Posts Tagged ‘Personal effectiveness’

Finding your leadership compass – 5 key principles to help you become an authentic leader

November 1, 2010

In 2008, former CEO of Medtronic and current Harvard Business School Professor, Bill George presented his thoughts on leadership and what makes a good leader to Google employees as part of the Google leadership series. Delivered 2 years ago in the early days of the most dramatic economic crisis since the great depression of 1929, the arguments Bill George presented in his speech then are even more relevant today, now that we are even clearer on the human, economic, industrial and financial consequences of a crisis brought about the reckless behavior of a few financial institutions “too big to fail”.

Bill George indeed begins by stating the obvious : the financial crisis is also a leadership crisis because it was brought about by individuals who preferred short-term, personal, gains to long-term organizational goals. For Bill George, organizations have been choosing the wrong people for positions of responsibility for too long and charisma has taken precedence over personal integrity and the desire to put collective before personal goals.

Basically, organizations have been choosing takers and not givers and examples abound of individuals who succeeded in the short-term but who put their organizations in dire circumstances in the long-term (only they weren’t there to take the blame). Given the consequences of the crisis we are now enduring, it is easy to understand why so many people may have lost all confidence in the whole idea of leadership and this crisis of confidence makes Bill George’s ideas even more relevant for anyone seeking to develop effective performance in organizations today.

For Bill George, leadership cannot be equated with the simple wielding of power or being able to command others to do one’s bidding. Leadership is about responsibility to others and to the organization and being conscious of the impact of one’s decisions on the well-being of the organization and of its members.

 

For Bill George, as for Peter Drucker, the old hierarchical, leader-follower, top-down, command-and-control, management model has failed and cannot work in today’s global, flexible, high tech organizations staffed by highly educated, white collar workers.  Knowledge workers do not respond to command and control management techniques and as they often know more than their bosses, refuse to be dictated to in the way blue-collar workers once were. Hungry to maintain their expertise, knowledge workers expect more opportunities and won’t wait in line patiently for promotion or new roles, preferring to move on if necessary to develop their careers and expertise.  Finally, money is no longer a key motivator and as we all spend most of our time at work, we need to find purpose and meaning in what we do at work.  If we can’t find that purpose or if leaders can’t help us find that purpose and meaning, we will become disengaged and demotivated.

So leaders today need to be attentive to 4 key drivers of performance and engagement:

1)   Alignment: as people need to find meaning and purpose in what they do, leaders need to be able to align employees in their organization around a common mission and set of values.  Team members will be more engaged if they adhere to the organization’s mission and if they can identify with the values espoused by the organization they belong to.  A clear mission is a magnet that attracts employees and allows them to work together as a team effectively. Neglect your mission statement and you run the risk of disengaging many of your employees.

2)   Empowerment: leaders are not defined by the power they wield but by how they  empower others to act effectively. In many organizations today, the people with most influence are not those with the most power. Leaders need to be able to recognize this and ensure that those with most influence and expertise are empowered to use that expertise and influence effectively. Empowerment is key to the sustainable development of all high tech organizations today because as Bill George points out, the key to sustainable development is innovation and creativity, which in turn depends on a corporate culture that frees up talent and allows employees to take measured risks to develop new and innovative products. The larger the organization however, the greater the risk of a command-and-control organization taking over as the organization struggles to maintain coherence through the application of rigid rules and procedures. The best way to counteract such a counter-productive culture is to try to segment the organization into small, flexible units that allows for more creativity and innovation.

3)   Customer service: for too long, the message from the financial sector has been that creating share-holder value is the ultimate goal of any corporation but as Bill George points out, any organization which has this as a goal is doomed to fail because the only way to provide share-holder value is by providing customer service and by providing the products and services the customer wants.  Organizations will only be ultimately successful if they meet their customers’ needs.

4)   Collaboration: the challenges facing all organizations today are complex and require unique collaborative skills within and outside the organization. No organization today is strong enough to stand alone and must be able to foster effective cross-functional team work with and effective collaboration with different organizations in the community at large.

