Are We Accomplishing Anything?

People aren’t happy because they have stuff. They feel happy because they’ve accomplished things.

How do they know they are accomplishing things? How do they know they are accomplishing the *right* things?

It comes down to what we are measuring, and what we’re talking about every day, every week. Are we focused on the stuff that needs to get done, or are we talking about what we did last weekend? (No problem chatting about our personal lives, but that’s 1% of the conversation, not 5% or 50%)

Where is our scoreboard, and how often are we checking in on it? Are we celebrating each little victory that moves us closer to our goals?

If we don’t know how to measure what’s going on, then we don’t really understand the process of what’s happening.

Meaningful 1-1’s

I’ve seen loads of great ideas for managing effective 1-1’s with direct reports. Here’s one that I used many years ago, then drifted away from, and recently reinstated with excellent reviews from my staff.

It’s a 25-minute check-in with a “5×5” approach. It’s predicated on a quarterly establishing of goals for each team member. The format feels similar to that of a daily scrum.

5-10 min: What are 1-2 accomplishments since our last meeting that moved you toward your goals.

5-10 min: What 1-2 accomplishments are you aiming for before our next meeting.

5 min: Is there anything you need from me to get this done?

Twice a quarter (every 4-6 weeks) is a good cadence to ask, “What else is going on with you, where you do feel stagnant, in what areas would you like to keep growing, and what do you need from me to do so?”

I find that sticking to a playbook for 1-1 meetings accomplishes three things:

  • Maintain focus on quarterly goals;
  • Setting an expectation with reports about the purpose of this meeting;
  • Creating space for ongoing professional development conversations.

Communication Requires Context

We live in a world where we are affected by a social media stream where we are unable to effectively ascertain other people’s tone. This is very dangerous. If I’m walking on the sidewalk and you’re standing on the corner in my way, I can say, “Excuse me, can I get by” and from my tone you know there is no danger here, I’m not fighting with you, I’m not threatening you, and we can interact with each other peaceably. But on social media, where tone is absent, this same message is commonly misinterpreted as a rude shout: “EXCUUUUSE ME!! CAN I GET BY!!” perhaps heard with sarcasm or criticism. The receiver completely misunderstands the sender’s message and a dialogue turns toxic. We do this all the time; we misinterpret each other’s intentions because we don’t know each other.

Communication requires context.

Be Clear About Your WHY

People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY YOU DO IT.

Last week at our Operations All-Hands meeting we watched a TED Talk: Simon Sinek ‘Start With Why’. If you haven’t watched it, it’s an excellent 18-minute investment of your time. Even if you’ve seen it, it’s worth watching again.

Sinek gives us examples of how organizations, teams, and people change the world — not because of what they do but WHY THEY DO IT.

When we are clear about WHY we do what we do, it has many effects. Two of those are:

  1. It becomes a filter for what we’ll do with our precious time and resources, and what we will say no to.
  2. It attracts others who share our beliefs. When we clearly articulate what we stand for, others who believe the same thing will be drawn into our dialogue.

I can’t tell you how powerful this is, to be clear about your WHY. I’ve been working my WHY for some time. It runs deeper than wanting to help people or making a dent in the universe. Those are great things to accomplish but being clear about WHY we do want to help people requires more introspection.

I’m finding it’s the nexus of empowering other people to accomplish things that are bigger than themselves, and creating the framework people can work within, is WHY I enjoy being a leader.

What’s your WHY?

Critical Number

I’ve recently been getting re-energized about The Great Game of Business. It’s the story of a company that turned itself around in the 1980’s by using an approach to management through something called ‘open-book management‘. I won’t describe it all here because there many great articles already doing that.

One important concept to open book management is the Critical Number. The Critical Number is one metric, either operational or financial, that represents a weakness or vulnerability that, if not addressed and corrected, will negatively impact the overall performance and long-term security of the business. The Critical Number can change from year to year, but it usually doesn’t change too quickly.

Usually this is thought about in the context of business, but it can also apply in other contexts. For example, someone who is looking for a new job or career might decide their Critical Number is how many job applications they submit. For someone who wants to be the first seat violinist in the city orchestra, their Critical Number might be how many hours a day they practice. Baseball players are measured on a huge swath of statistics but a Critical Number for winning might be on-base percentage.

