Family and Money Go Together Like Wine and Cheese - Sometimes It Works, Sometimes It Doesn't

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Major transitions involving family can be just that, major! Like the title of this article says, wine and cheese pairings can be a wonderful experience, full of new experiences, and broadening your perspective.  However, they can also be horrible and result in bitter, abrasive, and really dissatisfying outcomes.  Obviously we all want to avoid some of the perils involved with family in life & busines transitions but also we want them to be memorable, positive experiences. Whether its a business transition, an estate transfer, or other kind of transition closely tied to family, their are complicating factors that, if left unchecked, can make a transition much much harder to get through.  Emotions can run high and complex during a family transition as opposed to many others.  Parent to child, sibling to sibling, or other relationship arrangements all have experiences and emotions unique to them. When something like a business or estate transition are required, the decisions, processes, and outcomes sought all become intertwined with the backgrounds brought to the transition.  There are ways to structure these transitions that respect and celebrate those backgrounds but also build-in mechanisms to allow all parties concerned to be heard as well as come to mutually beneficial outcomes.

My hope is some of my own lessons learned as well as applying some of my transition methodologies can help you in your future transitions involving your family - whether its in an estate, transferring ownership of a business to a child or other family member, or transitioning in some other way with your family business.  The goal of this kind of transition is to move through it with minimal stress but also reach everyone's required outcomes while having maintained positive working and personal relationships with one another.

In a previous article on general transition methods, I wrote about the 4P Method: Purpose, Picture, Part, and Plan.  Here I'll expand on that and talk more about the particularities of family transitions.  I focus on business exits and estate processing here but the 4P method along with other elements are applicable to all major transitions and are worth considering in preperation for them.  It's particularly important in the case of family transitions to spend some time in planning and preparing for the transition. Working through the 4P exercise in my previous article will be very helpful (and would have been for me in my past family transition experiences had I known what I do now!) but I'm going to add 1 more element of particular importance in this article and that is the Process. 

Focus on the Process

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A plan suggests events, timelines, schedules, resources, and dependencies.  However, the Process (or method) you're going to employ during your family transition is just as important, if not more so.  There are particular methods that can be useful when processing an estate, for example, that will help value belongings and other items in a simple way so that everyone comes away heard, respected, and having a feeling of importance and belonging in the family.  In a family business transition, creating an agreed to process prior to actually beginning a transition can help alleviate much hardship, disagreement, and sour relations. First and foremost, designing a process you'll be using (or finding useful templates online, for instance) will help everyone to focus on the process and how it's working or isn't rather than all the baggage that a family transition can sometimes bring forward.  If everyone agrees to a mutually crafted and beneficial approach (and agreeing it's improvable along the way!) creates a means to divert tense energy back to the process, what's been agreed to, and if it isn't working, mechanisms to improve it.  This will enable everyone to navigate the potentially difficult maze of uncertainty in the transition by having a solid map everyone can work from.

For example, in a family business transition, a high level process could look something like this:

  1. Recognition of Successes - spend time celebrating the business, the obstacles that were overcome, the achievements made, and relationships built.  Single out specific occasions and individuals in the family (and other employees) and celebrate their contributions on a personal level.
  2. Recognition of Transition - spend time together acknowledging there is a transition required at some point in the future (could be near or long term) and what might be changing on an individual or organizational basis in routines, roles, assumptions, & relationships that are driving the need for transition.
  3. Define decision making process - this is the method by which you'll step through each facet of the business, management, assets, equity, finances, and more.  This should involve a review of Governance documents, current Profit and Loss statements, Balance Sheets, Cashflow Statements, Articles of Incorporation, and more to ensure everyone starts with an equal satisfactory understanding of the state of the business.  This is also where you should include things like dispute resolution triggers, means, and ends. This is really important to craft early so it's well understood by all parties. Even if you feel things are going swimmingly, I suggest having something written out and signed, so it's clear for everyone involved.  Even go so far as selecting a mutually agreed to independent mediator should things get really difficult. They are professionals at systematic approaches to arrangements, agreements, and transfers.
  4. Define Transition Strategy - similar to an "Exit Strategy" (which often implies an individual owners exit) a transition strategy is more holistic and includes direct (and indirectly) family members, ownership, and what the intended transfer structure will be.  It describes how the business will change, ownership and asset transfers, and more.  This is one way to get the high level (at this stage) Transition Strategy agreed to and in place to move forward with.
  5. Design the Transition - the goal here is to clearly describe the path of through what's Ending, the Uncertainty Stage, and New Beginnings.  What is success at these stages, for whom, what matters most and what matters least?
  6. Define the remaining 4P's - Purpose, Picture, Part, Plan.  Now that the 1-5 above are accomplished the remaining details of the 4P's should be relatively simple to define and agree to.  All of this will be imperfect and improvable but vastly superior to winging it or going forward on cursory verbal agreements.

In my past experience as a co-executor with my brother of my moms estate, I found some things we did were really useful, beneficial and important and when we deviated from our agreements, the baggage of our past as well as recent disagreements amplified the sour outcomes where they could have otherwise been avoided had we worked through something like the above process for an estate.  In my organizational improvement work at Boeing, when you're working across functional and organization lines, vertically and horizontally, focusing on a mutually agreed to process is a powerful way to keep people engaged, respected, and enjoying the experience. This is a big part of why I do the work I do, is to help take my own lessons learned, lessons I learn from others, and apply my expertise in engineering, management, strategy, and more for the benefit of my customers transitions.  Please don't hesitate to call and set up an initial consultation if you have or are in a family transition and could use some help creating a holistic approach that benefits everyone and maintains positive relationships.

 

Big Strategic Questions That Will Eat Your Lunch and You With Them If You Fail to Act

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Strategy: the word chills the spine, ignites excitement, or induces malaise like no other word I've observed people use.  When avoided, it can be quite costly but when articulated, integrated, and deployed effectively, can be extremely valuable for you and your organizations.  Strategy is simply "connecting ends with means", "connecting aspirations with capabilities", or as described in The Non-Profit Strategy Revolution "an organized pattern of behavior toward an end".  I think of Strategy like I do metabolism, I may not know everything there is to know about it but I know it's there, whether you think or act on it or NOT!  Strategies can be coherent or incoherent, articulated or unarticulated, designed or ad hoc, no matter what though, they're present in some way or another.  For most people and organizations though, if they're struggling, strategies are either unarticulated or ill-designed, and in many organizations or individuals, it's a product of a strong leader or innate characteristics of your personality or your organizations culture that contributes to your success.  The problem is, as many experience, that these ill-designed and unarticulated strategies do not stand the test of time, change of leadership, or significant change of circumstances.  Good strategies, well articulated, integrated, and deployed, can withstand all these changes but also result in vastly superior performance and bottom line results.  Sounds pretty good to me!

In my article "Going Where the Wind Blows You: The Ills of Having an Unclear Strategy", I described symptoms of poor or unarticulated strategies.  As in that article, I aim here to make strategy relevant and valuable for individuals and organizations in their transitions. This article is about recognizing when you're facing  a "Big Strategic Question", common types, and ways to think about these questions.

What is a Big Strategic Question?

These questions involve a change in circumstances that could have significant impact (both positive or negative) on your income/revenue, operational effectiveness/efficiency, regulatory or tax status, or more essentially on your ability to function well in your life or organization.  They can be a result of big changes  in market/customer base, competitive/industry dynamics, regulatory/tax changes (as we've seen recently), internal operational circumstances (change in leadership, legal or ethical lapses, etc.), or business model evolution (technology, industry available productivity improvements, etc.), and more.  Often, the answers to these questions are not immediately actionable but require architecting a coordinated set of behaviors, activities, resources, and more to fully achieve the outcomes sought in response to the Big Question.

Below are a few examples.  Use them to spurn your thinking about what your current Big Strategic Questions are and then spend some time designing a comprehensive response.  Contact Me for help if you should need it!

Market Changes

What if your customer base suddenly (or unrecognized over a longer period) shifts preferences and the way you currently provide value (products or services) no longer fits?

What if market wide shifts like higher/lower income levels, cultural considerations, or new substitute choices drive your revenues down?

Potential Market Strategic Questions:

  • How will this shift affect us? In what ways, for how long, is it temporary or here to stay?
  • What should our response be? Find a new customer segment? Shift our marketing efforts? Redesign or products/services to fit the new preferences?
  • Does this shift require improving our productivity to lower the price for the customer or does it require deeper changes like to essential components of our organizational model?
  • Our income and revenue has increased (for known reasons like inheritance, failure of a competitor and thus increased market share, etc.), how will we respond and build in a new, sustainable, lifestyle and market position with this new windfall?

Industry Changes

What should you do if your job is getting automated or your skills no longer fit the job?

What happens if your customers think they can do your companies work better than you can?

What if your competitors start competing more on price?

Potential Industry Strategic Questions

  • Should we compete on price? Do we have another advantage we can leverage?
  • Can we learn a new capability or skillset and out maneuver the competition?
  • Should we buy a competitor to gain further economies of scale and thus raise the barriers to entry?

Operational Changes

What if key operational characteristics or resources change?

What happens if the threat of natural disaster increases (as we see in Hawaii!)

What if critical elements of cost suddenly increase, like raw materials or skilled labor?

Potential Operational Strategic Questions

  • Should we improve our succession planning in the event key leadership changes?
  • Should we decentralize our operations to non-related regions so the threat of natural disaster won't have as high of an impact?
  • How should (or can) we incentivize employees in ways other than straight compensation?

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As you can see, changing circumstances in your life and organizations environments require certain types of strategic questions to be asked.  The examples I include here are in no way comprehensive but are used to illustrate the point.  There is immense power in framing the question accurately and appropriately so that your response truly aligns with your values and outcomes you seek.  Good questions get much better answers, mediocre questions get diluted and mediocre responses.  Spend time crafting your strategic questions well in your life & business transitions and don't hesitate to Contact Me for help!

Resources

 

Process Design and Definition: A Key to Productivity and Growth

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My recent reader survey turned up a somewhat surprising result that many readers wanted to read more about Process design, analysis, measurement, and improvement as well as technical subjects in this area.  I'm starting out at the beginner level with this article.  It is basic methods for my Industrial & Manufacturing oriented readers but you may find value in it none-the-less.

Additionally, to live true to the "Integrated Strategic Solutions" I offer, I will describe how my future articles relate to a larger overall of solutions I offer and write about.

Process design is a foundational element of the Organizational Strategies --> Program Strategies --> Operational Strategies --> Process Design and Improvements structure.  When properly aligned, these 4 categories of an organization produce valuable results.

Process design is a fundamental component of being productive as an organization but even as individuals.  "What gets measured gets improved" and "If you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing" are attributed to the great Management Thinker, Peter Drucker.  While I'm not 100% on board with those statements, they summarize a great deal about why designing or defining your processes are critical to your bottom line success.

I make a distinction between design and definition for a reason.  Design implies you're either designing something from scratch or you're re-designing a process you already have documented.  Defining a process means you are currently doing something repetitive in nature, using resources in a coordinated way, requiring inputs of some kinds and producing outputs/outcomes for use or benefit of someone.  Cooking the Thanksgiving Turkey can be defined as a process as well as the production of a Boeing 767 aircraft (I would know, I've worked on just that!).

The SIPOC - Basics of Process Design and Definition

This tool can be used as one of the most basic ways to look at your processes but can be valuable when used as a launching board for improving your processes.  

When to use it: when you need to design or define your process.  A process is a set of coordinated activities and resources that are repeated on a regular basis, requiring a variety of inputs, and producing one or a small set of outputs or outcomes. More basically: do you repeat it regularly? Does it require a non-trivial amount of thinking, acting and coordinating? Does it change the form, fit, or function of a set of materials to produce something new as an output? If the answer is yes to the above, then you ought to start defining it as a process on the road to improving it, and ultimately helping to decrease your costs in time, money, or effort.

SIPOC stands for: Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers

Suppliers: these are the entities, organizations, people, or places where the process receive its inputs.

Inputs: anything required as resources to produce the outputs of the process. Often they consist of information, materials, equipment, labor, etc.. You can make a sub-category here between equipment and raw materials/consumables and information if you'd prefer.

Process: the set of coordinated actions required to produce a desired output.  This can be as simple as a sequential number of steps or as complicated as a multi-route workflow required to produce a desired result.

Outputs: the customer required output or outcome of the process.  Outputs are most often tangible, physical objects of some kind while outcomes are more service oriented and mean "a desired end state or result from a transition or change after completion of a service".

Customer: the receiving party, end user, or downstream process.  The customer requirements ultimately define what quality is required to produce a profitable product as well as all other kinds of requirements.  It's my observation that many people forget this and over or under produce to customer requirements.  Eventually this sort of misalignment can result in reduced sales, unhappy customers, or over expenditures of resources.

Putting It All Together: defining a process can be easy if it's not too complicated.  You can use an Excel Spreadsheet or simply headers in a Word document for each of the categories of the SIPOC.  Alternatively, search Google for SIPOC and you'll find a ton of useful templates to choose from.  While it may seem daunting or a low value activity, getting used to defining your work as a process in this holistic way will result in more productive use of your time and resources.  Use it to remove redundant or unnecessary steps, identify quality related issues, as a training device for new hires, as a document to transfer to a new business buyer or incoming manager, and more.  Contact Me for help.

Process design is a fundamental element of an effective and efficient organization. However, without having an integrated, strategic framework for your organization, you may be spending time on a process that's unnecessary or at a minimum, ill defined. I highly recommend, if you don't have a strategic framework in which to align your critical processes, that you spend concerted time and effort to craft one.  Basically, don't spend time making the wrong process REALLY efficient.  Contact Me for your Strategic Transitions work or designing & aligning your Operational Strategies and the underlying processes that support it.

PS -  I value reader feedback on what kinds of topics are interesting and valuable.  Please take less than 1 minute for this 1 question survey and let me know what topics I should write about for the future!  Thank you to those that have already filled it out!

Relationship Matters: The Powerful Tool of Stakeholder Analysis for You or Your Organizations Next Transition

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Meaningful relationships are obviously at the top of the list of essential ingredients to a fulfilling life and also a successful organization - private, public, non-profit, and others.  Without well functioning relationships internal to an organization the value of your outputs will be taxed, i.e. cost more in time, money, and effort than they otherwise would be.  Externally an organization is most valuable to it's key customer, suppliers, regulators, and others when it's relationships are clean, clear, and beneficial to all involved.  The same is true of individual relationships in your life.  We're social beings and it is essential to our mental well being that we have meaningful and well functioning relationships.  Life & Business Transitions are not independent of the relationships you have and they can, in some cases, make or break your next transition.  Taking a clear and concrete view of your relationships is useful at any time but in particular when preparing for your next transition.

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This article is about "stakeholders", and for those unfamiliar with the buzzwordy term, a stakeholder is a special kind of relationship you have where these other individuals or organizations or demographics have some relevant interest, impact, or influence on your well being and productive fulfillment of your purpose.  Basically, they are an essential element to your success.  While to some this concept might seem foreign, cold, or unnecessarily analytical, the real value will be seen when you use this type of thinking in your next personal or organizational transition.  We all do this implicitly all the time when we assess the value of our relationships and our interest in developing them further.  This is the next level of thinking where it shows up explicitly, written on paper, and framed with some analytical models that can enrich how you think about the potential (or lack thereof) of your stakeholder relationships.

