Chapter 9 – Execution
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy” – attributed to Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
The test of any plan is in execution.
In this chapter, we are going to talk about what we may encounter during the execution of our plans and common scenarios for troubleshooting when things go awry.
“The best leaders in dual-purpose organizations consider their high-level principles sacrosanct but their ground-level decisions provisional.”
The benefit of Agile and agility is the flexibility to maneuver based on what is in front of you.
What typically gets lost is the high-level principles in our drive to "be agile."
Which star are you navigating?
What principles are you using to guide your decisions?
Are those principles strong enough to overcome short-term challenges and pressures?
It's easy to forget the high-level, long-term principles when faced with short-term challenges that, frequently, surface issues around money and security.
As the authors of the Harvard Business Review article point out, it's a strategic paradox that needs to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes we need to make choices between our higher purpose and bringing in enough money to pay our bills. I wish that wasn't the case, but that's today's reality.
The things that bring in the most money and gain the most rewards aren't necessarily (and frequently aren't) for the highest good. Or YOUR highest good.
The authors recommend putting guardrails in place to help you with decision-making. These guardrails help you keep the long-term, highest good goals and the short-term survival needs in focus.
The process of establishing guardrails invites you to combine seemingly disparate objectives.
How can you continue pursuing what you love while keeping a roof over your head?
Where can you compromise and where is compromise unacceptable?
It requires getting creative. Brainstorming.
Getting very clear on what is important to you and what isn't.
The guardrails allow you to be more agile. You gain a framework that helps you make decisions as opportunities present themselves and as your environment changes.
The Need for Inner Agility
Admission: Inner agility is not one of my strongest suits. I am a recovering control freak.
To state the obvious - we are living in a time of increasing complexity.
Much of that complexity is of our own making.
The cult of "more."
A bias towards "growth" and speed.
Access to an overwhelming amount of information
Increasing demands for attention from ALL corners
More diverse things connected with and dependent on each other
It’s harder to make sense of things, because the degree of complexity may lie beyond our cognitive limits. And it’s harder to place bets, because the past behavior of a complex system may not predict its future behavior. In a complex system the outlier is often more significant than the average.
If you remove the wrong variable in your environment, you wind up with the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge.
No wonder people (leaders and employees alike) are paralyzed and overwhelmed.
Choose the wrong variable...and it feels like disaster is imminent.
And, naturally, at times of intense stress, it's easy to fall back into survival patterns.
It's hard enough when you are an employee. As a leader, if you fall back into old survival patterns - the negative impact can be that much greater.
"At the very time that visionary, empathetic, and creative leadership
And with the desire to move faster and faster and do more and more with fewer resources, no wonder transformation efforts, of any scale, fail.
It's not a simple fix.
It requires individuals to practice the opposite of what the culture demands, how many of us are schooled to act, and how our brains prefer to work.
To spot opportunities—and threats—in this environment, we must teach ourselves how to have a more comfortable and creative relationship with uncertainty. That means learning how to relax at the edge of uncertainty, paying attention to subtle clues both in our environment and in how we experience the moment that may inform unconventional action.
This relaxation at the edge of uncertainty is the key to inner agility.
The McKinsey consultants' recommendations to develop inner agility:
Pause to move faster – i.e., stop to look at the map occasionally. Are you still headed in the right direction?
Embrace your ignorance - Be a beginner. Ask questions. Learn from others. Good ideas can come from anywhere.
Radically reframe your questions - It might be worthwhile to ask at a higher level. Ask people you know will disagree with you. Question your assumptions.
Set direction, not destination - Having a north star to provide context to your destination helps.
Test your solutions, and yourself - Allow for "safe to fail" experiments (this is what pilot projects are supposed to do). Do this for yourself too.
How much resistance did you feel when you read those recommendations?
Thing is, these are some of the behaviors that will help stop the insanity.
I feel we've hit a point where we need to start making hard choices about our direction, the things we focus on, and the activities we undertake.
Opportunities are abundant. Time and energy may not be.
It may be time to stop, look at the map, and make sure you are headed in the direction you expect.
The Burden of Legacy
The more successful the old self is, the harder it is to let it go.
It’s a lesson I’m in the process of learning.
There’s a challenge when you are successful at something – people want you to keep doing it.
Plus, it’s easy. You’ve already mastered it as much as you want to master it.
It’s known. More certain. Less scary.
For you and for others.
People see (and want) the old you.
People don’t want the uncertainty around whether you can do the new thing. They (rightly) don’t want to be victim to your failures.
Only close friends volunteer to be your lab rat as you experiment with new ways of doing things. (I hold these people very dearly and am incredibly grateful for them.)
Strangely, an article on McKinsey’s Three Horizons model in Harvard Business Review triggered these thoughts.
In the 21st century the attackers have the advantage, as the incumbents are burdened with legacy.
Those of us in the prime earning years of our lives and having successfully put together a livelihood are burdened with the legacy we made.
How do we take the activities we are already valued for and shift them to new selves that provide value down the road?
How can we make space for that within ourselves?
How can we make space for that with others?
With all the talk of reskilling and transformation – are we providing the space for that to happen?
How heavy is your legacy burden?
Letting Go of the Legacy
I have an axe to grind with all those who say “just let go.” In my experience, it is not that easy.
First, if you have been rewarded repeatedly for the thing you are letting go of, and you are not seeing the return yet on the new thing, it’s incredibly easy to continue doing the thing you have been repeatedly rewarded for.
Second, if people keep asking you to do the thing you are letting go of, and rewarding you NOW for that thing, it’s incredibly easy to continue doing the thing you have been repeatedly rewarded for. This is especially true when the return on investment of the new thing is uncertain and unclear.
Third, if people keep asking you to do the thing you are letting go of, will reward you NOW for that thing, and there are few viable options in your environment for replacing that thing, you are going to be expending more energy trying NOT to do the thing than just doing it.
The further away the change is from the legacy you have built and been rewarded for, the harder making and maintaining that change will be.
The burden of our legacy of old behaviors and successes will test our ability to say “no.” It will test our ability to not fall back into old behaviors that no longer serve us. It will test our patience and will as we move towards our new life.
Old, rewarded, legacy behaviors have been grooved into our brain over many years of practice and environmental reinforcement. Unfortunately, the shift from the legacy doesn’t tend to happen overnight.
Even if you do have that epiphany and manage to make the switch yourself, others will still engage with the “legacy” you until they see consistent, repeated behavior change on your part.
Treat the occasional slips back into old legacy behaviors as opportunities to learn.
What triggers that slip?
If you are rewarded for the behavior (by your own brain or by other people), what is the reward? Is this reward missing from your new change effort?
How can you create that reward for the new effort?
How can you remove the reward for the legacy behavior? Both from yourself AND from others?
Dealing with the burden of legacy may be one of the greatest challenges to your change effort.
We do ourselves no favors downplaying this challenge.
Working with the Valley of Despair
Any change initiative – whether personal or organizational goes through the same process. The excitement of learning something new, then the really big hill careening towards Depression.
We typically don’t account for this natural process. Everything is supposed to be “up” all…the…time.
Or….if we do think about it…we work desperately to avoid it.
Mentors and coaches can help you work through that transition and not get derailed.
Work through that “Mucky Middle” as someone called it.
That point in any activity where you can’t go backwards and you can’t see the other shore.
If there is a history of derailments and failures, it’s harder.
There’s the natural inclination to “continue doing things the way we’ve always done it” even through repeated evidence that it doesn’t work. Because it is comfortable.
There’s the underlying lack of confidence that weaves throughout life. An unconscious belief that “things can / will never change”
Organizationally, I start to see that in the freak out over the number of test items with “issues” (um…that’s the point of testing. Uncover this stuff now BEFORE we go live in enough time to fix it).
Personally, I start to see that in the freak out over the “lack of progress” or the unexpected challenge.
I see it in the lack of prioritization – “BUT WE NEED TO DO ALL OF THE THINGS NAOW!!!!!”
I see it in the expectation of failure – and doing little about it.
I see it in the words being “right” and the actions not happening. And the difficulty pinpointing why.
I see it in the lack of accountability and ownership. At all levels.
I see it in the hope that someone (coach, mentor, consultant, therapist) will “save” them.
I can’t save you.
What I CAN do is attempt to create an environment that makes it feel safer to change.
Provide a higher probability of success.
Walk you closer to achieving the goals you have set for yourself.
But you have to work with me, or any other individual who you are working with to guide you through this transition.
You have to be accountable and own the solution.
You have to hold your people accountable.
You have to be willing to have some very uncomfortable conversations amongst your family, friends, and stakeholders and make some challenging decisions.
You have to be disciplined enough to follow the plan you created.
The consultant can only guide and cheerlead. At the end of the day – the journey is yours.
The Change Journey in Execution
Most of us would love it if change was “one and done.” Change isn’t something that you can “graduate” from. As much as we wish it were otherwise, life (and change) doesn’t work like that.
Remember that change is a journey. And, whether we like it or not, part of that journey will be challenging.
Remember Fisher’s Change Curve?
Each of those challenges is a potential “out.”
At each point, we are being asked whether we
A) Want to do the work
B) Want to make the identity shift required.
The Out of Denial
Denial is an early out. We look over the hill and decide whether we even want to make the journey.
