In traditional organizations with a hierarchy of management, individual contributors often feel like they don’t need to lead, or worse, they would be out of line if they acted as a leader. This creates a dysfunctional organization and a culture where no one will make a decision but “the boss”. No one knows better how to react to challenges than the people doing the work, so why would those people wait around for a decision? The answer is, they haven’t been encouraged to make decisions on their own and fear the consequences of doing so. Talk about being inefficient at a time when we all expect goods and services delivered at record speed. I would argue it’s costing organizations more to pay for managers and lost production time waiting on decisions than they would if they paid for a few mistakes made here and there by employees who were trusted to make decisions on their own.
Flat organizations have been successful empowering employees to make decisions on their own, so why haven’t more organizations transitioned away from a rigid hierarchy and encouraged their employees to lead when they can? I believe it’s due to ego on the behalf of managers who want to show they, and they alone, have the power because someone bestowed the title of “manager” on them so they must be important…. For all of the rapid advances in technology over the past two decades, many American organizations are still stuck with outdated structures and poor leaders. It’s no wonder that employees staged a Great Resignation over the past two years and decided the time was right to find organizations that better aligned with their personal values and aspirations.
I always hear the argument that flat organizations don’t work in regulated industries but it just isn’t true. You can still have the required quality checks and have a workplace full of empowered and motivated employees who feel they are important because the organization relies on them to make decisions. I feel organizations who don’t embrace this strategy will struggle greatly over the next decade and many could fall to disruptors who are operating more nimbly. There are incredibly talented people at all levels of their careers, regardless of title; why wouldn’t we want to let them add as much value as possible and have a team full of people who take action on their own and don’t wait around for the boss?
The reason the Start Small method of achieving goals works, is rooted in the marginal gains theory. I’ve only recently heard of this theory and have to credit Joel Cochran for introducing it to me on an episode of the Proclivity Podcast. When I researched it a bit further, there’s a ton of evidence out there that supports what I’ve come to realize; making small gains yields big improvements in the long run. Essentially, the marginal gains theory supports the idea that 1% gains in many areas will cumulatively create a large positive impact.
The research and evidence supports the notion that as you make changes and see positive results, you continue to be motivated to achieve more gains and will look for ways to improve elsewhere. I believe this has the potential to help millions of people and organizations improve their results, so it’s my hope the theory will be taught in schools at scale someday. What better way to prepare someone for the world than giving them a tool to succeed in both their personal and professional lives?
Organizations already use the continuous improvement model but many times they make the same mistake individuals make; they take on huge projects that are difficult to complete and end up failing. If organizations were to take a 1% improvement approach, the projects would be much smaller, take less time to complete, and hold everyone’s interest long enough to make a positive impact. Over time, this could change the culture to one where employees are taking it upon themselves to make positive changes to benefit the organization.
The Start Small method and the marginal gains theory help build mental toughness, just like exercise helps build physical toughness. By being intentional about making 1% improvements, you’re changing the way you view the world and building the confidence that you’re in control of your life. I bet you can make a 1% improvement in your life before the end of the day!
There are numerous benefits to helping others succeed. First and foremost, most of the people you help will remember it and do the same for you some day. I remember my father-in-law mentoring a young intern pharmacist by helping him with homework over the phone, and years later witnessed him ask for advice from the young pharmacist who had graduated by then and was an expert on the latest developments in the industry. When you help others, it builds your network of people who can be relied on for advice, references, open positions, etc.
Experts say we retain 50% of what we write down and 80% of what we teach to others. By teaching others, you’re actually reinforcing the knowledge you’ve learned so it doesn’t fade over time. When teaching, you gain knowledge yourself from getting the perspective of someone who views the problem in an entirely different way. If you’re open enough, interactions like this lead to the next industry development or business disruption because you’re able to combine your deep industry knowledge with someone else’s knowledge of current technology, etc.
Finally, helping others succeed is a sign of strength and leadership potential. Your organization will notice who’s sharing knowledge and helping the entire organization grow, and who’s hoarding knowledge to keep everyone else weak. Both the sharing and hoarding are very apparent to leaders in the organization, and despite the hoarders believing they’ll be promoted for their superior knowledge over everyone else; the opposite is true. Good leaders recognize the power in sharing and teaching within the organization and will promote people who possess this behavior.
If you want real respect in the workplace, act with complete integrity, even in situations where the consequences aren’t high. This gives everyone around you the confidence that they can count on you when there are real consequences at stake. Leaders lose a lot of credibility when they tell employees a lie when asked a sensitive question. If you can’t talk about it, tell them that in a way that’s respectful and let’s them leave the conversation with dignity. They know you can’t talk about everything and they will respect you for telling the truth.
