Thoughts on Value

Beating 5 Pound Problems

“Great week! This week was intense!” was the common comment I got from the team about our start of the year. “It didn’t feel like we just came from Christmas break. It feels like we never took a break!” Music to my ears. Of course we did take a Christmas break, and I don’t think anyone of them will say that they  didn’t enjoy their holidays, but what I’m pleased to hear is that we have people who are committed. When I say committed I don’t mean willing to slave away, which I actually find to be a misconception about dedication and intelligence (if people are really efficient and effective they should be able to achieve what takes others days in hours or less), but I mean they take full responsibility for their results. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, we are responsible for our life’s results. It doesn’t matter if everyone is slowing down because it’s December, we’re going to keep our pace because we are responsible for our life’s results, not the guys who announce there’s no work. It doesn’t matter if everyone is using January to warm-up because it’s the start of the year, we’re going to hit the ground running and running hard because we’re responsible for our lives results. This fundmental understanding that we are all individually responsible for the results of our lives is both incredibly important to sustainable success, and sadly very much lacking in our entitled world. This is why I am vigilant about stamping out seeds of entitlement in our teams. The worst leaders I know are those who think “listening to their followers” means giving them whatever they complain about. This is not true. If you baby your team you’ll have a team of babies. But if you teach them to be professional and mature adults, and if you treat them as such, expecting maturity, intelligence, and responsibility, you will have a winning team. And this starts by laying a foundation of understanding. At our company Bridge, understanding is the foundational value we build on, and to us it means empathy (not sympathy nor pity) and wisdom (not opinion nor idea). It means we dig deeper into situations, we don’t take our first opinion on things as truth, but look for an underlying principle, a foundational truth to explain what we’re seeing, and we partner this with wisdom, which is the ability to know and do the right thing in the right  at at the right time in the place with the right people. So when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m overworked” the answer they get from me is “Really? Ok, let’s rationalize your work. What are your objectives? What are the high impact activities you need to accomplish to achieve your objectives? (The first 2 questions are to make sure they’re focused, not just busy playing office.) How many hours would an efficient person need to fulfill those activities? Explain why these activities take this much time.” This is to ensure we have placed an objective measure of what a good baseline for productive and efficient is. Anyone can be busy but very few can be objective. A guy who takes a hundred jump shots but makes one will still lose to a guy who takes theee shots and makes them all. I want to make sure they’re benchmarking against excellence not against feelings. Usually, very usually, actually, the results are the following:

  • Lack of clarity or focus:
  • Lack of competence or ability:
  • Lack or misuse of capital, partially the misuse of time and energy
The cure to lack of focus is make very clear what the objectives are and make it very clear to the whole team what everyone is supposed to contribute. Sports teams are effective because they share one goal (score more than the opposing team). All the dribbling, rebounding, passing, screening, fouling, goes towards that one shared goal. Many teams don’t go to work sharing the same goal. Someone in the team wants to be famous, another wants to kiss the boss’s ass, another is trying to find himself, and yet another wants to get laid. This team isn’t going to win if people show up with different agendas. At Bridge, it’s clear that the goal is to become the most excellent payroll company in the country, and we have one ultimate metric to measure ourselves by: number of clients. No matter how hard we work, the whole team knows, the proof of success is the trust of clients. This allows us to benchmark against a simple question, “Will this help us earn and keep the trust of clients?” Every team will have a different objective. The important thing is that is clear to everyone and shared by everyone. That is what makes a team united after all, it is that they are after the same win. For lack of competence, ideally we hire people who have the competence for the role, but given the reality of resource constraints, it is important that even if we don’t put a bonafide expert in the role, we need to put someone who is HUDE: Hungry, Understanding, Diligent, and Empowered. Over and over, the HUDEs have shown much better performance than the experts. Between a financial expert and a HUDE, I would place my money on the HUDE becoming wealthy. Between a pedigreed professional and a HUDE, I would choose the HUDE to rely on. Why? Because they’re going to find an intelligent way, and they’re not going to quit until the mission is accomplished, and they’re going to empower others in the process. Because they don’t rely on common knowledge or advanced degrees, they take every challenge with the fresh eyes of a student, so they learn much more than someone who already thinks they know the field. Because they’re HUDE, they grow more significantly and at a much faster pace than others. Let me explain this with an example: Before leaving the office yesterday a little after 6pm, I noticed much of our team still there. (This is a team that starts work at 7am, to they were putting in 11 hour days on the first week of the year!) I used the time to teach them a lesson I learned from many years of “stress” (I personally hardly use that word to describe how I feel), and the lesson is this: When you’re stressed, don’t ever allow discouragement, doubt, or defeat creep in. Instead, see where you need to grow, then grow. When I was a small kid, 5 years old I believe, I carried and dropped a 5 lb. weight on my toe, and it hurt like hell. Today, 5 lbs. isn’t even a warm up. It’s easy to carry. I can carry it with one hand. I can carry much more than 5 lbs. Why? Because I grew. Growth is what helps us face the ever increasing difficulty of ever increasing responsibilities and dreams. Discouragement makes us lower our goals because of the difficulty. Doubt distracts us with inner conflict. Defeat makes us quit. Instead, focus on growth. Imagine if I let that 5lbs weight failure define my life’s aspirations, if I said, “I tried carrying 5lbs and I just hurt myself. What makes me think I can life 180?” I would not be where I am. Too many people are letting their 5 pound failures define their lives. They got turned down so they don’t try elsewhere. They got cheated on so they don’t commit. They failed an exam and hate school. They got dumped so won’t ask anyone out. They got tricked so won’t trust. They had a bad first day and let this first impression linger. Their parents were harsh so they rebel. Their parents didn’t have enough so they they settle or complain. They take their 5 pound challenges, fail them, and allow discouragement, doubt, and defeat in and reject growth. I make sure no one in our team allows a 5 lb. problem beat them. They’re too important to lose to such a small enemy. Instead, they know they need to grow. Don’t quit because you got dumped or fired or rejected. Grow and make yourself indispensable. Don’t complain because your family can’t afford what you want. Grow and make yourself useful. Don’t complain because no one is listening to you. Grow and make yourself credible. Don’t complain because you have a lot of work. Grow and increase your capacity to handle difficult, long, complex work. If you want competence in yourself and your teams, don’t accept excuses. Help people grow. Finally, the issue of lacking and misused capital is usually self-fixing when people are focused and growing. Why? Because money is usually not the main problem even if we keep thinking it is. A focused and competent team is efficient and part of efficient means achieving more with less resources. This is why a lot of big companies fail when they try to spend their way to efficiency when their own bureaucracy ensures lack of clarity and focus, as well as lack HUDE. Bureaucracy, politics, unfair wages (where non-performers make as much or more than performers) will drive HUDEs away. In a small company like ours, our leaders make sure that we don’t let resources constraints become an excuse for anyone. When someone says, “I didn’t have this and that” we focus on their time and energy use instead “With the time you have, did you focus? Did you maximize your time?” The point of all of this is: Don’t let your 5 pound stresses define your aspirations not your effort. Seek instead to grow. Before you know it what was once a huge challenge isn’t even a warmup, and not only will you be able to successfully handle greater weight, you’ll be able help others carry their own.