In our planning, we see how much work needs to happen to make the change.
There are 3 potential responses when we hit this out:
1) I see the work that needs to happen and what I need to become - and I want no part of it.
2) I’m OK with what I see and will keep executing the plan.
3) I’m not sure what is going on. Maybe if I continue doing what I’ve been doing it will all be OK.
In the first response, you are seeing the work you need to do and the identity changes you need to make and realizing that it is not your path is a perfectly acceptable response.
You have a strong sense of identity and, after looking at the change, realize that the change is not in your best interest. This is a great reason to get off the change curve.
It’s an invitation to let go of the dream and focus on other activities that are more important to you and will move you closer to who you truly want to be.
You make this decision from a clear, stable center.
The second response is also consciously made. Your “why” is strong enough that you keep doing the work to make your change real.
The third response is NOT consciously made. In most circumstances, this happens when someone else is inflicting change on you. Maybe if you lie low, it will all go away.
A more insidious manifestation of this response is when you do all this planning, but you keep doing what you’ve been doing in hopes that you will reach your goal without having to behave differently, set new boundaries, or make different choices.
This looks like:
Setting aside time to meditate in your calendar and never meditating.
A week’s worth of meal planning and eating fast food.
Purchasing a gym membership and never going.
(name your favorite here)
Just because you have planned something doesn’t mean you are doing the work.
Remember the old adage – “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
If you see yourself in “denial” as you make the change – try to identify what is making you uncomfortable.
Does it appear that the change would threaten a value you hold?
Are you not liking what you are being asked to do or who you need to become?
Is the reason why you are embarking on this change not strong enough to motivate you to do the work?
If you still want to pursue this change, consider recruiting a mentor or a guide. Someone who has been through this path before and can advise you as you work through the inevitable challenges and obstacles.
You want to make it through this first challenge mindfully.
The Out of Disappointment
The second out happens as we execute our plan.
Things aren’t working the way we expected it to.
As with the Out of Denial there are 3 potential responses when we hit this out:
1) I now understand what I need to become to be successful - and I want no part of it.
2) I’m OK with what I need to become and will stay on the path.
3) I’m uncomfortable. My plan isn’t working the way I expected it to.
In the first response, as you do the work, you realize that identity changes you need to make to succeed at your change conflict with who you want to be. Sometimes, we don’t know this until we get into the work.
This is also a great reason to get off the change curve.
It’s another invitation to let go of the dream and focus on other activities that are more important to you and will move you closer to who you truly want to be.
Make this decision from a deep understanding of what your best self looks like.
The difference between seeing the change you need to make and realizing it pulls you away from being your best self and seeing the change as “too hard” may not be entirely clear.
The second path is to keep going.
You may have encountered a challenge.
I have found that challenges to goals tend to fall in the following categories.
Resources – as in, I don’t have the right resources available, this cost more money than I expected, that sort of thing.
Time – as in, I can’t seem to find the time to make this change or do the practice.
Energy – I had a plan. It was a great plan. But I just didn’t have the energy to execute it. Maybe you got sick, or your kid got sick, or work got really busy. Then, during the time you set aside to practice your new habit, you just don’t have the energy.
People – Even the most well-meaning supporters can make achieving our goals challenging. Ever try to start a diet, then have Mom make your favorite dish that, of course, isn’t on your diet plan? Belonging is a core human need and, in my experience, the need to belong is the thing that derails change – because your change challenges others.
This is an opportunity to adjust your plan. Find ways to overcome those challenges.
Tests litter the path to mastery. With each challenge you overcome, you become more confident in the change and move towards becoming the person you need to be for that change to stick.
This is a great time to begin recruiting supporters and mentors if you have not already done so.
The third path is subtle and attitudinal.
In my experience, I find that it occurs when I think the plan is “bulletproof.” Then I encounter a challenge that I did not anticipate. The change is harder to execute than I expected, and I question my ability to overcome the challenge.
This is a test of my “Why.” Is this change important enough to me to do what I need to do to overcome this challenge?
There are a few options to consider when you run into unexpected challenges:
1) Can you reduce the scope of your effort?
Permanent Habit – At this time, instead of trying to meditate 15 minutes daily – can you aim for 5 minutes every other day? Make the habit small enough to give you a 90% chance of success. You want to make it such that you are confident you will succeed.
Implementation or Impermanent Push – Is there a way you can shrink the target? Instead of implementing an entire marketing architecture – maybe focus on creating email templates? Instead of training for a marathon – maybe target a 5K?
2) Can you extend the time?
Permanent Habit – Check to see that you haven’t set unrealistic milestones for yourself. Use any “backslides” as an opportunity to learn something. Remember that you are playing the long-game.
Implementation or Impermanent Push – This is a chance to ask questions about your timing:
Is your deadline a “hard” deadline or is there another opportunity available later? Example: You might not be ready for the 5K next month, but you could work towards the 5K 3 months from now.
Where is the pressure to meet the deadline coming from? Are there external stakeholders harassing you or is it a deadline you set?
What is the worst that can happen (without over-disasterizing) if you miss the deadline? Are there other options for meeting requirements if the deadline is inflexible?
3) Can you bring in new (or different) resources?
Permanent Habit – Do you need to recruit a mentor? Join a class or group? Find a therapist or coach?
Implementation or Impermanent Push – This is a chance to ask questions about your resources:
Do I have the resources I need to be successful at this time?
If not, are these resources available to me from others? What do I need to do to get them? Who do I need to ask? What is my Best Alternative if I cannot get these resources?
Is there an “onboarding” cost for these resources?
If I can’t get these resources right now – is there another time I could make this change push? What will I need to do before I try again?
You may find that the challenges to your change effort are an issue of timing.
Your change effort may be mis-aligned with where you are in your life right now.
You may have encountered an environmental shift that impacts your change effort – such as losing a source of income or a new assignment at work.
You might discover that the change effort isn’t necessary – such as discovering you hate crowds and running and finding that you prefer to get exercise through canoeing with a friend.
You may even realize that, as you work through the change, that you don’t like who you are becoming. Anger, stress, severe anxiety, lengthy isolation, and rapidly deteriorating relationships with people you want to keep in your circle are key indicators that something in the change might not be working.
Use challenges as an opportunity to ask questions, consciously decide whether to continue, and adjust your plan as needed.
Each challenge you encounter is a test of why you are doing this.
These challenges are part of the process.
The Out of Despair
The Out of Despair is the most dangerous out.
Navigating this Out incorrectly leads to difficulties with future changes – not just the change you are currently making.
This is rock-bottom. The darkness before the dawn.
Depression and Anger are similar responses – even through they look very different.
At the core, it’s a belief that you can’t change.
Depression is internal – frustration turned in on oneself. Giving up.
Anger is external – frustration turned outward. Banging your head against the wall. Raging against the change.
This is the final test of your why.
With any big change – the question that pops up is “How badly do you want it?”
This is also why we need to set ourselves up for success. This period will stress-test your supports.
Do you have mentors and guides? Are you leveraging their wisdom?
Are you surrounded by cheerleaders?
Is your environment providing a safe space to practice this change?
Do you have access to the knowledge and skills you need to get through this?
One of the reasons why we went through all the work of planning and risk assessment is to make that dip shallower.
During planning we recruited mentors, determined who our cheerleaders are, identified the skills we need to succeed, marshalled our resources (material, financial, energetic), and mitigated as many risks as we could identify.
This is when we need to lean on and listen to our cheerleaders – and ignore the haters.
This is also when we need our coaches, therapists, guides and mentors the most. If you haven’t found mentoring and support before this point – NOW is the time to go find it.
The mentors and guides can tell you whether what you are experiencing is normal or if there is something going on that requires troubleshooting.
A good mentor or guide will help you through this “dark night.” They will provide encouragement based on their experience. They will lend a helping hand. They will identify potential adjustments to make your path smoother.
THIS is when all that planning and recruiting makes a difference.
The Out of Despair is the invitation to ask “How badly do you want it?” What is YOUR why? Is it strong enough to work through this?
If I find that my “Why” – I do three things:
1) Pause, rest, and celebrate what is going right. DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP!!!!!
2) Continue going through the motions. I find that doing the work is a great way to shift my focus from what seems to NOT be working.
3) Talk to someone. If I don’t have a “someone” who has gone through what I am going through nearby – I use this time as an opportunity to do some research.
Who has successfully made this change?
Where did they start from? You want to discern whether their advice would be helpful to you.
What challenges did they encounter during their change effort? Are the challenges they faced similar to what you are encountering now?
What did they do to address those challenges?
4) Make the adjustments and try again.
If you feel that you have “hit bottom” – this is likely not the time to give up.
Get a second opinion from your mentor/guide or someone whose advice you trust if you are feel you are just banging your head against a wall.
If you have gotten this far – I behoove you to get outside perspective. I find that when I am in the dip – I’m too far in the weeds to get an objective view of the situation.
Is your effort aligned to your LIFE?
Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, in the 12 Week Year, asks:
Are you are being externally motivated to do things?
How close is the alignment of your work and efforts to how you want your life to look?
If the goal doesn’t align with your life vision, how inspired are you to work towards the goal?
How quickly are you going to give up, or do something else, or find another distraction?9Moran and Lennington, The 12 Week Year, 79 – 85.
