My read write render epiphany – it’s always personal [growth]

In my last post, which feels like forever ago, I made the personal commitment to start a new routine: read, write, render.  Admittedly, that has been easier said than done, or so I thought.

One thing that is routine for me is the read part. I read everyday.  Just an hour of reading or listening (Podcast) in the morning starts my day.  From random articles coming across my social feeds, to subscribed research pushed to my inbox, to the recommended content from family, friends, peers and coworkers, I’m never short of reading material (probably why I love the Pocket app so much).

Making time for reading is not the issue. It’s the making time to write then render (visually) that I thought was my achilles heel. Take for instance how I started this post, “In my last post, which feels like forever ago…”  – those words alone imply I’m holding myself to some standard on the volume of writing and rendering I push out via this blog or other channels.  That’s not the point of the routine. Read write render is not about unselfish acts of sharing some insight or thoughts with the masses x number of times a week, month or quarter.  My read write render – at its core – is personal.

It’s Always Personal [Growth]

I read everyday to be a better father, husband, friend, coach, mentor, marketer. I write every morning to remind myself of what’s important. I render everyday to challenge myself to think outside the box and always approach things with creative thinking.

Writing is not about turning some new found knowledge into a blog post.  Rendering is not about turning every idea into pictures and pushing it out via social media.  For me, writing and rendering is not supposed to be work. It’s supposed to be routine and in hindsight, I’ve been sticking to a routine fairly well.

From my Focus Planner to my Field Notes to my Idea Reel in PowerPoint, I’ve been reading, writing and rendering constantly. It’s become routine for me. I haven’t felt the need to throw everything that I read, write and render at you.  Instead, focus on the times when what I read, write and render is worth sharing, perhaps worth your time.

Compelled to share

Take for instance this morning.  Combing through Pocket, I read five articles. Two were related to remote work routines. Two centered on strategic focus and one was about scheduling time for creative thinking.  What felt like random topics when I started began to blend and gel into an epiphany, so naturally, following my routine, read turned into write and write turned into render.   This is what I wrote in my Focus Planner for today 08.08.20 under Myndfuel:

  1. Write everything down (Ironic, I know)
  2. Focus on the 30 percent (Steve Jobs rule)
  3. Schedule the work  (Full Focus Planner)

My new routine – read | write | render

I’m trying to get in the habit of reading and writing on a daily basis. I’m also a visual thinker. I internalize the stuff I read and write better by putting it in pictures be it a powerpoint slide, flowchart, graph, illustration, or simply scribbling in a notebook. Hence a new habit or routine is starting to take hold:

read-write-render

Case is point, my most recent weekend read was The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I loved this book.  Maybe because the message was so simple. Maybe because in this day and age it’s so applicable.  Probably because it struck a personal chord and I felt compelled enough to render a visual reminder that sits on my desk at home.

The whats, hows and whys that matter most

The first quarter of 2020 has come to a close and needless to say, our world has been turned upside down.  I took the time this week to reflect on the first three months of 2020 as part of my normal routine assessing where I am so far this year relative to my three words, focus areas and goals – my whats, hows and whys.

The Whats
I’m a believer in Chris Brogan’s 3 Words – what are the guiding principles that center me for the year.  In past years, I had words like: Create,Move,Matter and Adventure, Celebrate,Remodel.  No matter what I set out to do, or what opportunities arise or spontaneous ideas I have – do they align to my whats? This year I landed on:

  • Build: Build a routine. Build opportunities. Build something new.
  • Brand: Compassion over fear. Simple over strict. Help over hype.
  • Balance: Time all the work versus work all the time. Dates matter.

The Hows
Nearly everything I set out to do in living my three words, I broke down into three focus areas.  Since starting the Full Focus Planner 3 years ago, these are probably the most fluid. Originally, I had five: family, finish, fitness, fame, finance. Five was too many, so I went to four: health, home, wonder, work.  Year 3, I consolidated down to three:

  • Heart & Home: How I am present.
  • Mynd & Body: How I am healthy.
  • Work & Wonder: How I am growing.