Below is an overview of a few models to view your stakeholder relationships, their strength or weaknesses, benefits, and potential opportunities to grow in the future.

  1. Stakeholder Inventory
    1. The first step in a stakeholder analysis is to take an inventory of the key individuals or organizations that impact, influence, or have a keen interest in you and your interactions with them and others.
    2. Capture some simple data points like when the relationships were established, what kind they are (individually - close friend, friend, acquaintance, direct family member, etc. and organizationally - customer, supplier, employee, management, government regulators, community groups, etc.).  I suggest keeping them on a personal basis for individuals and at a categorical as an organization but possibly name individuals if they have considerable weight in your relationship groups. Perhaps frequency you interact with them, in what ways, the last time you had an exchange, etc.  This information will come in handy later on as context for future growth and strengthening of these relationships.
  2. Analyze the Stakeholder Relationships
    1. 3 Tier View - this is a simple view of your stakeholder relationships, again whether as an individual or organization.  Draw 3 concentric circles, one imbedded in the other so you should have at the end what appears to be a target. In the center circle input your closest relationships, the ones that you interact with frequently, and which have a large influence, impact, or interest (i3 from here) in your activities and decisions.  There shouldn't be more than 4-7 VERY strong relationships in this tier.  The next tier (middle ring) should represent the next level of relationships.  These have less frequency of interaction and/or pronounced levels of the i3's.  The outer most layer are those stakeholders that are still relevant and have some level of i3 in your life or work but who you don't interact with often.  Next is to critically assess these relationships when considering the transitions you seek, which ones will reinforce and positively contribute and which will be a drag?  Which do you have direct control over strengthen or even disengaging from?  Use this simple model to rearrange (or not) the relationships and think about what that means for your future.
    2. Categorical Matrix
      1. This ones a little more complicated but adds more information to the original stakeholder inventory.  You include the specific categories of the kind of relationship it is, a benefit (quantitative or qualitative) they provide you or your organization, and how you benefit the relationship.  After putting together this matrix look for overlaps, redundancies, or gaps that should have some attention put to them.  Additionally, you can sort by the level of benefit you receive now and potentially in the future as well as what benefit you provide them.  In an organization, your direct beneficiary or customer will show up at the top of the list as the relationships you get monetary benefit or purpose fulfillment (in the case of a non-profit) and that you serve them with value with a product or service.  This is kind of like a "rolodex" of contacts but with more information added for context.  This can show up as a powerful tool to develop relationships further but also to connect your stakeholders to one another to find more value in developing relationships further.  Additionally, you may find you need to develop a few new relationships in key areas like local government, community organizations, etc. where having a few more relationships in those areas can improve your effectiveness, communication, and mutual benefit.
    3. Energizing/Fulfilling/Benefit vs. Growth Potential Matrix Model (see below)
      1. I include this model in my Next Callings Experience and it's a way to view the benefit of your stakeholder relationships by the potential to grow them further in some way.  Place your stakeholders from your inventory on the spectrums from low to high of Energizing/Fulfilling (basically benefit level) vs. Growth Potential.  The ones that end up with high benefit and high growth potential are key stakeholders to devote most of your time, attention, and resources to.  The lower left quadrant are ones that you can either eliminate (sounds harsh, I know!) or at least not allocate as much of your precious time, effort, money, or attention to.  The point is to use a model like this to categorize your relationships in some way and use the insights made to make future decisions in line with your goals and values.
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4. Take Action - the last step of the analysis is to take action on some of the results you discovered.  Schedule meaningful and valuable interactions, focus on benefiting these stakeholders in some new and novel way.  As an organization you might find these relationships have a lot of potential to benefit all involved, especially after you've refocused your resources (in alignment with your strategic plan, vision, and values) to develop these relationships to their full potential.

Your stakeholders are your partners, collaborators , and interested parties that have a stake in your well being, benefit from your efforts or who desire to influence your world in some way. When I've looked at an analysis like this in organizations, I find the 20/80 rule shows up in tangible ways.  20 percent of your relationships and stakeholders provide 80 percent of the value, benefit, and excitement in your life and organization.  The opposite is also relevant, meaning that 20 percent of your relationships result in 80 percent of your resource drain - time, money, attention, effort.  There is power in doing this kind of relationships analysis as an individual in preparation for your next transition as you identify those relationships that will be positive enablers and supporters and those relationships that will provide head winds and drag.  Same goes for your organizations next transitions.  Put into direct and somewhat harsh words - cultivate and strengthen the relationships that are win-win and necessary and purge/eliminate the ones that aren't.  You only have so much resource to go around, use them wisely and you'll find success much more easily!

The 5 Thinking Hats of Transitions: What they are, how to use them, and how they benefit any transition

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I believe thinking is a skill and can be improved with the right help, frameworks, and methods to do so.  In a transition, according to author Nancy Schlossberg of Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life, there are five common ways people explore their retirement and the next stage of life in this important transition.  I'm taking this a step further and extending this idea into ALL Transitions as well as coupling it with some of famous creative thinking polymath Edward de Bono's thoughts (he's also a psychologist, philosopher, author, inventor, and consultant) from his book Six Thinking Hats.  The benefits of trying on each hat when thinking about, planning, or experiencing a transition may help to reframe, reorganize, or reinvigorate what the art of the possible is for you.  Ultimately, this will enrich your transition whether it's retirement, a career change, or even in an organizations transition in a larger sense.

The 5 Thinking Hats of Transitions

These 5 thinking hats are presented here in no particular order or importance.  Think of them as general ways people experience and explore a transition and that one does not necessarily experience one at a time.  More often then not, we traverse a mixture of these types at any given time or we "wear multiple hats" at the same time.  However, if you stop and think with a particular "hat" on and perhaps even pursue your transition fully embracing a particular "hat", you may find the experience more rewarding, enriching, simplified, and straightforward.  

  1. The Continuer
    1. This hat is simply an extension of your current identity or organizations identity.  It seeks to perpetuate the roles, relationships, routines, and assumptions that make up your work, home, or volunteer life and they remain central to who you are and what you find important.  This mindset can sometimes be more possible in one circumstance vs. another.  Perhaps you can move from a full time teacher to a retired teacher but a volunteer in the same school or school district, thus maintaining almost similar structure to your life. 
    2. Questions to explore:
      1. Can you continue your current identity and life structure but packaged in a different way or ways?
      2. Are there opportunities to maintain same or similar roles, routines, relationships, and assumptions post-transition?
      3. What are the pros/cons with this frame of mind and pursuit in your transition or your organizations transition?
  2. The Searcher
    1. With this hat on, you understand and act with the knowledge that you need to move on and transition to something new but you're unclear about the exact place you're seeking or going to end up.  There is space with this mindset for trial and error to gravitate to what fits best.  The key with this hat is to focus on perseverance to move through the transition and end up where desired.
    2. Questions:
      1. What are a few steps you can take to seek out new roles, relationships, routines, and assumptions for your next stage after you transition?
      2. Are you comfortable trying something new and dropping it if it doesn't suit you?
      3. What kinds of activities and resources might be required by you or your organization and spend some time exploring, searching, and experimenting?
  3. The Retreater
    1. This mindset happens to many of us at some point in our life, in some kinds of transitions.  Basically, its like giving up, and succumbing to the minimum level of roles, relationships, and routines in life.  Boredom or in some cases, depression, characterize this hat.  I believe this can be an important stage of transition as well as thinking about an upcoming one because it can be thought of as stripping away all distractions, complexities, and unnecessary aspects of your life or organization.  The adage "no where to go but up" exemplifies the realization of this perspective.
    2. Questions:
      1. What might happen if you "gave up" and stopped being deliberate, planning, and pursuing something new and different for your transition?
      2. What kinds of disabilities, ailments, or challenges might occur for you to become a true Retreater in your next transition?  How could you reframe these circumstances to step out and away from a Retreater mindset?
      3. What would it look like for your organization to put a stop to it's current initiatives and pursuits of growth (but still serve your customers well) and instead allow space to settle back and simplify for some amount of time?
        1. How would this benefit your organization? Harm your organization?
  4. The Adventurer
    1. This is a mindset of full of positive and new "what if's?" What if you stepped out of your comfort zone and learned a new athletic skill? Art skill? What about a whole new capability set for your organization like in-depth sales and customer service training for your whole organization? This is the "go big or go home" mindset.  I look at these transitions as taking a "big jump" away from your current roles, routines, relationships, and assumptions and exploring new horizons.  This can also be thought of as "stressing the system" in your life or organization.  Most biological systems thrive when stressed periodically, so they adapt, improve, and shed unnecessary and inefficient uses of resources and energy. This can also be true for your personal life or organization.
    2. Questions:
      1. What are 3 new, exciting, and uncomfortable skills you can pursue learning in-depth and practicing?  Perhaps even a whole new role for your paid work or volunteering work.
      2. What are some best case/worst case scenarios you can explore when thinking about 1 big adventure to take on (you'll have to define that too!)?  You may find the worst case scenarios, when written down and realistically examined, really aren't as bad as once thought.
      3. What kinds of circumstances would have to take affect in your organization or life to feel a sense of urgency, importance, and energy to transition and improve?
  5. The Easy Glider
    1. This is the "go where the wind takes you" mindset and is somewhat of a conglomeration of the rest of the hats of a transition.  More characteristically, it embraces each day and moment as full of possibility and allows it to unfold a bit more organically than the others.  However, there is some flavor of doing the activities you enjoy, engaging in stimulating relationships, etc. vs. pure trial and error (Searcher) or seeking dramatically new experiences (Adventurer).  They are often open to anything but are deliberate and in control.
    2. Questions:
      1. What's going on in your life or organization that you enjoy about it?  Take notice and pursue new versions of these activities and roles as they come.
      2. How has this hat shown up in your life or organization and what are some ways you see it happening in the future?
      3. What are some ways you can embrace and celebrate right where you are in life or in your organization?

These 5 Thinking Hats are useful tools for your personal life, career, or organizational transitions.  I think many of us can identify with one or all of them, in our individual lives or perhaps as persona's of our organizations as well.  No mindset is necessarily better than the others and I believe they all have a useful perspective to at least explore in a thinking exercise.  I am certain deliberately stepping into a different mindset or "hat" in this case is a valuable way to explore an upcoming or existing transition, in our lives or businesses.  

Resources

Want the Quick View for Your Transition? Try the 4P Method to Start

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Part of my mission here at NextCallings.com is to share new insights and methods I'm learning and applying in my work to help my readers have successful transitions. I want this blog to be a cornucopia of tips, tricks, methods, and tools for a reader to refer to when in need.  This post is about the 4P Snapshot for your transition, whether it's in life, business, or both!

The 4P's

The 4P's are: Picture, Purpose, Plan, and Part.  This simple framing of a transition gives a holistic view of a transition and provides a roadmap to navigate through it.  You can follow my suggestions below or use them in a conversation as discussion pieces to explore.  I believe any amount of exploration of these facets of a transition will help make it successful.

Picture

The Picture of your transition is kind of similar to the common "Vision" for a business.  However, picture implies a more visceral description or even visual of what the new beginnings and destination is for your upcoming transition.  Whether it's retirement, charging forward with a business transition, or changing jobs, capturing a really clear picture of what it will be is powerful.  Not only for you but for those who have a relationship and a role to play in the transition.  Here are some ideas on how to craft a picture for your transition:

  1. Use the 1 Page --> 1 Paragraph --> 1 sentence (or 2) approach I've discussed in previous posts.  Start with a 1 page, "creative writing" exercise to describe this next stage in your transition and what it looks like in the future.  Then whittle it down, edit, be brutal, so that it's clear, concise, and compelling.  Try to narrow even further to 1 or 2 sentences.
  2. Multi-Dimension Picture: in this approach, you use a table of "categories" of dimensions of your desired transition.  Think of a table with each category across the top of the table (columns) and then versions or variations of each in the rows (down the vertical axis).  Categories like Social, Financial, Environmental, Operational, etc. are good starts but include categories relevant to you and your particular needs.  Be detailed and explicit.  Include specifics like quantities, names, places, clear descriptors, etc. to make it all the more powerful.
  3. A Picture or Collage: perhaps you've seen a picture or group of pictures you could use to describe your own intended Picture for your transition.  I mean a visual of some sort like a webpage, magazine picture, or some other one.  You could use this as the primary focus for your transitions "picture" and perhaps elaborate a little with words.

Purpose

A clear "why" statement of some sort for your transition will be helpful as a motivational tool, guideline, as well as creating a common foundation for others involved in the transition.  This is really critical for business transitions as well as high stress/emotion family transitions.  If the "why" of your transition is unclear to you and others involved, it will be hard to stay on track and moving in a common direction.  The "why" of transitions binds a group together and focuses the transition efforts in a common direction.

Ways to Approach a Transition Purpose

  1. Write down the values that are driving factors in this transition.  Perhaps this transition is driven by strong family ties or "we value high employee satisfaction".  If the environment or conditions change such that these values are challenged or are triggered for action, clarifying them in writing, especially in a group setting, can help direct future decision making and clarifying the purpose of a transition.  If you've never written down your personal, family, or business values explicitly, it can be challenging, especially in a large group setting.  I specialize in this kind of work so Contact Me for help.
  2. Met and Unmet Expectations - perhaps a transitions purpose lies in expectations being met or unmet.  Perhaps the transition was expected and now must be carried out.  Sometimes though, a transition is required when expectations aren't met.  Perhaps you can't retire now because of a new financial need that's come up like supporting ailing parents or a business deal wasn't closed and so a course correction and business transition is now required.  Writing out these met/unmet expectations can help to draw out the purpose for a life or business transition.
  3. Ask around - a good conversation with someone you trust who can provide perspective is a pretty simple, non-analytical approach to getting to the core of why a transition is happening.

Plan

A transition plan can be really simple or thorough, detailed, and integrated.  Think of a plan more as a roadmap for the transition and it can help create that big picture view of how a transition COULD play out.  A Transition plan should have 3 key areas that are covered: Endings, Grey Areas of Uncertainty, and New Beginnings.  Some description of these focus areas can help create a thorough and holistic plan.

Transition Planning

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  1. A checklist - some plans can be as simple as a checklist of critical events or "To do's" that should be accounted for and checked off.  This is not only to be certain you have a clear idea of what's needed on the road ahead but also to have a sense of accomplishment as you check them off.
  2. A simple timeline - sometimes its useful to be able to see events play out over time.  This often results in finding dependencies that weren't so obvious or conflicts in sequencing (especially between different parties involved in a transition) that should be resolved. I'm talking about a pretty simple straight horizontal line with hash marks and descriptions of events and milestones along the way.  This can also helping in defining clearer start/ending points as well.
  3. An integrated plan (pictured here) - this is a bit more complicated but essentially if a transition has several categories of work/effort or crosses between different parties concerned with a transition then breaking them into horizontal "swimlanes" with there own timelines, milestones, and lines connecting related events can help to see an even MORE detailed picture of interactions, dependencies, and potential conflicts.  This view can really help to work together across different parties or organizations in a transition and keep everyone working toward a common roadmap.  For more help with planning for a complicated transition, please contact me directly.

