Compelling reasons to buy

One of the vendors I’ve used for the last 20 years or so recently shipped a new release. With that comes a close-to-$1000 invoice. As always, the discussion in the community of users of this tool is “Should I upgrade?” Some will upgrade because they think their failure to buy will somehow cause the company go out of business. Others buy because there’s something important in the new release that they need. The bottom line to me is: “What’s the compelling reason to buy?” I mention this because YOU need to give your buyers a compelling reason to buy. 

Whether you sell software, cars, gaskets, chainsaws, yachts, bow ties, or meat & meat by-products. Your chances of success are better when you meet someone’s needs and/or wants with a compelling offer. If you don’t, they’re as likely to do nothing as they are to buy what you sell. 

I tend to talk about software – or at least use it for context. Don’t let that throw you. Think about your product / market when I mention software.

What does compelling mean?

When trying to figure out what’s compelling about your product or service, try these angles:

  • What improvement will repeatedly save money / pay for itself?
  • What will save a substantial amount of time? An hour a week? 15 minutes a day? 5 minutes a day?
  • Does this new thing protect my work, make it harder for me to make mistakes, or streamline a process? 
  • Will it transform a particular outcome in a way that makes it faster, more dependable, or otherwise “better”? 
  • Is it smaller, bigger, faster, slower, or more efficient?
  • Has a long-standing flaw been fixed?
  • On a 38 degree evening in the middle of a blustery rainstorm, will it get you off the couch & into the car to go buy “the thing”, despite the fact that you’re watching the last 10 minutes of a close ballgame or your favorite movie?

If you aren’t sure what your customers find compelling about your product, ask. Even if you think you’re sure, ask. Every conversation you have with your customers about where they see the value is golden. They’ll tell you what others like them need & want. Best of all, they’ll use language that’ll resonate with those people.

What isn’t compelling? Guilt.

I don’t want them to go out of business.” or “I haven’t sent them any money in a while.

Did you ever make a sale because one of your customers worried that you’d close without them buying something? Has one of your customers sent you a check because they hadn’t sent you money in a few months or years?

Look, I get it. I find it hard to walk past the older Eastern European grandmas selling veggies at the Farmer’s Market without buying something. Call me a sucker for grandmas. Guilty as charged. Of course, then it’s back to the car to get the bag. Then you have to fill the bag… but I digress.

And sure, I’ll buy popcorn, candy, or coffee from a kid who comes to the door and musters up more nerve than many adult salespeople have in the last year – mostly because they’ll explain WHY they’re selling. Otherwise, buying out of obligation or guilt doesn’t resonate with me.

You might wonder why I feel that way in the context of all the things I write here about creating a community of your customers, building a relationship with them, if not a co-dependency, etc.

Easy.

Long-term customer success

Those things are focused on creating a better long-term experience for the customer. ALL of it is about serving the customer. Making things easy for the customer. Helping them find others like them so that together they can do more than they could individually.

While such things make life better for the company once they get momentum / critical mass, there’s a dichotomy. Until the customers get more value, meaning, fulfillment, productivity, etc – the company creating those relationships, community, etc gets little or nothing. Loving your customers and their success is an important part of such efforts. The long term benefits to your company come from curating that success of your customers. 

It isn’t that you’re making your customers become successful. You’re simply creating an environment where the ones doing the right things can find the people and tools they need to get more from their efforts. 

Politics in the workplace

Politics and work – do they mix well? As political communication seems to approach something resembling “say nothing or go psycho“, politics can become tougher at work. I love intelligent conversations with people I don’t (and do) agree with. But finger poking, red-faced, screaming rants? I’m gone. I’d rather watch hot dogs being made.

That politics and work don’t mix well does not mean that the mix is unavoidable or unmanageable. Employees whose politics are a mix of “us and them and them” can get along & be productive as a team. That doesn’t mean the company isn’t going to have to deal with conflicts. Avoiding these problems requires some care when hiring, and that still won’t guarantee you’ll avoid problems related to political differences between employees. 

