September 29, 2011

Six Questions to Help You Achieve Your Mission

1. What are your top 1 - 3 goals?

Think about today, this week, this month, this quarter—in that order. Make sure today's goals support this week's, this week's support this month's, and so on until you reach the mission. If not, your ducks aren't in order. Seek guidance on adjusting them. Make sure all goals serve each other and the mission.

2. What are the biggest obstacles in the way of reaching those goals?

Inevitably, goals have roadblocks. Highlight them. Call them out. Pick them apart. Be ruthless. Your strengths should be what you use as much as possible in your work, but you'll need the strengths of others to round you out and bust through the roadblocks.

3. What resources/people are available to help overcome the obstacles? 

Who is available to help? There may be people in your periphery you're not considering, or someone who is looking for a challenge. Perhaps you can build a business case for a new position that would allow the rest of the team more time to focus on their strengths. Who are you underestimating that's looking for chance? Who has connections to others that are likely to pan out. Widen your focus if you have to.

4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each person on that list?

In order to manage effectively, you have to know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone helping you. If you don't, your team isn't performing to its highest potential. One way I keep track is a Core Strengths Document.

5. What is the most effective strategy to achieve your top goals?

You know your goals, your roadblocks, your team, their strengths and weaknesses. Together with your team, plan your work.

6. Does each of your team members know the answers to questions 1 - 5?

It's easy to assume that everyone knows your mission and how daily tasks relate to it. Don't. Make sure everyone knows the answers to 1 - 5. Better yet, make sure they are involved in answering at least some of them. The whole team has to own the whole mission, so you're working separately to achieve common goals. Once everyone can answer 1 - 5, work your plan.

September 23, 2011

Productivity Blogs Dedicated to Improving Life In General

Here's a quick list of some of the greatest blogs dedicated to raising productivity and potential to improve life in general:
To keep up with these and other sites, set yourself up with Feedly.

September 21, 2011

Collaboration - Focus 15 Minutes on New Tools

This post is not for early adopters. It's for the late majority.

It doesn't take long to get overwhelmed by the advancement of technology, does it?  You hear about "the cloud" and "distance collaboration," but you're so busy, you shrug it off for another day. Well, if the tools you're using for collaboration are basically the same ones you were using one or two years ago, take a deep breath. Chances are, you're way behind your competition.

I can empathize. After all, time spent learning anything outside your core business is time away from it. Fair enough. The good news is that, as a late adopter, the time to learn should be reduced by improvements made, as tools have matured. Translation: It will take you less time to learn than the first users.

Try this rule of thumb. If you can't be convinced of the value of a new collaboration tool after 15 minutes of using it, move on. Try another.

Heads up!
Here's the catch: You actually have to pay attention when you're learning it. If you're multitasking—eating lunch or juggling windows between email and calendar, you won't learn it. 

So what tools am I talking about? Well, there are a million out there for a million reasons. But, here's some low hanging fruit that everyone with a collaborative team should at least understand:

Sharing documents & files:
  • Google Docs - Simultaneous work on one copy of a file, while viewing each other's edits in real time. Share with the world, or keep it private with limited rights.
  • Drop Box - Synchronize files across various computers.
Distance meetings:
  • WebEx - Nice audio and video integration. Advanced collaboration tools, like white-boarding, that most don't use. 
  • Adobe Connect - Similar.
  • Lync Online - Similar.
  • GoToMeeting - Simple desktop sharing.
Chat, SMS and voice communication:
  • GroupMe - A group chat app that works seamlessly between cell phones and computers. Instant group phone conference feature as well.
  • HipChat - Multiple rooms that log chats 
  • Google Voice - Can ring multiple phones, transcribes voicemails to SMS or email.
Secure Social Collaboration:
  • Chatter - Like Facebook for your company, with effective project management and document sharing features.
  • Google+ - Similar, but with the concept of "Circles" and "Communities," sharing can be expanded and contracted to your liking. IMHO, this sleeping giant will likely swallow the competition when it awakes.
  • Yammer - Also similar. Bought by Microsoft in 2012
Please feel free mention other tools you've had success with in the comments.

September 19, 2011

How to Make and Use a Team Strengths Document

Managing a team that takes care of a wide variety of work, and inspired by research that argues a person's best work is achieved in their areas of strength and interest, I created a Team Strengths Document, which helps everyone understand our highest areas of potential and weakness, both as individuals and as a team.
Team Strengths Doc
The first column is a list of various aspects of the work - some specific, some over-arching. The first row is each team member's name with two rating columns under each name. In the first column under each name, the team member rates his/her interest in each area of work on a scale of 1-10. In the second, the team member rates his/her own performance in that area. In the last two columns, the whole team's ratings are averaged for each area. Ratings are color coated by rules to make the data more digestible.

For individuals, the greatest areas of growth opportunity are those with the highest scores in both the interest and performance columns. After that, look for high interest ratings that are next to low performance ratings. Most of the time, the person hasn't had the chance to learn and practice that kind of work to reach their potential. Together, the team can help each other with training, shadowing & experience to shore up those numbers.

