Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remember to Reflect on the Positive

Executive Summary:
As we struggle to battle economic challenges or as we continuously focus on improving, growing, or fixing our teams, processes and businesses, it is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the things we see to be fixed or improved.  Take time to step back and reflect on the progress and improvements that have been made, and on the strengths your teams or your business possess.  It will help you keep perspective and get re-energized.

The Rest of the Story:
Any of us in a position of leadership or who focuses our efforts on team, process, or business performance runs the risk of getting sucked into a dark whirlpool of observations, perceptions, or demands concerning things that could or should be better.  It is a danger of constantly looking for things that are wrong or broken and need to be fixed.  This becomes especially true in times when economic pressure turns into business pressure to operate as efficiently as possible.

I have known a few process improvement professionals; in particular one Six Sigma Black Belt and another Master Black belt, who burned out and made complete career changes because the role of constantly focusing on problems became depressing.  At a time when you need more energy and fortitude than ever, don’t let this happen to you.

If you feel overwhelmed, now or any time in the future, or if you feel like your efforts are becoming futile, take a step back and look at your team, your process, or your business with a different perspective.  Here are some suggested questions to ask, or things to look for to help you see the positive.
  • Is your process better now than it was at some other time?  If so, then you are making progress.
  • Do your team members or personnel work well together and enjoy working together?  If so, then this is a great strength and something to treasure.
  • Have you made important impacts before?  If so, then you will do it again if you persist.
  • If it were all gone tomorrow, what would you miss?  People? Challenge?  Opportunity?  Answer this and you will be able to get out of bed and get ready for work easily.
  • If you weren’t doing what you are, how would those you are helping be impacted?
  • What are your team’s strengths?  Can you take any credit for any part of it?
  • What are your business’s strengths?  Can you claim any contribution to them?
  • Regardless of whether anyone outwardly appears to realize it, does your business or team need you?
  • Instead of looking at what needs to be fixed or improved today, look at all the things that have been fixed or improved in the last 2 years.
  • Make a list of things that you feel proud of in the last 6-months or the last year – they can be your own accomplishments, or your team’s, someone else whom you influenced, or just a great phenomenon that took place in your work place.

If you can’t find some significant, positive material while answering these questions or tasks, then it’s too late and you must really be in a dark personal space.  Snap out of it! Do it again, and do it objectively!  You will find something worthwhile.

Now, go one more step and celebrate the things that you found in the above exercise which are worth celebrating.
  • Take some people who have earned it out to lunch, or just call a short meeting to say that you are proud of them and why.
  • Write down a statement about something great that you did, or that happened, and put it in your visual workspace.  When it wears out, or you get tired of looking at it, replace it with another.  Make it a habit.  You don’t need to be boastful, just factual and inspirational.  Here are a few examples.
    • “Our process is better this month than last month.”
    • “The team came together, overcame, and did X.”
    • “Lead-time is X, was Y.”
    • “My team is a team to be proud of.”
    • “Something-or-other is our greatest strength.”
  • Get a spiral or scientific notebook and list or scrapbook your accomplishments.  I know it sounds silly, but as that book grows thicker, you will begin to see and feel your own impact.
  • Write a letter to your team, your leader, your spouse, or anyone and declare what you think is great, strong, or important about the team, process, or business today.  Deliver it if you have the courage, or just delete it if you must.  Sometimes the exercise of writing it down, of putting it into words, is personally inspirational.

You might be surprised how much putting the positive ideas in your own face, can help fend off the shadows of the overwhelming tasks ahead.

I’ve been a business improvement change agent for many years.  I’ve worked with a lot of leaders and change agents my whole career.  We all battle to keep a positive perspective sometimes, especially when it is our job to seek out and battle disease in our workplace.  In my experience, the most difficult and seemingly futile challenge is to drive cultural or behavioral change and it is when I’m doing so that I need to bolster my own spirits the most.

Some of the above ideas work for me.  Some are ideas I got from friends and colleagues.  Take inspiration from them.  Try some.  Invent your own.  Just make sure that you take some time, when you need, to reflect on the positive.  Make it a habit and you will find that your own “change bank” refills quickly.  You will find the energy to push through, and the confidence to stay the course.  Share your insights and positive observations with others around you and you will find everyone adopting a brighter outlook.  Try it.  It’s powerful.

Stay wise, friends.

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