24 hours is a long time…

How to turn around your worst day ever …

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Have you ever come home from work (whether you work from home or not), and wanted to just throw something? Like it was the worst day ever! And “worst day ever” was not an exaggeration. It was THE Worst. Day. Ever! (WDE)

Now, have you ever come home from the same job, 24 hours later, thinking the exact opposite? As in, Best. Day. Ever!

I have, and it’s both a pain in the ass and a revelation. They say a week is a long time in politics. Twenty four hours can be a long time in a job. 

So, want happened in the twenty four hours between worst and best?

In my experience, (and this is not a peer reviewed, double blind study of thousands, this n=1), a bad day is just a bad day.But we catastrophise it.

My WDE was working in finance and I had deadlines that needed to be met and things just went awry. Then a deal was declined and I had to break the bad news to the client. I took it as a personal affront. I felt I had lost credibility with the client and my manager and they both thought less of me. And, while dealing with that, I still had to charge ahead on the deals that were falling more and more behind. And then I thought: “I should be better than this!” See? Worst. Day. Ever!

Here’s my evaluation, yours may differ with that minimal amount of information. 

The problem wasn’t really in missing or delaying the deadlines. Everyone knew we were short staffed, over worked and had way more on our plate than was feasible. The executive didn’t really care as it was money in the door, profits increasing and happier shareholders. (Until later, when we literally ran out of money to lend!) It was backs to the wall stuff.

The deal that got declined wasn’t really an issue. Was I the first person in history to have a deal declined. The first person ever to miss an element in financial management? No. Hardly. Shit happens. (But I do tend to be down on myself for mistakes I make. Again, I’m probably not the only one who does this).

The real problem here was my … perspective!

I had taken it way too personally! I know, people getting a deal declined can be demoralising and hard on the client when they can’t achieve their goal. But I can’t help them in that moment. Sometimes I feel I should. 

So what happened in the 24 hours after that WDE (Worst Day Ever!)?

Because of the WDE, I took stock to get control back, or at least a little more control. I looked at what was within my sphere of influence and took steps to manage my workload. 

I literally piled up the files on my desk (it was a very high pile!). I ordered them by deadline and worked though them one by one. No deal got looked at until the deal I was working on was finished with for the day. If a client rang up asking for an update I gave them the briefest (but nicest) update and then back to the pile.

The productivity and progress made that day went through the roof!

Best Day Ever!

Two things I (re)learned:

  1. Perspective – how am I thinking about my circumstances and how am I responding? Am I improving my circumstances or adding to the chaos? What steps can I take to regain order and control? Is it really as bad as it seems or am I catastrophising again?
  2. Processes/Procedures – I love these. Develop a process or a procedure to follow to ensure the steps I am taking cover the end to end process. And then iterate as I go. Is there a step I can add or remove? Keep it simple. This is from experience but the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is an also must read!
    1. in addition to this, particularly if you work in an organisation where people can override you, it is invaluable to be able to articulate your thinking and demonstrate your process. Sometimes a manager will not care about your discipline to work effectively and pronounce “just get it done!” This can be a challenge when trying to become better and stressing less by doing what you need to keep to the plan. I had this challenge last week. Here is the outcome …

Summary

In order to reduce stress, look at how you are looking at things. What perspective are you taking? Are you making it worse than what it is? This can be hard in the moment. But that thought (it can be hard in the moment) is also a realisation to help us move forward. You may need to think, “This is hard…”, but then follow it up with “… but not pointless.”

Processes. What can you put in place to help you stay on course? Is it a checklist or simply write out for today what you’d like to achieve? Perhaps add what will you do if you get off track. What about people who can, due to their role, overrule what you are trying to achieve? Is that a personal development opportunity → “How to deal with people who try to overrule you (unnecessarily)”. Sometimes being overruled is necessary. A wise person will know or learn the difference.

And then, be kind to yourself. It may not happen at the first try. It may take a few goes to get it right. 

Closing the Learning Loop

One of the dilemmas of trainers is in ensuring people to retain and apply the learning they have experienced.