The mission is rarely politics

You may prefer to hire people who are very serious about their political views, particularly if they match your views. That’s OK.  No matter where your team members align themselves politically, they need to understand what really aligns them as employees. There’s a single thing to align with when they’re at work and/or when representing your business. That they’re “invested in delivering upon the mission of their employer in the service of the employer’s customers.” 

Every business has a culture, whether it’s intentional or not. If you hire people who are incapable or unwilling to adopt that culture, they probably won’t be around long. How politics is handled in the work environment is a part of a company’s culture. Part of delivering upon the employer’s mission is taking care of their customers in a way that is defined by the employer. Some employers are better at defining this than others. All companies define this by example & through their culture, if not via training.

Leading by example

You’ve probably heard about people being fired because of public actions / statements. Sometimes these are political in nature, sometimes the person is simply being a jerk (or worse). I wrote a few weeks ago about an executive chosen for a job who lost it the next day. Online posts that were incongruent with the role of being a senior leader in that industry were costly.

While everyone has a right to their views, how they are communicated in public may reflect upon their employer. It isn’t always that simple. Our political views tend to define how we work, in whole or in part. They can be at the core of who we are & how we got there. Still, we must lead by example. 

What leaders say

Imagine hearing the CEO of a national fast food chain publicly stating “Our food is gross. I can’t believe our employees make it, much less have the gall to serve it. What kind of people are they?” Who at that company would feel motivated by their work after hearing that? If that person was named CEO at a different company, how would the new company’s staff react?

Would you expect that CEO to have your back in a situation where a CEO should have your back? How would you like to be one of that company’s salespeople after hearing that quote? What would your response be when a prospect repeated the quote to you after you finished your highly-polished sales pitch? 

How does that situation not become all about that leader?

Losing sight of the mission

Politics creates problems in the workplace when someone has not only chosen a political viewpoint, but defines themselves by it. It ceases to be about issues and candidates. It won’t be about how they should respond based on their experience / training. It could become about how someone with their views should respond to work situations. 

When an employee’s actions are no longer about the business or the customer, you have a problem. At that point, you get to decide what’s more important: that employee’s views, or your business. It won’t be easy, particularly if you share their politics.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want the person who did / said / wrote these things to manage the people I’ve put in place to care for my customers and the future of my business?
  • Do I want them interacting with my customers?
  • Do I want them representing me and my business in public in this manner?

Whether the answers are yes or no, make sure your people know.

Driving hard at stretch goals

A couple of months ago, I was driving to Banff to meet some friends in a rig we call the Scoutmobile. About an hour into the drive, the engine’s temperature started heading into risky territory. I was in an area where there was very little room to pull over, so I started looking for a safe, roomy place to get off the road. In management-speak, this would be a stretch goal.

While searching for a place to stop, I used common engine overheating delay tactics: turn on the heat, slow down, etc. I had a simmering suspicion that a blown head gasket was coming home to roost. This rig had close to 300K miles on it, so this wasn’t an outlandish possibility. As this suspicion moved toward reality, it was obvious that simple overheating delay tactics wouldn’t help for long. I needed to stop.

Stretch goals and context

Getting to a safe, roomy stopping place became a new and much smaller stretch goal because the context changed. Frankly, making the 400 mile drive to Banff and getting back without mechanical trouble was really the stretch goal. Given the rig’s mileage and concern about the head gasket, I had wondered for months if it would survive the trip.

Once the engine temperature started rising, my decision making context changed. Meeting friends in Banff was off the table. Finding an ideal place to pull over became the stretch goal. Getting off the road was possible, but not quickly. Leaving the road in a nice wide spot so I wouldn’t cause traffic issues became the stretch goal. 

As I finally rolled into a safe spot out of traffic, the engine lost the little remaining power it had and locked up. The first time it stranded me in 17 years turned out to be our last drive together. While I made the stretch goal even in the altered context, even that seemingly tiny stretch goal was too much for the situation. That’s the lesson here – attention to changing context is critical.

Stretch goals aren’t the problem

I don’t mean to say that stretch goals are bad. They aren’t, but context is critical. When my trip’s decision making context changed, so did my goals for the day. Looking back, it’s possible that stopping immediately would have prevented the locked up motor. I didn’t want to partially block a lane on a two lane highway. That as my justification to push a little bit further – a stretch goal. 

