HBR: 5 Ways to Focus at Work, from an Executive Who’s Struggled with ADHD

Are you struggling to stay focus at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Jack Kosakowski it explains how to get back on track.

5 Ways to Focus at Work, from an Executive Who’s Struggled with ADHD

By nature, I’m messy and disorganized — and my mind can be too. I have trouble sustaining attention on just about anything.

In grade school, this meant I didn’t do well in classes. In college, it meant that I largely blew them off and spent most of my time partying. (When you’re at a party, no one expects you to focus.) After college, I was diagnosed with ADHD, as 11% of kids are these days.

That certainly explained a lot, but it didn’t let me off the hook. Once I entered the working world, I knew I had to make some changes. I couldn’t spend my life running away from this problem, especially if I wanted to succeed in sales, my chosen field. I’d have to organize and track my interactions with prospects and clients and stay attentive to their needs.

Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve discovered several work-arounds that can help anyone struggling to stay focused at work.

Pursue roles that match your passions and attention style. Most people find it easier to stay focused on things they’re deeply passionate about. Even if they’re “scatterbrained” by nature, they may be fully present when teaching a class, treating a patient, or building a house. So try to work in a field that you love.

But go a step further and look for a job that meshes with the way your mind works. For me, that meant going into social selling. It allows me to use written communication in short bursts across multiple platforms. It also allows for lots of quick conversations. I reach out to business leaders and prospects over Twitter DM, Facebook, and LinkedIn messaging.

Whiteboard your tasks. I list everything I have to do each day, with no exceptions. A small, 2-foot-square whiteboard sits on my desk. All my short-term responsibilities are listed on it, in the order of when they’re due: sales calls, proposals, meetings, contracts, and more. A larger, 6-foot-square whiteboard is mounted above my desk, listing my long-term responsibilities: business growth, prospecting, website changes, and so on.

These lists stare at me all day. I update them constantly and stick to them religiously. When I find myself thinking about a task other than the one I’m supposed to be working on, I glance up, make sure it’s listed for me to tackle in the future, and immediately switch back to the task at hand. And to keep myself focused only on one task at a time, I make sure nothing else is in my line of sight. I have a mini-cabinet on my desk to hide magazines, books, gifts from clients, and other potentially distracting objects.

Structure your days. I do long-term tasks only on Wednesdays. On the other four days, the short-term whiteboard rules my schedule. I don’t give myself the option to improvise or change my mind about this (unless there’s an emergency). I’m strict with myself, because if I allow myself to shift back and forth between the two whiteboards at any time, I’ll just keep bouncing around among different tasks and not get anything done.

Some people structure their work differently — switching to long-term tasks every other day, halfway through the day, or every other week. Find the pace that works for you, and keep to it.

Never multitask during a conversation. When you’re not focused on the person you’re speaking with, they know it. If you’re on the phone, they can hear it in your voice and inflection. If you’re meeting in person, they pick up on it through subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, cues.

When I’m speaking with someone in a professional setting, I don’t allow myself to do anything else at all. I can’t. If I so much as open an email during a call, I’ll miss what the other person is saying entirely. I prefer video conferencing over speaking on the phone — it engages me visually, reducing the risk that my attention will wander. If I’m talking to someone in person, I set aside my phone and other distractions.

I’ve also learned to “scan” conversations for key points. As the person is talking, I pick up on certain lines and phrases — the points I would write down as a summary of what they’re saying. It keeps me listening with intent.

As a result, people know they’ve got my undivided attention — something rare these days. They like talking with me, which matters a lot, since my work is all about relationships.

Have somebody always holding you accountable. Even when you take all these steps, there may be times your mind starts wandering. That’s why it’s helpful to have someone who knows your struggles and can help get you back on track.

For me, that’s my wife, a partner in my business. She keeps an eye on my whiteboards as well as my calendar. But it doesn’t have to be someone that close. It can be an assistant, a colleague, or even a boss.

People who are similarly invested in your business want it, and you, to succeed. And there’s reciprocity — you have their back, they have yours. You can hold each other accountable in different ways. Maybe you’re teaching them how to be more confident speaking in front of a group, or sharing some of your savvy with a new technology. We all have things to work on.

 

Opening up to colleagues or bosses about your struggle to focus can be nerve-wracking, because no one wants to be judged. But in my experience, if you give people insight into your world and your unique ways of getting work done, they’re likely to open up to you about their challenges as well. It leads to a more empathic, collaborative, and human work environment.