Part

Every transition has roles and parts to play and no transition really happens in isolation.  Whether it's a personal life transition or a full business lifecycle transition, the majority of them have several parties involved and it's important to understand the parts everyone play. This is particularly important in business settings where clear roles need to be described but also having a fully inclusive business transition will often be more successful than a non-transparent one.  Each actor in a transition can have a set of responsibilities, roles, and relationships described and agreed to such that they clearly align with the Picture, Purpose, and Plan for the transition.  Transitions themselves are about the people and the organizations they belong to (partnership, family, business or otherwise) and so everyone understanding how they will participate and contribute is critically important.

Clarifying Parts

  1. For business specifically, the Part that employees, managers, and others play can show up in creating Transition Management Teams, Transition Design Teams, Transition Monitoring Teams, etc.. These might sound really formal but they're really there so that the organization can take on a transition as a whole unit and work together for the common picture, purpose, and plan.  Contact me for more help here.
  2. For families - family transitions can be quite enriching and rewarding and don't always have to be dreadful.  I truly believe if planned well and are transparent and inclusive, even the more negative kinds of transitions (healthcare, aging, certain kinds of retirements, divorces, etc.) can be improved on if everyone feels they have a clear part to play and that it's an important one.  This can also help, at a minimum, to frame conversations on who is taking what kinds of responsibilities and commitments.  Alternatively, if no one is clear on what they're to do, things fall apart quickly and misunderstandings/miscommunications abound.  Feel free to contact me for family transition planning as well.

Closing Remarks

The 4P's method is a powerful way to explore an upcoming transition, whether planned or unplanned.  Taking even a few minutes to think about how these 4 areas of a transition fit together will help immensely in my opinion but depending on your needs and the kind of transition, a thorough and detailed transition design and plan can mean the difference between stress, strain, and failure and having a rewarding, enriching, and eventually successful New Beginning.

 

 

15 Signs of The Reluctant Leader and What to Do About It

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A Reluctant Leader is someone who has leadership qualities and has leadership roles but who may not be consistent, explicit, and continuously growing in these roles. My experience in Corporate America as well as in my work at Next Callings has brought me an appreciation for the characteristics and qualities of Leadership but also a keen eye for those folks (including myself!) that may be reluctant to take on acting as a leader or being known as one.  Problem is, when you look at some of the bi-products of these habits, is that being a Reluctant Leader could be costing you money, hard work, employee satisfaction, and ultimately your own fulfillment in the long run, whether its in your personal life or family, church, small business, or other organization. I believe Life & Business Transitions can be a lot smoother if one recognizes and improves on the qualities of Leadership.  I hope this post helps with that recognition and you take some steps to come out of your Reluctant Leader shell!

  1. You focus on the Why first and then on the What and How but don't necessarily communicate it that way.
    1. One thing to Do: Share it openly and often to reinforce, encourage, and improve.
  2. You know implicitly that there are Hard Things About Hard Things and make decisions that don't always satisfy everyone but you know that in the long run, most decisions you make satisfy most people, most of the time and are always focused on what's best for the organization and it's success for the long term.
    1. One thing to do: when you face a particularly Hard Decision, write out your thought process, how you've weighed the varying perspectives, pro's, and con's, then make the decision!  Reflect later in Retrospect not to judge but to learn on how you can make that hard decision a little easier next time.
  3. You genuinely do listen to others perspectives and opinions, whether they know it or not but you never end up letting them know!
    1. One thing to Do: provide constructive feedback, ensure the communicator(s) knows you're actively listening, follow up with reiterating/reframing of what's been communicated.
  4. You provide instruction, guidance, direction, and/or mentorship in service of your goal or vision for the business - it's not obvious that's what you're doing.
    1. One thing to Do: Keep it up but perhaps refine over time to deepen these relationships.  Ask how you can do better in this role.
  5. You work to bring people together rather than focusing on how to drive them apart - you're not sure why that is but do it anyway.
    1. One thing to Do:  This is a facet of Servant Leadership, reinforce that teamwork and group initiative gets the job done better than the sum of it's parts.  Take more leadership and employee development training to refine your skills.
  6. You focus on removing barriers, roadblocks, and hang-ups that are in the way of productive and satisfying work but you think this is more about the bottom line than at least as much about helping people.
    1. What to Do: write out what this does for the bottom line but also what it does for you personally, for your employees, and for your customers.  See how this holistic view can be improved on and used to make an even greater impact.
  7. You're genuinely concerned about stakeholder and particularly employee wellbeing but they don't know it!
    1. One thing to Do: celebrate this explicitly, build on it, encourage it from others in  your organization.  It's a great thing to model, follow up to ensure the organization and people within it are developing here as well.
  8. You think about how your organization could do it's work and fulfill it's purpose faster, better, and cheaper but you aren't teaching others the same mindset and habits.
    1. One thing to Do: Make this explicit in how you work yourself, learn other methods and cater them to your needs and culture, and work to train others in a continuous improvement mindset.
  9. You're mindset and actions are transformational and transitional but sometimes transactional - but you aren't clear in your style and it shows.
    1. One thing to Do: Learn about transformational and transitional leadership and understand how it differs from transactional.  The Former are about treating people as ends in themselves, the later is more about treating them as Means to Ends, whether it's employees, suppliers, partners, or even customers.
  10. When you say no, it's in service of your bigger goal and vision, and when you say yes, it's much more impactful, meaningful, and beneficial for the organization but you may not be saying no enough!
    1. One thing to Do: Think about WHY you say "no" and find commons reasons.  Use those as future litmus tests and decision aids.  It's great to be consistent and clear.  It'll help you do better in the future and as well as help the employees to know more about how the business runs and how you think about priorities.
  11. You are present and future progress focused rather than dwelling on the past but you may only be doing this in your head
    1. One thing to Do: Have conversations with your partners and/or employees the demonstrates these focuses.  Let them see this operate in your daily life and how it benefits you and your organization.
  12. You're a continuous learner and you apply the lessons to your organization on a regular basis - from others, from books and written resources, from associates and friends but you're not sure of the benefit nor do you inspire others to do the same
    1. One thing to Do: Think of it like this, there is almost no downside to continuous learning, only if you go into overload/overwhelm mode and end up not retaining nor using it.  This being said, the Return on Investment can be huge if you apply what you learn only a few times in your work or life.  As a business owner or for life in general, getting huge returns is always great!
  13. You seek constructive feedback but you're treating the useless feedback and valuable feedback the same
    1. One thing to Do: Identify the people that give the best feedback but not just the ones that reinforce your current world view.  Look for the ones that challenge your thinking and help you evolve.  Deepen those relationships and maybe step back from the others.
  14. When you speak, people listen but you're not speaking quite enough and your people want you to
    1. One thing to Do: start with more simple one on one conversations to deepen your insight and how you're perceived by others.  Widen this to bigger conversations and group working sessions. Ask for feedback on what people value most about what you have to say and how you benefit them in their work and lives.  Act on it!
  15. You innately practice and understand that organizations (and people!) evolve over time and transition through various stages but you aren't clear on the details, success strategies, and best practices to move through them successfully.
    1. One thing to Do: Learn more about organizational dynamics, transitions, as well as for peoples macro developmental transitions as well as common micro or shorter term transitions.  Apply this learning to the benefit of yourself, the organization, and employees.

Reluctant Leadership is not a destination but I believe a stage of transition in itself.  It is that uncertain ground many come upon when they open a business, take on a leadership role in an organization, or face a transition in their family in which they must step up and help others move through the transition experience in a healthy and successful way. I believe if one reflects on some of these tendencies and works diligently to overcome them, they will personally reap benefits while also benefiting through group and organization.  If you have some more suggestions for Reluctant Leaders or some of your own stories of coming out of your shell, share them in the comments below!

Resources

Signs the Walls are Closing In and Your Organization Needs an Overhaul

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"Our management is out of tune...They're more interested in power plays and finger pointing than they are about making progress and meeting their customer and employees needs.  This can't last forever, it seems like this place is crumbling and they're propping it up rather than the right changes that are needed..."

Does that sound familiar?  Maybe it's not your workplace or business, but perhaps it's one you work with, buy from, or have some other important relationship with.  As business people, it's really tough to work with an organization that seems pretty dysfunctional, isn't meeting its commitments and keeping up with responsibilities, or just plane old isn't doing it's job for you anymore.  What can be worse is if you're paying the organization and switching to something else it REALLY hard or costly for some reason or another.  You probably can see situations where the organization is just being propped up and holes patched but overall, the walls are coming down. This post is about recognizing symptoms of this "Closing In" stage of an organizations lifecycle and what might be done about it, from the inside or as a partner for the future on the outside.

The Closing In Stage

There are other, less kind ways to describe this stage.  One that comes to mind is a "complete train wreck in progress".  And no, despite what many people might think, this isn't EVERY organization out there.  This closing in stage is part of a typical organizational lifecycle.  What comes next is complete failure/death of the organization unless you make big transitions and beginning anew.  This stage can last quite some time and so can the next "death" stage as well and so often does not happen all at once.  I want to help readers identify the signs of this stage and propose some ways to transition back into a new stage of reinvention, renewal, or reorganization.

Symptoms of the Closing In Stage

These symptoms have some overlap with the Strategic Planning post I did a few weeks ago.  However, some bear repeating in the context of this transition.  This list is by no means completely comprehensive but should give you a good picture to work from.

  1. Organizational leadership can no longer speak to the "big picture" or ecosystem of the business.  They don't really have market and customer insight anymore, nor an awareness of the competitive landscape and what your competitive advantages are, and instead focus on maintaining order, structure, perpetuating formal or even informal power lines and reporting, reputation, or even just being stuck in a previous stage of the lifecycle.  Maybe they behave as if the company, it's systems, and perceptions are still about maintain prestige as an Institution, or varying flavors of the status quo.
  2. Policies and Procedures have become so monolithic, internally incoherent and contradictory, and people no longer point to them as any authority on "how things are done".  The term "ossified" comes to mind here.  The bureaucracy of the business has grown beyond just internal people and organizations and has been implanted so deeply in useless policies that people either hold to them and can't get work done (because they're so contradictory and confusing) or they disregard them completely.
  3. Endless streams of "initiatives, improvements, and changes" that don't seem to be connected, coherent, or aligned to longer term outcomes and necessities of the business.
  4. Race to the Bottom tactics - price wars, endless discounts, and the "commoditized" product or service, i.e. competitors are indistinguishable.
  5. Unexceptional work environment, i.e. your employee turnover is high and there doesn't seem to be a "team" or group that you can really describe about the people that work in your business.  There's no sense of "we" or very little at least.
  6. Management approaches (even from a single manager or owner organization) swing between micro-managing and overly autocratic or loose, hands-off, and "let it work itself out".  It's not so much about each end of the spectrum but rather than it oscillates so much.

Solutions

While none of the above symptoms leads quickly and inevitably to death of an organization, they illustrate that path it's on and the likely destination which will happen sooner or later.  The idea with these solutions is that they are BIG transitions that involve a concerted and focused effort, organization wide, to transition away from this path of inevitable failure back onto a path of growth and success.

  1. Reinvention - this involves addressing your product or service at it's core. Maybe you need to take the resources, capabilities, infrastructure, and systems and graft them onto a new market space.  This involves making new market entry a clear focus for the business and, with proper planning, transitioning over to serving this new space and in so doing, transitioning and beginning anew.
  2. Renewal - perhaps you need to identify the future you need to get to and rather than needing to completely reorient the business to a new market, you need to breakdown and reengineer your policies, procedures, processes, and maybe even the people systems in your business.  This is deep work and takes a solid roadmap through the uncomfortable space of remodeling the business but worth it if this is what's needed.  This is often where I see "business model" improvements made, i.e. analyzing supplier and supply chain opportunities and moving on the best ones, or perhaps reorienting your distribution methods and channels.
  3. Reorganization - This route is probably the most common I've seen in the corporate world.  In some ways, a reinvention or renewal is what was really needed.  However, this route can be successful in that, if done correctly, it will restructure management and reporting lines to focus on the right things.  This means changing into a product/service area focus, process focus (often called functional), geographic, or customer oriented focus.  This goes for large corporations or small businesses.  You can recraft how your people and management see their focus and in so doing require that new processes be implemented, old ones tossed, and new measures of success be used.

This post was about exposing readers to this "Closing In" stage of the organization lifecycle and some major transitions that can take place to "get back on the rails" for continued success. If you need some help identifying the stage of your organization lifecycle you're in and what to expect next, or if you want to make a major transition that's you've been putting off, please Contact Me and I'll help prepare and manage your next big transition cost effectively and with best fit solutions.

Returning to Work After a Hiatus: What's Ending and Way's to Prepare for New Beginnings

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We all take breaks, planned or unplanned, and sometimes they can last quite some time.  The transition back into the workforce after a hiatus or time away can be thrilling, rewarding, yet challenging in new and different ways than you might expect. It can be returning to work after a multi-year period of child rearing, after some time of a traditional "retirement" or after a period of retraining and reeducation.  Understanding, preparing for, and processing in important ways will save you time, energy, and headaches down the road.  I've spent some time researching and thinking about what's unique about this transition and here are some of my results.

What's Ending

Not all "return to work" scenario's have common endings but they'll all have one or several of the following.  It's important to understand the circumstances, experiences, routines, and organizing factors in your daily life that will be changing as they will be a part of the biggest change in your mental and emotional attitudes around the transition.

  • A relatively unstructured schedule
    • While you may schedule activities, recurring tasks or meetups, etc. in the big picture you'll be changing for "your structure" to an organizations structure for the most part.
  • High autonomy circumstances
    • Similar to the structure of your schedule, you're autonomy will likely go down or at least change it's orientation. Even when reentering the workforce after child rearing or higher education experiences, which have their own unique demands, these still have at their basis (not all cases of course) a schedule and circumstances that are largely up to you and the discipline you bring to them.
  • A You focused purpose (even with dependents)
    • This is one of the biggest shocks people experience.  The "why" of the use of their time, talents, and attention shifts with the addition of a new organizations purpose in their new work.  Even if you're starting a new venture of your own, this mindset is a big transition for many.
  • Task orientation
    • Likely will change from tasks being a primary focus to goal or outcomes oriented.  Businesses and organizations, whether a retail store or a Fortune 500 manufacturer will have their resources, time, and focuses aligned to goals and outcomes that may come today or in the distant future.  This kind of ambiguity can make this shift uncomfortable if unanticipated.

How to Prepare for New Beginnings

What comes after you transition back into the work world will largely be up to the duties, responsibilities, and outcomes required for your new venture.  However, you can prepare for all of them in a few important ways:

  • Commitment 
    • The first person you'll have to convince this is the right thing to do and important is yourself.  If you're not 100% committed, as is pretty obvious, you're going to have a hard go of it
  •  Self-Improvement
    • This grey area of your new transition is a perfect time to plan ahead and work on several self-improvement goals.  These projects will help you ease into a more scheduled routine, build confidence, and potentially, if you so choose, build out marketable skills that will benefit your new venture or organization you'll work for.  Take some online courses from organizations like IDEOU.com which are Design focused, useful in really any career, or find online or person classes in your area in skills needed in your new venture.  Read various books in the new field or to brush up on skills that may have gotten a bit rusty.
  • Clearly Define Your Desired Outcomes
    • Returning to work can be for many reason: income, stimulation of all kinds, or having a newly revived social setting, digging a little here and defining your outcomes will help you keep your eye on the prize and stay focuses through the new starts and inevitable swings that will come along with beginning your next stage.
  • Do a skills/capabilities inventory and brush up that resume
    • Even if you already have a venture planned or new job landed, doing some detailed review of your background, experiences, skills and capabilities will be extremely valuable for several reasons.  It can be a huge confidence builder and refresher on what you can accomplish as well as your value in the marketplace.  It can also give you the reference info for when you start talking to your new organization or networking in preparation for your return.  Rebooting and refreshing the key skills and capabilities will be important for your venture or jobs success but will maintain your momentum for ensuring you're prepared to start with your feet moving!
    • If you have the money, pay for some time with a career coach or consultant.  They can help you do this inventory, match it to desired job markets, and brush up that resume to a high polish.  Matt at Career Horizons comes highly recommended (if you're in the Seattle, WA area).  I haven't used him myself but I trust the source!

