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Change Isn’t Cheap—Why I Stopped Doing “Free Lunch” Coaching

It starts with a text message or email saying: “Can we meet for coffee or lunch? I want to pick your brain on something.”

What this message really means is: “I am stuck and would love to get professional coaching from someone I respect and is really good at solving business problems. I would like this for the price of a coffee or lunch, and after I get your advice I will have no idea how to implement it, and will likely go back to the same thinking as before.

Hmm, let me check my calendar and see if I can fit you in.

Let me be clear, I love going out for lunch, coffee, or drinks—and talking about what challenges friends and colleagues are facing at work. Love it, when the relationship is one of mutual respect.

Encounters like this remind me of the saying: “your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” On the one hand you are saying you value my time and coaching, but your actions show that you don’t really care about creating meaningful change.

Imagine if I called a professional sales rep and said, “Hey can you sell for me, and instead of a salary or commission, I’ll buy you lunch?” I’d be (rightly) laughed off the phone.

The brutal truth is that for many years I allowed this. I take full responsibility for creating this monster. But no more.

I am proud to call myself a business coach, and a pretty damn good one. I love working with my clients and they love the results and experience they get working with me.  

Coaching is a profession I have worked really hard at. I have invested a tremendous amount of money hiring my own coaches, and I would not be where I am today without their amazing guidance, expertise, and support.

Look at any successful athlete or business leader, and you can guess they have had—and continue to have—coaches. Check out any professional team and look at how many coaches they have.

The problem with getting free lunch coaching is: it doesn’t get results.

We want the ideas for free, and for someone to help us out in the moment of crisis, but not to actually follow through. Contacts reach out to me at the moment they have a problem, but without a plan to follow through, they abandon new thinking the moment the problem loses its urgency. When you invest in something, you’re going to be a lot more likely to follow through.

A business leader I deeply respect once ended a presentation with this story:

“Imagine the traditional American breakfast served at a diner, it’s usually bacon and eggs.” He showed a picture on the screen and said, “the chicken is interested but the pig is invested.”

Are you invested in creating lasting change in your organization, or simply kind of of interested? If you want meaningful change, you need to invest a meaningful ways.

Now, before I agree to meet with someone, I ask them to spend some time answering the following questions:

  1. Why did you reach out to me?
  2. Do you have a clearly defined outcome for you and/or your team?
  3. What are you stuck on?
  4. Are you the chicken or the pig (are you interested, or invested)?  
  5. What, if anything, have you tried so far?
  6. Think of a time in your life when you successfully solved a problem. What steps did you take?
  7. Have you invested in reading books, looking for resources, etc. on the topic?
  8. Do you really want change?
  9. How do you define meaningful change?

Getting clear on the answers to these questions reveals how committed a contact is to change. The answer to question five is particularly telling: if the response is “nothing,” or “reaching out to you for advice,” I know that they probably aren’t truly invested.

If you’re serious about making a change, for your organization, your team, or yourself, make an investment of your time and your energy (and yes, of your cash) to make it happen.

Here are three ways to get started:

1) Return to A Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki

Very often when people encounter a roadblock, they seek the input of the people closest to them. Have you ever been in a “brainstorming” session at your office? How did it go? Granted there is some value in these sessions, but putting a group of “experts” together rarely brings any breakthrough ideas. The main reason is that everyone is looking through the same lens.

Can you think of a time when you saw a product or service and thought to yourself “It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?

Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, Amazon, and Netflix are just a few examples of hugely successful companies that created a new model by returning to a beginner’s mind.

The easy way to get started is to clearly define your challenge, and ask people outside of your industry for advice—make it a game for them.

2) Ask Better Questions

In my spare time I run a program for fourth graders that have never played hockey before (believe it or not 9 out of 10 Canadians do not play hockey). When I work with the children there is never a shortage of great questions. Kids love asking questions and are naturally curious. Adults, on the other hand, unfortunately don’t ask nearly enough questions, and the questions we avoid are the biggest ones.

There is a great book called A More Beautiful Question. I highly suggest reading it.

Some of the great questions listed in the book for businesses to ask are:

  • What if our company didn’t exist?
  • What if we became a cause and not just a company?
  • How might we create a culture of inquiry?
  • Should mission statements be mission questions?
  • Why do smart business people screw up?

Take time with your team to answer these questions. And keep them handy—they’re great networking conversation starters as well.

3) Identify the Gap

Where are you now and where are you stuck? Where do you want to go (or, what is the ideal outcome)? What is the gap between the answers to these two questions? What resources or people can you enlist to assist in bridging the gap? Call them immediately.

I have a coaching client that is a Senior Executive for a company in the US. On a coaching call she said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I will never have you come here and work with my team. They love the new me, full of creativity and new action, and they love the results. Why mess with that?”

I loved that comment, as she had clearly identified the gap between where she was and where she wanted to go—and I felt fortunate to help her bridge that gap.

Free Doesn’t Work

Over the years I have been asked by a number of friends if I can coach them. I said yes to everyone, free of charge of course, that’s what friends are for.

Although they all experienced some progress, it was nowhere near the results that my paid clients achieved.

We value what we invest in.

If you are invested in making serious change, show me, I’m all ears.

Behavior Change That Sticks

I’m a behavior change expert. But I didn’t always know how to describe myself.

