The Death of Micromanagement and the Rise of Autonomous Work Culture

November 6, 2017 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people and they tell us what to do.” ~ Steve Jobs

Micromanagers are bad news. They are bad for business and bad for employees. They lack personal leadership and tend to disempower staff, stifle innovation, kill creativity and foster poor performance.

Micromanagers cause time management issues when they cause work to be redone over and over again and cause bottlenecks in communication and decision making. With their over-controlling approach, they constantly communicate that they don’t trust you and strip you of all sense of ownership.

The costs of long-term micromanagement are high. They include low employee morale, high staff turnover, and reduction of productivity. In fact, the deleterious impacts of micromanagement are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons why employees resign.

Next to abusive and toxic bosses, micromanagers are the scourge of the workplace. But things are about to change.

Autonomy is the Alternative

Autonomy is the antithesis of and antidote to micromanagement. Self-determination, or the ability to exercise autonomy, is central to health and contentment. The desire to be autonomous is a natural inclination and research supports how much of a priority it is for workers.  One study of more than 2,000 people across three continents found that workers were nearly two and a half times more likely to take a job that gave them more autonomy than they were to want a job that gave them more influence.

In fact, study after study has shown that work environments that are more autonomous in nature simply have higher levels of productivity, creativity, engagement and overall job satisfaction.

For example, in a study of 230 Taiwanese community health center workers, researchers found the more autonomy employees had at work, the more satisfied they were with their jobs and the less turnover. A similar study in Australia achieved the same results with home care workers.

Clearly, giving workers more control over their tasks is one of the best ways employers can recruit and keep top talent. It’s also the best way to combat micromanagement at the macro level.

Autonomy in Action

Autonomy means that there is someone who sets strategic direction and the destination for the employee, but the employee can decide on the path to get from point A to point B.

It tends to be the case that there is less autonomy in the lower ranks and more the higher you go.

Workplaces can support autonomy across the board by giving people real control over various aspects of their work — whether it’s deciding what to work on or when to do it.

Autonomy in the workplace can also be applied to teams. An autonomous team is one that is self-managed and receives little to no direction from a supervisor. When team members work well together, they can help to enhance each other’s strengths, and can compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Working in such a cooperative and enriching environment can have a positive impact on job satisfaction.

Autonomy does not mean lack of structure. In fact it is important to find a balance between autonomy and structure. Autonomy creates a specific kind of motivation called intrinsic motivation—the desire to do something for its own sake. It restores the ownership that the micromanagement style takes away and it restores engagement at a significant level. Workers happily work within required structures, when they have autonomy.

The most important aspect of autonomy at work is a perceived feeling of choice. Whether employees are truly able to make their own decisions is less important than whether or not they feel that they are.

To provide this balance, managers must define the desired end result clearly, and outline boundaries and parameters to achieve those results. Then, they must get out of the way and let people create within this frame.

The Birth of the Results Oriented Workplace

This desire and drive towards autonomy explains the rise of results-only work environments, or ROWEs. In a ROWE, employees are allowed to work whenever they want with no set schedules. Employees are also allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as it gets finished.

I would even argue that the rise of entrepreneurship, side hustles, and lifestyle businesses are a result of people wanting greater autonomy and freedom from being chained to their desks. This innate desire is a powerful force that ROWEs leverage by giving people the freedom to choose when and how they will meet their goals.

While ROWEs are still relegated to more enlightened Silicon Valley start ups like AirBnB who practice the model with great ehem, results, they are an inevitable wave and future trend in the world of work.

In the meantime…

If you feel oppressed by your lack of autonomy you may want to talk to your supervisors about potential leadership opportunities on certain projects and more autonomy in your work. In extreme cases, you may want to have a talk with your supervisor about the deleterious effects of micromanagement on your productivity. It may seem like a small aspect of your work life, but if it is having an impact on your happiness, job satisfaction, and even your health, it could even be time to search for a new gig.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The Nonprofit Sector Lacks the Urgency Needed to make Meaningful Impact

September 19, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“People like to chop wood because they see immediate results.” ~ Albert Einstein

I have been in the social sector for the entire 30 years of my career. As part of that career, I have sat in endless meetings where planners and self-appointed ‘leaders’ discuss and process information in steering committees, action teams, work groups, and task forces. The results are always disappointingly similar. The ratio of talk to action is disproportionate. One could argue that the reasons for this are multi-faceted and complex. They are not. The reason is simple. There is a lack of urgency in the social sector. If a particular program isn’t launched on time, no heads will roll in the same way that heads will roll if Apple misses its next iPhone launch date. The for-profit sector is driven by shareholder demands and the pressure is intense. The nonprofit sector is driven by its commitment to quality and service.