Getting back into working and focusing on a productive venture is an important transition but many don't plan in a holistic way.  Doing some simple preparations can be a huge help to work into it and get some great momentum for success.  Contact Me if you need help with this kind of preparation or if you'd like a big picture strategic roadmap to boost your confidence to the extreme!

Resources

 

Going Where The Wind Takes You? The Ills of Having an Unclear Strategy

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Without a clear strategy in Life & Business Transitions you're letting opportunities, money, attention, and effort blow away in the wind that could otherwise be saved or put to better, profitable use.  This post is about identifying the signs that point to an unclear, ill-defined, or poorly communicated strategy and some resources that will benefit your Life & Business immensely.

Defining your Strategy, like a vision, mission, philosophy, or principles, for many people and businesses, is in that category of "squishy, nebulous, unhelpful, or complete wastes of time".  The funny thing that I always say is "you have all these whether you design them purposefully or not, they're there and not having them clearly defined is likely costing you a lot of wasted time and money." A strategy is the framework within which you make decisions whereas a vision is the destination and guiding light, the mission is your purpose and your way of being, your philosophy is, well, for another post, and principles are those essential rules and mechanisms by which you operate. A good strategy sets boundaries, constraints, and entails focus.  It describes more about what you're NOT going to do than what you are by stating boldly "this is the position we're taking, the approach we're focused on, and who we're going to be in the marketplace, ecosystem, or "context" in which you provide our services."  This post is about identifying some of the symptoms that can likely be cured with a well designed strategy.  This goes for your life, business, non-profit, or sub-team in a larger organization.

Symptoms of a Poorly Defined Strategy

  • You look no different than your competitors or others providing similar services.
  • You don't stand out among your peers to potential buyers, partners, or donors.
  • Your prime stakeholders and shareholders are unclear about what your business or organization is doing in 5 to 10 years and are unclear about why you will or should still exist at that point.
  • Your employees and leadership don't know how to describe your clients or customers clearly and concisely.
  • You don't seem to have a high value (from the customers point of view) or cost/price advantage compared to your rivals or peers offering similar products or services.
  • When team members, managers, or key stakeholders are asked what your top 3 priorities are for the year, they have different answers or no answers at all.
  • When someone asks your clients or customers what sets you apart, they don't know how to describe it.
  • You feel as though your success is based on luck and hard work alone.
  • You can't seem to get ahead of the "busy-ness" of your business and life.
  • You don't have a clear reason or description of why you're doing business the way you are, with the resources you are, with the partners you are, and for the customers you are.
  • If you've been spending a lot of money, time, and attention on solution after solution (random improvement initiatives, various IT based solutions, flavor of the month motivational methods, glitzy marketing programs, etc.) but don't seem to be moving the dial on revenue increases, cost reductions, customer or employee satisfaction, or other important measures.
  • If it seems like anyone can get into your business and be a valid competitor.
  • If customers can just as easily (and are more than willing) to go down the road or to the next website and get a product or service just as good.
  • If you have high annual employee turnover (30% or more).
  • If your priorities in your life or business transition are unclear or constantly changing.

Signs of a Good Strategy

  • Where, how, and why you operate in the marketplace are clear to you, your customers, peers, or competitors.
  • There is a clear roadmap for your organization, it's transitions, and it's priorities for the relative long term are obvious.
  • You, your employees, family, or organization weather storms in your life, business, or marketplace relatively easily because all the participants are clear on priorities, what you are/aren't doing, and you're focused on what brings you success.

Recommendations for Crafting a Great Strategy

  • Best Recommendation: Get training and education yourself and practice often
  • Next Best: hire a skilled facilitator to guide you and/or your leadership( Contact Me here!)
  • Learn Yourself: utilize one of the following resources to learn more
  • Simplest but Mostly Just Introductory: do a web search for "strategic planning template" and find a see of them available.  These will introduce you to some of the concepts, methods, models, and tools available.  This is a good starting place.
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At Next Callings, I work hard to make sure my customers all have a solid foundation in their Life and Business transitions and having a clear, useful, and valuable Strategy is an essential element for that.  Contact Me for help in developing a clear, communicable, and valuable strategy for you and your organization.

Scaling in Life & Business: The Big Levers to Save Time, Money, and Effort

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Do you want to know the biggest levers to save and gain time/money/resources/effort in your business and life?  These are the levers or controls in any system in which you’re making an effort towards ANY goal be it a garden project, moving your home to a new location, downsizing, or scaling your widget making manufacturing operation, in your streams of activities, processes, and value creation, these levers are the keys to unlock greater potential and minimizing your headaches and hardships.  These levers might seem abstract but they are the foundational elements to consider.  As you grow your business and life to do more with less, maintain your sanity, and get the most out of your time, these concepts and levers are what you need to pay attention to and focus on for greatest benefit.  If you get to know them intimately, see them in your life and business, and learn how to control them strategically, you can produce significant positive results.  That equals more time, more energy, more money, and more results!

Stick to What's Essential

I’ve talked to it before and Peter Drucker speaks quite well to it in The Essential Executive, but making sure you’re doing the “right thing, at the right time” is most critical first and foremost.  After that “in the right way” i.e. efficiently, becomes key. Most work that isn’t repetitive but rather creative work with much more unknown about the “how” at the start than other repetitive types of tasks, require forethought, research, and planning to identify “what’s really essential” about it.  We’ve all had that time in a home project where you went down a particular path only to realize “dangit! I didn’t have to do all that!” Or when someone outside your situation with a little perspective or someone that’s a little more adept or informed comes along and says “have you thought about doing it like this? You could sure save a lot of time and headache because I don’t think you’ll get to where you want you go from here” In other words, you’re wasting your time because you’re not doing what’s “right” or “essential” to begin with!  This happens all too often in business as well. This is one of the toughest parts of self-lead, creative work where you or your employees have to craft what the right things to do from the start are.  Start here and you'll be much better off!  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is also a great read in this area as well.

Simplify and Standardize Everything You Do On A Regular Basis

Start with any repetitive activities you do in your life or work.  Anything that you do on a regular basis, that is fairly transactional and can be broken down into simple steps in sequence.  The next step here is to standardize these repetitive tasks and simplify them so that they’re are take as little time and effort required to complete them.  These can be something as simple as a process for taking in mail in your home (not all that uncommon) or  a new client intake process for your home carpeting outfit.  The object is to get these processes and tasks down to the minimum required steps so you have maximum time to be spent on value, income, or enjoyment generating activities.  You can get a lot of savings in time and money out of merely standardizing and simplifying these repetitive tasks.  The idea is to do these steps in the same way, in the same amount of time, with the same resources (equipment, machines, tools, aids, etc.) each and every time.  A good book to help on processes or tasks that are fairly complicated, that you want to train others in (including your kids!), and need to be done in order and correctly each time, is Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Work in Process

Everyone by and large knows what multi-tasking is.  That’s more synonymous with a single individuals attention and effort, at any given time, being divided amongst several “in work” tasks.  I’m speaking in the larger sense of having several projects (a sequence/set of tasks/events required to produce a desired outcome) or units of production like your widgets we talked about earlier.  Having SOME WIP is essential to be doing anything and producing or accomplishing anything.  But the reality, and the math works out as such, that the more of this WIP you have that isn’t “essential” to getting things done, the more time is wasted, errors occur, and ultimately a non-optimal amount of results are being produced, i.e. lost money, time, effort, and attention.  At home, this means having a lot of projects getting all done at the same time. We all know what we’re talking about here, that door frame that’s required repair for so long and you’re halfway through but keep running into issues or need other materials, that new bunk bed you’re building for your kids, and that raised bed gardens that just needs the dirt and finishing touches.  There’s a serious cost here, especially on mental burden, when there is so much in work and not being accomplished.  In life, I feel like this is another one of those “unintended consequences” of an abundant life where we have lots of resources, time, and attention that can be allocated and if we’re not careful, we can overwhelm ourselves and have some level of mental anguish occur as a result.  Some people can have serious mental consequences result from feeling overwhelmed by all they have going on at the same time.  The mental space is the first place that benefits from minimizing the work in process I’m talking about but your pocket book is the next most significant place.  It takes preparation, forethought, coordination, and planning to be able to get to a minimum WIP and get work done from start to finish in as short a time as possible.  However, the math involved in situations like these always plays out such that having a small number of projects and units in production to keep the maximum output required, will greatly benefit your home life and business.

Strategic Buffers

There are really 3 fundamental components to a system to accomplishing anything and creating something out of “stuff” that otherwise wouldn’t become your “stuff” on it’s own.  Those are time, inventory or your “stuff” in production, and resources (resources can be further broken down but I won’t get into that here).  Everyone’s pretty familiar with the concept of leaving a “little extra time” for traveling a long distance so you’re sure you’ll get to that appointment on time or a little earlier, and leaving that extra room in your time allows for absorbing those unforeseen events as happening (traffic, an accident, having to stop for a kid potty break, etc.).  Well, Strategic buffers are essentially that but bigger and applied across these 3 inputs to any project or production.  These buffers go hand in hand with WIP as well. Thinking ahead on a project you’re trying to get done and thinking about where you might need some extra time, or perhaps double up on possible contractors for that remodel in case one doesn’t pan out or get to the job when needed, or having a backup machine to handle excess production volumes that are needed.  All of these need to be placed “strategically” and by that I mean with a sense for the high level, systems view of what you’re trying to get done and placing these buffers where the maximum payoff can occur or where the riskiest and most critical steps are occurring that MUST be accomplished on time and as expected.  A really fantastic book for anyone running a product or service business is Factory Physics for Managers .  While it contains some technical review and information, it is quite approachable and will drastically improve your handling of the fundamental "physics" operating in your business.

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Once your life or business gets going and you have several streams of processes, transactions, information, and other units of "stuff" moving through a project or system, all of the 4 characteristics of scaling up become CRITICAL.  They're all already happening but what I've tried to illustrate here is the fact that either you can be throwing away time, money, effort, and attention by NOT controlling them or you can master them and thus stop the bleeding and maximize the positive benefits to your life and business.  Contact Me for a consultation if you need more help.

Resources

Scaling Your Life and Business: Part Duex

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In my previous post (2 weeks ago, I know, I'm sorry for the gap! We went on vacation and the weeks flew by!) I started out a 3 part series talking about this concept called "scaling". I focused on business scaling in the first post in the series and now I'm going to talk about what Scaling in your life can mean.

Scaling literally means "to uniformly reduce or enlarge." In life, I find this to mean flexibly and with planned intention, meet the demands on you and your families life in an efficient and effective manner and all that, with minimal self-imposed stress and strain (rather, that which can be avoided!).  Our lives are in some ways similar to a business but really, in many of the ways that matter, nothing like a business.  We often have implicit goals, agendas, strategies and outlooks and perhaps sometimes even explicit and defined.  We also have ways and means by which we achieve these goals and outcomes and produce the results we desire. This can be as simple as how we cook dinner for the family or more multifaceted like how we accomplish all the various life demands of a given week like making it to those soccer games, medical appointments, and spending much needed quality time with the family.

I think it's important to look at life through this "scaling" lens because I see many folks out there struggling with the demands of modern life, growing families, changing career and lifestyles, among other things.  I also see many people who are successful and quite satisfied with how they flexibly meet the demands on them.  I think an important distinction between "productivity" and "scaling" is that to be more productive means to use the resources you currently have in a more efficient and/or effective manner, i.e. more about decreasing inputs to maintain the same outputs.  Scaling, on the other hand, means investing in resources (time, energy, tools, methods, support personnel, etc.) to ensure that when more demands come you're capacity and capability can maintain stability and sustainability as things change. I think there are a few key ideas that can help people smoothly adjust to the changing demands in life and do so with ease, cost effectiveness, and ultimately successful outcomes.

Principles of Scaling in Life

  1. State Your Vision and Principles Explicitly - as in business so in life, whether you state it out load or not, you have a "way of being" in the world and outcomes or a vision that you're tending towards.  Whether it's "status quo and how it's always been" is your view or something provided to you by outside influences, it's there.  One way to approach this is with simply asking yourself "If I'm "being" this way or that, what questions would I have to ask myself for this way of being and my circumstances to be the answer?"  This is sort of switching the viewpoint and looking your life and principles in reverse.  Sort of, deriving them from what's already there.  That can then be a launching point to critical examine the vision and principles and discard those that aren't aligned to your values and perhaps add in some that are more in tune with who you really are and want to be in the future.  I believe this step is critical, especially in life, because the question is "To what end am I living this life, in this way, with the people I love and care about (or maybe not as the case may be!)?"
  2. Prioritize - this is really important.  As I've written about in other posts, modern society and life bring so much joy and abundance to our lives that there are unintended and ugly consequences.  One of them is an abundance of choices, options, and demands on our time, attention, money, and other resources.  This is another place that "life will happen to you" whether you want it to or not.  Deliberate action is key here. You can prioritize your time, attention, and action to align to your principles and vision in many different ways.  Steven Covey's "Urgent and Important" four square is one way (Urgent and Important, Urgent and Unimportant, Non-Urgent and Important, and Not Urgent and Unimportant).  Taking a critical view in this way can help to eliminate those repetitive activities and resource sucks that are unimportant.  Essentially all of those should be completely eliminated from your life. Another way to help prioritize your time is future oriented where you look at What's Easy/Hard to take action on and what's Low/High Payoff.  The payoff can certainly be monetary but I also mean it things like "highest quality time spent with family" and "the best use of my time" sort of considerations.  These are just two simple ways to categorize and eliminate the low priorities.  Another approach is to write down all the weekly/monthly activities and attention/time/money grabbers in your life (an inventory of sorts) and do the 80/20 analysis I've spoke of often.  Take the top 20 items that you get the most satisfaction and desired outcomes from and critically examine the other 80% to eliminate, delegate, or automate in some way.
  3. Eliminate, Delegate, Automate, Streamline, Retain - this deserves more consideration.  We so often take on new activities, projects, attention grabbers,  and resource consuming streams in life that they deserve a periodic examination and reformation.  Again, this all might sound overblown and unnecessary but I know many people out there may be feeling as though "life happens to me, I'm not deliberately living...I feel as though my life is being lived for me" or some other version of that thought process.  Taking that inventory of you and your families time and resource consuming activities and streams and eliminating where possible is a really big step. The rest could potentially be delegated or automated.  Perhaps you'll retain as is and that's fine.  Alignment is really key here.  Automating means finding ways to reduce your "touch time" on these things where you can reduce or even eliminate your need to conduct this work or activities "hand's on".  Maybe it's balancing your checkbook (plenty of online tools to help get to an automated state with this) or paying your bills (almost all regularly paid bills can be auto paid now).  Caution: I always believe in human in the loop on most things financial so make sure to periodically audit your automated systems!  Delegating means to share the load in your family perhaps.  That can take time but training your kids in much that it takes to run a household can pay huge dividends in the long run.  I feel that this is either forgotten, avoided, or detested in our day in age and so much is lost because of it.  In "How Will You Measure Your Life" author Clay Christensen describes the outsourcing of many activities in the household that taught work ethic, self-reliance, and critical skills to the long term detriment of the kids ability to function well in society.  That's why I start (if you have kids) with first delegating and sharing the work of your life across your family.  Second to that, I am a whole hearted proponent of a Dream Team of Accountants, Certified Financial Advisors, Attorney's, General Physicians, and Health and Wellness Coaches.  These are key dimensions in our lives that we under appreciate or avoid all together and we struggle accordingly.  This Dream Team takes time to build but they provide SO much more than what appears obvious if you develop the relationships and respect their unique capabilities.  I've been able to accomplish so much more in our lives as we've experienced deaths, career transitions, health related events, among other things with having a close at hand dream team of professionals to delegate the tasks associated with their work and professions.  They're worth more than every penny you spend to work with them.  There is much to be said about streamlining your time and resource consuming facets of your life.  This is that dreaded "personal productivity" area of life but if you focus in on tasks and projects that are essential and repetitive in nature and figure out how to "trim the fat" from them, they'll open up time, attention, and resources to be devoted to other critical areas in your life.
  4. Create Systems to Thrive - processes are great, but systems will really enable you to accept the demands on your life with grace and ease.  By systems I mean a set of decision heuristics, physical solutions, computer based solutions, etc. that most importantly remove demands you don't want before they even come to your attention, in the best case!  This is as simple as spending the time to set up filters on your email clients, or physical mail sorting tools, or so far as a set of questions your family (or you and your partner) ask yourselves when a new opportunity surfaces to spend time, money, or attention on.  Something like "is this aligned to our priorities we've set out for ourselves? Does this further our vision or take us farther away from it? Would a "no" or "do nothing" alternative be harmful or catastrophic to a relationship? Does this maximize the benefit of our money expenditure?"  Again, I'm not promoting perfection here, but asking some level of questions and having a growing set of systems in place in your life can help tremendously with increasingly unavoidable demands on your life.
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In this post I suggested that our lives could take some lessons from business to look through the lenses of "uniformly reducing or enlarging" our ability to meet demands in life: on time, money, attention, effort, or other resources.  This, I believe, is one of the true unintended consequences of a modern, market based life of abundance in which we live.  It's time we take the bull by the horns and do some bit of work and design to live fully and in purposeful ways and stop letting so much of our lives "happen to us".  Contact me if you'd like to continue the conversation or for an initial consultation on "scaling your life" for the better!