I often find myself in new situations, meeting new people. Whether it’s with a new client I am working with, at a conference, or at a cocktail party, I love meeting new people. But for years I have struggled with the first question many people ask, the dreaded “so what do you do for a living?”

I guess it’s a North American thing. I much prefer questions like: “what are you excited about right now?” What do you love doing on the weekends?” “What topic can you talk about endlessly?”

I guess the reason why I didn’t like the first question was I never knew how to answer it. I was always jealous of the people who could clearly answer the question in one word: I’m a banker, lawyer, teacher, nurse.

I usually tried to be witty and say something like “depends on the day.” One day I am a keynote speaker, another day a coach or advocate.

Recently, I was at a retreat for business owners, the 2nd Annual Actionable Partner Summit. In one of the sessions we were asked to define our superpowers, or put another way, to answer the question, why do clients hire you?

Fantastic question that really got me thinking. After writing down a few words like trust, problem solving, getting results—it came to me. The core of everything I do is: changing people’s behavior to get them (and their team) measurable results.

Damn it, I am a behavior change expert and I never even shared that with others.

It really is at the core of everything I do, whether it’s coaching a client and moving them into action, changing the thinking and actions of a corporate team, or working with the children’s hockey program I run.

With that in mind here are three ways to kickstart behavior change for you and your team:

1) Ask Yourself Big Questions to Get Clarity

I strongly believe that the answers we get in life are only as good as the questions we ask. We all want to be heard and understood, yet a cardinal rule that is often broken in sales conversations is “listen more, talk less.” That can be challenging for someone like me that speaks for a living.

I have experimented with asking a variety of questions to clients, and an all time favorite comes from Dan Sullivan. The question is:

“If we were meeting here 3 years from today and you were to look back over that time, what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Asking someone this question is a gift to them. Most often the immediate response I get is “that is a great question.” This question provides the person an opportunity to really focus on what they want in the future, and gives them a brief vacation from the now. Immediately they can get a sense of if they are on the right track, or need to recalculate.

Clarity is what we want for ourselves and our organizations, and it is the critical first step in behavior change. Resistance to change is often the result of unclear goals.

2) New Environments = New Results

If you have read my previous posts you have heard me rave about the importance of changing your environments to change your results. No different here.

One of the world’s leading authorities on behavior change and one of the top corporate coaches in the world is Marshall Goldsmith, author of Triggers.

Goldsmith suggests looking at our environment as if it was a person. Can you think of a co-worker, past or present that just seemed to rub you the wrong way? I know I can. If I was going to be in a meeting with this person in the morning, I noticed how I was reacting long before the meeting started. In the car on the way there I was already getting defensive, upset and thinking of what to say to them. This is far from me at my best. The problem was not the person, but my reactions to them. When prompted by a good friend to think about that person through a different lens—the things I respected about them, how they made our team better, etc.—my response immediately changed and so did the relationship.

Remember, everything from our thoughts, beliefs, people we hang out with, and the physical places we inhabit, are environments. Think back to the last time you were travelling to a city for the first time. Did you see things with a fresh pair of eyes? Did you get curious and start asking questions? Or how about the last time you were talking to people outside your industry? I bet you came up with new ideas and perspectives.

Being intentional about changing your environments is key to changing your behavior.

3) Learn Less, Apply More

For many years I have been an avid reader of business books. I love learning new ways to do business from leaders from around the world. I could sound “smart” at a cocktail party, showing off how much I knew.

Problem was for many years I “knew” a lot, but didn’t follow through with behavior change from the lessons I learned. Knowing and doing are two very different things. We don’t have a knowledge problem, we have a taking action problem.

My advice: read less, apply more. When I learn something new of interest, I immediately ask “how can I can apply this?

Two years ago a good friend of mine told me: “I love going to events you host, and meeting such interesting people. I always walk away inspired and with new ideas, I just wish you hosted more events”

Interesting. So I asked her a few more questions and found out that she loved sharing and learning from people in other industries. She liked that she was talking to people who had a relationship with me, as she felt an immediate trust and bond.

So what did I do? I invited 10 cool people to my first ever group leadership program. The first steps were scary as hell—but 18 months later my clients love it and get results.

It’s funny, the clarity I got about answering the question “what do you do for a living?” came as a direct result of these three takeaways (and I didn’t even realize it). The group leader of the superpowers exercise started by asking us great questions like: “why do clients hire you?” “what is the outcome you produce?” “how do they feel about working with you?”

My answers came as a direct result of those questions, not to mention that I was in new environment, at a super cool conference centre meeting new business leaders. And finally, if they gave us a book on defining our superpowers and asked us to read it, I can honestly say I would not have gotten the same result. Learning more was not the issue, the action was where the result was waiting for me.

So next time you see me at a reception, please come over and ask me what I do for a living. I’m ready for you.

Inspire Innovative Thinking — Get Creative to Get Results

One of my favorite ways to start a presentation to a team of employees, whether it’s sales, marketing, customer service, or just about any team seeking new ways to inspire innovative thinking, is with the following exercise:

I ask everyone to write down the name of a company or product that they absolutely love, and are loyal customers to that brand. It should be a product or company that they spread the word about even though they are not on the payroll.

Go ahead and play along! Take a second to write down the name of a company that you absolutely love.

In seconds, you see people smile as they jot down their answer. Immediately, they are in a better mood.

