THE SOONER YOU FALL BEHIND, THE MORE TIME YOU HAVE TO CATCH UP

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” said – “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Author: Nicosmos (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Why are most people so prone to procrastination ?
Why do so many of us keep putting off things that we know need to be done ?

I actually know a significant number of colleagues (as well as friends I was with at school) who convinced themselves that “they worked best when under pressure”. This meant that they could justify to themselves and all around them,that their best approach was to leave everything till the last possible minute. They could then do a panic-induced, adrenalin-driven rush to complete the task at hand, and would seriously believe that the result was their best work.

Author: Sallybradford; via Wikimedia Commons


This ability to procrastinate appears to be as prevalent in CEOs preparing for a shareholder meeting as it is to low level staff asked to complete a relatively simple task.

I believe that there are 4 main reasons why people tend to procrastinate, and you will need to learn how to handle these within yourself, and also in your subordinates if you are a manager.

1. When the task is so large it seems overwhelming.

When we are presented with a large task, it is often hard enough just to see how it can even be started let alone how it can be achieved, and we can become totally overwhelmed by the task. The only solution is to just accept the age-old advice that the only way to eat an elephant is to do it one bite at a time. However it is not just enough to start with trying to break down the one massive task into many small “bite-sized” tasks, but most importantly you have to do it as soon as possible. The problem with these elephant tasks is that with the passing of time they tend to grow in size and perceived complexity to reach mammoth and mastodon sizes. The quicker you can break a large task down into its smaller composite pieces, the sooner you can start to tackle parts of the project that can be attacked and resolved in a reasonable time, and the sooner you can see which parts of this project can be allocated to other people around you.

2. Fear of failure

Many people have a problem with procrastination because they are so obsessed with being right that they have built a belief that the only workable solution is a 100% solution, which then paralyses their ability to act. The most afflicted are the “Super-analytics”. These people are so task perfection driven that they can never have enough data to actually make a decision. If you give one of these people 100 days to complete a task, they will spend 99 days doing research and gathering as much data as possible and the 100th day trying to convince you that they are almost there, but if you could just give them another 100 days to complete the task they will be able to come up with the perfect solution. Trust me on this … they won’t. The solution is to not give large complex tasks to people like this, but to give them to people who understand that 100% solutions only exist in fairy tales and business school case studies, and who are driven to deliver a well thought through, well-constructed solution that can be implemented, and that has more than just a reasonable chance of success.

Author: Pablo X (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


3. It’s just the way some people are built

Some people seem to have made procrastination an integral part of their personality. They are easily distracted, do not have a lot of self-control and find it very hard to make decisions about their lives. These are the people we all know who are always “about to start a diet” or “about to start saving for a big holiday” or “about to start learning French”, but never quite get around to actually doing it. The only way to manage these people (if you actually do want to keep them in your team) is to take the decision and planning out of their hands. If you need them to do something, make it a mandatory part of their schedule. For example … “every Monday, every week from 9-11.00am you will be in this room to do this task”, or “every Friday at 5,00pm you will put on my desk your weekly report. You will schedule one hour every Friday from 3.00-4.00pm for this task and no other”. If you can take the uncertainty out of their lives, they can actually perform the tasks that are assigned to them but they do take extra management time.

4. People tend to put off doing unpleasant tasks

It’s never easy to get around to doing a boring or unpleasant task whether this as pedestrian as preparing a report for someone in a position of power knowing that this will never actually be used for anything worthwhile, or as tough as having to haul someone over the coals for unacceptable behaviour.
To handle something like the former, I would always try and treat it as sport by challenging myself to insert things in the report that would not only test whether the recipient actually read it, but if s/he did, whether s/he was actually smart enough to find them. Just in case s/he did read it, it was always done in ways that I could always blame on “typos”, after all s/he was in a position of authority. Doing it this way made it challenging and turned it into a more pleasant task.
As for the latter, I have always found that delaying something tough, like feedback on behaviour, will never make it easier than it is if done immediately on seeing it or on finding out about it. The longer the time that you allow to pass, the more the perpetrator will believe that it is acceptable behaviour and the harder it will be for you to address. Do it immediately and get it done when the rebuke and correction will have the most effect.

Author: L'Aquatique (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As Olin Miller says “If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”

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IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY …..

