You have a big problem. And you’re trying to solve it, but you just can’t. You keep saying to yourself and your team “Okay, here’s the problem”. “Here’s the issue.” “Let’s clarify the issue”. And all those words and focus, and the attempt to really gain an understanding of the problem… just aren’t working.
How do you get everyone to come together and find an explanation? Maybe you should try a new tactic: focus on the potential, not the problem. Be outcome-oriented.
The term “outcome-oriented” comes up in discussions about problem-solving, goal-setting, and strategy. Some people don’t like it. They say that you should instead focus on the process, because if you keep your eyes squarely on the prize, you’ll lose sight of everything that needs to happen along the way. There’s a simple answer to that: every big project is made up of a bunch of little projects; manage those projects capably, and you’re golden.
Naysayers of an outcome-oriented approach sometimes think that with too much focus on the end result, any means are justifiable. But I think that’s largely determined by your overall corporate culture. It won’t be a problem for you, because all throughout your company, from the tippy-top corner office to the basement broom closet, your employees know that your Big Goal is to help people – you’re good guys. You’re not greedy, you’re not going to lie, cheat or steal to improve the bottom line.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the upside of an outcome-oriented approach.
If you approach a problem scenario from an at-the-finish-line perspective, you can put together a plan that, when you account as best you can for the unforeseen, lets you finish the race on time and injury-free.
There is a bridge that I cross nearly every day. It’s an intersection bridge, with three lanes in each direction. I usually wind up waiting at the light to turn left. A while ago, when waiting for my green arrow, I noticed my car shaking. At first I thought it was car trouble, but then I realized the whole bridge was shaking, from the weight and movement of traffic crossing over it in opposite directions. What a cheap bridge, I thought. Shaking and quaking and – this thing could cave in at any minute! Eventually, I had an epiphany – the bridge was not dangerous because it shook. The bridge would be dangerous if it didn’t shake. That “shaking” was caused by the bridge flexing. If it didn’t flex, I realized, then it really could cave in! The engineers who built that bridge knew that flexibility was key to ensuring thousands of cars could safely traverse it each day. Without that flexibility, the columns supporting the bridge would experience too much friction and pressure – they’d crack and eventually crumble. The same is true in your business.
In today’s business world, there is no such thing as a constant. Changes come swiftly, and while consistency is vital, the only way to keep from crumbling is to be flexible. Whether working on a short-term project or mapping out long-term strategy, you must be prepared for the unexpected, and build flexibility into your blueprints. Good strategy means thinking up “if, then” scenarios ahead of time, but sometimes all the “ifs” can’t be predicted. So you have to prepare your team to react, and adapt, to change. Make sure your team has the tools to deal effectively with the unexpected: accountability and authority.
Accountability has to do with accepting responsibility and then taking actions that will get you to the place you wish to be. As a component of flexibility, accountability allows each team member to take on a role in adapting to change, and follow through with their tasks in an efficient manner – since they know that every other team member is also reliably completing his portion of the project (being accountable,) they have a sense of freedom to do their own work, because they know they are contributing to a viable project.
Authority is the power to make decisions and take actions that are in line with those decisions. As a component of flexibility, authority allows each team member to redefine the scope of their work and then do the work accordingly. Responsibility without authority is a deadly burden, and will drag your team members straight down into the water under the crumbling bridge.
A bridge is designed to get you from point a to point b. Maybe your whole business is a bridge; maybe one project is a bridge to larger business goals. Maybe you’re in a start-up phase and your bridge will take you to long-term viability or acquisition goals. Regardless of what phase you’re in, what your “bridge” is, you must engineer flexibility from the start, to ensure the business can handle the friction from multiple traffic streams and all the changes that will arise along the way. Flexibility should be an integral part of the way your business is structured – at every level, with every team, and in every employee’s duties.
Mary Kay Ash said that, in order to succeed in sales as well as life overall, we should each “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’” John Dewey, an American philosopher, said that the deepest human desire is “to be important”. So how do we go about making others feel important? Should we greet them with an honorific? Should we flatter and seek to boost their egos? Should we curtsey?
