Last week, I saw this quotation and loved it. In work and in life, we often find ourselves in a boat with others wondering why and how we got there. This could be a re-organization, or a life event, or anything that is a change for us.
One piece of the quotation that especially resonates to me is the focus on the present–“we’re in the same boat now.” And that’s true about many facets of our lives or our relationships or our families or our work teams because it’s easier for people to spend our energies in a more negative way, questioning and fighting what has happened, instead of re-framing our orientation that the reality is we’re in the boat now.
Say to yourself, “this is my job” or “this is my life” or “this happened to me” and then embrace the presence of that realization.
In time, that realization can turn into motivation–if you choose to accept that you are now in the boat.
You might just start rowing.
I took on my own stretch assignment at work, offering to lead two Working Out Loud Circles. In these circles, the participants are learning about making contributions.
In my own words, contributions, in this context, are things you can do that just plain make you a better person to work with, and be around. I found it extremely helpful to see ten contributions summarized in Week 8 of the program.
As I thought about my own practice of the ten contributions, there was one that was similar called “offer attention” but I coach others more overtly to contribute in a way just as important as the others—Acknowledgement.
So what do I mean?
How many times have you called someone, or sent an email, or a text message—or all 3—and never heard anything in return? The kids call this getting ghosted when a friend does it to you.
Casper. At work. Who would’ve known?
How many times have you contemplated, seemingly for hours, about how to send the right message, with the right words, to someone else, like a boss? Then, when you finally muster the courage to hit the “send” button, you wait with nervousness, wondering what he/she will think, or say, in return.
And you wait. And wait. And wait.
And then the doubts start to enter your mind. Did I piss him/her off? Did I over extend my boundaries? Did I make a fool out of myself?
You check your email box, hitting “send/receive all messages”. It’s like you’re now borderline crazy.
And still nothing.
If you’ve been there, you’re not alone. But the remedy is very easy. It’s called acknowledgement.
Just acknowledge that you got the message. You don’t even have to craft a lengthy response. How about this:
“Thanks for the note, I’ll take a look.”
“I appreciate that you reached out. I can’t commit to anything at this time, but will consider your ideas.”
From my experience, people that practice this simple contribution are more engaged, more inspiring, and establish authentic connections more often than people that just ignore the message. Do you want people to play the sound of crickets to their friends after sending you a message as a mockery to your impending blow off, or do you want to practice making a small contribution to another person just by telling them you acknowledge that they reached out to you?
Take 60 seconds and acknowledge the other person—you’ll never regret it.
I get energy from curious people at work. It seems that from my experience, curious people can typically help you get things done in a better way. Curious people ask the question “why?” multiple times until they understand the root cause of something. Curious people respond when you ask them for feedback on what could get better.
But what happens when your workforce seemingly has lost its ability to be curious?
Curious people ignite the flame of critical thinking and problem solving; not-so-curious people can extinguish that flame.
For me, lack of curiosity typically relates to general apathy. In the workplace, that could mean not raising your hand, or letting someone else raise their hand, or just going through the motions. Your calendar may be full from 8-5, but logging into that conference call to have your name show up in the panel that you were there—even though you didn’t contribute anything to the meeting—makes you feel busy.
It can also point to another sign—that you are too comfortable. This happens after years of steady employment where you’ve been allowed to just go through the motions, show up when you needed to show up, but nothing externally or internally is creating a sense of urgency to do anything different. Perhaps you tried at one point but became de-motivated when things didn’t work out the way you envisioned them to.
One flaw in all of that is that it assumes that motivation can only come externally—from someone or something other than yourself. The boss passed you over for a promotion. The Department reorganized you into a new area. The company decided to continue to invest in the legacy technology that you’ve worked on for decades, so you should be set.
I think there is too much risk to behave this way in the workplace. Leaders are searching for curious people as it demonstrates a different level of engagement. Leaders what to know how to make things better, and curious people are motivated to contribute to that outcome. And finally, leaders need curious people. Without them, something externally will disrupt the situation, without a doubt.
Curiosity equates to motivation. Motivation equates to making things happen on your own terms—not the boss, the department, or the company.
I’ve learned this perspective over time and through experience. I observe people across the entire spectrum of curiosity and motivation. Re-framing to putting things on your own terms, and taking control of your own motivation and curiosity can not only lead to a happier work life, but one that has a higher potential of success and satisfaction.
