leadership dot #3013: interim

In a true sign of accepting reality, our mall converted one of the prime retail spaces into a rest area/mini-library. It’s located at the crossroads of the mall’s two wings, in theory, the busiest spot in the mall. It was once the home of a jewelry chain and when that went out of business, instead of leaving it available for another tenant, the mall tore out all the walls and doors and made it into an open area.

It’s a great space to take a break – if there was anyone around who needed one. I’m not sure if it was designed for walkers, mall employees or the mythical harried shoppers but, like most of the stores around it, it sits vacant.

I think about all the unused space that surrounds us – bankrupt stores, unoccupied office buildings, restaurants that didn’t survive the pandemic, schools with reduced enrollments – there is a wealth of built-up infrastructure that is currently unused. If you’re the owner of such space, rather than allow it to sit vacant to entropy think about a creative new use for your real estate. Can you rent it as a temporary office for parents who need to do Zoom calls with some privacy? Convert it into a studio for those forced to shift from in-person to remote presentations? Offer it as a voting place? Give shelter to some in need?

Space that sits vacant depletes energy from all who see it. Capitalize on the opportunity to give something or someone a new home, even if it’s just for the interim.

Converted jewelry store at the mall

leadership dot #3010: endure

It’s hard to believe that it has been 19 years since the tragedy of 9-11. It was, at the time, the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor and effectively shut down the country for weeks.

But then it was over.

Just as I will always remember 9-11, people today will tell stories about COVID for the rest of their lifetime. It is another collective moment with grave and far-reaching implications.

Only this one has no end in sight.

Essential workers and others in a multitude of positions have been on COVID-overdrive for over half a year now. Creating plans. Redoing plans. Pivoting right. Going back to the left. Implementing Plan A, then Plan B and even Plan Q. Oh yeah, throw in a couple of natural disasters, a widespread social justice movement and divisive politics. It is exhausting.

Leaders of those directly impacted by any of these crises need to acknowledge the stress this year has brought on and take steps to mitigate the incident fatigue that is consciously or unconsciously plaguing so many. Supervisors should acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and explicitly give permission or mandate that key personnel stop doing anything that is not mission-critical. Vacation or time off should be required, even if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be gone. Senior leaders should model relying on each other for moral and literal support to share some of the load.

The terrorist acts on 9-11 were over in 73 minutes. The derecho lasted just hours. The hurricane a day. Most wildfires are extinguished within weeks. Crises do not usually endure with such intensity for months, but since COVID doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, Job 1 is to make your ability to operate sustainable. Even people with a positive attitude cannot thrive under daunting conditions indefinitely. Acknowledge the toll that the pace and continued uncertainty are taking and shift to strategies that allow people to endure for the longer run.

leadership dot #3008: isolated

On an urban campus, parking places are at a premium so when the human resources department allocated five slots to the student life office, they thought the staff members would be elated. They were – until they learned that the spots had to be vacated by 5pm and were available only Monday through Friday. Since most of the office’s work occurs in the evenings and weekends, that perk suddenly lost its luster.

I’ve heard several tales lately of HR offices being out of touch with the work of others in their own organization. At one school, performance evaluations were scheduled to be due in August – usually the busiest month of the year in preparation for opening. Why would they make such a time-consuming task due at the same time? On another campus, administrators were verbally promoting employee engagement and interaction with students but withdrew the staff meal benefits that encouraged this practice.

It’s not just HR that becomes isolated. The pace of work, doing most work remotely, and the budget cuts that have added to the workloads of the remaining staff – all are contributing factors to people worried more about getting their work done instead of taking the time to develop relationships and understanding with others. Don’t let it happen to you.

Everything you do has an impact on someone else, either inside or outside of your organization. Your work will have more meaning – and likely more effectiveness – if you know those who benefit from your services. Make the time to ask before you act.

 

leadership dot #3001: freeze

When I was a kid, our refrigerator was stocked with freezer pops all summer. We fought over the coveted red or blues ones, drew straws for who was stuck with the grape and were neutral about the green, orange or yellow – but that’s all the choices there were. Cherry, blueberry, grape, orange, lime and lemon.

My housemate recently brought home a bag of pops – still refreshing and ridiculously cheap – but now they come in a modern version of flavors: pina colada, mango, green apple, peach, and watermelon!

It’s the same phenomenon as the expansion of colors I previously wrote about. Yes, the new flavors are initially intriguing, but “more” adds complexity. “More” adds time and angst about which choice to make – or which choice was made. “More” adds even greater odds that some will be favored and others left behind.

If you’re looking for ways to simplify your life and make additional time available, one way to do it is to minimize the number of “mores” that you add to your routine. Pay a few cents more and buy the box of one-flavor popsicles. Purchase multiples of the same style of clothes or undergarments and eliminate the time spent on deciding. Have one form for all types of time-off requests.

We only have so much decision bandwidth and can only effectively manage so many inputs. Avoid the brain freeze that comes from using up your capacity on fancy-flavored freezer pops and trivial matters.

 

leadership dot #2999: melt

In most cases, using a truck to deliver goods is efficient but there are times when we need to stop and reassess that go-to method of transport. Such was the case on a 90-degree day when a truck loaded with bags of ice was waiting outside a store while the passenger ran in to do an errand. This ice was covered in nothing but a strap and I can’t believe that it remained tight for very long under those weather conditions.

Trucks are very handy, but if we always rely on using them, we may find ourselves in situations like this where they make no sense.