When you decide on stretch goals, be sure you aren’t going to drive your team too long at “redline”. Redline (in automotive terms) is the maximum speed at which an engine and its components are designed to operate without causing damage to the engine.

Making your monthly sales goal in three weeks is a classic time to give your team a stretch goal for the month. Adding requirements to the final days of a project that’s already behind will all but guarantee late delivery. Likewise, shrinking a timeline they’re already likely to miss is a good way to sour a hard-fought win.

Race drivers will repeatedly push a race car’s engine to or a bit beyond redline because that’s when they get the most from their engine. Thing is, they won’t do it for long. Pretty soon, they’ll shift or brake. They know redline is there for a reason and pushing the engine beyond normal operating limits for too long will end badly.

Running at redline

Prolonged running at redline has similar effects on people. Someone can work a couple of 80 to 100 hour weeks under near-term deadline conditions and some will do so willingly if they believe in the goal. 

Where this goes bad is when it becomes “normal” to work like this. Do this and some (probably all) aspects of their lives will suffer. They’ll not have (or make) time for family, or taking care of themselves. Eating and exercise habits will suffer. They’ll have less (or no) time for friends, the dog, yard, car, hobbies, etc. Rest will suffer, so their ability to focus, concentrate and show patience will be affected. Burning bridges at home combined with a drop in work quality / output can permanently create morale / attitude problems. 

Sometimes limits really are limits. Exceed them too often for too long and you’ll damage engines, people, relationships and before long, your company. 

Delegate being right

When you run solo business, you work in a bit of an echo chamber. Every decision is yours. You get used to being right, because the market is the only thing to tell you otherwise. Even wrong might not be all that wrong. Maybe you weren’t as right as you could have been – and perhaps market condition changes created that scenario. When you’re on your own, you’re the best at everything in your company because there isn’t anyone else.

Decisions change after hiring

As soon as you hire someone, that changes.

Presumably your first hire is better than you or smarter than you at *something*, otherwise – why did you hire them? Most founders / owners are generalists, but are very, very good at a few things. Hiring someone worse than you for any role outside of your sweet spot is crazy.

The arrival of a new team member starts the process of discovery. As you learn their true abilities, you can begin to leverage their ideas, opinions, perspectives, and experience. You may delegate some decisions to them, while continuing to make the majority of them. At that point, discussions about decisions tend to take one of two directions:

  • I’ll make the decision and tell you what I’ve decided.
  • Tell me what you’re thinking, how you’d make this decision, and why. I will still make the decision, but I want to hear any insight your background, training and experience tell you. To me, hearing how you arrived at the decision is as important as the decision itself.

I suggest the second angle. For the decisions you begin to delegate, you can see from the second angle the importance of explaining how you’d make them and why. Their thought process may not be identical to yours, but they need to understand your decision making process and what factors you see as important. 

Delegate with intent

Delegating isn’t solely about making decisions. There are many ways to design something, setup a trade show booth, make a sales presentation, etc.  Once you hire someone better than you at a particular task, you should expect that some of your past work will eventually appear less than ideal. 

It’s difficult to delegate the work that you’ve always done. Your staff will do things differently than you, and probably better than you. Does this make you wrong? No. Should it put you on the defensive or embarrass you? Don’t let it. Celebrate it. They’re doing exactly what you hired them to do – relieve you of the work and the cognitive load related to that task. 

You may not realize that you become defensive when “wrong” or when your past work no longer passes muster. Be aware of your reactions to these events. If your team sees you become defensive when proven wrong or when your work is improved upon, people will avoid making those situations happen again. It isn’t worth it to them. They’re likely to agree with everything, or worse, add nothing. They’ll say things like “Nope, I don’t have anything to add”, “I’m good.”, or “That’s fine.

Losing decision / process trust

The pain you create when you’re proven wrong changes people’s input. When being right or better seems more important than good results, you lose their trust. You hired them because they’re skilled, yet you’re uncomfortable when they inevitably show it. 

They’ll change their interaction as they learn when & where you have to be right. They may downplay their opinions & work reveals, despite being better than you at certain work. They may suppress experience / data used to make a point during meetings. This won’t happen because they don’t like their work or want the best for the company, but simply to avoid stirring you up.