This is one of my bug bears where I don’t want to spend time with a group, get great evaluations and feel they’ve “got it” only to find very little has been applied. I mean, application is the whole point.

I feel there is an open loop to learning that can be easily closed.

It’s back on the job, where the pressure of the work day and volume of requests do their very best to limit the time and effectiveness of embedding the learning.

People want to apply what they have learned because they remember what the benefit is. It’s having the time and clarity of what to do.

To that end, I have created a “Today I Learned” template.

This is a simple tool designed to allow a learner to have conversation on paper to make sure they are closing the loops to their learning.

It starts with a simple:

Today I Learned… and asks the learner to write down what the learning was. It could be a concept (Today I Learned … how to create an effective meeting agenda) to a whole workshop (Today I Learned … CPR).

So Now I Can … It then asks the learner what that means. This clarifies the purpose and benefit of the learning.

  • So now I can … set up meetings effectively … to help me stay on track.
  • So now I can … administer CPR if it’s needed … and save someone’s life.

I also suggest writing this in a format where you can explain it to others. This also helps in embedding the information.

But now back to work …

So you’ve just completed the best course you’ve ever attended and you’re keen to get stuck into it back at work (maybe CPR (above) was the wrong example to be keen about! 🙄)

But now, back at work with the pressures and demands, Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve comes into mess things up! Elements are forgotten. We lose confidence and focus on the information just learned. It all becomes too hard and we hope we don’t need to administer CPR for at least 12 months.

To counter this, I’ve added the element of:

But I have questions … this allows the individual to acknowledge they had the training and gained some value. But now what do they do when they need to apply the skills/knowledge? It can all get a bit fuzzy, which means questions will arise.

  • Do I pull out the checklist first or do I go straight into CPR?
  • What if I get a stage the wrong way round?
  • “What if …, What if … What if …”

This section allows the learner to write down what’s in their head. Often in writing it out, the answer will become clear. Other times it may require contact with the trainer. (I’d be more than happy to help clarify concepts with a learner after a workshop. Their effectiveness back at work is the whole point, after all!)

The last two sections are:

  1. What is preventing me: a list of things that might be getting in the way
  2. What I plan to do is: a set of steps to overcome the preventions and create momentum

Finally

This is also intended as a coaching plan. Using it with a learner, it helps clarify the issues that are preventing improved performance or blocks to developing a skill. A good coach can work through each section and allow the learner to develop their own solutions.

You can find a copy on the Resources Page. I hope you find it helpful.

I’d be keen to get your thoughts. Have you developed something similar?

If you found this and other material here useful, consider dropping $1 in the cup! And tell a few friends! 🙏

The SCARF Model®

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The SCARF Model was developed by David Rock in 2008. It may seem a deceptively simple model at first, but it creates a broad range of conversations to help develop you develop as well as the people around you and the team/s you lead.

SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

The model depicts the possible reactions to the 5 areas when threatened or rewarded. In other words, if we recognise or help establish someone’s Status within a team, they will be more engaged. Threaten the Status and they may be less engaged, less productive and a flight risk!

First some definitions:

  • Status: Concerns an individual’s social standing, where do they fall in the pecking order.
  • Certainty: our brain’s ability to make accurate predictions about the future. Even if that prediction is that you’re sure you don’t know what’s coming.
  • Autonomy: The power to exert control over your environment.
  • Relatedness: feeling connected to other people—in particular people we identify as being similar to us.
  • Fairness: Humans have a hardwired desire for fairness. We seek a fair exchange of information, services and ideas. We also seek a fair exchange of respect, acknowledgement and a sense that we have been heard.

Applying SCARF

There is certainly more than one way to apply SCARF but I see benefit in the following:

  1. Delivering SCARF
  2. Developing SCARF

Delivering SCARF

Delivering SCARF is about providing each element to others. This might be seen as the role of a leader but it applies to anyone.

We can all raise the status of others. Acknowledge them, give them positive feedback, show appreciation, asking them to speak up in a meeting if you know they have something to contribute. It’s not difficult.

