HBR: How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

Are you making time for personal development?  Have you ever used NRLA’s Learning Management System (LMS) for online technology training? Do you have your Certified Building Materials Specialist (CBMS) designation? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rachael O’Meara:

How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

We all want to learn and grow. Improving our skills and being exposed to new ideas not only makes us better at our jobs but makes us happier and more engaged at work. But with a full-time job, it can be tough to find the time and resources to dedicate to personal development. Some people, like me, are lucky to work for companies that encourage and even fund classes, sabbaticals, or fellowships. But if you work for a company that doesn’t have an official policy, how can you make the case to your manager (and the necessary higher ups) to support you?

In researching my book, Pause, and learning from my own experience of figuring out how to take time off for my own growth, I’ve come up with a six-step plan for how to negotiate for personal development.

  1. Identify how you want to learn and grow. If you don’t yet have a clear picture of what you want to develop, spend time honing in on exactly what you need. Do you want to build your emotional intelligence skills to be a more attuned business leader? Are you interested in going on a yoga or meditation retreat? Set aside a specific period of time, such as one evening or even a week, to explore ideas and research what appeals to you. Write down what you want to learn and how you would grow from the experience you’ve identified. Research shows that the physical act of writing has a neurological effect on the brain which tells the cerebral cortex to “wake up and pay attention.” Writing stimulates a bunch of cells in the brain called the Reticular Activating System that plays a key role in being more conscious and alert. The more you can write down, the more aware and real your ideas become.
  1. Own it. You may be under the impression that building an underdeveloped skill means you lack a competency or have a particular weakness. This isn’t the case. Rather than being embarrassed or nervous about asking for this time, own it as part of your commitment to becoming a better leader. If you aren’t willing to consider it a growth move for you and your company, you can’t expect others to support you.
  1. Create your vision statement. Ask yourself, “Who will I become as a result of this investment of my time and resources?” Be specific and descriptive. Keep it in the first person. One sentence is ideal. Use descriptive adjectives. Will you be more engaged, influential, or mindful? Visions are a great way to orient and stay on track before, during, and after your development work. As I’ve learned from my mentors, Bob and Judith Wright, your vision should be constantly evolving as you do. The vision I created for my leadership training this year was: “I fully engage as a more authentic woman leader.” Add whatever details you feel necessary to convey your vision to those who will approve the time and resources you need.
  1. Connect your goals or outcomes to what the business needs. To get buy in from your manager, team, or company to support your development, you have to connect what you’ll gain to the business goals. Ask yourself:
  • Are there issues at work that you could better resolve as a result of this training? In what ways will your company benefit from your improved performance, skills, or knowledge?
  • What specific skills or knowledge can you share with your manager, team, and/or company from your training or experience?
  • Can you provide a recap (verbally or visually) based on what you learned or how you plan to apply this at work or in your career?

 

Time Off

  1. Prep and practice. The next step is to get ready for the conversation. Think through: What’s the worst and best case scenarios? Anticipate questions or concerns from your boss. I have yet to meet someone who was let go for asking to expand their horizons. Often times our fear holds us back from negotiating, and we miss out on the opportunity to explore alternatives, or worse, receive a yes.

Make a list of what is negotiable – things like timing, budget, and activity. Is partial or full reimbursement possible? Can you avoid using vacation days? One colleague of mine negotiated time off for a week-long leadership retreat where her manager agreed to her taking vacation for only 50% of the time she was out. The other 50% she was on the company clock.

When preparing for the conversation, think about what each person involved in making the decision has to gain. Do your homework and read up on your HR policies. Know how educational reimbursement works in your company.

  1. Make your ask. When you’re ready to sit down with your manager, don’t catch them off guard. Give them ample notice and consider adding it to the agenda for your next one-on-one meeting. But it doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. If you’re catching up on how the weekend was or plans for the evening, share the class that caught your eye and why it personally matters to you. Better yet, share how you think it could help you be a better employee. Then you can schedule more time to discuss it further.

Share your vision and goals. Be clear what exactly you’re asking for — is it for time off, compensation (expenses), or some combination of the two? What will they get in return? Refer to your notes if needed.

