Effective Postmortem Discussions

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Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t get mad. Get learning!

Sure, proper planning, resources, and discipline, can prevent many problems from ever happening. But no matter how hard we try, some will slip through, anyway – that’s just reality.

So how best can we learn from the bad things that happen?

Mistakes are the Stepping Stones to Wisdom

It starts with realizing that once whatever issues are resolved, we need to learn what we can from whatever just happened.

So it’s not a time to get mad. Or retributive. It’s a time to get smarter. And an important and helpful, but often overlooked step to bringing that learning front-and-center is something called the “postmortem.”

The Postmortem Process

For those of you not familiar with the term, let’s define the term as an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over.

Here are the steps I’ve used to great success with postmortems in the workplace:

1. Gather everyone together. Include staff, vendor personnel, and customers, if appropriate and thank them all for the being there. Focus on trying to put everyone at ease so they know it’s not an inquisition and it is okay to for them to relax. Assure them, if necessary, that “no heads will roll,” as that would lead to a quite different type of postmortem, if you get my drift!

2. Review what happened. Ask those most directly involved to retell the story, in their own words, of what happened. Encourage everyone to add pieces of information no matter how big or small their role was or the information is. Look to understand, not to blame, by asking questions like, “What then?” and “What else?” Show everyone the utmost respect and a true curiosity in recreating circumstances. And keep probing until everyone who has something to say, says it.

3. Ask for the learning. When you’re satisfied that everyone has spoken, shift to asking about what people have learned from what happened. “What did we learn from all this?” “How are we smarter?” “What changes should we make to plug any vulnerabilities that have become apparent?” Keep asking until, again, even the ‘quiet’ people speak. And if they don’t, invite each to share their thinking with the group…because the quiet people often have the best insights.

4. Assign follow-up tasks and due dates. Likely, some pretty good ideas will surface, many of which will require some planning, preparation, or processing. Follow-up is key, so be sure to have someone put these assignments in writing and distribute to everyone within one business day, and determine how best to insure these open items are properly tracked to completion in a suitable time frame.

5. Reiterate your appreciation. Close happily. Say something that indicates the work of the meeting is now complete. Thank them, again, for their openness, honesty, and collective wisdom. Say something funny, if you can – laughter is a great way to help people release any lingering tension they may be feeling. Reiterate how helpful their participation in this process has been for you…and hopefully them, as well.

6. Get ‘em back to work, because, well, there’s always more work to be done.

Hope this helps.

Original Source: https://www.ggci.com/blog/2003/10/effective-post-mortem-discussions.htm.


Self-Imposed Pressure

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A leader’s success can easily be predicted by how pressure affects performance. But while the pressures that organizations routinely place on leaders can be tremendous, it’s the pressures leaders put on themselves that are often more powerful…and debilitating.

Pressures Imposed by the Organization

The list of pressures that organizations put on leaders is near-infinite. Here are just a few examples of what you already know this to be about:

  • pressures to increase sales, again and again and again
  • pressures to decrease costs, again and again and again
  • pressures to better accelerate and integrate change
  • pressures to do more with less
  • pressures to collaborate more fully and freely, especially with those who are historically not particularly productive or cooperative
  • pressures to deal smoothly and crisply with changing priorities, special requests, and executive overrides
  • pressures to build (or rebuild) reputation and credibility
  • pressures to speed time-to-market
  • pressures to not just meet, but hardily exceed quarterly earnings expectations
  • pressures to instill urgency in nearly everything and everyone
  • pressures to roll with political pressures, conflicting priorities, inter-department communications issues and the failed commitments of others
  • pressures to maintain motivation and morale notwithstanding decision-making bottlenecks up the chain
  • pressures to create and maintain effective workarounds to technology shortcomings and hiccups
  • pressures to freeze hiring, retain staff, minimize turnover, and manage output
  • pressures to be bound by ineffective policies and processes
  • pressures to resolve a seemingly endless flow of customer, vendor, employee, and shareholder complaints

Is any of this easy? Often not. But it’s what the job entails so we do our best to deal with it all as effectively as we can. And some leaders do that much better than others.

Whether you do it well or not, it’s quite likely that someone will notice and recognize – and hopefully reward – your achievements, if not the your efforts in doing so.