The same holds true for customers when you make a mistake. Own up to it at all costs, always. You may think your customer doesn’t know enough about your business to smell a lie, but we know from our own personal experiences as customers that isn’t true, just wishful thinking. If a customer feels they can’t trust you to tell the truth, they’ll quit you just like the employee who feels disrespected when you lie. Our first reaction is to save face but in the long term, you lose credibility. Honestly, people know mistake are made and they’ll respect you for owning it, especially if you’re owning a mistake made at a lower level that was out of your control.
One frequent instance where being transparent is frequently abused is in job interviews or when approached for new positions. Your new employer will quickly find out what you know or don’t know, and they will be disappointed to find out you don’t know what you told them in the interview. Talk about starting off with zero credibility and having to rebuild it if you’re even able to keep the job! Avoid the mess by being brutally honest and the people interviewing you will know they’re dealing with someone who values integrity and can be trusted. It’s easier to train someone with integrity than deal with someone you don’t trust.
Quit being fake today, no one appreciates it and they never have!
Achieving your goals really begins with creating the right mindset, but how do you do that in a way that’s sustainable in the long term? Creating good habits is the key to changing your mindset from one where you get tossed about by what the world throws at you any given day to one where you’re in control. Once you feel in control of the present, you can take the actions needed to change your future.
Good habits are dependent on your ability to be disciplined in your actions, and discipline doesn’t happen by flipping a switch, so you have to Start Small. Doing things like making your bed in the morning put you in control right away, and without being aware of it, gives you the confidence to do bigger things. Having your clothes laid out the night before makes you feel properly prepared and even more in control of the day. Packing lunch keeps you on track with nutrition because you won’t end up skipping it and suffering, or worse, eating junk because it’s convenient and then feeling guilty that you aren’t prepared and in control of your life.
These small disciplined actions change the way you think over time and can lead to bigger disciplines like creating a personal budget and saving for a house, setting time aside to learn new skills, etc. Whatever it is you want to accomplish; it begins with small disciplines that create good habits and change your mindset and locus of control. We all know what we need to do to be successful, most people just aren’t doing it because they don’t feel in control and make excuses for why they can’t accomplish things.
There’s power in being intentional and disciplined, even in areas that seem trivial or can be hidden from the world, because your biggest influencer is yourself. For example, we all know the bad feelings associated with procrastination and incomplete projects. Flip that feeling by being disciplined enough to set aside time to work on it. If you can make yourself feel good about your actions, you can achieve greatness. Start Small today by making your bed and see where it leads from there!
If you want team members to work effectively, you should be doing the work with them, at least occasionally. This is especially true when it comes to tasks that many leaders find beneath their level in the organization because it sends powerful signals that build a better team. I started out as an hourly skilled laborer in my organization and I can tell you first hand, I had little respect for bosses I never saw on the shop floor. Here are 4 benefits to getting out there.
1. By sweeping a shop floor or stocking a warehouse shelf, it shows you are humble and not above a little manual labor with the team. This motivates the team by showing them the task is important enough to the success of the organization that the boss will spend time on it. I get in early enough to help the night shift clean up and the day shift to get staged and ready. This signals the team that I’m committed to working hard and putting in hours outside of the normal business day to contribute to the success of the organization. They’ll work harder in return.
2. It shows you care that the task gets done and done the way you would if it was your daily job. This sets a standard for quality that the team may not arrive at on their own if you’re telling them what to do and how to do it from the office. You’ll earn respect from the people who matter the most; the ones doing the work that’s essential to sustaining the business. A level of participation and quality will be achieved that won’t be if you never show up and pitch in to set the example.
3. I guarantee you will find things that need improved to be more efficient along the way. Ask the team members you’re working with questions about the process. This lets them know you care about the safety and efficiency of the work being performed and that you’re committed to improving the organization when you see opportunities. Next time, they’ll come to you with suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t worry that they’ll find out you don’t know how everything works; keep your ego in check and approach it as an opportunity to understand the business better, the team will respect you for the efforts.
4. Successful teams are built on successful relationships and you won’t build those relationships if you’re not getting out and visiting employees at all levels of the organization, especially your direct reports. They’ll be more comfortable and open up more when you’re working alongside them. You’ll be in a position to put rumors to rest and share opportunities for growth with the team to help them feel secure the organization is in good shape. People fear the unknown and if you’re not talking about the positives, they will assume the worst and may look for other positions.
Retirement is one aspect of life most of us will participate in, either by choice or because poor health forces us there, so why do so many people delay saving for retirement? The earlier you save, even if it’s a small amount, the more time compound interest can work in your favor to grow your retirement savings. I recently spoke to a high school class of graduating seniors about how to be successful in their careers and ended my speech with an example of how investing $100 consistently each month throughout their 40-year careers could make them millionaires compared to the $230,000 they would save if they began at age 50 and invested $1,000 a month for 10 years with the same annual return. Perhaps my words of wisdom were lost on 18-year olds just starting out in life but the example is a useful one for demonstrating the power of compound interest to people of all ages and will hopefully spur some to start saving today, even if it’s a small amount.
