Tell Your Boss to Go Shove Those “KPIs”

I see it all the time with new leaders. Note, I don’t say here young leaders, but new leaders. They are worried about one metric or the other and are trying to figure out what is wrong it. Or why it is off. They run report after report and pore over all the spreadsheets they can lay their hands on until they figure it out. They finally have it narrowed down to one Key Performance Indicator. One piece of data out of the thousands of minutiae that they have considered. They often then come to me with their triumph in tow, like a freshly stuffed animal back from the taxidermist ready to be hung on their cubicle wall. “Look what I’ve found! If we can just get this one metric moving in the right direction, we’ll be set! It will add X dollars to the topline or X dollars to the bottom line. What do you think?”

In these situations I usually have a couple thoughts or comments. Generally I will let the leader move forward with whatever their plan is and have them report back to me. If the results are good, then we may have found something important that can then be shared within the organization. If the results are poor, then it comes back to one thing: Don’t get so focused on the measurables that you forget to count the things that can’t be counted. The talent of the people on your team, the messaging you used to deliver the new idea, the execution of the new idea, the timing of the new idea, the mindset of your team, etc. Running a business or a team has just as much or more to do with the people you hire and how you influence their state of mind, as it does with the metrics you use to run it. Never, ever forget to count that which can’t be measured.

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The Art of Audacity

In the first half of the 19th Century Carl Von Clausewitz, a famous German General and tactician wrote that “Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do one thousand times more damage in war than audacity.”
While attempting not to sound overly dramatic, I would argue a similar case for both the workplace and life. Audacity, in the long run, will outperform timidity in making your life fulfilling. Without the occasional dose of audacity, you become easy to ignore, and even worse, easy to predict. The advantage does not lie in being temperamental, but in the lingering thought in your boss’ mind that you just might do X.  They won’t make assumptions on what salary you will settle for or timeframe is acceptable for promotion, or that you will simply stay with the company because you are too timid to take a risk.

It took me eight years in the corporate world to learn this lesson. I spent my twenties following along with what my bosses asked me to do, moved where my bosses asked me to move, and generally followed the path of what a successful 21st century business person should do. I bought a new car! And a house! And then another house!
But I’d taken no risks. I had little I could point to that I was proud of. I’d never stopped to write as I’d always wanted to. I’d never had the guts to say “no” to a boss when asked to complete a project or move to a new city. But it wasn’t because I wanted to. It’s because I thought I was supposed to. I was still working along a path that was safe. But I had been timid. I found myself in the same place that AJ Leon found himself in at a Wall Street Bank in his mid twenties. When his boss offered him a promotion, he looked into the future and saw that without the audacity to do what he wanted to, to do what made him want to get out of bed on a daily basis, he would end up exactly where his boss was: Rich, in a business he cared little for, and most importantly miserable. Most people’s audacity will not reach to the level of AJ’s. Yours may be a hard negotiation. A step into a part of the business you’ve been told not to take, but that calls to you. Or an entire career change altogether.
In life, work, sports, sales, etc. with everything else being equal, audacity and aggression will win more often than timidity. Is that fair? Of course not. But what is? Get the thought of “fair” out of your head. Take a good hard look and ask yourself, if you were to do something audacious in your life, or in your work right now, what would it be? Now, don’t go do it just because, but think hard about it. Is it something that you truly want to do? If so, chances are you should.

 

http://www.stealshamelessly.com

 