What gets measured, gets improved.

The Last Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last time you’ll do something.

For instance, the Bolder Boulder Memorial Day 10K Run is something I’ve done for 21 years, and the last 10 of them have been with my son, Cole. Sometimes we run together, sometimes he runs with his mom, but each year after we’re done we have some time together at Folsom Field. Here’s a photo from 2019:

In 2020, the Bolder Boulder didn’t happen due to the pandemic, and instead they offered a Virtual Bolder Boulder. I was into it and had some fun with that.

This year, in 2021, Covid-19 has again impacted the Bolder Boulder but instead of a virtual event, this year’s course has been divvied up to choose from 1 of 6 routes each in a different town, and time slots are spread out over 3 days. I signed up to run one of the courses on Sunday morning and keep up my streak of participating in every Bolder Boulder since I moved to Colorado in 1999.

But I will not be meeting up with Cole at Folsom Field afterward. I’ll run solo this year and he’ll maybe come support, but he’s not planning to run, and there will be no post-run celebration in the stadium. He’s leaving for college this fall, so that photo above was likely the last time we’ll be at Folsom Field together, after having done so for 10 years. There was no way to know, in 2019, that was it.

On one hand it feels sad, like something lost. And it is emotional, to be sure. During my training run this morning, I felt pangs of loss deep in my chest as these thoughts came and went.

On the other hand, tonight Cole and Quinn and I cleaned up after dinner and instead of retreating to their computer games or digital drawings they both wanted to watch a movie. We made popcorn and lounged on the couch as we have dozens and dozens of times over the years.

There was no other place on Earth I would rather have been tonight, than laughing out loud with my kids over a Netflix movie (The Mitchells vs. The Machines, three big thumbs up!) not knowing if this might be the last time we would ever do this together. And savoring every moment of it.

Make a Little Light

Been a while since my last post. But my commitment to this blog is about attempting to capture the experiences as I move through this life. Mostly for my future self to be able to look back. (If others reading this blog derive some benefit, that’s cool too.) And these experiences only captured if I actually write.

The trick is putting all the emotions in order and making sense out of them through words. For example, today I’m sitting home alone, because there was a possible exposure to the coronavirus in my germ bubble, and I don’t want to meet anyone else until a negative test confirms there is no risk of that. I’m listening to a Spotify playlist that my son shared with me. Missing him and his sister and their youthful, playful energy that must be restrained in these complicated days of Covid-19.

Cold temperatures outside, fire in the wood stove inside. And a wild flurry of emotions have rampaged across my mind and heart all morning.

Thoughts of work and the extraordinary growth we’re going through — and all the challenges that come with that territory.

Thoughts of my son who is writing college essays and building a self-portrait that will be foundational as he figures out his own life. And wondering what are the best ways to me to support his growth and coming-of-age.

Existential thoughts of who I am and how I fit into this complex world – big with 7 billion people yet small in a universal context. If my life force is snuffed out, a few people around me are affected but the world keeps moving. While I am alive, a few people around me are impacted but the world keeps moving. What, then, can or should I do to improve the world? Do I even have a responsibility to improve things?

I believe the answer is yes. My duty is to make a little light, right here where I am, in any way that I can. I’ll do my part, you do yours, and the interconnected web of our positive pushes will make a difference against. But we have to be very intentional about it.

At the workplace, I influence the people who work with me. And they influence the colleagues, customers, partners who interact with our company.

At home, my kids will absorb every remark and every moment I spend with them. I can build them up or tear them down, and they will bring their experience of me into their future networks of relationships.

There is a lot of darkness out there. Incredibly difficult circumstances, injustices, crises of giant proportions, and people carrying deep pain.

I’ll combat that today by making a little bit of light, here in my world, right where I am.

Virtual Bolder Boulder

Happy Memorial Day! The unofficial start of summer feels very different this year, but we should still celebrate and acknowledge our American heroes who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. And this year, let’s also remember our present-day heroes, from those stationed far away to the ones in the hospitals and also at the corner grocery.