For the team, the averages can show areas where you might be able to expand, others where you can seek group training, and others where you may need to focus your recruitment efforts. It's also been a great reference for discussions among the team and one on one.

To use the template, make sure you have a Google account and copy the sheet to one of your own Google spreadsheets, so you can edit and share it with your team.

September 18, 2011

The Pipe - This Isn't Just About Business

"It's called the zone, or Nirvana. You, know? You just get into it, and it's like you're not playing the instrument. You're the instrument and the universe is playing you. It's some kung fu stuff. I don't know. You're just in there, and you don't feel it. You're just flowing, and nothing can stop you."
--Qbert, from the documentary Scratch

It's been said many ways by many people, and Qbert nails it as much as anyone I've heard. I'm in the process of gathering everything I'm learning here about how to extend that "zone," to increase that "flow" - how to widen the pipe that connects us to that thing that's bigger than us, no matter what we're doing.

Turns out, the work required to connect to the "flow" doesn't provide the same transcendence of self as being in it. It ain't magic. It takes deliberate practice. Translation: hard work.

"Day in, day out. When I go to work, he's getting ready. When I get back from work, he's still practicing. When I go to sleep, still practicing - until I say, 'It's enough, or else I'll break the needles."
--Steve Dee's Mom, from the documentary Scratch

So, whether it's cooking, shooting baskets, painting, public speaking or introducing a new process to a work team, you're not going to be all that great at it right away. That's why it's so important to choose work that draws you in naturally - that attracts your attention and keeps it. You have to be willing to give your work a lot of sweat before it starts giving back to you beyond your paycheck - before it becomes meaningful.

Connecting to the flow is going to be a slog. Widening the pipe? More slog. So, find the stuff you like most about whatever you're doing, and keep working slowly and deliberately on it. Can't find anything you love about it? Time to sit down with your inner seeker and look for something else at which to excel.

Apart from loving the music, I love the movie Scratch because it threads a needle through discovering something brand new, to becoming the best in the world at it, to evolving the medium itself to higher impact. I'll close with a quote from Jazzy Jay that speaks to the passion it takes to do that.

"This wasn't just something we did for the money. We believed in this. I mean, when I left, I could play for 6, 7 hours outside. And, when I would come home, I'd set up my turntables and play for another 6, 7 hours. You know what I'm saying? It was something I had to do."
--Jazzy Jay, from the documentary Scratch

September 16, 2011

Priorities Met vs Priorities Set

On page 149 of my copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey sums up the best thinking in the area of time management with five words: "Organize and execute around priorities." The catch is those first two words. I mean, think about it. Truthfully, executing around priorities is all we do every minute of every day.

If that statement flies in the face of common wisdom, good. How could anything else be true? What is a more effective measurement of my priorities for a day: the things I write down that I want to accomplish, or the things I actually do that day? The source of the list doesn't matter. It could be yourself, parents, boss, etc. No matter how important that list is, we can only measure our priorities effectively in hindsight - at the end of the day.

At the end of a rough day, you might say to yourself, "Dang, my priorities were a, b and c, but I spent all my time on x, y and z." Wrong! Your priorities were actually x, y and z, because that's what you spent your time doing. You want to get intimate with your real priorities? Try this:
  1. Track every minute of your days for a week on a spreadsheet.
  2. Evaluate the patterns as they arise.
  3. Compare how you actually spent your time with your list of intended priorities.
  4. Comment below on the results.
You'll likely find that consciously observing your time in this way narrows the gap between what you intended to do and what you did. Great. Now, the crucial habit to develop is to be aware of that gap - to always ask yourself, "Which of my priorities am I working on right now?" If it's not on the list you made, are you trading your time for something that's become more important, or not?

Look closely at the gap between what you say you'll do and what you actually do. Consider whether the priorities you're setting are realistic. Do they play to your strengths? Are you excited about the work required to get them done? Is there someone you work with that might be better at them? Consider the things on which you're actually spending your time. Are they worth it? You are now several steps closer to organizing the list with what you actually accomplish.

September 15, 2011

Build on Strengths

At work, do you have an opportunity to do what you do best everyday? 

Anything current written about maximizing that's worth your time should mention Marcus Buckingham (left above). His 1999 book, First, Break All the Rules, still holds water today. Synopsis... Another synopsis. Half a dozen books and dozens of youtube videos that followed have established Marcus as the world's expert on leveraging strengths as the number one method for maximizing on... well, on anything.

According to Marcus' research, the core elements needed to attract, focus and keep the most talented employees on a team can be measured by responses to these 12 statements:
  1. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  2. I know what is expected of me at work.
  3. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work.
  4. I have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last seven days.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, cares about me as a person.
  6. Someone at work encourages my development.
  7. My opinions seem to count at work.
  8. The mission of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. Someone has talked to me about my progress at work in the last six months.
  12. I've had opportunities to learn and grow at work in the last year.
An experiment:
  1. Managers, rate each statement from 1 (Strongly Agree) to 5 (Strongly Disagree) as you think your team(s) would on average. 
  2. Using Google Forms, ask each of your team members to rate them individually - anonymously if you must.
  3. Average the team's ratings in the last row of your spreadsheet.
  4. How did you do?