Every Day Matters

January 30, 2016

There is a saying that has been kicked around for years: “It is the Super Bowl every day.” So many people have used it, I cannot trace who said it first.

There is even a Twitter hash tag that uses the phrase as a portal. One author added the concept that in life there are no time outs. In this chapter, I wanted to expand on these concepts and look inside the locker room of life.

The concept of each day being the Super Bowl simply refers to the importance of living every day as if it is the most important day we have. Intellectually, we realize that some days are more important than others.

I may kick back for a day and do absolutely nothing productive or important all day (and sometimes getting needed rest is the most productive thing to do), yet to waste a day, or even an hour, is to squander our most important resource in life.

The two things that make something precious are inherent value and scarcity. By those two factors “time” is incredibly valuable because 1) it is all we have, and 2) nobody can get more than 24/7.

That condition is like the Super Bowl. It has a start time and an end time, but in the case of life, there are no reruns and no time outs. The game proceeds only forward and has a finite end.

Of what value is thinking in these dimensions? We often forget the fleeting nature of life, because most of us think we have decades yet to live. That is enough time to achieve numerous accomplishments and build lasting relationships.

Each day, each increment of time, seems insignificant, like a drop in the ocean. It is a mistake to think that way, because once a day is spent, it is gone forever. It is like another grain of sand dropping to the bottom of the hourglass of our life.

But life is not just about doing things. It is about enjoying what we do and building relationships that matter. It is the emotional connection we have with loved ones, not the things we have accomplished or acquired, that occupy our final thoughts as we prepare to leave this world.

I think the analogy of the Super Bowl works here as well. We do not play the game of life alone. We are on a team, surrounded by people we love, who help us play our best game possible.

We have coaches and support people who fix us up when we fall and help us rise to be our best in the game of life. It is how we treat others that determines how well the team plays together. If trust, respect, and love are carried in our hearts, the team will be a strong winning group.

One thing that every human on the planet shares is the knowledge that one day he or she is going to die. If you remember the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” that concept is what Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams), was trying to instill in the freshmen at the Helton Prep School. It was the notion of “Carpe Diem,” or “seize the day.”

You may recall the riveting scene where Keating had the students line up and look in the trophy case at the pictures of former athletes who were dead and gone: their Super Bowl over.

He pointed out that the only difference between the boys he was addressing and the deceased athletes in the pictures was that the boys were alive that day. What a powerful scene!

See Video story about how the “Carpe Diem” scene saved a strategy meeting

I bring up the concept of carpe diem at the end of every leadership class I teach. I believe it is the responsibility of each of us to approach each day as if it was Super Bowl Sunday, and we are in the game.

Sure, there is time for rest and recuperation, just as winded athletes can sit out a few plays, but even as we rest, the game is still going on.

The good news is that there really is time for most of us to improve our game plan. It takes work, but it is rewarding to modify the future plays to obtain a more successful outcome. We can always foster better relations with the people we love and have more fun.

Every day is the start of a new game. Trust yourself, trust your “team,” and trust that life is playing out in a way that will eventually lead you to reach the goals you have set. The choice is up to each one of us every day. Make the right choice.

Key Concepts for this article
1. Today is the most important day you have.
2. The game always moves forward.
3. There are no time outs—the clock is always ticking.

Exercises For today
1. Intentionally break into your stream of consciousness at least once a day and ask yourself where you are right now. Are you sitting on the bench or are you playing in the game?
2. Are you happy with the job you did on the last play?
3. Do you have a good plan for your next play?
4. How are you treating your teammates who are helping you play the game?
5. Right now, are you playing offense or defense?
6. You have a general idea how much time is on the clock, but what if a fatal blow takes you out of the game early?
7. Have you made the most of the opportunities you have had along the way?
8. What will the spectators and your teammates remember about you and your life when it is over?
9. Visualize a time when you performed at an awesome level. Try to identify what forces enabled that level of performance. This is your personal prescription for greater zest in life.


7 Tips for Better Strategies

July 6, 2013

marketing strategyIn my leadership development work, I am often called upon to help organizations with their strategic plans. The process is well known, and numerous facilitators are qualified to help organizations work through the process. This article outlines some of the mistakes I see organizations make and shares a typical “Strategic Framework” that I find very useful.

The typical mistake made by well-intended managers is to overdo the strategic process until it becomes an albatross rather than a means to focus effort. Here are seven signs that a strategic process is too complex.

1. Too many strategies

The idea of a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few tasks and put less emphasis on the trivial many. If the end product of a strategic plan is 23 different strategic thrusts, it is way too complex to be useful, even for a large organization. I urge teams to try to identify three to five strategic thrusts at any given time. The idea of having a “handful” of strategies is appealing because the total effort does not look or sound overwhelming. Sometimes groups will have six strategies, but more than that is going to get some pushback from me.

