decision making

I Can’t Say “No!”

05 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Do you take on too much work and accept others’ requests when you really don’t have the time? And are you not able to do your very best work because you are doing too many things at 75%?

Why do you do this? Do you not want to say “No” because you don’t want to miss an opportunity? Or do you not want to let anyone down? Or do you just not know what words to say to communicate, “No!”?

What to do? First, clarify your areas of focus, your goals, and your strategies to get there. Then, consult those resources in order to make the best decision. Use your focus and goals verbiage in your “No” response.

Clear Goals and Focus

If you are very clear about your most important goals and your priorities for the month, and are excited and focused on them, then it is that excitement that causes you to decline or delegate tasks that are not in line with your plan. Your plan is ambitious and exciting, not limiting and holding you back. It guides your conscious choices of how to spend your time and energy.

Put People in their Place

People are important. Your success will require you to work successfully with others, value their contributions and respect their priorities. And you spend time with another person when your goals and focus overlap their goals and focus. Not necessarily when you are asked to take their priorities as your own. You may be asked by your customers or your supervisor to change your goals and plans and may need to do throughout the month. However, a lot of times when you fail to say, “No” it may be because you like the person and don’t want to disappoint them. But, you may disappoint them or another individual when you take on too much, and don’t do anything as well as you could.

What to Say?   First, gather enough information. “Mike, I think I understand your request. Can you share just a few more details of what you need from me?”

Then, frame it. “Mike, I am hearing that this project is very important to Bob’s department, and to turnaround times. This month, Mark has asked me to focus all my energy on the successful interactions with customers through our online systems. I’m very excited about the opportunity to address some long-standing concerns we have heard from our customers.”

What you can do. “It would be early next month before I could start on that work for you, and I would estimate it would take about three weeks. I know that Mary and Patrick are also experts in this area, and their schedules may be more free this month if you need it sooner than I can complete the work. (Only say this if you know it to be true.) What I’d be happy to do is have you circle back with me at the end of the month to revisit this priority.”

And, if you’re Mike, and don’t like that answer, you might say to you:

“Ryan, we all have a lot to do and turnaround time is everyone’s priority. I really need to get this done and you and I have worked on it in the past!”

You feel Mike’s pain, but have a clear focus and path for the month, and in reality, his priority is not yours at this time.

“You are right Mike, turnaround time is a priority and I have enjoyed working with you in the past. The challenge is that this month, I have items that have been identified as higher priority in my calendar. Would you like me to introduce you to some other members of the team who would be valuable resources for you since I am booked up?”

If you fail to clarify your goals for the month, and fail to say “No” to tasks outside your focus area, you will end up with too much on your plate, people upset with you more than they would of if you had found a way to say, “No” in the first place, and work that is not up to your quality standards.

Getting Things Done

28 May
by Bridget DiCello
  • Do you manage your own time well?
  • Do you manage another’s performance successfully?
  • Do you finish projects or is the last 10% a struggle?
  • Is there just too much going on to maintain your focus?

 Commitment and Confidence

With demands from so many different directions, it may seem impossible to stay a course of action and finish anything.  New projects, different priorities and demanding individuals may continually pull you in new directions.

Create the Plan

Typically, even the most organized people fail to plan when they are overwhelmed with the amount they must do.  However, if you invest the time to plan, two important things happen.

  1. You test against reality.  The target date is three weeks from now.  In order to make that happen, we break the project into bite-size steps.  We determine that in order to meet our deadline, we need to complete three steps of the process each week.  Each step takes 10 hours.  Given our other commitments, we test whether or not we do or do not see time to schedule 30 hours each week for this project.  When scheduling the three 10-hour steps, take into account the typical interruptions, emergencies and schedule changes that routinely happen.  Do not ignore your history, or expect history to not repeat itself unless you’ve made significant changes of some sort.
  2. Test your “If…then’s.”  Look at the people involved in the process, the obstacles you expect, the variables that are most ambiguous, and the probable outcomes at each step of the process.  For example, every time you interact with Bradley, he gives you the information you need, but then thinks about it for a few days, and comes back to you with additional valuable and correct data that is important and must be considered.  You know this will take him two or three days from the date of the original conversation.  So, plan for it in the schedule.  “If Bradley is involved, thenhis input will arrive over three days time.”There may be multiple “If…then’s” in each step of the process.  When you know they may or will occur, take them into consideration both in your planning and in your reality checks.