One of my favorite companies is Porter Airlines based here in Toronto. It’s a little regional airline that just gets it. Yes you read that correctly: an airline gets it.

In an industry known for poor customer service, Porter treats everyone like a first class customer. From the little things like having employees that actually smile, to the free newspapers, coffee, cookies, wifi and much more in their private lounges. And to top it all off, they serve free alcohol on their flights.

Compare that experience to how you usually feel about a trip to the airport.

OK, back to the group of employees I am presenting to. We go around the room, and people can’t wait to share their answer, and to tell the group why they are raving fans of their favorite companies.

I record their answers on flip chart paper:

  • Outstanding customer service
  • They make me feel special
  • Exceptional quality
  • They are always innovating
  • They go above and beyond
  • They get me
  • They are quirky
  • They take care of my problems quickly

And the list goes on. What all these companies have in common is that they are creative, innovative, and are always evolving to create a unique and memorable experience for their customers.

I then step back and look at the long list, and ask “how many of these thing do you do here at Company XYZ?”

Silence. Awkward silence, where everyone suddenly gets very interested in looking at their shoes, and definitely not interested in making eye contact with me.

People recognize great companies when they see them, but often get stuck when it comes to nurturing those qualities in their own business. Furthermore, with the rapid pace of constant change, they get bogged down in keeping up with daily operations, and lack the time and bandwidth to find innovative ways to create exceptional customer experiences, or inspire innovative thinking in their teams.

Here are my top tips to help you inspire innovation, and get better results:

Borrow Ideas from Other Industries

Often we hang out mostly with people from our own industry. The problem is we see the world through a very similar lens. Bankers think like bankers, lawyers think like lawyers, you get the idea.

To get started, simply copy the exercise that I shared in the introduction. Think through the answers in relation to a challenge you are currently facing. If you’re suffering from slow customer response times, look to businesses in other fields that excel in that area. A high customer churn rate? Figure out which businesses inspire loyalty, and look for inspiration in their services. Do some research and ask around. Make a list of your team’s five favorite companies (bonus points if they aren’t in your space), and brainstorm how you think they would handle your current challenges.

Start in a Small Way

There is a great book called The Spirit of Kaizen by Jakob Browning, that discusses the anxieties and challenges that often accompany change.

Often when we hear the words “innovation,” or “creativity,” our minds draw a blank. Maybe you think back to high school art class and think “I’ve never been creative,” or you just don’t know how to start the process of being innovative. I love how this is explained in the book:

“When you need to make a change, there are two basic strategies you can use: innovation and kaizen. Innovation calls for a radical, immediate rethink of the status quo. Kaizen, on the other hand, asks for nothing other than small, doable steps toward improvement.”

Sounds good, but how do we start with small steps? For example, in your next meeting, ask the group questions like: “What is one thing we can do today to make our customers feel special?” Or, “what is one bottleneck or roadblock that we can remove?”

“For reasons that nobody truly understands, the brain cannot reject small questions. Any small question, especially one you ask repeatedly, prompts your brain to begin its own Google search.”

One client I work with asked this question to his team: “What one thing we could eliminate today that would make your day?” Each of the six people on the team wrote down their answer on an index card. Five out of the six had a version of the same answer: “fewer meetings that require the entire team to be present.”

The team leader was surprised that nobody had ever mentioned this before. It opened up a real conversation with the team, and they started coming up with solutions. In a matter of ten minutes, they made a small change and piloted a program that only had one team member on each call. Six months later, the pilot is the new way of doing business for their team and everyone is loving it—and getting better results.

Only when we start asking the “small” questions can we experience BIG change.

Rethink the Lunch and Learn

Don’t get me wrong, two things I love are food and learning. Don’t ditch the concept, just rethink your approach. There are plenty of ways to combine eating and learning that don’t include listening to someone drone on from the front of the room. Here are a few ways to upgrade your next learning event. 

1) Host a TED Party

I am a big fan of TED talks, and talk about a library of choices. I just went on the site and found 215 talks on innovation! Best of all the talks are free to view, and are each less than 20 minutes.

Pick a talk, create an event (serving food helps), watch and have discussion questions ready for after the talk. Super easy, fun, and productive.

2) Take a Field Trip

Remember back in school how excited you were about taking a field trip? You got to leave behind your school and routines for a day. Changing your environments changes your thinking and opens you up to new possibilities.

Where you go is entirely up to you. I once worked with a team in NYC and suggested the idea of going to the American Girl Store on 5th Avenue, and brought some guiding questions like:

  • What was your first impression?
  • What do they do well?
  • What is one thing we could learn and apply immediately?

Even a short trip can inspire innovative thinking, and help you make connections that aren’t evident from your usual workspace.

3) Talk to Me About Having Better Conversations at Work

In just over an hour a month, I can help your team develop a learning culture that is embedded in the context of your daily operations, provides micro learning when you need it most, and results in sustainable behavior change. Sound too good to be true? Give me a call and I’ll tell you how.

We all want our organizations to succeed and thrive, and to inspire the kind of loyalty and enthusiasm that I see when I run my exercise discussing the companies that people love.

As the business landscape continues to undergo rapid and constant shifts, we can no longer rely on stability in the market (if we ever could), and need to be thinking creatively and strategically to stay ahead of the shifts.

Use these approaches to inspire innovative thinking with your team. What other creative tactics do you have for approaching problems with an innovative mindset?

