Monday, April 28, 2008

i-TFTD #121

i-TFTD #121

#121-1. With so little time, there are just not enough minutes left to hate, not enough time for gossip or fighting. We should all be so busy "doing" and "being" that we have no time left for anything but accomplishing "good".

-Thomas D. Willhite

#121-2. If you want something you never had, do something you have never done.

#121-3. Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.
-Leo Buscaglia

Most irritating or frustrating situations seem silly and insignificant when viewed after a while. Could we train to reach that "after-a-while" perspective while in the situation?

We often make the mistake of doing the same things and expecting something different. At least some senior colleagues and I tried doing something different recently, performing a dance on stage in an annual corporate event. From what I could gather it was a small but satisfying personal victory to let our hair down and be ridiculous -- with plenty of practice!

It helps to view life as an adventure or enchanting mystery rather than as a puzzle to solve quickly using the help of some "ultimate" technique or "proven" forecasting model. Very few do it, as shown by the increasing popularity of a variety of services such as astrology and past-life therapy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

i-TFTD #120

i-TFTD #120

A slightly different flavour of thought-provokers...

#120-1. There are two rules of success:
     (i) Don't tell everything you know.
-Frank Vizzare

#120-2. A witty saying proves nothing.

#120-3. Fun is a good thing, but only when it spoils nothing better.
-George Santayana

Monday, April 21, 2008

i-TFTD #119: The Whale Story

i-TFTD #119: The Whale Story

(A Case of Management by Motivation)
By Charles and Carla Coonradt

Have you ever wondered how whale and dolphin trainers get the 19,000-pound whale, to jump 22 feet out of the water and perform tricks?

They get that whale to go over a rope higher than most of us can imagine. This is a great challenge - as great as the ones you will face within the next five years as you manage small teams of people who report to you. However their approach is almost opposite of what is taught by most leading business schools and corporate houses.

So how do the trainers at Sea World do it? Their number one priority is to reinforce the behavior that they want repeated - in this case, to get the whale or dolphin to go over the rope. They influence the environment every way they can so that it supports the principle of making sure that the whale just can't fail.

They start with the rope kept well below the surface of the water, in a position where the whale can't help but do what's expected of it. Every time the whale goes over the rope (which is below the water), it gets positive reinforcement. It gets fed fish, patted, played with, and most important, it gets that encouraging reinforcement.

But what happens when the whale goes under the rope?

Nothing no failure notices, no constructive criticism, no developmental feedback, nor warnings in the personnel file. Whales are taught that their negative behavior will simply not be acknowledged. Positive reinforcement is the cornerstone of that simple principle that produces such spectacular results. And as the whale begins to go over the rope more often than under, the trainers begin to raise the rope slowly. Each time the whale goes over the rope it receives positive pats and fish. However each time it fails, it is ignored but not punished.

Slowly the rope is raised over the water level until finally it is raised 20 feet above water. However it must be raised slowly enough so that the whale doesn't fail. The process ensures success, but at a pace that makes it possible for the whale to do so out of a positive strength that makes it strong and more confident of its attempts physically and emotionally.

What do B Schools and the corporate world teach you?

As naive managers the first thing we would do would be to get that rope right up there at 22 feet .We call that goal-setting, or strategic planning or even benchmark planning. Most B Schools would tell you stretch your potential and set high goals from day 1.

With the goal clearly defined, we now have to figure out a way to motivate the whale. So we take a bucket of fish and put it right above that 22-foot rope - don't pay the whale unless it performs. Next we have to give directions. We lean over from our nice high and dry perch and say, "Jump Whale!" but obviously the whale stays right where it is scared to even try.

The simple lesson to be learned from the whale trainers is to over-celebrate. Make a big deal out of the good and little stuff that we want consistently.

Secondly, under-criticize. Most people know when they screw up. What they need is help. If we under-criticize, punish and discipline less than is expected, people will not forget the event, learn self responsibility and usually not repeat mistakes.

In my opinion, most successful businesses today are doing things right more than 75 percent of the time. Yet what do they spend the majority of their time focussing on?  Only on the 25 % of the times when things go wrong and the people who were responsible for this failure.

We need to set up the circumstances so that people can't fail.

Over-celebrate, under-criticize . . . and know how far to raise the rope and at what speed.

We are not whales; all people do not react the same way; carrot-and-stick is a reality of business life; one should not artificially praise average quality work as though it is excellent; just ignoring cannot work in all cases -- let us keep aside many such potential objections, valid or otherwise. Is there something worthwhile to think about and change in our approach to our teams?