2. Too many meetings

A typical mistake is to set up sub teams and have a series of standing meetings to deliberate on the elements of the strategy. This process sounds logical, but it easily becomes a huge activity trap. I witnessed a college set up numerous strategy teams. They slaved in long meetings for over 18 months. When the strategy tome was issued, it resembled the IRS Tax code. There were so many details and overdone objectives that the entire effort basically sank under its own weight. When I work with groups, I try to get the entire strategy completed in one or two sessions (usually several hours each) and the documentation fits on the front and back side of a single sheet of paper. The trick to getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time is preparation. For example, I have the group vote offline ahead of time on candidate values from a list of about 50 possible ones. There is always the ability to go back and redo the strategy at a later date if things need to be added. The mistake many groups make is trying to get the thing perfect at the outset.

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Be careful to not make the strategic process into a series of social events or public debates. The job of creating a strategy can be streamlined without sacrificing buy in. One way to check if you are overdoing the number of meetings is to watch people’s eyes when you announce a strategic planning activity. If their eyes roll back, that is a good indication you are making the process too complex.

3. Wordsmithing

For some inexplicable reason, people see a compelling need to have the wording of things like mission statements be perfect and embraced fully by everyone. I think mutual buy in is laudable, but if you drag out the discussion of every word of every sentence until all parties are thrilled, the ship will sail without you. I have witnessed long passionate arguments by managers about whether to use “and” or “and/or” in a mission statement. Once the thing was finally cast in concrete, there was so much acrimony that the parties simply put the product away and forgot about the whole exercise.

Use the Pareto Principle when working on the wording. If we can agree on 80% of the concept, then we can have someone generate a straw man document offline and not tie up the entire group.

4. Confusing Tactics with Strategies

For every key strategy, there will be some tactics that allow achievement of the objective. Strategies are broad areas of focused effort that help an organization move toward its vision. Tactics are operational activities that collectively allow the strategy to be achieved. Strategies are the “what,” and Tactics are the “how.” Often groups put the “things to do” as the strategies rather than call them tactics. A trained facilitator knows how to avoid this pitfall.

5. Not including Team Behaviors

Many facilitators leave out this critical step. Teams need to have a set of expectations for the behaviors of team members. Reason: without specific expectations it is difficult to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the tasks. Strategies become a wish list of good intentions rather than high energy areas where we are truly going for the gold.

6. Inappropriate Measures

For every strategy there needs to be at least one measure, preferably more than one. There are two common problems with measures: 1) they can be activity traps where getting the data is way too burdensome, and 2) If set up incorrectly, measures can drive the wrong behaviors. Make sure the measures you establish are encouraging people to do things that truly do lead to fulfillment of the strategy.
For example, one group had a strategy to increase revenue. The measure they selected was number of sales calls. The sales force was only too happy to increase the number of sales calls in order to earn more bonus money; unfortunately, the added activity meant they were less effective at closing sales, so total revenue actually went down. The measure looked good, but the goal was not realized.

7. Failure to communicate the strategy

It is a crime that many groups pour energy into creating a nice strategic plan that then sits in the desks of the managers for years and is not operational in the everyday world of work. The documentation of a strategy is pointless unless it becomes active in the hearts and minds of every single person in the organization.
Leaders need to continually discuss the strategic elements and explain to people why their actions are consistent with the plan. For example, a leader might say, “We are putting on a third shift next month because our vision for growth cannot be achieved without a fully loaded factory, which is the number one strategy in our plan.”

I have developed a simple format for a strategic plan that works for most groups. It is appropriate for profit or non-profit organizations of all sizes. The document can be constructed in a day or two with the right preparation effort, and it really helps focus the activities of a group after the strategy is completed. I usually show the elements as two sides of a single sheet of paper, and I laminate it like a large card so it can be passed around without getting mangled. I personally prefer the single sheet of paper over the posters in the conference room. I believe it has more power.

Click this link to view the two-page Generic Strategy Document.

There are many different formats for strategic plans; the one above is my favorite because it conveys a lot of information in a small footprint. Whatever format you select, make sure it is user friendly to the people who need to internalize the strategy. The most important objective for strategic work is to focus energy, so avoid the mega process that seems to go on forever, and make your plans crisp and beneficial.