 

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HBR: The Most Common Reasons Customer Experience Programs Fail

What are your Costs-to-Acquire, Customer Penetration, and Customer-Lifetime Value? Do you have a Customer Experience strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ryan Smith and Luke Williams.

The Most Common Reasons Customer Experience Programs Fail

Most customer experience (CX programs) are positioned as strategic, but quickly veer away from business objectives and become simply about tracking CX metrics. Time passes slowly, data continues to mount, and paralysis sets in. Big, strategic goals evolve into score improvements and incrementalism instead of gleaning useful insights that allow change with confidence.

So where does it all go wrong?

Most CX programs are broken in similar ways:

  1. They are not designed with change or innovation in mind.
  2. They have “soft” metrics rather than real business goals.
  3. They move slowly and without purpose.

Mistake #1: Forgoing change and innovation

Ask your CX program leader about the purpose of the program. If the answer is something other than, “So we can make intelligent changes that benefit the customer and the business,” you may have a serious issue. CX programs must be about change.

At the most rudimentary level, basic programs track performance over time. Yes, that’s useful, but why is it important? Because you want to improve over time. This means you must do things differently than you did them before. While it’s not complicated, this is a frequently overlooked premise to having a CX program—it’s about change.

Effective CX programs prioritize the importance of what gets measured and stack those data against your desired outcomes—what’s called “driver analyses.” Good driver analyses unlock the method for having the most change in the fewest possible moves.

While executing driver analyses enables change, it’s not actual change. It’s just more data until you do something with it. The reasons change doesn’t often happen are reporting paralysis, the lack of “think time,” and failure to collaborate.

Reporting paralysis can occur when teams are so wrapped up in distributing data, ensuring data quality, or writing up insights that they forget the purpose of data. If you “measure everything and report everywhere,” you’re not being strategic with your data.

Building in “think time” can help with this. Instead of just measuring, manufacturing, and distributing, build in time to understand the implications and applications of the data. This will give you clarity and confidence in what you’ve seen, how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, allow hypotheses to be formed and plans for change to be made.

Collaboration is also important if CX is going to result in any real change. CX experts must work with other departments and stakeholders to push the agenda for customer-focused improvement. Yes, it’s hard to do this when no one has time to meet, much less collaborate. But the CX program is uniquely positioned to try to make this happen anyway. They own the customer, they’re the advocate, and they have the analysis. Most importantly, the CX program reminds everyone else why they have to make time for the customer, above all else.

Mistake #2: Linking metrics to business outcomes

Most CX programs use their own tracking measures as emblems of success or failure. If a score improves, that number is heralded and CX teams use it as evidence of innovation and improvement by the team. Often, these results are accepted at face value.

But the problem with this approach is you really can’t control for all other things that could cause scores to rise, and you can’t assume that a rise in scores is good for net revenue. When it comes time to set key performance indicators (KPIs) for the program, be sure to match them up against input from both your CMO and your CFO.

What are the kinds of things you might want to consider? Here are some examples:

  1. Cost to Acquire and Serve a Customer (CAC and CSC): The better you understand your customer and prospect base, the more you build experiences and services they crave, the lower your CAC and CSC should be.
  2. Customer Penetration and Share: Customer penetration is simply increasing the number of customers you have. Share of wallet is the ultimate measure of how they spend their money when the ultimate point-of-sale (POS) decision occurs. Study the drivers and barriers of both to optimize here.
  3. Customer Lifetime Value: This is the net present value of all future customer revenues with account for attrition and your discount rate. It’s a complex measure, but the best firms understand it and make it a central part of their scorecard.
  4. Customer Churn: A well-run CX program can contribute to gains against customers shifting away from your brand (attrition) or abandoning it altogether (defection).

There is place in the world for performance benchmarking survey metrics like net promoter score (NPS). Many firms aren’t sufficiently sophisticated with respect to the above measures, so measuring NPS or other metrics may be the only empirical evidence available. When this is the case, though, be certain to study KPI success or failure with caution. A satisfied customer is not necessarily a profitable one.

Mistake #3: Moving slowly, without purpose

A CX program is a living, breathing thing. It’s either in a state of growth, peak productivity, or decline. CX programs are like mountain climbing — if you aren’t confidently moving through the problem, you may be wasting valuable energy trying to figure out where you’re going.