So with these four key requirements in mind, Bill George looks at the leadership question and asserts that leadership concerns us all because each of use in our own way can make a difference, not in a history making way like Nelson Mandela, but in a very simple way at our own personal level by the way we interact with our own environment.

Bill George delivers a very personal message because when he says that we can all make a difference, he challenges us all to discover what makes us passionate and once we have made that discovery, to plot our lives aligned to that passion. Bill George urges us all to use our life to make a difference and this is what real leadership is about: making a difference. Personal values are therefore at the centre of Bill George’s views on leadership.

How can one develop such value-centered leadership and make a personal difference at our own individual  level?

Bill George defines 5 principles of value-centered leadership:

1) Know yourself and this means developing your self-awareness. Leadership does not come from the outside but from the inside, is about the person and we can all be leaders in our own way providing we know who we are, what we stand for, where we want to go, what our strengths are, what our motivations are, what positive forces driving us are. To develop our self-awareness, getting good feedback is vital: from peers, subordinates, bosses,etc…

2) Know your values and base your actions on your values. As you progress your career, you will be more and more confronted by difficult and ambiguous situations and your ability to decide effectively will depend on how clear you are on what you can and cannot do as per your set of personal values.

3) Know what your sweet spot is and strive to find a role in the organization which centres on this sweet spot. Bill George defines your sweet spot as the coming together of your intrinsic motivations with your capabilities. Our intrinsic motivations are those fundamental motivations that satisfy us and drive us on and are different from the official motivations such as earning more money or being promoted. If we can manage to  match our intrinsic motivations and our capabilities in an organizational role, we will increase our chances of being more effective. Traditional management approaches look on individuals in terms of strengths and weaknesses and try to match these strengths and weaknesses of an individual with particular organizational roles. Bill George, however, believes that it is much more effective for an individual to undestand what his/her intrinsic motivations are, what his/her capabilities are and then seek out an organizational role which allows the individual to optimize those intrinsic motivations and capabilities. Find a role that allows you to play to your strengths so that your weaknesses are irrelevant.

4) Build a team around you that will give you good and unbiased feedback.  Others can help us improve and it’s important to put in place different ways of sharing ideas with others. Bill George mentions having a mentor or creating a support group as two ways of getting such feedback and providing mutual help. Professional life has many ups and downs and others can help us adopt the strategies to survive the storms of professional life.

5) Lead an integrated life: rather than trying to develop specific behaviors for work and other specific behaviors more suited to your private life, try to live an integrated life and be the same person wherever you are, whatever environment you are in.  If the gap is too wide between the persona you adopt in an organization and your private life, this quite often can have a negative impact on your sense of integrity. This of course means knowing what your values are, living by those values and taking decisions according to those values.

For Bill George, if you follow these 5 principles, you will be an integrated leader. These 5 principles act as a leadership compass and will help you to go in the direction you want to go and help you be true to your personal direction. If you do so, you will be true to yourself and have a better chance of being true to others. More than 2000 years ago, the Roman statesman, Seneca, stated that “no wind is favorable to he who knows not where he is going” and in those tumultuous times, Seneca was delivering the same message as Bill George today: you cannot perform effectively if you don’t have a clear personal sense of direction. You must know where you want to go in life, what your values are, what motivates you to get up in the morning, what makes you passionate, what you will do and what you won’t do if you want to be able to lead and work effectively with others.

Develop your own personal leadership compass-without it, you wil get lost as many individuals seem to have done when we consider the events which have led us to where we are today in the midst of the worst financial crisis since 1929. View Bill George speaking at Google University by clicking on the link below.