Over time, they’ll avoid expressing anything in public that’s counter to your position – even when you need it. They’ll censor themselves in private discussions with you. Eventually, they’ll have no input at all, and because this happens gradually, you may not notice the change. If it gets that far, you’ve probably lost them – particularly when it involves previously motivated, engaged staffer. 

It’s tough adding new people to the mix. Give them some rope. Let them prove they can handle the work you hired them for. The freedom they provide by taking work off your plate provides valuable time you can leverage on the work you’re best at. 

Focus time & cruising altitude

Earlier this week, I quoted a software developer who posted this comment on Twitter:
Surgeon: This procedure will take three hours. Manager: Ok, I can give you from 9:00 to 10:00, 11:00 to 12:00 and 2:00 to 3:00. The rest of the day you’ll be in meetings. Ridiculous, right? Now, imagine the surgeon is a software developer.” 

Someone on LinkedIn suggested that this was OK since the three hours needed (in the software context) were still available that day. I wasn’t sure if their assertion was serious or not, so I offered the following analogy to clarify why these two schedules are so different.

Not all three hour lengths of time are the same. If it takes three hours to fly from NYC to Chicago, you can fly non-stop. However, you can also get there if you fly from NYC to Buffalo, then from Buffalo to Cincinnati, then from Cincinnati to Chicago. You still spend roughly the same three hours in the air, but it’s far less efficient. Getting into the work (not the same as starting it), then stopping to change focus for the meeting,  then switching back to the focus work and getting into it again (twice) is much like the three sets of climb out, cruise, descend.

Three hours in a single block is a bit different than three hours scattered across a single day. However, there are a few other considerations for anyone doing work that requires focus.

Non-stop is better for focus

If you flew for three hours from NYC to Chicago, you might have two hours at cruising altitude to get some work done or watch The Office.

If you flew from NYC to Buffalo, then to Cincinnati, then to Chicago, each of those three short flights are going to consist mostly of climb out and descent. You’re going to have very little focus time thanks to the short flight length and the hectic nature of a rushed in-cabin service. It’s likely that you’re going to find that time useful for reading, light analysis and little else.

In addition, you have to spend time boarding, getting off the plane, changing gates, and waiting for the next boarding window. If things go well, you won’t have a delay caused by a mechanical issue, weather, or the lack of a crew (it happens). Even then, you still have to “prep” for the flight: get on the plane, wait, fly, wait a bit more, then get off the plane.

It’s a lot like going to a meeting. Exit current task, meeting prep, meeting,  debrief / summarize, move to next task / meeting. 

Focus killers only need a toehold

The other thing about these breaks between those precious one hour segments is that they open the door to chaos. In other words, someone pulls you into a meeting, or you get distracted by someone who needs help with a problem, etc. 

Got a minute?” never takes a minute – and there are plenty of opportunities for got-a-minutes on the way to/from a meeting. Even if you work remotely,  the fractured time between your focus sessions are subject to this. 

One way to avoid this during your focus work sessions (even the short ones) is to put yourself in do-not-disturb (DND) mode on your phone, email, etc. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, do so. Despite that, there will be occasions where something serious could require your involvement. The big ones are tough to avoid. The little ones that wait… those are the ones you want to defer / delay during focus time. 


Meetings aren’t bad, but…

Meetings are often essential to make sure everyone is well informed, “on the same page”, and / or coordinated for the next effort. Yet meetings are often looked upon by the attendees as unproductive, expensive, & wasteful of employee time. 

Effective meetings have these characteristics:

  • Have an agenda.
  • Have one person keeping the meeting on agenda.
  • Include only those folks who need to be there.
  • Begin on time.
  • End on time.
  • Allow a few minutes to transition to the next meeting if attendees have back-to-back meetings.
  • Are summarized at the end to make sure there are no misunderstandings, misreads, or “I missed that”s. 

If the meetings you call don’t fit this profile, see if you can improve them one characteristic at a time. Meanwhile, do what you can to help your team get blocks of focus time. 