I was excited to get a new hire and find a location for him to sit. Right outside of my office was this beautiful empty cubicle—his new home, I thought. The cube had been empty for months, it was a perfect spot. My excitement was building, until I saw the black and white sign, mocking me in 72 point Calibri:
Right in front of my own eyes, the office equivalent of stretching across 5 folding chairs.
After searching around, I discovered that someone had placed this sign and reserved this spot for an open and not yet filled position months ago.
When you come from a big family, the concept of reserving or saving things is foreign. Take food, for example. If dinner is on the table, and you’re late, then you just don’t get the good stuff.
“Show up on time,” my mother used to say when I showed up late and the only dinner portions left was a copious portion of red beets.
This theme is all around us. You ever been to a parade and see those empty chairs you’d take to a kid’s soccer game just lined up in the front row? They put them there days in advance. Deep inside the recesses of my mind I wish someone would steal them.
How about at a school play? It’s like someone raided the lost and found table hanging a bunch of tattered coats, hats and scarves across a bunch of folding chairs. At least have the dignity to just make your kid lie down across the chairs…
I wonder what this says about our culture. Do we respect showing up on time? Are we trying to protect those in our clan that are just a little slower than the rest of us?
Sometimes, we all just need to experience eating the beets, teaching us to show up next time just a little earlier.
What’s your favorite “saver” story?
Taking my oldest son to college for the first time was harder than I thought. My wife and I left with him Wednesday night and moved him in on Thursday. Then, we left.
All the clichés are true; it happens more quickly than you think. I can attest to that. One day you’re putting him on the school bus for the first time, and then almost without blinking you’re hugging him in the dorm parking lot saying good bye. You feel this extreme loss of his presence, knowing that it will never be the same.
But then my 88 year-old father, who did this 7 times, said it’s like he’s starting his next chapter. For some reason that made me feel better, that somehow, for him, he’s getting to start something he’s been waiting a long time to start. I then remember how happy I was for my next chapter after my parents dropped me off at college. These additional perspectives helped me balance my own feelings of loss and fear I felt by dropping him off.
Maybe it should be about him, and not me?
I talk a lot about the “change cycle.” This is a model that tells you no matter how big or small the change is that you are experiencing, science tells us that we always go through the same sequential 6 stages—Loss, Doubt, Discomfort, Discovery, Understanding, Integration. The pace in which one goes through the cycle is dependent on several factors. One thing I like about the model is that just knowing you go through all 6 stages—and you will eventually get to Integration—in of itself is comforting. By using this model, I can self-identify that I am in the Loss and Doubt stages, and that is OK.
This one will take me a while. The text messages and once a week phone calls help too. After we got home, his younger brothers launched a multi-phased project where everyone was switching rooms.
“We keep no shrines,” my mother used to say when the exact same thing happened 45 years ago with my 6 sisters.
Peyton moved into Will’s now empty room. Henry moved into Peyton’s room and Eddie stayed in the room he previously shared with Henry. We moved clothes, dressers, beds–the works. Now the remaining boys all have their own room.
Feels like they moved through the change cycle pretty quickly. Have to love your siblings.
My mother said this often and had incredible resiliency coupled with an unwavering focus both on moving forward and not dwelling on the past. In fact, if something bad happened to you, she’d give you license to be upset for 24 hours, and then, in her mind, you should be ready to “move on”. She was very consistent in her approach, whether it was dealing with one of her seven children, or the cancer she died from 16 years ago.
These traits are somewhat unique from my own self observations and those of other people. Mom had the perspective that bad things will happen to good people, but it was more about what you did about it than commiserating about why. My college friend Bob Bell was injured when we were freshman and became paralyzed. He ended up writing a great book on the topic, and I remember someone in an interview asking him “Why do you think this happened to you?” His response: “Why the F* not me?”
At work, many of us have been through some significant challenges with reductions in the workforce. These initially are devastating –I know personally—and leaving on someone else’s terms is devastating. I remember one leader lucky enough to leave before “the date” saying that leaving on his own terms was the most difficult decision he’s ever made. At least he was in control, and I remember questioning and being angry about his use of the word “difficult”.