I understand that the salary that you are paid for the work that you do is important, but there are many things that are more important if you want to have a successful career, and to ultimately do well.

By Hersfold; via Wikimedia Commons


Here are 10 things that I see as being more critical to focus on than your actual salary:

1. Never do a job you hate

No matter how much you get paid for doing it, if you hate what you are doing the odds are that you won’t do it well. Doing a job that you love does give you a greater chance of being good at it, which will bring you a greater chance of success and ultimately more rewards.
You work 5 days (at least) out of the 7 available each week, so why would anyone in their right mind want to spend 70% of their time doing something they actively dislike.

2. Never work for a boss you can’t respect

Your immediate supervisor controls your working life. S/he decides what you do, who you get to do it with, how you are measured, whether you are developed, how you are rewarded, what resources you get, if you get promoted etc. If you cannot build a solid working relationship with your boss, you have little chance of doing well. If you love the company you are in, try to get reassigned to another team. If not, find a company you can love, and make sure that you meet and interview your future direct boss (rather than just a recruiting team) before accepting a job.

3. Never work for a company you can’t be proud of

It makes life significantly sweeter if you can feel seriously proud of the company you keep. It makes it easier to sell and support the products and services that they offer, to believe in the company direction and objectives, and to sell the company to people you know and do business with, and hence add to your success. The most successful marketing is done by staff, customers and partners rather than by TV advertising. Air France has interesting TV ads, but it is very rare to hear anyone say anything really positive about the company.

4. Never work where you can’t directly contribute

The more you can make a serious, measurable contribution to the success of the business, the more valuable you will be in the organisation, and the more promotions and rewards will come your way. For example, I have always believed that it is better to have a direct line job in a revenue/profit role than to take a head office role counting and collating the success of others, even if that role appears more senior and is initially for a higher salary. The counter/collater is always more dispensable than the business generator and ultimately less valuable.

5. Try to get equity as part of you compensation package

Money is an obvious need today for paying the bills but equity is a chance for building some future wealth. This is true not just for start-ups but for established companies as well. If you pick your employer well, both for what they do and the people that they have, there will be a serious possibility that you will benefit significantly as they build shareholder value into the future.

Author: Roland Weber; via Wikipedia Commons


6. Negotiate a pay for performance package

Try and negotiate a package that is based on your personal contribution and efforts rather than one where they share a standard bonus for everyone.
I had one role in my career where the executive team were all paid the same performance bonus on the overall success of the company, irrespective of the individual’s contribution, and I always felt that this was inequitable. I have always believed that team performance should form a part of the performance evaluation but should not be the whole, and that the major part of the performance bonus should be paid on individual measurement and contribution against one’s goals. If you believe in yourself, find a company that thinks the same way and then work your arse off to overachieve against your goals.

7. Find a job where hard work is seen as more important than work-life balance

I understand that you should not kill yourself on the job, and that these days it is critical that you manage your time effectively and that good luck and timing can play a role in success, but I have always found that the harder (and smarter) I worked the luckier I got. We all have examples of people who did not have much ability and were not one of the sharpest quills on the porcupine, but who happened to be in the right place at the right time and who walked away with millions. Wish them luck because they belong to a very privileged but very small club. The majority of successful people have worked hard for what they have achieved, and if you want to join them then you need to copy their commitment and their attitude to hard work.

Author: KVDP (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


8. Look for a company that has built a true reputation for people development

I have always stressed that it is critical that you be able to update your CV every year with new knowledge and/or skills, and that if you can’t do that every year you have not just stood still, but have actually fallen behind your peers. Find an employer that believes that they have a responsibility to help their people grow and develop, not just in formal education but also in on-the-job-training.

9. Try to find a company that believes in overseas assignments as part of their culture

We live in a global market with global competition, and gaining experience in multiple regions is not only a lot of fun and interest in the acquisition, but will build your worth in an ever changing ever more complex marketplace. The trick is to prepare for it. I know of a young man who spent 3 years learning Mandarin and when his company opened an office in China he was asked to be part of the team to do so, at a significantly more senior role than the one he held. His peers felt that he had been blessed by good luck, but as we all know, real luck is when preparation an opportunity meet.