Resources

Scaling Your Life and Business: Common Scaling Principles, Doing More With Less, and Crafting Your Dream Team

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"Scaling"...These day's it's probably in the "buzzword" lexicon but it didn't used to be.  It was just another one of the major stages of business (and life for that matter!) growth, evolution, and maturity.  The Goal of Scaling any system, be it life or business, is to meet projected or actual growing demand for your product or service by adapting said system to produce to that demand.  Whether it's a product or service system or just regular conduct in your life, scaling up your capacity and capabilities will allow you to win in business and life.  The paradox of the scaling stage is that the volume of activity and "busy-ness" is so high that it's REALLY hard to scale strategically and with a methodical plan.  Perfect world, right? Not so with a few key ideas and actions in mind.  To scale ineffectively or inefficiently can spell certain doom or at a minimum stagnation.  This also begs the question that your product/service process/system is scalable in the first place but we'll talk about that later.

Before I get into it, I wanted to talk about scaling in general.  Scaling isn't the same as being more productive.  Productivity is most generally about the ratio of inputs to outputs in any given system/process (I'll use process from now on for simplicities sake, there is a difference though).  Basically, if you keep outputs the same or constant but decrease the inputs required (labor, raw materials, energy, money, etc.) you're now more productive!  Simple as that!  Now, scaling is much bigger in breadth and depth.  Scaling means you must rapidly expand your capacities and capabilities to meet growing demand for your product or service (or even attention in some cases).  This means your outputs must increase rapidly, sometimes even exponentially, and you need to increase inputs in critically important ways to be successful in meeting the new changes in demand with increased outputs.  See the difference?

This post will be completed in a 3 part series to come out over the next 3 weeks.  In all 3 I'll discuss constraints for the goal of scaling, critical analyses and actions to take, hazards to avoid, and peppered throughout will be useful resources I think could benefit my readers.  These posts by no means will be 100% comprehensive for this stage in business devleopment, that would take writing a pretty thorough book on the subject (someday maybe), but they'll contain what I think are the essential ingredients for success in this exciting but hazardous transition in life & business.  If you need help scaling up, in life or business, please don't hesitate to Contact Me directly.  The 3 part series will be: 1) Scaling a business, 2) Scaling Your Life, and 3) Common Ingredients for both.

In business, the distinct difference between starting up and scaling is that 1) you have a product or service that now meets or exceed customer requirements and 2) customers are now paying you for that product or service (i.e. you have revenue).  There are plenty of nuances to what the identifying markers are for this business transition and even some technical methods for more complex processes but for now, this is the distinction we'll be sticking with.  Scaling happens, whether you plan for it or not, when customer demand exceeds your ability to produce to that demand.  The "potential demand" can be considered an upper limit to what the needed output is.  Finding that figure can be pretty difficult so if you need some in-depth market analyses, please contact me for more help.  I'll now get to the key tangible details for scaling your business.

Critical Analyses and Actions for Scaling Your Business

  1. Clearly describe your process (or processes) for delivering value (product or service) to your customer.  Edward Deming, the father of statistical process analysis, once said "If you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing".  This is oh so true.  I believe you MUST not only describe it verbally, which for most people is relatively easy, but it should be written down, in SOME form to clearly understand the transfer of value through the process.
  2. Understand Your Process Capacity - this means the total volume of goods or services you can produce for a given time period or put another way, the maximum amount of work that can be accomplished with a given set of inputs.  This somewhat abstract number is THE determining factor in your current production abilities (again, whether a product or a service) and is the number to plan to grow, which leads me to #3.
  3. Identify Your Capacity Constraints and Continuously Break & Improve Them - this is straight out of the Goal by Eli GoldrattEvery process has a limiting task or process step that constrains the processes ability to produce faster or to a higher rate.  This constraint can be a piece of equipment in the process, physical floor space limiting movement, or something more intangible like information flowing through your process.  The idea is to identify them, get everything else tuned to this constraints rate, then break the constraint by adding capacity (or improving the process associated with the constraint) and then repeating the cycle over and over.  This is probably one of the KEY missing ideas I see out there for small and large scale manufacturers and service providers.
  4. Understand Your Current and Future Capability Requirements - this is about unique capabilities required to produce your product or service and deliver it to the customers who want it.  It's quite often an employee skills based things (see my post on Training) but can also be about the fundamental ways your production of value needs to change in the future to be more efficient and effective.  You may need to develop a comprehensive training plan, talent acquisition plan, or plan for strategic and systematic purchase of new capabilities for what might be needed in the future.  You ought to know what your strengths are, your employees current strengths are, and the business strengths in general so that you can leverage/amplify those and augment the weaknesses in capabilities in other ways.
    1. Also, this is where a lot of business owners start to put on a LOT more hats than they really should.  Capabilities like general marketing (not skills based like social media or digital design) where you need to grow customer awareness, develop continuous and effective feedback loops for value improvement between your customers and your internal processes, identify new market sizes, etc..  It could also be that you need direct sales expertise as well in this stage.
    2. You can address capability constraints or needs by:
      1. Learning more yourself as an owner, but in so doing only make yourself MORE of a bottleneck or constraint on the detailed processes in the business
      2. Outsource for a specific period of time - this might seem like a big expense and not worth it but it can get a great deal of quality work done in a short period of time and return much more than your investment if done correctly.
      3. Hire internally - this most often happens when you're certain you can afford in-house capabilities like a Marketing and Sales Manager, Operations Manager, etc.
      4. General Management Capabilities - I see this in a lot of cases where hiring a supervisor or manager is seen as a waste of money and/or unwarranted.  However, with a skilled and flexible manager/supervisor, an owner can maintain a longer term, strategic view of the business and focus more on working ON the business rather than IN the business so much.
  5. Continuously Plan and Adapt as You Scale - this stage of business development is hazardous for many reasons that require you as a business owner to address on a continuous basis. Planning can be done in small, tangible, and highly controlled "chunks" such as using the Agile Project Management approach while blending longer term views of the business and market with a longer term plan.  Some capacity/capabilities take time to nurture, grow, or purchase so you'll need near AND long term planning to stay ahead and be effective and efficient in your scaling.
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Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Funding Scaling Primarily with Sales Revenues - some businesses rely much too heavily on scaling by using customer revenues directly.  This is quite tempting and can be done but often takes much longer than other means of funding.  I'm not saying partially funding scaling with revenues is a bad thing but relying on it will induce a lot of hardship.  This is due to erratic and fluctuating demand = erratic revenues, much harder to plan effectively, hard to take into account planned process disruptions for training, retooling, facilities moves, delayed payments on contracts, etc..
    1. Obvious other sources of funding are investors or debt based leveraging.  These have their own challenges (if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!) but a thorough trade off analysis can help to select the right funding sources to scale with the best odds of success with lowest downside risks.
  2. Scaling Your Operation More Rapidly Than Demand - as you scale, you'll need to ensure you have the customer demand and revenue to pay the increasing variable costs associated with the scaling.  You'll need to do things as mentioned above like get the right marketing & sales support, supervisors, maintenance, etc. to lift the whole system up to meet the demand.  Many startups and new businesses get REALLY energized by getting funding and making purchases to setup the business without having the right plan in place to steadily grow demand ahead of the costs of doing business.  Hiring too many people for your demand or cash flow is some of the biggest hardship I see with business owners, no one likes to be the hand that is hiring and laying off good employees because of imbalances in production and demand.
  3. Ad Hoc Scaling - I see a lot of burnout happen here from small business owners all the way to Aerospace manufacturing.  Some scaling is conducted almost completely ad hoc while other times it is done with improper planning methods.  I really hate to see burnout happen, for ANY reason, but feeling customer demands from one side and the challenges with process scaling on the other can become unbearable for almost anyone.  Plan ahead, seek Operations help, or Contact Me directly if you need help!

Scaling a business is hard, multi-dimensional, and takes a lot to plan for and execute effectively.  Many businesses get into the scaling stage only to hit many (and others) of the hazards I've spoken about here.  I hope this post has at least provided my readers with some awareness of where to look and how to do some of the scaling in a systematic and strategic way.  For inspiring stories about scaling but not focusing on growth alone, a fantastic book by Bo Burlingham is Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.  For more technical but approachable reading look at Factory Physics for Managers.

 

Starting a New Career or Venture? Here's How to Engage with Style, Purpose, and Results

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Starting a new career or venture can be tough for host of reasons. You've worked hard to find your next calling and have established a foothold and you're starting soon! What can you do to position yourself to establish relationships quickly, improve your character and perception amongst your new peers and associates, and get to adding value to your new enterprise as quickly as possible? 

I believe there are 3 generic scenarios that can happen when starting your next career or venture:

  • Scenario 1: Winging It
    • You've made it this far, you're pretty much golden, the hard part is over.  From here on out you're going to do what you've always done to be successful.  You're pretty good at working hard and smart and making things happen so planning ahead doesn't seem like it will do much for you. What's wrong with this approach? It's worked so far and plenty of seemingly successful people get ahead by sheer brute force and addressing the world and it's events as they come.
    • My belief is while some people succeed with this approach, there is much left on the table:
      1. Does not maximize the probability of success
      2. Much of the "success" before could be attributed to "luck" and not entirely succeeding on purpose or at most, what got to you successful so far won't be so in your next venture.
      3. You could be taking the slowest possible approach to learning and getting to value added (trial and error, politicking over valuable results, etc.).
      4. Depending on the type of new venture, you may establish your first impression as being "underwhelming" and something other than being an A Player.
    • Scenario 2: Notional Planning
    • This ones obvious in that you've thought about engaging and working hard to make your relationships happen and get to valuable results.  Perhaps you've even gone so far, as I see many people avoiding doing, to WRITE IT DOWN.  While thinking ahead and rudimentary planning can increase your odds of accelerating your success and value, there is again, much left up in the air.
    1. What got you here won't get your there - i.e. "there" being highly valuable in a short period of time.  The book by the same title What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith is a great view of 20 character/behavior flaws that definitely WILL get in your way when starting a really new venture.  You likely won't have the political capital and relationships established that you need and so people (other employees, customers, managers, leaders) will be making assessments quickly and so not having a really clear view of your character strengths and potential flaws will more than likely gum up the works of getting to valuable as quickly as possible.  Use this book as a guide to deliberately overcome some of the 20 traits Goldsmith speaks to, it'll help tremendously!
    2. Your past performance and results certainly speak volumes to your capabilities and skills. Often, however, when making a big career transition and starting a new venture your ability to meet new and quite different outcomes as well as having the will to persist and learn quickly are going to be MUCH more important than they have before.  This is where some preparation can really help, even in the transition period.
      1. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark and The Startup of You by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman are two great books to prepare yourself well for starting your new venture and career and ensuring you have a foundational personal image/brand from which to demonstrate your value, and quickly.  In them you'll find a variety of methods, tools, techniques, and anecdotes from a wide array of professionals on the subject.
    3. You'll more than likely be perceived as confident as well as invested in establishing meaningful relationships quickly with the kind of preparation these books might help with.
  • Scenario 3: Planning Well
  • You've planned well and are positioned to develop your critical relationships quickly, understand clearly your priorities, and get to adding value as soon as possible.  This, I believe, is paramount to increase your odds of feeling fulfilled and accomplished in your transition, cementing your value in your new enterprise amongst your peers, customers, and leaders, and producing much more value than you consume.  Yes, I said consume.  When you start a new career or venture, while quite difficult and taxing in many ways, from a "systems" view you're sucking value to get up to speed, productive, and producing the value you were meant to.  In the book The First 90 Days, author Michael Watkins lays out a systematic approach with strategic and tactical methods to ramp up and add value to your next career transition or venture as soon as possible.  More precisely, he says the value extracting period of your new venture should last no longer than 90 days.  At that point, you're indebted to the organization or ecosystem in which you've started your new venture.  Yes, indebted.  While not measured directly you've taking the time, effort, attention, and other resources of the system to allow you to integrate, learn, and get to adding value.  The next 90 days of your plan are merely getting to breaking even (paying back your debt) so that you can truly get to adding the value you were meant to deliver. My experience and corroborated from others I've spoken with in a wide swatch of industries as well as read about, is that it can take upwards of 2 years (or longer in some drastic cases!) for a new hire or venture to really get humming, productive, and adding value.  For new career hires, that's a massive cost and productivity burden.  Imagine if it only took 90 days to get to adding value and another 90 days for the debt to be paid off and to truly delivering valuable results.  That's 180 days or half a year.  That's 400% faster than the average of 2 years! That'd be a huge return on your investment of making your transition as well as your new enterprises or customers investment in finding you valuable.

