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Want to bring out the best in yourself? Then bring out the best in others. Here are 10 ways to take action, whatever your workplace role.
1. Think how, not what. Assignments and deadlines keep us focused on the work itself – sometimes so much that we lose sight of the people who do the work. Maintain a wider perspective. Instead of asking people what they’re doing, ask them how they’re doing.
2. Work it out now. When conflicts arise, letting them simmer is easier in the short term – but destructive in the long term. Unless you’re fond of grudges and hurt feelings, start resolving today’s conflicts today.
3. Just say thanks. There’s no need for fancy awards and rewards – because there’s no substitute for simple, sincere appreciation. Make a habit of putting your gratitude into words.
4. Take action inclusively. A bias for action is a good thing. But the action should be done with people and not to them or despite them. If you’re going to implement anything that affects anyone, gather a group of co-creators.
5. Turn up the differences. A workplace full of clones would be easy to manage. And boring. And terribly unsuccessful. Look for and leverage the many differences that you and your colleagues bring to the table. As long as you share meaningful goals, you’ll achieve uncommon success.
6. Make a point of asking. When you’re full of certainty about a situation, resist the urge to declare your perspective as the end all. Replace statements with questions in order to activate that nearby know-how and creativity. Go from “here’s what I think” to “what do you think?”
7. Tell stories. If you want to shape the workplace culture, become a positive gossip who dwells on what’s going right. Look for examples of employees serving each other and their customers. Then tell those stories over and over.
8. Engage people in return. When someone tries to engage you in conversation, be conscious of your reaction. In a hectic work environment, it’s easy to be dismissive. Take the time to open your ears and mind.
9. Show your emotions. You’re not a robot or a potted plant. If you’re thrilled, angry, enthused, confused, curious, or whatever, let it show in a constructive way.
10. Be the real you. We’ve all met people who are one way one day – then someone else the next. It’s no fun for anyone, including the chameleon. Get to know yourself, and remain true. Everyone will benefit.
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Would you adopt a new approach if it promised improved performance and better results? Sure you would.
But what if that sure-fire approach was, well, unorthodox? What if it prompted eye-rolling among colleagues? What if it made you the occasional butt of jokes? Would you adopt it then, or would you stick with your old approach to avoid the grief?
For Rick Barry, it was an easy choice. During his 14 seasons as a professional basketball player, he threw all his free throws underhanded – while his court colleagues used the standard overhand toss.
Did Barry’s underhand throws look silly? Who cares if they did – they produced so many points that they became a big-time competitive advantage.
Barry sank 90% of his free-throws – compared to a 75% average for everyone else. In his last pro season (1979-80), he took top free-throw honors with an average of 93.5%.
The Hall of Fame forward scored 25,279 points during his career. Named to 12 All-Star teams, he led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship in 1975, averaging 30.6 points per game in the 4-0 series – and earning MVP honors. Did free throws matter? Two of those games were won by one point.
Among today’s basketball players, Chinanu Onuaku is following Barry’s lead. In his freshman year at Louisville, Onuaku made just 47% of his free throws. He adopted the underhand approach, put in the training time, and upped his average to 59% in his second year.
Now with the Houston Rockets, Onuaku is still tossing his free throws the unorthodox way. His comment to Sports Illustrated says it all: “I really don’t care what people think. As long as I get a bucket, I’m fine.”
It’s true in any setting where performance is important. If you don’t care what people think, you’ll find all sorts of new approaches that can score better results.
Have you found a unique scheduling system that goes against the grain but gets great results? Stick with it. Are you getting new insights from customers by organizing a first-ever series of focus groups – while getting curious looks from colleagues? Stay the course. Are you gearing up to bring process mapping to your team, knowing that it works but also knowing that some team members will balk? Trust your know-how and go for it.
MVP status awaits.
By Tom Terez • Contact
Quick, can you convey your mission in seven words or less?
How about your #1 work-related goal – can you rattle it off in a quick phrase?
Most of us can’t, but Mukesh Thaker certainly can.
He provides IT support in a big organization – the kind of organization where mission statements and goals can be wordy and remote.
Mukesh operates with his own down-to-earth mission, which he’ll tell anyone who asks: “My goal is to make people happy.”
Critics might say it’s too touchy-feely or too pie in the sky. Others might say it’s too vague and inherently unmeasurable.
But for Mukesh and his customers, “happy” is what matters most. He visits with people when they’re having problems with their computers, or connections, or software, or a combination of the above. When Mukesh solves problems, he makes his customers happy. He hears it in their words (thank you) and sees it on their faces (smile). Goal achieved.
We can all take a page from the Mukesh playbook.
Start by phrasing your mission in seven (or fewer) meaningful words. Enshrine your words on a sticky note. Keep it front and center for a full work week. Revisit at week’s end. Fine-tune as needed. Keep it visible until it becomes second nature.
And what if you can’t come up with a suitable phrase that informs and inspires?
Easy. Take the “make people happy” mantra and make it your own. Turn it into your daily imperative.
