Friday, March 18, 2011

Time for Time out?

This might sound like a weird title for someone who blogs about change and is always writing about doing more, getting results, being pro-active, but thats my question for you;
Do you know when its time to take time out?
I don’t necessarily mean not working at the weekend, not working at night, taking your lunch-breaks or having a coffee (but if you do any or all of these on a regular basis you might need to pay attention here). 

Every manager that I know is very busy. I don’t even bother asking that when I meet them any more. Its just a fact of life in our modern, high pace world. You throw in a period of change and all of a sudden you are juggling a few extra balls along with the many things that you were working on all ready. Its no surprise that many change initiatives fall down as a result of managers de-prioritising their change actions. Business as usual throws new challenges, new deadlines, urgent reports, urgent requests and those all need done now, and by the time you get to the end of the day, thats all your day has been. 
But I didn’t ask whether you were busy, I asked if you knew when to take time out. 
Do you regroup your busy managers when you see that initiatives are falling to one side?
Do you take a bit of time out to check whats not happening and why?
Before you leap in to a new initiative do you take the time to consider whether your team can handle it on their own or whether you need an extra set of hands to help you?
Do you recognise the symptoms of your business reaching breaking point and know when to call a time out, time to take a break, re-energise, breath?
And what about you?
Do you recognise your own need to take a time out?
Do you know the signs that you are feeling the pressure of deadlines, to much to do, feeling out of control, or things not going your way?
Do you know when you are not in the best frame of mind for a meeting?
Do you know when to go for a walk, take an afternoon to play golf or even do something that is not that urgent or important but it makes you feel good or clears your mind? (thats where I and the time-management gurus disagree by the way. I think we all need the odd moment of doing a task because you like it, just to build your feel good factor or let your brain wander).
When you get on an airplane, the flight attendants run you through a safety briefing. Part of that briefing is to put your own mask on before anyone else’s.
You figured out why? Apply that principle at work yet?
If you are a leader, you are a leader of change. Change brings extra pressure for leaders and teams.
Your people take their cue from you. You are the one that they look to say ‘time out’, ‘lets reflect’, ‘lets kick back and think about this another way’, ‘lets prioritise’
Your people take their cue from you. If you aren’t at your best, what does that say to them?  If you have a bad mood, bad moment what is the impact on the culture?
If you don’t put on the oxygen mask yourself then who’s going to make sure that the rest of the organisation does?
Is it time to take a time-out?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Stubbornly Strategic

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need for leaders at all levels to have good advice and to keep those advisors close to them. It's funny how the world can change in a few weeks. In that time, here in New Zealand we've had arguably our biggest disaster in the Christchurch earthquake, while elsewhere in the world Libya is in revolt and the associated impact on the price of oil is affecting economies everywhere. The ripple effect of such events means that many more things will change in months to come. In New Zealand businesses outside of Christchurch will feel some impact, if they are not already. And the cost of the rebuild will have an affect on everyone in the country. Already debate is raging about whether we should rebuild or not, and while I am not going to comment on that here, I would like to draw some parallels with the challenge that leaders face when the environment changes around them.
Businesses spend time in developing strategy to guide leaders in the day to day choices that are made and actions to be taken. For some strategy is a rock solid path, while others use it in a fluid way. A key part of strategising is looking at the context your business finds itself in and environment that could be expected in the future as well as the current reality.
But what happens when that context changes? A test of leadership is their ability to steer a course when the environment changes.
Nobody predicted an earthquake with such devastation as we've now seen in Christchurch. It's a major city in New Zealand terms, 'it's always been here' is the cry from some, so we must rebuild it. Others question whether that is a smart move given the changing environment, the relative cost and the uncertainty of the geological future. There are world cup games scheduled for Christchurch and the tug of war between the emotional cries of 'solidarity' and 'it would be good for the devastated population' are being countered with 'can we risk it happening again?'.
In the midst of change leaders have to make choices. Do we stick with the strategy we've set? Do we watch a little longer and see what happens? Do we jump now and cut our losses? Whether it is a suddenly under-performing product or arm of the business, a change in competition, shift in consumer trends, hike in the interest rate, sudden collapse of the market, a rise in the exchange rate or the multitude of other challenges that arise, leaders are there to make choices.
The difficulty is that difficult times also bring a lot of day to day issues to manage and wherever you sit in the organisation it is easy to get sucked in to those. And all the time the circumstances are setting in and your opportunity to do what you should do, is drifting away. In times like this many leaders make reactive or emotional decisions: 'stick to the strategy. It worked in the past it will work now', 'let's jump, we can't risk it', 'we've always done it this way and we're still here aren't we!'. And yes, you might get it right. You might dig in and ride the storm or you might jump and steal a march as others flounder.
But you know what you should do, even while you are reacting or digging in and letting circumstances run your day, dont you. You should gather trusted advisors and key thinkers around you and you calmly and dispassionately take the emotion out of the debate, test the strategy against the environment, surface the risks and opportunities and reset the course accordingly.
History will judge your choices that our politicians will make over the coming weeks or months. As a leader in business, your choices may not have as much significance nationally, but the questions will still be asked. 
So how do you want to be judged? Stubbornly or smartly strategic?