Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Put it on the Wall"

Over the past months, I have been very active in a consulting business that I started in 2008. The work has been a pleasure.

I have worked across a wide range of industries and an equally wide variety of projects. The industries have included: tele-medicine, natural gas, retail grocery, and industrial mining to name a few. Quite a departure after spending almost 18 years at The Coca-Cola Company. The projects/assignments have also been quite varied, including: sales and marketing restructuring, board communication planning, customer value proposition development and executive coaching. As I said above, it’s truly been a pleasure!

One of the surprises over the past year or so has been the individuals with whom I have had a chance to work. On the whole, they have been dynamic leaders, working hard to take their organizations to new levels of performance and in the process to build their own capabilities as executives. While often I was brought in to help these individuals with their challenges, I found that I learned a lot from them in the process. One perfect example is Dan, a very dynamic leader of a fast growing tele-medicine company in Florida. Over the past year, Dan has become more than a client, but also a friend, one whom I have learned a lot from. His deep knowledge of his business, his passion for his customers (doctors) and their clients (patients), and his relentless drive to build and grow his organization (and his skills) are truly inspiring.

I visited Dan a number of times at his office, a very busy “open door” environment at his company’s headquarters. One thing that I noted was that Dan had numerous pictures/ photos on his walls. Unlike many executive offices, which might have decorator driven prints, or possibly company slogans or priorities, Dan’s office had a variety of pictures, one of which was of a small jet airplane. Knowing that Dan was a pilot, I asked on one of my early visits whether that was a picture of his plane. With a smile and a gleam in his eye, he said, “Not yet!” My puzzled looks lead him to share his philosophy of what it means to him to “put it on the wall.”

Dan told me that he has been very goal driven throughout his life. He laid out goals across his life and he pushed hard to achieve those objectives. Years ago, he began to capture a goal in a photo or picture, and literally “put it on the wall” to be an ever present reminder of what was yet to be achieved. Today, Dan is a very experienced pilot (both fixed wing and helicopter) and the photo on the wall of a small personal jet represents a goal for his future. This photo is just the latest of many that have been on Dan’s wall over the years. His wall has contained not only photos of potential personal goals, but of business targets and objectives that he and his organization have yet to achieve.

I recently applied this approach in a very simple way on a committee that I was leading. My children attend a wonderful independent school in Atlanta, and its annual auction is the primary event to raise funds for financial aid. I was asked by the auction chair to take on the very challenging assignment of leading the wine auction (I know, tough duty!). After looking over the stagnant performance over the past few years, I decided that the committee needed to work toward a goal of strong growth this year. With Dan’s words ringing in my ears, I held the first committee meeting months ago and communicated that we were going to drive for 20% growth in the proceeds from the wine auction. There was a bit of grumbling but everyone pretty quickly got to his or her tasks. In every communication I reinforced the goal. Every email was titled “The road to 20%.” Every meeting we took a few moments to discuss 20 ideas that might get us 20% growth. By the time of the auction, my committee members were calling me “Mr. 20.” Well the auction was held a week ago and I received the final stats just this past weekend. With a bit of nervousness, I opened the email and read that the wine auction proceeds were up over 19% over year ago. While not quite 20, I was pleased nonetheless. In my own way I had “put it on the wall,” and it had driven performance.

This process of public goal setting, “putting it on the wall,” is an important lesson to all leaders in business. We all have goals and objectives for our organizations, our businesses, and ourselves. It takes clarity and courage to not only communicate them publicly, but to publish them physically. The accountability level goes up dramatically for all involved. It was through the simplicity of the photo of the jet, that it hit me how often goals are set without any public documentation. We all need to work hard on not only setting challenging goals for our teams and ourselves, but to be public – to “put it on the wall” – so our organizations can all share in the clarity and accountability of public goal setting.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Friday, I'm in Love"

Last Friday was a day full of action and activity. The plan was to drop the kids off at school, quickly attend a little “art show” in my son Bryson’s class, take care of a bunch of work and then wisk Jennie (my sweet spouse) off to a weekend on the beach in Florida (just us, sans kids!). In all candor, my mind was going a hundred miles an hour, trying to fill about five hours of “stuff” into a four hour window…nothing new, just another example of not “being in the moment.”