10. Find an employer that is known for having “the best and brightest”

This will not only position you as (hopefully) being part of an elite group but will give you access to smart people to learn from and emulate. In the IT sector in the 1960/70/80s, having worked for IBM was a great thing to have on your CV. In the 1970/80s so was having worked for DEC. Today it definitely helps to have spent some time at companies like Google or Apple. Target the equivalent companies that stand out in your industry and go and sell yourself to them … it is worth the apprenticeship.

As Marilyn Monroe said “I don’t want to make money, I just want to be wonderful.”

Author:Stephen Witherden; via Wikimedia Commons


If you focus on being wonderful at what you do, rather than on the job that pays the most today, the rewards will come and in the long run will be significantly greater.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE BECOMING FRENCH WHEN YOU….

I actually understand and accept that no matter how long I live in France, or how much my speaking of the French language improves, I will never be considered French enough by the French, and will always be considered “un etranger”.

Author: jimmy.lavoie; via Wikimedia Commons


This is very different to Australia where you become an Australian as soon as you land as a permanent resident, and understand what is the meaning of “… our home is girt by sea …”, or New Zealand when you are immediately considered a “Kiwi” when you get really angry and depressed if the All Blacks get beaten by the Wallabies (fortunately not very often).

via Wikimedia Commons


I have a friend who is married to a Frenchman, has lived in her village for over 40 year, speaks perfect French and is still called “l’Anglaise” by those in her village, even those younger than 40.

So, after 15 years of owning a home in France, and over 10 years of living here permanently, I have been wondering about at which point your attitudes become more predominantly French than just reflecting those attitudes of the country you originally came from.

I have therefore decided that you know you are becoming more French when you:

1. …shave, shower (optional) and get dressed up when you go out to do some shopping, even if you are just going to the hardware store to buy a new drill bit.
2. …use a piece of baguette as an item of cutlery rather than just using a knife and fork combination.
3. …sulk into a bad mood if the host serves a wine that you would never buy even if you were dying of thirst.
4. …really believe that foie gras is a healthy food item with life enhancing properties.

Author: Feth; via Wikimedia Commons


5. …believe that it is acceptable to have steak that needs to be cut with a chainsaw, as that means it has been raised naturally, rather than the tender aged steak that the rest of the world eats.
6. …believe that when it comes to food, it is a shame to waste any part of a pig.
7. …believe that the only rule for parking a car is that you do not block a driveway.
8. …are certain that where you live has a microclimate that differentiates it from anyone else living more than 1 kilometre from your front door.
9. …believe that the government should cut spending but not in any way that would affect your pension, medical care, education of your family or anything else to do with you.
10. …know that a GP’s skill is in direct proportion to the number of prescriptions with which you leave his surgery.
11. …believe that part of the fun of a vacation is to start and finish on the same day in August as the rest of the country, and that 4 hour traffic jams are a great way to meet new people.
12. …are not fazed when a poodle at the next table has a napkin around his neck and is perusing the menu.

Author: Pleple2000; via Wikimedia Commons


13. …see garlic as being the one condiment that goes with everything including desserts.
14. …know that any lunch has to be at least 4 courses, and include at least one glass of wine, or it should be considered as just having a snack.
15. …believe that no matter in which direction you drive, the food will deteriorate the minute you cross a border.
16. …tell someone with a bad haircut that their hair looks terrible.
17. …know that French letters are actually not French, but are English hats.
18. …refuse to hand back a microphone once it is in your hands.
19. …know that a dinner party has not been successful unless at least one guest leaves angry.
20. …vote for a President only if he is known to have at least one mistress.
21. …are prepared to drive 20 kms daily for the perfect baguette if you feel that those that are available close to you are not quite good enough.
22. …consider the Renault Twingo to be a medium sized car.
23. …are angry that Napoleon sold Louisiana to the Americans.
24. …believe that your mother was the best cook in the world, and that if she had cared to open a restaurant it would have immediately gained 3 Michelin stars.
25. …are not surprised when a 10 year old at a neighbour’s family lunch can beat you in the blind tasting of a local red wine.
26. …can sit through the entire Wagner ring cycle opera without needing to go to the bathroom.
27. …consider toothpaste to be a con by the US consumer manufacturers just to make more money.
28. …think that working a 35 hour week is still too much.
29. …know that whilst two kisses on the cheek are acceptable in the southwest, you will need four in most of northern France.
30. …believe that queuing for anything is a waste of time and energy, and that it makes more sense to just do a herd-press towards any narrowing point of access.
31. …realise that a street being marked as one-way should not stop you from getting a good parking spot.
32. …believe that cheese can be counted as one of the 5 serves of fruit and vegetables needed for a healthy eating plan.