The Mindless Bureaucrat of Your Own Paperwork

Some may refer to it as procrastination, but being the mindless bureaucrat of your own paperwork is a much more dangerous version of avoiding quality work. What does the phrase mean exactly? Consider this example:
You have a project in mind that you have started or would like to start. But before you can begin, you need to do “X” amount of research. And don’t forget that your outline isn’t finished yet anyway. The market analysis isn’t going to do itself either. You need to get 360 degree feedback. And you can’t very well do this correctly without a SWOT analysis, can you? And let’s be honest, your business plan could use some rounding out. I guess you’ll just have to keep chipping away at the edges before you can really dive in!
Working on these things are all beneficial, and over time are certainly things that you need to do. And yes there are certainly benefits to getting as much of it done as you can before fully committing. But there is also a point at which you are creating a bureaucracy of your own, and are only limiting your efficiency. You are settling for the dopamine hit of crossing an item off your list rather than creating real substance.
We all know what these activities look like in the workplace, particularly in a corporate setting. But often, we create them for ourselves as well. We become focused on working on a process instead of working on a product. And that’s the sticking point. Make sure you are making progress on your product, whether that is an app, a blog, a book, or whatever your day to day gig is asking you to deliver. No matter what you do for a paycheck on Fridays or as a side hustle when you have time, never forget to stop occasionally and evaluate the impact of the work you are doing. The perfect circumstances to “get started” or “go all in” will never arrive. They will never magically align and you will never be able to push or pull them into place either. Make strides everyday.

Figure Out Your Own Scorecard

The important question to consider here is whether or not this is a kick in the pants you need (possibly,) or more likely, are you getting caught up in the heat of the moment and judging yourself on someone else’s scorecard?

Most of us know the feeling, when you get together with old friends, colleagues, or schoolmates and rears its ugly head. It might be at a party, dinner, or even college reunion, and suddenly you are listening to what other people are doing with their lives, or their careers, and something inside you immediately compares yourself to them. Just days before, if asked, you would have expressed little interest in private equity, oil and gas, software development, or an app-based startup. You would have ranked work life balance as one of your more important goals, but after talking to Zach who is in investment banking and hearing about his recent trip the Swiss Alps, you are now thinking about your next promotion and how you need to work harder to get there. You find yourself talking to others about the great potential opportunities ahead of you, possibly exaggerated. And justifiably so. Who wants to be left behind?
The important question to consider here is whether or not this is a kick in the pants you need (possibly,) or more likely, are you getting caught up in the heat of the moment and judging yourself on someone else’s scorecard?
During just such one of these get-togethers recently, full of go-getters all in their late twenties and early thirties, I first encountered the idea of “figuring out your own scorecard.” In reference to a friend who was constantly posturing on his expensive purchases and work life, none of which seemed to fulfill him in less than superficial ways, another friend quite simply and accurately said, “Yeah, I think he just needs to figure out his own scorecard.”
What a wonderful way to phrase it. Have you defined what you are working towards in your life, whether it is a degree of happiness, achievement, or creation? Is it really that new car you drive to the reunion in order to leave a good impression? Is it that Instagram worthy vacation you only get to take once a year while you break your back for the other fifty one weeks? Is it the promotion that you don’t really want because you don’t like your work, but will look impressive on your LinkedIn? Take some time to really develop and hone your scorecard both inside and outside of work. Are you making strides in a passion you have always dreamed about? Learning a new language? Learning a musical instrument? Working on your relationship with your significant other? Working towards the ability to live abroad? Or work from home?
The easy thing to do would be to play with the scorecard society gives you, and think simply of promotions, cars, vacations, and things. While none of these things are bad in and of themselves, they can be dangerous when you use them to supplant those things that you truly want. That scorecard chock full of these items leads down a path that unfortunately does not include happiness or fulfillment. So instead, work backwards. What would be fulfilling to you? What would actually make you happy? Now what do you need to get there? Start doing something every day, no matter how small, that makes progress on that path, or makes a tally on that scorecard.
Oh and trust me, those things, those passions you are pursuing, make you much more interesting at parties anyway.

How to Filter Constructive Criticism

Annual Reviews. Six month reviews. Weekly check ins. Three hundred and sixty degree feedback. Emails. Instant messengers. The modern workplace is an environment of constant feedback (whether you want it or not). I won’t even get into the dangerous feedback loop that is social media. But with current technology and the speed of communication, criticism and feedback is offered to the modern employee, artist, writer, athlete, etc. in a constant stream that can sometimes be debilitating.
However, contrary to some beliefs, not all criticism is useful. But our society has swung the pendulum to far side of acceptance when it comes to listening to other’s thoughts of our work. Do we need to keep an open mind and listen to criticism? Absolutely. But does that mean that everyone’s opinion of what we are doing is important or insightful? Absolutely not.
So how do we learn to let go of criticism that we have listened to and considered but know needs to be discarded? How do we keep it from bouncing around inside of our heads and stopping us from instead focusing on the work that we need to do? The two people who I believe who have phrased it best in fact have lived thousands of years apart.

