Set the pace

The organization keys off of its leaders


Remember your first day of school? Remember all the doubts and insecurity, as well as the eagerness to get started?

The first day of work can be the same, right? Even if you’re a senior leader – is the team strong? Are they organized? What do they expect of me? Will I like it?

As a senior leader, people look to you, and your task is pretty clear – organize and lead the charge towards the goal.

Here are four behaviors that I’ve followed for any organizational entry:

  1. Survey the team. Who are they? What motivates them? What do they hope you will do?
  2. Set a goal. Whether it is one that you come up with, or it is an already established one from the organization – publicize it, affirm it, and build the metrics that will show progress and success.
  3. Build action steps and timelines. What are the strategies to reach the goal? What are the tactics to drive the strategies? How will those be measured?
  4. Follow up and follow through. Is the team on track? Are they lacking a key resource? Is there a roadblock that needs to be removed?

As the leader, you set the pace for the organization. One of my supervisors once said, “I move with purposeful urgency.” That’s a fantastic summary statement, and I’ve kept it in mind ever since I heard it.

Here’s the live example of how I’ve put these behaviors to work.

  1. Quick meetings with direct reports, as well as colleagues, were crucial. Key concern was the state of the business, particularly the top line.
  2. To address that concern, the team needed to hit the sales forecast. The critical action to this was to elevate this from an episodic exercise for the team, to an ongoing way of looking at the business.
  3. Action steps around the task were many and varied, but boiled down to three things:
    1. Make sure we were all on the same page for the actual forecast template, and using the same analytical framework
    2. Talk through the forecast assumptions with the team, and pull in cross functional resources to make them real
    3. Set up a series of spaced milestone check ins throughout the month and quarter
  4. For follow up and follow through, the spaced milestones served as a forum for communication. I also kept notes, and brought them with me to the meetings, to ensure we had forward progress.

Leveraging this framework, and guiding the team through it, can enable organizational success. Which is why you were selected in the first place.

And remember – set the pace. Be purposeful and vigorous in pursuit of the goal; people will notice, and follow.

What framework do you use? Do you have any organizational entry stories that you’d like to share?

Are your New Year resolutions SMART?

SMART goals improve your odds of success

It’s that time of year again!  The beginning of any period is an opportunity for renewal, but somehow nothing gets our juices going quite like the new yearMany people will make resolutions, but the real question is – will they be successful, or will “resolutionary fervor” dissipate in early February?

A strategy I’ve used is taken straight from the business world – setting SMART goals.  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound goals tend to be completed, and the SMART structure allows you to quickly put together a draft and track your progress.  Let’s take a quick look at the elements.

  • Specific.  The goal is not “squishy” – it is very focused.
  • Measurable.  The goal can be quantified and progress tracked.
  • Achievable.  The goal can be done – it is not beyond the capability of the individual.  This is important, since it improves stickiness.  If the individual doesn’t believe it can happen, they will quit before they get started.
  • Relevant.  The goal has connection to the individual.
  • Timebound.  There is a start and stop period.  This aids in measurement, too.

Let’s take a typical example from this time of the year – improving your health by losing weight.  Using the SMART format, it might look like this:  “I will lose 15 pounds by the end of May.”

  • Is it Specific?  Yes – losing pounds/weight.
  • Is it Measurable?  Yes – we’ve called the number of pounds at 15.
  • Is it Achievable?  Yes – for a person over 150 pounds, it is less than 10% of their body weight.
  • Is it Relevant?  Yes – it connects to health, and there are subroutines that can be built (exercise, eating, etc.) to support it.
  • Is it Timebound?  Yes – by end of May gives us 5 months to complete the task.

This is a simple example of using the SMART structure to set and achieve goals. To make it even more “sticky” and improve the odds of success, share your goal with an accountability partner who can help you track against it.

Do you have others?  What’s your top goal for 2016?

Ways to work to start the new year

A strategy to get the most of your day

Time is the great equalizer. No matter how wealthy you are, or whether The Man is keeping you down – each one of us is granted the same amount of time in a day as Edison, Einstein, Sun Tzu or Martin Luther King, Jr.

