Do This Before You Think About Shooting The Hamster!

Recently I was working with a client on helping them achieve some performance improvements. As we reviewed how one department was doing, my client picked up the phone and called the department manager, and angrily told him to get his ass in here quickly as he had some explaining to do.

When he put the phone down,  I looked at him and said: "be careful that you don't shoot the hamster."

I could tell from his look that he had no clue what I was talking about. 

I said, "Look. That department is not performing as well as you had hoped, but do you know why that is?  Have you given them everything they need to be successful? Have you clearly articulated the goals and objectives? Because if you haven't then they are just like a hamster on a wheel, no matter how fast, how hard, or how long they work they are not going to be successful."

Too many managers shoot first and ask questions later, or they will sack people and look to replace them with new staff.
But if the underlying issues are not resolved, then this is the same as blaming the hamster on the wheel for not making progress. And buying a bigger, faster stronger hamster isn't going to fix it.

As a leader, the first thing you need to do is to check that you have done your job properly. That you have set your teams up for success, that you have ensured that they have the required skills and resources. Otherwise, they will have no chance of success, and then their failure is actually yours.

As we started to examine what were the underlying issues that the department was having, sure enough, they were not of their own making.  They were not involved in the estimation process and were constantly being given projects that were impossible to achieve.

By making changes to the estimation processing, and involving the manager in the sign-off process, allowed the department to see positive results for their hard work.

The easy option would have been to assume that the team was not working hard enough, that they were not committed enough and to demand they put in more effort. But without checking to see whether the team had been set up for success, or understanding what the real issues were it could and then making the right changes, any increased effort would have been wasted. The team would have just ended up exhausted, frustrated and demotivated.

Sometimes it's the wheel that needs fixing and not the hamster, but too many managers shoot the hamster first before asking the right questions.

Don’t Make This Fatal Mistake When Shooting For Quick Wins

We've all had that boss. It's the guy or gal who needs instant gratification. The boss's entire leadership plan revolves around instant success, and if it isn't achieved, he or she goes onto the next thing.

It can be a whirlwind working for that type of boss. He or she starts projects on a whim and abandons them if success isn't achieved immediately.

You can get whiplash following all the abandoned projects.

This type of leader doesn't understand the big picture. Short-term successes are great, but they are completely meaningless unless they are sustainable and align with long-term goals. Those who expect instant success are short sighted, and that short sightedness leads to failure.

Instead of putting all your energy into instant success, live by this motto.

Aim High, Start Small, and Keep Going. This motto is the key to both short- and long-term success.

What Does Aim High, Start Small, Celebrate and Keep Going Mean?

This phrase means that big successes typically stem from a series of small successes. You aim for the big success, achieve a small success, and then keep going, allowing all those successes to pile up and accumulate. Before long, you will reach your big goal, and it will all be because of the small successes you accumulated along the way.

Let's break this down so you'll have a better understanding of how this works.

Aim High

Big goals act as an inspiration. When you have a big goal in mind, you are more likely to take action and do what you can to reach it.

Think about what you want to achieve for your business. Do you want to increase your revenue? If so, by how much? Do you want to start selling new products? What products do you want to sell?

Think about what you want to achieve for the long term and then move onto the next step.

Start Small

Setting a big goal and trying to achieve it immediately is a recipe for disaster. That goes back to focusing on instant success. John F. Kennedy didn't just say that the country should send a man to the moon and return him to earth safely, and then expect it to happen the next day. No, he said that to get people behind the Apollo program.

JFK knew it would take years of research, mistakes, and successes to finally reach the moon. The same is true for your lofty goal. You have to think small when going after your big goal. Break your goal up into steps, with each step getting you closer to reaching your goal.

Make sure you chart your progress along the way, as that will help you feel accomplished. For example, let's say your big goal is to bring in $100,000 more in revenue into your business. That's an excellent goal, but it isn't going to happen today. You can break it up into $10,000 blocks. Each time you bring in another $10,000, mark it off. There is something extremely satisfying about marking items off the list like that.

Now, let's say your goal is to offer a new product. What will it take to reach that goal? Break it down step by step, and cross each step off the list after you accomplish it.

Celebrate

What get's recognized gets repeated. It's important to take the time to celebrate, to recognize even the small achievements as these are great mini motivators which allow you build build the momentum needed to hit your goal.

Keep Going

This is where so many people mess up. They do a great job of setting a goal, and they dive in and get started. Then, something happens, and they stop moving forward. They stop working toward their goals, and all the progress they've made collapses.