Forget over-celebrating, we should at least try to consciously find situations periodically to acknowledge and appreciate a person's or team's achievement. "Finally the software was released but let us wait to see how the User Acceptance Test (UAT) goes before sending congratulatory mail." "A better time to take the team for dinner would be after the system goes live successfully." "This is not such a big deal, we have faced bigger challenges and worked on much more complex assignments and delivered."

Questions to help refute the above kind of thinking are:
-Is there something worth acknowledging in terms of effort and an intermediate culmination of that effort? Could it be sent to the individuals concerned even if it is not marked to other senior managers?

-Will all the concerned persons be around if we wait for a bigger milestone in future? Should a small timely praise be necessarily substituted by so-called bigger reward after a delay?

-Is there a risk that the future milestone is delayed so much and circumstances are such that the mood is far from celebratory?

-Are we always measuring someone's achievement against an absolute benchmark or reinforcing a relatively commendable effort under the specific circumstances?

-Are we modifying our expectations and responses based on whether someone is new to a role, whether the constraints were avoidable or outside one's control?

Finally, do note that the rope was being raised every time. I do not know about whales but if we keep hitting easy targets and getting rewards it leads us to complacency, mediocrity and even dissatisfaction.

Friday, April 18, 2008

i-TFTD #118: Mental Pushups

i-TFTD #118: Mental Pushups

Mental Pushups
By Jim Rohrbach

A case for daily affirmations.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
-Proverbs 23:7

"Repetition of affirmations of orders to your subconscious mind is the only known method of voluntary development of the emotion of faith." Why did Napoleon Hill make this powerful statement early in his classic 1937 book, 'Think and Grow Rich'? Hill was the first author to introduce "the science of personal achievement" to the business world. He studied over 500 highly successful entrepreneurs in the early 1900s (including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and John D. Rockefeller... these were no flash-in-the-pan characters!) and concluded that each had what he called a "success consciousness" they literally thought their way to riches.

I believe Hill was aware that most ordinary people did not possess this mind set, but he insisted a person could develop it through the use of "autosuggestion" the daily repetition of powerful positive statements to program the mind for achieving desired outcomes. Thus, he was an early advocate of daily affirmations.

No less of an authority than Brian Tracy, one of the world's greatest success teachers, states, "My favorite combination of affirmations, which I've used for years, is, "'I like myself and I love my work!'" Tracy goes on to say, "Controlling your inner dialogue, the way you talk to yourself, is a key to peak performance. It is the way you overcome difficulties and keep yourself feeling positive most of the time."

Here's a definition of affirmations: Positive statements, used in the present tense as if they're already a fact, which you consciously repeat to yourself on a daily basis to redefine your personal belief system. Thus, you create new positive self-fulfilling prophecies. Just think of them as mental pushups.

Affirmations are by no means anything new. They have been referred to as "positive thinking," "positive selftalk," or even prayer all religions appear to have affirmations in their scripture. The Old and New Testaments are chock full of them "As thou thinkest, so thou art," "Ask, and ye shall receive," etc. I like to refer to affirmations as "attitudinal pushups" when used consistently they will create an unstoppable positive mental attitude ("attitudinal fitness," if you will) that is essential for your success. Repetition is the key to allowing these positive statements to reprogram your mind, just as you learned your multiplication tables in grade school.

Science is increasingly validating some of these ancient statements about the fascinating processes of the mind by researching into the physiological reactions inside the human brain. Too many people have strong beliefs in favour of or against this. The best (scientific) approach is to try out and see.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

i-TFTD #117: The 90/10 Principle by Stephen Covey

i-TFTD #117: The 90/10 Principle by Stephen Covey

Discover the 90/10 Principle. It will change your life.

What is the 90/10 Principle? 10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react. What does this mean?

We really have no control over 10% of what happens to us. We cannot stop the car from breaking down. The plane will be late arriving, which throws our whole schedule off. A driver may cut us off in traffic. We have no control over this 10%. The other 90% is different. You determine the other 90%. How? By your reaction.

You cannot control a red light, but you can control your reaction. Don't let people fool you; YOU can control how you react. Let's use an example.

You are eating breakfast with your family. Your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your business shirt. You have no control over what just what happened. What happens when the next will be determined by how you react. You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your spouse and criticize her for placing the cup too close to the edge of the table. A short verbal battle follows. You storm upstairs and change your shirt. Back downstairs, you find your daughter has been too busy crying to finish breakfast and get ready for school. She misses the bus. Your spouse must leave immediately for work. You rush to the car and drive your daughter to school. Because you are late, you drive 40 miles an hour in a 30 mph speed limit. After a 15-minute delay and throwing $60 traffic fine away, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs into the building without saying goodbye. After arriving at the office 20 minutes late, you find you forgot your briefcase.

