How Bureaucracy Can Kill

Posted on August 2, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Last week, 154 people came within minutes of losing their lives. The cause of this near-death experience? Bureaucracy.

On July 23, Allegiant Airlines Flight 426 radioed to air traffic control in Fargo, N.D., upon approach. The pilot told the tower he was critically low on fuel and needed clearance to land within the next five minutes.

Air traffic control (ATC) denied the request since a Blue Angels air show rehearsal was underway. ATC suggested the plane land elsewhere. Here’s how the conversation unfolded (transcript from LIVEATC.net).

PILOT: “We don’t have enough fuel to go anywhere else.” 

ATC: “There’ll be a window of opening in about 20 minutes for landing.”

PILOT: “Yeah, I don’t have 20 minutes.”

ATC: “There’s an airport about 70 miles away that could work.”

PILOT: “Listen,” the pilot said, “We’re at bingo (pilot lingo for “zero”) fuel here in about, probably three or four minutes. I gotta come in and land.”

ATC: “I’d have to have you declare an emergency for that,” ATC responded, “and we would coordinate to get you in.

The pilot declared an air emergency and the plane landed safely. The whole dialogue, however, illustrates what can happen when rules and regulations overpower common sense. After the scare, finger pointing and blame ensued. The tower blamed the airline — they should have known the runway was in use and should have had extra fuel. The airline blamed procedure — they were delayed 90 minutes out of their origin city and had followed FAA guidelines. Everyone was quick to find fault, but slow to craft better solutions for the future.

The “shoulds” overpowered the “coulds.”

It’s easy to hide behind senseless policies in the moment, but the negative crater left behind can be catastrophic. The fallout of broken relationships, lost customers, burnt opportunities, damaged companies, or in this case… even loss of life are just not worth it. Simply put — bureaucracy kills.

As you lead, commit to a policy of thoughtfulness rather than blind compliance. Proven processes certainly play an important role in organizations but they can’t override common sense. The Ritz Carlton empowers any employee at any level to solve a customer problem on the spot at a cost of up to $1,000. They trust their employees and care enough about their customers to let human judgment trump paper-pushing checklists. How does that compare to paragraph 3, subsection A12 of your operating manual?

To enjoy long-term, sustainable success, craft your policies to have enough flexibility so that your team can do the right thing, not just the easy thing. In the words of Ross Perot, “If you see a snake just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”

You’re FIRED!

Posted on July 26, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Your boss walks into your office and quietly shuts the door behind her. She sits down at your desk in a most somber manner. After taking a deep breath, she coldly releases the words you dreaded all your life: “You’re fired.”

Think of the emotional tornado now racing through your mind. Fear. Regret. Sadness. Shame. And then your internal chatter goes into overdrive with repetitive messages blasting in your head: “If I’d only done more. Why didn’t I take my job seriously? I wish I shared my big, creative ideas instead of held them back. I know I could do better if I only had a second chance. I’d do anything for the opportunity to prove that I can truly be a top performer. I just know I can transform. I’ll put in the extra time; I’ll over-deliver.”

So why wait to get fired?

Getting cut from the team, dismissed from a job, rejected by a spouse, or replaced from your nonprofit volunteer post are all examples of a stinging and painful wake-up call. But we don’t need to be discharged to make long-overdue change. Instead of coasting until that crushing defeat occurs, why not taking it upon yourself to proactively avoid it?

Customers fire suppliers all the time when a better alternative appears. Consumers change toothpaste and cereal brands with stunning regularity. Insurance agents get fired when a more compelling, service-oriented option enters the fold.

If you think about it, we are all only a few bad moves (or stagnant non-moves) away from getting fired in our companies, careers and communities.

This is actually a great thing, not a sentence to live in fear. Knowing that coasting is never an option pushes us to achieve more, to better serve others. The urgency of pushing our organizations and ourselves to the next level to avoid being dislodged by a competitor has driven peak performance in all aspects of life since the beginning of time.

My challenge to you: Fire yourself. Give your old self the boot, and replace it with a new and improved version. Embrace the same promise to do your best as if you were actually fired while avoiding the hassle of cleaning out your desk.

If you were fired, what would the ideal replacement do differently? How would they add more value? Build better relationships? Serve customers more effectively? Drive more impact in the community?