The Outs of Disappointment and Despair invite us to ask whether our current change effort is truly aligned with our life.
How badly do you want your life to change?
Why do you want your life to change?
What are the non-negotiables in your life as you make this change? Are you clear on what those non-negotiables are?
If you are clear that you want this change, and your non-negotiables are unaffected, you also need to be clear that there will be discomfort.
You are sacrificing short-term comfort for your long-term vision.
You need to keep looking at that long-term vision – over and above the short-term discomfort.
By keeping an eye on our desired future, we are leveraging another portion of our brain – the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain that allows us to dream and encourages us to act on that dream.
The pre-frontal cortex lights up when we imagine greatness for ourselves. The more we think about our desired future, the more we are grooving the ability to imagine. If we don’t imagine our desired future, we are by default strengthening the part of our brain that resists change.
How do you want your brain to work?
How Does Your Change Fit Your Life?
I decided during a trip to Mexico that I was going to learn how to surf. I was over 40 and wasn’t known for my grace and balance.
I had a great lesson, which sadly ended in a wave catching me and the board I was carrying, twisting me awkwardly as I walked onto the beach.
Undeterred by my aching back, I decided that I wanted to experience surfing again.
“Becoming a surfer” was going to require too big of a change in my lifestyle - I’m 3+ hours from the ocean and the nearest beach is not known as a surfing destination.
Instead, I decided to learn how to stand-up paddleboard, starting another Impermanent Push over two summers to figure it out. My logic was that I would improve my balance and get the occasional “wave” work on river currents and powerboat wakes. I also had a river nearby, as well as some lakes and a reservoir for more still water work.
Since I don’t have a lakeside home, and traffic is terrible in the DC area, significant planning needs to happen to incorporate stand-up paddleboarding in my life. Each outing takes at least 3 hours start to finish – including commuting, inflating the paddleboard, being on the water, deflating the paddleboard, and going home. I need to make a conscious effort to get out – this change is not as integrated into my life as would be ideal.
I still have some fine-tuning to do. A back injury tanked the few plans I had for paddleboarding in 2018.
There will be another Impermanent Push this summer as I incorporate stand-up paddleboarding as part of my training plan for the week-long canoe trip.
Because this is not a hobby that seamlessly integrates into my life, I have to create a schedule, determine what I need to accomplish during each paddling session, and identify where I want to paddle.
I am sacrificing golfing time with my partner (he’s not interested in paddleboarding) to do this. I’m also sacrificing time I could be spending doing other things – such as catching up on episodes of The Grand Tour, finishing the crochet blanket for a friend, or reading a book.
Hopefully, as you planned, you discerned how your change effort would integrate into your life and the sacrifices required to execute the change effort.
You may find that you need to modify your expectations – like I had to with surfing. I don’t have the resources right now to move to a seaside home at a surfing mecca.
Furthermore, as I thought about WHY I wanted to learn surfing (improve my balance), I realized I could get the same result from stand-up paddleboarding.
If I want to get closer to the surfing experience, I could take up whitewater stand-up paddleboarding. Much like surfing, but with more reliable waves and extra rocks. I have decent whitewater nearby on the Potomac – so at this stage of my life (living in DC, no current plans to move), it would be a viable option.
Determining where change fits in your life and the adjustments you may need to make to your plans to make that change fit better is all part of the process.
Troubleshooting in the I
The first place we need to look when we are having problems with our change effort is ourselves.
On paper, this seems blatantly obvious.
In practice, we tend to either blame others for our challenges or blame our systems or blame our resources (or lack thereof).
“I can’t find the time to meditate because the kids keep interrupting me.”
“Maybe if I used ProV1s instead of these cheap golf balls, I’d be better at golf and more inclined to go.”
“If I had thousands of dollars to throw at marketing, I’d be successful too!”
Remember: the ONLY thing you have control over is YOU.
You can’t control whether the kids interrupt you. And blaming inanimate objects for your problems is ridiculous.
How strong is your commitment?
How bound are you – intellectually AND emotionally – to succeeding in your change effort?
Moran and Lennington identified four keys to successful commitment:
How strong is your desire? Is your “why” compelling enough? The change journey will repeatedly test the strength of your desire.
Are you clear on the keystone actions you need to take to be successful? Planning is nice, but are you DOING the work? Are you practicing the habit? Are you executing the plan?
Have you clearly identified the costs required? Costs are more than financial. They are time, energy, risk, uncertainty, discomfort, cognitive load, and everything else required to make the change work. Are you consciously deciding that these costs are worth it?
Will you act on your commitment rather than how you feel in the moment? The first day of any new effort is exciting. The fifteenth day – not so much. Will you still show up? Will you continue to do the practice? Will you sit with that blank page? Choosing to act on the commitment is a daily decision.
Personal change requires you to be personally accountable – to yourself.
ALL change efforts are ultimately about I.
What do I need to change?
How am I going to go about this change?
How am I going to respond to another person’s behavior?
This may look obvious in personal change. This also applies when you are leading change efforts.
If I am going to encourage someone (or many someones) to change:
What do I need to change in myself to inspire others to follow?
How am I going to guide others towards the change we need to make?
How am I going to model, reinforce, and respond to the behaviors required to be successful?
We need to ask these questions repeatedly. Daily. Sometimes moment-to-moment.
Stop blaming inanimate objects and others for your life.
YOU decide how you respond. No one else – including coaches, therapists, teachers, authors, gurus, and authority figures – can make that decision for you.
That responsibility is the price of personal sovereignty and living the life you desire.
Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Bloch describe accountability thusly, “Accountability is not consequences; it’s ownership.”
Accountability, according to this definition, is NOT something someone else does to you or can do for you.
Your managers claim to “hold you accountable.” What they are doing is trying to motivate you to do something for them that you may or may not have taken ownership of.
Koestenbaum and Bloch alternate definition forces one to look in the mirror and take responsibility for one’s choices.
Brian Moran and Michael Lennington summarize, “Accountability is the realization that you always have a choice; that, in fact, there are no have-tos in life…Everything we do in life is a choice. Even in an environment where there are requirements of you, you still have a choice, but there is a big difference between when you approach something as a choose-to versus a have-to.”
The only accountability that truly exists is self-accountability.
The only thing you can control is yourself.
As you encounter challenges during your change effort, are you truly being accountable for your success? Have you taken full ownership of your thinking? Your actions? Your results?
The answer to these questions requires a degree of personal honesty that may be uncomfortable.
However, if you can actively confront the truth of your situation and your role in it, you will be able to move to a more empowering perspective, see new possibilities, and achieve success through YOUR actions.
Working in the Dark with The Resistance
I’m in the throes of the thrash. The dark, quiet time that is necessary for creating things.
The time that many of us are very uncomfortable with.
The time where it looks like “nothing” is happening. To your stakeholders. To yourself.
Of course, there are scary things happening.
Steven Pressfield eloquently discusses this phenomenon in both The War of Art and Do the Work.
The excuses. The procrastination.
And the insistent internal voices that tell you that what you are doing is “stupid”, “not good enough”, “not worth the effort”.
The struggle to see “The Resistance” for what it is.
Seeing the fear behind the resistance.
Identifying the trends behind the resistance.
These days, the resistance shows up for me when I have to ask others – for help, for information, for anything.
I can move through the resistance by doing the next small step.
The smaller the better.
Celebrating doing the thing that scares me.
Worrying about “results” later.
I did the thing! Progress!!!!
Slowly chipping away. Quietly practicing the new, scary behavior without an audience.
In the necessary darkness.
If I get through the resistance – my creation will see the light of day.
Working with Distracting Ideas
Sometimes, I have an idea that just won’t get out of my head.
I’m trying to prioritize my efforts and focus on what I am doing.
I have scheduled when I am going to address this idea.
I’ve put all the sub-ideas and research in its own little pile to be dealt with later.
And yet, the idea still knocks around – taking up valuable cognitive bandwidth.
I find myself asking two questions of this idea when it does.
What is so compelling about this idea? What is the fantasy surrounding it?
Am I using “researching” this idea as an excuse to avoid the challenging part of my current project? Is this just resistance in disguise?
Usually, the idea speaks to a “fantasy self” that I am nowhere near becoming.
The idea also tends to be in the “hobby” area of my life.
The area where I am not necessarily wedded to it becoming part of my professional identity, but “wouldn’t it be nice if…”
The area where if I DID decide to “go pro,” I’d probably be disappointed.
I don’t want to do the hard thing I have to do to get my current project done.
The more fear around the hard thing I need to do around my current project…the more likely I am to start fantasizing over this distractor-project.
I don’t have a tidy answer other than – see the distractor for what it is, write down what you need to so you can address it later, and get back to work.
The distractors provide valuable information.
I find that the appearance of distractors tell me that I’m doing something important, I’ve hit a fear-point, and that I’m fortunate to have many ideas that I can leverage…later.
Working with Terrible Starts
Heather, my dog Cally, and I stood in the woods. We were 30 minutes into our first Orienteering event and still hadn’t found the first checkpoint. We made the faulty assumption that the trails would be well marked and that we could just follow the trail to the first checkpoint. Because of that assumption, we found ourselves staring at the event map, the compass, and a creek. It was obvious we were not on a trail – or anywhere near the checkpoint.