Really bad advice

If you know people who have owned their own business for a long time (or maybe not so long), they’ll have lessons to pass on. What you’ll typically receive from these people is rarely (if ever) going to be bad advice. I suspect most of these folks will be happy to suggest things you shouldn’t do, as well as things they recommend doing.

Here’s the secret process to making this work for you: Find a business owner. Ask an open ended question, like “What do you think about (something)?” In the meantime, here’s some really bad business advice for you. You may detect a little sarcasm. Or a lot. 

It’s OK to fall behind in bookkeeping. No one really keeps up with it anyway, right? Also, never get a bookkeeper, even if you think you might only need them part time. You can handle it. 

Never guarantee your work. As long as you’ve been paid, the job is done. The consumer needs to do the legwork to figure out who does quality work and who doesn’t. They are expected to take on 100% of the risk of their shopping choices. 

Ignore your customers once you get their money. If they want something, they’ll tell you. Until then, leave them alone until they show up with more money. 

Customer service is a waste of money. Your customers are smart enough to figure out how to use your products and services. If they aren’t, they’ve already paid. The really stumped ones will pay again even if they haven’t figured it out. 

Be difficult to do business with. It gets rid of the lazy customers and those who aren’t willing to cater to your way of doing things. Or maybe you should be easy to do business with. You decide. 

Safety isn’t a big deal. If your existing folks get hurt, you can always find new people to take their place. 

Internet security risks are overblown. All the hype about viruses and hackers and stuff is mostly made up to sell software that probably doesn’t do anything. 

Never call references. There’s really no need to try and find out if a candidate is motivated, or lazy, or awesome, etc. Don’t call them. Just keep hiring people and replace the bad ones.  Calling them is a waste of time because it’s almost certain that their lawyer has advised them not to tell you anything. If they’re a smart person like you, they probably don’t have a lawyer and do it all themselves. Doesn’t matter. They still wouldn’t tell you because that airline magazine said don’t tell anyone anything if they call about former employees. 

Try to be your own lawyer or CPA. Everyone thinks this is a good idea. I know all I need to know about lawyer-ing from that Law and Order show (Whomp-whomp). Accounting and the law is nothing more than math and stern letters. 

Marketing is for losers. If your product or services are good enough, you shouldn’t need to waste time and money on advertising.  

People don’t need to be trained. If they didn’t know what they were doing, we wouldn’t have hired them. 

Salespeople rarely tell the truth. Even better, they rarely stick around for more than a few months, so it’s OK to pay them low commissions. Since they won’t be around long, it’s cool if they make up stories about your products and services as long as it closes a sale. 

Foster a dog-eat-dog mentality among your employees. If they’re competing with each other, they’ll either get better or quit. They’ll also be too busy jockeying for position to spend any time getting together and causing trouble.

Never assume that your clients are smart. Presumably you’ve never suggested that your work is easy enough for your clients to do without you. If they were smart, you wouldn’t make so much money specializing in cleaning up the carnage caused by do it yourself clients.

Databases and customer relationship management is for people who can’t close. Relationships with customers are something for people who can’t sell.

When in doubt, use sarcasm. Seriously, though… All of the items above are obviously (I hope) sarcastic suggestions, so do the opposite. Business is hard enough without taking bad advice, particularly sarcastically bad advice.

Hiring well saves money

When times get tight in our businesses, we look for places to cut expenses (as well as increase revenue). We might cut marketing costs based on the size of the expense (not wise). You might review the performance of your lead sources & reduce / eliminate some that aren’t performing well. In a business that manufactures things, we’d look at automation and raw material costs. We also look at ways to reduce waste. We’re also likely to look at hiring and staff-related expenses.

Getting rid of folks generally creates production and process challenges, but there are “easy” cuts sometimes. So-called easy cuts might include “extra” people, poor performers, and folks who aren’t adapting well to your culture, work, etc. Thing is, these are last minute cost-savings tactics with their own costs – and I’m not referring to unemployment insurance or severance. Our hiring process and ongoing curation of our team rarely gets a look – and that’s where the long term savings are hiding.

Careful hiring can avoid disruption

In general, business owners are a little impatient. Like the girl in Willy Wonka, we want it NOW. However, that sort of impatience is not a good investment at hiring time.

