Firefighters anonymous

I’m starting a new club.  It’s called Firefighters Anonymous.  This support group is designed to help business leaders break their addiction to fire-of-the-day problem solving. 

Here’s my 5 step plan. 

Step 1: Stop denying it — Recognizing you need help is 50% of the battle.  Signs that you may be a Firefighting Addict (FA) include: 

  • you haven’t achieved your important goals for the day but you know you were busy
  • you ignore calendar appointments with yourself for critical activities
  • taking the time to think through work processes before beginning feels like a waste of time
  • you frequently cancel important-but-not-urgent meetings to take care of unexpected problems

Step 2: Say it out loud — Tell someone that you are battling FA.  Just don’t expect them to be surprised – everyone around you already knows.  Do it anyway.  It’s therapeutic. 

Step 3: Choose a replacement habit — It’s not enough to say stop.  You need something compelling to take your mind off the fires that are probably raging around you.  Remember, the fires have not gone away.  What you’re changing is your reaction to said fires.  I suggest reviewing your performance goals. 

Step 4: Pick your cold turkey day — A goal without a deadline is a wish with no power behind it.  To make it extra effective, tell others what you’re doing and when.  There is something very sobering about living up to public commitments. 

Step 5: Reinforce your decision — You will need to do this frequently.  The people around you who previously benefited from your generosity will be shocked when you don’t take the bait next time around.  It’s okay to let them be uncomfortable. 

Peter Drucker said it best: 

Time is the scarcest resource available.  


Simple strategic planning

I’m working with a promising book: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.  In it are tools to capture and distill the essence of a business’ purpose into a one-page strategic plan.

The author has made several downloads available, including a ‘how to’ that will help you through your first run (click on the sections “people”, “strategy”, “execution” or “cash).   The planning tool requires a solid understanding of where you want to take the business so that you can identify and drive your top goals.  It will even help you flesh those out if you, like me, discover mid-plan that you have some weaknesses in that area.

I recommend the book and its tools.  Just for the record, I have no commercial affiliation with the author or the publisher.

The man who taught me branding

Victor carefully examines the charred chair, mentally forming his repair plan

When you read the words “personal brand” what comes to mind for you? Dan Schawbel? Social media? Perhaps you think of Tom Peter’s 2007 Fast Company article entitled The Brand Called You which is often credited for popularizing the term. I know someone who lived and breathed the personal branding message decades ago.

Victor loved words and was keenly aware of their power.  He could stun the most learned with the breadth of his vocabulary.  He loved to orate – but mostly he enjoyed making connections between things that others might find totally unrelated.  His views were not always popular, but they were principled.

In July 1982 his workshop burned down.

He stared past the machinery coated with soot and ashes, and said he wasn’t about to give up.  “No, I’m still a young man,” said the 78-year-old Branford resident as he watched firefighters douse smoldering rafters and toss aside the blackened back door to his shopThe Journal-Courier – July 9, 1982

He handed the journalist covering the fire his business card; on it was the motto: “Where skill is law and honesty the creed“.  Each time I pick up the yellowed news page and read that branding line I think about the many hours he would have labored over choosing just the right words. Not the content – that would have come easily. But Victor would have pored over a dictionary full of words in order to convey just the right meaning with as few words as possible.  And I can imagine him reciting the possible word combinations out loud to see how they sounded.

This week I’m attending a seminar on marketing. I’ll be thinking about Victor Hofrichter, my grandfather, the man who taught me branding.

Thanks for the inspiration DW – you know who you are – *wink*

What’s so great about you?

Have you ever made a strengths list?  Probably not.  Most of us can rattle off the top 5 things we admire about coworkers, family members and mentors but we falter when it comes to naming our own abilities.  Whether it’s personal humility or low self-esteem, it’s in our best interest to get over it.  Why?  Understanding your strengths is a big part of being self aware.  It’s the basis of your personal brand.  Most importantly of all, a strengths list is a tool that can help you power through difficult days.

Watch this 2-minute video and make your list.

Trying Enough Times

If salesperson A, a novice, makes twice the calls made by salesperson B, an experienced professional, guess who will achieve quota first?  The one with the most activity, not the one with the most experience.

It flies in the face of logic.  After all, one would think that skill and strategy win the day.  There are some instances where sheer volume – trying enough times – wins.