The urge to stretch that time, and get more out of it, is the basis of a billion dollar industry. I’m simply amazed at the number of time management systems and strategies there are out there. Many are great – the FranklinCovey system & Getting Things Done by David Allen are perennial favorites – and all offer the promise of “pack more into your busy day.”

An often overlooked component, though, is the concept of personal and mental energy. A great, though dated, book on this is The Corporate Athlete. By being “in training,” the author reasons, you can keep your body in peak condition to handle the day to day stresses of the workplace.

But – how can these two concepts come together? Being a quantitatively driven guy, I always remember the equation:

Productivity = time + energy

Every day – whether at work, school or home – is an opportunity to “get things done.” Defining what needs to be done is another story…so let’s unpack the time and energy components.

Time. Though many complain “there simply isn’t enough” – there is. Remember the Edison observation, above? Focus on the important, and the urgent, and delegate everything else. One trick I use to keep myself on track is my calendar. If it is on my to-do list, I schedule time on the calendar to tackle it. Simple, and it reinforces itself…I’ve found that when I don’t, that important project becomes an urgent fire, simply because I didn’t handle it earlier in the week.

Energy. There is a body of work around being active and mobile to keep the body engaged and the mind refreshed. Whether it is as simple as the “standing” 10 minute meeting that Lencioni writes about, simply taking a walk every day in the morning or after dinner, or scheduling (and completing) workouts 3-5 times a week in the gym – move. Additionally, watch what you eat, and when. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t “play one on TV,” but I can definitely tell the performance difference when I’ve eaten a good breakfast. With the rise of Fitbit and other biometric monitors, it’s easy to keep track of your activity level. Make this a focus, and invest in yourself.

How does this show up for me? With few exceptions, I start my day at 5 AM with a workout of some sort (even if it is just a walk) while listening to a podcast or a “book on tape,” eat a good breakfast and then begin the commute. I do the hardest things of the day first – before 11 AM – when my calendar and my energy levels are at their best. I wrap up the day with the commute home, while doing conference calls with friends and colleagues in other time zones. In bed between 9 and 10 PM. Every chance I get, I walk around the office – keeps me connected to my colleagues, enables me to get some activity in, and opens up my brain.

Even though I travel frequently, if I don’t keep some kind of physical activity and watch what I eat & when, combined with leveraging my calendar to get tasks done – I can feel it in the workplace.

What about you? Do you have a life hack like this that enables you to get more done, and feel good about it? If not – try this for a couple weeks and see if it works for you. You have nothing to lose.

Working with the VA

They are not the inefficient bureaucrats you hear about

You don’t often hear this about a government agency, and the Veteran’s Administration in particular – but I’m impressed.

I submitted my business for certification as a Veteran-owned small business…and was contacted the next business day by the VA, asking for clarification on a form.

Pleasant, quick and effective.  I was surprised.

I’ve had two exchanges this week so far.  The only complaint is – though the VA case manager will call you and leave a voicemail, to return the call you have to go through a main switchboard after a phone tree.  And they only leave their first name.  That’s the only piece of bureaucratic weirdness I’ve encountered so far.

Again, I’m impressed so far.  I’ll keep you advised as I journey forward.

Merry Christmas, and let me know if you’ve been surprised by good service from a bureaucracy.

Conquering fear and ambiguity at work

Communicate, but don't be needy

Let’s face it. We all work for someone. Whether it’s your “boss”, the board, The Man…we all report to someone else. And we don’t know what they think of us, or whether they know what we do every day.

That’s what creates ambiguity, dampens productivity and can generate fear.