Renewal

December 29, 2010

Every New Year’s Eve, I go through a kind of renewal ritual. It is my gift to myself for having done my best for the past year, and it allows me to look forward to an even better year to come. I have recommended some form of this for all people who take my leadership classes. It does not need to be done on the New Year; some people like to do this on their birthday or some other specific day of the year. The point is to designate one day to reflect on what you have done, where you are, and what you intend to do in the coming year and beyond.

I will step you through my specific ritual, but recognize I am not advocating anyone adopt this exact formula. I do believe it is critical for you to check in on yourself in a substantial way at least once a year. Doing this allows you to feel good about your past efforts and create a rational plan for the next phase of your life. I find it sad that many adults go through the motions every year and never stop to think seriously about what is happening. It is as if they expect the world to do right by them without putting any energy into it themselves. We all know the universe does not work that way. If you wish to live a productive life, it is necessary to do some serious planning.

My process starts early in the day on New Year’s Eve. I begin by going back over the calendar for the entire year and documenting all my key accomplishments. This is an uplifting start to the process, because I am reminded of the incredible forward momentum that has been built as a result of prior planning sessions. That encourages me to put more effort into the rest of the day.

I revisit the “Strategic Framework” for my business and my personal life, a document that I have been building for roughly 20 years. It exists as a PowerPoint slide deck because I am right brained and tend to think in PowerPoint. The actual slides should never be presented because they contain way too much information for anyone but myself to view. Besides, there are a number of personal issues involved in several sections.

My current Framework has sections on the following topics:

Objectives – what I am trying to get out of life and work
Values – my fundamental beliefs about the nature of people and how the world works
Vision – where I expect to be in several years
Mission – what I am trying to do right now
Behaviors – things I promise myself I will do (and hold myself accountable for doing)
Value Proposition – the contribution my business makes to society and my clients
Goals – for next year, and for 5 years out – (I do two sets of goals because the actions required to achieve my close-in goals are different from what is required to accomplish long term objectives.)
Major Accomplishments Last Year – what I have actually done, in detail
Revenue Projections – a specific financial goal for next year, and also a projection for the next 5 years.
SWOT Analysis – my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
Strategic Plan – the handful of strategic drivers I intend to pursue to accomplish my goals based on the SWOT analysis
Tactical Plan – a list of specific activities needed to accomplish my strategy
Marketing Strategy – the promotion strategy for several categories – media, advertising, logic for reaching target groups, etc.
Sales Plan – the sales dimensions strategy document (by segment)
Publishing and Writing Plan – how many articles, where, and any books etc.
Online Presence Plan – my search engine optimization (SEO), including use of upgraded website and BLOG capabilities
Plan for Local and National Associations – including what can I afford to
keep doing (both financial and from a time perspective) & what I should stop doing
Corporate Policies & Procedures – the rules and assumptions I use to run my business
Master Strategy Team – my “Mastermind Group” as advocated by Napoleon Hill
Strategy for Teaching and Academics – how many courses, or which universities, etc.
Strategy for Optimal Speaking – patterns and associations, fee levels and pro bono strategy
Possible Partnerships – groups or individuals I want to work with in the coming year
What Makes Leadergrow Unique – statement I can use in advertising, and speaking introductions
Directional Options for Next Year – listing at least 3-5 options for course changing in my business or personal life
Mind Map of Future Options – because I think best in pictures
Detail Pages – for each option identified along with advantages and
disadvantages of each

This exercise may seem like a lot of work, but it does not need to be done all at once. You can build it up over several years. Once the initial framework is constructed, it requires only about 6-8 hours to recast the material for the coming year.

The benefit of doing this work is that, after it is done, it frees up your mind to spend maximum energy on execution rather than debating with yourself over every decision. You can confidently turn down opportunities if they do not fit your strategic plan, which creates more energy for your key drivers. Most of all, you will have the feeling that you are really charting your own course through life rather than just reacting to things that constantly come up.

I advocate some form of individual plan for every person. It does not need to be as extensive as my process, but if you will carve out a few hours every year to think about your own trajectory, your chances of living the kind of life you want will be greatly enhanced.

The process will not stop you from having setbacks or periods of angst. Life has a few “curve balls” for each of us every year. As Lou Holtz stated in Do Right, “I’m going to have at least three crises in the next 12 months, and so are you. But let me say this, and I believe it from the bottom of my heart. I have never seen a crisis that did not make us stronger if we reacted positively to it. We can all benefit from crises in our lives because they are going to happen, and a crisis is just another way to test the greatness of an individual.”

The benefit of having a concrete plan is that the vicissitudes of life will be more like ripples than tidal waves. You will be able to accomplish more in a year or two than you would otherwise do in 10 to 20 years. That is well worth one day a year to focus on your goals and strategy. Besides, it is kind of fun to invest in yourself in this way.