Apparently, the trails in this park had not been maintained. The stormy weather we had been having in the mid-Atlantic over the summer resulted in significant tree-fall that had not been cleaned up. That, with the fall leaves, made it difficult to follow a trail. The woods were one endless swath of leaf cover, trees, logs, hills, and that creek.
Heather squinted at the map.
“I think we were supposed to be at this creek.” She pointed to a creek that was a bit further south from where we thought we were.
“If we are where I think we are, if we follow this creek, we should find checkpoint 2.”
The woods were easily navigated off-trail and it appeared that following the creek wouldn’t be that difficult. After another 23 minutes of tromping, we found Checkpoint 2.
Heather and I faced the following options:
1) Do we try to find Checkpoint 1 from where we were standing?
2) Do we go back to the start, find Checkpoint 1, then go to Checkpoint 2?
3) Do we ignore Checkpoint 1 and start at Checkpoint 2?
4) Do we ditch the endeavor altogether and go home?
We stood at the checkpoint and weighed the options.
Why are we doing this?
Heather – To improve her navigation skills.
Me – To spend time outside with friends and get some exercise.
Cally – Just wanted to keep moving.
We had 2.5 more hours to finish the course.
We looked at the map.
“Let’s see how long it takes for us to get to Checkpoint 3. We can re-evaluate if it takes us another hour to find the next checkpoint.”
We both agreed that even if we were already disqualified – the expedition was a rousing success.
I was outside on a beautiful fall day with a good friend doing something the two of us had talked about doing since our Mt. Washington training 3 years prior.
Heather felt very good about how we navigated from being totally lost – and doing so without her needing to rely on her GPS.
Cally was happy to be outside in the woods sniffing all the things.
“Yeah – no matter what happens from here, this is a successful trip!” Heather punched Checkpoint 2.
We managed to complete the 10-Checkpoint course in 2 hours 13 minutes, with a missed punch.
We never did find Checkpoint 1.
Sometimes, change initiatives start on the wrong foot.
It’s easy to ditch the effort right out of the gate.
At times, abandoning the effort before you have spent too much time, energy, and resources on it is the best choice.
Most of the time, re-evaluating why you are doing something can help you get on the right trail and reduce the feeling of failure when things don’t go according to plan.
When failure occurs early in the process, it is particularly demotivating.
The change feels like a terrible idea. There has been no positive progress – because you ran into obstacles early in the process. You have little sunk cost – in time, energy, or resources.
Remembering WHY you are doing something allows you to make decisions – particularly when things go wrong at the beginning.
As Heather and I debriefed the experience, she exclaimed “Us not finding that Checkpoint actually worked BETTER for my purposes! For the first time, I found my way out of the woods without needing my GPS. I feel a lot more confident that I can find my way.”
Now, if either of us were competing, or had a “why” of “navigate the course in the least amount of time.” – ditching the effort early may have been a better decision. The person who came in 1st place did the entire course in less time than it took Heather and I to not find Checkpoint 1.
If the “Why” was – “evaluate the time it takes us to do the ENTIRE course” – going back to the start and trying again may be the best decision.
Since Heather’s “Why” was “get skilled at navigating through the woods” – getting off-track turned out to be the BEST thing to happen, even if we didn’t intend to get lost when we started.
Knowing that “Get skilled at navigating through the woods” is the intended outcome and why we are doing that, we can evaluate our experience and measure our progress through that lens.
Against that lens, we learned some things we can use the next time around:
1) Do not assume trails will be well marked – especially at orienteering events. Those events are about backwoods travel and getting skilled at topography, topography map reading, and compass use.
2) Instead of relying on marked trails for navigation, we need to prioritize the landscape. Creeks and hills provide important information when navigating an orienteering course. Trail markings, on the other hand, can lead you astray.
3) Waterproof shoes are your friend. There is a low probability of being near a bridge when navigating one of these events.
4) I need to train Cally to sniff out the checkpoint flags 😊. During our search for Checkpoint 1, we ran into 3 other checkpoints not on our course. Still, it may be worth a shot.
By remembering the “why” – we were able to reframe our apparent “failure” into something extremely positive.
You’re not always going to be able to entirely reframe a failure into something positive.
You CAN, however, see what you learned from the experience.
What faulty assumption did I make when I set out? Now that I know that the assumption is wrong, how do I change my approach to accommodate this new information?
Did I miss something in my preparation for this change effort? How do I mitigate this risk the next time?
Is this the right way for me to achieve the results I am looking for? There may be another approach that works better for you.
This could also be an indicator to cut your losses and prevent yourself from repeatedly banging your head against a wall – or sinking further costs into something that will never provide the results you wish to obtain.
Evaluating where you are at that moment and why you started it to begin with is a good way to help you decide whether to try again, try something different or call it quits altogether.
Whichever option you decide, be mindful as to why you are making that decision.
For the next attempt – what is your intended outcome?
If you call it quits – what did you learn? How can you use what you learned in another context?
Early failure is a great test of the strength of your “why.” Is my “why” compelling enough to continue? You may need to do some soul searching. How important is this initiative to you – really? Is it worth the effort to you to try again?
This is where thinking long-term can help.
If I quit now – am I going to have to do this again later to get the results I wish to achieve?
Is there another path I can take to get to the same destination if this one isn’t working right now?
If I quit and don’t do anything else towards achieving my desired result, what is the short and long-term impact of that decision? What does that future look like?
Heather and I consciously decided to continue and laugh off the “failure” to find the checkpoint. We both got what we needed out of the experience, learned some things we can use later, and are able to continue walking that path towards eventual improvement of our orienteering skills.
Heather’s “why” is compelling enough for her continue. Cally and I are happy to go on that mastery ride with her. The two of us could use the outdoor time and exercise. Everyone wins, and we’ve all made one more step towards our individual goals.
Motivation in the Long Term
We evolve, we change constantly, we grow.
And the hard part about change isn’t that push to a “final” destination. The hard part is the operational component after that final push that makes change truly stick.
Sobriety is maintained one day at a time.
Meditation practices occur one session at a time
Fitness gains happen one practice session at a time
Corporate culture change happens one interaction at a time
Proof that change has “stuck” is seen months and years after the initial push.
The proof is in the multiple years of sobriety.
The proof is in the continued meditation practice.
The proof is in the new body that does things that you have only seen “athletes” do – and now you are one of those “athletes.”
The proof is in a workplace people enjoy being at and employees who enjoy working together.
How well your change has stuck is not seen in the final lag measure (I lost the weight!) or in the feedback sheet given after the training.
That’s only the beginning.
The real success is in how embedded that change becomes in your life and in your identity.
Execution and Evolution
How is your life different from last year?
How is your life different from 5 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Since you left college (or high school)?
How has your life evolved over time?
Is it an orderly progression of steps towards mastery?
Is it a series of plateaus punctuated by periods of change and confusion?
Are you where you thought you would be?
Did everything go according to plan?
Did you find challenges you didn't expect?
We continue growing and developing as we age.
We're not stuck with our initial decisions around "what we're going to be when we grow up."
We learn new things through experience - especially if we allow ourselves time to reflect on that experience.
If we manage to get some clarity around what we want our life to look like in the future, we're able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
We don't have to wait for a wrenching event outside of our control to move towards our desired future.
We may be able to evolve more gently.
How can you ease into your future?
Can you combine what you are doing now and leverage your existing skills and experience with what you want in your future?
Can you set aside some time to make future-building a priority? Are there particular skills you will need that requires more concentration than combination will allow?
As you ease into your future, what will you ultimately need to let go of?
What will you need to prepare to say "no" to?
What obligations and contracts will you need to break?
What relationships need to change? What relationships may need to be abandoned?
In an ideal world, we are all doing this evolution mindfully.
We are taking responsibility for our experience of life and for what our life looks like.
Often, we're reacting to what life throws at us. That's OK. We can't predict all-the-things and we control very little.
The best we can do is take one more step towards our desired future.
Look around and see whether an opportunity has surfaced that helps us along the way.
Occasionally discard things from the pack that weigh us down.
And continually check to make sure we are still going in the direction of our dreams.
Change is a Process
One of the advantages of Agile forms of project management is that planning occurs throughout the project. Older methods of project management encouraged creating detailed plans that were then held as sacrosanct. The closer you hewed to the plan, the more “successful” the project and the more “skilled” the project manager.
The plans we so carefully developed in the previous chapters are a baseline – meant to be changed and modified as we discover new information and the environment responds to our efforts.
The value in those plans is in the process.
Clarity is only truly available for the next step. Even that, at times, can feel fraught.
There is no shame in tossing the plan and starting over if we learn that our plans are unrealistic, unworkable, and built based on faulty assumptions.
The two most important things in the plan:
1) What you are trying to accomplish. The intended outcome.
2) The next step.
Everything is negotiable.
If you have made a faulty assumption – you can change the plan.
If a resource is not available that you expected to be available – you can change the plan.
If you discover a better way to do something – you can change the plan.
If an opportunity appears that will make your change easier – you can change the plan.
Please don’t beat yourself up because your plan isn’t working.
The value is in the planning. The plans themselves are just a tool.
Plans also allow you to see where you have been. When I get really discouraged, I like being able to see the progress I have made.
We don’t spend enough time celebrating progress.
The Done List
Many of us are familiar with to-do lists.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a big fan of the “done” list.
The done list contains everything I have finished that day.