Honorifics have their place and help to convey respect, certainly. A curtsey or bow is sometimes called for. Many interactions, however, will require neither of those. And flattery is insincere and therefore a waste. The key to making people feel important is simple: just listen.
Now, I didn’t say it would be easy. Most things described as “simple” are not “easy” because they require some kind of a change. “Simplification” is a process. If you’re not a good listener, all you can do is: try, try again. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
The thing about listening is, it’s active. This is another one of those concepts that took me a while to grasp – the very phrase seemed misleading. How can listening be active? We’re not talking; we’re not doing anything but sitting there and staring at the other person… but that’s wrong. When you are listening, it’s true that you shouldn’t be talking – that’s called interrupting, and is, as you probably learned in kindergarten, very rude – but you should be working to understand what the other person is saying.
One of the things that many of us “good communicators” do is prepare how we’re going to respond, while the other person is still talking. You want to be on your toes, right? You don’t want to seem like you can’t hold up your end of the conversation. Well, guess what? You’re doing it wrong. In Dale Carnegie’s iconic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Isaac F. Marcosson, a celebrity journalist, is credited with saying that people fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively: “They have been so much concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open”.
If you have a really hard time listening – for example perhaps you get bored and start planning your grocery list, or you start looking around the room instead of focusing on the person you’re conversing with – Mindtools.com offers this tip:
“Try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.”
Here’s a bonus that comes with listening well: It makes you seem more interesting. Dale Carnegie says “To be interesting, be interested”. This is because people like talking about themselves and their ideas; if you give them a chance to do that, and you seem genuinely interested, they will, consequently, like you. So, hand-in-hand with being a good listener is encouragement.
Encourage others to talk about themselves and their interests. Ask questions (another component of active listening). Show some enthusiasm. Even if you aren’t totally on-board with what they’re saying – in fact, especially if you’re not totally on-board with it. Questions further communication; they open doors. Simply passing judgement by deciding that you’re not going to be interested is a door-closer. So you don’t like to talk about the types of submarines used in World War II – maybe you’ll learn something anyway. At the very least keep an open mind, and demonstrate that somehow. Don’t shut down emotionally – if you’re emotionally withdrawn, your physical presence won’t buy you a penny’s worth of dirt. You need to be actively participating by actively listening.
Really, making people feel important is as “simple” as following the Golden Rule. Don’t you want to be listened to? Don’t you want to feel that your thoughts, opinions, ideas and interests have value? Do you want to talk to someone who is looking around the room, fidgeting with their nails, making a mental “to-do” list? You have it in you to be a good listener – just think of how you would want someone to behave while you were talking, and do that. Simple. Right?
During an interview, there’s a lot of uncertainty. The company and the candidate are both curious and nervous – it’s kind of like a first date – everyone’s scared to ask the wrong questions, to say the wrong things. One thing’s for sure: If you’re a hiring manager (and possibly if you’re on a first date,) you’re missing out if you’re not asking “What’s your motivation?”
If you can get someone to divulge what really motivates him, you can determine if you will in fact be able to make that motivator available to the potential hire-e. When you are able to deliver motivating factors to an employee, you’ll get the best work out of him, sans faute*.
Examples of motivating factors:
- Input into strategy
- Strengths-based work
- Ability to delegate
Of course this list is not exhaustive; motivation can be complex and unique. Keep in mind, too, that motivations can change over time. A new hire who is desperate for a job may be motivated by money initially, because she has bills to pay and at least one mouth to feed. However, once she has a steady paycheck, she may realize that she is not satisfied, and want more authority, or more responsibilities. She may want an intern so that she can delegate less-important tasks and focus on the more creative aspects of her role. By asking the right questions at the outset, a hiring manager may be able to predict these changes in motivation. One of the principals of Management by Objectives, as defined by Suters in his book, Succeed In Spite of Yourself, is that you tailor a job description for the person you are hiring. Doing so creates a solid foundation for success and growth. You can do this, in part, by ensuring that you know what will keep your new employee satisfied over the long-haul.