The upside can be surprisingly positive, just as the downside can be surprisingly negative, each being a resume-updating opportunity of its own – although for significantly different reasons.

By, and large, whatever job you’re in could quite easily be more accurately defined by the pressures it puts you under rather than a mere recitation of its primary responsibilities. (Do yourself a favor a bookmark that idea for when you’re preparing for your year-end performance review with your immediate supervisor.)

That’s why we get paid – to deal with all of that.

Self-Imposed Pressures

But then there are the pressures we put on ourselves that our employer may not even know, or care about:

  • our perfectionist tendencies
  • our fear of failure
  • our fear of success
  • our worry about buckling under an overwhelming sense of responsibility
  • our suspicions that we’re losing esteem with others because we’re letting them down in some way
  • our second-guessing ourselves
  • our losing our confidence and questioning our value and self-worth
  • our not being able to shake this growing sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt

These are the pressures that cause far more disruption than most everything our employers put on us.

Why? Because it all happens internally. We do it to ourselves. And, unlike a cast on your arm or a patch over an eye, the signs are not particularly obvious…at first.

Sure, others can see our performance ebb and flow – especially if the self-imposed pressure starts affecting our mood. (And, yes, it WILL affect your mood so ignore the signs at your own peril.)

Even if others take note, chances are that, in time, more and more will. Your inconsistencies and changes in behaviors will become increasingly apparent…and unflattering.

Which only adds to the pressure you’ll be under.

But YOU’LL know what it is. And that begs an important question to ask yourself: “How well am I doing with that?”

Easing Up on Yourself

Think about it. How well ARE you doing with your self-imposed pressures?

Your answer matters.

Greatly.

Let me know if you need some help thinking it through.


When Are You At Your Best?

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When challenges arise, it helps to know when you’re at your best.

Why? Because, by definition, challenges are challenging. And when we’re at our best, challenges become imminently more doable. When we’re at our best, we’re more creative and spontaneous – more capable and confident.

When we’re at our best, we tend to see challenges in the best possible light – as intriguing puzzles to solve, games to win, tests to ace!

So it naturally follows that if we know what helps us be at our best, we can take the necessary steps to get back there when we’re not.

This? or That?

What follows, then, are some questions to help you better understand what peaks your skills, interests, talents, and abilities.

But first a word of caution:

If you’re like most, you’ll want to say, “It depends.” And, yes, of course it does. But you’ll find this a more meaningful exercise if you resist the urge to say that. Rather, go a bit deeper than what you can do – get in touch with what you prefer.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Here are ten sets of choices to get you started, but feel free to create, and choose from, as many other distinctions as come to mind:

  • Do you prefer working with others? – or working alone?
  • Do you prefer solving problems? – or leveraging opportunities?
  • Do you prefer bigger? – or more targeted?
  • Do you prefer helping others? – or others helping you?
  • Do you prefer facts? – or ideas?
  • Do you prefer vibrancy? – or calm?
  • Do you prefer creating? – or editing?
  • Do you prefer overhauling? – or optimizing?
  • Do you prefer planning? – or improvisation?
  • Do you prefer new and innovative? – or tried and true?

Aligning Preferences

So let’s say you have a deadline approaching for a project or assignment that, frankly, doesn’t thrill you. How can you apply this?

Well if, as example, you prefer relationships (working with others) to solitude (working alone), you would likely become more motivated by calling or visiting some people you respect and admire to get their views on how best to move things forward. Conversely, if you prefer solitude, you would likely get more value from some extended ‘one-on-none’ session with just you and a whiteboard.

If you prefer to refine what others have said (editing) rather than capture your own ideas (creating) you might want to delegate specific elements of your assignment to your direct reports so you have something to work with. Conversely, if you get inspired through creating, you might find that drafting a scope document or executive summary to share with others as a more meaningful way to start.

And if you prefer a more structured approach to your work (planning) versus something more free-form (improvisation) you might start with an outline or project plan or to do list. Conversely, if you prefer taking a less structured approach, doing some mind-mapping, or capturing your ideas with colored pens on rearrangeable sticky notes would likely prove more beneficial.

And the more preferences you can combine, the better.