When we don’t take the time to learn enough about a candidate, we risk disrupting our business far and above the level of disruption that a need or departure has created. When we hire badly, we take even more time to fill the position. We create a mess trying to fit the person in, salvage the hire (or place them in another role), and perhaps get rid of the person and end up looking again. Making a hiring mistake can turn the wrong candidate’s life upside down. Getting hired is as much of a pain as hiring someone – and just as difficult.

A bad hire doesn’t imply a bad person. Sometimes, you get the wrong person for the role. Maybe there’s a skill / experience mismatch, or a culture fit that doesn’t work. Sometimes, there’s a behavioral / motivational issue. As such, it makes sense to work a little harder and a little longer to find the right person the first time. 

Hiring better almost always takes longer and it’s certainly more work. I hear and read a lot of “can’t find anyone qualified” comments, but that’s often more about your company, the role, and your pay / benefits scale than it is a lack of people. Hiring isn’t something to rush. It’s one of the biggest investments you’ll make. Hiring before you’ve found the right candidate can be incredibly costly in time, money, morale, and other areas. 

A rough example

A scenario like this played out in Missoula last week. A prominent public facing position became open due to a medical retirement. A replacement was named rather quickly, at least it seemed so. Soon after, the replacement’s comments on social media surfaced. Among other things, they were not particularly complimentary of the company’s industry. Other comments by the candidate received a lot of reaction. In some cases, they wouldn’t matter. It appeared the candidate’s social posts hadn’t been reviewed by the employer, who rescinded the offer the next day. 

Reviewing a candidate’s social media posts may seem like a trivial thing to do. It might even seem like a silly waste of time. However, it’s become essential part of the hiring process and it’ll likely take less than an hour. 99% of the time, you’ll find nothing disqualifying. You’re almost certain to learn more about what’s important in the candidate’s life. The remaining one percent of the time – it’s likely to save you from making a mistake. This is particularly true for hires that might stick for 20-30 years.

I know… when you find a highly qualified candidate, you don’t want to look for disqualifying info. Do it anyway. It’s important to understand as much as possible about a candidate BEFORE you hire them, for your sake and theirs. 

That position has been temporarily filled by the person who planned to retire. My guess is that this generous act will allow the business a bit more deliberate hiring process this time around. 

This isn’t about what happened in Missoula. It’s about what might happen to your business. The time you might waste. The disruption to your business and to the life of the person you hire by mistake. Hire carefully and intentionally. 

Procrastination is free, right?

If you’re like me, you have a list of tasks that need to get done – and some of those, you’ve put off. But then, the T-Rex of efficiency, git-r-done and productivity steps into your mindset and tears the place up. For many of us, procrastination is on par with an Olympic sport, even if we get a ton of work done. 

Mental friction

It isn’t that procrastination means you’re lazy, good for nothing, or less likely to win “Most likely to succeed”. It’s N-O-R-M-A-L. That doesn’t mean you should revel in it. Procrastination is mental friction. We have so many reasons for doing it. For example, it’s SO easy when the thing you want to do is something you hate doing. I mean really – who wants to do something they hate doing? It’s easy to let that puppy slide to next week.

Alternatively, you might not be very good at the things you procrastinate over – and that’s OK. Your superpower might be x or y, but doing z makes you feel incompetent. This doesn’t make you Looney Tune. It’s normal not to be a superhero at every single thing that it takes to run your business. It’s also normal to think you’re supposed to be that superhero.

After all, you started the business by yourself umpteen years ago and got it to where it is today (or close) with not much (or any) help. Naturally that means you have to keep being the superhero in all areas as your business grows 10X over a decade, right?

Sure it does. Not really. One of the biggest challenges to owners growing a business is having the mindset that they have the ability to do it all at $1MM or $2MM or $5MM in sales simply because they were able to do it all between zero and $300K in sales. How many plates do you think you can keep spinning at one time? 

I hate, so I procrastinate

We “hate” some work tasks for different reasons. Maybe you really do despise a certain type of work. But that isn’t all that makes you dislike doing it. It might be that you’re not confident about the work you do in that area, even if you are capable of doing it. 