Bill George: finding your True North

You can also discover Bill George discussing what it takes to build sustainable growth and performance by viewing the video


Making good and timely decisions: 4 key principles

May 23, 2010

We’re all confronted on a daily basis with having to make decisions, both big and small, on a professional and personal level. We have all developed our own rules and criteria for taking decisions, particularly at a professional level where the consequences of a good or bad decision can obviously impact the success of the project we’re working on, impact our team, impact the company’s bottom line. We of course can use different methodologies and processes to help us prepare that decision. However, all of the tools and processes don’t replace the moment when we have to make that decision and we all have to make that decision and take responsibility for the results.

We’ve all worked for managers who have either “fired from the hip” and taken very fast decisions they regretted later on or on the other hand, bosses who continuously put off decisions until they had the right data and although they made the right decision, made it too late and their “analysis paralysis” led to failure. Decision-making is perhaps the key responsibility of every manager as everything comes down to making decisions on what strategy to implement, what actions to take, who to promote, who to recruit, etc.

So what makes a good and timely decision? What simple steps can we follow to try to avoid the trap of either “shooting from the hip” or getting bogged down in “analysis paralysis”?

On a recent visit to Google, Mike Useem from the Wharton School, discussed this question and set out some simple rules which we can allow follow to help us decide as leaders nd make good and timely decisions.

The case of General Gustavus W. Smith

Mike Useem begins his discussion by presenting the case of one General Gustavus W. Smith, a leading officer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, who has the dubious privilege of commanding the army defending the Confederate capital, Richmond, from a Union army twice the size for only a day. The Union army was seeking to overrun Richmond and capture Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States. Smith became commanding officer when his superior, General Joseph Johnson, was wounded seriously defending the approaches to Richmond.

Jefferson Davis, present at the scene, asked Johnson who should replace him and Johnson answered that his second-in-command, Gustavus W. Smith was able and competent and so, on the spot, Gustavus Smith won a battlefield promotion. Davis immediately asked Smith what his plan was to stop the Union army. Smith asked for some time to think on the matter. Displeased with the response, Davis nevertheless agreed. Davis returned the next day and asked again what Smith’s plan was. Smith is reported to have replied that he didn’t have one and asked Davis if he had any ideas on what to do. Jefferson replied yes and sacked Smith on the spot, replacing him with Robert E. Lee who was to remain Confederate commander throughout the war. Smith’s indecisiveness led to his downfall while Davis showed quick decision-making by replacing him on the spot.

This anecdote from the American Civil War has many key lessons from a HR and  leadership perspective. Here are but a few key points:

1)    Don’t wait for a crisis to discover if you have the right person for the job. Select and test your talent on an on-going basis.

2)    History doesn’t tell us what the relationship between Johnson and Smith was like but one must ask why Smith did not at least try to implement the strategy of his superior.  Was it because his superior hadn’t shared the strategy with him, depriving Smith of at least a plan that he had already studied?  Whatever the nature of the relationship between Smith and his superior, this highlights the importance of involving direct reports in the elaboration of the leader’s strategy so that the strategy can be implemented even if its owner is incapacitated.

3)    Have a succession plan with multiple successors for key roles. Davis was lucky to have Lee close at hand (Lee was his advisor) but what would have happened if Lee had not been in the role he was in?

For Mike Useem, Gustavus W Smith, demonstrated extreme indecisiveness in a moment of crisis. He had the same background as Lee, the same demeanor, the same qualifications, the same ability to think strategically but not the same decision-making abilities. Robert E. Lee retained command of the Confederate army throughout the war and demonstrated many times his ability to take good and timely decisions.

So what are some of the traits Robert E; Lee may have had which allowed him to make good and timely decisions?

