How to have the best business trip ever in 14 easy steps:

October 22, 2015

How many times have you gotten on a plane, then gotten off the plane, gotten into the car /taxi/bus/train and headed to the hotel? Then, gotten less than a decent night sleep, woke up, drank bad coffee and headed directly to the ballroom/conference room/window-less space to work for the day? Repeat 2, 3 or 4 days in a row. Add in a few meals, maybe one workout (if you’re lucky) and then do the whole thing in reverse to go home. Countless times, right? You can sleepwalk through the routine, especially if it’s a trip you’ve made before, right?

But what if it was different? What if you decided that the entire trip was going to be a learning adventure?

I had one of those this week. Here’s how it happened:

Step One:

Start the trip off in the right frame of mind. Before the flight do something inspiring – I don’t know, learn something? For me this time I attended a leadership talk given by a great friend and mentor with really practical advice. Head to the airport with your brain swirling about how you might be able to apply what you learned. Get through security and boarding without a hitch. Arrive at your destination early.

Step Two:

Meet a friend/colleague for dinner. In this case, it’s not about the food it’s about the company – so make it a really good friend, or close colleague. Talk about what is inspiring you, what you learned and what your plans are. Get so excited you don’t really remember what you ate.

Step 3:

Go to bed early and really sleep well. Wake up early and get a run in – clear your mind and ready yourself for a great day.

Step Four:

Find yourself a new thing to learn and some great people to learn it from. Maybe it’s a new way of doing something, maybe it’s a new subject matter altogether. Maybe it’s a different leadership style. Regardless of what it is, wrap yourself up in learning all about it. Then find the coolest people that are doing it and get on their calendar. Be relentless, show them you are smart and different and mean business. Once you get on their calendar, (and now we’re back to step four), meet with them and learn as much as you can about them and how they do whatever it is they do. Maybe you’ll get really lucky and they will ask you to shoot a video with them.

Step Five:

Have lunch, or drinks, or a coffee (or in my case a Vitamin water) with an old friend, and colleague. Reminisce, share stories, and learn something else. Be vulnerable, tell the truth, and ask for help. Bask in the familiarity, yet feel the time span and all you have learned within it. Be grateful.

Step Six:

Eat dinner with any of the fun people listed above in a great restaurant (and I mean a really great one). Drink good wine, eat dessert and enjoy the celebration of who you are with.

If they give you a cape, put it on and be the superhero you are.

Step Seven:

Participate by phone on a leadership call back at the office. Offer suggestions for changing culture. Drive process improvements to enhance business results. Enjoy the fact that your boss is being supportive and appreciative of your efforts.

Step Eight:

Meet with another awesome person that you haven’t yet met in person, yet have deeply connected with on the phone. Reconnect with her in person and share ideas, listen and learn. Stretch your brain to help her solve complex problems, meet her team, and figure out ways to take what you learned back to your team.

Step Nine:

More food, more dinner, more great conversation and this time include tequila (Patron Silver of course) and guacamole.

Step 10:

Lead a webinar in which you are introduced as an “industry thought leader”. Notice that the people that join the call are your cheerleaders from all phases of your career. Nail the timing perfectly – as though you actually rehearsed it that way. When you are done, order a salad for lunch. Have too much adrenaline to actually eat.

Step 11:

Write a blog, edit and publish it within an hour. Still too happy to eat.

Step 12:

Leave your new friends with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Head back to the airport with dreams of the future, of possibilities and with salad in hand (to eat on the plane). When you get to the airport, skip the salad and eat frozen yogurt instead.

Step 13:

On the plane write down all the important things that you learned.

Adults learn by doing, then reflecting. Be sure to reflect.
Don’t forget any of it. Replay it in your mind. Think about your next steps, how to keep it alive and how to bring it back to your people at home. Introduce all the cool people you met on the trip to each other via email.

Step 14:

Upon arriving home, unpack your cape.

What if we thought like Olympic Athletes?

October 16, 2015

What if we practiced 90% of the time and only performed 10% of the time?  That’s what elite athletes do….they spend most of their time figuring out how to get the most out of their body – how to get themselves to the top of their performance game, so that when they get on the field, the court or the track they are fully prepared to WIN.  What if we did that at work?

