He started our conversation over coffee saying, “This is such a tough time to be in business.”
Well, it could be said that it’s always a tough time in business, for there’s always something challenging about it, always some problem-solving to be tackled, isn’t there. It can also be said that the tough challenges are what intrigue us about our work, keeping us curious and creative, and keeping us learning.
Tough times are a manager’s rough draft times. Tough times are when we give ourselves more permission than we usually do, with all sorts of initiatives. We get crazy critical about our own To Do lists. We break more rules and conventions and buck history (or embrace it). We reconsider questions we’d thought we already had answers for. We take new risks because they suddenly don’t seem half as risky as doing nothing. We think, “Why not?” far more than “Certainly not!” and we try things. We dabble. We experiment. We try harder, try better, try smarter.
Healthy businesses, where everything seems to be going along swimmingly well, make this same case for periodic disruption: To disrupt in a positive way, is to the rock the boat of complacency and buckle in for a more exhilarating ride, and for a new adventure.
Cease the ‘attitude scolding.’
The quick and easy answer for the person bemoaning tough times, is commonly one urging them to stop whining and redirect their attitude: “Look on the bright side!” or “Count your blessings; the glass is half full.” Attitude does determine outcome, however these phrases are really scoldings that risk sulking; say these things, and people tend to get defensive with you, in their impulse to justify or gloss over whatever negativity they let slip out. You lengthen the conversation about the negative, when you really need to redirect to the positive. You help them commiserate in non-action, when you really want them to buck up, move on, and take action.
It’s better to ask a question that will lead you both toward contemplating the next rough draft to be tackled: “I wonder; times being the way they are, what could you [or ‘we’ whenever it’s possible to say it] tackle and achieve now that seemed hands-off before? What’s become more possible, because people are more willing to try something different?”
When I asked these questions of my coffee conversation companion, he took a sip of his coffee to think about it before speaking, looked over my shoulder at the barista, and suddenly brightened up, sitting up a little taller. “There has been something I’ve noticed about my staff. They seem more cooperative these days, just more open and less resistant. At first I thought they were just restless because business was down, but then I saw how they actually were refusing to be bored, and were challenging me for better direction.” he said, and our conversation took off on an entirely new direction too.
They refused to be bored. How great is that? [Related reading: People Who Do Good Work]
Sweat the small stuff, because now you can.
Though you can certainly go big, the rough drafts for difference I’m talking about here needn’t cover large-scale, sweeping change. I’m taking about drilling down, tackling the small stuff, and checking off items that have lingered on your Someday/Maybe List so they can finally be done! I’m talking about having conversations you’ve meant to start but haven’t, and about making tweaks and adjustments. I’m talking about giving your tiny, but smoldering hot ideas their day in the sun, and remembering that policy changes ache your foundational groundwork.
For example: Perhaps there’s a new way of doing your staff schedule, or revising how you handle their performance reviews (something every manager can constantly be working on). Work on the beginnings of a profit-sharing program, or revisit another facet of your business model. Do that long-overdue trimming of ‘office hours’ which would concentrate customer interactions, in favor of ‘work it without distraction, and ship it’ hours. Discontinue a sacred-cow product that is no longer profitable enough, because you have the time or opportunity to work on cutting those ties that have bound it to your day in, day out m.o. in producing it, along with any emotional ties (more on that in a moment.)
Perhaps you can do work on outside factors that have been affecting your business… Is there someone in your professional network who has the potential to be a stronger partner? Work on that relationship. Have you always wanted to clear up or challenge a government regulation that affects you? Is it time to entertain lobbying your elected representative about it? Is this the time to take advantage of lower interest rates, and relocate your commercial space? Should you clean out those off-site storage lockers you’re on some automatic payment schedule for?
“By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well.”
— Robert Bringhurst
Our emotional roller coaster goes both up and down.
Tough times tend to have this silver lining: Emotional ties to old stuff will lessen when that old stuff is really baggage. People will finally see it as the baggage it is (they are shouldering enough baggage of their own during tough times!) and they will be more open to seeing the benefit of the new as the relief it can be. They’ll participate when you propose creative differences and changes that look like new building blocks to them — these are the ‘rough drafts’ of difference and change our tough times illustrate for us. And as with any roller coaster, riders hold on.
So think about it: Is the tough time you may be in, reeking with the potential of a rough draft time? I bet it is.
For your dose of Managing with Aloha value alignment, review Ka lā hiki ola; it translates to “the dawning of a new day.” This is the value of optimism, hope and promise…
Tough times are made for PALENA ‘OLE, our MWA Key Concept no.9:
Palena ‘ole is the Hawaiian concept of unlimited capacity. This is your exponential growth stage, and about seeing your bigger and better leadership dreams come to fruition. Think “Legacy” and “Abundance” and welcome the coaching of PONO into your life as the value it is. We create our abundance by honoring human capacity; physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. When we seek inclusive, full engagement and optimal productivity, any scarcity will be banished. Growth is welcomed and change is never feared; enthusiasm flourishes. PALENA ‘OLE is an everyday attitude in an ‘Ohana in Business, assuming that growth and abundance is always present as an opportunity. Given voice, Palena ‘ole sounds like this: “Don’t limit yourself! Why settle for ‘either/or’ when we can go for the ‘and’ and be better?”