Mike Useem defines 4 key principles which he offers as a template for good and timey decision-making:

  1. Go for the 70% rule: 70% assuredness, 70% confidence, 70% due diligence, 70% consensus.  The more important the decision, the more we tend to want to have all the data, perform all the preparation, increase of confidence of success but the search for perfection is the enemy of decision-making. The more perfection you seek, the more you risk falling into the trap of analysis-paralysis. The figure of 70% is not important and is only a metaphor for setting a level at which you feel you can take your decision as a calculated risk. Although consensus is always best,  it is not always possible to have agreement from all parties and so it is inevitable to have to go with partial consensus.
  2. Be clear-minded and unambiguous about intent. Don’t micro-manager and assume you have good people on your team who will help you achieve your goal.  Set a clear goal and communicate it to all.
  3. Develop a tolerance for first-time errors.  If you adopt the 70% rule above, you therefore need to develop a tolerance for error because errors are inevitable. However, what you can’t accept is the same error twice. Your team members need to demonstrate that they learn from their errors and don’t make the same mistake again. When an error is made, review the error with the team member and ensure that this error won’t be repeated.
  4. Indecisiveness is fatal. A poor decision can always be corrected. No decision will always be too late unless no decision is a decision not to decide. Postponing a decision in the hope that events will deal with the problem is making oneself hostage to fortune.

Finally, if Jefferson Davis demonstrated good decision-making when he sacked Gustavus W. Smith and replaced him with Robert E.  Lee, historians have criticized Davis for being a much less effective war leader than his nemesis Abraham Lincoln, which they attribute to Davis being overbearing, over controlling, and overly meddlesome, as well as being out of touch with public opinion, and lacking support from a political party (the Confederacy had no political parties). According to historian Bell I. Wiley, the flaws in his personality and temperament made him a failure as the highest political officer in the Confederacy. His preoccupation with detail, inability to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, and his neglect of civil matters in favor of military were only a few of the shortcomings which worked against him(paragraph taken from Wikipedia).

This portrait of Jefferson Davis would seem to suggest that to be a good decision maker, you do indeed need to develop your leadership skills  by

  1. applying the 70% rule(don’t get lost in detail for the “devil is in the detail”)
  2. delegating responsibility effectively(as this speeds up decision-making and increases chances of success for many heads make light work)
  3. accepting criticism and opposition (as “contrarian” views ensures that as many bad decisions as possible are avoided)
  4. keeping touch with your internal and external customers by proactive listening and understanding what they expect as a result.

What are your ideas on the subject? What other simple rules would you add to the good and timely decision-making template?

Check out Mike Useem speaking at Google

Making good and timely decisions: 4 key principles

Less Procrastination, more Performance: 3 simple steps

September 26, 2009

Have you ever found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again or waiting until the very last minute to  deliver on a commitment or requirement of a colleague? Or have you often had to contact time and time again a colleague to get him or her to deliver on a commitment or requirement?

Quite often, it’s not your fault nor the fault of your colleague and the more complicated and fuzzy the organization is, the more difficult it becomes to deliver on time to all stake holders when you are involved in multiple projects.

But setting aside all the organizational issues, sometimes it is down to our own behaviour and attitudes and we all are guilty at some stage of what is commonly called procrastination or putting off until tomorrow what we could do today.

Of course, most of us seek to be effective and don’t put off too many important issues until the very last moment. However, some people are seriously affected by procrastination and to such an extent that it seriously impacts on their performance and on their careers.

Meeting commitments and deadlines is a key indicator of performance and so it’s important to be able to evaluate if and when we are letting ourselves fall into the trap and take the actions to ensure that we don’t develop a chronic tendency to postpone the urgent and important issues which are the issues that count.

Why do we sometimes procrastinate?

There are many reasons why we may procrastinate:

  • we prefer to do a task that is more enjoyable than tackle a task which is complicated or disagreeable
  • We don’t know how to prioritize and tackle the first task that comes our way
  • We may listen to the person who shouts the loudest or simply do what our boss asks and forget about our other customers
  • We may be overwhelmed by the task, not knowing where or how to begin
  • We may doubt if we know how to do the job
  • We may doubt if we have the resources to do the job and so we do the tasks we’re comfortable with and let the big tasks slip
  • We want to wait for the “right time” to do the job rather than do it now
  • We’re afraid of not succeeding and so we avoid confronting the risk
  • We don’t organize our work and just “do it”
  • We’re too perfectionist and spend too much time seeking perfection

These are some of the reasons why we procrastinate but how do we deal with it?