While it’s critical that CX programs be well designed and methodologically sound, sometimes wasteful activities are allowed to creep into the design process and bog down the program. Lack of momentum and sluggishness spell doom to a CX program, and leadership must propel the program.

True CX leadership comes from:

  1. Ownership. There must be a program owner: a single person who is ultimately responsible for the success and quality of the program.
  2. Expertise. The leader doesn’t have to know everything about the business, research methods and analytics, or strategy to be effective. But the more they know about each, the more effective the program will be.
  3. Resources. Multi-million dollar budgets aren’t necessary to create or capture value. Start with a basic budget commensurate with those of an IT program. Let them demonstrate value to earn more resources.
  4. Empowerment. Give your leader the authority to be successful.

Going slowly when you don’t intend to is clear evidence that the program has slipped into neutral in the leadership camp.

There are many obstacles and detours that can prevent full ROI from your CX program. In our experience, these three are the most common. To avoid them, remember that CX programs are not merely about watching scores go up and down. The goal is to create experiences that add value to the customer and the firm simultaneously, and this requires constant change. So think about what ideal experiences you want customers to have, and work backwards from there. Work quickly. And re-invent as needed.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2016/12/the-most-common-reasons-customer-experience-programs-fail

 

HBR: A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

Take time to reflect on the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Learning to write more clearly, improving meeting skills, or learning to manage your time more productively? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Marc Zao-Sanders.

A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

So much to learn, so little time.

The world is bursting with learning. There are several million business books, 3,000 TED talks, 10,000 MOOCs, hundreds of thousands of e-learning courses, and millions of self-published articles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. The article you’re reading right now is just one of thousands of articles on HBR.org. Picking the best and most relevant from all this is hard.

Yet it’s essential. The modern worker has very little time for learning — less than 1% of their time, according to Bersin, a division of Deloitte. And it’s more important than ever to learn continuously as the shelf life of skills shorten and career paths meander and lengthen.

So there’s a significant pressure on us all to learn the right stuff. How do we identify what that is?

One approach is to apply a time-utility analysis (similar in form to a cost-benefit) to the subjects you’re interested in learning. “Time” is time to learn. It’s effectively the opportunity cost to you of achieving competence. “Utility” is how much you’re likely to use the desired skill. For example, today’s manager spends a lot of time emailing, gathering data, running meetings, and making spreadsheets, so the utility for improving at these activities is especially high.

Combine time and utility, and you get a simple 2×2 matrix with four quadrants:

  • Learn it right away: high utility, low time-to-learn
  • Schedule a block of time for learning it, ideally in your calendar: high utility, high time-to-learn
  • Learn it as the chance arises — on a commute, lunch break, and so on: low utility, low time-to-learn
  • Decide whether you need to learn it: low utility, high time-to-learn

2x2 Learning.png

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, you can use this same framework to zero in on specific skills to focus on.

Let’s illustrate the method with a single workplace activity with high utility: spreadsheeting. Knowledge workers spend almost half an hour in a spreadsheet every day. And in major corporations, this is almost synonymous with using Excel: there are almost a billion users of Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, and more than four-fifths of businesses globally use Excel. A time-utility analysis might suggest you want to get better at it.

But Excel contains over 500 functions and many more features; that’s a lot to learn. Where would you even begin? For a time-utility analysis to be of any use, we need it to help us at this level, down here in the weeds. To get a sense of utility, we reviewed dozens of articles written by Excel experts about their preferred Excel features. We used this analysis to compile a list of the 100 most useful Excel functions, features, tips, tricks and hacks, ordered numerically by utility. We combined this with our own data on how long each of these features takes users to learn, and plotted the two against each other. (Yes, we got a little excited about this project. Don’t worry, you don’t have to delve into this level of detail when you’re prioritizing your own learning.)

Exel Learn.png

As you’d expect, there’s some correlation (r=0.3), so the more useful items take longer to learn in general. But the scattered effect gives rise to some useful, tangible pointers for prioritizing what to learn.

You’ll find the quickest wins in the bottom-right quadrant, which we’ve labeled “Learn it right away.” In here we have time-saving shortcuts that can be applied frequently, like Ctrl-Y (redo) and F2 (edit cell) and a nice combination formula that cleanses your spreadsheet of errors (IF(ISERROR)).