It may be an actual “to-do” list item.
It may be a smaller part of a “to-do” list item.
It may be something else that came up related to the “to-do” list item.
It may be something important that came up during the day.
The “done” list is a little more than check-marks next to completed items or scratching out things that are done. I am physically writing down what got done – sometimes re-writing something that was already on my to-do list.
Why do I do that? For me, it’s a reminder that I am capable of being productive.
I don’t do the rewrite all the time. Usually – cross-throughs or check marks work perfectly well.
When my confidence in my ability to be productive is shaky, the physical act of writing what I have accomplished reminds me that I am capable of getting things done.
The reminder of progress is incredibly powerful.
We get so fixated on all the things we need to do.
We don’t often celebrate all the things we have done.
Keeping an eye on what you have completed in your plan allows you to see progress – even when the end feels like it is nowhere in sight.
Keeping track of completed tasks also allows you to evaluate how you are doing against your expectations.
Tracking Lag and Lead Metrics in Progress
In Chapter 6, we talked about setting up Lag and Lead metrics for our effort.
Lag Metrics measure our progress towards a goal.
Lead Metrics track whether we are doing the behaviors that will help us get to our goal.
In execution – we want to make sure we are keeping daily or weekly track of whether we are performing those Lead metrics.
Do this where you spend most of your time.
If you are on your online calendar – create a task calendar and develop an easy marker to see where you have executed your lag metric – such as changing color.
You can also do this on an analog planner or calendar.
Online habit trackers – such as HabitHub and coach.me can help – if you use them regularly. These habit trackers have the advantage of making it easy to pull the metrics around how many days you have successfully practiced your habit.
The key is to put your lead metric where you can easily see the action, see the amount of time you need to perform the action, and doesn’t require you to go too far out of your way to do the tracking.
Go back to Chapter 8 if you would like a more detailed discussion of how to tackle daily/weekly lead metric tracking.
Don’t make your life a lengthy series of all the habits you need to do to change your life.
That gets frustrating and raises the probability of your chucking the whole thing.
Maintaining the Kanban
I love To Do boards. Trello, Dotstorming, Post-It Notes and whiteboards.
Completing tasks makes my heart sing! I also know that it is personal and that not everyone shares my enthusiasm.
I’ve been working with some friends on To Do boards for their respective businesses. They are structured as 1-2 week “sprints”.
The key question I ask – what do you NEED to get done this week?
Is there a deadline where someone else is expecting a deliverable soon?
Is there something that needs to happen that particular week in preparation for a future deliverable or high-priority activity?
From here, I ask – how much space do you have in your schedule (and your BRAIN!) for other activities?
We need to keep cognitive load in mind. An activity that requires a lot of learning, thinking and processing requires a lot more “time” (even if it is time staring at the walls) than, say, calling a client.
Also – how similar are the activities? Is there a way we can multi-purpose?
Take all of these non-deadline needs – how much do you realistically expect to get done? We all over-estimate what we can get done in any period of time. Time tracking against activities helps.
The boards can be organized like Kanban boards:
Stuff to do (this week – stick all of your other tasks elsewhere so you can find them)
I’ve also organized Agile Scrum boards – which helps to make the Backlog more visible.
When I did this, I separated the to do items into programs. In practice, this turned out to be overwhelming.
In the future, I may color-code the to-dos so we can still see what program we are working on and separate the backlog itself into programs.
The problem I see with separate boards for each project / program (beyond real-estate) is that it becomes difficult to see resource load. I haven’t run into an organization where a person is only working on one project or program.
Things to watch out for as you maintain your Kanban:
Overwhelm. For me, this happens when I have a lot of little, unrelated, activities.
I call this “whack-a-mole” and set aside one “whack-a-mole” day per week to take care of all the niggly stuff. This frees up headspace (for me) to do more focused work the rest of the week vs trying to do whack-a-mole all the time.
“Emergencies.” Particularly other people’s emergencies.
“The Pause” helps me here. When I remember to use it.
Within The Pause – I like using Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important matrix
If it is someone else’s emergency, and it is urgent / not important, next step is figuring out ways to get them what they need (or getting them to conclude it really isn’t that important) without taking up a ton of my time and energy. I’m still working on mastering this one.
Cognitive Load Miscalculation. Sometimes, I get into something that I think will be low effort and it winds up taking longer and requires more energy / cognitive load than I initially estimated.
Is there something else on your list that can be moved to next week?
If you delay something – don’t beat yourself up. Life happens.
Effort Miscalculation. Sometimes stuff takes more time to physically do.
It might help to track (for a little while) how much time it takes to actually do something. This helps immensely with time calculations later.
9 times out of 10, we take on new projects because someone else is encouraging us.
We get a “great idea” from someone or someone outright asks us to take on a task.
The sneakiest are the people who ask us to take on a task by making it seem like it was our “great idea.”
If you are someone who struggles to say “No” – we need to get more careful about intake.
I keep two questions in mind when someone asks for my help:
How much damage to this relationship will I do if I don’t deliver? I am not serving them if I agree to do something, then don’t do it. Not only am I not helping them, I am damaging the relationship. I’ve watched well-meaning, competent friends damage their reputations because they say “yes” and then don’t deliver.
What am I sacrificing if I perform this task? Am I taking time and energy from my change effort? Are there other agreements I have made that are impacted? If I take this on, will I lose the ability to take on opportunities that are more aligned to my wants and needs?
I also look at how that effort aligns with my goals and needs.
Does this task move me towards my goals or does it distract me from my goals?
What is in this task for me? What do I gain if I complete this task?
What is the penalty if I don’t complete this task.
Finally, I go back to the 3 questions:
Does it need to be done?
Does it need to be done by me?
Does it need to be done by me right now?
There may be another way to get the task done that more closely aligns to what you are trying to accomplish.
I have become convinced that personal planning may be the most important thing I can do – both for myself and for the people I serve.
By getting clear on myself, I’m better able to evaluate options and make decisions.
There’s an opportunity cost for each “Yes.”
That opportunity cost is not just financial.
It’s also in the activities you have to say “No” to because you’ve committed time and resources to the “Yes.”
So if I say “Yes” to something I’m meh about because I am bored or fearful – if a better, more aligned opportunity comes along, I can’t take it because I am already committed.
Saying “No” to a meh thing right in front of me takes quite a bit of trust that something better is going to come along.
It’s a tricky discipline. I find myself second-guessing and butting up against the “What if this is as good as it gets? What if this IS my best opportunity?” Then there are the gremlins disasterizing all of the possible negative scenarios if I say “No.”
And I don’t know about your gremlins – but mine are pretty loud.
The clearer we are about what is important to us – the easier it is for us to perform intake.
Push vs Pull Systems
Most of us live our lives in Push systems.
Push systems – People push work towards you. You do it.
Pull systems – You pull work as you have the capacity to do it.
In IT and Project Management, there is a trend towards “Pull” systems – at least in theory.
Agile techniques assume that the people doing the work can/will pull the appropriate amount of work as they have the capacity to complete it.
The challenge (and much of the failure) in implementing any Agile or pull-based system is in changing the agreements and relationships between the people in the system.
People used to doing the pushing rebel against suddenly being told “no.”
The people suddenly tasked with saying “no” get uncomfortable – especially when they don’t trust the support they have (if they have any at all).
The one time I saw an Agile process implemented successfully in a legacy environment – it took a strong VP who was brought in specifically to make this change, supportive leadership, a couple of willing clients, and about 3 years of constant reinforcement.
Pull systems start by taking a realistic look at capacity and pulling tasks as the capacity frees up.
We estimate that capacity in the early sprints and adjust as we learn more about patterns. How much is getting done per time block? What is the complexity of what is getting done? What are the variables that determine the time it takes to get things done?
The requestor is asked to prioritize what to tackle first with the promise that it will get done in a timely manner once it is pulled.
The advantage of the pull system to the requestor is that once activity towards completing their request starts, there is more assurance that it will be completed in a timely manner. Their request gets the attention it deserves.
Moving my life from a “push” system to a “pull” system is still a work in progress and something of an experiment.
It has required me saying a lot of “no” to a lot of things that I ordinarily would have said “yes” to. Sometimes, I feel like Queen Naysayer. Not a comfortable position.
Thing is – each of us have 24-hour days. The number of those 24-hour days is somewhat unpredictable. On average, we have about 28,500 of these days – and most of the people reading this book have already used half of them.
It’s time to take responsibility for how we use the rest of our allocation.
It starts by getting very comfortable with saying “no” and being mindful of your intake.
Keeping Track of Costs and Resources during execution
It goes without saying that if you are executing a highly resource-intensive change effort that you should keep track of what you are spending or the resources you are using.
If you can, keep track as you agree to spend money and as you actually spend money.
I have found (the hard way) that how much we agree to spend (upcoming) and how much we actually spend can differ.
For example: I have agreed to spend $130 for a night at a hotel (upcoming). However, when I check out, I find I have spent $150 because I used the internet and paid local taxes that did not appear in the reservation cost (actual).
Actual – I have spent this much
Upcoming – This is how much I have agreed to spend.
Comments – enter any comments that will help you see how you calculated the upcoming and actual costs or provide other information around the real costs of your effort.
The Weekly Review
In personal change efforts, I block some alone time once per week to evaluate how things are going.