Buddha: If someone gives you a gift and you choose not to receive it, to whom then does the gift belong?

Bozoma Saint John: Sometimes critics are just people who can’t see the world the way you see it.

Both of these quotes very simply highlight the fact that criticism in and of itself is not valuable. Obviously there is the danger of blinding yourself to criticism that is useful, simply because hearing it is painful, but as the Buddha says, it does not belong to you simply because someone offered it. You can reject it.
On the other hand, as Bozoma says, someone else’s understanding of your work can be as fundamentally flawed as a basic view of the world. This often happens to pioneers in various fields who are challenging foundational rules previously thought to be unbreakable. The critic’s opinions are not valid because the critic is not yet capable of understanding even the basic premise on which the work is built.
As you go about your daily life, building in these two filters will become integral to your mental health and the quality of your work.

Success Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Everyone knows both feelings:

  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls your name. You stand up, grinning ear to ear like an idiot as people around you clap and applaud. Someone nearby likely pats you on the back – literally! You glory in the acclaim and spotlight. Or maybe you are just in a meeting or on a conference call and your individual results or your team’s results are recognized as top notch. You blush a little bit. It’s a good feeling.
  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls someone else’s name. They stand up. Jealousy, envy, even anger surge up from your stomach into your chest and throughout your body. Or maybe it is less intense and the feeling is simple mild distaste. You can’t help but lean over to your neighbor and mention the extenuating circumstance that led to this person’s success. Your not saying the you deserve it necessarily. Just saying that they don’t really either.

I wanted to share some thoughts I had over the weekend while watching a very well respected movie during my free time. Along with my girlfriend, I have been working my way through all of the best picture nominees for 2016. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them (and she has slept through the second half of a good few) in some way, shape, or form, they have all stretched our thinking and challenged our beliefs. They’ve inspired us in the way that only incredible pieces of cinema can, evoking in you that feeling of invincibility as you walk out of the theater or turn off the television.

 

Yesterday, she finally convinced me to watch La La Land, which was not at the top of my list even though it is the same director who wrote and directed Whiplash, one of my favorite movies (if you haven’t seen it, please stop what you’re doing and rent it. Seriously stop reading this and do it). For those of you who watched the Oscars, you may remember that La La Land was the movie that was mistakenly announced as Best Picture when in fact Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. All of the La La Land cast was already on the Oscars stage however, and had to awkwardly resume their seats while the cast and crew of Moonlight took their place. Having already seen Moonlight, I could not help but to compare the two while watching La La Land, and wonder at the Steve Harvey level blunder that was made at the awards show.

 

After a long agonizing review of the acting, the cast, the editing, the lighting, the screenwriting, the music, and other categories I can scarcely remember the names or meanings of, I came to a decision as to which one was better. What I figured out, and what I think we can bring to our own businesses and performances is something I see in our organization is that it doesn’t matter. The answer is that both movies are incredible and the success of one does not detract from the greatness of the other. Similarly, success in any organization is not a zero-sum game. What I mean by that is the success of Moonlight does not detract from the incredible movie that was La La Land, and vice versa. Too often when another coworker, salesperson, or leader is succeeding at a greater level than ourselves, we attempt to tear down their performance or invent a reason as to why they has better results than we do. “They get more sales leads. They are in a better market. They are riding on the Mr. Incredible’s coattails. If I had XYZ resource that they have, I’d have the same results.” And the list goes on.

 

When you look at the movies nominated for Best Picture, their performances stand alone and apart from each other and are judged on their merits. In the same way, we need to give our own performances honest reflections based on our individual efforts and contributions. Other employees, sales people, and leaders performances should be used to motivate and inspire you! Congratulate them on their great work! Then ask them how they did it. And steal those ideas shamelessly.