The quadrant “Schedule a block of time for learning it” hosts the highly useful but more complex features, such as conditional formatting and pivot tables — these were deemed the two most useful on the entire list.

Bottom-left is those less useful but quick-to-learn items like Ctrl-5 (strikethrough) and Show Formulas (Ctrl¬).

Finally, in the top-left quadrant are the theoretically least appealing items, such as Get External Data and Text to Columns.

But for all of these, you, the individual learner, will impose your own opinions and experience on an analysis like this: “Actually, I already know Ctrl-Y, and I’ll never need to get external data.” And that helps filter out even more items, leaving you with an even more manageable list.

How would you apply this to your working, learning life? You probably don’t want to learn only about spreadsheeting, and you’re unlikely to have the kind of data we’ve used above at your fingertips. But you may have an idea of some of the skills you’d like to acquire or develop.

Consider the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Finally being able to use Photoshop, getting a grip on Agile or Waterfall, learning to write more clearly? Are there meta-skills that would help you do all of these things better — like coming across the way you intend to in meetings, or learning to manage your time more productively? You could assign approximate scores for time (to learn) and utility for each of these and plot a scatter chart like the one above. Or you could just estimate: Classify the skills on your list as either low or high in utility and time to learn, and place them in the corresponding quadrant. Either way, what shows up in the bottom-right quadrant? You may discover some learning bargains.

You can use this approach just for yourself, or across a team, department, even your entire company. Since you probably don’t have much time to learn, learn to make the most of what you have.

 

S+B: Three Promises Every Sales Team Needs to Make — and Keep

Are you focusing on what matters to your customers? Are you providing value to build profitable, lasting relationships? Below is a blog from s+b Blogs by Elizabeth Doty:

Three Promises Every Sales Team Needs to Make — and Keep

Customer loyalty has always been the holy grail of organic growth. The fastest way to increase revenue and margin is not to push sales and marketing teams to land new customers, but to stop leaking customers. In their classic study, W. Earl Sasser Jr. and Frederick F. Reichheld found that reducing customer churn by just 5 percent could increase profitability between 25 and 85 percent, depending on the industry. Loyal, satisfied customers usually cost less to serve, are willing to pay for quality, bring more of their business your way, and are more likely to refer other customers.

Today, however, as the sales model shifts further toward subscription-based services, longer-term relationships have become more critical than ever before. Under a traditional, product-driven model, suppliers receive all their revenue up front. But with subscription-based services, customers pay as they go and can usually switch suppliers easily. In many cases, accounts are not profitable for suppliers until the second year. This means suppliers need to ensure they keep customers happy just to maintain their revenue streams over time.

To reduce customer churn, many experts promote techniques for convincing unhappy customers to stay. But what they should be asking is: Why do customers want to leave in the first place? Often, it’s because they feel the company has not delivered the value that was promised. Despite the current focus on continual innovation, what customers tend to value most is reliability, as Reg Price and Don Schultz wrote about in their book, Reliability Rules: How Promises Management Can Build Your Company Culture, Bid Your Brand, and Build Your Bottom Line (Racom Communications, 2009). And, as marketing legend Christian Grönroos has explained, building relationships requires making and keeping promises throughout the process of engaging your customer. The next logical question thus becomes: Who makes promises on behalf of your firm?

Ultimately, it’s your own salespeople who are responsible for your company’s promises. Marketing may craft your brand promise, but your sales team makes the commitments that count for specific customers — what your company will deliver, when, and with what level of quality. In the past, faced with pressure to meet a quota, salespeople might have been tempted to say whatever they thought it would take to close a deal, then move on to the next customer. But sales strategy expert Steve Thompson, who coaches both buying and selling organizations, suggests that “in a world of relationships, a different kind of salesperson succeeds.”

To win in this new world, sales teams need to focus on whether customers are receiving the value promised — and whether their firm is getting credit for the value delivered. Thompson proposes three specific promises that can help any direct-sales business build longer-term relationships.