In the nonprofit sector, the pressure for raising funds to meet demand can be intense and this is where I have seen urgency take hold.

I once worked on a crowdfunding campaign for a suicide hotline. The hotline was losing vital state sponsored support that essentially decimated its entire operation within a few short months. Without a clear path to donors to fill the gap, we turned to the crowd. The entire organization pulled together, leveraged photography, film and story to make a compelling case and reached the campaign goal of $100,000 beating the time and money goal we had set for ourselves.

Urgency moves people to action. Many of the issues that we deal with in the nonprofit sector are chronic and lack such urgency. Homelessness, education, criminal justice reform, and so on. We simply accept that such change and reform ‘takes time.’

Urgency breeds innovation. When we are resolute that the issues we are working on ‘take time,’ we are less likely to innovate. Innovation often results from an urge to solve an immediate problem at hand. When we don’t see the problems as immediate, we fail to innovate on their behalf.

Urgency breeds true collaboration. So many collaborative efforts suffer from talk and no action. When we infuse urgency into the scenario, partnerships and collaborations take on new meaning. They become a need rather than a nice-to-have. Oh, it would be nice to have so and so at the table vs. we must have this person’s skills because without it we won’t make our timeline.

Urgency necessitates a structured plan. And this is where I see most initiatives, campaigns, projects, and programs fail. Because there is no urgency, there is also no structure. By this I mean:

  • No clear goals are articulated
  • No clear outcomes are articulated
  • No clear pathway to change is articulated
  • No clear work plan for change is articulated
  • No clear metrics for measuring change are articulated
  • No clear accountability mechanism is articulated to maintain and measure progress

For the sector to be successful at scale, it has to change its mindset and approach. It has to adopt an urgency to its approach that is calibrated to the urgency of issues we face in communities. Unless we do so, change will continue to be painstakingly slow.

The Building Block of American Enterprise Has Always Been Immigrants (And Why Steve Bannon Needs a History Lesson)

September 11, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” ~ John F. Kennedy

“Remember, remember, always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

In his already famous 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, rhetorical bomb-thrower Steve Bannon argues the merits of a Darwinian political environment and is on the attack against the usual targets, which to Bannon  is everyone who doesn’t fall in line with his nihilist ideology: Hillary Clinton, the democrats, the republicans, the “pearl-clutching mainstream media,”  the Catholic Church, the establishment, the George Bush White House, the elites, the “limousine liberals,” and of course immigrants.

In one particular exchange, in response to Rose pointing out that the US was conceived as a melting pot, Bannon disagrees vehemently and shoots back: “You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens.”

Mr. Bannon, you couldn’t be more wrong.

The United States has always been a land of immigration. Anthropologically speaking, that trend started when the first indigenous people crossed the ice bridge connecting Asia to North America some 12,000 years ago.

Historically speaking, it wasn’t until the end of the 15th century that Europeans set their eyes on the New World in numbers. The French and Spanish were the first to establish settlements before the English and Dutch, among others, founded their first permanent colonies. On the eve of the American Revolution, the land was already a kaleidoscope of languages and ethnicities.

The workers who built the railroad came from the ranks of immigrants who found refuge in America following the Civil War. Every mile of track laid by hand; every spike driven into the ground; and every wooden tie was lifted into place by railroad workers primarily from Italian, Irish, and Chinese descent.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s attracted more immigrants as businesses in the United States grew quickly. New technology and new ideas helped develop large factories where many new products were made. These businesses needed more workers to keep growing. Immigrants and migrants filled the labor demands of the new industrial order, transforming the nation.

Between 1882 and 1914 approximately twenty million immigrants came to the United States. Mass immigration from eastern and southern Europe dramatically altered the population’s ethnic and religious composition. Unlike earlier immigrants, who had come primarily from northern Europe—Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia—the “new immigrants” came increasingly from Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Russia.