The Whys
The whys are my goals – the evidence, the why I am present, healthy and growing. Why do I believe that? My whys were everything from the normal end of year weight goal to miles on the bike, miles walked, books read, acts of charity, volunteer hours, etc. to the new family experiences, new connections, resurrecting connections with old friends. 2020 was the year I felt like I finally found full focus. I had built the perfect system and was establishing the ideal routine to make the most out of every day, week, month.

Then our world turned upside down.  What feels like overnight – probably because it was literally overnight, my routine broke down.  For one, like most of us, I now work from home full-time. Sure, I WFH’d every once in awhile, but not always and the clear lines between being present@work and being present@home got really blurry.  I must have read dozens of articles with all kinds of advice on WFH. Everything from carving out a dedicated space (mine is in my basement), to changing scenery (aka seeing the sun), to making sure I get up and go for a walk (stand, move, reboot the brain), but something was still missing – granted, it’s only been three weeks, I should give myself some latitude.

Upon my Q1 reflection, it hit me.  It’s all about the whys.  As Simon Sinek would say, “start with why.” So I did.  Part of the journey that was March 2020 involved a lot of reading and one piece that still resonates with me is an article written by McKinsey consulting. – “The path to the next normal” – that talks about the process nearly every business will go through over the course of the next year. They break the process down into five phases: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Re-imagination, and Reform (I probably like it because of the alliteration, and I’m a sucker for phases, pillars, frameworks, structures).

I started thinking about how these five phases relate to my own journey and my 2020 goals. Looking back, January really started with re-imagination – a new year, a fresh start, new words, focus areas, goals. Then COVID-19 and in a day, I was thrust backwards into resolve mode. What do I need to do to keep my family safe, myself, my team. What about my parents who are in there 70s?  I had to find the resolve to adjust to something that has not happened in over a hundred years.

Today, there is so much uncertainty, fear, anxiety, I find myself focused on resilience.  Resilience came in changes to my routine –  family walks, meals, together-time. Like many families, we started going through bins and boxes of stuff in the basement and in the process of “minimalizing,” we took trips down memory lane – those family experiences I talked about earlier. The girls’ artwork from kindergarten to high-school, old greeting cards from loved ones, pictures, postcards, sports memorabilia.

Then an epiphany.  “My” became “Our” – my 3 words became our 3 words. My focus areas became our focus areas.  My personal goals were shifting to our shared goals. From this experience, we started setting new goals – new Whys.  Go on a trip down memory lane every week (we have a lot of bins and boxes to go through). Finish painting the room we haven’t touched since my older daughter went to college.  Exercise everyday albeit at the same time, but different forms – my wife runs and I prefer the bike.

Like many of you, we are still figuring it out.  We are taking the time to figure out our the new normal and reimagining what McKinsey calls the “next normal” just might look like. Perhaps at the end of this shared journey, we will have been reformed in some small ways, some big ways and have become focused on the whats, hows and whys that matters most.

At least, that’s our goal.

Sales kickoff season – the perfect time for everyone to find focus, find balance.

It’ that time of year where we start mapping business goals to marketing objectives and key results (OKRs).  It’s therapeutic because it feels like a fresh start, like clicking the reset button on a new year.
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It’s our job as leaders to find the focus and help our teams prioritize time, energy and attention to the stuff that matters. I  committed to this in my previous post – finding the balance from working all the time to timing all the work.  This is easier said than done.  I refer back to a post titled “How Agile Marketing Combats Burnout.”  Ironically, it was posted exactly one year ago today, so it must be that time of year.  The post talks about “The Plague of Context Switching” and that research shows the more stuff we add to our plate, the more distracted, frustrated and stressed-out we get, and the more time we waste. We lose our focus.
Lose focus. Lose Balance.
The same post cites  the 2019 Marketing Happiness Report from MarketingProfs that found a shocking 73% of marketers fail at completing work because we keep getting interrupted by more work.  The work comes from leaders, marketing peers, or  others throughout the organization who may have their own goals, objectives and thus priorities.  What our teams end up with is massive  backlogs of tasks, and if we look closely, many may not even align to the goals and objectives we set as marketing leaders.  The end result – we miss the very results we are driving our teams to accomplish.
“We’re psychologically hard-wired to finish things, so if we leave a task undone our brains can’t let it go. Our focus will remain split until we’re able to check that item off our to-do list.”
Find Focus. Find Balance.
As marketing leaders, we need to agree on our core objectives / priorities / focus areas – our OKRs.  We all need to be on the same page in how we message our OKRs to the greater marketing team and cross-functional partners. The leaders of our cross-functional teams need to understand our OKRs and identify how our may (or may not) align to their own.  Most importantly, we need to empower our marketing team members to say “NO” to the things that don’t align. MarketingProfs highlighted that we are failing miserably at this.  When they asked marketers how often they say “NO” to projects that come across their desk:
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  • 12% never say no
  • 41% say no a few times per year
  • 14% say no a few times per month
  • 4% say no a few times per week
  • 3% say no every day
  • 26% I don’t have the autonomy/authority to say no