Author: NJGJ; via Wikimedia Commons


As the author of the American Declaration of Independence, and 3rd President of the US, Thomas Jefferson said “France is every man’s second country”.

BUSINESS LEADERSHIP ISN’T CHANGING QUICKLY ENOUGH

If global competition and business processes are changing so quickly, why aren’t our leadership practices changing at the same rate to keep up with business needs?

A recent study carried out by Development Dimensions International (DDI), a US based Talent Management organisation, showed that whilst business needs and the business environment have all changed dramatically, business leadership practices have hardly changed in the last decades to keep pace.

The DDI study showed that:

“The leadership practices in most organizations received a resounding thumbs-down, with only a quarter of the HR professionals questioned for the report rating the quality of leadership in their organization as very good or excellent, and just a third of leaders giving themselves and their peers high marks.”

via Wikimedia Commons


A worrying finding of the study is that despite the emphasis that is being given to all aspects of leadership today, and despite the fact that corporate leaders are under global and public powerful scrutiny at all times, the results of the survey show that the quality of business leadership has not improved, and may have actually been declining for a long time in relative values against new and confusing market environments.

Of even greater concern is that there was little confidence that companies are building the next generation of high quality leaders. Only 18% of those surveyed felt that “… the leadership pipeline will produce the individuals needed for the future … “ (only 14% in the US), yet less than half of the companies surveyed had a process for identifying high potential talent and even fewer had a process for growing and developing these individuals once identified, despite the fact that this was seen as one of the key skills expected in business leaders. This becomes even more critically important in an environment where the baby boomers are all in the process of moving out of their corner offices and into their retirement condos in Florida and Nice.

Author: W. M. Connolley (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Supporting the DDI findings, the American Management Association found that fewer than one in ten Fortune 1000 organisations actually had made any attempt to integrate recruitment, or management development and succession planning, with strategic business objectives, and found that only 1 in 5 companies even have any succession plans in place to cover the sudden loss of a key executive, and a quarter of them had no succession plans in place at all.

Even when companies do have Hi-Potential programmes and succession plans in place, these are often just window dressing and thus disregarded, as in many cases they are done to be seen to be doing the right thing rather than representing any real plans to identify, develop and build future leaders. Most Hi-Potential programmes are based more on a manager’s propensity to identify and salute those that are acting in his image, and most succession plans are based more on what those above expect to see rather than a true reflection of who should be the right person to take a step up. When it comes to promotions, over 70% of senior executive appointments tend to come from outside the organisation anyway, and of the less than 30% that are internally filled, about 70% will be totally different to that shown in the succession plan, meaning that generally less than 10% of promotions are based on any real planning at all.

This may be the one major reason that so few companies bother to do any real succession planning in the first place.
Quite a vicious circle !

If management in an organisation is not good enough to start with, how will they know what initiatives are needed, and how they should be implemented to drive the changes that are needed to improve the situation?
This is also not helped by today’s business schools.

Author: Tatu Monk (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


For example, many of the case studies used in helping to educate our future business leaders are even older than the MBA students, and whilst they may help students in the process of problem solving, and may even deliver some interesting lessons in business life, they do tend to suggest that not much has changed in the last 20+ years, for example, in the way that business is done, in the way that technology has become so pervasive, in how people are managed and motivated, in the changing expectations and definitions of work in successive generations or in the way that partnerships or co-opetitions are handled. Most importantly these case studies do not take into consideration how social media are changing the entire world, including business, and not just personal, communication. I understand that some of these topics may be covered separately but this does not seem to be enough.

One problem with most business schools is that many of their academic theories don’t actually work well in business practice, while conversely the things that good managers do to succeed in practice don’t actually work well in the business school theories.
So we keep seeing once great companies going into decline, and we excuse this as just being a result of some global economic downturn, new competitors or changing markets, rather than on inadequate management skills that have had little real chance of being able to adjust and adapt quickly enough.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is that is the most adaptable to change”.

Author: Elliott & Fry; via Wikimedia Commons


To this I would add … “At some time in the life cycle of every organisation, its ability to succeed in spite of itself runs out.”