By 1900, New York City had as many Irish residents as Dublin. It had more Italians than any city outside Rome and more Poles than any city except Warsaw. It had more Jews than any other city in the world, as well as sizeable numbers of Slavs, Lithuanians, Chinese, and Scandinavians.

Modern times have been no different exemplified by some of the titans of business.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft is an Indian immigrant. So is Sundar Prachai, CEO of Google.

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder was a Soviet-born refugee.

Throughout American history, millions of people around the world have left their homelands for a chance to start a new life in this country. Despite many difficulties, both immigrants and migrants forged new communities in their adopted homes.

From the forefathers’ first steps, to the challenges faced in today’s globalized world, immigrants have always been part of the American story and part of the solution, not the problem. It is historical revisionism to believe otherwise.

3 Ways To Disrupt the Nonprofit Sector

September 7, 2017 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.”

― Warren Buffet

Get this: the IRS approves tax exemption for new community benefit groups every 10-15 minutes!

Over  50,000 new nonprofits are recognized by the IRS as tax exempt organizations EACH YEAR.

That amounts to nearly 2 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.

Most nonprofits are small. More than 73 percent of public charities report annual expenses of less than $500,000. Less than 4 percent had expenses greater than $10 million.

In every vertical there are hundreds or thousands of nonprofits with similar names and missions competing for donors, activists, publicity and brand awareness, and followers on social media.

If nonprofits are going to truly solve the world’s toughest social issues and obtain the necessary resources to do it right, they need to examine how the sector can evolve to create more innovative and effective organizations.

Disruption #1: Harness the Power of Technology

The social sector is still very much in the nascent stages of what could be a significant transformation in harnessing the power of technology. The convening power of the Internet, rapid advances in technology, and the reduced costs of launching new applications in today’s wired world means that nonprofit organizations have an ever increasing array of tools to reach constituents with their key messages. But to take advantage of these advances, today’s nonprofits must race to adapt their business models to achieve their intended purpose with greater impact. For today’s nonprofit organization, the new digital landscape provides a multitude of opportunities to recreate yesterday’s broken business models while creating meaningful and sustainable long-term scalable impact.

However, the adoption rate of the social sector to leverage and harness the power of these new tools is still painfully slow and funders are not helping. The funding climate for nonprofits is still such that little attention is paid by funders to basic infrastructure needs. Nonprofits fluctuate between tracking a lot, or hardly anything at all. it appears that the social sector, which has traditionally had a low-tech/high touch sense of itself, is slower to adopt and optimize these enabling new technologies to communicate, collaborate, connect, build capacity, and build communities of learning and practice.

Disruption #2: Think More Like a For Profit

By no means do I want to suggest that a nonprofit is similar to a for-profit or that practices within the for-profit sector should be adopted wholesale. Still, the nonprofit sector is painfully inefficient. There is a reason for this. Where in the profit based corporate entity is motivated by delivering shareholder value, the public  benefit corporation is driven by its commitment to service. In the for profit model, there is built in incentives towards productivity and efficiency. Such incentives are practically non-existent in the non-profit sector.

Furthermore, in places like Silicon Valley, it’s almost a right of passage to test new ideas quickly, fail fast and fail forward. And there is a lot to be learned from failing. How does failing fast work in the nonprofit world, particularly when it’s donors or foundations money? The nonprofit sector is allergic to failure and that predilection leads to less risk taking and therefore less innovation.

Disruption #3: Change Funding Mechanisms

Grants and donations are the traditional funding mechanism but they are increasingly harder to obtain. Further complicating matters, funders can also be incredibly slow in approving grant proposals with their due diligence process. Once approved, they may restrict funds not allowing for flexibility to direct funds towards general operating costs or they may limit the funds nonprofits need directed at critical infrastructure instead requiring funds to be directed towards programming. Nonprofits are loathe to push back on unreasonable expectations  at the risk of losing funders.

Stronger sustainable funding mechanisms are needed as a holistic approach to fundraising that moves beyond traditional tactics such as securing grants or tapping a few wealthy corporate or personal patrons.

Some nonprofits are learning to become self-reliant (and therefore self-sustainable). For example, they offer trainings to members or peer organizations for a fee to generate income. Just as in the private sector, a thorough business plan, market analysis, and consideration of what you have to offer and who might be willing to pay for it are core elements of instituting a fee-for-service model.

