provide?
  7. What strengths have made me successful in my personal relationships?
  8. What is the most inspiring thing I have seen or heard today?
  9. How can I incorporate those things I am most passionate about into my everyday life?
  10. What do I value most about the talents I have been given?
  11. What am I most proud of achieving in my life up until now?
  12. If my friends were recommending me for a job for which I am fully qualified, what would they say?

What appreciative questions do you ask yourself? I invite you to share them with us!

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

14 Ways to Thrive Personally During Challenging Times

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Especially during times of adversity it is critical that we pay close attention to our personal well-being. The analogy that comes to mind is the one that air travelers hear every time we fly: “In the event a change in altitude causes the oxygen masks to drop, put your own mask on first before you assist others.”   Similarly, we must be physically and mentally healthy personally in order to be most useful to ourselves and to others. Here are fourteen things we can do to ensure we take care of ourselves:

1. Look realistically at what is instead of what might be. Separate fact from fiction or speculation by seeking objective evidence.

2. Look realistically at your talents and strengths. While the environment may have changed, you – the person – have not. How can you leverage your talents and strengths?

3. Create realistic expectations for yourself and others.

4. Surround yourself with people who support you. Drop those who do not.

5. Use “down” time to build on your strengths. Doing so will boost your confidence, and you will emerge stronger than before.

6. Look for life’s rainbows – literal and figurative. They are there when you least expect them, sometimes even when logic suggests they shouldn’t be there at all.

7. Be open to whatever life brings your way. If you are not looking, you will never see the possibilities.

8. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Take a walk on the beach or in nature. Watch how the colors in the sky change as the sun rises in the morning or sets in the evening. Go play in the rain and jump in the puddles it forms. Release your inner child!

9. Focus on the abundance in your life. If you seek it, you will find it.

10. Ask questions that lead you in positive directions for the answers. For example, instead of asking whether you can or should do something, ask how you can do it. You will find yourself a lot closer to where you want to go.

11. Remain confident by focusing on those things you can control.

12. Keep the big picture and the long-term in mind when making short-term decisions. You can avoid getting lost in the details and the feelings of being overwhelmed by keeping the big picture in front of you at all times.

13. Make decisions that are consistent with your values.

14. Look for reasons to do things rather than for reasons not to do them.

Remember: while we sometimes are unable to control the situations in which we find ourselves, we always get to choose how we experience them. By exercising that option, we choose to make healthy decisions that will see us through even the most challenging of times.

What quality of life do you choose? I invite you to send your favorite self-care tip!

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

Business Questions for Thriving During Challenging Times

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Have you ever stopped to consider the importance of the questions we ask ourselves and others? The focus of our questions is critical: it literally shapes how we perceive and experience the world around us. As a result, the questions we ask have everything to do with our quality of life. Even changing the format of our questions slightly can have a transformative effect. For example, instead of asking, “Given our current circumstances, can we do XYZ?” ask “How can we do XYZ?” The first question requires only a yes or no answer, an immediate judgment made without discussion and constrained by perceived boundaries or obstacles. The second question requires us to think about the possibilities, without constraints, before rendering a thoughtful decision. Perhaps the answer to this question is that we cannot do XYZ. However, maybe we can – or maybe we can come close. The important point is that by asking the “how” question we are much more likely to implement good ideas that otherwise would have been cast aside than if we had never given ourselves the opportunity to consider the possibilities.

Negative questions keep us mired in the past, stuck in “victim mode,” unable to see a way out. In contrast, positive questions focus on the future, identify things that we can control and influence, and point us toward solutions. As can be seen clearly from the examples below, the questions we ask really do shape the quality of our lives. The good news is that we always have the choice to shape our experiences, no matter how dire or positive the environment around us.

Here are some examples of how you might choose to ask important questions:

Negative Choices Positive Choices
What are the things we cannot control? What are the things we can control?
What are we lacking? How much abundance do we have?
How do our weaknesses hold us back? How can we leverage our strengths?
What obstacles does this challenge present? What new possibilities does this challenge offer?
What have we failed to do? What have we accomplished?
What can’t we do? What can we do?
What resources do we lack? How can we use the resources we have?
How can we cut costs? How shall we invest our resources?
How can we cut our service? What value can we offer our customers?

In what direction will your questions lead your organization? The choice is yours – as always.

I invite you to suggest additional appreciative questions to add to this list!

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

How to Ensure Your Customers and Employees Recognize Your Organization’s Value

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Organizations cannot optimize their business results unless their customers and their employees clearly recognize the significant value they provide. How can you discover whether these two important groups really see this value? Ask them.