The rule of thumb is you should shoot for replacing 80% of your annual working income in retirement, so for someone making $100,000 a year today, that would be $80,000. Another rule is that you should only draw 4% of your savings in order to have decent chance at making it last through an average retirement. Under these guidelines, someone would need $2 million saved in order to draw $80,000 per year safely. These are general guidelines and I encourage the use of a professional retirement planner for your individual circumstance, but this example demonstrates what a large and important task saving for retirement actually is and surprises many who haven’t made it a priority.
Another example is that money invested at age 25 triples by age 45 based on average U.S. stock market returns. U.S. employers and financial service firms have done a great job making it easier for people to save and invest for retirement with many employers matching up to 100% of employee contributions up to a maximum amount. If at all possible, you should be saving the minimum amount to receive the match from your employer because if not, you’re passing up on free money that will grow into more money over time.
Another great tool most employer 401k plans offer is the ability to automatically increase your contributions on a scheduled basis. This makes it easy for people who want to get to a point where they’re saving 15% of their income but can’t get there all at once. By increasing the savings rate 1% annually for example, it reduces the anxiety and allows people to adjust to saving more over a long period of time.
Saving for retirement is important and the earlier you start the better off you’ll be, but if you’re behind train yourself to be intentional about it. There are so many free resources available to learn more about retirement saving that anyone can learn enough to understand the basics on their own. Start Small and build up with the help of a professional retirement planner. Just like a personal trainer will hold you accountable for behavior that benefits you, so will a good financial planner. Starting is the hardest part, so start today and encourage those you care about to do the same!
Motivated professionals love to work, and the argument could be made the world is a better place today because of their contributions, but how many end up regretting not living a little more when they reflect on their lives? My favorite TV commercial of all time is the old guy telling his grandkids how much he loved Harleys when he was younger. When they asked him about it, he had to tell them he never got it….he spent the money on aluminum siding instead! I put a link to the video above but it’s a great reminder that we’ll all die some day and most of us will get old enough to reflect on our lives.
I’ve always worked a lot, even when I was a kid, but as I get older I’m having to live with some regret despite achieving a lot of my personal and professional goals. Because I write every week about achieving goals, I feel the responsibility to remind everyone to live a little along the way. I don’t advocate quitting your job when you’ve got more responsibilities than savings though, just don’t spend your entire life working. Be intentional about creating balance between work and the rest of your life. If you enjoy work like I do, it’s really easy to dig into it for nine days or nine months, only to look up and find you missed some opportunities away from work to have new experiences.
One trap we fall into is thinking that if we push through this month or this year, everything will quiet down and we’ll have less on our plate at a later date. I do this a lot and find that it never holds true; the more value I provide, the more opportunities come my way to provide value. That’s a good thing but learning to manage it is a challenge, especially when ego and simple pride in your work get in the way.
Building a good team who shares your values and pride in the work your organization does is the best way to lighten your load enough to step away but keep an eye on them, there’s a few who will need to be encouraged to live a little as well. As a leader, you will be respected more by your team if you encourage them to enjoy life outside of work and get a higher quality of work being accomplished when your employees have some balance and aren’t burned out. Here’s to summer vacations!
I could probably write an entire book on the subject of owning the outcome and getting out what you put into something but I want to keep it short today. I used to be a blamer but have learned a lot by reflecting on successes and failures and learning everything I could from good leaders. Learning to take ownership for your situation is a lifelong journey that some never complete. We can’t control everything that happens to us but we can control how we react to situations and usually the results we see today are the effects of behavior or decisions from our past that led us here. Once we realize and accept that, we can start to change the future by making better decisions today.
If you’re a leader, blaming others for failures is never the right decision because the root cause most likely began with you. Did someone screw up? Sure they did, but how long have you been tolerating behavior from that person instead of having hard conversations to get better results or getting that person off the team? If you choose to keep them on the team knowing they don’t perform, or you haven’t given them the tools or training they need to be successful, the problem is yours to own. You won’t get better results until you own most of what’s challenging you and preventing you from achieving goals. It’s way easier to blame others which is why it’s the most common excuse for not reaching goals, but it doesn’t help and actually causes others to question your leadership.
Personal goals are no different. You didn’t have time to go to the gym last week because work was so busy and everyone needed something from you? The kids needed driven to a friends house? Who didn’t have the confidence to say no and manage priorities? You. Accept that your behavior causes you to miss goals and own it. Either set different goals or change behavior to achieve them. Trust me, you’ll feel better taking ownership of outcomes and will begin to get better outcomes, a little at a time.