Commit to the Plan

When obstacles come into the picture, don’t be surprised; have a course of action discussed by your project team ahead of time, “When [obstacle] occurs, we will [course of action].” You cannot think of everything, but you can think of a lot of the problems that reoccur.  A majority of issues that occur in any company have occurred at a point in the past in one form or another.  Pay attention to those patterns, plan for them, and commit to moving through them, staying focused on the plan to which you have committed.

Confidence

The main obstacle to getting things done is often not the processes, obstacles or situational factors.   It is the way the people react to what happens.  Confidence is not an egotistical reaction that ignores reality.  It is a determination and perseverance that we can and we will get it done.  It is not a conversation of if we can, but how we will.  There are plenty of excuses why things do not get done, do not get done completely or do not get done to the level of quality they could have.  The fact is that most of us, given our workload, will accept one of those excuses and let a project stop short of its potential.

What are you working on right now that you are ready to give up on?

For what project do you need to create a plan?

Learn from Leaders who Fail as well as from Leaders who Succeed

04 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

If you wish to become a more effective leader within your organization, it makes a lot of sense to study great leaders, read what they write and what others write about them and talk to them if you can get the opportunity.

However, it also makes sense to study and talk to the leaders who have tried and failed, and to successful leaders about their failures.  It’s powerful to learn from mistakes others make, especially from those who have been in positions of leadership, stressful situations and under great pressure.

Ask them to share with you not only what not to do and but learn also what to do instead.  It’s very difficult for anyone to focus only on what not to do.  It’s important you gain from these leaders what they would do again if they had the chance to do it over again – hindsight is a powerful 20-20 view.

David Burkus has a great story on his blog about the power of studying failure – by looking at the bullet holes in an aircraft.

To learn from a leader’s experiences, Ask Questions.  Just because a leader’s approach was successful in their situation, their advice may be hard to apply to your world.  Dive into their decision making processes as well.  Ask how they decided to take the path they took in their particular situation to become successful in it.

A successful leader probably doesn’t realize all the good things they did, just the more obvious or those about which they are most proud.  The more questions you can ask about situations where they were successful, and the more you can get them talking, the more knowledge you can glean beyond the things they would tell you if they only summarized their lessons.

These suggestions assume that you can have a one-on-one conversation with these leaders.  That is the environment where the best lessons are learned.  Because most of us cannot call Bill Gates and make a lunch date, you need to think of the leaders you know and ask for a bit of their time.  If you are prepared with intelligent questions, that you send them prior to the meeting, many leaders will be happy to share their insights and wisdom.

What insights have you learned from your failures?

Your Nemesis & the Battle Plan

08 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Your Nemesis – that one thing in your business that continually haunts you and inhibits your success. Identify it and Battle it.

Maybe this situation describes where you are right now: You are experiencing success. You have a good team. You have a plan to get better, to grow, to expand and to reach 2011 goals. But something is holding you back from the greatness you could achieve. Although you can picture even more success, it seems to be just out of reach.

Maybe just when things are good, you have turnover in your team and that slows you down.  Maybe when sales are being closed left and right, you lose a large existing customer and the back door seems as open as the front door. Maybe although your employees do a good job, there are just enough errors to make the fire-fighting a significant part of your week. Maybe your employees do what you ask, but don’t seize opportunities they see and add to the potential of the team. Maybe everyone does a good job, but there is tension between key managers or key employees. Maybe… The list could go on.

What is it for you that keeps you from achieving an even greater level of success that you know you could or that your boss is demanding that you do?

What to do? Identify your Nemesis and Correct it.

Identify Your Nemesis. Finish this sentence: “In an ideal world, we would…” At some point we all let mediocrity take over. Even successful companies rest on their laurels in certain areas or at a certain point in their success. Reach back to what you really want to accomplish and determine what is in your way to achieving that.

Then summarize your quality issues, fires fought, frustrations for you as a leader, expectations not met and customer complaints in the first half of the year. Pinpoint common themes and the root causes behind them. What is the problem or challenge that repeatedly comes up? What is your Nemesis?

Correct it. If this problem or issue was easy to correct, you would have done it already, it wouldn’t be recurring and it wouldn’t be your Nemesis.