Here are 3 simple steps to getting important tasks done effectively :

step 1: recognize it’s happening

Being honest with oneself is the first step and we all know more or less when we’re guilty of putting off urgent and important tasks. Self knowledge is the first step to dealing with the issue and so learn to track the times when we adopt behaviours or attitudes which don’t contribut to getting thing done on time: going for a coffee, going out to smoke a cigarette, reading our emails, navigating on the internet, etc.

Step 2: Understand why it’s happening

Once we realize we are not dealing with important and urgent tasks on time, it’s important to analyze why. Here are some common causes:

  • We find the task unpleasant
  • We find the task too big
  • We have too much to do
  • We’re afraid of failing
  • We’re afraid of the consequences
  • -…

Understanding why we are not doing what we should be doing will helps define a strategy to help us decide what needs to be done when.

Step 3: Some tips to sort out the important things that need to be done from the unimportant things

  • Prioritize. List your tasks on a daily basis and prioritize them using the “Urgent versus Important” task matrix.

Urgent versus important matrix

  • Tackle your important and urgent issues first and put off or cancel the unimportant and not urgent issues
  • Don’t let your important and urgent issues dictate your agenda. Focus on the important but not urgent issues because these issues are the real added value and help you reduce the urgent/important; urgent/not important and not urgent/not important issues which take up your time.
  • Tackle each priority 1 issue systematically and avoid being interrupted or distracted when you’re working the issue. Avoid stalling or stop-go. Common behaviours to be avoided are beginning a task and then going off to have a coffee or smoke a cigarette, begin reading your emails (disconnect your email alert), etc.
  • Set yourself a deadline to clear the priority 1 issue off your to-do list. Don’t allow priority 1 issues to accumulate on your to-do list.
  • Learn to say “no” to unimportant requests from others, including your boss. Do your important tasks first.
  • Delegate if possible some priority 1 tasks to others and seek to delegate all the unimportant but urgent tasks to others or again if possible, cancel them.
  • Delegate, don’t dump. Be mindful not to dump things on subordinates if and when you delegate. Delegate in relation to the roles and responsibilities in the team and remember to check if your team members themselves don’t have too much on their plates. Delegate responsibility for completing the task and the results. Don’t delegate the method. Delegate the whole task and not just a part and specify the expected results.
  • Reward yourself when you do a priority 1 task which was unpleasant (a good lunch for example)
  • Ask a peer to remind you that you need to get the task completed. Peer pressure is very effective.
  • Work out the consequence of not doing what you are supposed to do. If you don’t pay the telephone bill, your line is cut off!
  • Break the task down into smaller, more manageable tasks and build an action plan to complete each task according to deadlines.
  • Start with some quick wins and do some small tasks which are easy to do. This gives you sense of achievement and builds momentum
  • Always set a deadline for each priority 1 task and hold yourself to the deadline.
  • Plan time in your agenda to deal with the priority 1 tasks and don’t allow yourself to be distracted when you sit down to do these tasks. Don’t answer the phone, don’t read your emails, don’t go for a coffee, etc. until the task is completed or successfully launched.
  • Remember to check off on your list the tasks completed. You reassure yourself that you are getting things done successfully.
  • Make firm commitments to others and stick to them. Quite often, procrastinators don’t like to make firm commitments as this allows them more freedom not to act. If someone asks you to commit to a task that is a priority 1 task for both of you, make a firm commitment in terms of a deadline and hold yourself to it. Get the person to remind you of your commitment.
  • Define the outcomes you expect for each priority 1 task and define deadlines when these outcomes should be in place. Visualize in your mind the situation with the outcome in place. This will help you overcome fear of failure.
  • Set yourself deadlines for decision making on each task. Learn to decide. A poor decision is better than no decision and an outcome implemented on time can always be corrected. Postponing a decision because the solution is not perfect means discovering later possible issues which only serve to delay even further a successful completion. You can’t correct a solution which hasn’t been implemented.