Mukesh will be thrilled, and so will the people you serve.
By Tom Terez • Contact
Ernest Hemingway didn’t have the typical job, but he said volumes about productivity when he observed, “Never mistake motion for action.”
How about you? Does it ever feel like you’re on a nonstop treadmill of busyness?
If so, here are ten ways to slow down and ensure that you’re taking meaningful action.
1. Do less in order to do more. Scour your schedule for tasks that amount to meaningless busywork. Stop these costly habits, and redirect your saved time to work that will add value.
2. Know when “good enough” is good enough. Some work activities don’t call for a perfectionist’s extra effort. Learn to spot those “okay is okay” tasks, and dial down your time accordingly.
3. Use a timer. If you want to spend 30 minutes on a given task, set a timer (on your phone or watch) and stop when it goes off. Keep pace by keeping an eye on the time as your work unfolds.
4. Schedule meetings for before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. By holding meetings early or later, you and other meeting-goers will preserve a bigger stretch of uninterrupted time during the workday.
5. Respond to e-mail and messages twice a day. It’s tempting to jump whenever something beeps. Turn off the notifications, and go from reactive to proactive by scheduling two quick blocks of time each day to respond.
6. Take a break. Ten minutes away from work can clear the mind, reduce stress, and put things in perspective. When you reboot your computer, it works better. Shouldn’t you reboot yourself?
7. Learn how to single-task. When we do multiple activities at the same time, our mental processors slow down. Start doing one thing well at a time.
8. Get a smart start. Make a habit of beginning your day by working on the day’s most important task. This will set a productivity precedent and give you good momentum.
9. Quarantine the phone. Does it even need to be said?! Turn off your phone, put it away, and focus on the work at hand.
10. Get more productive together. At your next meeting, ask others: “What can we do to be make better use of our time? What can we do as individuals, and what can we do as a team?” Write ideas on a flipchart or white board. At the next meeting, have people report progress, and ask for more ideas. Over time, productivity will become a higher priority, and more people will take positive action.
In case you’re wondering about Hemingway’s own productivity: He wrote ten novels, ten short-story collections, and five works of nonfiction over the course of about 30 years. He is widely recognized as one of America’s most respected authors, and every list of classic American literature includes at least one of his books. Among them: The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
By Tom Terez • Contact
I should’ve known better. My work involves performance and process improvement, so I’m well aware that meaningful measures and objective data really do matter.
But for an upcoming half marathon, I decided to go rogue. I’d run without my watch and without looking at the posted times on the course. It would be a test of sorts for 13.1 miles. I’d remain oblivious to time and see what happened, instead of closely tracking time like I’d done in all my previous races.
On race day, the early miles seemed to fly by. I felt so good that at mile 4, I picked up the pace. At mile 9, still feeling strong, I sped up some more. And with a few miles to the finish, I raced forward with confidence.
When I crossed the finish line, I had no clue what time I had logged — but I knew it was good. Perhaps my best time ever.
Except that it wasn’t. Not even close. For all the half marathons I’ve run over the years, it was my worst time ever.
As I dug into the official post-race numbers, I discovered what had happened.
Those first four fly-by miles were easy because I wasn’t flying at all. According to the data, my pace had been 14 seconds slower than my leisurely per-mile pace for long training runs. For whatever reason, my internal pacing mechanism was giving me a good report, but it was way off. Without a watch, I had no accurate reality check.
When I dialed up my pace at about mile 4, I felt like I was really hitting the accelerator. But the data told a different story. From that point to mile 9, my pace was only 46 seconds faster per mile — a measly 7.5% pick-up. Without any objective feedback telling me otherwise, I was relying on my internal pace clock, and it was again giving me a deceptively rosy report.
In the last four miles, I shaved another 33 seconds off my per-mile pace. I passed 482 runners — while being passed by only 19. All that passing surely boosted my confidence, further convincing me that this race could be a personal best. But because I had so dogged it early on, the quicker pace was nowhere near enough to get me a good time.
Did I have fun during the race? Absolutely.
Would I have run a faster race if I had been wearing a watch and tracking my pace? Without a doubt.
A few time-based data points early on would have right-sized my confidence — and propelled me to a faster pace in those crucial first few miles. Additional checks later on would have pulled me harder to the finish line.
I’ll be back to wearing a watch for my next race. But this story is less about running and pacing — and more about numeric reality checks and their impact on performance, especially at work.
When you’re busy with anything that involves a process or performance or both, your intuition and instincts will give you feedback on how you’re doing. But don’t count on it being accurate. You don’t want to get all the way to the figurative finish line, full of inflated confidence, only to find out that you produced so-so results.
If the outcome really matters to you, or to the people you serve, be sure to have some form of external feedback to complement your internal feedback. Keep it simple. Two or three objective measures can serve as an effective reality check.
So get clear on what you’re tracking as you go about your work. The race will still be fulfilling — and you’ll be far better informed every step of the way.
By Tom Terez • Contact