Another thing to consider, when examining employee motivation, is that younger generations view the corporate world very differently from their predecessors. Baby Boomers are often thought of as more loyal, because they stay with a company for the long-term; they want the gold watch. Generations X and Y, however, are often viewed as less loyal, more demanding. According to Henry Evans’ article “Gen X, Y, Z: How to Earn Their Loyalty,” younger generations simply value different things; they have different motivating factors. While Boomers may value a title, a reserved parking spot, and job security, younger generations care about feeling valued; they want to be involved and challenged. They want to be recognized for their contributions, and to be given guidance along the way.
Really, it seems to me that what most people want is what should be SOP for every company, anyway: clearly defined objectives based on the company’s overall mission and vision, channeled through to every level of the organization.
People want to work for efficient companies that value employee contributions, recognize and reward achievements, and allow employees to shine and grow. Here’s the thing: lip-service won’t do it. What today’s employees are looking for is engagement, and if you can’t give it to them, they will find a company that can – or they’ll leave to start their own business.
So, when looking to fill your next empty spot, try to really uncover what the interviewee wants – not just short-term, but long-term. And interviewees, please, answer honestly – because if you can find a company that’s willing to keep you engaged, that’s more golden than any gold watch.
“Act, Don’t React”. For years this advice perplexed me. How can we possibly “act” to a situation, not “react”? After all, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” not “an equal and opposite action”. A reaction is a law of nature, so we have no control, right? Well… not quite.
When someone or something makes you angry, hurt, scared, or all of the above, you experience an automatic “reaction” – those feelings of anger, pain and fear. Inwardly, you may feel like screaming and throwing things, or like running away. You feel all kinds of small, hard emotions deep inside your belly. That’s a reaction. You may not have control over that. However, you do have control over what you show to the world. You have control over how you “act”.
When you encounter a situation that makes you want to behave badly, step back. Try to understand that your feelings are not in control. You are in control, and as powerful as your feelings may be, you don’t have to let them loose. Set those feelings aside, and when you get some alone time, if you still want to, you can let ‘em rip: scream at the top of your lungs, say all kinds of bad words, cry, throw a pillow at the wall, stomp your feet – have a good ‘ol tantrum. But in the moment that the situation occurs, when you are face-to-face with another person, (or face-to-rear-bumper if you’re in traffic,) maintain your calm. It can be difficult, I know.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Your perception of the situation is different than the other person’s.
- “Fault” is not that important because it’s usually shared.
- The other person may be feeling hurt, angry or scared, too.
Trying to understand exactly where the other person is coming from may be too difficult until you have a cool head; but you can still acknowledge that your perception, your viewpoint, is not the only one. Perception is a tricky thing, because it involves so much more than whatever is driving a given situation. Perception involves back-story, baggage even. In “The Three Laws of Performance,” authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan point out that “Situations occur differently for each person. Not realizing this can make another’s actions seem out of place”. They define “occur” as “the reality that arises within and from your perspective on the situation… [this] includes your view of the past (why things are the way they are) and the future (where all this is going).” This is very important because now we can clearly see that if you are in an altercation with an individual, the two of you are having different experiences. You are each experiencing the same moment, but very differently, because your perceptions include preconceived attitudes about the past and the future. You have a clear argument in your head, a clear notion of why you are right and they are wrong, because of these preconceptions.
That’s why you have to step back, outside of your “occurrence” and “act” calm. I am not a big fan of the whole “count to ten” thing because it shows that you are about to lose control and are making an active effort to maintain it – this is far from optimum. If you absolutely cannot reconcile yourself to handling a situation when it happens, then just play it cool and say you want to think things over for a bit, and you’ll get back to the other person. Then, remembering that perception and how an event occurs is different for each person, really think about how you can approach the situation differently, and try to see the other person’s side. Focus on how to move forward and create a win-win experience. These types of situations are valuable learning experiences – they build your problem-solving toolkit. You can use this moment of struggle as an opportunity for growth. Like Hellen Keller said: “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
An action is an outward display. A reaction is internal. We have control over our actions – we may not always exercise that control, but it’s always there. “Act, don’t react” means: take charge of the situation by mastering your own behavior.