When the conversation is over, consider following up in writing, emphasizing how this would benefit you and your manager, team, or business.

There are three likely outcomes: getting what you’ve asked for, getting some of what you asked for, or getting a flat out “no.” By following these steps, you’ll increase the chances that you get a favorable outcome but that’s not always the case. Even if you don’t get what you asked for, start thinking about ways you can reshape your request in the future.

Spending the time to form a logical, careful request can be rewarding in itself because you’re getting clearer on what you need. And you’re contributing to, maybe even igniting, a corporate culture that supports individuals to learn and grow in ways beyond what’s traditionally done.

Over the past four years I’ve used the above process to request and win support for a coaching certification, graduate and non-accredited courses, week-long emotional intelligence leadership retreats, and a two-day class influencing. In each case, it felt like a leap of faith but I always reminded myself that the worst they can say is no.

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Eighth Anniversity

The Year in Review

Below are the top ten views for the year:

HBR: Are Sales Incentives Becoming Obsolete?

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

GT: 5 Things a Great Leader Would Never Do

HBR: 6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale

HBR: How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue – Order

HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

HBR: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

Thank you for your support over the past year.

 

 

HBR: How to Reduce the Costs of Salesperson Turnover

What is your strategy when a salesperson leaves? How do you handle the vacant period? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha:

How to Reduce the Costs of Salesperson Turnover

 Even the best sales forces can’t keep every good salesperson. Loss of salespeople to competitors occurs frequently in high-growth industries in which the demand for experienced salespeople exceeds the supply, such as in fast-evolving technology markets. Poaching of salespeople also occurs when sales are driven largely by relationships. For example, wealth management companies frequently recruit advisors who have built a strong book of business at competitive firms.

Companies facing high sales force turnover situations can try to reduce undesirable loss of salespeople, but they should also use another strategy, by taking steps to reduce the negative consequences on customers and the company when salespeople do leave, as some inevitably will.

These strategies focus on minimizing sales loss during three critical phases surrounding a salesperson’s departure – the withdrawal period, the vacancy period, and the hiring/orientation period.

Managing the Withdrawal Period

In the period from when salespeople contemplate leaving until they actually depart, salespeople often stop putting full effort into the job. Too frequently, departing salespeople are distracted by their job search. Or worse, if a departing salesperson plans to work for a competitor, the salesperson might feel pressure to convince customers to defect. Minimizing withdrawal period sales loss requires a proactive approach.

It starts with detecting the possibility that a salesperson might leave as early as possible. First-line sales managers are critical to this effort. By keeping in touch with their people, managers can identify and address emerging issues before they escalate to the point where salespeople decide to leave.

One company with a large internal sales force used an early-warning system to track call agent behavior and predict the likelihood of resignations. Signals of impending departure included fluctuating productivity, an increase in the number of vacation days taken one at a time, a drop in call quality, and increased off-phone time. By tracking these signals, the system could direct incoming phone calls from important customers to agents who were not at risk of leaving. In addition, managers could meet with employees at risk of leaving to talk through their situation and try to prevent their departure. Managers could use solutions such as job rotation, job enhancement, relocation, and greater control of their work schedule.

Even when intervention can’t preempt an unwanted departure, early detection gives companies more time to prepare for a smooth transition of relationships with customers before a salesperson leaves.

Managing the Vacancy Period

From the time the salesperson departs until a replacement is found, two strategies help minimize sales loss.

The first is to shorten the vacancy period through aggressive and proactive sales force recruiting. One medical equipment company minimized vacancy time by keeping a bench of screened and trained candidates who were ready to jump into sales positions quickly when needed. Bench programs work best in large sales forces in which the sales job requires significant training time. If training needs are modest or the cost of maintaining a bench is too high, constant recruiting can create a “virtual” bench. By maintaining a list of viable job candidates before an opening occurs (including employee referrals, candidates who rejected past offers, employees in other functions), companies accelerate hiring and reduce vacancy time.