Even if we have to spend significant time in Quandrant 1 ” important and urgent” activities, our main goal should be to spend more and more time in Quandrant 2  “important but not urgent” activities because that is where we will proactively take control of our agendas and prepare the future.

As Stephen J Covey says, we should be spending as little time as possible in quandrant 3 “Urgent but not important” and quadrant 4 “Not Urgent and not important” activities because these activities are time wasters and distract us from the real value added activities. Dealing more and more with the not urgent and important issues will help you move from the P in Procrastinate to the P in Performance.

To conclude, I’ll stop procrastinating for now and finish this article.

I suggest you  stop procrastinating  too and check out a  funny video from Daily Motion on the phenomenon.

 

Personal Success Factors: some golden rules

February 20, 2009

Work is more and more stressful and leaders have a responsibility to do all they can to reduce the impact of stress on themselves and their team members. Key is maintaining a good work/personal life balance. Also critical is the relationships a leader creates and maintains at work with team members,his/her managers and internal customers. Here are some simple golden rules and suggestions to help you get the human relationships right both on the personal and professional level. This list is not comprehensive and is open to debate.

Look after yourself
• Don’t forget your family is your number 1 customer.
• Keep in shape: keep fit!
• Don’t smoke! Keep well.
• Always take your holidays. All work and no play makes Tom a dull boy!
• Dress well! Look the part. Pay attention to your appearance.
• Practice a sport and/or a hobby regularly.
• Reinvent yourself every year: learn something new or do something new. Develop your creativity. Be a work in progress and not a finished article.
• Read and study continuously. Keep on learning.
• Laugh, enjoy yourself.

Set your course
• Accept to do the difficult job nobody else wants to do: develop your willpower and determination.
• No goal, no medal. Give yourself SMART objectives.
• Always keep within budget.
• Build your internal and external client base and take care of it.

Manage your communication
• Ban all irony, sarcasm and bitterness from internal memos, mails, communications: always be positive. Never badmouth or criticize others, no matter what!
• Always call people by their first name.
• Send hand written letters whenever possible. A personal touch is appreciated.
• Be careful of your image and appearance: smile!
• Don’t use bad language.
• Be direct: say it as it is while remaining correct.
• Never speak in anger. If angry, hold your fire.
• Never put in writing offensive or negative comments. What’s said is quickly forgotten, what’s written sticks.
• Don’t overuse emails. If you can give the message directly to the person, do so.

Manage your work
• Set aside 30 minutes a day for thinking and planning
• Note down your ideas systematically
• Isolate yourself once a month to plan ahead and organize yourself
• The idea may be imperfect, not the implementation. Execution is everything. Don’t be half-hearted. Do it well or not at all.
• Practice the 6P rule: Personal prior planning prevents poor performance!
• Insist on the company products, not on the paperwork
• Don’t try to build an empire. Focus on getting the job done.
• If it works, keep it. Don’t change for change’s sake.

Manage yourself
• Always be prepared to go the extra mile: always say yes and figure out how to deliver the expected results.
• Always keep your door open.
• Don’t bury your head in the sand: deal with problems immediately.
• Always be ready to do a favour.
• Reduce your business knowledge gap: constantly learn the business
• Do your homework and close out open tasks. Get the fundamentals right.
• Don’t panic, don’t get angry. Practice keeping calm.
• Learn to speak and write well.
• Be a lender, not a borrower: give other people credit for success
• Hard work comes before glory
• Search, correct, try again. Be creative and don’t be afraid to fail.
• Hurry up at your own pace. Decide in haste, regret at leisure!
• Stand back, observe, listen. Seek to understand before being understood.
• Collect your errors carefully and proudly. 7 times down, 8 times up! Only those who have never tried anything have never failed!
• Live the present moment to the full. Plan tomorrow, forget yesterday. I’m better than I was yesterday, not as good as I will be tomorrow!
• Keep out of power struggles.
• Refuse to join the club of the forever regretful: join the club of the forever optimistic and persevering.
• Never underestimate an opponent.
• Don’t be discouraged by those who try to kill ideas.
• Look on work with the eyes of a sales rep. Don’t forget to sell your ideas.
• Be a super sales man, whatever your role.
• Support your company fervently.
• Arrive at work 45 minutes before everyone else and leave 15 minutes later than everyone else.
• Don’t make staying late a habit.
• Don’t bring work home.
• When you travel on business, wherever you are, in a train or plane, use the time and work!
• When away from home for work and if alone, don’t waste time in the hotel restaurant. Have dinner in your hotel room and work.