In our current booming economy, there is a lot of employee turnover of people moving around in their careers or starting new ones.  I believe there is a drag on the true output of our careers, organizations, and economies with so much movement but so little systematic and intentional planning, straight to whatever measure of productivity you want to select.  That's a lot of dollars getting spent along with the time, attention, and other resources, that could be put to much better use.  So do the economy, your organization, and career a favor, and plan just a little better, it'll pay huge dividends for you, your customers, your organization, and all your new relationships.  Contact me if you need help getting this plan to be a reality!

 

Work Automation: What You Need To Know and What To Do

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Automation, disruption, robots, artificial intelligence - there's enough hyperbole and buzzwords out there on these subjects to make anyone's eyes glaze over and completely shut off to any more to do with it at all.  Even Elon Musk has something to say here.  I think it's more hype than not and certainly not to be feared because it's happened for the last 10,000 years already and will continue so well into our hopefully long future as a human species.  I hope to distill some of this hype for my readers, provide some positive viewpoints, and sprinkle on some of my technical commentary so that you can leave this piece with a clearer understanding, further resources to get more informed, as well as actionable takeaways for now and in the future.

I'm going to speak specifically about task automation here and NOT about job automation.  More precisely I'm speaking to TASK automation at an elementary level.  To be VERY clear, the hierarchy of work and it's conduct goes something like this:

  1. Information and decisions lead to
  2. Movements and minute actions and those aggregate to
  3. Operations and they transform to
  4. Tasks, which then compose
  5. Jobs and when you put a one or more jobs together you get
  6. A Process, and lots of processes interweave to comprise
  7. A system of production of goods or services of some sort
  8. A system-of-systems of production aggregates to markets/industries and those merge into
  9. Economies

Tasks are essentially when something useful in our world starts to emerge.  For example, when a form is filled out in a service process or a stamping task is completed in manufacturing, those parts of the hierarchy are when valuable work begins to be accomplished.  Automation is the buzzword attached to what is more fundamentally "productivity" or rather the relationship between inputs, tasks/jobs/processes and outputs.  Automation is merely the most sophisticated form of productivity enhancement and often entails removing the human almost entirely from the work (sometimes keeping a technician or machine operator in the loop).  The more productive you are, the more outputs you get for a given set of inputs and the operations/tasks performed on said inputs.  I know this is all pretty wordy but it's essential to understand this hierarchy so we can all get beyond the hype and get to what's at heart in the conversation.  Productivity has been gradually improving for all of modern human history going back 10,000 or more years to the start of the agricultural revolutions across the world.  Less and less labor is required, over time, to produce a given output, be it potatoes, grains, pencils, or airplanes.  By and large, we as humans have been ever increasing our productive use of resources and time to produce the goods and services we all enjoy.  Now, since the Industrial Revolution, we've gotten bit better with productive use of machinery and equipment and in more recent times, fully automating tasks and processes with some combination of machinery, equipment, robots, and software (computers). 

Over the span of history, people have been uncomfortable with change at a very basic level, especially when it comes to their livelihood of making an income.  Stepping back from that, you have any large-scale changes in productivity in ones craft being particularly uncomfortable as now you don't have an easy transfer option to perhaps another company or geography if the technology is widely available.  So now you're particular skillset isn't as in high demand because theoretically it is available for better quality and productivity at a cheaper price (theoretically...) AND you can't switch easily.  Feeling boxed in yet?  Then you take that into a full market or industry and you have a LOT more people (owners and employees) concerned about transitions taking place seemingly outside of their control (or is it?).  Going back to the Luddite riots in Great Britain in the early 1800's and plenty of other instances, people and whole groups get really upset as the world changes around them.

Over time, however, we've seen the "pie" of both products and services as well as tasks/jobs/businesses/markets required to provide them increase and get larger as productivity has increased.  This has always been the case.  We don't see millions of unemployed farmers as vast productivity improvements have been made over the past 100 years in the US.  Now only about 1%-ish of the population is involved in farming that feeds the other 99%.  We've all found something else to do with our time and abilities.  That's just a simple example.  The current argument and fear about automation is essentially: This Time it's different, this time it will happen faster than before and to such a large scope of tasks/jobs that we're in for serious disruption and trouble.  Not so in my technical opinion.  I say technical because Industrial and Systems Engineering is fundamentally about productivity and work, at any scale, and I have a deep education and applied background in the field so I have a little bit of a solid foundation on my perspective. I also come from a reasonable understanding of economics (micro AND macro).

Much of the current hype goes back to an elaborate study in 2013 performed by Oxford University.  I applaud the very fine work they accomplished but I don't agree with their conclusions.  I DO agree that in the next 10 years or so up to 30% of TASKS could be automated but that doesn't equate to full jobs as we know them. I'll leave it to the reader to fully digest the study and it's well worth it in my opinion, for a history lesson as well as for the fundamental work they did.  Also, if you'd like to explore the results and how they're relevant to you see this Tableau Visualization done by the consulting company McKinsey.  Much of the hype today originates with this study but as with much in media, care is not given to making TASKS synonymous with JOBS which is a HUGE mistake.

What to Do In Life and Business

As you can already tell, I'm a bit of an optimist when it comes to the creativity and innate potential of individuals, businesses, and industries ingenuity, but all with proper design and planning mixed with serious grit.  In the case of task automation, I kind of look at it like this Harvard Business Review video summarizes, as shedding the menial and repetitive tasks most humans DO NOT enjoy and freeing up capacity to pursue creative pursuits is REALLY what the positive potential is here. All the creative potential unleashed upon work and industry will be amazing and we've already scene how amazing it is.

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That being said, I suggest the following strategies and tactics for business and life to position well for ANY major changes in your business, job, or industry and not just what some form of automation might bring:

  1. Get Informed from the Source - don't rely on mainstream media.  Get to the most trusted experts and studies and even then, triangulate across many to form an informed opinion.
    1. As an example of original source material useful here, in the Oxford study referenced above, they describe 3 engineering "bottlenecks" to automation in tasks which are incredibly difficult to automate and will be for some time. In a business or job, having one or a combination of these capabilities as central to your offerings and competitive advantage will buffer you against automation having a major impact.  
      1. Creative Intelligence
      2. Social Intelligence
      3. Fine Motor Control 
  2. Integrate automation strategically in your life and business - being more productive in your work is ALWAYS paramount, no matter what stage of the business lifecycle you're in but it's also important in life as well.  Do not encumber yourself with low value tasks when your time, effort, and attention should be allocated to high value, high meaning work and relationships.  Not only will with you save money with higher outputs for lower costs (in theory, so prepare thoroughly) but you'll be able to do more with less in general.  Write down and define your daily tasks and processes and find out what tools can make them simpler, faster, better, and cheaper.  This can be daunting so contact me directly if you'd like help with trade studies and economic analysis on getting the most out of your investments.
    1. PS - productivity improvements should NEVER equate to layoffs and job losses in any direct way.  This is just good business as your employees and support won't help you in making the improvements nor will people want to come to work for you either.  You should look at it as freeing up potential for other higher value work (it's your job to find said work and move resources appropriately).  Plus it's just more ethical in my philosopher engineers opinion!
  3. Continuously Improve - in life and business, find the continuous improvement systems, principles, methods, and tools that help make you more productive and valuable to your jobs, employers, and relationships.  The world will continue to improve and grow without you so you have to find ways to stay ahead of the ever growing frontier of productivity and value creation.  Please PLEASE contact me if you need more help or consultation and I'm more than happy to help.
  4. Learn Better, Faster, and More Deeply - this goes for employees, employers, and whole businesses.  The more "flat" you can make ANY learning curve, the faster you can adapt and stay ahead of major changes in your business, market, and industry.  Learning go hand in hand with the applied side of actual continuous improvement (demonstrating your learning).  Read books, invest in better training, and know how you can and do learn individually and as a team in your business.
  5. Plan for Flexibility - individually, as a family, or as a business, plan ahead by inventorying your capabilities, skillsets, and assets (tangible and intangible) and analyzing how flexible or transferable they are to another job, industry, or geography.  This can be really simple or a thorough analysis and plan.  This should be a part of any long term planning routine you have in your life and business and a good way to de-risk yourself and your business.
    1. Financially - a solid cash or at least liquid asset cushion can help to avoid catastrophic cash flow failures here.  Plenty of businesses and people do not have one and think it's impossible and who DOESN'T like seeing a pile of money sitting around.  You can invest in some interest generating vehicle or even in some assets that take time to get cash out of, so that it can be making some money for you.  Talk to your financial advisor to get the best strategies and vehicles for you here.
    2. Identify lowest cost scenarios and solutions - here again is some planning ahead and many people avoid this like the plague but the Importance is SO high and the outcomes can be SO dramatic that you're asking for trouble by not following through.  Knowing what situations MIGHT happen and a couple actions you can take quickly to avoid or absorb the consequences will pay dividends I promise you.
  6. Better Strategic Positioning - this isn't just for businesses, you can do this for your career as well.  Find a niche that is either hard to automate (see above for the 3 bottlenecks) or isn't lucrative/attractive enough for large, money flush industry's/companies to get into and automate.  This goes even for startups looking to automate the tasks/work as well.  If there isn't a reasonable return on investment in 5 or 10 years for a startup, it won't be pursued or funded in most cases.  On the flipside of the niche is the Generalist business or capability set.  What I mean here is a business that is agile enough and retooling capable enough as well as your individual skillsets/capabilities are transferable enough such that you can reasonably quickly, and with lowest possible switching costs, change to a different way of doing business or different product/service set altogether.

My opinion is that there is many positive improvements to our quality of life and productive business opportunities with the upside of automation and productivity improvements.  There always has been and I believe always will be.  What we DO have to do is learn how to adapt more quickly, in business and life, and that's a HUGE part of the mission for Next Callings, and that is drastically improve the economic mobility (ability to change jobs, businesses, locations, quickly, low cost, and with high success rates) in our country.  Contact me now if you need help in your life and business to position well and do great things for your life and business today in the process!

Succession and Exit Planning 101: Key Components of a Successful Business Exit

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Succession and exiting a business are an often under appreciated and under planned for event in many businesses.  "Succession" most generically really means passing ownership or key management roles to another individual or group of individuals and when eventually, you no longer are involved any longer.  Succession and exit aren't necessarily synonymous with being bought out, from an internal or external buyer, but it often is for small businesses.  However, most people think of succession commonly associated with an owners or executives retirement or exit at the tail end of their time in the business.  This is a common mistake many businesses make and could be mitigated by following a few key practices that will benefit their businesses now as well as when succession time is upon them.

This kind of planning is critically important for business owners to secure their financial interest in their companies before, during, and after they exit.  Beyond that, it is my belief they owe it to their employees, business partners if they have them, their communities and local economies as well, to ensure successful business continuity and thriving beyond their involvement.  Their creation has turned into the livelihood of many more than just them as well as a being participant in the wider economic engine locally and even national if you think of the cumulative effect of small and medium sized business have on GDP and employment in our country.  Plan well, execute effectively is the motto here!

Here are some common failure points for small and medium sized businesses when it comes to being positioned for maximum succession success

  1. Business Structure is not optimal - talk to your attorney and CPA for this but you may not be positioned well from a purchase standpoint but also for best tax efficiency perspective.  Whether you're an LLC, C-Corp, or S-Corp, you'll need to identify your succession strategy and plan and then talk to your local experts to find out if/when you need to transition your structure.  In some cases, it can take up to 5 years to totally restructure.  You CAN still sell a business and transition ownership during that time but working ahead on this can mitigate a lot of stress and hiccups but will also make a purchase more attractive to buyers.
  2. Owner Compensation is Minimal - many owners I've met have not been paying themselves a salary or bonus in a direct way that shows up on their financials.  This isn't any shady dealings by any means but is most often associated with their particular tax structure and how they integrate with other businesses and investments in their life.  To be in the best shape possible, you'll need to clearly identify the compensation/benefits/perks of being the owner of the business and this includes direct monetary compensation.  Talk to your CPA and a Transition Consultant such as myself to find out the competitive compensation structure for your industry to be the most attractive to a buyer.
  3. No Management Beyond the Owner - some buyers might be interested in taking over management responsibilities but if you don't have any other management structure in place when you want to sell you'll turn away a huge potential buyer pool of investors and other buyers who want to own a business but not be the main manager.  Also, this also signals buyers that you as the owner probably wore MANY more hats than just a manager and so they'll want to know more depth about your responsibilities, capabilities, and skills that made your business the success it is.  Having a COO, Supervisor, or Manager a few years prior to succession/exit can make this hurdle a non-issue and probably enable your business to grow a good deal prior to you leaving, which increases your potential purchase price as well!
  4. Process and Employees Aren't Positioned Well for a Transition - if your processes aren't documented, clear, and as standard as possible, buyers will sense a potentially insurmountable learning curve to learn your unique business practices.  Get them documented and standardized.  People side, they need to have their expertise, capabilities, and value to the business clear for buyers and managers transitioning in.  Not only to keep the business running efficiently and effectively through the transition, but to provide your employees grounding and justification for their maintained employment beyond the owners transition.
  5. No Long Term Business Plan - standard practice for medium and large companies is annual strategic and long term planning to keep the machinery focused and aligned for success.  Small businesses can learn from that rhythm, especially when it comes to preparing for an exit and succession.  Buyers will want to see some past performance history but also get a clear picture of your industry, trends, market awareness, customer profiles, risks and opportunities, as well as growth opportunities in the works or waiting to be seized.  There needs to be some facts, data, and meat to this document and it can take a little time to put together.  Once you get over the initial hurdle of making one, you can update on an annual basis with much less effort and be positioned well for your exit.  Additionally, this will keep your key risks, opportunities, and plans in front of you and moving forward that can again, raise the current growth and profitability of the company and thus the potential sale price of your business.
  6. Owner Doesn't Have an "After Exit" Plan - many owners I've talked to, customers or otherwise, have great intentions, some plans and actions in the works, but also seem to be delaying their exit in part because they don't have a clear idea of what and who they'll be post exit.  If you've spent 20-30 years in your business, often you ARE your business, and so leaving it will be incredibly disruptive in many positive and also negative ways.  Looking ahead and doing some level of lifestyle design and planning will immediately help you alleviate fears and uncertainties but also give you clarity on your transition that can be shared with employees, partners, and spouses when the time is right to do so.  This is the place where I work with customers in my 16 Hour, Next Callings Experience to do just that.
  7. Not Planning for Succession Early and Often Enough - planning for business succession and exit is AS critical as proper personal estate planning.  It's immensely important but not urgent and biting at your ankles to take the time and effort required.  However, the negative consequences of not planning and positioning yourself and your business and experiencing an immediate need to depart are SO huge that you can't ignore it.  Once your business is established, has a steady market position, employees, and your livelihood depends on it, part of holistic business practices ought to be ongoing planning and updates for succession and exit.  It will benefit the business now in ways you won't foresee but will position your business for successfully transitioning and thriving beyond your involvement.
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As an owner, one goal is to avoid being overwhelmed with adding an almost new job on top of existing responsibilities in life and business, so start early and understand the roadmap ahead for your transition.  Seek the help of qualified professionals like Transition Consultants, CPA's, Certified Financial Advisors, Valuation Experts, and Attorneys.  If you feel like you're not in the best shape for an upcoming transition out of your business or you'd like to get your succession foundation in place, please schedule a free consultation or via the Contact Page.  Next Callings operates as a project manager for these transitions as well and helps simplify the complicated, clarify the vague, and remove the barriers to a smooth life and business transition.  Contact us now for a free consultation.

