Archive for January, 2010

Time to Lose the “Fight” Word

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Why do so many people “fight” for things, ideas, and positions? Politicians promise to “fight” for their constituents’ interests; why not just discuss them in a civil manner? I want to elect people who get things done rather than those who vow to spend their time not getting along with others. We “fight” City Hall. Why? The politicians and staffers there theoretically work for us. We “fight” for what we believe in – e.g., causes, issues, beliefs. Why not just live our values and beliefs, having rational discourse with those who see the world differently?

Fighting is wearing and wearisome. It causes us to expend tremendous amounts of energy and resources, to get all riled up, to assume/think/believe the worst about people and situations, to expect the worst – which means, of course, that we find the worst. Why not expect the best of people? We are highly likely to find it. Why not seek interests instead of positions? Why not accept the fact that though we won’t always agree with others, we can agree to disagree and remain civil to one another? This is not to say that we simply roll over and accept things that are abhorrent to us. It does mean we stop demonizing those who see the world differently, that we seek common ground, and that we try to reach agreement where we can, disagreeing civilly and seeking reasonable alternatives.

There is no need for the types of anger, vitriol, hatred, and meanness that have become so common in our society. Stop the fighting in our everyday lives. Start there. You may be surprised: world peace could follow. Here are five ways to begin to lose the “fight” word:

    1. Watch the bellicose language. In fact, dump it altogether. Why? Our language forms our beliefs, and our beliefs inform our actions. By changing our language we ultimately change our behaviors.

    2. Use alternative language that will lead to behaviors that are conducive to getting us closer to what we want. The old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” comes to mind.

    3. Take the time to get to know others, especially those with whom you disagree. It’s very easy to revile, speak ill of, and demonize people who we keep at arms’ length. It’s much harder to act out when we have interacted with people individually, gotten to know them, and have looked into their eyes and seen the human beings inside who have hopes and dreams – just like us.

    4. Acknowledge that we don’t have to agree on everything.

    5. Insist that we respect the fact that those who don’t share our beliefs are fellow human beings who are like us in more ways than they are different. Seek these commonalities, and the differences will become largely insignificant.

Imagine what society would be like if all the vitriol – or even a large proportion of it – instead were channeled into productive language and actions. We might find ourselves getting along in a more peaceful world, with few, if, any, things so important that we feel compelled to fight for them. At the very least, our quality of life would increase dramatically.

What can you do today to replace “fight” language with words of openness, respect, understanding, invitation? By listening to others rather than assuming an adversarial position, we gain insights that help us understand, to see perspectives we hadn’t considered, to find ways that we can each get what we want and need. All this takes a little more time – to get to know people instead of relying on stereotypes to categorize them or to make attributions about them. The ROI (return on investment) of doing this is huge. What are you waiting for?

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Receiving Thanks or Gratitude

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Have you ever had the following experience? Someone helps you – e.g., gives you directions, does you a favor, suggests a more efficient way of doing something, saves you from harm – then you say “Thank you,” and the individual responds, “No problem” or “It’s just my job.” Does that kind of reply satisfy you?

For a long time, being on the receiving end of one of the above responses (or the one that really irritates me, “Whatever”) bothered me, even though these types of answers seem to have become standard in our society. I wondered whatever happened to the reply I was taught when someone thanked me, which is simply, “You’re welcome.” There is something perturbing to me about the new “standard” exchange, which seems dismissive of the speaker’s gratitude. A recent experience allowed me to discover the reason for my dissatisfaction and taught me a valuable lesson.

Last month I received a very generous gift from an individual I hardly know. I was well aware that this person could afford the gift, and I wondered how I could thank her in a way that conveyed the extent of my appreciation. When I called to express my gratitude, she took the time to listen to everything I wanted to say, and her reply indicated that she fully understood my message. Importantly, she refrained from downplaying or minimizing her action. I gained two insights from this experience.

First, by fully embracing her role as benefactor, this individual refrained from minimizing the value of the gift. Rather than dismissing my thanks or downplaying her role by responding that it was no big deal, she simply accepted my appreciation.