Difficult is having to tell your family you’ve lost your job–leaving them speechless–except the 9 year-old who asks if you are going to lose your house.
Others, in organizations that have provided job stability for decades, do not even have context that employment is fragile for many of us. To some of those folks, getting reorganized into something they don’t want to do—and keeping a job—is like the end of the world. To them, laid off people would say, “at least you still have a job.”
Each of us has our own context and perspective about a given situation. But in all contexts, it’s about adapting, overcoming, and making the next steps be on your own terms. Simply put, moving on.
When we experience some difficultly, whether it is a layoff or a reorganization, fundamentally we all still need to decide for how long we want to analyze and dwell. Mom would apply the 24 hour rule and recommend that we get on with it and ground ourselves in the reality that this is where we are planted–right, wrong, or indifferent.
What holds us back?
Well, blooming forces us to take action and be creative, which is hard and scary. It forces us to eliminate excuses and complaints, which makes us vulnerable. It forces us to reach out to our networks and ask for help, which can be embarrassing.
Someone close to me lost their job about a year ago. Just recently he accepted a position to teach a college course, something he likely would have never have had the chance to do without the job loss. He told me that was the best news he’d heard in 52 weeks, and was always something he wanted to do.
Me? I can’t believe that 9 months later, I’m in my dream job. It took a lot of support and help to get here. To those that supported me, I’m forever grateful, for all of it–the phone conversations, the text messages, the coffees, the lunches, the LinkedIn messages, and the hugs. I’ve vowed to help anyone I can—day or night—who needs help with job transition and networking.
Mom, I’ve “moved on”.
Seeds can be planted and flowers can bloom in the least expected places. Bloom where you are planted—you are in control, it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way initially. But you are.
I’ve said before, “All ideas are great ideas, but which great ideas are you going to prioritize into projects?” A father of one of the kids on my basketball team and I were talking after practice one day. He is the CEO of a small company. He said, “the ideas you implement should do one of two things–increase your revenue or decrease your expenses.” Beautifully simple, I thought.
Think of your organization’s ideas for projects as the water coming out of the bathtub faucet. The controlling mechanism to the flow of ideas is the constraints in your system, or in this metaphor, either slowing down the water, or increasing the size of the drain.
If the ideas are pouring into the tub at full speed continues, but your constraint—the drain–(e.g., people, dollars) is not getting bigger, then you’ll end up with a mess. Too often I’ve seen organizations not realizing the impact of the faucet part of the equation (idea generation); and under appreciating the constraint side (ever heard, “just figure out how to make it all work!”)
Prioritization is like a 4 letter word, and I often wonder why it tends to scare people. I guess saying yes to everything is easier initially, but its shortcomings become very evident later. You need an organizational culture that appreciates both the merits of generating new ideas AND the value of determining the right approach to vetting and prioritizing those ideas—not one or the other. Additionally, prioritization can be about saying “no” to certain ideas as well, but that’s much harder to do.
Here are three of my keys on how to approach the topic:
Ideas should tie to organizational goals and objectives
If your organization has declared what it wants to do, then ideas that are prioritized should at some level enable the organization to achieve its goals. Beware of ideas that creatively seem to align to every goal and objective or ones where it’s a real stretch. But minimally you need to be able to answer why you are doing it.
Ideas should have a business case
Company dollars should be considered sacred. Assuming money doesn’t grow on trees or is printed out of the company printers, decision makers should know how much money the idea will return to the company. In addition, when promises of returns and revenue are made when the idea is pitched to the company, targets and budgets should be adjusted accordingly after the capital is spent and the idea is implemented–that’s just a good culture of accountability and it forces people to think critically.
Ideas should have to compete with each other
Competition for the company dollar will bring out the best of each idea. You always hear about sports teams fostering competition, why is your company any different? It gives incentives to people to creatively think about the timing, sequence, and scope to deliver the most potential value. If your organization does not require some level of competition for which ideas move forward, you should ask yourself “why not?”
This practical approach will ensure you’re getting “A” grades on 10 things, not “C” grades on 50 things. I’m not suggesting that you should stop coming up with ideas; rather, I’m suggesting you move forward with the ideas that will add the most value to the organization, and if done in concert with the constraints you have, you could just be swimming in success!