If you hate doing a particular task or type of work – see if there’s a way to delegate or outsource it. This seems like an obvious thing, but I find this happening frequently out there in Procrastinationlandia. Seriously, if you hate certain work, we’re going to have this conversation again and again. Worse yet, YOU are going to have that conversation again and again. It sounds something like this: “Well, I really need to do some bookkeeping, but …” and then the voice in your head interrupts to belt out “Let’s get ready to procrastinaaaaaaaaate!” (Apologies to Michael Buffer)

Maybe you love bookkeeping, but your procrastination sweet spot is paperwork, preparing for presentations (even though you love the presentations), testing, ordering – whatever. It doesn’t matter what the most often procrastinated tasks area. It matters that you deal with them, somehow.  

Procrastination as a tool

A tool? I discovered this tactic recently via a podcast that I stumbled across while procrastinating between sets at the gym. Yes, that was ironic.

The idea is that your todo list for the day should (or must) include the number one thing (or things) that you’re procrastinating about. If you leverage the list of procrastinated items as your todo list, you’ll either run out of procrastinated work, or procrastinate a lot less. Get those things done and the pain shrinks, disappears or both. *That’s* the payoff. 

You see, procrastination has a mental price. It increases cognitive load, which comes at a price. The more you put off a piece of work, the easier it is to procrastinate over that item one more time. It’s been on the pile for 11 months, so what’s one more day?

Thing is, your brain doesn’t need more things to juggle. All of these little things add up and limit your ability to focus, to do good work (the stuff you haven’t put off) and in general, feel better. Think about how you feel when you get a long-procrastinated item done. 

Oh and that “like me” thing? It’s OK to admit it, but it can wait until tomorrow. 

The future of ethics

The news seems to document a consistent parade of unethical behavior by executives. You see it both in “startups” (Uber, Theranos) and in more traditional large corporations. Even if you ignore Enron, Tyco, and the well-known cases, they’re in the news almost every week. Have you ever wondered how so many people with a severe lack of ethics managed to get into leadership / ownership positions? The reasons add up.

You hired them.

My answer? “You hired them.”

OK, maybe it wasn’t you specifically. Think back through your career. Any of us who have hired someone can probably think back to a time when something happened related to a hiring, a firing, or a delivery of discipline – and we let something go.

Without thinking hard about it, your natural response is probably “Nope, not me.” I suspect that would be my answer as well, so I decided I should think back a bit and provide some examples.

Was there ever a time when a resume didn’t seem 100% up and up? Maybe there was “a little something” that made you wonder. Did you investigate? If not, did you hire them anyway?

Was there ever a time when you didn’t speak with every reference on a resume? How many hires have you made where you didn’t talk to ANY of a candidate’s references? 

Have you ever assumed a degree listed on a resume was legitimate and decided not to take the time to confirm it? 

You didn’t fire them.

Have you decided not to fire someone who deserved it – and not because of paperwork or contract requirements? 

Have you ever said “No” when someone asked if they could work from home, even for a day? If you said no, was it because you didn’t believe they would actually work? Or perhaps because you didn’t believe they’d give you a full day’s work? If you can’t trust them to do that, how can you trust them at all?

Have you kept someone who deserved to be fired, only to see them repeat the behavior that you didn’t fire them for? 

While you might’ve thought that you were doing someone a favor, you may have encouraged them to continue that behavior. It’s also possible that you helped them see the light & turn things around. Only they know for sure. 

Hiring and not firing adds up

OK, so we can probably all remember maybe one of these situations. Perhaps you can recall seeing it happen as someone more senior overrode a decision you made. Or you watched them make the decision as a leader elsewhere in the company, but you had no input into it.  You might even have been a line employee who watched it happen with a new employee. Maybe you were told to “get a warm body ASAP” and pressured to make a hire before you were ready. 

No matter how it happened, it reinforces the bad and/or unethical behavior.

Thinking back, these little things may not seem important. They put something on their expense report that really shouldn’t have been there. It’s OK, they were on the road, etc, etc.

Reinforced bad behavior creates more instances of bad behavior.