Your day has started terribly. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home, When you arrive home, you find a small wedge in your relationship with your spouse and daughter. Why? Because of how you reacted in the morning.

Why did you have a bad day?
 A) Did the coffee cause it?
 B) Did your daughter cause it?
 C) Did the policeman cause it?
 D) Did you cause it?

The answer is D. You had no control over what happened with the coffee. How you reacted in those 5 seconds is what caused your bad day. Here is what could have and should have happened.

Coffee splashes over you. Your daughter is about to cry. You gently say, "It's OK honey, you just need, to be more careful next time." Grabbing a towel you rush upstairs. After grabbing a new shirt and your briefcase, you come back down in time to look through the window and see your child getting on the bus. She turns and waves. You arrive 5 minutes early and cheerfully greet the staff. Your boss comments on how good the day you are having.

Notice the difference? Two different scenarios. Both started the same. Both ended different. Why? Because of how you REACTED. You really do not have any control over 10% of what happens. The other 90% was determined by your reaction. Here are some ways to apply the 90/10 principle.

If someone says something negative about you, don't be a sponge. Let the attack roll off like water on glass. You don't have to let the negative comment affect you! React properly and it will not ruin your day. A wrong reaction could result in losing a friend, being fired, getting stressed out etc.

How do you react if someone cuts you off in traffic? Do you lose your temper? Pound on the steering wheel? A friend of mine had the steering wheel fall off! Do you curse? Does your blood pressure skyrocket? Do you try and bump them? Who cares if you arrive ten seconds later at work? Why let the cars ruin your drive?

Remember the 90/10 principle, and do not worry about it. You are told you lost your job. Why lose sleep and get irritated? It will work out. Use your worrying energy and time into finding another job.

The plane is late; it is going to mangle your schedule for the day. Why take out your frustration on the flight attendant? She has no control over what is going on. Use your time to study, get to know the other passenger. Why get stressed out? It will just make things worse.

Now you know the 90-10 principle. Apply it and you will be amazed at the results. You will lose nothing if you try it. The 90-10 principle is incredible. Very few know and apply this principle. The result? Millions of people are suffering from undeserved stress, trials, problems and heartache. There never seems to be success in life. Bad days follow bad days. Terrible things seem to be constantly happening. There is constant stress, lack of joy, and broken relationships.

Worry consumes time. Anger breaks friendships and life seems dreary and is not enjoyed to the fullest. Friends are lost. Life is a bore and often seems cruel.

Does this describe you? If so, do not be discouraged. You can be different! Understand and apply the 90/10 principle. It will change your life.

I find the example simplistic but the point valid.

Monday, April 14, 2008

i-TFTD #116

i-TFTD #116

#116-1. People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing -- that's why we recommend it daily.
-Zig Ziglar

#116-2. Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.

-Margaret Cousins

#116-3. Peace is not the absence of conflict in life but the ability to cope with it.

Regular attention to motivation is needed not only to your team but to yourself as well.

It helps me to remember the many meanings (all positive) of this powerful word, as in, praise (appreciation award), understanding (art appreciation), empathy (I appreciate your opposing viewpoint), increase in value (portfolio appreciation) and gratitude (they appreciated my presence in the event).

I can be at peace in the midst of a long struggle.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

i-TFTD #115: Only One Move

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.

"Sensei," (teacher in Japanese) the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?"

"This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament.

Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out.

He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. "No," the sensei insisted, "Let him continue." Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?"

"You won for two reasons," the sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm."

The boy's biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

Sometimes we feel that we have certain weaknesses and we blame God, the circumstances or ourselves for it but we never know that our weaknesses can become our strengths one day. Each of us is special and important, so never think you have any weakness, never think of pride or pain, just live your life to its fullest and extract the best out of it!

I did not understand this powerful concept when I read it as a child in "The Stag and The Lion", one of Aesop's fables. Now I can immediately see it as an example of playing to your strengths. If we spent half the time we spend on trying to become who we are not, in identifying what we are, we would all be happily performing at much higher levels of effectiveness. Our company is much smaller than some giant competitors in the industry, but it is also not exactly a small smart-up. But we have been able to successfully sell this "weakness" as being "the right-sized partner" to customers.

