Sunday, March 23, 2008

That was easy

I have a red "easy" button on my desk. It was a gift from a coworker and a friend. Every time I would walk out of my office, or hang up from a difficult phone call - or was about to face my destiny in some scary meeting, I take a deep breath and slam the easy button. And then I would feel better, because it reminded that nothing is that serious. No babies were being born as a result of what I do, and no lives would be lost today on my watch. No kittens to save and no burning buildings.

So what's the big deal? Why all the drama? Why does what happens in the corporate world tend to translate to something bigger than it really is?

One answer might be that we are believe what we do is important and deserves care and attention. Fair enough, but why all the drama, I ask? I would suggest that the source of this drama is possibly ego and fear. Often times, we are afraid of people with power because it can affect the quality of our lives beyond work - and our ego. Losing one's job, for example, is likely the most life - defining and devastating moment in the work place because it calls into question everything that we hold near and dear. Our job is one of the labels that we hold near and dear. "I am a .... fill in the blank. This translates to "I am important, I have these accomplishments and I make this much money." How many times have you heard someone say, I am a wife, mother, husband, brother, mother of another . . . I am a practicing whatever, and my zodiac sign is . . . .

Not too often. That is why the easy button is my best friend at work. When I raise my hand up, I inhale at the same time, and exhale on the way down. When I slam the button, all the stress is gone. And the voice reaffirms my feeling - That was easy.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rethinking work and living

When was the last time you had to answer the question - what are your successes, and what are your failures? Today was my lucky day.

Speaking to successes came quickly - awards that I had won in the past, seeing a great concept become real, helping people to succeed.

But failures - that's another matter. We often see failure as a sign of weakness. But I started to think about it in an objective sense. I asked myself, I could change something about my life, or the way I live it, what would it be?

The answer came to me a flood of memories of my children on their first day of school, their first dance recital, Halloween and Christmas, and dance lessons. I realized that those days are gone, as my girls are now young women. Now, I look forward to seeing them in between their jobs, school work and boyfriends.

I realized that if I could change something, I would take back the time that I spent working long hours in the office just to meet a deadline or impress my boss. I would spend more time listening, and teaching others to work with me more. I realized that I have spent too many hours at work, and too few hours living. And in the course of that, I have done some cool things at work, but there are other costs. The more I worked at night, the harder my team had to work to catch up. It became counter productive, and it would have burned them out. And then, where would I be, with only 6 more hours in a day.

So my answer to the question about (gulp) failures was this: "I don't really think in terms of failures, but more what I have learned - and I have learned not to work 18 hours a day. I have learned that I want more life, while still growing professionally.

This journey toward balance actually started a year ago when I did my own personal strategic planning. I made a commitment to learn to work less and live more. To breathe in and out, go home in the day light, read a book, pet my cats and dog, paint my house, and read a book (I currently have 3 on the go.) I set my commitment to my self in the most profound an permanent way possible - I got a tattoo that symbolizes balance. I started to exercise more, eat better and learn to play the guitar. I started to find myself being able in live in the moment, breathe more, and feel better. I started to appreciate my home and family more, and yep, even my job.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't leave my passion for my work behind. I love what I do, and more importantly, I am very committed to the people. A funny thing happened, though, on my own journey toward balance. I found myself becoming more aware of the way the people in my division were being treated, and how they felt. I became more acutely aware of how frustrated people became when they could not control what was happening to them. When things happened to them. So I developed and implemented a way to give the people back control of their day, or at least have a fighting chance. Of course, in doing so, I found myself clocking the hours again. But it was worth the effort. In fact, it was probably the most important thing I have done in the past 4 years because it was for the people who do the work.

I also scaled back the work in my department, eliminating all things that are not core. I realigned the roles of my team and increased productivity and employee satisfaction by increasing their responsibilities and matching their pay. And I did the organization a favor by reducing my department budget by 30% when a new opportunity arose in the company that was perfect for one of my team members, which he loves. So it was win - win for everyone.

I tracked my progress, by using the time tracker at work, and also asking my family if they were getting more quality time with me than they had in the past. On the time tracking front, I thought I was doing pretty good. In October and November, I clocked an extra 5 - 10 hours of overtime per month. That's not bad. Then in December, my overtime increased to 20 hours and in January it climbed again. I was heading back to where I was before.

So I stopped myself and said no to overtime in February and March. I took a holiday and even took 3 days off due to illness. My daughter tells me I am on the right track. And my team are just moving along as planned.

And it's good, because not only did I learn that there's a life after 5:00 P.M., I also learned that I can be even more creative than I was before. I have rediscovered my love of writing and have produced a book of poetry, which I am hoping to publish this year.

I have also had time to think about what it is I want to do from 8 to 5, and I realized that I need to do what I love to do - that is what I have been doing for the last 12 years. Strategic planning, leadership and communications. I am innately curious about why things are the way they are and what makes things work, and what something might look like if you looked at it another way. Strategy is great because it's all about unleashing the explorer in all of us. Looking to the future and then getting there, one step at a time. And of course, all good ideas need people, and that's where leadership comes in. So, I am back to where I began this journey. My career is on target, and I have a clear view of what's next. I am a little wiser in the way of work so that I spend more time at life.

Living has to be about being passionate about something and doing it. That means loving what I do from 8 to 5, as well as what I do from 5 to 12.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Values: what would you stand in front of a moving train for?

I believe that once one decides to do something, it is inevitable that one will succeed. It is simply a matter of cause and effect. This is true in life and in business. The thing is, how often do we decide to do something on purpose - something great and grand that can change the every day of at least one person? How many times do we think about what we are giving, or contributing, to this life of ours?

My guess is not often enough. I like to look at the greatest people of our time, and I am sure they had a plan. More importantly they had a set of values that they would stand in front of a moving train for.

Nelson Mandela once said that the leadership is about having a value, and then taking every possible opportunity to make it known to other so they can act on it to. Another great leader recently said, if you look at a companies balance sheet, that will tell what the the leaders of that organization value.

I can see values in ones life being important, because they are intrinsic to who we are, and what we believe in and live. In fact, our laws (the balance sheet of our society) are laced with values such as freedom, responsibility for others, honesty and to safety.

In the corporate setting, values have a role to play there too. They are the parameters of the 9 to 5 society. They are like promises. Most corporations or large organizations have some kind of stated values. Things like commitment, honesty, integrity and respect. But the question is, in the work place, how do we know that we are living these values, and if we are not, what are the consequences?

The answer is that there are both short and long term ramifications to ignoring one's values, whether it is a person or an organization. In an organization, if the leadership ignores the stated values and breaks these promises, then you can expect to see the business suffer. People become disengaged when they see that leaders do not walk the talk. Turnover rates go up, and there goes the ROI for employee development dollars and time invested. Not to mention, productivity. It takes approximately one year to get the average employee up to speed in a new job, which includes learning the job, the tasks, the culture (how things get done) and then how to become part of the culture.

All this means the company not only loses money, but it can't turn on a dime, and therefore may not be able to respond to market place challenges and changes if the leaders are not able to lead.

Ignoring values are costly. There is always a price tag. They are not just words on a the back of the annual report, on posted on the wall, they are the true test of today's leaders.