Take Immediate Action, Or Get Left Behind

I’ve learned that the lunch invitations I receive are often in direct correlation to the challenges my clients are immediately facing. An urgent, challenging issue for my client, usually means an urgent lunch invitation for me.

Six months ago I received one of those “can we meet for lunch in the next few days” requests, followed almost immediately by “I will meet you wherever and whenever it works for you.” I sensed this must be a BIG urgent need.

Two days later we met, and my client shared that her team of eight people were feeling stuck, frustrated, and having a hard time meeting their numbers. The heat was on from their funder, and if they didn’t meet their numbers their pilot project was in danger of not getting renewed.  

Nothing moves people into immediate action quite like necessity. When the danger of NOT doing anything is strong, people are willing to try anything.

As I asked questions and listened, I thought there was great cause for hope. Her team was talented, they were just in a rut and feeling stuck.

My client was open and ready for change.

I developed a customized program to address their particular needs, get them excited again, and move them into immediate action.

In a few short sessions that focused on team communication and problem solving, they felt renewed hope, developed new ideas, followed up, and implemented several new initiatives. Within three months their numbers dramatically increased, their energy and enthusiasm returned, and yes, their funding got renewed.

This is the power of taking immediate action.

I recently read a fantastic book my Mel Robbins called The 5 Second Rule. I love the clarity and simplicity of her powerful message. In her words the 5 second rule is simply:

“The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move or your brain will stop you.”

The book is based on extensive research, and includes lots of successful examples for why moving into immediate action is powerful. In my experience working with individual clients or corporate teams I’ve learned that nothing destroys goals and results like inaction. I feel so strongly that the tagline on my website (and even on my pens) is: “Talk is Good, Action Is Better.”

Yes, it is easier and more comfortable to not take action and keep doing what you have always done. And the biggest excuse—and by “excuse” I mean lie—is “it’s not a good time.”

It’s never a good time. Remember it’s your goal, and if you are not willing to take immediate action then I call BS.

Here are three tactics to help move you into immediate action:

Be Honest With Yourself

As Dan Sullivan famously says, “all progress begins with telling the truth.”

What is the real reason you are not taking action? If it’s fear, I totally get it—fear freezes most people. Be honest with yourself—is your goal something that you really want, or is it something you just like to say you want?

Is employee retention important to your company? How about developing a learning culture? Then it’s time to make a commitment to both. Show me it’s important, don’t tell me it’s important. Star employees leave when they feel there is no growth. Make a plan of action, identify the first step and take it.

In my experience, the only thing that scares people more than the prospect of failure is the prospect of success. Be 100% honest with yourself.

Take Immediate Action

That means right now, like stop reading this and take the first step. I will wait. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

Many years ago I was in an all day sales seminar with about 200 other people. Just before lunch, our instructor asked us if the group was up to a challenge. Most hands went up. He then said the challenge was to get at least 10 business cards from strangers on the street over the course of our lunch hour (and we weren’t allowed to get the cards of the people attending the seminar). He asked if everyone was clear on the challenge, then said… you go.

I made my way out of the room, having no idea how I was going to accomplish the task. I took a seat on a bench and spent 2 minutes to plot out a strategy. My strategy was:

  1. Don’t approach anyone who is alone (reducing the creep factor).
  2. Be honest and tell them why I was doing this.
  3. Ask for what I wanted, in this case their business card.

I got up and headed out of the conference center onto a busy downtown street. Lucky for me, it was lunch hour and there were lots of people out. Immediately, I spotted a group of four professional women on their lunch break, waiting to cross the street. Feeling a little nervous and unsure, I reminded myself that I only had 47 minutes left to complete the task (I so did not want to be the only one who didn’t succeed).

So I approached, was honest, and asked for their cards. Immediately two of the four started to reach into their purses, while the third mentioned that I should take a short walk with them to the restaurant, where they would be meeting thirty colleagues to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday.

Jackpot. I ended up getting 23 cards and had enough time to grab my own lunch.

If I had been given three days to accomplish the task, I would have retreated into “thinking” mode and missed a golden opportunity.

Define the Cost of Doing Nothing

If your goal is personal or professional, you have already made a decision that it is important to you. You likely already thought about the benefits of accomplishing your goal, but have you identified the cost of not taking action?

What are the risks of doing nothing? List them. For organizations and team leaders, the risks can be staggering—if you’re not adapting to shifts in the business landscape, you can be certain that your competitors will happily scoop up your market share.

One company I am very familiar with would host a semi-annual, week long meeting for their sales team. The agenda for each meeting was almost always the same, you know the drill: President’s Update, followed by reviews from each area of the country, followed by marketing updates, you get the idea. Having the same people give the same presentations yielded—yes, you guessed it—the same results (or declining results).

And this would go on for five days! Innovation, creativity, new strategies and follow up were dearly missing. Most meetings ended with everyone nursing new hangovers—what’s the ROI on that?

In the last six months this company has lost numerous key staff members and are struggling to fill the vacancies, while profits are declining and morale is at an all time low. It’s a steep price to pay for doing nothing new.

Far too often, I hear from clients and colleagues that they feel stuck—and yet without concrete steps to change their circumstances, they are certain to remain in their current state. If you’re feeling the effects of inaction, I challenge you to use the 5 second rule—in the moment that inspiration strikes, get up and take the first step toward achieving your goal.