Use the SMART System

As a leader, you should be guided by your goals, so you have to be careful about how you set them. As much as you might want to set goals on a whim, you need to use the SMART system. This system will keep you on the track for success.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific 
    What, why, who, where, which
  • Measurable
    How will you know when the goal has been reached?
  • Achievable
    Is it realistic with your current situation?
  • Relevant
    Does it make sense for your business?
  • Timebound
    How far will you be in a certain time frame?

Once you come up with a SMART goal, write it down. Ninety percent of people don't write their goals down, and that's a huge mistake. Writing down goals reinforces your commitment, holds you accountable, and increases focus. It also ensures you remember your goals.

The Takeaway

The saying goes that Rome wasn't built in a day. You can apply that saying your daily life. You can't lose 50 pounds today, and you can't increase your revenue by 100 percent today. The best goals take some time to achieve, but you can enjoy small successes along the way.

I Mandated a 35-Hour Work Week at my Company (and It Made Me a Better CEO)

Sixteen months ago, I announced to my staff we were going to give a 35-hour work week a trial run. For ninety days, we'd see if working 7-hours per day (without a reduction in pay) had positive outcomes. I told the team I would not do this test unless they were willing to accept at the end of the trial, I might say it was time to go back to the 40-hour routine. They agreed. 

Fast forward to today, and we're still on the 35-hour per week schedule.

Since implementing the shorter work week, our company, WorkItDaily.com, broke through a two-year sales plateau and is growing at a solid rate. Plus, I feel this is the strongest performing team I've ever had. And, while I think my team truly enjoys the benefits of shorter days which includes bypassing peak commute times, scheduling flexibility for activities outside of work, and more time to devote to their personal lives. I personally feel as the CEO, I have benefited from it the most. In my opinion, here are three ways it has made me a better leader:

1. Defining roles & setting reasonable expectations.

I didn't want to become a crazy, micromanaging boss. For peace of mind, I needed to make sure the team adapted their work styles as effectively as possible. We started by making sure everyone knew what their core responsibilities were and that they were always their first priority to complete. From there, we held each other accountable to make sure each employee was focused on becoming more and more efficient at their core duties, so they could free up their time to work on what we call "reach" projects a/k/a projects that were more exciting and allow them to build their skills and add more value to the organization. I found this process helped us develop heightened trust and accountability between one another. Now, I never have to worry about whether things are getting done. I know if someone is working on a reach project, their core work is under control. 

2. Getting clear on our "planned neglect."

This one was particularly hard for me, but also turned out to be the most beneficial to the company. As an entrepreneur, I am hardwired to come up with a lot of ideas. Brainstorming and trying new things is in my DNA. If I can't pursue new ideas regularly, I get restless. My team knows this is my blessing and curse. That said, a shorter work week meant I'd have to get choosier about what I wanted to test or create. It required prioritizing initiatives and agreeing as a team on which ones we should work on. Now, only those with the highest ROI make  the list. The rest of the ideas get put on the "planned neglect" list. Each month, we come back and look at that list to see if something should become a priority. As a leader who can easily get distracted with new ideas, this forced me to get realistic about my expectations and stay on track with our defined goals. More importantly, it put the team's minds to rest that I, as the leader, knowingly accepts we can't do it all.

3. Thinking twice before asking for something.

Within the first few weeks I quickly realized asking people for something at 4 pm was a problem. If I needed their assistance, I had to ask sooner, and provide enough time during the week for them to incorporate it into their workload. I soon realized how much I was asking for things that weren't really necessary. I found myself asking, "I can either do this myself, or unfairly take an employee away from their own work." Ultimately, pulling back on my requests put less stress on the team. It also gave them more time and energy to concentrate on the things that mattered most. No wonder productivity soared!

Sadly, this won't work for a lot of CEO's.

While the 35-hour schedule ended up working for me, it's likely not ideal for many others. Why? It won't work for those still caught up in the belief that working hard means putting in long hours. Mentally, they're bias towards the employee that stays late and comes in early. They think loyalty to the company is best expressed by logging more hours. I am a mother of two kids and married to a commercial pilot who travels for a living. Doing more in less time is my mission in life! For the shorter work week to succeed, you must:

A) be okay with watching people walk out the door early.

B) build your business model around the scarcity of time.

C) reward people for exceeding expectations in a compressed time frame.