Eventually, the size and scope of this behavior will increase as success is repeated. Why? When someone gets away with these things, they gain confidence to do it again. The more it happens, the more it seems normal. The more confidence they get, the bigger the reach.

But that isn’t the worst of it. What could be worse? Like many things, ethics has a network effect.

The network effect works for good & bad. Team members with poor ethics (at any level) likely have more tolerance of bad behavior from others. Once they get into a leadership role, are they going to come down on that sort of behavior?

Everyday ethics sends signals

Recently I suggested that when people tell you who they are (in words or via behavior), believe them. Everyday behavior sends signals to indicate how they’ll behave when you leave the room. IE: how they’ll act when you’re at lunch, out of town, or sick.

Which of your people do you feel you can trust while you’re gone? Discuss it with them. They need to know how you feel. It sends signals about your leadership.

PS: The rest of your team already knows about these folks.

The danger of detachment

Events in the world have been more frustrating than usual for a while. I hadn’t managed to put a finger on what’s different, until recently. Some people would say “it’s the left“. Others will claim “it’s the right“. While the reality is a mix of both, that’s not what I’m referring to. Some would suggest that “it seems worse than it used to be” and that most of that is because we’re far more aware of things than we were in the past. Of course, this comes thanks to changes in how news is distributed – and how quickly. Also true. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to something that crosses over – affecting politics, business and much more. It’s detachment.

What’s a “frustrating” event? I’m talking about recurring, widespread activities that you might find aggravating, disgusting, dishonest, unethical (the usual “winner”), etc. As I dig deeper, I’ve become convinced that detachment is at the root of a lot of problems. 

What about detachment is a problem?

Detachment acts as insulation. It creates distance between people. It’s particularly good at creating distance between groups. By distance, I mean  a weaker relationship or no relationship at all. Less understanding. Less intimacy – not romance-wise, but a lower level of comfort.

Think about a flood on the other side of the world in a country you’ve never visited. Many people probably lost their homes and everything they own. While it’s a shame and you feel bad for them when you see the video of what’s going on, the reality is that it doesn’t affect you all that much. Most people will move on. Life’s chasing them around. Right here, right now.

When the distance shrinks

The situation changes when the affected people are family, friends or co-workers.

Imagine that flooded home belongs to one of your employees or a family member. Your perspective changes. Now it isn’t about people you’ll never know in a place you’ll may never be. You know them, their kids and you’re a part of each other’s lives. You aren’t detached because you have a relationship with that person and possibly their family. Moving on will take a while. Perhaps a long while, even if they work at your Houston office rather than south of Bangalore.

That’s how detachment insulates us. 

Insulation equals distance

When you know the people involved, your detachment may not be eliminated, but it’s reduced significantly because the situation affects people you know and/or work with. 

To get right down to it, detachment (like distance) gives us “permission” not to care as much, or at all. Not everyone uses that permission, but many do. In some cases, it gives people permission to care so little that the other person / group can eventually be positioned as our enemy. 

Even if we work for the same company. Sometimes,  even though we’re part of the same family. 

Again: The insulation of detachment gives us permission to care less, or not care at all, even about family members or co-workers. 

This detachment is especially dangerous when you have remote employees because it can work both ways. The distance can help them become detached from you and while you simultaneously become detached from them. 

It can kill a company’s culture, particularly one with remote workers or multiple locations. 

Detachment dehumanizes

The worst feature of detachment is that it dehumanizes the people we work with and the customers we serve. 

Ever heard anyone talk in dehumanizing terms about an opponent, a competitor, or someone with different political differences? Sure you have. “Animal” is a common term you’ll hear, but there are numerous terms that can do the trick. All you have to do is pick a word that you’d (hopefully) never call them to their face if they were a family member, customer or co-worker. These terms let us position other people and other groups as if they’re something to be discarded like trash.

That’s what dehumanizing them allows.

Detachment induced dehumanization can have effects that are much worse. We see it every day, but may not recognize it for what it is. 

Exterminate it.

I’ve seen so much of it, even in business, that I am convinced that it’s essential to exterminate it. Take aggressive steps to identify and destroy it. It’s that dangerous to your business.