The weekly review focuses on the change effort I am currently working on.
In my weekly review, I ask the following questions:
What have I done toward my change effort?
If you are keeping a budget for your change effort – update the budget.
What tasks have I completed?
Update your Kanban board or plan.
What did I learn?
If I found I have gotten derailed – what derailed me? How do I want to address this the next time?
Did a risk surface? What did I do about it? Update your risk register if you are keeping one.
How did I do on my Lead Metrics?
What challenges did you encounter in executing your plan?
What did you do in response?
Do you need extra support?
How is my progress on my Lag Metrics? Is what I am doing moving me towards my goals?
If so – celebrate!
If not, make adjustments.
What adjustments do I need to make for the next week?
Do you need to try something different? E.g. I struggled to meditate 5 minutes per day in the morning. This week I will try to meditate as soon as I get home from work and see how that goes.
Do you need to raise the difficulty? E.g. I have successfully meditated 5 minutes per day, every day. I think I can meditate for 10 minutes per day next week.
How is your time allocation for next week? E.g. I have a work engagement I must attend Wednesday after work and a PTA meeting on Thursday night.
Update your Kanban board, your backlog, your calendar, and/or your plan.
What am I going to do next week?
Update your Kanban board, your calendar, and/or your plan.
This looks like a lot of work in writing, but the process takes me about 15-30 minutes total.
You can use this exercise as a check-in with any accountability partners and mentors.
The Quarterly Review
Every quarter, I take a more holistic look at how my life is going.
How is my health?
How are my relationships?
How is my work going?
How are my finances?
How are other areas of my life going?
Does my life seem like it is trending in the right direction?
Has anything changed in my environment since last quarter? New risks? New opportunities?
If I continue this trajectory, will I be happy with the results?
If not, what do I need to change?
What adjustments do I need to make?
What do I need to focus on this next quarter?
I re-evaluate my change effort in-progress and see how it is impacting other areas of my life.
I decide whether to continue the current change effort or move on to another area of focus.
This is when I go back to the roadmap in Chapter 3 and prioritization exercise in Chapter 4.
What adjustments need to be made to my roadmap?
Do I want or need to continue with my current change effort for this quarter or am I ready to focus elsewhere?
If I am ready to focus elsewhere, what do I need to focus on this quarter?
I will then go through the Change Planning exercise on Chapter 5 to confirm this direction
Once I confirm which direction I want to go – I’ll start planning.
Sometimes, life makes us focus elsewhere.
In 2018, I had big plans.
3 family deaths in 3 months (starting in March of that year) forced me to ask myself what was more important and more aligned with my values – getting my business launched and making money or being present for my family.
For me, the choice was family.
ALL priorities outside of being present for loved ones were set aside.
Did it slow down my business? Yes.
Do I regret my choices? Absolutely not.
I made those choices consciously.
Did I find myself leveraging resources I didn’t want to pull from? Yes.
But in the larger perspective of life, I would rather pull from retirement and be with my family (since “retirement” is far from guaranteed) than regret that I wasn’t there for them.
Your choices if you were put in this situation may be different from mine. And that’s OK.
The quarterly review is an opportunity to make those choices mindfully.
The Annual Review
Did your efforts this year turn out the way you expected?
What adjustments do I need to make?
What change efforts do I want to make this year?
This is the big planning cycle.
You can do this during your birthday, at the beginning of your calendar year, or any other date you find important to you. You just want to do this at the same time every year.
During the Annual Review – I perform the same activities as the Quarterly Review (for the next quarter) and take a closer look at my roadmap.
This is when I look at any longer-term efforts.
This is when I schedule any change efforts and areas of focus if I have multiple changes I wish to make.
For example, I do my annual review during the week between December 25 and January 1. It’s a natural time to relax, be with family, and reflect. Demands on my time from others (outside of family) tend to be scarce – so I have more uninterrupted time to reflect.
I find I need multiple days for the Annual Review. I can sleep on decisions and ideas as I roadmap for the year.
As expected, clarity is more available in the immediate future (Quarter 1 – January, February, and March) than later in the year.
In 2019 – Q1 focused on finishing this book and taking care of an injured back. The back injury occurred in the middle of 2018 and wasn’t going away on its own – so I finally stopped procrastinating and denying I had a problem and made healing it an area of focus. Not a focus I wanted, but I needed to address my health (which is a base need in Maslow’s Hierarchy) and mobility.
Q2 (April, May, June) focused on shaping the first full draft, getting that draft to the editors, and beginning another marketing effort for my business. Again, this was planned in my annual review.
For my personal focus, I planned to re-establish my exercise habit. Exercise has been a well-established habit for the past 10 years. I haven’t needed to focus on it much. I fell out of the habit with the back injury. I now need to determine what my current physical limits are and develop an exercise habit that respects these (hopefully temporary) limits.
In my annual planning for 2019 – I left Q3 (July, August, September) and Q4 (October, November, December) open.
I have some things that are dependent upon other things happening – such as having a high quality, publishable draft that provides value to the reader and communicates what I need to say before I publish the book.
I have some things I would like to do, such as learn to play guitar, but I have some more fundamental needs (health, family, and income) that I need to make sure are stable before I worry about taking on a new hobby.
Thankfully, we don’t need to predict what life is going to look like that far ahead.
The Quarterly and Weekly reviews allow us to decide our next steps.
The Annual Review allows us to look at our priorities for the year.
The Annual Review is also a good time to take advantage of the array of goal-setting and planning resources that are available.
My processes are just one perspective. I encourage you to play with other resources. Each time you play with another person’s exercises, you gain a new perspective on your life and your desires.
I am including a list of resources I have enjoyed using as an appendix to this book.
“While much is written in psychology about being happy with yourself, happiness is actually more closely tied to how you perceive and emotionally react to the events and people around you. That’s because people who perceive the world as positive or negative will react to it positively or negatively.” – Mark Goulson
When everything goes wrong
Imagine a high-stakes, politically sensitive IT implementation.
During the project, things go wrong. Really wrong. As in – having more than half of your risk register come true wrong.
The project team fights and claws its way towards go-live – somehow managing to get everything working literally 15 minutes before having to walk into the Steering Committee for a go / no go decision.
They made it.
Barely. And not unscarred.
Time for celebration. Even if many members of the team are too tired to get excited. The more pessimistic ones (including the project manager) are just waiting for the next thing to break.
The business, however, is VERY excited.
They see that they can now do things they couldn’t do before.
So, of course, they want to do it…like….now.
They want the project team to cross the next raging river. Then the next. Then the next.
And those rivers are close together. Smaller, perhaps…but they still require crossing.
I liken it to armies marching through Virginia during the American Civil War.
If you notice the eastern side of this map – each dot is next to a river.
There are a LOT of rivers.
And this map does not reflect the small tributaries that also needed to be crossed.
There were no interstates or fancy bridges crossing those rivers.
Often, bridges needed to be built.
Or they needed to be crossed carefully- a few soldiers and pieces of equipment at a time.
The experience of the project team immediately post-project is like that.
We crossed the big river – but we still have many smaller ones to cross.
I made a mistake planning my last big project.
I didn’t account for those river crossings after the project. Not just getting everything functional for movement to operations.
And, because this was a very politically sensitive project, I did post-project planning well before I realized that we were going to struggle so badly during go-live.
My post-project plan was too aggressive. WAY too aggressive.
The saving grace was having a project champion who recognized this before I did.
My lessons learned:
Plan for the post-project river crossings. What are the deliverables that are expected soon after the project? What are their deadlines? How hard are those deadlines?
Create 2 project plans – best case scenario (the project team can do all the things) and worst-case scenario (the project barely launches, the project team is exhausted, the system is still unstable, and help desk tickets reporting technical issues are rolling in).
Perform the same level of risk analysis for post-project and transition to operations that you did for the project itself.
Perform the same level of scope definition for post-project and transition to operations that you did for the project itself.
Plan for at least 1 week of recovery / vacation time after 2-4 weeks for the entire project team. That vacation will be forced with illness or general malaise around that time anyway (at least from my experience).
Work with the Project Champion to manage the expectations of the business towards the worst case scenario – in my experience it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver.
Work with the Resource Managers to keep the project team for the month after go-live to stabilize the system and any new processes. Resource Managers want to rush team members back into all their old tasks + new initiatives as soon as go-live hits. That is a recipe for burning out your project team members. It is also a recipe for not getting any business value out of your new system – because your human resources are too stretched.
Work with the project team to manage their own expectations of themselves. I was fortunate to be working with a group of people who put a lot of heart and soul in their work. They WANTED to do all the things. Even for superheros – there are limits to time and energy and cognitive bandwidth
The example above is a corporate example, but we do the same thing in our personal projects.
We don’t give ourselves time to integrate our change or recover from the effort.
Furthermore, we can only plan based on what we know at the time.
The resources that are right in front of us.
The amount of energy and time we currently have.
We can’t predict illness or energy changes or other people’s behavior. We can only look at probability and see what happens.
We can only “predict” retroactively – based on past performance.
The Power of the Risk Register
I find that the ability to see how my pre-planning has helped prevent disaster is the greatest benefit to Risk Management.
I can show others how my disasterizing has prevented disaster from happening, or minimized the impact of the disaster, or reduced the time between the disaster and our response to it.