How can we provide certainty to our colleagues? What can we say and do that will help them be more confident and sure about the future? What information do you have that would be helpful? Do you have information you don’t fully understand and therefore not share it? If your team are relying on you, you may be putting certainty at risk!

How do we help them build the skills so they can achieve greater autonomy? What guidelines can they can work towards? Do you plan a direct report’s development with providing greater autonomy in mind? Do they know that?

How are we developing our relationships so they know they have something like a “best friend” at work? In the book, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, Wagner and Harter propose that,

“Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him (sic) to do positive things for the business he (sic) would not otherwise do.”

To support this, you will likely find, when completing and reviewing exit interviews, the most common expression people provide is, “… the people were great … “

How can we ensure they know they are being treated fairly? This can be hard. Perhaps we use an internal compass. Do you suffer from the “horns or halo effect” where you consciously or, worse, subconsciously play favourites? (Worse be because you may not be aware that you do!)

Developing SCARF

Another aspect is taking responsibility to develop our own SCARF characteristics. These are similar questions but the responsibility is on ourselves to develop each elements of the model.

How can we raise our own status in order to make a greater contribution?

Can we take steps that will increase our own certainty? What research can we do? Who can we speak within the organisation? Is there product material we could read? All with the aim of being more confident within ourselves and, when the time is right helping others with this information.

Are we learning more about our role and responsibilities to allow greater autonomy because the boss trusts us? What are we demonstrating? What initiative are we showing?

Are we building our relationships with others in the team and across other teams?

Are we treating others fairly? How do we know and what can we do to ensure we meet this expectation?

The Consequences

One of the consequences of failing to consider these elements is staff turnover. I’ve seen this occur and I have been responsible for … fixing it!

I worked in an organisation where we had 40%+ staff turnover. It was just above the top of the industry range. We were turning over our whole staff every two years. As this was the resources industry (Mining & Gas) the cost of this was astronomical. Lose a good person and you had to replace them. If salaries were averaging $150k that meant recruitment costs were between $15k ands $30k. Do the math!

Twelve months later we were at 19%, just below the industry norm!

What did we do?

  • We increased out connection with your people.
  • We communicated what opportunities were available internally.
  • We developed recognition systems that truly valued people’s contribution.
  • We allowed the team to promote their areas to “recruit” internally.

Connection

We redoubled our efforts to remain in contact with people on site. We received feedback that once we placed them, we forgot them. More regular visits and news from “head office” were welcomed, rather than what was happening before. This showed we valued them and their opinions. They were connected to the company and felt part of something bigger. All of a sudden the greener grass elsewhere began to fade. (Status, Certainty, Relatedness)

Communication

We made sure they knew what was going on in the company. Many of these people knew colleagues on different projects and sites. And they talked. If we left a gap, they filled it in with their version of the “truth”. We worked to open the communication channels to get ahead of the rumour mill and keep in touch with those at risk. (Relatedness, Certainty)

Recognition

This was crucial. We developed mechanisms to recognise years of service, outstanding project work and anything else worth a mention. And when a client sent through a compliment, we shared it far and wide. Not just a “thanks” back to the client. (Status, Relatedness, Fairness)

Team Promotion Expo (see note below)

This started off as a beast of a project to organise but was an outstanding success. The premise being an internal expo. Teams were invited to set up stalls to promote what they were doing. “Be as creative as you like”. They promoted what they did at their site and used all sorts of methods to do so. Some showed skills in presentation we didn’t know they had! They let people know what skills they used on site, what skills were still needed or would be needed soon. This allowed others who were rolling off projects to look at options internally. This was a huge relief to many, as they didn’t want to go on to the open market. Having roles come up internally provided a great deal of peace of mind. And those needing the skills, gained people who knew the culture and the basics of the project already, this limiting a downturn in project productivity. (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness)

Conclusion

Admittedly, we can reverse engineer any successful strategy. However, looking at what we accomplished without SCARF in mind, demonstrates the benefits of the model. The principles hold true.

Reviewing these tactics, and how they significantly impacted turnover, provides a template for what to do across a number of critical organisational strategies.