One of my favorite quotes is by the great #99, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

What are you holding back? It’s time to take your shot.

Does Your Company Really Want to Build a Learning Culture?

Far too often, I work with clients who love the idea of building a learning culture, but who aren’t taking any steps to create one. They’ve seen the dismal reports on levels of employee engagement, accepted the prevailing wisdom that learning and development opportunities are key drivers of engagement and retention, and then… they get stuck.  

Before starting a relationship with a client I always arrange a discovery session, basically it’s a chance for me to ask questions, listen, and see if we are a good fit for each other.

It’s kind of like the business version of match making. I strongly believe it’s the best way to start a potential relationship. The questions I ask usually include:

  • What does your reality currently look like?
  • Where would you like to go? What does success look like?
  • What challenges are getting in the way of your vision?
  • What are the strengths of your team?

Very quickly I get a clear sense of their vision and challenges, and if there is a potential connection. If I feel that the client is a good fit for me, one of my follow up questions is:

“On a scale of one to ten, how important is it to your company to build a learning culture?”

I usually get answers ranging from seven all the way up to ten—well above average. Interesting. I follow up with something along the lines of: “That’s amazing. What are you doing to get that score?”

Awkward silence. I try to ride this out, and wait until they start speaking. Often, it’s some version of: “Well, we had a speaker at our annual sales meeting, bought everyone a copy of the book… that pretty much blew our budget and available time… so…” They clearly know that their efforts aren’t capable of making a meaningful change in their culture.

Sound familiar? While just about every executive I know agrees that learning is an important element of a strong culture, very few of them are taking actual concrete steps to ensure that continuous learning is happening within their organizations.

Here are my top three tips to start to build a learning culture, right now. Don’t wait for your next annual all-staff meeting, or for that big industry conference. Start today, and the results will roll in sooner than you think.

1) Begin With the End in Mind

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was one of the first business books I read, and it’s status as a classic is well-earned—the advice holds up almost 30 years later.

Get clear on what success looks like for you and your team at the end of the year or quarter. What does your team need to do to meet their targets? Are there any gaps in their skills or expertise that need to be addressed? Think about “soft skills” in addition to technical requirements—does your team need to improve their ability to collaborate, or increase their agility when responding to challenges? Do you think investing time on innovative thinking, communication or teamwork is important? Define what success looks like, and reverse engineer your goal, starting with the end in mind.

I use this principle when I have a potential client. I ask them to imagine we are meeting again a year from now, after we’ve achieved an unequivocal success, and resolved the issue they brought me in to address. What does that meeting look like? What has happened to make them feel that we’ve been successful? Their answer provides me with valuable information I can use to reverse engineer a learning and development program.

2) Define Your First Step

Ever been to a “brainstorming” meeting where a challenge is given to the group and everyone comes up with a list of ideas? What happens next? Usually nothing. Take that same meeting, add 10 minutes, and ask the team lead to select one item on the list. Assign a first step toward implementing your one item. Now you’re cooking.

Too often, people try to tackle big issues that are tricky to define. They want to improve employee engagement, or increase innovation, or become more agile. Those are excellent goals, but they are too big and too nebulous to really get started. Start with a small pilot to address a particular need your team faces. If your goal is to build a learning culture, your first step might be scheduling 15 minute 1:1 meetings with each member of your team to discuss their learning and development goals. It might be to circulate one article that is relevant to the team, and scheduling a time to bring everyone together for a discussion. Clearly define what the first step will be.

3) Make Learning a Regular Part of Your Schedule

One of the challenges of starting something new is making it a regular part of your schedule. Remember in January you said you were going to get up thirty minutes early to exercise every day? Are you still doing it?

Change is challenging, so make it as easy as possible. If you have a regularly scheduled weekly or monthly meeting, attach a learning component to it. Put it in your calendar and on the agenda. Too often, I see organizations rely on one-off training sessions to provide all of their learning for teams. But learning doesn’t happen that way. We learn best in small doses that can be immediately applied to our lives. Focus on incremental, consistent changes, and you’ll start to see lasting results.

You don’t need to be a learning and development expert to see positive impact—tap into the expertise of the team and encourage them to teach each other. Find out what people are reading, watching, and listening to, and use that content to spark a discussion that applies to the work your team does. Begin with a clear vision of what success looks like, clearly define your first steps, and put your calendar to work for you.

Last but certainly not least: model the behavior you want to see. How are you learning and growing as a leader? What steps are you taking in your own professional development? Share those actions with your team! You will signal that learning is a priority within your organization, and your team will follow suit.

Too often, leaders love the idea of improving their culture, but fall short of taking the required actions. It’s time to get unstuck, to take control of the changes we want in our organizations, and to build a learning culture that teams will need to keep pace with the rapid shifts in the business landscape.

Inspiration is Fine, But Action is Better

We don’t have a knowledge problem, we have a follow through problem.

I just got an email inviting me to a one day marketing conference, and the lineup of speakers in super impressive. In fact three of my favorite authors will be presenting.

So I am going? Not a chance.

Although I enjoy conferences, national meetings for companies, and other training focused events, the truth is they don’t have a lasting impact.

Let’s say you are the head of marketing for a company. It seems like an easy win—invest the day and send the team to hear a fantastic group of speakers. Maybe they will get inspired, learn something new, and apply it when they return to work. It sounds great, and those are fine intentions.

