So. You’re over weight; you know what to do (eat less and move more) but you’re still overweight.
You’re out of puff when you run for the bus. You know what to do (exercise for 20 minutes 3 times a week) but you’re still unfit.
Your clients aren’t as loyal as you would like and you know what to do (more contact and don’t be less than great) but they’re still giving work to the competition.
Here’s the thing. Change is not just about education. In fact that’s the easy bit. The hard bit, the bit that makes the difference is breaking one set of habits and replacing them with another. Tricky stuff.
So what’s the message here? Well just because you’ve sent someone on a course; circulated an email or held a meeting to explain what people should be doing there is no guarantee that they will work differently. In fact you can pretty much bet they won’t. Change needs an investment of time and nobody’s got any spare time to give.
If you want change try this as an approach: -
- Find out who is up for change and put all your effort into them first
- Build a framework to break and rebuild habits.
- Show people what you want them to be like.
- Make people accountable for change
- Ensure they free up some time in order to make the transition.
Now, because I like some aspects better than others they are the ones that get more of my attention. I am always keen to make a start on them, read around the subject and try and make an effort to improve my performance. All great stuff but………
The problem is the reason those other parts of my job exist is because they are required in order to deliver my product to my clients, but because I don’t really like dipping my finger in I just do enough to get by. This cannot be right.
Imagine a doctor who was great at diagnosis but didn’t update your notes or keep up to date with the latest treatments. What about an airline pilot who was great at flying the plane but couldn’t be bothered to do the preflight checks or keep abreast of any modifications to his plane. The list can go on but the result is the same: no matter how good people are at aspects of their job they cannot be considered as “great” unless they are good at all of them.
So if you’re a professional services provider: a lawyer, accountant, banker or consultant and you only focus on the fee-earning part of your remit you can never be great. You must be as keen to develop and hone your skills at business development, management, client care and strategic thinking in that same way that you would for your chosen vocation.
This means finding time to do them, making every effort to get better (attending courses, reading books and blogs, talking to other practitioners and even contributing to the subject yourself) and keeping abreast of any new innovations, ideas and tools. Imagine doing that for the above list!
I know some of you may suggest that because I live in a greenhouse I should keep my mits away from the pebbles but my sincere belief is that we should all self-examine: what is our complete job description? Do we really embrace each aspect of it in the same way? How do we need to change to be great at everything we do?
Some people I know already take this view, others really don’t care but to be honest they are probably not the ones who would spend time reading this kind of blog anyway. But if you truly want to be great at what you do then strive to be great at everything you do.
Imagine walking into a book shop (a bit easier than imagining all the books on Amazon) and seeing all those books: millions of words all designed to entertain, inform and educate you.
You can buy a book for a few pounds and read it in a few hours without fully recognising that it may represent many years of research and experimentation carried out by the author. All that information concentrated and made available to you for a tiny investment in time and money. What a trip!
So I reckon the real question has to be why doesn’t everybody buy books, read them and become an expert – easy! We could all be masters of our corporate universe: no wasted time, totally effective, awesomely creative, killer delegators - the list can go on. But it won’t because that’s not what happens, is it?
No; buy a book, go on a course, subscribe to an e-learning programme and yet the actual amount of change in your behaviour is miniscule. Same goes for team members you send on courses – all that investment giving a tiny sustainable improvement. In fact according to Xerox, who conducted a worldwide study of their training effectiveness, only 18% of their training budget actually resulted in any change. What a king-sized drag.
So why is that and what can you do about it?
There are several reasons for this but here are the two main ones: -
- Time – change takes time and you have to build this time into your schedule. I have no researched figures on this but I would suggest you reserve an hour or two per week for 6 weeks for every day on a course or for 4 weeks for every book you read.
- Timing - is crucial for change. If somebody isn’t ready they won’t change – simple as. This applies for you too. Look for what they call a “seminal event” that is an external reason for people to kick themselves into gear. Such things as a change in personal circumstances, threats to the lifestyle or employment status or problems that have not been encountered before.
So what to do? Firstly look for the seminal event that will push any change agenda through whether this is for a member of your team or for yourself. Secondly ensure you schedule some transition time to enable that person to experiment and adjust to the new material.