Note: The expo, in many ways, demonstrated support for Deming’s 14 Total Quality Management Principles, in particular:

  • 8 – Drive out fear
  • 9 – Break down barriers between staff areas
  • 12 – Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship

Thoughts?

Maybe it’s Not the To Do List

When it comes to productivity and to do lists, there is a plethora of apps and processes that promise to alleviate us of our stress and make our lives so much better.

Many of these tools help us accomplish those things. But there are also situations where we look at our list, whether it’s in a notebook, on an app or in our head and we still get overwhelmed. There is just too much to do and not enough time. Apparently, the ancient Romans had the same issue!

I’ve been pondering if there is a root cause. Something besides the number of tasks and the time we have. Even the most disciplined people can “fall off the wagon” and need to get back in control. What causes this?

The founder of Ness Labs, Anne-Laure Le Cunff (@anthilemoon) has just begun a YouTube channel and she discusses three types of motivation when it comes to procrastination. One of which I want to discuss here: perceived abilities.

If we look at our to do lists we see a lot of tasks that come within the brief of our job, whether that job is your employment or a more casual (non-KPI’d) role, like being a dad or a friend or a maintenance guy around the house (I have the fix the headlight on my car! Update: it’s fixed! 🙌).

We can look at the list of tasks and some are relatively easy to do. For me, presenting in public comes relatively easy, simply because I’ve done it so many times and feedback has been good (or, perhaps, polite! 😉). Therefore, if someone asks me to do a presentation, I’m not going to get too anxious, in fact, I’ll probably look forward to it! Weird huh?).

In another area of my role, as a Change Analyst, I’m relatively new to the function and I’m working on an IT project, which is also new to me. I’ve been asked to develop a change plan. Not something I’ve done before. I have been given guidance and a template and plenty of support. I still procrastinate and look at the task, not with dread, but certainly with a little less confidence than giving a presentation. There are so many elements that go into a change plan I don’t really know where to start, or what is enough information and what might be too much.

As I develop my change analyst skills, this will become easier. We grow, even if subconsciously, in the things we repeatedly do.

Therefore, when I suggest the list isn’t the problem, I’m suggesting it might be the skill set required to complete the tasks on the list. Brian Tracy authored the book, “Eat That Frog” to help people get over the toughest task of the day early. My question is, “Why is it tough?” Referring back to Anne-Laure‘s* video, she also discusses two other motivational areas: head and heart. She explains it better than I can, so head on over to the video (and subscribe while you’re there).

For many of us, me included, a long list can cause anxiety in and of itself. But then, as you decide which task to tackle first (or second, or third …), you need to be aware of what skills you have to complete the task. And what skills you need. And once you have decided that, what are you going to do about it to become more competent, less anxious and enjoy the task more.

Here’s my Plan

My process will be to look at tasks and batch them. As Tim Ferriss* (among others) has written and spoken of time and time again you don’t need to know everything about a topic, you just need to know the top 20-30% of things (Tim refers to speaking Japanese and how many words you really need to learn!) To me this means: what skills do many of these tasks require and what skills do I need to develop.

Touch Typing

I have been procrastinating on touch typing. Why? Even though I am making small progress, I just want to be able to do it now! I start and stop with the practice. I know becoming competent will benefit me, especially as my mind races with thoughts that I cannot get out quick enough.

Learning how to develop a Zettelkasten

Another is developing a Zettelkasten approach to note taking to help me learn more, with more interest and, in the long run, learn quicker.

Both of the above would help me develop change plans better, as one example, and through more effective research and developing ideas.

The list itself, at least for me, isn’t the basic issue. It’s having or developing the skills I need to complete the tasks on the list; whether I am looking at the larger outcome (Change Plan) or breaking it down to smaller tasks.

Coming Up: How Developing the Skills adds to the Time to Complete Tasks

*shameless name dropping! 🙂

Facile

Definition: Easily accomplished (Latin, French origins)

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Einstein

When I started training to be a facilitator, I learnt where the word facilitator came from – facile. To help make things easy to accomplish.

That was it, my job was to maker things easier for others to their jobs well.