So, when you’re dealing with an unpleasant reaction, you need to “act” like the situation is under control. Don’t react. Not now. Do that later. Now, just Act. Act like a grown-up, confident person who has mastery over his feelings and can maintain composure. You’ll find that, the more you act the part, the more you become that person. And that’s gonna feel pretty good.
Maintaining composure does a lot: it helps to defuse the situation – if you can maintain control, the other person will calm down, too. And it’s good for your reputation. You’ll be known for keeping a cool head, even when provoked. That makes you seem reliable and responsible – someone who can be counted on in tough situations. In the business world, as in all aspects of your life, this is a useful reputation to have.
I leave you with this quote from B.C. Forbes: “The man who is bigger than his job keeps cool. Confident that he is equal to any emergency, he does not lose his head. He refuses to become rattled, to fly off in a temper, to stamp and holler and swear. The man who would control others must be able to control himself.”
I recently heard about a study conducted for Princeton University in 2010 by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which indicates that a person’s level of happiness rises according to his salary, up to $75K/year. Once a person makes $75K, his salary no longer impacts his day-to-day happiness. According to Kelly Blair’s Time Magazine article about the study, “For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money.” The concept that money does not buy happiness is familiar to all of us, though there are times, I am sure, when each of us has a hard time believing it. However, in general, we think about the people we love, or the beauty of a sunrise, and recognize that, no, we don’t need money to be happy.
That’s because money, in itself, is not a need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of motivation which tells us that we have multiple levels of need, with the lowest (but most urgently necessary to satisfy,) being biological (i.e. food/water,) and the highest being self-actualization/self-fulfillment. In Everett T. Suters’ book Succeed In Spite Of Yourself, the author uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to point out that money is but a means to an end: “No one needs money. Money is only a satisfier of a need. I may be hungry (biological), deep in dept (need for security) and want to live in a better neighborhood (social or group acceptance). Money can satisfy these lower levels of need”.
What about the higher levels of need? How do we find self-confidence, a sense of achievement, and the pinnacle: self-actualization? If it has to do with individual temperament and life circumstances, as Kelly’s article suggests, then certainly we have some control. Now, I remember learning a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Organizational Behavior class in grad school. My professor, Peter F. Sorensen, Jr., literally wrote the book on organizational behavior (along with some of his colleagues,) and according to that book, “Self-Actualization” is defined as: “Being all you can be, involving full use of creativity, personal and spiritual growth”. Hmmm… being all that you can be. Sounds like we’re talking about working from strengths, here.
There’s another widely used theory of motivation, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy. Herzberg’s “Motivation-Hygiene Theory” says that Maslow’s lower levels of need are “hygiene factors,” which from an employee-motivation standpoint are encompassed in the work environment but do not ultimately impact happiness, and that the upper two levels, ego and self-fulfillment, are motivating factors and have to do with the work itself. These motivating factors directly impact a person’s happiness.
According to Dr. Sorensen’s book, a central premise to Maslow’s Hierarchy is that “a satisfied need cannot serve as a source of motivation”. In other words, once you’ve got food and clothing and you’re safe and people like you, those factors cannot serve as motivation; so long as they remain fulfilled, they cannot impact happiness. So we know that, in order to motivate ourselves or others, we need to go beyond the basics; we need to surpass the happiness threshold attainable through money, and provide satisfying work that utilizes strengths and provides people with ongoing opportunity for success.
What happens once a person has achieved a healthy ego and finds her work fulfilling – does that mean she’s reached the peak of the needs heirarchy, and it’s all downhill? No. Because, according to Suters, success begets success.
Suters does a great job of defining success, breaking it down into twelve interdependent components, one of which is that “Success has an appetite which grows at the higher levels of need… at the high levels of need involving the need to feel important and the need for experiencing a sense of fulfillment, these appetites are almost insatiable”.
Therefore, the more success you achieve, the more success you need – it is a need which cannot be satisfied. Thus, success has an ongoing impact on happiness, and serves as its own source of motivation. If you are being all that you can be – being true to your authentic self and building a life, a career, a team or a company based on strengths – you will experience a constant replenishment of self-confidence and self-actualization, unhindered by a happiness threshold that maxes out at any dollar amount.