SUN TZU WOULD GO BROKE TODAY

I am amazed at how many business people falsely believe that “Business is War”, and how many young managers and MBA students see Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” as being the holy bible for waging business in the same way that one would wage war. I know that Sun Tzu made some very pithy and relevant statements like “Know yourself, know your enemy, win the war”, but how this became an earth shattering business truism is questionable, except maybe for those who look for easy answers to the meaning of business life in books like “The One Minute Manager” and “Who Moved My Cheese”.

Author: FrankWilliams; via Wikimedia Commons


Whilst there are some obvious similarities between the business world and that of the military, these are not enough to ensure ultimate success if one was to run a business in the same way that one would conduct a war. For a start, if business really was war, then it would be easy for senior officers from the armed forces to transition into the business world when they retire from military service, which it rarely is.
I have many friends from different branches of the military who had to go back to square one to try to adjust to the business world, despite being at the rank of at least Colonel, Commander or Air Commodore, and who were used to leading large numbers of troops.

War and business are based on winning and beating the opposition and there is nothing wrong with that analogy, but it really doesn’t go much further.

Here are some reasons why …

1. War is based on death.

The power of a military in war is not just based on whether its people are prepared to die for their country, but also on how good they are at making their opposition die for theirs. Business is not based on the body count that you can inflict on your competition, and is never a matter of life and death no matter how many times one uses that analogy to motivate a sales force.

2. War will have dramatic negative impacts on communities, both economically and physically, on both sides of the conflict.

The sacrifices that are made by non-combatants in wars have generally been higher than that made by the military personnel involved. Businesses are there to benefit the communities that they are in from both an economic and a human perspective, and will help to grow and nourish a community. Contrast this with the destructive impact that warring forces have on any community that they come in contact with.

3. In war, your enemy is to be hated and slaughtered at every chance and there is never any thought that there could be advantages to working with your enemy to benefit both sides.

Contrast this with the business world where serious competitors will share technologies in ways that enhance their abilities to succeed, and ultimately deliver choices to the marketplace in which they compete strenuously. One example being that SAP traditionally has always been one of the biggest resellers of the Oracle database. The more successful that SAP is, the more money it has to pay in royalties to its arch rival Oracle. The net result is that both companies benefit and so do their customers.

Author: Vladislav Bezrukov; via Wikimedia Commons


Autthor: Peter Kaminski; via Wikimedia Commons


4. Military management is based on command and control in strict hierarchies and blind obedience.

An order is an order and must be carried out as given, or offenders can face strict punishment, court marshal and even death.
Great businesses thrive on dissension, discussion, creativity and innovation. The “lower ranks” are encouraged to question things and to drive change, and are rewarded for this.

5. In war one of the greatest atrocities that can be committed by any member of the armed forces is to change sides.

In business the movement of personnel from one company to another is part of the lifeblood, maturity and richness of any industry. Some movement is considered advantageous for personal growth and development, and it helps that one can show a reasonable number of different employers throughout ones work history, and to be able to show how each of them helped to create a more rounded and valuable individual.

6. Historically, the army officer corps was made up from the ruling classes, usually the second oldest son of a wealthy family who had little financial future as his elder brother was due to inherit both the title and the property, and therefore leaving him only a choice between the military and the clergy. This meant that wars were generally orchestrated by the in-bred offspring of cousins who had married each other, and times haven’t changed all that much, as officers are rarely built from the ground up, and the lowest ranks are generally made up with those that have little choice. Businesses on the other hand are much more Darwinian. The most successful business people are those who are smart, have learned how to live and succeed within ever changing environments, can manage resources, are visionary and have shown that they have the ability to lead and motivate others.

The problem is that the “Business is War” attitude is not only invalid on its own, it also drives all the wrong behaviour.
It rewards autocrats who believe that they are always right, it stifles innovation by limiting dissent, it sees people as dispensable headcounts and it encourages empire building, hoarding of information and viewing everyone outside the team, division and company as adversaries. Customers are seen as needing to be conquered rather than as business partners, and competition to be crushed rather than being seen as business opportunities.

I have no question that conversely “War is Business” but the belief that “Business is War” is only for the simple minded, and they need to get a wider reading list than Sun Tzu, Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson if they want to succeed in today’s business world.

Author: Carlos Latuff; via Wikimedia Commons