The other key to minimizing the costs of the vacancy period is to avoid lapses in customer coverage. This is especially important for major customers that depend upon and trust a departing salesperson who has in-depth knowledge of their business or who has participated throughout a long sales cycle (which means sales are often left half-completed). Even the most loyal customers may see the salesperson’s departure as a reason to consider competitive offerings. Providing temporary coverage of major customers by a sales manager or by another salesperson until a permanent replacement is found can avoid sales loss.

Managing the Hiring/Orientation Period

Once a replacement is selected, it takes time for that individual to become fully productive.

The costs of this period can be reduced by making it a priority to get salespeople up to speed quickly. Sales managers play a critical role in onboarding and training new salespeople to help them understand the culture, learn the products and customers, and become fully engaged. Hiring experienced salespeople also helps accelerate the learning curve.

An Ounce of Prevention

Defensive approaches can protect companies in high sales force turnover environments. Two strategies help minimize sales loss across all three phases surrounding a salesperson’s departure.

First, build multiple connections between customers and the company. The risk of customer loss is especially great when departing salespeople hope to bring customers along to a new job with a competitor. Take action well before a departure is imminent. Get a sales manager or sales specialist involved with customers in deals with long sales cycles. Provide customers with resources they value outside the sales force, such as a customized ordering website or easy access to customer service or technical support personnel. Such resources can encourage customer loyalty that outlives a connection with an individual salesperson.

Second, use CRM systems to capture critical information. Such systems can document customer needs, track the sales pipeline, and help ensure essential information is not lost in transition.

Turnover of salespeople too often results in missed sales opportunities and loss of business. Even the best sales forces experience some disappointing departures. By taking defensive steps now, and working diligently during the three phases that accompany an individual’s departure, those costs can be minimized.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/11/how-to-reduce-the-costs-of-salesperson-turnover

 

HBR: Listening to Your Customers When Your Customers Disagree 

What should you do when customers have conflicting opinions? Are you listening to social media channels? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Alexandra Samuel:

Listening to Your Customers When Your Customers Disagree 

Smart companies recognize that both their marketing and their broader business strategy need to be informed by carefully gathered customer insight. But what do you do when your customers disagree—especially if their disagreement echoes throughout your various social media channels? What if their needs or desires are mutually contradictory?

That’s the situation the airline industry may soon face, thanks to the FCC’s reconsideration of in-flight mobile phone use. Customers have long been clamoring for in-flight phone liberation, but since its announcement the FCC has also been flooded with comments from passengers who dread the prospect of noisily chatting seat mates. Should the FCC move away from its pervasive ban on in-flight phones, those conflicting views will become a problem for individual airlines—or even individual flight attendants.

When you’re faced with a decision that’s going to make some customers angry no matter what you choose, it’s hard to know which voices to listen to, or whether to listen at all.

There is no more valuable time to listen to your customers than when they disagree, however. If you take the time to dive deep into a controversial topic—ideally with a group of customers who have been providing ongoing input into your business—you have a better chance of identifying strategies that will either help you satisfy competing interests, or focus your attention on the most crucial customer groups.

In a survey of 1,014 Americans who weighed in on the topic last month(January 2014), we heard the following about mobile phones on airplanes:

  • 44% of respondents agree that the FCC should permit the usage of cell phones on planes in flight, while 45% oppose the idea.
  • 40% of respondents say they would be very likely or somewhat likely to choose airline carriers based on their in-flight mobile use policies. Of these, the majority (54%) would choose a phone-fee carrier; 29% would choose a phone-friendly carrier, and 17% would prefer a carrier with lower mobile rates for in-flight phone use.
  • 55% say the regulation of phone usage should be a joint responsibility of both airlines and FCC. Only 12% thinks it should be the exclusive responsibility of the FCC, while 15% thinks the airlines should establish the guidelines.

These survey results reflect the public divide on this issue—and also show that rules on cellphone usage can indeed sway people’s ticket-buying decisions. If you’re in the airline industry, you better be tuned in to your customers.

So what should a business do when customers have conflicting opinions? Often the answer lies in looking more closely for nuances and patterns other than the overarching disagreement. For example, our data shows that while customers are divided on the issue of whether cell phone use should be permitted in flight, they do agree on some issues. Most notably, a full 70% think that airlines should have at least partial responsibility for determining the guidelines, so airline carriers can’t stand on the sidelines and let the FCC sort it all out.