  1. “I will focus on what matters to you.” The sales process begins with an exploration. What outcomes are your customers trying to achieve? How will they measure success? Without this context, you cannot advise them on the right solution. Unfortunately, customers often find this exploratory phase frustrating. They invest time and share information, but too often, reps do not listen or focus only on the products or services they want to sell. In this type of situation, you can differentiate yourself by taking a serious interest in your customer’s business and aiming to create value throughout the sales process. Thompson explains that “90 percent of the time, the buying organization isn’t clear about what they need. Right off the bat, a sales team can create significant value by helping them clarify their needs.” And if their desired outcomes are not ones you can deliver, you build credibility by telling them who may be able to.
  2. “I will craft the right deal.” The next phase involves crafting and presenting the right solution, and negotiating an agreement. “When salespeople focus on features, the discussion often devolves to price,” warns Thompson. “We turn our products and services into commodities by the way we sell them.” Instead, design a few possible solutions, each tied to a customer outcome. Make sure you can articulate exactly how each component is necessary. Then ask the buyer: Which option do you like best? How could it be improved? Now you are negotiating, but not as opponents. As you work together to adapt your solutions to their priorities, they will gain confidence that you can deliver, and pricing will be based on a win-win division of value. Crafting deals in this way also helps suppliers avoid the need to discount to close a sale to meet a quarterly deadline. For example, as one sales manager told me, “Our most successful sales reps are focused on the customer. These reps do not rush to recommend products until they are sure they would truly meet the customer needs. They are in it for the long term. And that means they can set their own prices.”
  3. “We will focus on delivering these outcomes.” If you want to keep a customer for life, stay invested after the deal closes. This is the moment when most sales reps move on to the next prospect, leaving customers anxious about whether they made the right decision, and operations staff in the dark about the details of delivery. The sales team, which consists of your organization’s promise-making units, needs to be joined at the hip with the delivery team, your promise-keeping units. The sales team, your organization’s promise-making arm, needs to be joined closely to the delivery team. Sales staff can dramatically improve delivery reliability by involving service staff early in the process, which helps service staff know the customer and why they are buying. Once you have delivered, you solidify the relationship by self-reporting on the outcomes achieved. This demonstrates accountability and protects the buyer from a superior who might ask, “What did you spend all that money on?”

Focusing on what matters to your customer, crafting a deal you can deliver on, and providing outcomes all help you build profitable, lasting relationships. Of course, sales teams alone cannot make this shift. It requires organizational changes in management focus, delivery processes, and technology tools — with an eye toward customer retention, revenue, and relationships, not just costs. Sales compensation may also need to change, to reward reps for the long-term relationships they develop. Moreover, as your company delivers more reliably and self-reports, you earn the right to ask customers about new needs. “There is a whole lot of sales pipeline sitting there that companies don’t know about, because buying organizations are not voluntarily offering up the information,” laments Thompson. What richer source of leads could there be than your own happy customers?

 

HBR: Become a Better Listener by Taking Notes

Are you taking notes during meetings? Sabina explains why taking notes makes you a better listener. Meeting notes will help you make better decisions. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Sabina Nawaz:

Become a Better Listener by Taking Notes

Team dynamics can make or break a meeting. Have you ever been in a meeting where people interrupt each other, introduce new ideas when they should be building on the conversation, and repeat someone else’s point just to be heard? These communication issues waste time and energy, and usually lead to more meetings to correct misunderstandings, reiterate decisions, or soothe hurt feelings and interoffice tensions.

But there is one thing you can do that can make a significant difference to improving the quality of time you spend in meetings: Listen. By improving the way you listen and understand others in meetings, you can make that time more productive by reducing repetition and misunderstandings.

If simply listening can solve so many problems, why is it so hard to practice? One reason is we’re listening to interrupt with our ideas or rebuttals. We listen so we can jump in with our perspective. Or we’re worried we’ll forget what we want to say if we listen for too long. We focus on our own communication, rather than listening to understand others.

Through my work with executive teams, I’ve developed a simple technique that can help anyone listen more effectively in meetings. I call it Margin Notes. You may already take notes during meetings, but unless you’re using them wisely to understand others and plan your response, you may still fall into the same trap of speaking before you think. Margin Notes allows you to think, process information, make connections between points of discussion, and ask effective questions instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.

Here’s how it works:

  • Set your page with a wide margin and take notes when someone else is talking. In the main body of your notes, capture only what the other person is saying. These don’t have to be verbatim; just jot down the key points. You can accurately quote individuals later.
  • In the margin, capture your ideas, judgments, rebuttals, and questions to each of the points you’ve written down. By marking them to the side, you separate your own thoughts from what others say. It lets you set aside (literally) your own voice and gives you space to listen to others. For example, when your boss excitedly outlines idea after idea for a product launch, you might note in the margin, “Ask about budget” or “Remind about CEO memo.”
  • When you speak, only bring up items from your Margin Notes that haven’t already been addressed and are the highest priority, and cross them off as you go. If you’re unable to raise some topics during the meeting and the items are important to you, tag them for follow-up.

