Before you move forward take a look back……..

‘’We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience’’

John Dewey – philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer

Each December instead of releasing my monthly blog on 21st of the month, I release it early in the month giving readers time to reflect before the Christmas ‘rush’. As it is coming up to the traditional Christmas and New Year holiday period in Australia where employees head off for holidays, it is a good time for managers and business owners to reflect on the previous year.

While it is normally considered a good time to plan for the year ahead, by setting goals and targets ready for the resumption of work after the holiday period, being well-rested, with batteries recharged ready for the challenge of the new year, it is also a good time to “look back”, that is to reflect on the previous year.

Is looking back bad?

No.

If you are not reviewing the previous 12 months you often lose perspective on what has been achieved and what has not worked out as planned. Here are three questions you should ask yourself and your team in looking back over the previous year.

  1. WHAT did we do well last year and WHY?

While it is important to recognise and celebrate wins, it is just as important to ask the questions

–  ‘How did we have these wins?’

– ‘What were the actions that we as a team took to get this great result?’

Note the reasons down, share these with the team and have a goal to continue this strategy.

  1. WHAT did we do badly this year and WHY?

Sadly, many of us blame others, and make excuses as to why things fail. It’s time to put our egos aside and be honest as to the causes of the failures.

– Where did we fail?’

– ‘Where did we not strive hard enough?

– ‘Where did we not act like a team?

– ‘When was the customer not put ahead of ourselves?

– ‘What happened and what did YOU do to contribute to that result?

Make a note of the answers to the above questions and ensure that we do not do that again. After all, as managers we are accountable!

  1. WHAT goals did we set this time last year that we did not achieve and WHY?

As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results”, so establishing the same goals and associated actions as last year will most likely give you the same result.

– ‘Why did we set them?

– ‘Why didn’t we achieve them?’

‘- Did these goals really matter?

– ‘Is it different this time?’

Discuss with your team as to whether the goals are still a priority, and should they be the same goals again for this year?

Having answered these questions, honestly and openly you and your team are ready to set goals and plans for the next calendar year.

Does your team have the skills, capabilities, work ethic and behavioural characteristics to be a ‘winning’ team for next year?

To my blog readers, best wishes for Christmas and 2019

How do you eat an elephant?

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

Desmond Tutu – Noble Prize laureate, anti-apartheid campaigner

In using this old African proverb, what did Desmond Tutu mean?

How often are we confronted with tasks or challenges that seem insurmountable?

The first action in confronting a major project is to set the goal…………that is, eating the elephant.

However, in order to reach the goal of eating an elephant you need to plan and set incremental time bounded goals. In this case, it’s eating the elephant one bite at a time. Setting goals is an important discipline for business owners and managers. Furthermore, setting goals also helps in creating a meaningful, satisfying, and successful life.

Small goals have several advantages in giving you:

  1. something that is tangible and achievable on which you can focus
  2. the satisfaction of achieving the small goals
  3. the way to achieving your major goal

A junior IT employee I once employed was daunted by the number of tasks he had to complete. He said he felt helpless and was not enjoying his role as he ‘was not getting anywhere’. We devised a simple plan that visibly showed progress. Using a simple exercise book, he listed the jobs to be done, both large and small. When he completed a task, it was crossed off the list and dated. He immediately had a visible and simple method of tracking his progress. This resulted in a significant improvement in his job satisfaction and productivity.

Job satisfaction, like life satisfaction, is higher if you see life or your job as a series of small milestones or goals along the way. Remember life, and this includes your working life is not a destination but a journey.

Whilst the practice of goal setting is important, there are certain ways to set goals that will increase the chance of success, including using the acronym, SMART for setting goals:

Specific – be very clear on what you wish to achieve. It also helps to visualise your goals. Using the elephant analogy, an African elephant weighs around, 5,000 kilograms.

Measurable – set a goal where you can measure your progress toward achieving it. Record the kilograms of the elephant you eat each week. As Peter Drucker, the famous management thinker said, “what gets measured gets done.”

Attainable – your goals need to be reasonable and realistic. You then have a better chance of success. With the elephant example, eating 100 kilograms per week would be unrealistic whereas 10 kilograms is achievable. This moves you towards your final goal, which is eating the elephant. However, at 10 kilograms per week it would take you nearly 10 years to eat the elephant by yourself. This brings us to the next consideration.

Relevant – set a goal that has meaning, whether personal or for your career or business. There is little point in having goals that have no meaning as you are wasting both time and resources. Also, you are unlikely to be motivated when the going gets tough. Due to the time involved in eating the elephant by yourself, it is not relevant or practical, even if you like elephant meat!