Some additional learnings from the story above:
-The boy and the teacher were both risk-takers
-Both demonstrated two important elements: focus and faith in ability (the boy trusted the sensei's judgement and teaching ability)
-The biggest payoff for the boy is not becoming a champion but knowing the secret of winning. For that he had to be courageous to ask. Asking questions is an underestimated quality that we have discussed in the past, for example, in i-TFTD #26 You are staring at your blindspots, i-TFTD #32 and i-TFTD #110.

Monday, April 7, 2008

i-TFTD #114

i-TFTD #114

#114-1. The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.
-Wayne Dyer

#114-2. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to him. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

-George Bernard Shaw

#114-3. Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.
-Ann Landers

The first one might appear abstract if seen as a philosophical statement. The Akbar-Birbal story about a piece of gold and the royal barber illustrates the same principle as a simple observation on human behaviour. Either way, it puts an enormous responsibility -- of our life -- on ourselves.

The second is cited sometimes as a funny example of logic. Actually it is a true statement in any creative new endeavour.

Friday, April 4, 2008

i-TFTD #113

i-TFTD #113

#113-1. It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality.

-Harold S. Geneen

#113-2. If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.
-Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

#113-3. Be conscious of your inner reactions, whether positive, negative or perhaps no reaction at all.  Be prepared to step aside  and ask, "Why am I reacting this way?" or "What is being said that makes me feel this way?"  If you do this, I believe you  will discover some important things about yourself.  Remember... discovery, growth, and change must begin with you.

-Thomas D. Willhite

Change is inevitable, change is necessary for growth, but evolution has designed the human brain to create and stick with stability--with the capability to consciously adapt to change. We often see signs of change around us but refuse to acknowledge it, as brought out in the bestseller, "Who Moved My Cheese?"

Thursday, April 3, 2008

i-TFTD #112

i-TFTD #112

#112-1. If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

-George Bernard Shaw

#112-2. Egotism is the anesthetic given by a kindly nature to relieve the pain of being a damned fool.
-Bellamy Brooks

#112-3. The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
-Hubert H. Humphrey

When we express our ideas and listen to another's, we often get some more ideas.

Deliberately doing silly, foolish things sometimes helps generate new ideas.

This is something many managers and subordinates fail to appreciate. A manager should not hesitate to let everyone voice their opinion on an important decision, somehow thinking that this diminishes the prerogative provided by the position. I can exercise my right to give suggestions to my seniors but cannot insist that they are all implemented.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

i-TFTD #111: Stop Demotivating Me

i-TFTD #111: Stop Demotivating Me

Stop Demotivating Me!
-Esther Derby, CIO
July 11, 2007
Excerpted from (highlights mine)

It never fails. Every time I give a talk on management, someone asks, "How can I motivate my staff?"

Managers hold pizza parties, deliver pep talks and hand out trinkets to boost motivation. And it's all for naught.

Most people show up for a new job with high motivation. They're excited and they want to do a good job. But as the weeks pass, motivation dribbles away. It's not because managers are failing to motivate these once-enthusiastic people. It's because organizational systems, policies-and yes, management actions -- actively demotivate people.

How can a manager demotivate employees? Let me count the ways.

The Demotivator's Hall of Shame

Surprises at the annual employee review. Most people believe that annual reviews and evaluations improve performance. But people need to know where they stand and what they can do to improve all year, not just at review time. When managers wait until the review cycle to communicate the need to improve, staffers feel set up. When the manager says he wants them to succeed, they wonder if he really means it. Not very motivating.

Micromanagement. Most people desire some measure of autonomy at work. Micromanagement -- dictating each detail of how a task should be done -- deprives people of autonomy. It communicates that the manager believes people are incompetent and incapable of making judgments. The worst form of micromanagement is telling people how to do a task without telling them why the task matters.

Public criticism. If you must criticize, do it in private. "Public" includes yelling so loudly that the entire staff can hear even when the office door is closed. A public dressing-down is a sure demotivator. And it doesn't affect just the individual; it affects everyone who witnesses the event.

Asking for one behavior and rewarding another. One of my early managers proclaimed that a stable production environment was our first priority when we made changes to the software we worked on. But I soon noticed that the people who received praise and promotions were not the ones who were methodical about testing their code. The rewards went to the developers who found and fixed crash bugs in the middle of the night -- usually crash bugs that they themselves had created. The steady Eddies of the group worked unnoticed -- or started inserting a few bugs themselves to gain the limelight.

Unachievable deadlines. Many managers seem to believe that without a deadline, people will dilly-dally and waste time. They profess that the work will expand to take all the available time, and that people (usually referred to as "workers" when this logic is applied) must be pushed to produce. Most people will bust their butts to meet a challenging deadline -- as long as they believe there's a reasonable chance of making it. But give them a deadline they believe is impossible, and motivation drains away.