    When people do something for another person, they often view it in terms of its “cost” to them rather than in terms of the value provided to the recipient. As a result, they do not see the impact their assistance had on the other person. When they downplay their efforts, they are doing a disservice both to themselves and to the other person. For example, last week I had a meeting with a client in Los Angeles, where parking is notoriously scarce. The executive’s assistant made a phone call to arrange parking for me in the building’s lot. As a result, she saved me time and helped keep my stress level down. Yet her response to my expression of thanks was, “This is very minimal work. It’s not a problem.” Clearly she had no idea that she had made my life easier.

Second, by receiving my expression of gratitude, my benefactor enabled me to reciprocate in small measure for her act of kindness.

    The norm of reciprocity is very strong in U.S. culture. When someone who helps us dismisses our thanks by saying (for example), “I was just doing my job,” in essence that person is not allowing us to fulfill our part of the exchange. It is this refusal to accept my thanks, I realized, that has been the source of the dissatisfaction I described above.

Think of the consequences that these all-too-common “No problem” or “It’s just my job” responses have throughout society. Because people have no idea how a small kindness on their part can have a huge impact on others’ lives, they are not receiving the recognition they deserve for the value they provide. Further, by downplaying their efforts they are refusing to accept the recipients’ thanks, or at least they are trivializing them. This type of interaction leaves both parties diminished rather than energized. And this outcome is bad for business. Why? Because instead of recognizing the value they provide and being energized by the opportunities that present themselves every day, employees are focusing on the tasks they perform. Thus they cannot see how they contribute to the organization’s goals. Why not tap into the capacity that every one of us has to add value to others’ lives? Doing so is uplifting for all concerned.

Here are my suggestions for receiving others’ thanks:

    1. When you take the time to help someone, think about the impact of your kindness on that person – even if you view your efforts as merely doing your job or as no big deal. There is a very high probability that you have made the other person’s life easier, safer, less stressful, or more joy-filled. Acknowledge your contribution to improving the other person’s quality of life.

    2. Allow the other person to express his/her thanks.

    3. Reply “You’re welcome” and stop talking. Do not downplay your effort – even if you thought it was minimal.

    4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 often.

What can you do today to increase the quality of another person’s life? Let us know!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

What Do We Do Now?: Options for Allocating Scarce Resources When You Haven’t Planned Ahead

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Although advance planning for resource allocation is the ideal scenario, many organizations found themselves caught short by the severe constraints imposed by the economic downturn. What are the alternatives when organizations are operating in crisis mode and there is no “Plan A?”

Given the need to make decisions about how to curtail their operations immediately, leaders have two options that can help them in the short-run: (1) increase inputs or (2) decrease outputs. Within each of these options, there are several alternatives, some of which will be more viable than others depending on the given situation. Let’s look at each set of options in turn, and examine their feasibility.

Increase Inputs

Here are four ways to increase inputs:

  1. Delegate
  2. Outsource
  3. Work more hours
  4. Increase efficiency

Alternatives #1-3 presume the availability of resources such as people (i.e., those to whom you can delegate things) and money (e.g., paying others to do the work, paying overtime). Organizations that are short of those resources are unlikely to be in a position to select those choices. Although some employers may argue that they could avoid paying overtime simply by having salaried staff work more hours, such a view is short-sighted: people will burn out quickly, and they will be very likely to leave the organization at the first opportunity. Thus for most organizations in crisis mode, increasing efficiency seems to be the most sustainable way to increase inputs in the face of scarce resources.

Decrease Outputs

Here are four ways to decrease outputs:

  1. Delay the promised goods or services
  2. Provide partial delivery of products or services
  3. Reduce service or performance standards
  4. Decrease the number of products or services

Although none of these alternatives may seem very palatable, in a crisis situation they may be preferable to not being able to achieve the organization’s mission at all. For example, some customers may be open to a delay or partial delivery due to their own financial situations. Others may be unhappy with a delay but will accept it as an alternative to non-delivery.

Reducing service or performance standards may be a viable option for some organizations. For example, one organization I worked with recently is justifiably proud of its tradition of providing “excellent” service across the board. Given severe budget constraints, however, its leaders now are considering the possibility that customers will find “very good” or “good” service levels acceptable, at least in the short-term. This will allow the organization to re-allocate some resources or to continue to operate in the absence of others. However, for an organization whose mission focuses on providing exceptional service, this option is not feasible – unless it revises its mission statement.