Einstein said that the definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over again in the same way but expecting a different outcome each time.
Is training a waste of money? No of course it isn’t but if you want to get more change bangs for your training bucks listen to Einstein and implement the new material in a different way: pick your time then find some time.
I remember the day I had my first mobile phone. It was fitted into my car and meant that all that “dead time” I spent driving I could now dedicate to catching up with my calls and keeping on top of my game.
I also remember my first laptop. Anywhere I went I could review my emails, work on documents and tinker around with spreadsheets and then I got my hands on an aircard so I could be on-line as well. Train journey’s had never been so productive.
But there was something else too. My focus had changed. Sure, I spent time building forecasts and long term plans but most of my attention was directed towards the operational here-and-now. Not such a bad thing perhaps but with all my “dead time” went the ideas; the smaller innovations and the light-bulb moments that used to come to me in the car and on train journey’s – I spent precious little time working on my business and almost all of it working in my business.
In Flair we call this thinking time Purple Time and I happen to believe it is vital to anybody who is on a journey: wants to move forward from where they are now to a different place. I had pretty much lost most of my Purple Time.
Luckily for me about this time I took up running again and discovered a whole new source of Purple Time that was even more productive than before. As soon as I was in my stride, usually a mile or two, I would forget I was running and my mind would be somewhere else. All I had to do was hurriedly right down my ideas as soon as I returned home and I was fine. The shower had a tendency to wash ideas away along with the dirt and the sweat.
I know that a number of people reading this will dispense with the idea of having spare time to think and would prefer to be doing all the time. I am perfectly fine with that belief. But if you recognise that most progress comes from somebody somewhere thinking “ah ha! Now that’s a much better way of doing things” then you must manufacture some new Purple Time of your own. This is especially true for managers and business developers where this kind of deep thinking is crucial.
Mobiles, laptops, WiFi, Blackberrys and PDA’s mean we can be connected to our operational duties pretty much anywhere on the planet (except on the train from Birmingham to London of course where the signal strength is lousy) leaving precious little time for anything else.
Make some space for yourself. Use your Purple Time to work on your business and let innovation and creativity flood back into your business lives. Here’s a few ideas to try out: -
- Next time you are on a train journey sit in the quiet zone and leave your laptop and your work in your bag.
- I know that strictly speaking lunch is for wimps but at least one lunchtime a week leave the office and walk for an hour on your own.
- If you are an exercise-minded person you have probably already discovered Purple Time but if you haven’t then why not avoid watching MTV on the treadmill and see how it goes.
- I would not recommend thinking too hard whilst driving – all your senses should be focused on the road but just turn off your radio and see what happens.
Give these ideas a try and do persist – it will take you a little while to find your “Purple Feet” but once you have them there is no going back. Oh and do leave the iPod at home. Music helps you think but prevents deep levels of thought being reached.
Some years ago I wanted a small brochure which I intended to hand out to prospective clients with a few appropriate inserts added for good measure. We didn’t have the right skills in-house so I asked around a bit and managed to find two firms who seemed to fit the bill. I invited them in for a chat.
Now, I’m not the kind of guy to beat about the bush when I know what I want. I like to explain my requirements and answer any questions the supplier might have then I want him or her to tell me their proposal. That’s just how I roll and I don’t think I am alone on this.
Anyhow, the first supplier arrived. I was very keen to make it a pleasant and brief experience for both of us so I suggested I explain what I wanted. I even had some examples of other people’s folders with notes explaining what I did and did not like about each one . Tragically this did not meet with the expectations of my guest one bit.
“How about I just tell you a little bit about my company” he said sweeping my lovingly placed samples to one side. Before I could say “well no, I don’t think so matey” he was off. I think he had covered his clients history from 1957, their turnover, staff numbers and offices and we were just getting to the “and this is our extensive product range” when I managed to shut him up.
I began to explain my needs for a second time until I was forced to take breath, as one does, at which point he was off again – listing out his product range and proudly explaining about their creative design capabilities. It was a nightmare!
I tried one more time with to avail – he had clearly had his sales approach beaten into him and he was going to follow it to the bitter end. Which he absolutely did.