Don’t wait for catastrophe to strike. Fire yourself … early and often. In turn, you’ll create a strong company, brand, career, and community. It will create urgency, drive creativity, and allow you to embrace a fresh, bold, new perspective.

You’re fired. You’re welcome.

The Nine Questions of Breakthrough Achievement

Posted on July 19, 2015 by Josh Linkner

From discovering new drug therapies to winning triathlons, the capacity for human achievement is humbling. NASA scientists reached Pluto this week, beaming back stunning imagery of the distant planet. Brian Acton and Jam Koum, who founded WhatsApp in 2009, sold their startup to Google for $19 billion just five years later. Easton LaChapelle built a robotic hand out of Legos and fishing wire in his bedroom at age 14, and his invention is now helping amputees around the world.

Triumphs take many forms, but the greatest achievers ask themselves nine critical questions to help map their path to success. As you embark on your own mission, these same questions can provide an effective strategy for achieving just about anything you can imagine:

  1. Why am I doing it? Starting with a clear understanding of the purpose is critical. Make sure you are crystal clear as to why your efforts are needed and important.
  1. What is my big vision? Craft a vivid, 3-D, Technicolor image of exactly what you want to achieve. The more specific the better. This serves as your North Star, your guide.
  1. What’s my realistic starting point? You can’t chart a course without truly understanding where to begin. Get clear on your current strengths and weaknesses (both internal and external) so you can forge a thoughtful plan of attack.
  1. Who (or what) is my enemy? Identifying the obstacles up front will allow you to see them clearly along the journey. Think who or what could derail your efforts, and build a strategy to overcome. Know thy enemy.
  1. What resources do I need? Mountain climbers need gear. Politicians need voters. Startups need capital. Make a detailed resource list so you don’t run out of gas along the way.
  1. Who needs to help me? Even seemingly individual sports like boxing and tennis require coaches, trainers, and promoters. While individuals may take the credit, nearly every major human achievement is a team effort. Identify the critical roles that will help you accelerate growth, avoid risk, and provide needed support.
  1. How will I measure it? The old adage, “what gets measured gets improved,” is spot on if you’re looking to drive big results. Measure and track each input and output to understand – and then optimize – your model.
  1. How can I break it into manageable tasks? Enormous projects, such as mapping the human genome, are always accomplished by tackling a long series of sub-tasks. Slice up the work in to small, bite-size chunks.
  2. When can I begin? Greatness starts today, not next week, if you have time, or when convenient. A sense of urgency is far more important than waiting for that perfect time.

We each have our own calling in life, but asking yourself these universal nine questions will help propel you to achieving your mission. Put these nine questions to the test; the answers will make you unstoppable.

The Wizard’s Downfall

Posted on July 12, 2015 by Josh Linkner

“Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.”

Twenty-eight minutes later, an apathetic, poorly trained call center drone clarified through her actions what her company actually meant: “Your call is really not important to us at all. If it were, we’d staff more customer service specialists, train them better, answer quickly, be respectful of your time, and genuinely want to help. However, we are focused on maximizing profit and since you have no better alternatives, we’re going to treat you however we want. We don’t actually value our customers since they are replaceable numbers to us.”

I would have preferred the later explanation; at least it would have been honest. Too often organizations spout empty platitudes without any intent to deliver. Business executives, politicians, community leaders, and even parents regularly make substance-free claims and believe just saying something is enough.

As we learned long ago, actions speak far louder than words and there’s just no substitute for walking the walk.

In the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” we all remember that dramatic moment when the man behind the curtain was revealed to be an impostor. In the end, the all-knowing, controlling, and harshly judgmental wizard had no power at all. His credibility was shot, and all respect was lost. His career was over when this inconsistency was exposed; yet so many companies and leaders today are moments away from such a tragic fate. I call this disconnect “The Wizard’s Downfall.”

Posting a sign in your lobby claiming “Innovation is priority #1,” but then sharply criticizing all new ideas is an example of the Wizard’s Downfall. Boasting that you value diversity but then only hiring those that look, act, and dress like you is a Wizard’s Downfall. Pounding your fist on the table to voters with righteous indignation, but then later getting ousted in a sex scandal is a most disturbing Wizard’s Downfall.