Of course, because the disaster DIDN’T happen – most people aren’t nearly as impressed. Prevention is much less exciting than fighting the (often avoidable) fire.
For good or ill, even master disasterizers are not good at predicting all the things.
We learn as we execute.
Was this something we didn’t consider?
Were our assumptions incorrect? For good or ill?
If we did predict this – did our mitigation plan work?
How about our contingency plan? How well did it work?
If an opportunity surfaced, did I take advantage of it? Did I even recognize it?
Now that we have experienced this – what do we want to do next time?
Is there going to BE a next time? (“No” is an appropriate answer.)
The journey – and the risks and opportunities that surface as we make the journey – IS how we get mastery.
Using the Risk Register during Execution.
I review the risk register either when the risk happens (if I think about it) or in the Quarterly Review.
The risk register has 2 more columns:
Occur? - Did the risk (or opportunity) occur? Yes / No
Actions - What did I do about it? Comments on your actions as a result of the risk surfacing.
These two columns allow you to see how well you have predicted your risks and whether your plans worked. If you decide to do something similar in the future, this register becomes helpful information for the next time.
Add any new risks or opportunities that surface to the risk register as they occur.
The Probability, Impact, Worry, Mitigation, Recognition, or Contingency columns stay blank – because you didn’t know and didn’t plan for these risks. Instead – add comments about how the risk surfaced (New), add the Stakeholders involved, Occur = Y, and write down your actions.
Unexpected Resistance from Others
Resistance. I’ve seen this over too many years and too many organizations.
People nod their heads and go “Yes – planning is a great idea! We should have a strategy! This will help us make better decisions! We can save money! (etc)”
And then they do everything they can to prevent it from happening.
Lack of “flexibility” – they can’t just up and do what they want once there is a plan in place. Not that this was ever true, but before they could feign ignorance if things don’t work out.
The need to start saying “no” and set boundaries – a perceived political handicap for those whose entire career success is based on making people (especially higher-ups) “feel good”.
The fear of uncovering something they don’t want uncovered – ANY of these planning / organization / architecture projects run the risk of uncovering some skeletons.
Processes not “working” the way they are supposed to (and the resulting “surprise”)
People using the lack of transparency to serve their own purposes
The assumption that “knowledge is power” without understanding that knowledge is more powerful when shared.
Even worse – when you are doing this within a culture that often actively punishes sharing. Even if the touted “values” state otherwise.
The activities of planning don’t look like actual work.
Or worse, too many instances of planning being done in replacement of actual work. This happens enough times and any organization is going to get a bit cynical.
Prevention isn’t nearly as glamorous-looking as fire-fighting
People love rescuers. It just sucks when the problem could have been prevented in the first place.
It’s hard to prove your worth by showing what DIDN’T happen and preventing problems. It’s much easier to show the problems (that manifested) that you DID solve. Regardless of whether it was a self-created or preventable problem.
As expected, as soon as real activity towards an architecture started happening, we started seeing resistance.
Right now, the only mitigation strategy I have is to couch my activities in terms of “personal organization.” Small scale, low profile, low resource need. As long as I don’t neglect my current primary responsibilities and don’t ask for much, I should be OK.
Worst case scenario – I’ve learned something as a result of these efforts and have made some valuable changes to my portfolio that I can leverage in the future.
It’s hard to predict how people are going to react.
We can guess at who will support us.
If we ask directly, they may even tell us that they will support us.
But when they see the change happening – their actions speak volumes. Their actions speak the truth about how they feel about your change.
Leveraging Your Stakeholder Matrix
Whenever you make a major change in your life – the people around you begin to behave in unpredictable ways.
The people you thought would be cheerleaders turn out to be challengers.
Strangers become your closest allies.
People come and go from your life.
Some move closer. Some move farther away. Some disappear altogether.
The Stakeholder Matrix we developed is a snapshot of our relationships in their pre-change state. It’s an attempt at predicting how the people closest to us are going to react. It’s a baseline plan for how we are going to engage the people closest to us as we make this change.
As you begin to execute the Communications Plan within your Stakeholder Matrix – what are you learning? About yourself? About the people around you?
What concerns about your change are surfacing? How have you addressed those concerns?
What boundaries are you struggling to maintain?
What agreements are appearing that you unconsciously made and are now being challenged by this change process?
What parts of your communications plan are you struggling to execute? What fear is being brought up?
These challenges with others are another important part of the change process.
How are you going to respond?
A few years ago, one of my colleagues took all the air out of the room with a simple comment.
“We are not ready for this solution.”
He meant that the organization wasn’t ready for the solution.
But I wasn’t so sure.
Struck me that it was really our team that wasn’t ready for the solution.
It’s easy to point to the end user and say “well – they are just not ready.”
And for a few very vocal people, it was absolutely true.
It’s easy to focus on the noisy negative. Human nature. Looking for “danger”.
But I was getting many comments from our end users that led me to believe that the general environment WAS ready. I knew they were already using many of these features in other formats and tools. They just wanted a better way to work.
The group that wasn’t ready was our team.
So many of them spent decades working with a specific technology.
Mastering the one thing. Practicing and adding expertise in that technology.
And all of that is being thrown out the window.
So the finger gets pointed at the end user when it is really us.
So we retreat back to the closest thing to the thing we know and try to ignore the rest.
I’m still trying to shake off the lingering sense of failure.
I spent so much time getting the pilot group “culturally ready” when most of them didn’t need it.
I expected my teammates to have enough of a sense of self-preservation to internalize the change for themselves.
They are technology folks. I assumed they would be able to figure stuff out without a ton of hand-holding.
But I ignored the fear factor that accompanies any huge change.
– Fear of loss of identity
– Fear of loss of mastery
– Fear of looking stupid
– Fear of not knowing
– Fear of loss of status
– Fear of how others will react
– Fear of the unknown
I now wonder what I should have done differently.
How do we develop “cultural readiness?”
What needs to happen?
What timeframe is needed?
What environmental supports?
How much repetition of message?
How do we nurture and encourage those early adopters of the new culture?
And most importantly – how do we reduce the fear?
Addressing Group Resistance
As you execute your change, you may find that there is an entire group population that resists what you are doing.
Your drinking buddies resisting your attempts to get sober.
Your family complaining about the meals you cook as you attempt to adjust your diet.
Your co-workers repeatedly testing your new-found boundaries.
Unfortunately, some groups are easier to walk away from than others.
You may need to spend less time with your drinking buddies as you attempt to get sober. Getting distance from a reasonably well-defined group engaged in optional activities (such as going to the bar) is emotionally challenging, but may not be physically challenging.
You may struggle to get some distance (physical AND emotional) from your family and your co-workers.
You may need to work in stealth around these groups. Often, you won’t convince someone of your success until you have success. Focus on you, your actions, and your behaviors.
I have found that even within the pockets of resistance, there are often “early adopters.” The people who want to see you succeed, even if the larger group doesn’t.
How do you want to reinforce and reward these unexpected supporters and “early adopters?”
What are they seeing in your efforts that help them? How can you return the favor?
The more important the change is to you, and the less confident you are about success, the more important it will be to lean on any support you have available.
Each group is a collection of individuals. Focus on the individual supporters.
The Cost of Legacy – Other People’s Expectations
The hardest part of change, in my experience, is dealing with other people’s expectations.
People create these expectations based on your past.
Employers hire based on what you have already done vs. your potential.
Colleagues ask you do to things based on what they have seen you successfully do in the past.
Past performance is considered an accurate predictor for future behavior.
It’s almost as if the more successful and competent you have been in the past – the more stuck you become.
The brain like certainty and clarity. It’s much easier to see someone through the lens of what they have already done. It’s hard to predict growth – though many in the HR field have tried.
Your task is to consistently show others what you are capable of. Model the change. Say “no” to the things you want to let go of.
Expect others to continue pushing this boundary – particularly if you have demonstrated mastery over this “old” behavior, knowledge, or skill that you no longer wish to practice.
Your ability to maintain this boundary may be the toughest test in your entire change effort.
The Challenge of Saying “No” or Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
As I look through the recent “success” literature – everything points to learning how to say “No.”
I’m still mastering this skill, particularly in the face of the aggressive and demanding.
My favorite approach has 2 basic steps.
“Give me (time), I will give you a response by (time, date)”
Find a resource who will execute the request better than I would do it.
I had a chance to practice this recently with a prospective client.
They had a project that, frankly, I wouldn’t have done very well with.
The scope was huge, the timeline was aggressive, the skills required were not quite in my wheelhouse or in the wheelhouse of my immediate network, and I had grave concerns about the budget (too small) and the expectations around subject matter expert participation (as little as possible).
I had some options around how to address this request:
Say “yes” and scramble to find the resources necessary to execute. I didn’t have a good probability of success and the commitments I already had would have suffered.
Say “yes” and play “prime contractor” – taking their money while not providing added value to them. I know it’s a common practice, but it’s not the way I personally want to run my business.
Say “no” and point them to the team who would be able to execute their request with quality because they do this every day and have the skills and resources rapidly available.
I chose option 3.
Did I “lose” a good opportunity to make a lot of money? Probably.
Did I risk a client relationship? Maybe.
Was it the right thing to do? Yes.
The client gets the skilled resources they need for their initiative.