How do you deal with it? When you’re unsure of where you stand? Here are a few tips:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether it is a weekly email of accomplishments, or a daily 3 minute conversation on what is going on in the business or the project – do it. If your supervisor is a walk around type, use that “drive by” time to do the 3 minute drill on what’s going on. And for heaven’s sake, if there is bad news – get it to your supervisor as quick as you can. Bad news doesn’t age well. Just don’t be needy.
  • Have a career plan. Unlike the 1950’s, or the government, odds are you will not work for the same company, doing the same thing, your entire working life. If you work in a corporate environment, you’re familiar with the annual budget and business plan. What about having one for you? If you know where you are going, and actively work towards that goal, it can give you inner peace – since you are working your plan, and not worrying so much about the day-to-day ambiguity that your supervisor, or company, may be generating.
  • Find a mentor. This doesn’t mean enroll in the company program, or appear needy and tell your supervisor that you need a mentor – I mean, look around your company, the local community or social media and find a role model. With today’s technology, you can strike up a conversation with nearly anyone…or follow them on CNBC, WSJ, or industry press.

It’s all about having a plan, working the plan, and growing and developing yourself. If you are working your plan and communicating your good work to your supervisor, you don’t need to worry so much about the ambiguity and short sightedness of your company, your supervisor…or, if you are unfortunate enough to have one – The Boss.

Ultimately, no one is responsible for you – other than you. Go get it! I’m cheering for you!

Veteran Owned and Minority Owned Business verification

As I set up as a vendor with my first client, I was asked if I qualified for a number of different categories. As I looked at the long list, I did qualify – as a veteran owned and minority owned business.

Why would you “check the box?”  Upon researching it further, it became pretty clear:

  1. There are government set-asides for these classifications
  2. Corporate entities want to do business with other companies that carry these certifications
  3. There are support opportunities, like networking, mentoring and lead generation, through the VA, small business administration and other groups

Checking out the requirements, it looked like a daunting list. Here’s what I found:

  • For veteran owned businesses, as a start up, you need:
    • To own at least 51% of the business, and run it
    • Incorporation documents (if you are one – I’m a corporation, and the documents were sent by the state Secretary of State)
    • Resume for principals (that means you)
    • A DUNS number (it’s a database, takes 5 minutes to fill out the form, and they promise turnaround in 1 business day)
    • An EIN or your social security/taxpayer ID number
    • Be in the VA database – they refer to it as BIRLS – if you’ve registered for VA benefits at any time, you’re in it.  I also think it is part of your outprocessing.
    • At least 60 days to process
    • There were counseling services and pre-application information available.  I checked out the pre-application resources – very helpful.
    • It’s free
  • For minority owned business certification, you need:
    • To own at least 51% of the business, and run it
    • Many of the above documents
    • Business cards of the principals of the organization, with titles
    • At least 90 days to process, and there is a periodic recertification
    • There’s a fee, but I haven’t gotten that far in the process yet

As I continue down the path, I’ll post my progress.  Right now, I’m waiting for my DUNS number, and then I’ll start the VA process.

UPDATE:  I got my DUNS number in 8 hours.  Emailed to me overnight.  Fantastic.

Have you gone through this process?  Any tips, or tricks?

Don’t Be Stupid. Don’t Be the Boss. Lead.

Micromanagement breeds cynicism

A common phrase used by my military supervisors was “Don’t be stupid.”  Besides the mission, my overriding goal while in uniform was not being “That Guy.”

Here’s how I avoid it in my corporate life – be a leader.

Humility is a big part of leadership.  I’ve observed time and again how The Boss is convinced that he is the Smartest Guy in the Room, and dictates not only the objective, but the strategy and the tactics.  This worked when they were a functional expert (maybe), or technical leader – but it doesn’t work when in charge of a larger, cross functional team.

Some might call that micromanagement.  I just call it being stupid.  Which is why micromanagers are often referred to as The Boss.