How to correct a Nemesis? You’ve got to come up with a battle plan. If you want to win against your enemy in battle, try these tactics:

Know your enemy better than they know themselves. A quick look at a recurring problem and an easy solution is not the answer to address something that recurs consistently. Your Nemesis will only be addressed if you really understand it. What is the problem? What is the root cause? How is it affecting us? When does it occur? What have we done to try to correct it? What are best practices in our industry? Why does it occur? How does each person contribute?

Arm yourself with the right weapons. When you know the enemy/problem well, you learn how it fights, what makes it occur and you must identify how to attack it with what it won’t expect. This may mean your managers need new and different tools in their leadership tool box, new technologies or software, or good old fashioned face time with customers, vendors, colleagues or employees.

Attack with the element of surprise and destroy the enemy’s will to fight. In business, this means that you can’t just try the same old approaches and expect they will fix a long term problem. You might need to do something a little crazy. Although it’s hard to “destroy the will” of a turnover problem, the other side of that is your team being committed enough to fixing the problem that they stay focused and committed. When you are successful, the risk is that your team will tell you, “We’re successful. We are doing great. Why upset the applecart by addressing this issue – it’s just part of doing business in our industry. It’s always been that way. Our competitors face the same issue.” And on and on. A true Nemesis takes a lot of courage to fight because it’s a long term problem that may be seen as acceptable.

Fight on the terrain where you are strongest. In the Bible, the Israelites win a battle with foot soldiers against chariots because they are in a valley deep with mud. Use your strengths and your team’s talents and abilities to engage the problem.

You and your team can accomplish greatness! What is standing in your way? Identify your Nemesis and work diligently to correct it.

Can you not see the forest for the trees? A true Nemesis in your business is not easily discovered or corrected. Sometimes it requires a set of eyes from the outside. Someone outside your company can often lead you through the analysis and resolution of a long term, recurring problem. Contact Bridget if you’d like to talk about setting up a company meeting or team retreat to take your company to the next level.

Top 10 Productivity Tips – A Focused Mind

16 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

With summer officially ready to start next week, have you finished your spring cleaning?  Spring cleaning is not only about pulling out the cleaning products and getting rid of clutter.  These practices are great and can clear your workspace and make you more productive.  However, productivity also comes from a clear head which allows you to be focused and efficient.

Top 10 Productivity Tips – Try them and see if you ‘spring’ forward:

1.  Make the right decision every moment of every day. This is my definition of good time management.  It’s a realization that we make many decisions every day of how to spend our time, whether planned or unplanned.  The more we can make those decisions consciously, according to clear goals, the more productive we will be.  Most people welcome distractions to some extent – as a relief from something stressful, difficult or unpleasant.  Act very purposefully in each moment of the day and pinpoint those times you tend to make decisions to do things not in line with your goals, however small.

2.  Revisit your goals. Dust them off.  Clean them up – do the reality check and adjust the ones that are unrealistic, get excited again about ones that might be a stretch but that you are passionate about, tweak others given your knowledge of the year so far.   And if you never did write them down, do it now.

3.  Identify what must be done this month, this week and today/tomorrow to achieve your goals. One of the best ways to be productive and make the best use of your time is to be focused and plan.  I’m not talking about the strategic five year plan.  I’m talking about knowing the 3-5 non-routine things that you want to accomplish this month to ensure you are further ahead and closer to your goals than when you started the month.  Then, decide what 2-3 things you need to do this week to make that happen.  Then look at your plan for today or tomorrow and decide what 1-3 things you need to do in those 24 hours to move forward on the week’s goals.

4.  Know your Best Time of Day. We all have a time of day where we are most productive.  Are you a morning person?  A night owl?  You only really wake up at noon?  Observe your productivity and effectiveness.  What time of day are you at your best?  When you determine when that is, schedule your most important activities at that time.  Avoid doing trivial tasks or putting out fires during that time.

5.  Schedule your day, week and month. Very few of us have schedules that never get interrupted or rearranged.  But, that is not a reason not to plan at all.  Plot out your month, schedule your week and map out your day.  Leave some “Wing it” time to fit in the little things that pop up.  Schedule a block of time to do the emails, phone calls, etc. that fill your day if you are not careful.  When at the end of the day you have not done everything you wanted to because of fires and interruptions, immediately reschedule the activities that you didn’t do for tomorrow or later in the week.