When he finally fell silent I genuinely think he expected a round of applause or something. Instead I suggested he send me a brief email to include price, design, specification and timescales. Then he left no doubt feeling it was a good meeting. It wasn’t.
The second person was exactly the opposite. His opening line was “Is there anything you would like to know about me or my company or shall we get straight into your requirements?” Brilliant! I have used a variation of that opener many times myself since then. He listened as I went through the specification, took notes and when I had finished asked a series of questions. He then produced a couple of samples from his bag that were pretty close to what I wanted and he noted down my modifications. We hadn’t even talked about price and he had got the deal.
Now I wonder: how many times have you opened a sales pitch or a presentation with a whole lot of stuff about you? Do you really think they are interested in how many offices you have, how long you have been going or what your product or service offering looks like? Well here’s the skinny – they almost certainly aren’t.
Next time why not give the poor prospects a chance – ask them if there is anything they want to know about you and if they don’t press on to the bit they really find interesting – their requirements. It will work wonders!
So this young man and young woman get married. All goes well and the young wife says “I’d like to cook you a Sunday dinner on our first Sunday together”. He agrees and looks forward to the great feast to come.
On Sunday the young man decides to stay with his wife whilst she cooks in the kitchen and he sees a very puzzling thing. She takes out a piece of beef from the fridge, slices the top third off and places the rest in their brand new double oven. Naturally, it being their first roast dinner together he says nothing. The meal is served up and it is truly delicious.
The following Sunday they are invited over to his mother-in-laws for lunch. He decides to do a little sucking up and stays chatting to his mother-in-law in the kitchen whilst she prepares the meal. To his amazement she too takes the meat out of the fridge, a dazzling looking piece of pork, slices the top third off and places the rest in the oven. Once again the meal is scrumptious and everyone congratulates her for a job well done.
The next weekend they all descend upon his wife’s Grandma for Sunday lunch. She still lives in the same house she did when she was first married over 60 years ago and although he didn’t say so the young man thought a kitchen make-over was long overdue. He found Grandma fascinating. She was as sharp as a whip and a great conversationalist so he stayed in the kitchen whilst she prepared the eagerly anticipated meal. As he watched her everything fell into place for him: she took the meat out of the fridge sized it up, sliced about a third of it off which was just enough to get the remainder into her tiny ancient oven.
I wonder how many people conduct their business activities in exactly the same way: by blindly copying what they saw before them?
In business, as in life, it is always worth asking the question “why?”
There must be thousands of bookshops in the UK, each one in turn containing hundreds, possibly thousands of self improvement books. I would imagine for any aspect of your business or personal life that you want to improve somebody out there will have written a book about it. Years of trial and error, research and experimentation condensed into a couple of hundred pages and available to you for a few quid – brilliant!
Here’s something else. If you are not into books the Internet has got everything you need and probably in a form you can watch or listen to if that’s your bag. I learned to ski by watching skiing videos on YouTube (if you are interested go to YouTube and type ‘learn to ski’ and there they all are) it’s amazing.
So if everything you need is available in a form that suits you why, I wonder, is everybody not great at everything? The answer is simple and comes down to these three things: -
- A desire to improve – some people are happy the way they are and don’t want to change, which is perfectly fine. Others think they are as good as they can be and so don’t believe they need to change. A dangerous sentiment and one that is seldom true in my experience.
- Time – the biggest delimiter for success. But here’s the thing if you have no time or mental focus left over to improve yourself then you are committing yourself to stay as you are. You may be OK with this, but if not face up to the fact that lack of action equals lack of change: you are destined to swim in the lake of Status Quo (not, I hasten to say, a lake owned by the ageing 1970’s rock band) forever.
- Risk – how many people know stuff but don’t apply it? Loads I’d say. If you are not able to take the risk of failure and all that comes with it then you absolutely will not move forward. “Learn – experiment – refine” is my belief; a combination that is the very foundation of greatness.
So if you are not satisfied with where you are in life don’t focus on the pain of not being where you want to be but rather ask yourself how much are you prepared to sacrifice to get there. If you sacrifice some time to learn something new and then are willing to experiment with this new knowledge, probably failing along the way, then you will change your circumstances. If you won’t then be prepared to maintain the status quo in your life.