Here are best practices to help you find the best path forward among your battling customers—and that could help airlines navigate through this turbulent issue:

Find a middle ground. While the public is evenly divided on whether cellphone use should be allowed in flight, most passengers (80%) object to voice calls. At the same time, most would-be in-flight cell users primarily care about texting (72%) Internet access (69%), and email (65%); only 28% are interested in making voice calls.

Almost half (43%) of all respondents think that if cell phones are allowed in flight, it should be for data use only, and only 18% think phone use should be totally unlimited. Allowing data in flights but not calls therefore appears to be a potential middle ground.

Figure out which groups of customers feel which way. Only 25% of would-be in-flight talkers say they’d be prepared to pay roaming rates for in-flight phone or data use. But if these consumers fly more frequently than other consumers, it still might make business sense for airlines to try to meet the needs of these consumers. They should explore providing different offerings for different groups. Failing that, they will need to determine who their most valuable or strategically important customers are and target their approach accordingly. If they know that some customers are alienated by phone use, but others are prepared to pay richly for the privilege, you can at least make an educated decision.

Educate the opposition. While the overwhelming reason (80%) for opposing cellphone use in flights is that people don’t want to hear other people’s calls, half of those who disagree with in-flight phone use also worry about safety (54%). These stats suggest education on actual risks could soften opposition. If you end up making a decision that you know will make one set of customers unhappy, look for opportunities to change their minds. For example, the data-only solution may still make customers unhappy if they are worried about safety, but evidence suggest that the risks are low , so airlines may find that passenger education can relax some of those worried opponents.

Equip your employees. Flight attendants are right to worry about what cell phones would mean for their workload: 55% of people who believe in setting some limits on in-flight phone use think flight attendants should be the ones to help enforce those limits by warning violators. While many also think that signage (44%) and signal jamming (41%) should be part of the picture, there is clearly a widespread expectation that flight attendants will be a key part of enforcement. This highlights the need to educate your people in the front lines: Whichever consumer group you end up siding with, equip your employees (including your social media community managers) with the information and the tools they need to answer people’s questions and address opposition to your decision.

Ultimately, any business dealing with conflicting customer opinions will have to understand the factors driving people’s attitudes. Should the FCC change its rules on in-flight phone use, the airlines that will benefit will be those that understand not just the broad dimensions of disagreement among their customers, but the specific preferences, concerns and purchasing patterns of each group—otherwise they will be flying blind.

 

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Does your company provide a learning work environment? Is your company helping you improve your customer service and/or productivity skills? Another resource is Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) for educations seminars and online learningLMS.  Below is a blog from Everwise by Nicole Beckerman:

Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Successful organizations emphasize ongoing professional development and gaining new knowledge. A learning culture benefits companies by enriching the employee experience, boosting productivity and innovation, and curbing turnover. It is an essential priority to remain competitive in today’s rapidly-changing landscape. Employees must be prepared to learn and adapt to rapidly changing conditions and new technologies. Employers would do well to provide an environment for doing so internally.

While modeling curiosity and prioritizing a passion for knowledge starts at the top, growing an organization-wide learning culture requires on-the-ground efforts. Though employees are busier than ever, there are simple, cost-effective ways to integrate learning into their work experience. Here are seven tactics to get you started:

  1. Learning lunches: Change things up at lunch time by giving employees a chance to increase their knowledge. Mid-day is an ideal moment to shift gears from active work to take in an educational presentation. As this is typically a break time and people will be eating, it’s a good time to present knowledge directly rather than with interactive formats. If employees need extra enticement to attend, offering free food or dessert is always a crowd-pleaser.
  2. Staff presentations: Having employees share their expertise is a great way to capitalize on in-house knowledge and make people feel valued. Setting up presentations where your employees educate each other in person or via online tools is a powerful way to foster connection and learning. This is also a chance to expose people to new experiences outside of their department. Even simply having staff share with each other what it is that they do and what they are working on helps build interpersonal relationships and a clearer picture of the organization for everyone.
  3. Speakers: Industry experts are a valuable source of the latest trends, and inviting them to work with your employees brings a useful outside perspective. If they are physically visiting an office, get the most out of their presence with an interactive format such as a workshop or a small group activity. Make sure to prepare employees to take full advantage of guest speakers by promoting their arrival, distributing background information in advance about them, and sharing related learning materials to spark questions.
  4. Webinars: As a useful way to spread information among a large group of people, webinars are an essential part of efficient learning. They can be one format option for delivering a presentation from an employee or a guest speaker as discussed above, but to keep it more engaging consider putting together a panel discussion. This way, even if employees are passively watching the webinar or are engaged in another activity (like email) at the same time, they will still take in a variety of perspectives and insightful questions.
  5. Distribute resources and news: Most professionals have a genuine interest in their field and want to stay up to date, so employers can facilitate learning by bringing news and resources directly to them. This might look like an organized list of resources for learning that employees have easy access to, or even a more dynamic method like periodic emails with news, relevant articles, and links to short-form video clips.
  6. Stipends: A direct and straightforward way to promote learning is to simply subsidize it. There a variety of ways to provide funds for education, so organizations should consider how predictable they would like this expenditure to be, and how much direct control they would like over the learning process. Some organizations offer an educational stipend as a simple cash bonus add-on to the employee benefits package and let people use it as they see fit. Others will pay for particular courses from approved providers. Another related option is to pay for employee’s’ membership in professional organizations so they can continue to network and learn via a trusted third party.
  7. Office Library: If you have an open office plan, chances are the environment can get noisy and social, which might be great for morale but not conducive to learning. Consider designating a space or specific room as a quiet area, and supplementing it with learning resources to create an office library. Create an employee book exchange or facilitate monthly book clubs. This separate space can be a strong part of emphasizing learning culture by making it clear in a tangible, visible way.

This list is a place to begin your journey towards a learning culture and spark ideas. However, change efforts should always be tied to an organization’s large-scale development strategy. In implementation, make sure these efforts are also tailored to the unique style and priorities of your staff. Finally, modeling learning culture from the top is essential to reap the full benefits, so leaders must walk the talk.

Culture evolves when an entire organization gets on board, and producing a company of nimble, motivated learners is a worthy goal for everyone.

 

HBR: Selling Products Is Good. Selling Projects Can Be Even Better

As building suppliers, we tend to focus on bigger projects such as new homes and commercial buildings. Is your company or yourself focusing on small projects? Are you helping your customers complete their projects? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez.

Selling Products Is Good. Selling Projects Can Be Even Better

In the beginning companies sold products. And then they sold services. In recent years, the fashionable suggestion has been that companies sell experiences and solutions, solving the needs and aspirations of customers.

Companies, indeed, do all of these things. But increasingly, what companies sell are projects. To understand the difference, think of an athletic shoe company, such as Nike or Adidas. A focus on products means a focus on selling running shoes. A focus on experiences might mean they sell you a membership to a local running club. A focus on solutions might mean they figure out how to help you reach your goal weight. While these clearly offer more value than simply selling you a pair of shoes, they also have limitations. Selling products limits the revenues you can make from clients: Unless you are innovating and continually updating your product offering, customer attrition tends to be high, and incentivizing repurchases can be hard. Selling experiences provides intangible benefits that are hard to quantify and measure, often focusing on meeting the needs of one single customer, preventing any mass production. Selling solutions became popular in the early 2000s when customers didn’t know how to solve their problems. But today, in the internet age, people can do their own research and define the solutions for themselves.

A focus on selling projects would mean helping someone do something more specific, such as running the Boston Marathon. Nike could provide you with its traditional sports gear, but in addition it could include a training program, a dietary plan, a coach, and a monitoring system to help you achieve your dream. The project would have a clear goal (finish the marathon) and a clear start and end date.

And that is just one type of project. More so than products, the possibilities with projects are endless.

From Products to Projects at Philips

Consider the evolution of Philips. Founded in Eindhoven, in the south of The Netherlands, in 1891 by Gerard Philips and his father Frederik, it began by producing carbon-filament lamps. Its success was achieved by a culture of innovation and the speedy introduction of new products. Over more than a century of profitable existence, the range of products offered by the company has mushroomed. Today, Philips produces everything from automated external defibrillators to energy-efficient lighting for entire cities. It even applies its smart sensor technology to teeth brushing.