Learning from others is a key part of being a leader.  Three key tasks can set you apart as A Leader, vs. being The Boss:

  • Invite interaction.  Lay out the issue at hand, and ask for input.  Sincerely ask for input, with an open mind – not filibuster for 7 minutes and then look at the team, asking, “What do you think?”  The filibuster breeds cynicism. True interaction brings out team engagement.
  • Listen. Really, really listen. I know that is difficult for driver types, but ensure that you look at the person speaking (not at your phone), and ask clarifying questions.
  • Check for engagement. Once the team has determined the course of action, summarize the next steps. Then, go around the group and ask if anyone has anything to add. Make sure they verbalize or acknowledge. In a functioning team, this simple step can be the glue that binds the team to the decision, or uncovers the hidden dissent that starts the process over again.

For The Boss, there is only one way – their way.  With a Leader, the team engagement identifies several options – and the group selects the right one.

Is the person you work for a Boss, or a Leader? Which will you be? It’s a choice – and it’s up to you.

So you want to start your own business?

Come walk with me, and learn from my mistakes

As part of rethinking the corporate grind, you may want to start your own thing.  Whether it is a side business or your main thing, hopefully I can help you as I start my own.

I’ve spent a week working to get this site up and running, and as you can tell, it is a work in progress…much like my business.  I am definitely not a techie.

Here are the steps I’ve taken in the past week:

  1. I decided to take the plunge.  Whether you are pushed, have decided to do it yourself, or a combination of both – this is a big deal!
  2. I formed my own company.  Cost $300 to file with the state.  Fortunately, I have a close friend who is a lawyer and an entrepreneur, so he spent some time on the phone with me and handled the paperwork.
  3. I bought the domain names associated with my business.  Domain names are simply the url’s – the web address that you type into your browser (internet explorer, safari, firefox, etc.)  I used, and I recommend them.  Easy to use, and relatively inexpensive at under $100 for multiple domains.
  4. I set up hosting for my site.  Hosting is simply the servers that run your website.  I’m using A Simple Orange.  Fantastic support – online chat helped me tremendously.  Inexpensive at less than $5 a month.
  5. As part of site hosting, I installed wordpress.  WordPress allows you to set up the bones of a website, and it provides structure for millions of websites.  And it is free for the self-hosted version!

In the next few posts, I’ll take you through the other resources that I’m using as I launch my website and my online alter-ego.

Do you have any questions about “how to?”


Not at 22

Swagger. You really don’t have it. No matter how much Old Spice you purchase. Not at 22.

When I was 22, I was convinced I was the absolute best US Air Force air weapons officer on the planet. I spent my time in the back of the E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, talking to fighter pilots and practicing air-to-air engagements against Soviet style tactics. Maverick/Tom Cruise from Top Gun? Pansy. I mean, I had a whole 200 hours in the AWACS…half of them as a student, with an instructor weapons officer overseeing my every move. I. Was. Awesome. Just ask me.

Fortunately for me, and the pilots and aircrews I would work with during my Air Force career, I learned to listen to experience. Real experience, from real combat officers who had “been there.” Whenever I get the chance, I pass along some of the best lessons from the folks who cared about me, both in the military and in corporate life:

  1. Leadership by example. Don’t ask others to do what you won’t do – whether it is deploying over the holidays, or completing the annual corporate compliance training. Folks watch what you do, and emulate you.
  2. Communications cadence. Listen intently to what the other party has to say. Digest their meaning, and then respond. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it works to move the conversation along. Or put iron on target.
  3. Hard work never hurts in the long run. Yes, I know – work/life balance and all that. But when it’s crunch time – get in early, grab the task list, and just get it done.
  4. Look out for your people. Whether they are your troops, your direct reports, your boss, or your colleagues in the company, your well-being and future are tied to theirs. Look out for them, grow them, and everyone wins.
  5. Be humble. Probably the first lesson that my first supervisor taught me on a combat readiness check. “Yeah, you’re okay to go to Desert Shield. But don’t be stupid. You’re not as good as you think you are, and if you don’t keep your eyes open, you’ll get somebody killed.” Or something like that. His point was well taken – you can learn from everyone and everything. Be open to that.

Good lessons from good leaders.Too bad I didn’t know them and fully internalize them, especially number 5, fresh out of flying training! I. Was. Insufferable. And didn’t know it, or didn’t care. Don’t be that guy!