Key Traction Point⤞

No one can be their best at all times. (If you could, it wouldn’t be called your ‘best’, it’d just be ‘normal’.) So becoming more skilled at returning to your best is the what we’ve been talking about here.

Remember that Japanese proverb, nana korobi, ya oki? (“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”) It’s not about when, or where, or even why you might not be at your best at any particular moment in time – it’s about how to return to your best as quickly and effortlessly, as possible.

That is the goal. That is the skill to develop.

What do YOU do to get back to being at your best?


Updating Your Self-Diminishing Conclusions

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The following exercise is a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s T-Chart (where he’d take a sheet of paper, divide it into two columns, and use one column to list out all the ‘pros’ of an upcoming decision and the other column to list out all the ‘cons’).

In our case, though, rather than starting with a decision to be made, let’s use a decidedly negative conclusion you’ve reached about yourself.

Maybe something like, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser,” or “I just can’t follow rules.”

The idea is that, regardless of how ‘true’ it may FEEL to you, such a statement is NOT a fact — it’s just a conclusion. And not a particularly helpful conclusion, at that.

But it IS often helpful to state our negative self-beliefs out loud. Why?

  • Because we’re already thinking them
  • So we can re-frame them in decidedly more positive and supportive ways

The key is to do it in a self-supporting way.

Step 1 – Start with the Negative

Pick a piece of negative self-talk that is all-too-familiar to you. Write it down. (As illustration, let’s use, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” as our working example.)

Step 2 – Capture its Reason

Think about what caused you to reach that negative conclusion for our first example. . For example, maybe you’re thinking:

  • “I’ve failed at so many other things so many times before”
  • “I just never know what to do”
  • “I always feel I’m in over my head”

The point here is not to make yourself feel bad, but to better understand what led you to your conclusion in the first place.

(I suggest you limit the number of reasons items to 3 – at least to start – as this helps minimize any ‘awfulization’ that might creep in when first trying this exercise. Besides, we’ll only need 1 so no need to go overboard!)

Step 3 – ‘Stem’ the Tide

Use the following sentence stems to create an alternative positive and self-affirming explanation for the Negative Conclusion from Step 1 and the Reasons provided by Step 2.

I sometimes feel … [insert your Negative Conclusion from Step 1] and that’s probably because… [insert your Reason from Step 2] … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … [insert your Restatement from Step 3].

Sample/Example 1

I sometimes feel … “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” and that’s probably because… I’ve failed at so many things so many times before … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I’m unafraid to take on new challenges.

See what we’ve done? We’ve re-framed your self-talk from being about failure, to being about fearlessness.

Sample/Example 2

I sometimes feel … “I just can’t follow rules ” … and that’s probably because … I can always see why exceptions are in order … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I am sincere, caring, and truly customer-focused,even when it’s inconvenient.

See what we did? We turned your so-called weakness into a customer-service value-added.

Moving (Positively) Forward

The way to leverage this exercise, moving forward, is by using it to help you recognize that just because you’ve reached a Negative Conclusion about yourself does not have to mean that it’s a fully accurate conclusion about yourself. And with that, you now also know how to quickly and easily replace that negative self-talk with something decidedly more positive, constructive, and self-affirming.


What Do People Listen For?

“What do the people you’re trying to influence, at work, ‘listen’ for?”

That’s one of the questions I asked attendees of a breakout session I did on leadership for the American Academy of Home Care Medicine, last month.

“Typically, 6-8 things,” I continued, as I put up the following slide:

Let me explain:

  1. The Crux of the Matter – Some people consider themselves professional problem-solvers. Others are what we might call ‘opportunity maximizers’. And how they listen to what you’re saying varies, greatly. If a problem-solver doesn’t hear a problem in what you’re saying, you likely won’t keep their attention. In that same way, if you bring a problem to be solved to an opportunity maximizer, you likely won’t get the traction you’re hoping for, either. So the key, is to match what you’re saying with what the person is naturally listening for. Another way the ‘crux of the matter’ shows itself is in listeners wanting to know if, as example, the course of action you’re recommending is supported by consensus, or not (as with a policy change) or some sort of imperative (i.e. upcoming deadline or crisis situation). Listening for the ‘crux’ is what gives them a context from which to listen further…or not.
  2. Size, Scope, and Impact – Some people like big, fat changes. Others prefer smaller and more targeted efforts. Some prefer incremental change; others prefer large-scale overhauling. For those preferring a smaller size and scope, ‘pilot’ studies and project phasing or staging enables them to ‘test the waters’ before committing more fully. But recommending that to an overhauler would likely lead to disappointment as to too slow a tempo. A similar difference can be seen with one’s preference for a project’s timing. While some people prefer to implement new initiatives ASAP, others would rather wait until it’s absolutely necessary to begin. Knowing who prefers what, and speaking to them through that ‘frame’, can most definitely improve the odds of their more actively supporting what we propose.
  3. Risks – Another key area of differentiation is how people react to risk. Some, as example, freak out at the first sign of risk and much prefer recommendations that work within existing guidelines and precedence. Others feel that anything worth doing has inherent risk so their objective is not so much to avoid risk as it is to insure that we properly identify what the risks are, and have plans to properly mitigate them.
  4. Quid Pro Quo – Yes, the old “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” is another relevant distinction in how people listen. This category has to do with inherent or underlying ‘political’ implications of what we’re proposing. In its simplest form, are we asking for them to go out on a limb for us using the promise of certain results to balance the scales; or is what we’re proposing more our returning a favor for what they’ve already done for us? Also relevant, here, is how our requests align with their work agenda. Are they in support of them, neutral to them, or complications for their spoken (and unspoken) priorities? It might not always matter, but it rarely never matters.
  5. Personal Commitment Required – This has to do with the level of support we’re looking for. Are we, as example, asking them to ‘let’ something happen? To ‘help’ something happen? Or to ‘make’ something happen? (Many a great idea has stalled because a person wasn’t ready, willing, or able to provide the level of support that was hoped for.)
  6. Next Steps – Similarly, it’s important to align, or at least clarify, what we’re specifically asking in any moment particular moment. Do we want the other person to make a decision for us…or with us? Is it to discuss an issue, brainstorm solutions, or debate the merits of a particular solution? As they say, it’s hard to be successful if you don’t know what you really want.

The larger point, here, is that the people we bring our issues to typically have definite preferences (and biases) – whether they’re consciously aware of those preferences and biases, or not. So it’s incumbent upon us to learn these proclivities as best (and quickly) as we can.

Your thoughts?


Grit, Resilience, and Hardiness

In many ways, GRIT, RESILIENCE, and HARDINESS are more similar than not. If we were to differentiate, though, I’d say it this way:

  • GRIT is what keeps you focused and helps you push through, notwithstanding the stress
  • RESILIENCE is what helps you bounce back from a prior stress
  • But HARDINESS is the ability to actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress

So while GRIT and RESILIENCE are obviously very important, if you want to maximize your efforts, work on increasing your level of HARDINESS.

Building Hardiness…or Not

Figure inspired by : The Hardy Executive, Salvador Maddi, Suzanne Kobasa

recognizing hardiness

Think about it this way:

  • CONTROL vs. POWERLESSNESS is created by

    • Shifting from: Trying to Control What You Really Can’t
    • To: Addressing What You Actually CAN Control
  • CHALLENGE vs. OVERWHELM is created by 
    • Shifting from: Feeling Helpless and Dis-empowered
    • To: Creating Healthy and Doable Challenges and Stretch Goals
  • COMMITMENT vs. REFUSAL is created by

    • Shifting from: Thinking, “It’s Too Hard, Why Bother?”
    • To: Reconnecting with your Core Values and Beliefs

Doing so – even partially – will help you create a more optimistic (and less pessimistic) view and naturally shift from avoiding what’s stressing you (which only causes more stress) to taking action to resolve what’s stressing you sooner.

Which Begs the Following Questions…

  1. How might you have more CONTROL than you maybe realize?
  2. What’s the a ‘doable’ CHALLENGE inside the overwhelm you’re maybe feeling?
  3. And what is the larger COMMITMENT you’re working toward?

Try It For Yourself And See, Yes?

While grit is good, don’t just settle for being able to push through your challenges, regardless of its personal cost to you.

And while resilience is good, too, don’t just settle for being able to recover from stress.

Focus, instead on increasing your hardiness so that you can actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress.

For more, visit www.leadershiptraction.com/hardiness.