More than half of marketers (53%) either never say no, or say no only a few times a year, and 26% believe they do NOT have the autonomy or authority to say no?! No wonder our teams have massive backlogs. No wonder we are forced to divide our time among tasks, thus giving the more critical work less of our mental energy and focus. What we end up being is a bunch of context-switching, multitasking,  task mastering tacticians.

Finding focus starts by cutting our backlog.  Research shows that if we cut our backlogs in half,  the time to complete projects is cut in half.   It’s a perfect time to do so. It’s a new year with fresh goals, objectives and desired results.  Imagine if we could take any project or task on our plate that fails to ladder up to our goals or objectives and de-prioritize, or better yet, decommission.  We should all take a good long look at what’s on our plate and make that call.  I am going through this very exercise with my own backlog and that of my team’s.

Last week was our 2020 Global Kickoff. We learned our corporate goals and objectives for the year.  We know what we need to do. Now, as leaders, it’s up to us to prioritize and empower ourselves and our teams to focus. We find the focus, we find the balance. And in the process, have a lot of fun delivering results.

Embracing the change in my Talent DNA

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In a leadership role, I’m a believer in playing to one’s strengths – including my own.  I’m also a believer in building upon one’s strengths, and that true balance comes from harnessing your strengths both personally and professionally.  That said, I’m a fan of Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment. It defines strength as “Your Talent DNA – the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave,”   and it follows one simple formula:  Strength = Talent x Investment. I recently took my strengths assessment for the second time in 3 years, and my talent DNAhow I naturally think, feel and behave – changed.  I took the time to reflect on how and why strengths change and what it means for me and my team.

My Talent DNA in 2016

I took the CliftonStrength Assessment (aka StrengthsFinder) for the first time in 2016 and told me I lead with Strategic Thinking.  In 2016, my top 5 strengths were:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Strategic – You create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, you can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Relator – You enjoy close relationships with others. You find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  4. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.
  5. Maximizer – You focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. You seek to transform something strong into something superb.

I’m a believer in the power environment has on the way one thinks, works, and relates to others.  When I first took the assessment in 2016, my environment was much different. My kids were in their mid teens.  Our 1 year old chocolate lab puppy became a tripawd.  We were in the middle of completing a home remodel and I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month – everywhere from Seattle to Singapore.  I had just changed employers. I moved from an established large, publicly traded technology manufacturer with three competitors to a software start-up one thousandth the size in an industry with thousands of companies competing for buyer mindshare. I moved from being a relatively remote worker to an environment where I was physically sitting side by side with my marketing peers. I was a people leader for the first time. My team was a team of 2 – myself and 1 direct report. The pace was a thousand times faster and in my new role, the stakes were higher.  No wonder I thrived on being busy and productive, quickly spotting opportunities for improvement and making sure I included and maximized the strengths of my team. I was playing to my strengths.