Decreasing the number of products or services actually may serve the organization well in the long-term as well as in the short-term. Most likely some customers will be disappointed to find fewer choices. Considering the alternative is the inability to achieve the organization’s mission at all, however, the decrease may seem like a reasonable “price” to pay. And over time, if those products and services in fact are very important to the organization’s mission, they may be reinstated.

Recommendations for Successful Implementation

Here are four recommendations to help ensure that decisions about how to operate most effectively within existing constraints have the greatest positive impact:

  1. Ensure the above decisions are be the result of conscious, strategic choices based on the mission.
  2. Once set, communicate the decisions clearly and in a variety of ways to employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
  3. In most cases, radical changes will require the adjustment of stakeholders’ mindsets. For example, people who have worked for years under the notion that providing anything other than excellent service are likely to find it difficult to provide anything less. Leaders must address this issue in order to ensure successful change.
  4. Recognize that the organization’s mission may have to change to reflect existing circumstances. This change may be short-term or long-term.

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Guidelines for Allocating Scarce Resources

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Scarce resources are a fact of business life. In the wake of devastating budget cuts, furloughs, and/or layoffs, however, “normal” levels of scarcity have been exacerbated. The question for many organizations has become, “How do we move forward from here most effectively?”

When asked to help clients answer that question, I recommend that they begin by identifying some crucial information that will guide their subsequent actions and decisions.

  1. Clearly define the organization’s primary mission.

    Given current circumstances, the existing mission may have to change. For example, during times of greater resource availability, some organizations expanded or stretched their initial mission by offering products or services that are “nice to have,” or they increased the level of service offered from basic to premium. Now is the time to evaluate the organization’s primary mission, articulating specifically what it is and what level of service will be provided, for at least the short-term.

  2. Identify the functions that are critical to the organization’s ability to achieve its mission.

    Critical functions are those without which the organization would be unable to achieve its mission, or those whose loss would quickly and substantially impede a major work flow. Here’s a question that helps separate functions that are critical from those that are non-critical: “Will the organization be able to achieve its primary mission if this function is not staffed?”

    Note: a function that may be critical to one organization may be merely important to another – i.e., it adds value but doesn’t prevent achievement of the mission. For example, customer service might be a critical function for an airline that promises passengers an “exceptional travel experience,” but it probably is not a critical function for an airline that promises to get passengers from point A to point B safely and at low cost.

  3. Identify the skills that are critical to the successful functioning of the organization.

    Critical skills are rare, unique, or in short supply; they have no acceptable substitutes in the short-run; and they are necessary for the achievement of the organization’s mission. Unlike critical functions, critical skills are dynamic, varying with environmental factors such as labor market conditions and changes in technology.

    Often skills become critical due to temporary imbalances between supply and demand in the labor market. However, once those forces are back in balance, the skills no longer are critical – even when the functions they support remain critical. For example, in the 1990s, many technology-related skills were in short supply, so people with those skills were able to command large salaries. However, as others began acquiring the necessary training and expertise, the skills lost their “critical” status. As a result, salaries for these jobs no longer carried a premium.

  4. Direct available resources toward staffing the critical functions and obtaining the critical skills.

    Leaders must focus relentlessly on the organization’s mission, and the functions and skills necessary to achieve it, if the organization is to survive in the short-term and thrive in the long-term. This requires making tough decisions, saying “no” to people, and using the mission as the ultimate criterion – i.e., evaluating the extent to which each program, decision, function, job, policy, and system supports the primary mission. Only those that contribute directly to the mission should be retained or added.

To illustrate the above concepts a little more clearly, let’s consider a fire department whose mission is to save lives and preserve property. Most people would agree that critical functions are putting out fires and providing emergency medical care to accident victims. However, other critical functions include communication, vehicle maintenance, and payroll. Here’s why: without learning of the incidents and dispatching the appropriate people and equipment, without vehicles that operate safely when needed, and without paying those who provide the services, the fire department could not achieve its primary mission. Non-critical functions for the department may include getting cats out of trees and transporting people to hospitals who are not seriously ill and/or can use alternative means of getting there.

Some skills are critical for the fire department by virtue of the fact that specialized knowledge or expertise is necessary (e.g., dealing with hazardous materials, providing appropriate medical care). Other skills are critical because they are not readily available in the relevant labor market in the short-run (e.g., maintaining mission-critical computer systems, repairing vehicles).

Resources will remain uncommonly scarce in the near-term. What steps are you taking to ensure you allocate them in ways that allow your organization to achieve its mission?

