“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close… But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?” you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?” … Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…” – Timothy Leary
I just got back from a 6 week project, in a new city for a new client. It was pretty intense – a large amount of work, a short time frame, and for me a totally new business domain. So clearly, I was all business all the time, right? Nose to the grindstone and all that.
Except that’s not how I play. I know folks who always seem to be in super-professional mode. Impersonal, task-focused, calm. I can’t do it, and I don’t really want to. Because for me, the job is about the people. It’s why I do it. It’s how I do it. So while I’m asking about how you bill your customers, I’m probably also going to find out where you went to college, how many kids you have, that you rescue cats, that you’re from Nebraska, what your middle name is. It just sort of happens. I’m not exactly sure how.
After a full day on the project, I’ll meet a friend that I know professionally for dinner. We’ll talk about politics, work, family, religion, travel, philosophy….all those things that they always tell you not to talk about. We’ll have dessert and coffee and stay past closing time. And maybe some day we’ll do business with each other and maybe we won’t, but we’ll both be enriched by the exchange. If we do decide to work together in the future, we’ll start from a place of trust and understanding.
As an employee or as a consultant, I’ve seen the inner workings of a lot of organizations. I’ve seen countless leaders and managers struggling with the question – how to manage this process and get results? Almost inevitably, they fall back on metrics. And reports. Reports about metrics. Metrics take on a life force of their own. They are graphed. They are debated. They are used to give or deny promotions and raises. Meetings, projects, programs, and entire departments spring into existence because of metrics.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your metrics are crap. Now don’t get offended. Some metrics can be really useful. If they are used by individuals and teams to evaluate and improve their own work and processes, they can be really helpful. Like when I log onto Khan Academy and take an evaluation and realize that I have, in fact, forgotten basic algebra, so I should probably brush up on that before I tackle advanced calculus. But that’s not how we do it, is it? We have this happy management fantasy that we can identify important activities and behaviors, set some goals, measure everyone against them, and create awesome results. The only problem with this is, we forget that we are people, managing people, selling to people.
So if you’re looking to improve your organization, try this one thing, just for a week, a month maybe. Close the spreadsheet. Shut down the slide deck. Step away from your desk. Talk. Talk about all the things. Talk to your employees, your peers, your customers, your suppliers, your partners. Get on the plane and go see them. Take them out for a beer. Ask them about their kids and their dogs. Play a pickup game in the parking lot. Share those unflattering photographs. Be real. Reveal your own humanity and flaws. Wear jeans and sneakers. Take a chance. Take a lot of chances. Things will get better. Your business. Your life. Everything.