Time-Bound by setting a timeline or deadline you are forced to commit. This includes the small goals along the way that lead up the major goal. In meeting both the relevance and time criteria, to eat the elephant before it becomes rotten, you could enlist 100 of your fellow villagers and it would be completed in only 5 weeks!

Note: 10 kgs per person per day multiplied by 100 villagers and 5 weeks equals 5,000 kgs

Often when I sit in front of a client, they are daunted by the task to improve their business’ performance.

How do we solve the apparently daunting task?

By using the ‘eating the elephant, one bite at a time’ approach. We break down the business plan into initially, 3 year goals, then 1 year goals and more importantly 90 day ‘bite size’ goals with actions that add up to complete the business plan.

Goals are dreams with realistic and achievable deadlines.

Motivational coach Zig Ziglar stated that “a goal properly set is halfway reached.” If we remember, setting a goal is just like eating an elephant, bite by bite, and bit by bit, we can reach firstly, our smaller goals before the final goal.

What is going to be your approach when you are confronted with a daunting task?

Further lessons from the farm……………

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field”

Dwight D. Eisenhower – President USA

Each year I write a blog about ‘lessons from the farm’. In 2016 it was about  constant renewal and in 2017 it was about being careful in assessing opportunities and watching for hidden problems.  Growing up on a farm in country New South Wales, Australia provided me with a great grounding for life. It certainly gave me the experience and a sense of perspective to be successful, academically and in business and to handle difficult issues when they arose.

Being a farmer is more than a job, it’s a way of life. It is full of life lessons that you can use as a manager or business owner.  Farming is unpredictable – as a farmer you are at the mercy of the weather, whether it be droughts, storms or floods, as well as fluctuating commodity prices.

So what lessons can a farming life provide?

Here are 3 lessons from my childhood……

  1. Always be optimistic. As a farmer, you tend to always look on the bright side of life even when the problems seem insurmountable. Whether it’s a crippling drought or a flood, or a tractor that breaks down in the middle of the sowing season, there is always tomorrow, next week or next year. I witnessed my father struggling financially to hand-feed sheep during a drought believing that prices would improve. Later on, wool prices increased and this made his efforts worthwhile.
  2. Deal with disappointment. Often on the farm, despite giving your best effort, things don’t work out. The weather can be unpredictable, crops can be ruined and animals can be lost to drought, flood or fire. This taught me that life is not easy and you deal with disappointment by being resilient. You must keep continuing on. In a period of severe drought, with no farm income and four hungry boys to feed, as a family we dealt with this difficult period by my mother breeding Corgi pups for city people.
  3. You reap what you sow. Despite the unpredictability of mother nature, in farming generally you get out of it what you put in. Proper preparation of the land before sowing a crop will be more likely to produce a successful crop. The lesson is that when you dedicate your time to doing a job correctly, without cutting corners, you are more likely to get your desired results. In business and in life, the results you get are based directly on the efforts you put into it. Over 40 years ago, my father saw a gap in the market for low fat drought hardy beef cattle. He began breeding Limousin cattle from France, initially through artificial insemination using semen from the best French bulls. Within 10 years his cattle were winning national beef competitions in Australia.

These lessons from the farm serve as good examples of lessons for life. Life is often not easy, whether with family, business or your career. I found myself facing difficult issues in business, whether it was the loss of a major customers, slow paying customers or staff issues. In one year we lost our 2 largest customers in circumstances beyond our control. This threatened the viability of the business. It was similar to the farmer’s livelihood being threatened by mother nature. We knuckled down, believed that the future would improve, dealt with the disappointment and worked hard at marketing our services. Within 2 years our business had grown 50%.

Can you think of examples where you overcame adversity and grew?

Using lessons from the farm is a good reference point for action.

Visualising your goals…….

IMG_3092

“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

Francis Chadwick: long distance swimmer

 Francis Chadwick was the first woman to swim English Channel in both directions. Her first attempt failed after spending 14 hours in the water. The attempt was made in thick fog and ironically she was only 3 miles from France when she abandoned her attempted crossing. Her comments on finding out how close she was to her goal was:

“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

There are few better examples of the importance of setting goals and visualising those goals. Last month I was trekking in the McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Central Australia. Not only was it an amazing visual experience but it was also a time to reflect and enjoy the company of interesting people, as well as the physical challenge. Each day we set out to walk the 18 to 20 kilometres in a harsh desert environment. This meant setting goals for the day.

