I handled the logistics for a recent event, and at the end of the day, the organizer asked the participants if there was anything else they needed for the next day’s gathering. “I’d love some Mountain Dew!” one attendee said – a nod to the early hour at which her travel began.
So, of course, the next day there was Mountain Dew. No big deal.
Only it was. The presence of the beverage was reflected in the event evaluation – but not by the participant who requested it. Another attendee wrote: “I noticed the Mountain Dew,” read the evaluation. “You kept your promises.”
It reminded me of my time on campus when we conducted a student opinion survey. Among the multitude of suggestions, one was to put a pencil sharpener in the main classroom building. We did so almost immediately. The presence of that $10 item garnered us more goodwill than some of the more expensive solutions because it happened right away and showed that we really were listening.
Responsive actions may seem little to you, but they are anything but in the lives of others.
The arrival of the warmer weather is accompanied by the presence of ticks – those pinhead size insects that, when infected, can cause Lyme disease in humans. Lyme is serious stuff. Even with treatment it negatively impacts those who contract it for at least six months, causing fatigue, joint pain, headaches and even partial paralysis. Over 300,000 in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme each year.
Fleas are also out in full force, and those little bugs can transmit Bubonic plague to humans. The Plague sounds like an ancient disease – and, in fact, did kill over 50 million people in the 14th century – but it is still active today. Over 650 people year contract it and 100 of them die each year from the bacteria.
Even though they spread the diseases, the health of the ticks and fleas are not impacted. That which harms humans does not bother the bugs, thus, it allows for perpetuation without negative consequences to the host carrier.
I think about the parallels between fleas and ticks and the parasites who infect the culture of an organization. Often, they are tiny and inconspicuous – you may need to aggressively ferret them out to find them, but their small bites do tremendous harm to the organism. There is treatment, but no cure, and even with treatment the impact lasts for many months. Initially, you may think your actions have eradicated the problem, but it often lingers.
Just as you need to be diligent about watching for ticks and fleas and properly extracting them when found on your clothing, so it is true with the gossip-spreaders and negative-energy infectors in your organization. They may be small, but do not underestimate how debilitating their bite can be – even when you don’t notice it has happened.
Yesterday I wrote about the nightmare-waiting-to-happen parking situation on Main Street. I would bet that once the full impact of the scarcity is realized, there will be protestations by people who want something done about it.
Where were these people when the building permit was being reviewed? Most likely, they were oblivious to the fact it was even happening.
It is ironic that all of the money and attention is paid to the prominent elected positions when so much of what really impacts people happens at a much lower level. Committees and boards comprised of mostly volunteers often create the rulings that affect the average citizen. Zoning boards members are not elected but decide if multiple businesses can be on the same block with only 10 parking spaces. Even in higher offices, appointed staff members draft legislation for elected officials to vote on, but it is the behind-the-scenes author that shapes the details and truly determine the real impact.
And yet at the working meetings, it is rare if anyone shows up to voice an opinion. People don’t pay attention until something is passed that they don’t like and then they come to complain. How much more effective it would be if different voices were heard in the beginning. If there was an efficient system to let people know what was on the docket, not just what is a foregone conclusion via the minutes.
Government goes to those who show up. Yes, it takes an effort to know what is coming but making changes is much easier on the front end. Do your work to be informed or do your work to protest. You pick when you want to use your voice.
Many people pay attention to gas prices that are posted on the giant signs at the station, but how many people pay attention to what they are really being charged at the pump? Our local Sam’s Club is notorious for posting a lower price on the sign, but actually charging a higher price. The difference is usually only a few cents per gallon, but when you multiply that by the number of gallons and the number of people who are affected, it adds up. And it happens more times than not, so it is a system error, not a one-time mistake.
I have received my refund for the difference, but never a sincere apology. I have complained to three different managers (“Oh, I did not know; we’ll fix the sign”), but it continues to happen. I have even written the state Secretary of Agriculture, which resulted in the outside sign being removed but discrepancies continue inside.
We’re talking about a half dollar per fill-up, so maybe I should not care. My time to retrieve the refund and aggravation are worth far more than that. But where do you draw the line on transgressions that you let slide and those you try to fight?
I have always said that little=big: small things add up to affect culture, the environment, energy and change. You can’t make an issue out of everything, but if no one speaks up there is no incentive for violators to make things better.
In the words of the Civil Rights movement: “If not now, when?” “If not me, who?” Gas price deception is my issue de jour. What little improvement can be yours?
A helpful strategy for achieving long-term goals can be “laddering” – a technique that encourages people to focus on the next rung (or next step) in the process rather than becoming overwhelmed by the long-term goal. For example, if you wish to earn an MBA, it helps to think of applying for admission or completing one course. If you aim to start a business, maybe you can begin a side hustle or work part-time in the field first. It’s not achieving your goal, but it helps move you toward it.
Yesterday I wrote about creating arbitrary milestones, a technique that can aid in short-term motivational power. These milestones can also be used as ladder rungs to propel you toward larger targets. No one says that the steps on your journey need to be even. You can invent your own incremental measurements and have the steps as close together – or as far apart – as inspiration and circumstances allow.
While having a long-term view is helpful to create the vision, keeping your focus on just the next rung may be just what you need to get you there.
It has always been common practice to take a big goal and break it down into smaller steps and technology has made it so easy to do. We measure everything these days — the number of steps you take in a day, the number of times you shop at a particular store, the number of reps during your workout – and more tracking provides greater opportunity for creating arbitrary milestones to celebrate.
In the era of computer gaming, recognition becomes even more important to do as gamers are used to achieving acknowledgment upon reaching intermediate “levels” – and soon the expectation will carry over into the workplace. As a supervisor, you can increase motivation by creating – then celebrating – interim steps on a long journey.
An example of this occurs in the St. Louis schools where the “100th Day of School” has become a big deal. There are special projects (eg: bringing in 100 items of something, writing 100 words, 100 Days t-shirts, 100 prizes, etc.). It has become so special that when two kids had to miss school that day for an out-of-town engagement, they shared their own 100 Days photo (below) on social media.
I have written before about the President’s 100 Days and the arbitrary badges provided by Fitbit, but you can make anything seem special by so declaring it, even if it has no legitimate significance. Think about the big tasks you are facing: a tax season, a new equipment installation or a road trip with the family. How can you provide demarcation for moments along the way: free lunch when the 124th return is filed, everyone does jumping jacks when the equipment is out of the box or you pull over for ice cream at the first exit after the 87th mile.
You possess the power to create something out of the ordinary at any point in a journey. Use that ability to motivate yourself and others to keep going.
How can you be part of a global environmental movement tonight between 8:30-9:30pm? By participating in Earth Hour, a grassroots movement of the World Wildlife Foundation. Each year, one hour is chosen where it is encouraged to “go dark” to stimulate conversations and actions about long-term environmental issues. Tonight’s the night!
People in over 180 countries will participate by switching off their lights for one hour (local time). The Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and other landmarks will be dark. Earth Hour encourages you to turn off your lights as well: dine by candlelight, go stargazing, head to bed early, or sit around the fireplace.
There is always a tension between thinking BIG about long-term goals and thinking small in order to achieve those goals. Earth Hour is an attempt to straddle that line as it encourages small grassroots steps for a short period in an effort to create short-term awareness that leads to actions far beyond the Earth Hour.
You can participate directly in this environmental movement, and you can replicate the idea for other purposes. A specific action outside the norm can go a long way toward creating awareness. Being in the dark may shed the light that is necessary for change to occur.