Manage your boss
• Trust your manager
• Be loyal. Don’t bite the hand that feeds.
• Don’t buddy up with your boss(es). Business is business. Build a professional relationship.
• Give all the credit for success to your boss and the boss of your boss. They’ll reciprocate.
• Never surprise your boss. Always keep him/her informed.
• Never let your boss make a mistake.
• Imitate, study and take care of good bosses
• Get your boss to visit the team to thank team members regularly and personally.

Manage others
• Trust your team members.
• Recruit the best according to 3 criteria- integrity, determination, intelligence.
• Pay your employees more than their market value: Pay more and you’ll get more
• Give surprise bonuses for work well done and vary the method.
• Treat each person individually.
• Be polite and say thank you.
• 10 things to say to make people feel at ease
– please
– thanks
– Introduce a team member to your boss by “you remember Mr X…”
– you did a great job
– I appreciate the effort you made
– I keep hearing lots of good things about you
– I’m delighted to have you in the team
– I need your help
– Well done, congratulations
• Don’t spread rumours and don’t tolerate people who spread rumours
• Point the spotlight on the good idea, not on the person
• Never forget the spouses & families of your subordinates
• Teaching others means continuously studying and leading. Accept roles which allow you to train others.
• Let people know where they stand. Be clear and direct.
• Set SMART objectives and follow up regularly on progress
• Don’t use bad language and don’t tolerate bad language in others.
• Never take things personally.

Manage your network
• Get yourself recommended by senior managers in the organization.
• Keep a file “connections/relations” and update regularly.
• Every Friday: have lunch with someone outside your service.
• Build a network of allies within your organization
• Keep in touch with your network and help out when you can.

Manage your Career
• If you have a choice, always choose the best paid job
• Avoid if possible functional work, always seek operational responsibility
• Don’t wait for HR to plan your career. You are responsible for your own career development

What principles would you add or subtract from the list above?

Jeffrey Fox: The 75 laws
Stephen J. Covey: The 7 Habits of highly effective people

The martial art of getting things done

February 9, 2009

We’re all confronted with the daily challenge of getting things done, not only in our professional lives but also in our private lives. Getting things done is not always so easy but throw in a constantly changing environment and this becomes very challenging indeed. Quite often, our environment seems to conspire against us and countless “unforeseen events”, interruptions, sudden requirements spring upon us to dislocate our plans and throw our system into a spin.

Our managers change, our teams change, company strategy changes, objectives change, business partners change, the environment changes, customers change, technology changes, everything around us seems to be in a constant state of change. We’re constantly being interrupted by some sudden cause or problem which requires our attention and disrupts our schedule and/or plans. The only thing that seems permanent is change itself and we may often feel we spend our day firefighting and dealing with only current and immediate tasks, short-term tasks.

It’s easy to understand why so many people may experience anxiety when they look around and see how fast their world is constantly evolving and/or how often they are interrupted. This constant and increasingly rapid change and rate of interruption conspires against action because it’s difficult to act if the world around you changes quicker than your ability to implement and embed your actions to deal with that change. Why fight to follow up on objectives if the changes to the business environment make those objectives redundant? But failing to act increases anxiety because it creates a sense of lack of control, organization and preparation to act.