 

Why People Processes Are Paramount in Every Stage of Your Organizations Lifecyle

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A (if not THE) key component of your business lifecycle transitions are effective People processes and the Human Capital they bring to your organization.  In my previous career in Aerospace as well as in my work as a Transitions Consultant, I've found one of the root causes of much stress and hardship on the part of business owners is that they are in dyer need of designing, implementing, improving, scaling, and adapting the people oriented processes in their businesses to meet their goals.  Believe it or not, people are still and will remain so long into the future, the core element of your businesses excellence in delivering your products or services to your customers on time and with the highest quality.  There are several stages to the processes involving people in your organization as well as some unique characteristics in each stage of a businesses lifecycle. I'd like to explore them here, provide some resources for further discovery, and point you in new directions for being the best organization for your people so they can be the best for your organization.

Stages to Your People Process

There is a lot more to each of these stages than what I've laid out here. However, I thought I'd provide an overview and some perspective on how to take a systems view of your people processes.  I think it's of the utmost importance for business owners and executives to see their people processes from a systems perspective because this is crucial to delivering on time quality, the first time and also to ensure your people, processes, and business grow and improve in alignment with one another.

  1. Search
    1. This stage is about searching for qualified employees but starts with first understanding clearly what it is you need from the employees.  From the highest level, you should clearly describe the Outcomes, Responsibilities, Capabilities that are required for the employee based on what's needed now but also in the not too distant future.  The more holistic you make these descriptions the more successful you and the employee will be.
    2. The best way to search for employees is via your own personal network but 2nd best to that is via trusted employee or associate networks.  This way, much of the vetting and familiarity is already accomplished and so you have a leg up on the prospective employees being reasonable fits with what you're looking for.
    3. The 2nd level approach, depending on the criticality of the job as well as the current conditions in the labor market, is broadening the search either via semi-automated means like Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter.com, Monster.com, or LinkedIn Job boards.  These are kind of the "mass broadcast" approach so you'll 1) overcome the noise of a hot job market but also 2) be prepared to filter a lot of applicants.  The next approach for a critical job posting for a high caliber employee is hiring a recruiter or headhunter.  Some might perceive this as an added expense but believe me, having a qualified support professional to help you in this process can pay orders of magnitude back to you in value, freed up time, and getting the most effective use of your dollars.
  2. Selection
    1. This is the interview stage of your people processes but also involves ensuring the candidate and their closest loved ones are sold on them working for you.  This might seem over doing things at this point but this is where the relationships start to develop so selling them on your organization is critical.  Once you've Screened an Employee (interview #1, 30 minutes, phone) and they've passed muster, think now that you're already starting the selling process of the candidate on your organization.  The next few interviews (yes, more than 1 is probably crucial to success, in person, 1-2 hours) should be accomplished with you as the hiring manager/owner but also with key personnel you trust and that perhaps they'll be working with.  If you're large enough to have an HR function, likely this is the point they'll participate. Have 1 or two more.  The next interview should involve a different employee or set of employees to get a total, well rounded view of the prospective candidates.
    2. The candidates ought (whether you're in the startup stage or exiting your business) to be judged against a set of Outcomes, Responsibilities, and Capabilities.  Depending on the stage of your business lifecycle, the O's, R's, and C's composition will be different but not that you should have ANY in the first place.
    3. For O's, R's, and C's not yet demonstrated by past experience, look at the employee with a "Skill" and "Will" frame of mind.  They may have skills but also do they have the "will" to accomplish and follow through on what you require?
    4. Remember to keep selling them! Especially during the offering --> acceptance stage of selection.
  3. Onboarding
    1. This stage is the often forgotten or misunderstood stage of bringing on a new employee.  This is the "get to know us, get to know you" stage but also this is when you establish foundational expectations of all employees, give the various business overviews, as well as establish the "cultural" look/feel of your organization.  This is also when the newly hired employee, whether direct labor or management, should get a systems view of the processes they'll be involved in.
    2. The employee should be given the high level picture of your business model, who your core customers are, key suppliers, key activities, how you interact and access your customers, what they consider value from your organization (your value proposition), what problems you're addressing for your customers and what your current solutions are.  They should also clearly understand what your competitive advantages are as they will be expected to uphold those advantages and improve them in the future.
    3. The next level down in your systems introduction during the onboarding stage should involve their specific job role in the organization. This is true for product or service oriented businesses, in direct labor or support functions, really everywhere.  They must understand clearly what is "upstream" and "downstream" from them in the process, from their perspective as well as from the customers perspective.  They should understand clearly what a quality input to their process is from upstream, what a quality product is they'll need to produce (and what a bad product/service is as well!) and what the downstream process stages require from them.  
  4. Training
    1. In another post, I shared an in-depth approach to training that I think anyone can learn from and utilize but most effectively employ if they and/or their employees take courses in the Training Within Industry Methodologies.  I won't repeat them here but only add a little more.
    2. Know you must have effective training materials but also that you have trained and professional training delivery.  Both of those are CRITICAL to successfully training an employee.  The object is to get an employee trained and up to fully productive as soon as possible.  TWI methods can help you do just that.
    3. As mentioned above in Onboarding, the training stage is where First Time Quality is explored and trained in a much deeper level.  Ensuring you're employees accept and pass only First Time Quality (whatever your definition is!) will ensure your dollars for employee compensation = maximum value to your products and services and ultimately your customers.  Otherwise, you have waste being produced and moved around in your organization, and that's important to minimize at any stage of a business lifecycle.
    4. Training plans should be put in place across the organization for each employee by what critical skills they need to accomplish their job requirements.  A timeline should be associated so it's clear to you, your employees, and their peers on how everyone will be trained and cross trained over time.  This is probably most likely and beneficial in a mature organization and also when succession planning and transitions are actually happening in ownership/management in an organization.  Startups and scaling organizations need to train but also need to be vastly more agile in doing so.
  5. Performance Management
    1. If you clearly understand the job roles in your organization, the employee does as well, and has been provided ample training, Performance Management should be a piece of cake for everyone. I really support integrating nearterm and ongoing coaching into your overall view of Performance management where employees can provide useful feedback and you can adjust course as necessary for both of you throughout the year.  I am fully against only 1 or 2 discussions on a yearly basis.  This is nearly useless from a training and development perspective.  If an employee is coachable and you are receptive to feedback on their needs and roadblocks in their work, PM time should be smooth.
    2. I also believe in clear compensation for performance guidelines.  Vagaries for any reason will not work well for anyone.  Money isn't a long term motivator as it's shown to where off it's motivational boost over the medium term (3-6 months post "raise" time) but understand the bigger picture of what employees value and gives them motivation can be integrated into their PM's and overall compensation/benefits.  In Ray Dalio's Principles he describes in detail his approach to his idea meritocracy which is a profound approach to this view of employee relations.
  6. Developing
    1. Development is about the long term view of your employees and their interests.  This is the higher level view of their growth and alignment to your businesses growth and improvement.  This is outside skill level specifics to their job role.  I'm a firm believer in mutual design of development plans and think working on them in harmony between an employer/manager and the employee will bring about the best win-win solutions for everyone.
    2. This ISN'T performance management and looking in the rear-view at whether or not the employee is or isn't meeting the expectations of the job (as laid out in the O's, R's, and C's) but rather is forward looking and more strategic in nature.  What are those capabilities that the employee excels with and how can you strengthen and deepen them for the betterment of them and the organization?  Does the employee have potential in other areas in the organization and would they benefit from cross exposure to other areas?
    3. Some good resources for this stage (and just in general) are books like:
      1. What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  This is a list of 20 characteristics of individuals that often keep them from growing and excelling and how to understand whether you have some of these qualities and how they are limiting your development potential in your organization.
      2. Emotional Intelligence 2.0  by Bradberry et al - this a fairly well known book and while I'm not 100% sold that EQ is equivalent to IQ in many ways, this book includes and assessment but also frameworks for improving your personal emotional intelligence and how to improve your working relationships with others. 
  7. Departure
    1. There's no easy way to part ways with employees in your organization whether it's mutual or one-sided.  I think what's key in all situations is that everyone leaves in better shape than before and relationships remain in tact.  Staying clear on mutual expectations throughout an employees time at your business can definitely help with any surprises but also another critical way to avoid explosive departure scenarios is to have a keen awareness of fitness, both in the job role but also culturally in your business.  Understanding how employees and your organization prioritize the 5 F's: Fun, Family, Fortune, Freedom, and Fit can help to see clearly the varying importance of these aspects of any companies culture and will provide insight into potential future divergence if they aren't aligned well.
    2. I am a big proponent of doing Exit Interviews if at all possible.  This is the opportunity for the employee to be completely candid (without being unprofessional of course) and perhaps in ways they never felt comfortable being if they depended on the organization for their livelihood.  My experience has been the kinds of insights you can gather in an Exit Interview can be powerful in future improvements to your people processes.

Unique Considerations in the Business Lifecycle

There are a few distinctions to be made, and I'm sure much more to be elaborated on, for each major stage of a businesses lifecycle.  I felt it was worth discussing here.

  1. Startups
    1. I strongly believe setting out Outcomes, Responsibilities, and Capabilities is crucial in any stage of a business.  However, in a startup, when revenues are either non-existent or extremely low and product/market fit isn't achieved yet, it's probably most crucial to have high caliber generalists (can synthesize and apply knowledge to new situations) who are adaptable and flexible in their communication styles, tasks they can accomplish, as well as their willingness to try new things.  Ability to handle ambiguity is also key with a specific ability to pave new ground and create new processes as needed.
    2. Adaptable communication styles and methods is also important at this stage.  As a team grows and the processes get more sophisticated, employees must also learn how to find and utilizes the best methods of communicating between one another.
  2. Scaling
    1. Organizations that are scaling are in a unique stage of creation and destruction.  Old, inadequate processes and ways of doing things that are not scalable (or basically don't require 1:1 growth ratios, like just adding more employees to a production line for instance).  Employees must be adaptable and yet iteratively reestablishing standards to stabilize, improve, and grow as the business scales to meet increased customer demands. Systems thinkers are also a key capability to have at this stage so they can take the wide view of the business and processes and know where the critical investments in machines, people, processes, methods, etc. are needed to maximize every dollar spent in this "cash starved" stage of a business.
  3. Maturing
    1. This stage is characterized by the need to standardize processes, reduce waste and inefficiencies, and find new ways to do more with less. All other things being equal, inflation and wage growth will be increased costs to doing business so a maturing organization must find ways to be more productive and keep employee levels constant, in my opinion.
    2. Also, mature businesses seek growth by entering new markets or expanding on existing products and services to their existing markets.  This requires creative thinking as well as adaptability to new customer needs that might surface as you expand your awareness and work towards new revenue streams.
  4. Succession
    1. This stage is characterized by owners transitioning out of the business and someone or a new group of ownership taking over.  This is another stage of ambiguity for the employees and they aren't going to have all the information at the start.  Employees must be trusting enough, and owners worthy of being trusted, that things will work out in everyone's best interest and if changes to employment are coming they'll be informed in the right ways at the best possible times.  Employees that freely share information and knowledge and who know how to document their tasks and processes will be highly valued in this stage.  My intent isn't to imply they'll be laid off but rather for the best transition of ownership to happen, information and communications should flow freely and unencumbered by knowledge hoarding and ill will.
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I hope this systems level view of your people processes and workflow has generated some new thinking and pointed you in the direction of the priorities you want in establishing and improving those processes.  Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly if you need services around getting the right people in place, establishing the best people focused processes for your organization, and getting your people to be a major part of your competitive advantage!

 

Experience of a Lifetime: Inside the Next Callings Experience

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I had the itch as many people do.  I had so many thoughts, ideas, emotions, and drives to do much more in my life and career.  Many people, in many stages of life, have the urge and energy to craft a new direction, solidify long term goals and vision, and figure out how to achieve their dreams. After leaving a successful, 6 figure salary career at Boeing and working with a great group of people, I spent time integrating, visioning, and designing an Experience to help people transition through various stages in their life but also how that interrelates to their businesses and careers.  The Next Callings Experience was born out of the desire to serve people with an in-depth, purpose driven approach to designing, planning, and transitioning to their next stages and hopefully, to their Next Callings (hence the name!).  This Experience is for people needing a purposeful, interactive, and guided approach to the why, what, how, who, when, where of their next transition and Callings in life.  Whether it's pursuing a radical career change, orchestrating a mini-retirement, or taking the next major step in life to retirement and the Freedom-to-Work stage of life, the Next Callings Experience will help produce panoramic clarity and momentum for action.

Customers have found many benefits and have been positively surprised by what the results are from working with me in the Next Callings Experience.  Clarity, energy, renewed purpose and direction, and detailed action plans are but a few of the beneficial outcomes.  I felt it was a good time to describe the Experience and provide an overview in the hopes that it can perhaps give people some structure to work on their own or perhaps deeper insight into how the Experience could benefit them if they work with me.  Please sign up for a Free Consultation Here if you're interested and we can start your Experience now!

Next Callings Experience Origins

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The roots of the Next Callings Experience are in my background in Industrial and Systems Engineering as well as Philosophy.  I took the best of the approaches from the Continuous Improvement domain knowledge in Industry and Organizational Improvements, many resources and books I've read and applied over the years, and created some new frameworks I felt were necessary to really get to the heart of what my customers desired and needed from an experience like this.  I believe that this kind of work is really important in our society, at this point in time, given the level of inputs, relationships, influences, activities, and general complexity in our lives.  I felt this is one way to decrease the noise level in our levels and improve the signal so that we Live our life instead of Life Living Us.  My customers describe it as a really unique and powerful blending of creativity, analytical thinking, and deep personal work that is rare in the Personal Development and Lifestyle Design world.

Next Callings Experience Overview

My goal for the Next Callings Experience is for my clients to come away refreshed and energized, but with tangible takeaways that are useful now as well in their future practice.  Part of the Experience is training to use the methods, models, and thinking processes in the future so that the value extends well beyond the 2 Days (~16 hours) we spend together.  The output of the experience is a digitized and hardcopy of a portfolio of the work we did during the Experiences 5 stages.  While we work in a hands on, workshop setting in a meeting room convenient to my clients, using sticky notes, sharpies, and white boards, I have the results digitized and printed as a final result.  Included in that portfolio are suggested approaches for future practice and commentary from me.

The Experience is composed of 5 stages, each with their own purpose, outcomes, and themes, which are designed as a cycle that can be continuously practiced and evolved over time as you transition through various stages in life.  The 5 Stages are: Discovery, Current State, Experimentation, Future State, and Journey Forward.