As savvy consumers, we all have highly developed BS detectors and each little inconsistency we experience undermines the relationship among people, organizations and officials. If you’re looking to grow your company, hollow claims will create more problems than good. If your airline encourages people to “fly the friendly skies,” you’d better be prepared to back that up in a big way. If you tell people your company runs “at the speed of business,” anything other than rapid responsiveness is a disastrous miss.

Take a look at your messaging and brand promise, and work hard to remove any hint of the Wizard’s Downfall. Being authentic and truthful will build deeper client relationships than any empty campaign slogan could ever accomplish.

At the end of the 1939 classic, harmony was restored when the characters’ true identities conquered fear and false promises. To take your business to the next level, follow your own yellow brick road by embracing that same sense of authenticity, consistency and truth.

Easy

Posted on June 28, 2015 by Josh Linkner

As someone who has played guitar for more than 30 years, I can tell you that the secret to regular practice isn’t teeth-grinding discipline. It isn’t external rewards or penalties. It isn’t even the dream of rocking a stadium for adoring fans.

The truth is, the regularity of practice — and the progress than ensues — is often driven by convenience. Simply put, the easier it is to pick up my ax, the more I play. If my guitar is leaning against the living room couch, I’ll pick it up regularly and wail away.

On the other hand, if my guitar is upstairs in a case, the seemingly painless act of going to grab it has a marked impact on my amount of practice. When it’s easy to grab, I grab it. When there’s an extra step or two (even small ones), performance suffers.

Think of the short walk upstairs and the six seconds to open a guitar case as “friction.” Not a gigantic barrier, but that small amount of friction has a dramatic impact on results.

We all work so hard in both our business and personal lives to achieve significant results, but often fall short by failing to recognize and utilize friction to our advantage.

If you sell a product or service, think about all the steps your customers must go through to do business with you. Every extra choice, document, meeting, phone call, click, or decision in the sales process creates friction. And for every single point of friction, your batting average and closing speeds decrease. If your competitor has a worse product at a higher cost, yet makes the buying process simple, you may be losing customers that should be yours.

What about internal friction in your organization? Every extra step, needed approval and unwarranted meeting creates friction that slows you down, diminishes productivity, and damages morale. In business — and life — the less friction that exists, the better the results will be.

You can also use friction as a driver to avoid doing impulsive behavior. If you put your pack of cigarettes inside five different Tupperware containers and leave them in a closet in the basement, you’ll be far less likely to grab a smoke than if the cigarettes are in your front pocket.

If you’re getting distracted at work by checking Facebook too often, install free software that requires you to enter a complicated password every time you have the urge to log on. If you want to stop doing something, add some friction and you’re in-the-moment decisions will be much easier.

Think of friction as a lever that you can move up or down depending on your desired outcome. If you want more of something, remove friction and make it easy. If you want less, add extra steps.

It’s as simple as that.

The Frequency Factor

Posted on June 21, 2015 by Josh Linkner

If you ask an advertising guru what it takes to inform consumers and ultimately move them to action, they’ll instantly spout out their golden formula: Reach + Frequency.

This marketing truism has been captivating customers since the days of Henry Ford, and has carried its weight through every technology advance, product launch and celebrity endorsement over the last 100 years.

Decoding this recipe, Reach refers to reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time. This is how most people think of marketing. But equally important is Frequency, the lesser-known but critically important ingredient. If you saw the classic “teach the world to sing” ad from Coca-Cola only once, it might beckon a smile but you’d never remember the words 40 years later. The indelible message became part of our collective psyche due to its frequency.

Frequency is a powerful force that transcends the field of advertising. Frequency of message elects presidents, drives social change, and hoists pop stars to deity status. It’s also a critical — yet often overlooked — factor in driving organizational change.

If you lead a team or company and you’re frustrated that your folks “aren’t getting it,” examine your frequency factor. Listing off your 12-point plan at a single team meeting won’t fully deliver the message without some repetition, unless you lead a team of savants. You can’t expect people to truly embrace changes in strategy or philosophy unless they have repeated exposure to the message.

As the person who crafted the new plan, cultural values, sales pitch or recruiting strategy, you spent hours refining every word to make it perfect. So holding a single team meeting to roll out the new approach won’t carry the day. A message sent is not a message heard. The snazzy launch must be followed by the constant drip of repetition in order to effectuate meaningful change.