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Restoring Pay and Benefits Cuts: It’s Not as Straightforward as It May Seem

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Now that the economy is beginning to show signs of upward movement, executives and business owners are considering when and how to manage the reversal of cuts in pay and benefits that so many organizations resorted to during 2009. Although restoring such cuts may seem to be as simple as returning them to previous levels, there are important questions to consider. For example:

    – Were the previous pay and benefits programs effective?
    This might be a good time to question their underlying assumptions and to assess the value they provided.
    – Will restoring the cuts support the organization’s current and future business goals?
    If those goals have been modified over the last year or so, it would be wise to ensure their alignment with the proposed changes.
    – Are key employees likely to react to the news by “forgiving and forgetting,” or will they jump ship as soon as they have alternative job opportunities?
    I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that by cutting pay and benefits, employers seriously damaged their employees’ trust and violated perceptions of fairness.

Here are four key tactics that together help increase management’s credibility and trustworthiness when making changes to pay and benefits programs:

  1. Align the compensation and benefit program objectives with organizational goals. Take this opportunity to review your compensation and benefits programs from top to bottom, and make sure that their objectives are aligned with desired results. If your business goals have changed, make sure the systems that support them are modified to ensure their successful achievement. For example, survey data indicate that many employers intend to adopt pay practices that reward good performance. Your total rewards system sends a message to employees about organizational values and priorities, so make a conscious choice about the message you want to convey.
  2. Take steps to increase the likelihood that employees will accept the designated changes to the total rewards program.Although restoring pay and benefits cuts seems to be positive news, employees are likely to be wary because they remain distrustful of management. To accelerate the re-building of trust, ensure that the changes are transparent, involve employees to the extent possible, communicate early and often, and educate first-line managers and supervisors about how the changes will affect individual employees.
  3. Incorporate procedural fairness into organizational processes and decision-making. Procedural fairness refers to the rules by which decisions are made. It is a key concept in the workplace, and it is especially critical in compensation-related decisions. You can increase perceptions that changes to the compensation and benefits programs are fair by ensuring that decisions and processes are free from bias, transparent, based on objective criteria, and provide meaningful opportunities for those affected by the outcomes to have a voice.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.There are two aspects to communication: actions and behaviors, and words. Employees believe what they see rather than what they hear. Thus it is critical that leaders’ behaviors and actions are consistent with their words.

What are you doing to ensure your pay and benefits decisions are effective in supporting organizational goals and accepted by employees? Let us know!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Pushing the Envelope in Long Beach

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

On New Year’s Eve, Travis Pastrana made history in Long Beach, CA by driving his car at about 90 miles per hour down the Pine Avenue pier (which had been temporarily elongated for this event), navigating the airborne vehicle over the water, and landing it safely on a barge some 270 feet away in the harbor. It’s safe to say that by smashing the previous record of 171 feet, his achievement is likely to remain the new standard for quite some time.

Whether or not you understand why someone would take this kind of chance, you probably would agree that the stunt was an extreme form of pushing the proverbial envelope. By his words and actions immediately following his successful landing (including a back flip into the cold harbor water), Mr. Pastrana clearly was highly energized by the ride and its outcome, though he admitted later that he had been very nervous just before he started his race down the pier. (Although his mother was nearby, she confessed to a reporter she had been unable to watch his record-setting attempt.)

It has been said that people grow when they push themselves outside of their comfort zones. Personally I have found that statement to be true: I learn more, go further, and make dramatically faster progress in life when I am operating outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes I have done that intentionally, such as when I decided to leave the security of my job as a tenured professor to start my own business; other times I have found myself acting opportunistically, having no idea whether what I was about to do actually would work. Though I am highly unlikely to engage in any form of extreme physical activity, I have to say that my biggest successes are the result of having done things that required me to push myself far outside my comfort zone. It’s both scary and exhilarating – much as Mr. Pastrana demonstrated on New Year’s Eve after his safe landing.

Think back to a time during which you experienced a major success. Were you operating inside or outside your comfort zone? How did the success – and the journey leading up to it – make you feel? What did you learn from the experience?

During 2010 my intention is to emulate a very successful colleague who, after making some bold changes in his business, stated, “I am going to become comfortable living in my discomfort zone.”