This profusion of products means that Philips is cash-rich, yet sales have stagnated in the last decade, and concerns about the company have been reflected in its stock price. Faced with this changing reality, Philips took a long, hard look at itself. It identified the absence of focus and lack of strategy implementation capabilities as crucial elements that needed addressing. Five years ago, with intensifying competition, the Philips board split the organization into three different companies: Consumer Health, Lighting, and Healthcare.

It then went on to launch “Accelerate,” a program aimed at accelerating growth by transforming each new independent company into a focused organization. At the heart of the changes brought about by the Accelerate program are projects.

Over the years, Philips had become an intricate, blurred matrix. Accountabilities and responsibilities were shared between products, segments, countries, regions, functions, and headquarters. It set out to simplify this convoluted and archaic organization structure.

To do so, Philips put projects center stage. Projects were identified as the best management structure to break up silos and encourage teams to work transversally (end-to-end) in the organization.

As part of this, Philips Health Tech was divided into just three divisions. Essential to making this happen was a substantial increase in the work executed through projects. The shift was from selling customers a few products every year to creating an engaged relationship over decades.

One of the biggest challenges facing Philips Health Tech is that the life expectancy of its products is becoming shorter and shorter. Soon after launch, products are copied by the competition, which means they must be priced more cheaply. Soon, they become a commodity. This removes any opportunity for steady, high margins over the long term. Philips has experienced this even with its high-end health care products. Shifting its emphasis to selling projects rather than products was a strategic response to this problem.

For example, Philips sells high-tech medical devices. In the past it sold them simply as products (and it still does). But now Philips seeks out the projects in which its products will be used. If a new health care center is being considered, Philips will seek to become a partner from the very beginning of the project, including the running and the maintenance of the new center.

Among the results of this project focus at Philips is a partnership with Westchester Medical Center Health Network aimed at improving health care for millions of patients across New York’s Hudson Valley. Through this long-term partnership Philips provides WMC Health with a comprehensive range of clinical and business consulting projects, as well as advanced medical technologies such as imaging systems, patient monitoring, telehealth, and clinical informatics solutions.

In similar long-term partnerships with Philips, hospitals have been able to significantly improve radiology volumes and cut MRI waiting times in half. These organizations are seeing a 35% reduction in technology spending while improving clinical quality.

The Project Revolution

Philips is not alone in using an increased focus on selling projects as a means of disruptive transformation. At Microsoft, the company’s entire focus has shifted to Cloud services, most of which are offered as projects. It now has around 10,000 operating projects. Airbnb, valued this year at $30 billion, recently announced that it will start selling “experiences” — small tourism projects — as a way to create new revenue streams and address the increased regulatory scrutiny in some of its bigger markets. The biopharmaceutical industry is also seeking to work with governments and other purchasers on focused treatment programs, rather than simply offering individual drugs.

Clearly, the shift to becoming a project-driven organization and selling projects rather than products or services presents sizeable challenges to corporations and their business models. Working in projects throughout my career, I have identified these as the important ones:

  • Revenue streams. Revenues will be generated progressively over long periods of time, instead of right after the sale of a product. This will affect the way revenues are recognized, as well as accounting policies and the overall company valuation.
  • Pricing model. New pricing models will need to be developed. It is easier to price a product, for which most of the fixed and variable costs are known, than a project, which is influenced by many external factors.
  • Quality control. Delivering quality products will not be enough to meet customer expectations. Implementation and post-implementation services will also have to be of the highest possible quality to ensure that clients continue to buy projects.
  • Branding and marketing. Traditional marketing has focused on short-term immediate benefits. Marketing teams will need to promote the long-term benefits of the projects sold by the organization.
  • Sales force. The buyer of the project will no longer be the procurement department of an organization. Sales will be pitched to leaders of the business, so the sales force and sales skills will have to be upgraded with strategy and project management competencies.

Stop for a moment and consider what your organization is selling. Is it a project? Increasingly, the answer is clear and affirmative. If not, beware, your products might soon become part of a project sold by someone else.

 

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.