D) get genuinely excited about giving your staff more time to pursue other interests.

If you can't see yourself doing the above, then don't bother trying.

But, if the idea of becoming a better leader while also giving your staff a huge perk that makes them want to stay at your company sounds good, then the 35-hour work week might be the right move for you!

7 Ways to Incent Employees to Feel and Act as Owners

One of the lessons I have learned over the years as a business executive, and now as a mentor to entrepreneurs, is that if you really want employees who enthusiastically take ownership of their work, you have to start treating them like owners, not renters.

Owners feel they have skin in the game, and benefit from improved effort and results, rather than just getting blamed for problems.

Unfortunately, according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report, only about one-third of employees feel like owners.

Another 50 percent are "job renters," bringing only their hands, but not their hearts to work. They show up every day, keep a low profile, and collect a paycheck. The remainder are actively disengaged, and passively block or actively sabotage forward progress.

It's a growing challenge, since we now have four generations of workers together -- Matures, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials (Gen Y), all with different ideas of how an owner should act.

I was impressed to see some real guidance on this subject in a new book, Counter Mentor Leadership, by Kelly and Robby Riggs, a father-son coaching team that spans the age spectrum.

These authors helped me validate my own recommendations on how business leaders and entrepreneurs can incent their own team members and employees to move a bit closer to the owner mentality. These include the following:

1. Clearly communicate the big picture, and current reality.

Be accessible, talk often to the team about the business, and be specific in communicating a vision and goals.

Don't hide the current reality of challenges and shortfalls. Employees can't be owners if they don't understand the business targets and realities. They will revert to renters, at best. 

2. Give every employee the necessary degrees of freedom.

Remember, one of the key drivers of ownership is a sense of autonomy. By definition, the freedom box is different for every owner.

Some are super-capable and deserve a lot of decision making flexibility, while others are new or less experienced, so their box must be a bit smaller. 

3. Make them owners with stock options and actions.

Ownership can be financial or psychological. Steve Jobs was a master of having team members own their work, with small things like developer names molded in the plastic cover of the Macintosh.

Many companies now have employees put names on quality control tags, or sign their work. 

4. Give advancement priority to initiative versus experience.

"Time-in-grade" and years of long hours are not qualifications to become an owner. Hiring, recognition, and promotion must foster a culture of focus on job results, commitment, and growth. This is the key leveler between the multiple age generations in the workplace.

5. Provide employee feedback and coaching in real time.

In this context you can describe specific behaviors that must change, and provide your actual examples so the team member can "step into" the past scenarios.

Avoid any hearsay or anonymous sources, since these are likely not entirely accurate, and will provoke emotional debates. 

6. Flatten the hierarchical management structure.

Every owner reports to someone (Board of Directors), but every level inserted reduces autonomy and the sense of ownership. Minimize traditional organizational charts, and special perks, like corner offices and fancy furniture.

This allows employees to feel more equal, and interact with leaders and role models for better communication, recognition, and mentoring.

7. Fix mismatches and commitment problems quickly.

Make your expectations clear before hiring, including your ownership culture. Then, some companies, including Amazon and Zappos, offer employees up to $5000 to leave, if either side doesn't feel an ongoing commitment to the business. No commitment is a big job performance problem. 

I'm still convinced that the best advice I can give to anyone starting their career, or starting their company, is to find something that drives you to work as hard as you can, and still enjoy it. Stay humble, but don't be afraid to take a risk and own it.

As a business owner, if you want people to take ownership with you, treat them like owners. That's how you get where you want to go.

Want to Achieve That 2018 Plan? Act With Consistency

By Zvi Band, CEO of Contactually.com.

If you're reading this, chances are you're entering 2018 full of excitement about the new you. You probably have big, audacious goals, a bucket list and a list of questions to reflect upon. We see it all the time. We're going on our seventh year of helping people build and maintain strong spheres of influence. Our product is a CRM built not for your sales but for your key relationships. Since your sphere of influence is a long-term investment, we know that we provide an aspirational product. It might double or triple your business. That said, it's a vitamin, not a pain pill. No matter how much we invest in a great product experience, if an individual, team or business doesn't actually use it, we won't yield any results.

"Just doing the work" seems simple, right? All it requires is that you change everything about yourself, your habits, your routine.

Let's be realistic. That's not going to happen. A new habit or routine has its challenges. If you're reading this, again, you've most likely been inhaling knowledge about building habit too. You know it's difficult. So, if nothing else, consistency is the most effective gamechanger for 2018.