In reality, people go to the event, jot down a copious amount of notes, have a few moments of inspiration, and then head out for drinks to recap and decompress after a fantastic day.

When they return to work, and all those notes immediately get buried under a pile of other papers. They might remember one or two new ideas, but in the hustle to catch up on the time away—missed messages, clearing out email, and recovering momentum in day-to-day tasks—figuring out the next steps to implement their ideas seems overwhelming, and is quickly forgotten.

They were inspired, yes, but without action, nothing changes, and your investment doesn’t yield any impact. Sound familiar?

So what can a time and budget starved manager do to inspire their team and get results, instead of sending them off-site? Here are my top three tips:

1) Have More Real Conversations (Or Ask More Questions)

Focus on the one, yes just one, change you would like your team to commit to. Put it into your calendar and make it a habit.

One company I work with starts every Monday morning meeting with the question: “what’s one cool thing that has caught your attention in the last week?”

Sure, sometimes it’s a funny video or article, but the laughter brings the team together. More often, it’s an inspired thought the team can apply to their daily work.

2) To Maximize Impact, Keep it Simple

When there are ten action items, how many get done?

Focus on one thing at a time: too much leads to overwhelm and inaction. What is the one thing that each member of the team will apply to get them closer to your desired result?

Read just one short piece of content—a book summary, article, infographic, etc. (videos or podcasts work too!), and have a conversation with the team about your one key takeaway.

Committing to the one action leads to change, and often triggers or sets in motion other changes that have impact on the team as well. As Gary Keller and Jay Papasan say in their book The ONE Thing: “When one thing, the right thing, is set in motion, it can topple many things.”

3) Shared Experiences Have More Impact

Every company has their legendary stories from the founders, company parties, sales meetings, etc., of the shared experiences that brought the team together.

Simply put, when we experience things together as a team, they stick. If we all share our one thing it becomes part of our daily conversations, and leads to opportunities for team members to support each other. You don’t need to send the team off-site to create a group experience—creating collaborative cultures where people are empowered to share their experiences in the moment will have a much more profound impact on the group.

I used to pride myself on reading three or four business books a month—I “knew” lot of stuff, but the problem was, I didn’t apply most of it. I picked up a few facts, but didn’t put any of them into action. Sure I could sound “smart” at a cocktail party, by saying things like “Did you read (fill in the latest business hit), it was fascinating because (insert a clever point).” But sounding smart and getting results are two very different things. I started getting results when I committed to reading less, applying more, and sharing with my friends.

Making that shift led to more fun, and better results. Talk about a win-win.

How to Stop Hiding Behind Busyness

On a weekly basis, with a variety of people, I have a version of this conversation:

I ask: How are you?
They respond: Crazy busy right now! It’s…

  • the end of the quarter, and…
  • almost time for our big launch, and…
  • already less than a month before our national sales meeting, and…
  • hectic with all the travel I have to do, and…
  • a slight variation of any of the above, and…

If I could just get through these next few weeks, I’ll be much better.

The problem with this conversation is that it happens over and over, often with the same people. One busy season is quickly replaced with another. My clients may “get through” the end of the quarter, but they are inevitably bombarded with new demands for the next quarter. They might wrap up a few weeks of extensive travel, and assume that returning to the office will be more restful, only to find that they are overwhelmed with follow-up calls and emails.

Many executives and their teams never escape the “I’m busy” phase. What’s worse is that they start to wear their busyness as a badge of honor. They seem to say, “I’m busy because my job is very important.”

Startup culture reveres the image of the perpetually busy entrepreneur. We love stories about people who sacrificed everything for the success of their business—the sleep deprived, no time for a personal life, running on coffee and a dream-type of people who work 90 hours a week for years to start their business.

However, there is a very high cost to living in this constant state of busyness:

  • Stressed out and tired employees
  • Lack of creativity and new ideas
  • High turnover among burned out staff/people who realize there are better ways to work

The habit of treating busyness as a virtue is deeply ingrained in many work cultures. Take a look around your office: are people expected to read and respond to emails at all hours of the day? Are teammates powering through an illness at their desks, instead of taking time to rest and recover? Does your team routinely stay late/come in early aside from efforts to meet occasional deadlines? Is taking vacation time viewed as a luxury for people with less important work? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, your team is suffering from a busyness problem.

Now that you’ve diagnosed the problem, here are three steps you can take to shift your culture, from valuing busyness, to valuing productivity.

1) Define The Desired Outcome

The answers we get are only as good as the questions we ask. Shifting workplace culture starts with asking ourselves and our teams some tough questions:

  • What outcome are we really looking for?
  • What metrics can we use to track that outcome?
  • Is the work we do every day aligned to those outcomes?

It could be a 10% increase in sales, faster turnaround on customer service, an increase in website traffic, or whatever goal you choose to focus on. Figure out what specific metrics will help you best measure your progress, and implement a strategy for tracking them. Be as specific as you can with your desired outcomes.

2) Identify Where You and Your Team Spend Time

One of my favorite exercises with teams is to give everyone two minutes to write down the ten things they do at work every day (you can try it now! I’ll wait). When the list is finished, I follow up with the question: “what is your real goal?” People often spend their time doing busywork that doesn’t contribute directly to the goals of the team or organization.