I accomplished the drop-off and the “art show” well, enjoying the work that Bryson and his classmates had done as part of the school’s annual auction. As I was heading off campus, I absentmindedly tripped on uneven sidewalk and dropped my BlackBerry. “O”! “M”! “G”! My BlackBerry. As I saw it bounce I feared the worst and went down on a knee to see if “my precious” was working. (I hate the idea of referencing me mimicking Gollum, but it wasn’t far from the truth.) With a quick check, I saw that it was working, seemingly no worse for the wear, and at that moment a little girl skipped on by.

Wearing a flowered top, bright green Capri pants and pink crocs, this little five-year-old literally skipped right past me, book bag on her back, heading to her kindergarten class. I couldn’t see her face but it didn’t really matter. Immediately I said out loud “happy kids.” This image of sweetness, joy, energy and optimism penetrated my BlackBerry mania to remind me that “happy kids” was what it was all about… or maybe what more of life SHOULD be about! In a recent essay in this blog titled “The Lens of Success.” I talked about how Jennie and I aspired for our kids to be “happy, healthy, self sustaining productive citizens.” Here I was, kneeling on an uneven schoolyard sidewalk, watching the embodiment of part of that aspiration….”happy kids”

Well, the rest of the day, including the four-plus hour flight delay, didn’t quite go as planned. Not all the work was finished. We made it down to Florida later than planned. There was a 1 a.m. fire alarm at the beach resort. And so on. With all that said, it was a wonderful Friday and a marvelous weekend getaway with my wonderful wife of 23 years... and yet, one of my lasting images of that Friday will be of the little girl, skipping to class, unintentionally reminding one knucklehead (yours truly) that joy and happiness is more important than a working BlackBerry!

As a final note, I want to give a little “shout out” to the band “The Cure” and its great anthem, “Friday, I’m in Love”:

I don't care if Monday's blue

Tuesday's gray and Wednesday too

Thursday I don't care about you

It's Friday, I'm in love

Monday you can fall apart

Tuesday, Wednesday break my heart

Oh, Thursday doesn't even start

It's Friday, I'm in love

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Big Spoon

Savor: (Verb), to taste and enjoy (typically a food or drink) completely; enjoy and appreciate (typically something pleasant) completely.

It took me years to finally get around to pulling together all of our old family videos. It was 11 years ago with the birth of our first child, Bryson, that I went out like so many new dads to buy a bulky Sony video camera. Over the years, and multiple video formats, I had accumulated 23 mini videocassettes, which were collecting dust in a box in the hall closet. There wasn’t a specific event that was the trigger, but earlier this year I pulled together the tapes and had a local company transfer them in chronological order onto DVDs.

Two weeks ago I picked up the DVDs and we have started watching different snippets of our family history. It’s been a real treat to see how our kids, Bryson (11) and Marie (9), have enjoyed watching their earliest moments. From their first birthdays, early Christmas holidays, beach vacations, etc., they have been amused and delighted by watching themselves as babies and infants. There are numerous hilarious moments, and some that were amusing at the moment and maybe more poignant today.

It also has been amazingly moving to see glimpses of family members no longer with us, or with us in the same way. The earliest video, from Christmas of 1998, contains scratchy images of Jennie’s youngest sister, Carrie, laughing, talking and drinking coffee, just three months before her untimely death in early 1999. There are wonderful images of Jennie’s mother, Jane, dancing with my father-in-law, Don, and affectionately holding her new grandson. Jane is currently struggling with frontal lobe dementia, often in a wheelchair and rarely speaking.

I share all of this because once again I am struck by how much has happened over the past 11 years, and how fast it has all seemed to go. Life is absolutely blowing by and I continue to think, “If I knew then what I know now...” My reflection is not centered on what a share of Google stock would be worth today if purchased years ago. It is centered on what would I have thought or said or done differently if I had known that the Christmas of 1998 would be Carrie’s last. Let’s be reminded by the words of singer, songwriter, and philosopher Warren Zevon:

“Don Quixote had his windmills

Ponce De Leon took his cruise

Took Sinbad, seven voyages

To see that it was all a ruse!”

If we are waiting for some mythical day in the future to enjoy life…once we retire, when we have more time, once the kids are older or (one of my favorites), “when our ship comes in,”… my comment to you is don’t wait!

The lesson that I am trying to remind myself of consistently is that we need to live, enjoy, and appreciate life more fully now! Like a delicious meal or a fine wine, we need to savor life and use “the big spoon,” so that we can enjoy every drop!