People like James Clear in his book Atomic Habits also promotes making things easier when you are trying to take on new routines.

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work is advocating for setting up guidelines to make deep work easier.

Why would we try to make it hard for ourselves?

We should be doing what we can to make our lives and those we work with easier or simpler to help them and us achieve our goals.

This starts at home and continues into the work itself.

At home it begins with things like ensuring we get the best possible sleep, eating heathy meals (which can vary between individuals), getting enough sunlight and exercise. Simple things in themselves but each can affect our happiness and performance, particularly when added together.

If we are not happy, our energy and focus suffers, which will in turn affect our work. And as we get to work, how do we structure our days so we can be the best we can be?

It can be having specific routines and clear expectations. This will allow you and your direct reports to know exactly what is required, when and how.

There is a peace of mind and clarity in knowing what to do and how to do it.

For example, every day, before I get to the office I have listed my 3 Most Important Things (MITs) . They are my focus for the day – outside of my routine tasks. My day will already be busy so by having these priorities I can say no to casual, generally less important requests and focus on daily responsibilities and my 3 MITs.

I think of it like this: at the end of each day I am going to mentally reflect on how I went, even just casually. Was it a good day or a bad day? And then, what caused it to be good or bad? What was in my control and what was not?

If I allow the tasks of the day to jumble up and cause chaos that is my responsibility alone. Yes, there will be days where the “proverbial really hits the fan” and I need to throw my plans out, but over 221* working days in a year, most of those days I will be in relative control.

I will be in control because I have plans, routines and execution strategies to help me focus and keep things simple. I don’t need any further friction.

I do these things to make my life easier. Work, sometimes, is not easy but I don’t have it make it harder than it needs to be either.


*221 working days is determined as follows (in Australia):

  • 365 days in a year
  • – 104 days are 2 day weekends
  • – 20 days are annual leave (if taken)
  • – 10 days are public holidays
  • – 10 days are sick leave (if taken)

 

On Being Productive

I’m not sure when the “self help” industry started and I’m not sure why it started when it did.

Today it’s easy to see why. People are overrun with tasks, deadlines and responsibilities. Not all of which are useful. Many of which could be dropped and no-one would notice.

My productivity journey began in 1996.

I’d just been appointed Human Resources and Sales Manager for a newly developed business unit in a bank. It was termed Direct Banking, where people would call in to have their home loans assessed over the phone. All common place today but back then, major change.

It was very exciting as we worked long hours, changing systems and processes on the go to make sure we kept up with demand and expectations. The adrenalin and achievement was like a drug. We couldn’t wait to get back to it each day.

My manager, a very crusty Welshman who demanded a lot, noticed I was a little chaotic in the midst of all this. He suggested I stop in at McDonalds first thing every day and plan my day.

“What I was going to do? What I was going to achieve?” That was it, nothing more.

I agreed with the idea and so my affair with productivity (and coffee*) commenced.

This small activity made a lot of difference. We had our business plan so referencing that I could easily determine my next actions and explain why if asked.

Three things happened:

  1. The day became a lot clearer and therefore more enjoyable.
  2. My team were also better led because I could give them better guidance and they achieved more.
  3. We began to get ahead of our plans and be ready for the “next thing” – we looked forward to the “next thing”.

Obvious in hindsight perhaps.

But sometimes all we need a small nudge and the world falls into place.

What I was doing at McDonalds was listing my 3 – 5 MITs (Most Important Things). They would be my focus for the day.

They helped me make decisions and guide me throughout the day. If I got distracted, back to the list: “What do I need to accomplish today?”

I then coached others on developing their own MITs.

The term MIT (Most Important Thing/s) is now productivity lore. But it was there all along. The rate of change just gets us bent out of shape sometimes and we can neglect ways a small but powerful activity, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, can prepare us for the next day.

Q: Do you follow something like this? Do you do something different that is just as effective or more effective?

Let me know.

*Coffee – I’ve transitioned off McDonalds coffee mostly but back then, when it was free re-fills all day, and being on one income, it was a bit of a lifesaver at times. 🙂