With that in mind, go back to the ten things you just wrote down and pick the two things that will have the biggest impact on your goals, and focus your energy on those tasks.

This exercise uses the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, to identify high value tasks and projects.

3) Clear the Rest

What about the other 8 things on the list? Take a hard look at them and decide what can be eliminated, delegated, or executed quickly. Learn to spend less time on tasks that don’t directly contribute to your goals.

I recently ran a one hour session with a very busy, high performing sales team where we did this exercise. A pattern quickly emerged in their responses: they were all participating in the same conference calls, and getting cc’d on emails that they didn’t need, wasting valuable time and energy.

I applaud them and their manager because they committed to making real changes right on the spot. They eased back on the schedule for conference calls, and started only cc’ing relevant team members for each project.

One month later, I walked back into the office, and was enthusiastically greeted by one of the sales reps. She couldn’t wait to thank me for leading a conversation that reduced her stress, eased her constant “busyness,” and allowed her to focus on achieving (and exceeding!) her monthly goals. Her success was the result of a mindset shift, away from thinking of busyness as a virtue, and towards focusing on the work that matters, that paved the way for better ways of working.

In order to change in meaningful ways, we need examine our attitudes for destructive beliefs, get clear on what matters most, and engage our teams in regular, meaningful conversations.

That is, if you’re not too busy to take the first step.

Don’t Be A January Person—Sticky Behavior Change for 2017

A friend of mine is the general manager of a gym—one of hundreds of locations across the country. Guess what month brings in the most revenue? If you guessed January, you are 100% correct. It happens every year.

Two things I know for sure: 1) people love to make New Year’s resolutions; and 2) many resolutions involve some sort of improvement to their health.

At our gym we call them the “January People”: they sign up, come for 2-3 weeks, then go back to their old habits and we never see them again. Why does this happen?

While it’s especially visible at the gym, I suspect that a similar phenomenon is happening with other resolutions as well.

Let’s be honest: behavior change is challenging, and should not be attempted alone. Here are my three tips to avoid being one of the “January People” and get the results you want:

Get crystal clear on the why and the how.

If you want read more books this year, ask yourself why. Maybe you want to become more knowledgeable about marketing and selling, maybe you find that it relaxes you, or it simply makes you happy.

When you get clear on “why” you want to change your behavior, it becomes much easier to commit to doing it.

The next step is to clearly define “what” behavior change will look like. In the case of reading more, it could be reading 10 pages a day, reading for a set amount of time each week, or reading a summary of a business book twice a week. Be specific about what you will do: a confused mind always says no.

Look to the success of others as proof that you can do it.

Believing that you are capable of making a behavior change is an important step, and one that is often ignored. You have little chance of success if you have serious doubts that you can do it.

Eleven years ago I signed up to run my first marathon. The problem was that I had never run more than a few laps around the football field back in high school. Did I believe I could run 42.2 kilometers? I needed a little convincing.

On the advice of a friend, I went to the finish line of a local marathon—but not at the 2 plus hour mark when the winners finished—at the 5 hour mark, when the people that looked like me finished. It was powerful to witness. People were running in memory of loved ones, in support of charities they cared about, or simply to cross something off their bucket list. It was inspiring and I could so see myself doing it. My doubts about my ability to achieve my goal started to fade away, and I was able to commit to my training plan. I finished my first (of three!) marathons five months later.

Take Baby Steps Every Day.

Remember the movie What About Bob? Bill Murray plays a patient of Richard Dreyfuss who wrote a book on behaviour change called Baby Steps (you can watch a funny scene here). Though the example is a bit light-hearted, the principle is sound. In his book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy discusses the impact of making consistent, incremental behavior changes—the results are astounding!

The key is to define baby steps each day that can move you closer to your goal. We can’t lose 40 pounds in one day, but we can define the first steps to take. For me it was eating an apple and drinking 8 glasses of water every day.

What do “baby steps” look like for you? Put it in your calendar, or on your to-do list like any other task.

Many people start the New Year with unbridled optimism, and plans for massive lifestyle changes. There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic or making big plans. But to truly change, you also need a healthy dose of realism: if you think it can happen overnight, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  

As we head into the 2017, remember that you can change your behavior year round—you don’t need to wait for January 1 to come around again to become a better version of yourself. And don’t be a “January person” and give up when things get tough–picture your win, and set out to achieve it, day by day.

Avoiding Supply Teacher Syndrome

An old friend and client invited me to lunch this summer, to catch up and ask for my advice. After trading updates about our families, health, and golf scores, he came right out and said:

“I’m frustrated with my team, it’s seems like they have hit a wall and can’t come up with any new ideas. They are struggling to hit their targets, and keep doing the same old things over and over. I can’t seem to motivate them to think differently.

And you know the deal, budgets have been totally cut on professional development, or I would just hire you to get them going. Luckily I have budget to buy you lunch. Do you have any advice for me?”

So, you want results and don’t have any budget? Not exactly music to the ears of a consultant.

Fortunately his dilemma struck a chord with me. Although I have been a speaker and corporate trainer for many years, it has really bugged me how appalling the results were from some corporate training initiatives.

It goes something like this: the company is in need of some teamwork, visioning, communication, time management, fill-in-the-blank-here, training. They call in someone like me to “fix” the issue. Now, I think I’m pretty good, but honestly there are way better options.