For example, Ari is chief of staff to Brenda, the CEO of a 200-person scientific organization that was struggling. Its main source of funding had been favoring its competitor, and some key people had left to start their own ventures. Tensions were high, and some of the remaining team members were trying to one-up each other in discussions. Others were desperate to take any action as soon as possible. The ensuing miscommunications, high-stakes decisions, and panic led to conflict and unproductive meetings.

Brenda gathered her direct reports to discuss how they might sharpen their efforts in the face of dwindling resources. Ari took these notes following the Margin Notes model:

***

Ari assessed his Margin Notes and focused his questions during the meeting on the most important issues he had jotted down: What are the decision criteria for budget cuts, and should cuts be spread across projects, rather than cutting projects in their entirety? He waited until the end of the meeting to also ask about cuts in infrastructure and marketing.

Then, in a one-one-one with Brenda, Ari tackled some of his other concerns: “We’re an action-driven culture. Do we need to slow down? Do we lose possibilities by not questioning assumptions?” He also noted, “The team doesn’t question you; they just jump into action. Are we relying too much on your judgment alone? Should some of these decisions be passed on to others in the team?” Lastly, Ari observed, “I worry we may not be fostering a culture of healthy conflict. Jennifer seems nervous whenever Josh and John seem to argue, and tends to turn to your guidance.” There were also several points that Ari chose not to raise because they were low priority at the moment. He marked these comments, so if they continued to be an issue, he could raise them later.

Ari’s Margin Notes enabled him to make a considered decision on how to guide the conversation more strategically toward business outcomes, rather than further fuel the competition between John and Josh. He was then helpful to Brenda by reflecting some of the dynamics he observed in a separate meeting. This allowed Brenda to approach the next meeting’s agenda more thoughtfully and adjust her own behavior. Based on Ari’s comments about the team’s culture, at their next leadership team retreat, Brenda facilitated a discussion about their implicit cultural norms. They collectively brainstormed changes to become a higher functioning team during these lean times.

As you take these notes, don’t just write down the facts of the discussion. Here are some things to consider when taking Margin Notes so you can listen better:

  • Write down themes from your main notes. When you listen across topics, what is a common theme? How are they related to each other? What’s the bigger story they’re telling? For Ari, his observation about culture was one of these themes.
  • Capture questions and flag them to ask at the appropriate time. Ari held off on asking the question about cuts across infrastructure and marketing in addition to projects until the end of the meeting so as not to take the focus off the hard trade-offs that needed to be made on projects first. He also took some of the personal dynamics to a private one-on-one with Brenda, rather than openly critiquing other team members in the meeting. This helped him to avoid calling out or embarrassing his colleagues, while also providing an opportunity for Brenda to create conditions for better communication in future meetings.
  • Test assumptions. When someone makes a general statement for the first time in a meeting, examine it from all angles before considering action. Ari considered several assumptions about how the budget cuts could be implemented and whether there were ways to expand funds instead of simply cutting the budget.
  • Pay attention to what’s not said. There’s rich data in both what’s unsaid and what is said nonverbally. In Ari’s case, he noticed that no one asked questions or challenged assumptions; they immediately jumped into discussing specific projects and implementing the budget cut. What’s more, he observed some nonverbal behaviors. When John and Josh talked about their projects, they made eye contact with only Brenda and never looked at each other or other team members. It made Ari wonder if John and Josh were competing to lobby Brenda to consider the merits of their projects over others. He decided to raise this concern with Brenda separately so she could look deeper into these projects.
  • Be discerning about what you ultimately share. You don’t have to share everything from your Margin Notes, especially in a meeting setting. Ari simply asked three questions which shifted the tone of the session. He later followed up privately with Brenda about some of his other concerns, and noted some points that could wait until high-priority items had been completed.

 

Capturing others’ words helps you track what they’re saying, and by writing down your thoughts next to each point, you can ensure you won’t forget important follow-ups while still digesting the conversation. Allowing yourself to listen more deeply to meetings gives you the opportunity to connect the dots, present your ideas more convincingly, and get more real work done in meetings.