To discover whether your customers perceive the value your organization provides, have a third party call them and ask a few open-ended questions. For example (assuming your organization is called OUR Company):

  1. What impact did OUR Company’s products/ services have on your organization? Consider both tangible and intangible changes
  2. What results did you experience personally as a result of using OUR Company’s products/services?
  3. Sum up the value that OUR Company offers its customers.

Let your customers know in advance that a third party will be calling on your behalf to ask for this information. Another way to increase the response rate is to let your customers know how long the interview will take. Keep the interviews short (i.e., 15 minutes maximum) by asking only a few questions. I recommend including a “catch-all” final question such as, “What else would you like to tell me about your experience with OUR Company?”

The survey results are likely to be instructive and insightful. If customers cite products or services but no value, your organization is not realizing its potential. If customers identify specific value, keep up the good work! You may even discover a potential side benefit of conducting the survey: learning that your customers experience value that even you have overlooked.

My favorite question to determine whether employees recognize the value their organization provides (the “big picture”) and the contribution they make is, “What is your job?” Employees who respond by citing the value their organization provides (e.g., peace of mind, the experience of a lifetime, an effortless journey) understand that value, as well as how they personally support its delivery to customers. Those whose answers include their job titles and/or a list of the tasks for which they are responsible neither see the value nor appreciate their contribution to the organization’s success.

It is critical to assess employees’ perspectives because their views influence their workplace behaviors. To illustrate, I like to tell my favorite “big picture” story, which is about a custodian at NASA in the late 1960s. When asked by a visitor what his job was, he responded, “My job is to help put a man on the moon.” Imagine the difference in motivation between someone who goes to work every day knowing that he is helping put a man on the moon, and someone who goes to work contemplating how many bathrooms there are to clean, trash cans to empty, and floors to sweep!

When the ability to achieve optimal business results is at stake, can you afford to guess whether your customers and employees recognize your organization’s value?

Please share your tips for ensuring that your customers and employees clearly see your organization’s values.

© Pat Lynch 2009.  All rights reserved.

10 Ways to Create an Employee-centered Workplace™

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

An employee-centered workplace™ is one in which all individuals, programs, processes, and systems are focused on helping employees become fully successful. Individuals who feel valued will provide excellent products and service, which will result in the achievement of organizational goals. In such an environment, everyone wins: workers, management, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders.

Management must make a conscious decision to create an environment in which everyone and everything is aligned with employees’ success. Below are ten actions organizations can take to create or enhance a positive workplace that motivates employees to perform their best.

1.  Assess your employees’ level of satisfaction with their supervisors.  For example, consider issues such as whether the supervisor listens to what they say, and how he/she treats employees when they make mistakes.  Take immediate action to correct any deficiencies.

2.  Ensure that every employee sees the organization’s “big picture” and his/her contribution to it.  Employees who feel connected to the organization have a vested interest in its success.

3.  Learn employees’ names and use them often.  As a corollary, learn a little about their families and outside interests.  Ask them about things that are important to them personally on a regular basis.  Be genuine when you ask; people know when you are being disingenuous.

4.  Recognize employees’ contributions to the organization in ways that are meaningful to the individuals involved.  Research shows that the most effective forms of recognition are those that create memories for workers and their families.

5.  Ensure that employees view organizational procedures and decision-making processes as fair.  Research shows that even when employees do not like the outcome of a given decision, they are likely to accept it if they believe the rules that led to that outcome are fair – e.g., transparent, free of bias, and open to employee input.

6.  Ensure that values such as trust and respect are a core part of your organization’s culture. This outcome arises when each employee knows what those values “look like” in terms of his/her behaviors on the job and when leaders exemplify those values every day.

7.  Provide employees with a meaningful voice.  This means they feel that they can offer their opinions freely and safely, even when they disagree with management, and they believe that their views will be taken seriously.

8.  Incorporate appreciative approaches in the workplace.  Seek out things that people do well, and build on those strengths.  Ask questions that have them searching for positive answers instead of negative ones.

9. Ensure that all employees are in the right jobs – i.e., that their talents are appropriate for the work they must do.  Few things are more miserable than doing a job for which one is not a good fit.

10. Hold every manager accountable for helping employees become fully successful.

What are some of the practices your organization uses to create a motivating workplace? I invite you to share your experiences with us.

© Pat Lynch 2009. All rights reserved.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Today, August 23rd 2009, is my mother’s 85th birthday. I think it’s fitting that the inaugural post for my new blog acknowledges the person most responsible for guiding me through the life experiences that have made me the person I am today. Thanks to her, I am uniquely prepared to do what I love, which is to help organizations and individuals optimize their businesses, their causes, and their lives. Happy birthday Mom!