Even more ironically, the very tools we use to organize and track our work and commitments seem to conspire to add to the disorder through information overload and we risk getting bogged down with what seem to be sometimes very non-added value tasks: cleaning our email inbox, sorting our voice mails, sifting through the huge pile of brochures and booklets of all sorts that wash up on our desks on a daily basis, dealing with correspondence and admin tasks, etc.

So how can we deal with this constant change and overcome this feeling of anxiety which is an obstacle to effective action and getting things done?

How can we get above the clouds and plan long term? How can we improve our personal productivity and that of our teams so that we all feel we are not only getting things done but getting the right things done? Peter Drucker teaches us that efficiency means doing thing the right way and effectiveness means doing the right things. How can we spend more and more time doing the right things which add value and which give us more control over our changing environment?

This is the challenge that David Allen explores in his study on “Getting things done” and the very interesting thing about this book is that while it presents many tricks and tips that we all may use spontaneously and/or instinctively to organize our work more productively , its great merit in our view is that it is systematic in its approach and defines a comprehensive system for managing all the multiple inputs into our professional and private lives and structuring them into an operation system which allows us to sort out the essential from the secondary, prioritize all our actions and decide on the key next actions which will move us forward.

Indeed, one key message that can be taken from David Allen’s work is that the faster the change, the more we need to build a structured and comprehensive system to manage all the various inputs because if we don’t manage change, change will manage us!

Here are some key points summarizing David Allen’s approach to getting things done:

Collect all the “stuff” on your mind and write it down. Anxiety is caused by a feeling of lack of control due to a failure to meet commitments or a feeling that you need to do something but you don’t know what. The first step to alleviate this anxiety involves collecting everything on your mind and putting it into a clear system. You can only manage what you have identified so you need to write all your “stuff” down and classify all the different items in different actions lists. This of course requires discipline and method.

Process what all this stuff means and decide what to do with each item and how to organize all your decisions into one system. David Allen defines a basic system with the following components:

If you decide NO:
you have 3 possibilities:
* Trash: delete an item that has no value
* Incubate: put the item on hold in a “Someday/Maybe” box or “Tickler” bow
* Store for review at a later date in a Reference box

If you decide Yes:

Decide which actions can be taken and closed immediately and which need more planning:

You have 5 possibilities:
*list of long term projects: is the item a project you wish to undertake?
*list of project plans and materials. Is the item a plan or a change to a plan?
*calendar. I sit an event you need to put in your calendar?
*list of reminders for next actions. Is it a next action that needs to be implemented in the very short term?
*list of reminders of things you are waiting for from others. Is it something you need to receive from someone else?

– Do :Once you’ve decided on your immediate actions and sorted all other actions in the appropriate boxes, implement the actions.

– Discipline yourself to review all your “stuff” on a weekly basis and update your system and different lists.

We all perform these 8 phases of workflow management more or less: collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing but not perhaps so systematically as David Allen advocates.

Above all, we may not always apply systematically the question “what’s the next action?” to each open item in the yes category above.

It’s only when all open items have been identified, processed, organized, reviewed and a concrete next action has been defined for each item that the workflow management process is really operational.

Even if David Allen encourages the reader to classify actions in the short, medium and long term, his approach is nevertheless very pragmatic and urges the reader to adopt a bottom up approach which begins with immediate next actions.

His advice is clear: to get things done, seek to employ next action decision-making because next-action decision making rooted in the short term contributes to increased productivity, clarity, accountability and empowerment. Because if you ask the question “what’s the next action?”, you immediately decide what needs to be done, by whom, when, how, where and why. The longest march begins with one small step and one small next action decision.

To conclude, David Allen in turn quotes a certain Sidney J. Harris:

An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short term determines the long run“. Don’t allow things not done now undermine your long term.

Check out David Allen and “Getting things done“and read more about the “martial art” of getting things done and the power of the next-action decision.

View the video of David Allen giving a presentation on getting things done to Google team members.


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