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Keep an eye on a few key measures — or else

Posted by on Nov 2, 2016 in Performance, Self-Improvement, Workplace Improvement

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.

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By Tom Terez • Contact

10 ways to boost your energy at work

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in Leadership, Self-Improvement

Want to increase your at-work energy? Here are ten caffeine-free actions guaranteed to boost your presence and productivity.

1. Mix with different people. Step away from your immediate work area — and into a new work unit, floor, or department. Meet, greet, and learn what these other folks do.

2. Get up and move. Not long ago, most jobs involved standing, walking, and moving around. In today’s knowledge-worker world, not so much. Do your body a favor and take active breaks every day.

3. Do things differently. A little change can shake you up in an energy-building way. Start your day with something different. Change the order of your activities. Take a new approach with an old work task. Stop going through motions that have lost their meaning.

4. Lend a hand. We all need help now and then. Tune in to your colleagues, and step forward whenever your skills, expertise, and empathy might make a difference.

5. Visit with your customers. Maybe your job puts you in contact with the people you serve. If not, then find them, spend time with them, listen, and learn. When you see how people benefit from your work, you’ll feel a surge of energy.

6. Tell success stories. Did someone go the extra mile for a customer? Did an unsung workplace hero help someone meet a tough deadline? Did a creative colleague come up with a big idea? Watch for good news and spread it around.

7. Learn with others. Attend a learning session with a co-worker. Start a book group. Circulate that timely work-related article to team members. Make learning an everyday priority.

8. Be a coach. Don’t diminish your skills and expertise. There’s a lot you know that others need to know, so please be a generous teacher.

9. Make it better. Do your work processes show room for improvement? Then get busy with colleagues to analyze and strategize. But be ready to break from the past while you break apart those old ways of doing things.

10. Take on a big challenge. Stretch your skills on a new project. Take that big idea you’ve had for months now and be the one who gets it started. By expending energy in a positive way, you’ll get much more in return.

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By Tom Terez • Contact

Are you really a problem solver?

Posted by on Mar 10, 2016 in Performance, Workplace Improvement

When you encounter a problem that’s easily solved, you solve it, right?

You probably said yes. I’d say yes too. Most people think of themselves as problem solvers.

But what about our actions? Are we actually solving problems — especially little ones — or are we mostly thinking about them, talking about them with colleagues, and wringing our hands?

These questions came through loud and clear for me at a recent conference.

When sound problems kept the people in the back of the ballroom from hearing the keynote speaker, a few of them spoke up about ten minutes into the presentation. An audio tech fiddled with some controls, the speaker adjusted the microphone, and the sound quality improved slightly. But the people in back still couldn’t hear without straining.

The folks in the front reported better sound quality, and seats were available. So guess how many people moved from the back to the front?

Out of about one hundred people struggling with suboptimal sound, 3% took matters into their own hands to solve the problem.

As for the 97%, perhaps they figured that the audio tech would eventually work a miracle. Perhaps they expected the speaker to switch from the clip-on microphone to the one with a cord. Or maybe they were so settled into their seats that they stayed put by default.

Keep this story in mind as your week unfolds, because you’re likely to face similar situations in which problems arise and solutions are within easy reach.

Will you count on someone else to effect a fix, will you submit to inertia, will you complain to yourself or to a colleague? Or will you work out a solution right there and then?

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By Tom Terez • Contact

Are you crushing creativity with your nonverbals?

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Emotional Intelligence, Self-Improvement, Teamwork

If a face can launch a thousand ships, can it also kill a thousand ideas?

My guess is yes.

Some time ago, my work path crossed with someone we’ll call Helen. She seemed plenty nice, but whenever she heard an idea that didn’t fit her way of thinking, she’d say so with her face.

Her lips would tighten. Her mouth would twist to one side. Her eyebrows would knit together. Sometimes her head would tilt.

Without any words, Helen seemed to be saying: Your idea stinks.

When she went on to speak, her words often matched her expression. She would begin with skepticism.

I can’t say that Helen sunk a thousand ideas – I wasn’t keeping count. But she sunk some of mine, and she kept other ideas from setting sail. I became so intent on avoiding her negative expression that I stopped coming forward with new ideas.

The whole experience got me thinking about the signals I might be sending. It reminded me to turn up my self-awareness.

Facial expressions are like pictures – they’re worth a thousand words. Let’s use them for good.

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By Tom Terez • Contact

For workplace nirvana, add in the five C’s

Posted by on Feb 12, 2016 in Career, Leadership, Organizational Culture

A friend of mine contends that great jobs boil down to three things: praise, perks, and pay. The more you get, the better things are.

It’s an appealingly simple formula — but it’s woefully incomplete.

I’ve spent years exploring what matters most to people at work, and I know that praise, perks, and pay are important. The degree of importance varies from person to person, but it’s nice to get that external validation every now and then. Plus, there are bills to be paid.

But there’s much more to the “great jobs” equation. Let’s call these additional factors the five C’s.

One of them is job content. As management guru Peter Drucker used to say, if you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do. As much as possible, jobs should be designed so people can use their talents and strengths while seeing real results.

Unfortunately, many people are told exactly how to do their jobs, with little if any leeway. This takes us to the second factor: choice. When people can make their own choices and decisions to shape how they do their work, their engagement and enjoyment go way up.

The third and fourth C’s are related: collaboration and community.

When people can freely team up and help each other as the workday unfolds, it’s like getting additional brainpower. Over time, collaboration turns into community. Both factors affirm that we are human beings, not human doings. The social aspects of work are a big deal.

The fifth C might be the most important of all: caring. In great workplaces, people care about their customers. Co-workers care about each other. Bosses care about the people they manage, and vice versa. When people truly care, they show concern and strive to help others succeed, even when the people who benefit are not their close friends.

Don’t get me wrong, the three P’s are essential: praise (let’s call it genuine appreciation), perks, and pay.

So are the five C’s: content, choice, collaboration, community, and caring.

Add them up and you get workplace nirvana. It’s that simple — and that challenging.

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By Tom Terez • Contact