  1. Discovery Stage
    1. Purpose: craft your goals, desires, and intents around the Experience and why.
    2. We also discuss what comes next, what to expect, and how to do some pre-work before we get their so the in-person time has maximum value for ou.
  2. Current State
    1. Purpose: Explore the Question "Who are you being today?"
    2. Overview: we utilize a variety of models and methods to map out your current way of being today in the following ways: values , capabilities/passions/service, community and stakeholders, fulfillment and achievement, and attention.
    3. Outcomes: have a systems level perspective of who you are today.
  3. Experimentation Stage
    1. Purpose: Explore your sense of the world, your relationship(s) to it, and use these exercises to open up your mind to a future of possibility
    2. Overview: we have several "thought experiment" related conversations in the "Socratic Method" style where historical Philosophical Thought Experiments have been modified and adapted for the Next Callings Experience.
    3. Outcomes: expanded ways of thinking, insights that will be of value in the Future State design, and hopefully new skills in asking deeper and more interesting questions about who you are today and who you want to be in the future.
  4. Future State
    1. Purpose: to create clarity about your vision for your future and Next Callings, whether they're 1 year away or 20.
    2. Overview: we modify several of the models and results used in the Current State and orient them to your future of possibility.  We explore a wide array of dimensions for your future Next Callings and craft tangible interrelationships to achieve them.
    3. Outcomes: Holistic Future Vision
  5. Journey Forward
    1. Purpose: craft a clear, actionable plan forward and generate the energy potential to take massive action to make it happen.
    2. Overview: Detailed action plan for the near, medium, and long term in pursuit of your desired Future State.  A particular benefit of this stage is to train you how to develop strategic/high level goals and how to deconstruct them into clear, tangible actions that will take you in their direction.  We also discuss several generic strategies to achieve your goals more quickly, robustly, and with meaning.
    3. Outcomes: Clear priorities, actions, and strategies to achieve your Future State.

The Next Callings Experience was designed to be compact, high intensity - high reward oriented.  It's also intended to be customizable where needed and also continuously improving as a model itself.  There are a wide array of people in need of doing work like this.  I encourage you to spend some time in your own way, at a minimum writing things down on paper or in electronic form, and figuring out at a minimum what are the next 3 steps you can take NOW to pursue your Next Callings.  As always, feel free to contact me directly, schedule a free consultation, or comment below.

 

 

What I'd Tell Someone Who's Loved One Is Diagnosed with Parkinson's

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Parkinson's is a debilitating disease of the nerves in the central brain (pituitary gland in particular) where they degenerate slowly, causing numerous problems with movement, balance, stiffness of limbs and the trunk, and unstable posture.  My father had a rare form of Parkinson's called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) otherwise known as Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome.  It's like Parkinson's but with worse dementia and cognitive decline than is normally found in Parkinson's.  There is no known cure for either disease.  The Michael J. Fox Foundation is one of the most prominent charities doing work in this field and I've donated to them over the years.  Well isn't all that really uplifting?  Not so much. However, I've had several people in my life have loved ones or others close to them be diagnosed with Parkinson's and even PSP recently and so what better time for a post like this?  I want to share what I know and my lessons learned in retrospect in the hopes that it can better prepare families and friends for their loved ones transition through the disease.

My father was Bill Prestin, born in Minnesota in 1947, a baby boomer through and through being born right after the war.  His father fought in World War II in the Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific Theatre. Both were great men in their own rights and had very unique life experiences.  However, from what research suggests now, their PSP and/or Parkinson's related genes are in all likelihood heritable down the family line but more than likely is that they are triggered by exposure to various pesticides.  My grandfather, while we're not certain, was likely exposed to some gnarly stuff in the jungles and islands in the Pacific Theatre, especially doing the unique work of the Army Corps of Engineers like clearing forests, making roads and infrastructure to support the war efforts.  Well into the time of my dads disease I learned that he sprayed trees with who knows what after high school for 2-3 summers, often coming home totally soaked in whatever he was spraying.  They both suffered through their diseases and died in their early 60's due to complications and symptoms associated with the diseases.  My dad had what is known as "early onset" PSP and started sometime in the late 40's and progressively got worse after that.  Knowing all that, I've spent a lot of time and attention doing my best to learn from their experiences as well as paying attention to new science being done to identify ways to avoid the disease altogether or deal with the progression of it if it were to come to me.

Here are my lessons learned.  They are unique to me and framed in ways that make sense and are meaningful for me.  They can be altered and reframed easily to fit for anyone else and I don't mean to imply I know everyone's unique experiences with diseases like these.  This post is pretty raw and unfiltered so prepare accordingly.  There is much more to share and talk about if anyone is interested.  As with other posts I've made in a similar vein, my caveat with all of this is I'm NOT a medical doctor nor do I play one on the internet.  These were my fathers, my, and my families experience along with other information I have learned over time.  Seek a variety of expert medical support for your unique circumstances! Please email me directly or comment in the comments below.

Things To Expect From Them and Their Disease

  1. Diagnosis Time - when someone is diagnosed with his kind of disease or any terminal illness for that matter, it is understandably traumatic in so many ways and for them, ways in which you'll never understand unless you contract something yourself.  Even then, their experience will have commonalities with others and plenty of uniqueness of it's own.  This time is fraught with uncertainty, fear, anxiety, sometimes desperation.  A deep sense of existential crisis can emerge at this time, whether the disease can be treated for decades or has only 6 months to run it's course.  This information seems essentially irrelevant to our brains capacity to comprehend that our time is limited.  While it's always been limited, having this information on the WHAT and HOW of our eventual deaths and a general timeline on WHEN brings death to ones doorstep, so to speak.  From a process oriented perspective, the time between diagnosis, gathering all pertinent information, and starting treatments don't always line up.  The time delays can be EXCRUCIATING.  The critical NEED to do SOMETHING is strong and frustrations and emotional outbursts can run high.  This is a time to employ whatever self-care and processing techniques you know or can come to know rapidly.  It is a time to be together, for retrospection, and new beginnings.  If someone is up for it (other than the diagnosed) have them do the information and research, find the experts, get the best books on the subjects, reach out to your networks for first hand experiences.  Find the best treatment facilities in your REGION (yes REGION) and make plans to visit them.  Start a journal at this time for yourself and also have the person diagnosed do one as well.  Capture your thoughts, feelings, anxieties, and more on paper.  That alone is powerful in times like these but it can also be useful for sharing information with doctors and other experts.
  2. As The Disease Progresses - my fathers experience as well as others I've have seen or read about, seem to have some commonalities that are worth knowing about.
    1. For most people, this disease CAN be treated quite effectively for even decades.  Quality of life can be maintained and the rate of decline from the disease can be staved off with a variety of medical and other treatments.  Find out ALL your options, medical related and otherwise, and use them as a full regimen to ensure maximum Quality of Life for the longest period of time.  This can also take off some of the stress associated with waiting, wondering, and the helplessness that can come on.  Crafting a treatment approach with your Doctor's and other wellness providers will be empowering for the person afflicted as well as for their support network.
    2. The disease is a slow decline but with "cliffs" where dramatic changes and new levels of the disease appear.  The common symptoms of tremors (often worsened by the "shotgun" approach of medication like synthetic dopamine overloading the system), slowing, and stiffening can take big jumps in short periods of time.  This is quite frightening and frustrating so prepare for changes like this to come on.
    3. The disease will have secondary, long lasting ailments come with it.  Things like falling a breaking a bone (my dad fell and shattered his right shoulder), infections, and eventually involuntary muscle system decline (trouble swallowing, digestion issues, etc.) will come and cause their own trouble and hardship.  Be aware of them, handle them quickly and with full force, to stave off their longer term impacts to your loved ones health.
    4. Mental illnesses of varying kinds often accompany the disease.  This isn't necessarily unique to Parkinson's but there are some symptoms that are worsened by the impact to the brain from the disease.  Anxiety and depression are common.  There are a variety of treatments for these components of the disease so seek a variety of experts on how to approach them understanding the underlying illness is a major cause.  Basically, don't just treat the symptoms, work deeper than that.
  3. Approaching the End and Release from the Disease - sounds pretty morbid and it certainly is.  Parkinson's, as your doctors will likely explain, will typically in the end cause the involuntary muscle system to degrade to such a place where swallowing, digestion, and even breathing are extremely difficult or can even break down completely.  Complications with these body functions are often what cause the eventual passing of someone with Parkinson's. Because of this, it's not uncommon to have a Do Not Resuscitate component as a part of their medical care. I say "Release" here because that's truly how I felt for my father when he finally passed.  He had dealt with this disease for so long and had such a hard time with this last stage of his life that death was his only remaining release.  Some of my last words were "I Love You" and "Be Easy Dad, Be Easy" because it had been SO hard for him for so long.  In my later years I've found amazing resources in places like Zen Hospice Project, as I've mentioned in other posts.  Find them or a resource similar near you and these care givers will make this experience VASTLY more meaningful and smooth than my fathers was. This is one kind of resource I wish I had known about or had been offered during my fathers passing.

Things For You To Keep In Mind

  1. This is THEIR Disease - while those around someone stricken with these diseases are certainly and dramatically effected by it, keeping the mindset that they are and will be impacted in ways you can't fathom, will help you stay mindful of the difference between what THEY are experiencing and what you're feeling or projecting onto them about how you think they're feeling.  In other words, don't make your discomfort and emotional pain about their ailment distract you from loving them deeply and richly and acting accordingly.   My version of this was "powering through" the hard times of getting my dad out of his nursing home and bringing him home for a while where I basically acted as a nurse of sorts in that time.  Many situations I never would have thought would ever happen between a father and his early 20's son.  For me, my form of compassion was being present and focused on his needs while ensuring he could enjoy his time with me and the family and being at home for a bit.  Depending on how close you are to the person and your level of care providing, you'll need to go into the experience with a proper mindset as well as being constantly adaptive as things change.
  2. You're Emotional Experiences Will Expand Vastly - basically, it'll be a rollercoaster, so prepare with way's and means to both be in the moment and also post process as much as you can.  I talk a lot about self-care and meditation and those are powerful methods to stabilize yourself.  However, at the time, my methods for dealing with the emotions were wailing for hours on a punching bag in my college houses garage and even having "crying it out" sessions as needed.  Yes, plenty of crying it out.  You HAVE To find ways to process, whatever level of processing you need.  I also had a great friend who lost his father early in life and we had deeply enriching conversations over several years, in the philosophical and highly cognitive vein, and that helped a great deal as well.  Pay attention to your needs as well as the needs of the person stricken by this illness.  Doing so will make your relationship vastly more positive, uplifting, and healthy.
  3. Service is Empowering - given it was my father that had this illness and that's about as close of a relationship as can be (along with your mother) I had a VERY strong sense of duty and service to him and his needs throughout his decline.  While I was perpetually conflicted about going to college, I was repeatedly reminded by my mom and even him in times of lucid thinking, that my attendance was PARAMOUNT and coming home as often as I did was good enough.  I'm sure that sense of duty came in part from my particular kind of upbringing but in retrospect, I recognize how central it was to my world and how I got through a lot of what we did.  Putting myself in service mode helped keep me grounded, focused, and as caring as I could be across the wide variety of situations we experienced together as a family and between my father and I.  Nothing I'd be experiencing was even close to what he was going through, and that was humbling but also empowering.

Treatments I Wished I Would Have Known About

Again, this my caveat here is that I'm no medical doctor, so seek professional help. These treatments have been collected over the years as I've read about various scientific studies around the variety of treatments that can help stave off the disease as well as slow it's progression.  These are some I wished I had known for my father and could have used but some of them I use myself today to ward off the potential for PSP. These are non-medical related treatments, by the way, only doctors will help speak to the medications that can help.

  1. Sauna Time - several studies have shown significantly positive effects of time in a sauna and staving off neurodegenerative diseases as well as slowing their progression.  I'll leave it to the reader to search for the variety of studies available.  However, the key points are the Sauna's have to be pretty hot, on the order of 175 degrees Fahrenheit or above for a period of 20-30 minutes per session.  Some studies looked at doing multiple sessions like 30 minutes at 175, 20-30 cool off period out of the sauna, and another 30 minutes in.  These sorts of regimens showed significant positive results over just one session.  Also, it's kind of a situation where the more number of days per week you do sauna sessions, the more and more likely you are to avoid the disease.  One study said with 5-7, 30 minute sessions (once per day) per week resulted in a 66% less likelihood of getting the disease.  That's AMAZING.  We bought a 4 person sauna and I use it regularly as well it being a great family, healthful activity as well as fun as a social activity, especially after a good walk or hike!  If you're looking to purchase, do not go for Infrared sauna as they DO NOT get hot enough.  Pursue electric heating elements or wood wired instead.  Our sauna was purchased from Almost Heaven Sauna's via Costco special.
  2. Ketogenic Diet - there isn't a lot of deep research here but there are some that describe treating Parkinson's with this form of diet (basically powering the body with fat vs. carbohydrates).  This website has a good overview.
  3. Sulforaphane As a Dietary Component - several studies (find one here) have shown the positive effects of this compound on treating the issues associated with Parkinson's.  It occurs naturally in many leafy greens but is found in massive quantities in Brocolli sprouts.  You can purchase sprouts and grow then yourself.  They're fairly peppery but edible.  They go great in about a tablespoon quantity in smoothies, on a sandwich, or in salads.
  4. Caffeine - it's been shown to have positive effects on avoiding Parkinson's and also as a treatment for tremors and other symptoms of the disease.  Find more here.
  5. Various Fungi have been shown to have positive effects on neurodegenerative diseases - I've read about this a lot but this Podcast by Joe Rogan with guest Paul Stamets was HIGHLY informative on the world of fungi but also they speak specifically to Parkinson's treatments involving Lions Mane and other fungi (I haven't tested this treatment myself but will mention it here non-the-less) that contain the psychoactive component psilocybin.  They suggest stacking Lions Mane (a legal and widely available mushroom, in powder form for drinking from Four Sigmatic) with some other varieties with psilocybin to both "clean up" defective neurons as well as promote growing new healthy neuron pathways (neurogenesis). I take the My Community supplement of the Host Defense Line that Paul Stemet offers.  Easy, cheap, with no known detrimental effects.  Good stuff. There aren't an abundance of studies on the healthy benefits of these fungi for a variety of reasons that Paul Stemet and other experts can speak to themselves.  From the  sources I've come upon, I'm more than convinced on their healthful benefits, for PSP, Parkinson's, and beyond.  
  6. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise - aside from the abundance of evidence that a healthy exercise regimen promotes general good health and a long life, it's effects on staving off the disease as well as slowing progression are widely known.  The more you exercise your body and brain to regenerate healthy neurons, neuron connections, and muscle fibers the less the disease will impact them.  Prepare for the various phases of the disease with best known exercise regimens.  Things like weightlifting and cardio when possible then down to seated and even laying down exercises for the later stages of the disease.

Lessons for Life and Business Transitions

There are many lessons here that are transferable to any life or business transition. Some of them are:

  1. Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst - this is plenty cliché but it's oh so true when it comes to this disease.  Plan for the worst case scenarios to cap the trauma that may come as best as you can.  Same goes for life and business transitions, take action and plan for worst case scenarios, and you'll be much better positioned to maintain sanity and quality of life.
  2. Maintain Optimal Health No Matter What - life and business transitions can be best executed when your body and mind are as healthy as possible.  The same goes for preparing for potential ailments like Parkinson's and PSP.  I've found that crafting and executing a healthy regimen to avoid PSP has plenty of positive results for the hear and now (duh!)!
  3. Stay Open Minded and Seek A Variety of Sources - I'm not promoting unverified and rigorously studied approaches here but I am suggesting to step outside the narrow fields that seem so obvious.  When planning, executing, and managing Life and Business Transitions of any kind, seek resources outside of the obvious.  Read books outside your normal area of expertise in non-obvious subjects and you may find lessons that are powerful that can be directly applied to what you're doing today.  The same goes for experts.  Seek many within the area of need but also across different domains and practices.  Having this triangulation of information will make your resulting solutions and behaviors all the more robust.

Please, contact me directly if you'd like more support for yourself or a loved one recently diagnosed with these ailments or any other terminal illnesses.  I'll do my best to help and support you in any way I can and point you to other resources that may be helpful.