On our second day we got up at 5.30 am and trekked 8 kilometres through a gorge over rocky and steep terrain onto open spinifex covered slopes to the summit of Mt Sonder. This mountain was the highest point on the Larapinta Trail with 180 degree views over 100 kilometres of the surrounding country.

https://usefultriptips.com/2013/11/10/mt-sonder-west-macdonnell-ranges-nt/

At times it was physically quite difficult however it was made easier as we had a goal. We could see the mountain in front of us. Unlike Francis Chadwick’s first attempt at swimming the English Channel we could see our goal and kept going. The magnificent views were one of the rewards for our efforts.

Everybody should have goals whether it’s to obtain a degree, be financially independent, buy your first house or start a business.

Without clear goals you are less likely to achieve your potential or anything else for that matter. Too few of us set goals in life or in our work. Importantly, by not having written goals we are even less likely to achieve our potential.

The alleged quote from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland explains the situation clearly:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”

However, I have found that although writing down goals is important it is critical that you also have a plan with milestones to help you meet your goals. In climbing Mt Sonder, we had various milestones to reach certain locations by set times to ensure we climbed it in the time planned and to complete our descent before the heat of the afternoon set in.

In concluding one often overlooked part of goal setting is to visualise your goal. I have found that visualising what the completed goal is a powerful motivator. In selling our business I visualised what it would be like to finally be rewarded for all that hard work

……….a bit like climbing Mt Sonder where we visualised the spectacular  views and enjoying a well-earned rest. To be able to see the mountain helped with the visualising the goal. Francis Chadwick in her second and successful attempt at swimming the English Channel, could see the English shore.

Can you visualise what the completion of your goals looks like?

A New Beginning

 

Tim

‘To say it is life changing is an understatement — it is a new life, not life changing’

Tim Boyle (Australia’s first kidney and lower intestine transplant recipient)

This is a quote from colleague and friend Tim Boyle, who became Australia’s first kidney and lower intestine transplant recipient in October, 2015.

Twelve years ago Tim received the news that his lower intestine was no longer working and had it removed. Although he could eat, he could only process 10% of his intake as nutrition and had to be fed via an intravenous drip. Less than 2 years ago his kidneys failed which meant each week he spent up to 50 hours attached to medical machines.

You can read his story in the links below:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3323623/Father-spent-50-000-hours-hooked-intravenous-drip-Australian-small-bowel-kidney-transplant-vows-daughter-dinner.html

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/11/18/first-australian-receive-bowel-and-kidney-transplant-gets-new-lease-life

Despite these setbacks, Tim remained optimistic for the future and was committed to his young family and continued to build his business. Although he had time to catch up for coffee, produce a monthly newsletter and write a book we noticed a slow decline in his health and in the last few months this became a rapid decline. Although he acknowledged this decline we ‘outsiders’ noticed a more rapid decline and feared for his future.

Tim’s journey and his quote got me thinking. How does this relate to business?

Many businesses are like Tim’s health. Slow decline not noticed by those in the business, whether it be the owners or employees but noticed by those outside. Complacency and accepting the current situation in business can be fatal. This can catch up on you without realising the true situation and can result in business failure.

It’s now January and the start of a new calendar year and it is time as Tim stated “it is a new life”. In Australia, January is the summer holiday period where staff are either on holidays or tend to be more relaxed. For business owners and managers it is time for reflection on the previous year and to plan for the next. Time for a new beginning…………

So what should you be doing?

What you should not be doing is relaxing and allowing the status quo to continue……it could be fatal to your business.

Here are some 5  suggestions to get you thinking (and acting!)……….

  1. Learn lessons from last year – write down what you have learned, good and bad and act on them for the next year
  2. Set goals for the next 12 months – write them down, be positive and ensure they are realistic and will make you look back in 12 months with a sense of achievement
  3. What bad habits should you eliminate? – we all have bad habits that if we change will make us, our staff and customers more productive, engaged and motivated
  4. Thank your staff and customers – in particular those who helped you and the business in the past year. Hopefully you would have done this before Christmas
  5. Clean up anything left over from the previous year – there is nothing better than starting the new year with a ‘clean slate’. Leftover tasks stop you moving forward with energy and enthusiasm for the new year deserves.

So let January be a period to commence the new year with a positive plan and outlook for the next 12 months, leaving the old year behind…………..

And think of Tim and remember this year is an opportunity for ‘a new life’………..

Post Note:

If you haven’t done so, why not consider becoming an organ donor? It is really easy to do but unfortunately most people don’t only because they haven’t thought about it. In Australia we have long waiting lists due to lack of donors and it truly saves lives. Tim waited 4 years and was unlikely to see Easter. Luckily ground breaking surgery with a different donor blood was successful.

Go to www.donatelife.gov.au for all details.