What if we understood, that like athletes, our employees come to work every day in hopes of winning?  Would that change the way we managed them?

Performance Management: Would we wait until the annual performance review to give them feedback, or would we give feedback to them real time?  Let’s consider the elite athlete…. An Olympic swimmer hires a coach to help her make it to the games – the coach designs the practices, watches both real time and on film to track how the swimmer is doing.  Together they analyze the performance, make tweaks and the swimmer tries again. And again.  And what if during that practice the coach notices that the swimmer’s left elbow is dragging, thus slowing down her pace, however minimally.  Would the coach wait until the year-end review to give the swimmer that feedback?  OF COURSE NOT. That’s actually silly.  Yet, this is what we do at work.  We wait to give the feedback until the “appropriate time” in the performance review cycle.

If the coach were to do that, here’s what might happen:
– The swimmer would likely not know herself to lift their elbow.  She wouldn’t improve the .10% of a second that was necessary to make the difference between fourth place and the gold medal.
– The swimmer would continue to practice not lifting her elbow, and when she finally got the feedback, it would be much harder to unlearn the old way and then to relearn the new way – instead of just making the minor correction at the time.
– The swimmer would never really trust the coach again – because the coach allowed her to do it the wrong way rather than to have the difficult conversation about making a change.

That whole scenario seems ridiculous and contrived.  Here’s how it really plays out: The coach would scream into the pool, ‘LIFT YOUR ELBOW’, and the swimmer would lift her elbow, and that would be the end of it.  There would be no drama, no feedback models necessary to figure out the best way to offer the feedback.  The coach would give the feedback, the swimmer would incorporate the feedback and be better prepared to win.  If the coach didn’t deliver the appropriate feedback, he would likely be fired.

And then, imagine if at the end of the year the coach gave the athlete a ‘3 out of 5’ for a performance rating.  A 3 out of 5 is good he’d say.  You met expectations, you did exactly what you set out to do!  Again, that sounds ridiculous.  How could an Olympic athlete actually be a 3?  Very likely, the swimmer would not get back in the pool for that coach again.

Why then at work is that whole scenario OK?  Why do we assume that the feedback is going to be taken in the wrong way?  Why do we think that not giving the feedback is acceptable?  What if we treated employees as though they were striving to be the best they could be.

What if we assumed employees had an intention for greatness and we acted as if it were our job to guide them there? 

Would we act differently with that frame?

Goal setting works the same way.  The Olympics are every four years.  That’s a big, hairy goal.  In fact, at work, that is so big we might actually call it a “corporate objective”.  And the goal itself is actually to qualify for the Olympics.  And then there are micro-goals under that – personal bests,  national competitions, and key qualifying events (among many others).  There is a tremendous amount of effort and sweat, and successes and failures that lead up to those micro goals, which drive the big goal and corporate objectives.  Four years’ worth in fact.   Yet, together the coach and the athlete sit down and chart the course – when are the trials, when are the world championships, what races can we do to get ready for those?  How can we practice?  Where is it OK to fail, and where do I have to be at the top of my game?  What else can I do to fully develop – what are the ancillary things that will make me more successful (sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress, etc)?

Do we really think about those things at work?  Or instead, do we run from one thing to the next, not really understanding how everything fits together?  Can we work with our employees to create meaningful short term micro goals that drive the bigger organizational goals, that ultimately lead to being the best in the world?  An opportunity that realistically comes along only once every four years?  Can we identify those corporate objectives, vs. the goals and micro goals and then understand the “near and clear” steps it takes to achieve those?

Can we focus on getting a teeny bit better every day, rather than trying to go from good to perfect in one conversation?

And can we make the leap that our employees want and expect that kind of coaching and feedback from us in order to help get them there?

We have Olympic Athletes hidden among us at work.  Those people that need the right coaching, the right feedback and the right type of goal setting to just help them be the best they can be…and in some cases we’ll never know it, because we give them a 3.  And then they fire us (or move to another company), or become so disenfranchised that they actually give up.  And because of our process, our system, our fear…they don’t reach their potential.  That’s the exact opposite of the job of a coach.  What if we operated as Olympic Coaches instead of managers at work? Maybe we’d get Olympic Performances.