I invite you to consider pushing your own boundaries this year as a way to grow both personally and professionally. Let me know how you do!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Every Day a Saturday

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Something a colleague said to me yesterday caught my attention. Newly retired, he still is getting used to being able to do what he wants instead of having to adhere to a schedule set by others. We were having difficulty identifying a time during the week for us to discuss a project for which I had requested his assistance. Finally he suggested that we meet on Saturday. Knowing that he likes to spend weekends with his family, I questioned whether this meeting would interfere with that time. “No,” he replied, “Saturday is fine – because every day is Saturday now that I’ve retired!”

What a great concept! This comment made me wonder what makes any given day a “Saturday” for someone, and why is it different than other days? Perhaps Saturdays (as used in the context here rather than literally) represent a type of freedom – either from something or to do something. For example, they may represent freedom from having to go to work or school. Or they may represent the freedom to do what individuals want, to get to the chores around the house that are difficult to fit in during the rest of the week, to pursue a hobby, to visit with family or friends, to take a trip, or simply to relax and enjoy life.

Here are my questions for you:

  1. What makes a day “Saturday” for you?
  2. During any given month, how many Saturdays do you
  3. If so inclined, what can you to do create more Saturdays for

I invite you to share your answers to these questions with us!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

New Interview Series: Setting Priorities

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I am very pleased to announce the “unveiling” of my new interview series on setting and implementing priorities. In this thought-provoking series titled Deft Decisions in Chaotic Conditions: How Experts Create Calm from Chaos, thirteen experts share their insights and suggestions about how to set, align, and implement priorities. Participants include a wide array of first responders, organization experts, and psychologists. The latter offer their perspectives on why people fail to set or implement priorities, and they offer suggestions about how to remove or minimize obstacles to success. Each interview lasts approximately 30 minutes. I invite you to listen in and let me know what you think!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Take Their Advice: Psychologists’ Tips for Setting and Implementing Priorities

Friday, January 1st, 2010

The beginning of a new year is a time during which many people set goals for the coming months. Yet more often than not, they fail to achieve their goals. What can they do to increase the likelihood of success? I’m glad you asked!

As part of our free interview series on setting and implementing priorities, Deft Decisions in Chaotic Conditions: How Experts Create Order from Turmoil, I interviewed three psychologists who provided some ideas about how people can improve their skills in setting and implementing priorities. Here is a sample of their comments and suggestions.

  1. Identify the things that you value (e.g., relationships, accomplishments). Our priorities are derived from our values. When we struggle to accomplish stated priorities, often it’s because they are not aligned with our values.
  2. Identify goals and priorities that have personal meaning. Break them down into manageable steps so they don’t seem overwhelming. Make sure the goals and priorities are specific, measurable, and achievable (overall as well as the specific steps).
  3. Partnering with someone increases the likelihood that you will implement the priorities you set.
  4. Be realistic about your talents and abilities as you identify priorities so you don’t set yourself up for failure.
  5. View the inevitable glitches as challenges rather than as obstacles. Treat them as opportunities to exercise your creativity rather than as setbacks that knock you off track.
  6. Celebrate progress toward accomplishing the priorities as well as their actual achievement.
  7. Because many people take the path of least resistance when it comes to their careers, an estimated 80% of individuals are in careers they don’t like. To set and implement new career-related priorities, take a one-credit course at a community college in career counseling and testing. Allocate a small amount of time every day to do something that will take you closer to making this change.
  8. Identify the things that are holding you back from setting and/or implementing priorities. Common obstacles include a variety of fears (e.g., of failure), risk aversion, lack of self-esteem, depression, or dislike of the task.
  9. Become aware of the negative “chatter” or self-talk in your head that makes you doubt your ability to set or implement priorities. Often we establish or buy into ridiculous, illogical “rules” or beliefs that set us up for failure (e.g., “I can be perfect,” “I can do anything”). Write these thoughts down and begin to identify the negative patterns so you can modify them. Cognitive behavioral therapy often is used to tear away the “must/should” tyranny that impedes individuals’ progress toward goals and priorities.
  10. Ask for professional, confidential help if necessary. Students generally have access to counseling services on campus, and employers often offer employee assistance programs. Outside of school and work, assistance is available through sources like community agencies, mental health centers, and referrals by professionals.

What one small step will you take today to begin to improve your skills in setting and implementing priorities and thus become more successful in achieving your goals?

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.