The same principle applies to our customers, investors, interpersonal relationships, and strategic partners. If you want people to absorb your message, they’ll need to hear it more than once. Reinforce key themes with consistency and your message will fully sink in over time.

We can learn more than just proper martini etiquette from the mad men of advertising. The content of your message is the first step, but the frequency brings it to life. If you remain skeptical, list the ingredients of a McDonald’s Big Mac in your mind. I bet you nailed it; 20 years after those memorable ads peppered the airways.

Frequency delivers.

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Play Up

Posted on June 14, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Imagine you step onto a tennis court, facing a partner that’s at least 50% better than you. As you volley back-and-forth, you notice the precision of your shots, the power of your serve, and the intensity of your game. Your stronger opponent has raised your level of play, helping you push to new heights of performance.

Now imagine the same scenario against a player 50% worse than you. You know you can win the match handily, so you take it easy. Your play is a bit sloppy and while you win the set, you certainly don’t advance your game.

Surrounding yourself with people that push and challenge you has a powerful way of elevating your performance, which is a concept that extends far beyond athletics. Conversely, if the people in your life are playing small, you suffer a natural gravitational pull working against you; dragging you back instead of helping you leap forward.

As you work to achieve your best in business, career, family and community, the company you keep becomes an important factor. If your colleagues are driven, growth-oriented, and creative, you’ll see these same traits magnified in yourself. On the other hand, if your peer group consists of lazy, apathetic blamers, you may pick up some of their negative characteristics.

It’s been said that your net worth is likely the average net worth of the three people closest to you. Our peers, colleagues, and friends have a surprisingly large impact on how our lives unfold. Corner-cutting teams produce more corner-cutters. High integrity groups replicate ethical behavior. Shallow, gossipy friends drag down your own thinking and behavior.

Even if you’ve been stuck with the same colleagues or friends for years, think about branching out. Imagine the ideal version of yourself – the person you truly want to become – and then consider which people are most like your vision. Even if you have to network or find a fresh way to connect with new faces, purposely choosing the people in your life can drive a dramatic impact. Seek out those that can challenge you to play your best. Push you to the next level. Help you grow and expand.

Embrace one of the most powerful approaches to improve performance. Surround yourself with people that personify the qualities you seek, and you’ll simply thrive.

Play up.

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Who’s (or What’s) Your Enemy?

Posted on June 7, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Darth Vader was intent on using his natural abilities to destroy humanity and lure good people to the “dark side.” Produce manufacturers are haunted not only by their direct competitors, but also by the giant salty snack conglomerates that are purveyors of instant gratification but lack nutritional value. Kids in troubled urban areas with failing schools often face the enemy of illiteracy.

On your path, you will inevitably encounter enemy forces. Sometimes, however, the real enemy is not who you think and not so easy to identify. It’s easy to assess blame to others, play the victim card, and throw our hands up in helpless despair. While tempting, it doesn’t get you off the hook for taking personal responsibility for the outcomes you seek. The biggest enemies we face may not be others, but internal enemies such as fear, impatience, greed, laziness, and distraction.

Having the privilege to regularly interact with some of the most successful people on the planet, I’ve noticed a fascinating pattern. The best of the best start by having a vivid image of what they’re looking to accomplish. They can describe it in Technicolor detail. From there, they identify all the enemies that could derail progress. The final step: a rock solid plan to overcome. Enemies generally fall into four categories:

1) People – The CEO of your big competitor. Your arch rival in sports. An abusive spouse. Who are the people who create the biggest roadblocks to your progress?

2) Organizations – Regulatory bodies that withhold approvals, competitive companies or teams, lobbying groups peddling legislation that could hamper your growth.

3) Internal Factors – These are the most common, and most difficult to identify and conquer. Your mindset on tenacity, learning, growth, courage, and commitment fall into this category.

4) Natural Forces – The 26.2 miles of road during your marathon attempt, the pollution you seek to eliminate, the cancer cells you’re driven to vaporize.

Once you’ve listed each enemy, craft a specific plan to beat them. Even if these enemy forces feel overwhelming, creative solutions can be uncovered to conquer nearly any opponent (think David vs. Goliath).