With that knowledge under our belt, what materials do we have to work with already, that cost nothing to us, rather than relying on the Fairy Godmother of Good Intentions and Habits to come down and bless us?

You can schedule the task you know you want to do. You can hook it to something you're already doing. And you can be resilient.

We have our calendars. I'm not going to bury the lede here. The bad news is we, more often than not, act as drones following whatever/wherever our calendar tells us. The great news is, we are in full control of that. As we think about repetitive tasks we hope to achieve, creating recurring calendar tasks can ensure that our drone-mode self mindlessly achieves what we wanted to do all along.

What are some example calendar blocks we can drop in to help us during the year?

  • Understand that you're going to need some level of maker time during the week. Depending on your current role and priorities, it could be a few hours a week, a month or a day.
  • Block off your morning routine on your calendar and write down exactly what you hope to achieve.
  • Block off an "hour of power" two mornings a week for proactive engagement with relationships you hope to build and strengthen -- ideally before your clients and employees wake up.
  • Have your last meeting of the week be a meeting with yourself in order to dissect the week and understand what you could be doing better.

We have habits we already maintain. Rather than that new routine being off on its own island, connect it to something that you're already doing. What could you already be doing that can be the anchor for something new? Think simple.

After I check email in the morning, I'm going to ______________.
As I walk out the office door at the end of the day, I ________________.

We have the amazing ability to recover. We normally fall victim to letting shame take us over, as is usually the case whenever we fail to live up to our high standards. But instead of just failing, pick yourself back up and start small. The key to recovering is to:

  • Admit that you're not achieving what you hoped to achieve.
  • Realize that most people aren't successful relative to their intentions and shame has no place.
  • Decide whether or not you're going to keep being unsuccessful.
  • Determine the smallest action you could take.

Ensuring we can realistically execute on our vision boards is overlooked, and we miss how hard it is to do the hard things. Coming in with that understanding and preparing ourselves will ensure we consistently operate towards our larger vision.

Zvi Band is the CEO of Contactually.com, an intelligent CRM for real estate and focuses on connecting Washington DC entrepreneurs and startups.

5 Rare Signs That Prove You Were Meant to Lead People

A quick Google search on the work "leadership" gave me about 376,000,000 results. And while it won't give me the totals for "leadership books" (if anyone knows, leave it in the comments), the same search on Amazon landed me with over 100,000 possibilities.

With endless resources, the question of the day is "how do you define great leadership?" While I've read my fair share of books, I can confidently say that it boils down to this: Great leadership is about serving others.

More specifically, serving your employees and putting them on equal par with customers (and sometimes even ahead of them). No, this doesn't imply giving the inmates the keys to the prison. It means empowering your knowledge workers and setting them up for success. It's what we're finding some of the best companies on the planet doing

So what does that actually look like in practice, whether strategically through the eyes of the C-Suite or at a ground level if you're in a supervisory role? Well, for purveyors of the purest form of leadership -- servant leadership -- it will feel and look rather unnatural and counterintuitive.

But I'll be honest, what I'm suggesting here is what will ultimately appeal to human emotions and result in unprecedented business outcomes. More on that below.

The 5 Rare Signs of Great Leadership

If you've been told you're "leadership material," it may be due to these principles. If not, this is the standard of measure to shoot for, whether you're looking to develop yourself as a leader or looking to hire people with the capacity to transform the workplace. Here's my question: Which of these have you heard from others about what makes you a good leader? 

1. You connect exceptionally well with people.

Strong leaders connect with others with ease by showing their humanity. They accept that they're not perfect and that they make mistakes (and will admit to making them!). By modeling authenticity, when employees make mistakes, it's safe for them to risk being open enough to say, "Hey boss, I messed up." 

2. You involve all kinds of people and make them feel psychologically safe.

There are no lone rangers in leadership or a  leadership culture of high performance. They aim to create a diverse environment of people with differing ways of doing things and viewing the world; they pump fear out of the room and allow for risks to taken; and they let people feel safe to exercise their creativity, communicate their ideas openly, and provide input to major decisions. Because there's trust there, not fear. It communicates to employees a sense of "Hey, we're all in this together."

3. You show compassion toward others.

Is it a natural tendency of yours to want to help others -- to alleviate people's suffering? While empathetic people have this ability to feel what others feel, compassion is a more objective form of empathy. It's feeling what others feel, but taking it to another level by doing everything in our power to remove the obstacles that stand in their way. The recently released The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science extensively documents and verifies that "compassionate management" leads to high organizational performance, innovation, customer retention, profitability, and less employee turnover.