Asking for input and then ignoring it. A manager asked the developers on his team to estimate a how long it would take to complete a project. The manager didn't like the estimate the team produced. "I've met rookie programmers who could work faster than this," the manager declared as he slashed the estimate by half. "Why did he waste our time?" one developer wondered. This team had a triple whammy: an unachievable timeline, a manager who dismissed their professional judgment, and a manager who berated them in public. They weren't motivated to meet the manager's aggressive timeline (but they were motivated to prove his timeline wrong).

Preferential treatment. Managers don't need to treat everyone equally; they do need to treat everyone equitably. Singling out employees for differential treatment (good or bad) telegraphs that honest hard work isn't the path to recognition. A few people may be motivated to "brown nose"; the rest will be turned off.

Empty phrases. It seems like there's an unending supply of (supposedly) inspirational directives: Just do it! Failure is not an option! Think outside the box! There may be situations where these phrases actually help, though I'm challenged to think of any. When managers meet legitimate concerns with empty phrases, it communicates that the manager a) doesn't understand the issue and/or b) doesn't have a clue what to do. Plus there's a bonus effect: People who believe their manager will dismiss their concerns out of hand don't stop having problems, they just stop telling their manager about them.

In addition to bad management, organizational procedures and systems can also sap motivation. Most companies acknowledge on some level that people are important to producing results. Yet organizational systems and policies may communicate the opposite message. (Like) People are expendable, Some people are more valued than others (as per a forced ranking and rating curve), and Employees are not trustworthy (e.g. policy requiring approval from senior manager for trivial amounts).

Creating an Environment for Success

Even against these odds, a manager can create an environment that maintains motivation and mitigate some negative effects of organizational demotivators.

Here are six things every manager can do to create a local climate that supports natural motivation:

Articulate the group's mission. Make sure people know the purpose of their work and how it fits into the overall mission of the company. Instill an understanding of how the group's work affects the bottom line of the company. Knowing the big picture enables people to make better decisions, and means you, as manager, don't need to be the decision bottleneck.

Recognize and appreciate contributions. Notice that I didn't say "Implement a rewards and recognition program." Those programs backfire as often as not. I'm talking about direct conversations with individuals that show that you, as a manager, notice and appreciate the contributions people make.

Provide clear, congruent feedback. People want to do a good job, and sometimes they need information to fine-tune performance. Rather than evaluate, describe behavior, or results, explain the impact and engage in problem solving. Providing information that helps people improve also helps them know you want them to succeed.

Deal firmly and respectfully with performance issues. Most people want to do a good job, and sometimes people don't have the skills (including interpersonal skills) to be successful. Don't let the situation drag on and on or protect one person at the expense of the group.

Eliminate obstacles and be an advocate for the group. When your organization throws up roadblocks, help knock them down  -- or at least find a way around them for the group. Nothing is more demotivating than a manager who insists that employees meet deadlines but does nothing to help them with organizational issues.

Share company data. Disclose as much as you can (of course respecting confidential personnel matters) about company financial results, decisions and strategies. Even saying you don't know is preferable to saying nothing, especially during times of upheaval. Spreading knowledge spreads power.

Pep talks, speakers, posters, forced fun, and prizes are the stock and trade of companies that specialize in employee motivation. Although they may provide a temporary bump in morale (one that may even last a few hours longer than the rah-rah meeting), they won't overcome the underlying problems. Real motivation comes from pride in work, fair treatment and trust.

Let us also look at the other side of the coin: most leaders do not start out being unfair tyrants, they also begin their managerial careers with enthusiasm to do well in their new roles. Somehow many of them soon forget how they behaved and felt in the earlier phase of their careers. Inadequate ongoing training is provided to managers. Their beliefs and behaviours are influenced by what they see their role models at higher levels do and thus it goes all the way to the top for stating and practising the values of the organization.

I also think expertise in terms of knowledge and skills in a particular area often leads everyone into a leadership position for which they might not be suited so part of the solution is to clearly lay down criteria for holding positions involving decisions about people. At the same time, such positions must not be glorified too much in comparison to subject matter specialist positions.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

i-TFTD #110

i-TFTD #110

Some of my favourites...
#110-1. There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.
-Booker T. Washington

#110-2. You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.
-Martin Luther King

#110-3. The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.
-Antony Jay

The first one should be a poster stuck on the desk of everyone who is a boss.

Many creative solutions have emerged when the problem statement itself was re-examined and redefined. It is a healthy thinking habit to acquire, spend a few moments to study the question or issue before plunging into analysis of solutions.