6.  Get rid of the Things to Do List. They haunt most of us.  Instead of putting something on the list, simply schedule it somewhere in your day or week.  If you cannot find anywhere to put it, that means it is really not important enough to you to get done, so don’t torture yourself with leaving it to haunt you on a list.  You may want to keep a “To Do Someday” List for those things that are great ideas, but are just not a priority right now.  Then, put it away and only look at it periodically.

7.  Schedule appointments to talk. If you plan to meet with another person and have a conversation, do it purposefully.  If you just ‘stop by’ their office or give them a call without a plan, you may end up wasting both of your time.  And they may do the same with you.  If you need to talk to them, plan a time and day and have an “agenda”.  More thoughts on that next week…

8.  Do a time log. After you have planned your month, week and day, and taken all the things to do list items and scheduled them somewhere, for just a few days – record what you actually did.  Compare your reality to your plan.  Maybe you need to adjust how you do what you do, become more effective, learn to say no, or delegate more.  Unless you have a good picture of what you are actually doing, it’s hard to have a basis for productive change.   And no, you really don’t know what you spend your time doing until you log it.  Try it and you’ll see!

9.  Stop Procrastinating. Many managers and leaders are procrastinators.  I never believed that about myself until I understood the connection between procrastinating and being a perfectionist.  For the perfectionist, it is rarely ever the right time or there is not enough time to do it right so, “Why do it?”  Not to say that perfectionists are not productive, just that certain things that are new, different or particularly important get put off for the more immediate, urgent and familiar tasks at which they can more easily succeed.

10.  Keep track of information. You may mistake being able to do a lot with being organized.  It’s amazing how much time we spend looking for something, finding information twice, having a conversation or part of it a second time, or sorting through the volumes of information we use to run our business.  Review your systems for collecting, sorting and using information in your business and to develop your team members.  Do they effectively support your mission or do they slow you down?

Comment here or join in our LinkedIn Discussion.

Decision Making – On Autopilot or On the Case?

31 May
by Bridget DiCello
We’ve all seen the steps to decision making:
1.      Identify the objective
2.      Define the situation
3.      Generate alternatives
4.      Gather information
5.      Weigh the pros and cons of each
6.      Develop an action plan
7.      Implement
8.      Evaluate the results

How many decisions did you make in this way in the past week?  Who in the world has time to? But, if we don’t how can we get out of a routine that may be unproductive?

We run into two main types of decisions that I believe we solve with two distinct solutions:  Intuitive Solutions and Investigative Solutions

Intuitive Solutions: This is where experience counts, and a good memory, attention to detail and ability to pick up cues and logical patterns is important.  These are problems, issues and situations where we really want to call on the experts in the business, the key employees who have been through it all, and the person who loves their job and knows all the ins and outs.  These situations cause us to say, “We must have faced situations like this before, what have we done in the past?”

Those people who are valuable resources run through past situations in their heads, compare them to this present dilemma, choose the best course of action and share it with the team to implement.  The decision is made quickly about how to proceed.  If the proper people with experience are consulted, there is rarely an error in carrying out this decision.

Do you have these people in your organization? Those who have the experience to be a great resource and can be trusted without weighing all the alternatives in a lengthy process?

What do you do to develop more of this ability in your team? These people are developed when after decision is made, a problem is solved or a situation is handled, there is routinely a debrief, an autopsy if you will, to look at what happened, what was decided and the success or failure experienced.  The lessons learned will enable those with the ability to learn the patterns that work.  This ability must be practiced and consciously developed especially because you don’t want to wait years for someone to develop it, and often turnover rates are high enough that something takes a good employee away before they fully develop.

Investigative Solutions: This is where those decision-making steps above make sense.  This decision steps into unfamiliar territory, requires the input of many experts, and is complicated to the point that past experience is helpful but must be pieced together in order to be most useful.

Do you have people who are good at this process in your organization? These need to be individuals who have the patience to work through the process, yet not someone who gets so bogged down in detail that it takes forever to come to a decision.

What do you do to develop more of this ability in your team? Even though you won’t need them to use this long process every day or even every week, the ability to move through the process is a mental exercise that can be applied to overall logical thought processing.  So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend some time next time you need an investigative solution to work through it as a team, and systematically map it out in order to help them to understand this process and make it second nature.

What occurs most often on your team?  What “type” of decision makers are in your organization?