Don’t let your enemies lurk in the dark. Instead, bring them into the light by identifying and examining them. Use these negative forces to strengthen your resolve. Nothing makes you want to win more than knowing someone is waiting for you to fail; make it your mission to prove them wrong. Every small victory will build confidence and focus.

Know thy enemy. And conquer away.

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Harness Your Peak Activity Window

Posted on May 31, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Imagine an early morning visit to the zoo.  You’re all excited to see animals leaping around with enthusiasm, demonstrating their swift command over nature.  You first stop by the owl exhibit, only to find these majestic creatures engulfed in deep slumber.  Next, you wander over to cringe at the creepy bat display, only to find it closed until dusk.  At least you see some excitement from the roosters who appear to be totally in their groove during these early morning hours.

We all learned back in middle school that animals have natural circadian rhythms.  It isn’t natural for a cheetah to set the new ground speed record at 4:00am nor do I expect to see my dog (DaVinci) ready to play before 11am.  Animals have certain times where they perform at their best, and other times that just aren’t optimal.  Of course, we people are animals too.

Author and entrepreneur David Farbman speaks extensively about this concept in his recent book, The Hunt.  He suggests that each of us have a Peak Activity Window – a natural timeframe each day where we do our best work.  By knowing yours and planning around it, you can improve performance.

Perhaps you’re a “rooster,” feeling your best at the crack of dawn.  Or maybe you’re a “dolphin,” splashing, jumping and flourishing mid-day.  You could be a “bat,” getting most active at the evening twilight.  Or you may be a “night owl” like many of my musician friends who release their best creativity only when the sun has long been down.

One isn’t better than the other.  The important point is to understand your own Peak Activity Window and build your schedule around it.  If you’re a night owl, don’t schedule your big, important sales call first thing in the morning.  Roosters will do better at breakfast meetings than dinner meetings.

Taking the logic further, you may have different windows for different types of work (or art).  Personally, I write best in the mornings but trip over my words later in the day.  In contrast, I absolutely stink at working out before noon but tend to get energized at the gym between 3:00 – 6:00 pm.  Working with your natural rhythms – instead of fighting them – can be a powerful approach to reign in the outcomes you desire.

Let nature work for you by discovering and harnessing your Peak Activity Windows.  Schedule your time accordingly, and it just may give you that extra boost of performance you seek.  When you work at the right times, the impact of your thunderous roar will be felt far and wide.

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Aftershock

Posted on May 25, 2015 by Josh Linkner

The forceful and deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake that ripped through Nepal on April 25 ravaged the country, leaving more than 8,000 people dead.

Unfortunately, the tragedy continued weeks later when, on May 12, an aftershock earthquake struck the region for a second time. Only slightly less intense, the aftershock was measured as a 7.3.

The experts who study earthquakes expect and try to plan for aftershocks.

Aftershocks of different nature occur in many aspects of business and life, yet we’re often surprised by their impact and force. To drive meaningful change in your business and life, consider using aftershocks to your advantage.

Creative explosions, for example, are too often considered a “one and done” stroke of imaginative genius. An idea is hatched perfectly and is so powerful that it simply needs basic execution after birth, the theory goes. In fact, creativity is needed not only during the initial idea phase, but also in the dozens (or hundreds) of aftershock decisions that are involved in executing on the new idea.

The initial rush of creativity will likely be rendered impotent unless it is followed up by a series of adjustments and innovations.

The same concept applies for rolling out a new policy, driving cultural change, or rallying the team behind a new plan. The sizzle of a new initiative quickly fades, and sustainable change rarely takes root by just announcing it. Change of all flavors requires not only the big bang of a sexy launch, but also a consistent stream of action to reinforce the need for change and help people adapt to the new world order. Shifting hearts and minds requires stamina, not just sizzle. Carefully plan your aftershock strategy if you’re truly committed to transformation.

Bold sales presentations often need a series of follow-ups to close the big deal. Process improvements require a feedback loop so you can continue to refine and adapt the new operational advantages as you gain knowledge. Even changes in relationships often need a series of aftershocks to ensure the new roles of engagement remain intact.

Yes, think big, bold ideas that pack power. But to bring those ideas to life, plan your aftershock strategy with the same care as the big bang itself. Transformation is within your reach, as long as you’re willing to systematically see those audacious ideas through by adding some shock-and-awe to your execution plan.

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