Under non-COVID circumstances I would be running the Bolder Boulder 10k road race with my kids today. In lieu of touring Boulder’s streets in close proximity with 50,000 of our closest friends, the Bolder Boulder organizers are encouraging a Virtual Bolder Boulder – one in which we all do our runs separately.

In my house we took this idea one step further and created a scavenger hunt to amp things up a bit. We created a loop that is 2.07 miles and starts and finishes at the same location at a local park. Three loops is 6.2 miles – the 10k!

Just follow the chalk arrows. For the scavenger hunt there are 6 baggies tucked away along the course. Each baggie contains a hand stamp to prove you found it.

You know you’re near a hand stamp if you see a number like this on the ground. Wherever there’s a number, there a hand stamp hiding nearby.

It’s a gorgeous day for running!

Limited Resources

Here’s a map of the world my kids gave me for my birthday. We are using stickies to mark all the places in the world we’d like to visit. Mine are pink, Cole’s are green, and Quinn’s are blue.

Now here’s what my life looks like plotted out by weeks. Each column is a week. It’s easy to see how finite my life is. If I assume a 90-year life span, I’m just over halfway through. There are a lot of “white” weeks ahead of me, but also a lot of “gray” boxes that are behind me. What will I do with the time ahead (especially knowing 90 weeks is just a guess, no one knows their expiration date).

JdLifeWeeks

Such limited resources (financial and time) for all the places I’d like to see! It makes no sense to keep putting things off. Now is the time to act. It’s also the reason to eat healthy and exercise every day — so I can keep mobile and continue to pursue my dreams.

Hidden Gems

I’ve been running the trails of Boulder’s mountain parks for over 20 years. This week I was looking at a trail map and noticed a small loop that I’ve never been on before. I decided to check it out.

I parked my bike at the trailhead, strapped on my hydration belt and started off. About 2 miles in I found the trail turnoff (unmarked) and followed it steeply uphill. I was already riding the excitement of exploring something new when I passed another smaller trail shooting off on its own. It looked legitimate, but it was not on any maps. Should I go explore this unnamed trail or be satisfied with the pleasure of what I’d already found?

After a moment’s debate I took the unnamed trail, not knowing if it would dead-end or take me very far out of my way. It led to a beautiful hidden overlook and then a gigantic boulder in the forest. The trail never petered out and eventually I found myself connecting back to the well-known trail system. The detour added about 3/4 mile and the new trails formed a perfect loop back to the trailhead. Awesome!

Some of my favorite experiences are discovering new places, those hidden gems, and it’s all the more exciting when they have been hiding nearby all along. I suspect there are hidden gems everywhere if we’re open to looking for them.

Story Skills Workshop

I recently completed a 6-week virtual story skills workshop from the Akimbo team. It was an excellent, if demanding, experience. I signed up because I wanted to tell better stories in my work life. Along the way I discovered I also wanted to see if I could learn to write better song lyrics. I had the opportunity to learn and practice proven techniques for creating stories that matter. I received a lot of helpful feedback and gave feedback to others who were working at their own skills. Perhaps the most fun was getting exposure to so many examples of excellent stories that are out in the world. What I learned is this: any of us can become good storytellers. Even me. I don’t think it is a natural state for me, but with practice I can get better.

The most unexpected take-away came near the end of the workshop. We were asked to watch a TED talk from someone named Matthew Dicks; his talk is called Homework for Life. It’s an entertaining talk and worth watching. His “homework” for writing great stories is to take 5 minutes at the end of every day and write down the most memorable or impactful moment of the day. He made a habit of this for years, and before long he had an endless stockpile of ideas for stories, because he realized most great stories are built around small yet poignant moments.

What I loved best about the TED talk is his habit had the unexpected side effect of slowing down life. Taking those 5 minutes to remember some moment each day (usually they were good moments, sometimes they were not) created space to appreciate and relish what was happening in life, rather than just passing through. Another unexpected benefit is the act of recording an event from today tends to trigger memories of other episodes from our life, so we get to reconnect with moments we might otherwise have forgotten or lost track of.

I’ve tried doing this myself – taking five minutes at bedtime to write down a moment from the day. So far my track record isn’t great but I do have about 4-5 ideas captured on paper. I’ll keep going and see what happens.