4. You are open and transparent.

People don't stress around you and teamwork isn't undermined because you share information and let everyone truly know what's going on at all times. In fact, studies prove that organizations that share privileged information with their employees -- typically reserved for the ivory tower in command and control power structures -- reduce uncertainty and alleviate stress about where they are headed and why. One example of openness, perhaps a bit extreme for most companies, is social media optimization company Buffer. They go as far as posting its salary formula online for everyone to see, including what their CEO Joel Gascoigne makes. 

5. You understand human motivation and what makes people tick.

Perhaps someone has told you that you're really good at getting people to go above and beyond. Where does that come from? I venture to guess you're a student of positive psychology and understand what gets people from the neck up. Truth is, experiencing positive emotions is at the root of human motivation. Therefore, you'll find the best of leaders have a good understanding of human behavior, and what inspires people to perform their jobs at a high level. Companies should always hire or promote into leadership roles those leaders that play to the strengths, gifts and talents of their employees. You'll find that they are the ones crafting and assigning work that is meaningful and has purpose (beyond a static job description) and which brings out employees' passion and creativity.

Millionaire Seth Godin Brilliantly Sums Up 1 Thing Great Leaders Do That Separates Them From Everyone Else

Everyone under the sun is crazy about hiring top employees. Well, I'm the same.

But let's be real: Even if you try your best to hire only A players, you can't get it right 100 percent of the time -- which means there will be some folks in your team who don't perform up to standard.

So how do you deal with them? Just get rid of them? Well, if you believe in top-grading like I do, you might be tempted to do that.

Before you pull a classic Trump and spit out those words "you're fired", take a step back and do this instead: Nudge them in the right direction, and help them improve.

Why? One word: leverage.

Getting your bottom five percent of employees to row faster in the right direction will create exponential results. On the other hand, getting your top five percent of employees -- which will be a much smaller bunch than the bottom five percent -- to do the same will only create incremental results.

Here's how master marketer Seth Godin puts it in a November blog post:

"If you care about health and a culture of performance, it's tempting to push Olympic athletes to go just a tenth of a second faster. It's far more effective, though, if you can get 3,000,000 kids to each spend five more minutes a day walking instead of sitting."

Brilliant. So, how can you improve the performance of your bottom five percent of employees? Here are a few tactics of mine:

1. Rope in your best employees.

Yes, a competitive company culture is great, but you also want to create the sort of environment that encourages your employees to help each other and work together collaboratively.  

With my company, I always get my best performers to share how they manage to achieve their awesome results. We do it in morning meetings every single day.

It's easy enough to try this with your team. At the start of each meeting, ask your best employees to share their tips and best practices with the entire team. You'd be amazed at how rapidly some of your staff will improve after given a few tested-and-proven pointers.

2. Make experience-based training part of your company culture.

Look, not all forms of training were made equal. The key to effectively scaling performance? Experience-based training, not boring textbook-based training.

At my company, we re-purpose our employees' call logs and use them as training material. Every time an employee speaks to a customer, we automatically capture the call. These recordings are uploaded into our CRM, for use as training videos. When our employees want to work on their sales skills, they can easily log into a centralized dashboard and watch the videos.

You can try this with your company, too. If video is too daunting, just interview your top employees about how they achieved a certain result, and get them to write down a step-by-step process. Then, distribute the material among your whole team (especially the under-performers!).

3. Have an early alarm system via your CRM.

I always love saying "inspect what you expect," but how do you actually do it? You can't rely on one manager or even a team to monitor your employees -- you need an automated system that will nip poor performance in the bud.  

Here's an example: Our CRM stores call record entries by all employees, and if someone does  something out of the norm, say not following up with a prospect within a day, then the system flags that immediately. Think of it this way: the earlier you identify poor performance, the sooner you can fix it.

Now, technology is great, but don't let that become an excuse to not improve your processes. Start by drawing out an organizational chart, defining each job role's key metrics, and getting your employees to submit weekly reports detailing whether they've achieved these metrics.

When I first started building my team, I thought nothing about firing under-performers. After all, employees either "had it" or they didn't, right? Now that I've been an entrepreneur and a leader for over a decade, my perspective has changed a bit. I've learned that in every team, there are always diamonds in the rough who can contribute -- if given the right knowledge and tools.