The client can focus their budget on getting quality deliverables instead of expensive administrative overhead (which I would have been).
I get to focus on opportunities that are better aligned with my skills and resources.
I think it is much better to say “no” now, at the inception of the project, than to get well into it and realize that I should have never agreed to the request. No one wins in that scenario.
“Setting limits takes time and thought; enforcing limits takes energy and consistency.”
Remember that we have a limited amount of time. That time does NOT expand. Furthermore, it is unpredictable.
The Opportunity Cost for saying “yes” is time and energy taken away from the thing you want to do.
The Opportunity Cost for saying “yes” is the inability to say “yes” to an opportunity that is more aligned with your dreams.
People can be sneaky when they want to nudge your boundaries.
It’s others asking “Just this once…” which then sets the precedence for “But you did it last time I asked.”
It’s others finding an ill-defined boundary – where you haven’t made a hard decision to say “no,” but your gut tells you that you need to do so or you will face an army of others stepping over that boundary to your detriment.
Sometimes it feels like the effort it takes to enforce the boundaries isn’t worth it. In the short term, it can be painful. But, ultimately, you will receive more time and more energy to do the things that are important to you. People will go away, stop asking, and/or treat you with the respect you deserve.
Addressing the Aggressive
“If people who ought to change don’t want to change, that’s their choice; but such people don’t drive me crazy, because it is my choice not to work with or deal with them.”
Over the past few years, I’ve taken Goldsmith’s approach to heart.
My life is too short to deal with aggressive people. When I encounter one, I look to get them out of my life as quickly as possible – mostly by walking away.
I’m fortunate. I have set up my life such that I have the privilege of choice. I also have a sensitive radar when it comes to aggressive (or potentially aggressive) people and work to avoid them in the first place. You may not be so lucky.
Customer service classes, whether online or in-person, are a great way to learn and practice skills in decelerating aggressive behavior.
I would also recommend Mark Goulston’s book, Talking to Crazy.
Goulston identifies when to get professional assistance vs. dealing with it yourself. My personal recommendation – When in doubt, get professional support.
Thankfully, many of us are in environments where the people around us really do have our best interests at heart. They’re just worried. About you. About what your change means for them.
What concerns do your friends and supporters have about your change?
Are they bringing up issues that you hadn’t considered?
Their concerns and questions may be an expression of love. They may not quite understand what you are up to. They may be concerned that your change means that you are pulling away from them.
You just need to hear them out, consider what they are saying, and decide whether their concerns are valid.
See the questions and concerns people have as opportunities to clarify your vision and address potential holes in your plan.
You don’t need to convince anyone that what you are doing is right. It’s not about them.
In a personal change effort, the change is about “you.” Be OK with not having “followers.”
Their concerns will ultimately be addressed by your results.
Listening to Others
Listening deeply to another is the best gift I can think to give.
Being able to hold space for another.
Listening with no agenda.
Listening without aiming to respond, or be clever, or win the conversation.
Many of us aren’t taught to do this.
Our educational system seems to reinforce “listening to win.” If you have ever sat in a graduate-level seminar, you will understand what I mean.
Our systems reward cleverness, witty repartee, put-downs, “strong” arguments, “influencing others.”
Mark Goulston and John Ullman, in Real Influence, recognize that the core of real influence is in listening to the other, learning where they are coming from, and meeting them there vs. “getting someone to do something.”
So many of us hunger to be understood. The recent statistics on loneliness are staggering, In a 2018 survey of 20,000 American adults, Cigna found:
54% feel that no one knows them well
56% said that the people around them “aren’t necessarily with them.”
40% felt isolated and lacked companionship
The cause may not matter in the long-run.
I figured the best thing I could do is to learn to listen. Connect with the people around me. Seek to understand where the other is coming from. Provide a space to just be.
Listening skills require practice.
Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Practice
A mentor of mine asked, “What about Empathy?”
I found myself resisting. Hard.
We all have Empathy.
Some of us squelch it – partially by training, partially out of self-preservation.
Some of us overdo it – inappropriately taking on the emotional labor of others.
Some of us (raises hand) swing wildly between the two extremes.
After sitting on this, I realized that my discomfort with Empathy as a skill (particularly for this year) is based in a feeling that I’m not the right person to talk about this.
I struggle with empathy. Either too much or too little – depending on my mood and situation.
I haven’t found the middle ground that serves myself, or others, yet. I still struggle to live this in healthy ways right now. It seems disingenuous to give advice on something I don’t do well.
My suspicion is that the “skill” is in being empathic in healthy ways – for you AND others.
What is the therapeutic dose of empathy? Not too little, not too much?
How can I be present and truly “see” the other person without being lost in that other person or taking on their emotions?
Am I able to sit with uncomfortable emotions, mine AND theirs, and do so in a way that helps both of us?
As I sat with the concept of Empathy, I realized that the foundation of that conversation is our relationship to our emotions.
Some of us (myself included) come from families and work in environments where Spock is a role model. Emotions are an inconvenience (at best). “Happy” is acceptable. The rest of it – not so much.
“Stop crying, it’s not that bad.”
“What do you have to be angry about?”
“You’re not going to get anywhere unless you control your emotions.”
Insert your favorite phrase here.
Others come from families and environments where emotions are expressed in harmful ways. Or…emotions are only allowed from certain people (i.e. only the “CEO” is allowed to be angry).
As a result, many of us are already handicapped when it comes to understanding our OWN emotions; nevermind having empathy for others.
Now, let’s add the ways in which others manipulate our emotions. Marketing, sales, training, management (among other fields) all have within these disciplines tips and techniques for manipulating anothers‘ emotions.
We’re not sure what we’re feeling in the first place and others are trying to get us to feel a certain way for their OWN purposes.
What a mess.
Emotional intelligence and empathy need to start at home (i.e., with me).
Can I recognize what I am feeling; nevermind what anyone else is feeling?
Do I know what is “mine” and what I’ve absorbed from others?
I know I have a lot of work to do in this area.
Learning to be OK in feeling ALL emotions – not just the limited range of socially acceptable ones.
Getting clear on what emotions I am feeling and why. Engaging only once I am clear and not to necessarily help someone else “feel better” or fix whatever seems to be a “problem,” but just to hold space.
Learning to recognize when someone is trying to shift responsibility for their feelings onto me. Feel your own feelings. I have enough of my own, thanks.
Learning to recognize when someone is trying to make me have particular emotions to serve their agenda. I find going through my social media feeds a great exercise for this – but only when I am in the right head / heart space for it.
I find this uncomfortable work. I still have (many) moments where I doubt the whole “feeling your emotions is good” advice.
I know that if I don’t learn how to acknowledge and address ALL of my emotions, that they eventually come out when I least expect them and in ways that are most harmful to myself and/or others. I’ve figured this out the hard way.
We have a very long way to go in the conversation around emotions and emotional health, nevermind empathy.
I know the best I can do right now is get clear on how I am feeling, listen as deeply as possible, and do my best to hold space without taking on others’ stuff. Getting better at those things may take a lifetime.
Despite our challenges with emotional intelligence, we still need to do our best to practice our responses.
Leveraging the Rest Stop
In Chapter 7, during your planning, you should have identified the rest stops in your change effort.
Time to take a breather and evaluate what you need.
Do you have the resources to continue?
What changes have occurred in the environment since you started?
Are there new resources available?
How are you feeling and what do you need to recharge?
Are you on the right path? If not – how do you get back on the right path?
Should you even keep going?
Having mindfully designed rest stops helps to mitigate the risk of accruing unnecessary expenses.
This is time to celebrate your progress.
What have you completed since you last stopped?
What challenges did you overcome to get here? How did you overcome them?
What have you learned so far?
What are you going to do to reward and recharge yourself before continuing?
Then…go. Give yourself the reward. Go recharge yourself.
Stop When You See Something Working
Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys (NFL – American Football) coach, would comb through footage or previous games and create highlight reels of his players doing something easily, naturally, and effectively. He did this to teach the player what excellence looked like for him in execution.
Landry reasoned that “while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.”
Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, in relaying this story, observed that Landry was anchoring, grooving, and refining for the player what excellence looked like. He was providing an example of excellence that the player could repeat.
In practice, this looks like catching people doing something RIGHT. Once caught, dissecting what is happening and how to repeat it again.
By focusing on what is going right, you are building confidence and moving towards an understanding of what excellence looks and feels like.
Furthermore, focusing on the positive reduces stress. You become more open to learning, more receptive to new information, and better able to make connections to other inputs.
As you move through your personal change, see if you can catch yourself doing something right.
See if you can focus on what is working well.
By doing so, you will learn what excellence looks like for yourself.
We Are Playing the Long Game
Our personal change efforts are long-term efforts.
Even the short, impermanent push efforts trigger longer term changes.
We change how we see ourselves. We change our identity. We change and expand our pool of experience. We change and grow our skills.
Each of us is different, somehow, as we move through the change process. Even the seemingly small and impermanent changes we make change us.
We learn about our strengths and weaknesses.
We learn about our relationships and surroundings.
We learn about our motivations and values.
Celebrate where you have been – whether it led you to desirable places or not.
Appreciate what you have learned – whether it is what you intended to learn or not.
Make the adjustments you need to make.
Search for ways to refresh your practices.
Try something new.
Allow the journey to shape you into your best self.
You deserve it.