Remember in high school when you had a supply teacher? Did you give them your full attention? I didn’t.

After being introduced to the group I could see the “this guy will be gone by lunch” look on the faces of my classmates (and was probably making that face myself). As for follow up and accountability, there was usually none.

This is the model used in a lot of front of the room training programs. And this model wasn’t working for the client or for me.

In my early days as a corporate trainer, my boss shared a model that would remain with me forever. It’s called the Kirkpatrick/Phillips Model of Evaluation. In short, there are five levels in evaluating a training initiative/program, they are:

  1. Did they like it?
  2. Did they learn anything?
  3. Did they apply the learning to their work?
  4. Did they achieve measureable results?
  5. What was the ROI for the business?

My boss shared with me that most training in North America only reaches level 1 and 2, and that my goal is always to reach the top levels. It’s a lesson I have never forgotten, and to achieve the upper levels there must be something that most training is sadly missing—follow up and accountability.

Now back to my lunch meeting and the advice I shared. While a business consultant can help direct conversations, interpret feedback and other metrics, and direct initiatives from a strategic perspective, there are a number of tactics that team leaders can use to improve performance and cultivate a learning culture in their teams:

  1. Start: I know it sounds obvious, but pick a date, schedule a room and start. It becomes real when you have a date. Go ahead and send out the invites.
  2. Have a Team Leader Run the Session: Unlike the supply teacher, the team WILL listen and support someone who is on the field with them every day. The leader understands the issues in context, and will be there long after the session is finished.
  3. Follow Up: The key is not what is learned and talked about in the room, the real results are in the follow up. As I often say: “talk is good, action is better.” To stand out from the other (potentially time wasting) meetings, have everyone commit to one thing that they learned and how they will apply it. Asking the question, “what’s your first step” is a great way to clarify and get the ball rolling. Check in to see how team members are progressing toward their commitment at your next meeting, and then repeat the process.

My friend left our lunch meeting with an action plan and a newfound excitement. After focusing on leader led conversations, he was pleasantly surprised at how well the staff responded to new ideas and collaboration.

I am the first to admit that there are great times to bring in an outside speaker or consultant to provide a fresh perspective and inject some energy. However, real lasting results happen when leaders invest in themselves and their teams and have regular ongoing conversations.

How To Grow Your Business? Ask Yourself Some Difficult Questions.

“Do you know who I am? I’m kind of a big deal.”
Ron Burgundy from the movie Anchorman

This was my thinking for many years as a keynote speaker in the corporate and healthcare space. I admit I liked the attention, traveling across North America doing keynotes to large audiences in the healthcare space. (I live with Type 1 Diabetes, and host an inspirational online TV show called “The Sugar Free Shawn” Show). Conference planners, marketing managers of pharma and medical companies kept me busy year-round with speaking requests.

In addition, there were the corporate speaking engagements to sales and senior management teams on innovative thinking, brand loyalty and much more.

In short, life was good, or at least that was what I was telling myself.

But things were far from good. I was burning myself out, while not building a sustainable business, or helping my clients solve their challenges.

Oh sure, they liked, or sometimes loved, my presentations and programs, but three things rang true:

I was burning myself out.
I was not building long-term solutions for clients.
This could be not be sustained.
But how could I leave behind such great opportunities, and build a sustainable business?

It was time to have a conversation with the person that was holding me back — me.

As I thought through what needed to change, the following three questions helped me immensely.

1) What did I want?

As a coach, “what do you want?” is often the first question I ask of clients. Now it was time for me to return to answering that question for myself.

My list included:

Stop trading time for money.
Less travel.
Working with fewer companies/people, but establishing a deeper more meaningful relationship with each.
More time off.
It was time for me to see a new vision, and work daily to make it happen.

2) What did my clients want?

The great news was that my clients were very happy with my work and continued to hire me. The questions I needed to ask them were: “What is the real goal here?” and “At the end of the year what outcomes would you be thrilled with?”

Just asking these questions got them thinking longer term, and with a higher ROI.

The real goal was not having me speak to their sales teams and give them some tips, but rather coach them on a long-term basis and support them on reaching their goals.

Now both the client and I were working together on the same goal.

The answer also got both of us thinking differently about solutions, and not just going back to the “hire a speaker for a day” model. They wanted deeper solutions that added bigger value to their business.

3) How do I start with the new vision?

Ten years ago, I read the amazing book by Michael Gerber called “The E-Myth“. The book was focused on challenges that entrepreneurs face in building their business.

One concept that hit home for me was “work on your business, not in your business.”

I loved that idea, problem was I had no idea how to do that.

Here are the first three things I did to start my new business vision.

Find examples of other people that have sustainable businesses and learn from them. I reached out to people like Michael Port, Elizabeth Marshall, Jenny Blake and Chris Taylor and asked them the questions I wanted answers to, and applied them.

Return to a beginner’s mind. It’s easy to revert back to what we already know and are comfortable doing. For me, that was doing a lot of one off speaking gigs. I needed to forget what I already knew, and be an active and engaged student in learning a new model for me.

Take immediate action. Instead for reading, talking and planning it was time to jump in and experiment. There will never be a perfect time to launch, and the real learning happens while doing.

When I launched my online TV Show, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I started. Show them, don’t tell them.

I’ve decided to leap again this time, and find a new sustainable way forward.