HBR: How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Are you providing yours directs’ feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop their growth?  Are you having a conversation about expectations? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by David Burkus:

How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Providing employees feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop is one of a manager’s most important tasks. As important as it is, however, it can often get pushed down pretty far on the to-do list. Many leaders face a swarm of pressing deadlines; moreover, feedback conversations can be awkward. Even the preparation for such conversations can make managers feel stressed. It’s easy to fall back on the annual performance review to make sure at least one conversation happens. It’s no wonder many employees report getting no other feedback throughout the year.

But giving regular feedback on performance doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are a few relatively simple formats or templates to help guide the conversation and ensure the discussion is meaningful (and hopefully more frequent than once a year).

One of the best examples I’ve noticed is at Adobe, a company that became notable recently for ditching their performance appraisals and replacing them with informal “check-in” conversations. But, as we’ll see, their framework for a check-in conversation works well for any situation where relevant and valuable feedback is the goal.

For Adobe, a good check-in centers around three elements of discussion: expectations, feedback, and growth and development. When each of these areas have been discussed, then managers and subordinates know they’ve had a meaningful conversation.

  1. Expectations refer to the setting, tracking, and reviewing of clear objectives. In addition, expectations also mean that both parties agree on roles and responsibilities for the objective, and also are aligned in how success will be defined. For Adobe, employees were expected to begin the year with a simple, one-page document outlining the year’s objectives in writing. Regular check-ins became opportunities to monitor progress toward those goals and well as review how relevant they might still be in light of recent events. Regardless of what your own team may start the year understanding, taking the time to regularly review what the goals are, how close individuals are to achieving them, and whether or not those goals need to be changed is a vital step in making sure you arrive at the end of the year (or whatever cycle goals are measured by) with everyone in agreement about how successful a period it has been.
  1. Feedback refers to ongoing, reciprocal coaching on a regular basis. Feedback is the logical next step from a discussion about expectations. Once the goals are clear, and how close to meeting them is established, feedback is how employees learn to improve performance and more quickly achieve their goals. For Adobe, it was important to emphasis the reciprocal nature of feedback. Managers were providing performance feedback but also needed to be open to receiving feedback themselves. Specifically, feedback conversations provided answers to two questions: 1) “What does this person do well that makes them effective?” and 2) “What is one thing, looking forward, they could change or do more of that would make them more effective?”
  1. Growth and Development, the final element, refers to the growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities that would help employees perform better in their current role, but also to making sure that managers understood each of their employees’ long-term goals or career growth and worked to align those goals with current objectives and opportunities. Instead of a simple “year in review” approach, inclusion of growth and development as one element of a “Check-In” ensures that the conversation is centered on future development of employees … not just arriving at a score for the previous period. A vital part of making check-ins successful was not just the forward-looking nature, but also the frequency. If you’re checking-in regularly than it’s much easier for both managers and employees so see progress.

And that final piece might be the key to why check-ins work so well. Researchers Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steve Kramer conducted a multi-year tracking study in which hundreds of knowledge workers were asked to keep a daily diary of activities, emotions, and motivation levels. When they analyzed the results, the pair found that progress was the most important motivator across the board. “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” they wrote of their findings. “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.” Surprisingly, however, in a separate study of 600 managers, Amabile and Kramer found that managers tended to assume progress was the least potent motivator — citing things like recognition and incentives as stronger motivators.

Looking at the three-elements of a meaningful check-in, it’s easy to see why the system would be more motivating and performance enhancing than the norm. While most performance appraisal systems are backward looking, assigning what is essentially a grade to past performance and spending only minimal time focused on the future, this format centers around highlighting the progress made and the skills and abilities needed to make further progress. Both are mechanisms to provide feedback, but one appears far more motivating.

 

Perhaps most importantly, the beauty of a check-in conversation is that it doesn’t automatically mean abandoning all of the other mechanisms required by your organization. Well-intentioned managers can start holding check-ins with or without an overhaul to the performance management system being used. At its core, it’s a helpful tool for having a more meaningful conversation… and using it regularly might even make the annual performance review discussion more meaningful as well. If you’re looking for a way to provide more meaningful feedback and better develop the people on your team, talking about these three things (expectations, feedback, growth and development) is a great start.

HBR: The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Are you multitasking? What do you do to stay focused on one task? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ron Friedman :

The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen—olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?

We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.

And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.

So what are we to do?

One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone.  It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.

The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.

Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.

In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.