My Talent DNA in 2019

Fast forward to 2019, and my environment was much different. I have a daughter in college and one touring colleges. My chocolate tripawd was still an energy sucking lab at age 4.  I was traveling much less but working much longer hours (my love can attest to that). In the 3 year span, my team grew from 1 to 4 to 8 direct reports. We were still finding ourselves and our groove competing for mindshare in a security software space that is crowded, complex, and wrought with chaos.  I was filling in for my boss who was on maternity leave. I was speaking up more, directing & delegating more and forcing myself to focus on execution because time was not a luxury. We were on the cusp of something big –  waiting to be sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s was not an option.

Needless to say, my environment had changed. I took the CliftonStrengths assessment a second time in 2019,  and my top 5 strengths shifted, some quite dramatically. I went from being a Strategic Thinker in 2016 to being Execution-minded with my top 5 strengths being:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Consistency – You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. You crave stable routines and clear rules and procedures that everyone can follow (moved up 26 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  3. Learner – You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you (moved up 6 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  4. Competition – You measure your progress against the performance of others. You strive to win first place and revel in contests (moved up 22 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  5. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.

Being an “Achiever” and an “Includer” remained core strengths in my top 5 which is not surprising given my personal discomfort  with downtime and a lack of acceptance.  I’ve always been curious, so “Learner” moving up 6 spots feels right. (Heck, I titled my blog myndfuel 5 years ago for a reason).  What surprised me most were the dramatic shifts relative to my needs for “Consistency” and that I thrive on “Competition.” Incidentally, my strengths as a “Relator” and a “Maximizer” – what feels like the opposite of competitiveness – shifted from my top 5 to my bottom 10 in the 34 Clifton Strengths. What the hell is going on!? Have I become less of a team player? Have I lost focus on the growth and development of my team? Is it all about me? That was my immediate reaction and in all honesty, harsh opposition to my new found “strengths.”

I shared my results with my team and reflected on the 3 year span between assessments.  A lot happened in 3 years.  My very environment changed. I had a larger seat at the table – a table of decision makers, drivers, directors, delegators.  I was forced to adapt to this new environment and establish new strengths that centered on getting sh*t done.  I came to the realization that I had a team of rock-star marketers that I could trust and confide in. I was given the luxury of not having to be involved in every single decision they made. I reflected on the fact that in my 3 year journey, my team would tell me, “give us more, we got this, and we got your back.” My very strengths around being a relator, includer and maximizer actually paved the way for my team to want to take on more.  They allowed me to get a lot more focused on getting the sh*t done that I believed mattered most – and that required full focus.

Full Focus.

Focus is defined by Clifton as “the powerful ability to prioritize, set goals and work efficiently, avoiding time-consuming distractions and staying on track toward an overall objective.” A big part of my  journey included adopting Michael Hyatt’s  Full Focus Planner – a Christmas gift from my previous manager and now friend.  I started the Full Focus Planner in January 2017 and have committed to it every quarter since. I established a rigor around breaking down annual personal and professional goals into quarterly, weekly and daily goals – the little wins.  When it came to getting sh*t done, I had to prioritize, commit, drive and track to results and outcomes on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis.  No wonder the “Focus” strength climbed from #21 in 2016 to #6 in 2019.

In January 2019, I went through a similar reflection and committed to some things that needed more focus:

  • Balance – from working on work to working on me.
  • Meetings – from meetings taking time to making time for meetings.
  • Rituals – from letting things happen to making things happen.
  • Leadership – from wanting perfect strategy to executing imperfect plans.
  • Teamwork – from prescribing their path to trusting their journey.
  • Growth – from adding up little wins to little wins that add up.

Looking back, I did pretty well staying focused on four of my six guiding principles. Admittedly, I still have a lot of work to do in the time department. I’m a bit off-balance. That said, following Chris Brogan’s lead, I’m committing to my three words for 2020:

  • Build – from my personal to our personnel brand
  • Believe – from seeking all the answers to trusting all the work
  • Balance – from working all the time to timing all the work.

As leaders, our environment is in a constant state of change. If it wasn’t, then we would never challenge ourselves, push ourselves, grow or develop as leaders.  The same is true for our teams.  Leadership is not only about embracing the change around us. It’s about guiding our teams through that change and embracing the change in each individual team member – starting with yourself.