What is the equivalent of a truck in your organization – something that you default to no matter the logic or rationale behind it? Maybe you always use a particular vendor instead of doing occasional bids. Perhaps you give the prime assignments to one person instead of mentoring someone else. Or it could be that you automatically turn to one technology instead of implementing something more effective.

The next time you are tempted to do something on auto-pilot pause to consider whether it is the best response. Don’t let your rote method of execution cause your end results to melt away.

leadership dot #2995: elbow grease

In preparation for my sister’s visit, I scrubbed and sanitized my floors Cinderella-style, down on all fours with the bucket and sponge. I usually use a Swiffer which appeared to satisfactorily do the job but when I saw the floors from a new perspective, I could tell that I had just been hitting the surface instead of achieving a deep-clean.

I wonder what the equivalent is in your organization that could use more intensive scrutiny. Maybe a cursory update of your policies suffices in the short-term, but an in-depth review may be warranted. Perhaps your website remains adequate while only receiving sporadic attention but may be due for an overhaul to actually become an asset. Or maybe you only skim the surface with your employee engagement efforts instead of anchoring your strategy with a deep and meaningful plan.

It’s tempting to take the easy road and achieve some improvement with minimal effort, but for your work to truly shine you occasionally need to use the elbow grease.

leadership dot #2994: bacon

My brother is known in the family as the master breakfast maker in large part because he grills bacon to perfection. While I was watching his craft last weekend, I asked him what he attributes these skills to.

“I do the bacon one thing at a time,” he said. “I know that some people would have the bacon frying while the sausages are browning while the eggs are cooking, but then none of them get the attention they deserve.” The way he does it allows him to focus on the bacon item separately and ensure that it isn’t over or undercooked while he attends to the other dishes. The bacon consumes all of his consciousness until he moves on.

I hear often from employees who are trying to fry the bacon while also cooking the sausages, eggs, toast, and about seven other entrees. They may get it all done, but their “bacon” is likely not achieving perfection because of the split attention.

Most people don’t have the capacity to dedicate single-focus on every item, but your whole output will be improved if you have one element that wows. Figure out what your “bacon” is – what would provide the greatest impact if done at the highest level – and carve out the ability to give your undivided attention to creating that signature piece.

 

leadership dot #2993: bypass

A new bypass highway just opened after decades of planning. It is surrounded by pristine countryside, void of all commercial development and even housing. I’m sure it won’t remain that way for long, but for now, it provides the prettiest drive in town.

The Economic Development folks are bragging that it will impact the city for decades, but they only expound the positives. I think about the farmhouses that used to be isolated which now find themselves on a major highway. I worry about all the businesses that will be hurt by the diverted traffic, as they find their once-prime location now off the beaten path. I wonder what tourism will be lost as vehicles zip around the city instead of through it, seeing the great River and downtown.

I’m also sure new opportunities will abound as subdivisions and shopping areas grow near the exits. The highway will save time and lessen congestion. People will stop using the “unofficial bypass” as they no longer cut through residential neighborhoods to get from one end of the city to the other. As with most things, there is an upside as well as a down.

As you contemplate major projects of your own, don’t get seduced by looking only at the benefits. You may decide that the price you pay is worth it, but remember that all good things come with a cost.

 

leadership dot #2992: remorse

Pantone, the color-matching service, just announced that they were introducing 315 new colors. It made my head hurt. I am not sure the world needs that many more choices with obviously so little distinction between the colors that already exist.

And apparently, I am not the only one who feels that way. In order to combat color-remorse, Lowe’s has introduced Paint Insurance. For less than four bucks, you can try your color at home but receive a replacement if it turns out not to be to your liking or if the color on your wall appears differently than it does on the tiny piece of sample paper. This is a blessing for those of us who can’t identify a warm color from a cool color or tell the difference between Delicious Mint and Peaceful Bay. We just know what we like on the wall and what we don’t!

Two thoughts to consider today: 1) before you expand your offerings – whether that be the number of color choices, the variety of services you offer, the options you provide or the ways in which you deliver something – pause to consider whether choice adds value or just dilutes it; and 2) if you do provide a multitude of alternatives, also include an escape hatch that allows users to alter their choices afterward. Many may not utilize your insurance, but it will provide peace of mind and help mitigate remorse just to know it’s there.

Choice is powerful on the front end – giving buyers the illusion that they are able to pick something perfectly suited to them – but it’s more powerful on the back end as it allows people to like something because they don’t feel forced into keeping it.

leadership dot #2990: broadband

Many have come to expect the internet to be available everywhere, much like electricity and running water, but the reality is that millions of Americans – between 21 million and 162 million depending upon who reports it – still lack access to regular broadband.

For most people, the internet has become a “necessity” rather than a luxury, especially during COVID. Schools have converted to online learning, putting those without connection at a disadvantage. The U.S. Census went to an online format for reporting, and even the Census training for those doing the follow-up counting was delivered through the internet. Those who have access rely on it for commerce, financial transactions, personal interaction and just about everything else.

It’s easy for those in offices with high-speed connections to put materials online and expect clients to conduct business with them remotely. But remember that nearly one-quarter of rural homes are still lacking stable connections and a portion of your client base may be unable to reach you if you rely exclusively on the internet for them to do so.

Go back to the mantra from John Naisbitt’s 1982 book Megatrends and provide high tech and high touch. Not one or the other.