I stumbled upon this rule while reading a review of an academic paper.  The corporate connection hit me instantly.  Here’s the rule (bear with me through the scientific references for a moment):

The equal-odds rule says that the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist’s average publication. In other words, those scientists who create publications with the most impact, also create publications with the least impact, and when great publications that make a huge impact are created, it is just a result of “trying” enough times. (Amazon book review)

This bears out Edison’s famous quote on his journey toward inventing the electric light bulb:

“We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.”

Edison had an idea – an idea that he refused to discard despite many hundreds of failed attempts.  Can you just imagine the ridicule and the well-meaning but discouraging comments he would have endured from people trying to convince him to cut his losses and move on to something more promising?

Here’s the business connection: Everything is a numbers game.  Do it enough times and the successes will come.

Employee exodus – Will it happen to you?

Right Management conducted a survey of 900 workers in 2009.  They asked:

“Do you plan to pursue new job opportunities as the economy improves in 2010?”

60% – Yes, I intend to leave

21% – Maybe, so I’m networking

6% – Not likely, but I’ve updated my resume

13% – No, I intend to stay

2008 and 2009 were difficult years for businesses and families.  Workers have experienced wage freezes, salary reductions, or even partial layoffs.  According to the above survey, many of these people are biding their time just waiting for the first opportunity to jump ship for the proverbial greener grass on the other side of the fence.

Engage your employees now in discussions about the future.  You need to get them excited about where you’re going and help them see the role they play in achieving the better future you’re all looking forward to at your company.

Thrive on your drive

Studies show the most successful people are self motivated.  For the purposes of this article let’s define self-motivated as driven, focused and ready to work hard toward the achievement of a goal.

When I was little I was fascinated by old movies from the 1930’s where the mad scientist worked and slaved in his laboratory for days on end until – finally – he would find the solution (or the cure, or the secret formula).  I knew they were fictional stories but those scenarios appealed to me and I can see their influence in my work ethic today.  Perhaps no one person was more influential in my career than Marie Curie, a French scientist living and working in a time where women were not supposed to be educated, nevermind extremely driven and accomplished inventors.  Madame Curie earned a degree in physics in 1893 and another in mathematics the following year.  She went on to win two Nobel prizes in science before her death in 1934.

For an interesting read on motivation and success, click over to Science Daily to read “Will we succeed? The science of self motivation.”

Are you motivated? You can take the motivation test to assess your own level.

Big rocks – creating time for success

“Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.”
~ C. Northcote Parkinson

If you doubt the validity of that rule think about this: what would happen if you went to the office tomorrow without a single goal – not one appointment or objective  – for the entire day?  Would your day be full or empty?  I suspect the day would fill itself.  Soon after arriving the phone will ring and someone in your company will want your attention.  This will be followed by an employee or colleague stopping by to discuss a problem.  Then perhaps a client email will arrive that sends you down 100 rabbit trails in search of a solution.  At the end of the day you will leave the office having spent all your hours busily engaged in activities – none of which will have moved you closer to achieving your overall goals.

What if you started your day instead by inserting the most important things in your calendar.  Everything else would then have to either fit around your scheduled work or fall by the wayside.  Watch this FranklinCovey video for a graphic description of protecting your time by filling your calendar first with “big rocks”.

Confessions of an Email Offender

Has this ever happened to you?  A total stranger, disturbed by the flashing “message waiting” indicator on my Blackberry, felt compelled to tap me on the shoulder to bring the unread email to my attention. We looked at each other for a moment and then both had a good laugh. Although it was a seriously funny moment shared by two unknowns in an airport, it was also a little disturbing.  It made we wonder: Have we become so conditioned to respond to our communication devices that we are moved to help our neighbors comply?

Did you know that 72% of people on vacation check their email daily?  I wonder what would happen if we charged vacationers a small fee each time they checked their email during off time.  We are, after all, teaching the world that it’s okay to message us because although technically we’re “offline” we are at this very moment within close proximity to a Blackberry or PDA – waiting for that ubiquitous blinking red light to alert us to the arrival of a new message.  (Notice I did not make reference to the audible alert.  No.  Those of us completely addicted to email during vacation are smart enough to turn off all sounds thereby somewhat disguising our addiction from the rest of the family.)

I’m on vacation for the next few days.  I won’t be responding to email messages.  Probably.