Crowdfunding, originally used by entrepreneurs as a way to attract small-sized investments to for-profit ventures, is now widely available to nonprofits as well.

Nonprofits can also take advantage of economies of scale through shared services and back office support models that have added benefits of efficiency and better use of resources. Clearly however, more innovation (and disruption) is needed.

In Summary

  1. As a community, the social sector (nonprofits and their funders) should be self-reflective in asking ourselves some critical questions:
  2. What are ways we (as funders) might be unintentionally adding to the problem?
  3. Are we allowing leaders to do their work, or forcing them unnecessary administrative burden upon them?
  4. Are we building infrastructure or demanding services without the prerequisite capacity needed to deliver these services?
  5. Are our processes forcing nonprofits to compete with one another instead of collaborating?
  6. Are we too narrowly focused on a single issue when so many societal issues are interrelated?
  7. When we use the word “partnership” with our grantees, are we ignoring the inherent power differential in the funder-grantee relationship?
  8. Do we take enough risks? Have we failed enough to say that we do?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. What are your ideas for disrupting the nonprofit sector?

Is It Enough to “Follow Your Passion?”

July  10, 2017 •   3 minute read • by Saeed


“To be a great motorcycle racer, the most important thing is passion for the bike.” ~ Valentino Rossi

Follow your passion.

Seems simple enough. The theory behind this advice is that following your passion will inevitably lead to happiness and that when the chips are down, you are more likely to persevere because, it is after all, your passion.

That’s all good and well but many struggle with their passion.

What if your passion is philosophy or karate or motorcycle racing? Should you become a professor or own a dojo or compete in MotoGP?

Is that the path to personal fulfillment?

There is a limitation to a paradigm that seems, at least on the surface, self-serving?

What about impact on others? What about social good?

So, there is a flip side to this coin.

Follow your passion, yes but also do what provides value to others. Following your passion will only help you check off some of the boxes towards fulfillment and happiness.

Helping others is the secret to being personally fulfilled and happy over the long haul.

That is because a fundamental connection to others is necessary for true personal fulfillment.

Focus on getting at something that genuinely helps others and makes the world a better place and you will find fulfillment and happiness.

You do this by spending your time solving problems and finding your vehicle for self-expression.

Spend your time where your energy and effort meet someone’s need.

Passion is not a job, a sport or hobby or a dream. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you – not something you desire in a distant time and place.

Following your passion means being all in – not just dabbling.

Following your passion is not just about something that can make you feel happy but it is also the impact that something has on others.

Passion is an obsession. Passion is love. Passion is pain. Passion is also hatred.Because along with the positive feelings passion can stimulate, there is a need for perfection that comes with the obsession. Good enough is never good enough and passionate people often don’t feel ‘good enough.’

Passionate people are almost always ambitious. They are characterized by drive, limitless energy, and motivation. They transform passion into raw enthusiasm which is then processed into an internal drive that keeps them going.

Passion is a gift and a curse.

Not everyone has the courage or the opportunity to follow their passion. For some, being practical is a more important survival skill.

For others, the obsession leaves them no choice.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content and Photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

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Ready To Quit Your Job And Be A Consultant? Read This Before You Jump!

June 5, 2017 •  7 minute read • by Saeed


“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

These days, anyone can be a consultant (queue up the sound of a record needle scratch).

This is a common refrain but it is not true.

Yes, more people are getting into the consulting game because technology has made it easier to do so and because we are becoming a Free Agent Nation.

But consulting isn’t for everyone.

The Downside

I understand that you’re tired of your job and want to jump ship. I understand your friends and colleagues have encouraged you and maybe even signaled that they would hire you. You feel confident in your skills and you have a large network. That’s all good. Those are all important factors when considering the jump. But there is more.

The allure of independent work is flexibility with how you use your time and the freedom to work for yourself. But this can be a mirage.

Because while there is freedom that comes with being self-employed, there is also fear and uncertainty.

Being a consultant, isn’t altogether that different from being an entrepreneur. It’s ground-up learning about all aspects of starting a business. When entrepreneurs bring a new product to market, they have to convince people they need their product. Similarly, you have to convince people to hire you, even if you are really talented.

As a consultant, you have to learn to love the hustle. You have to constantly market yourself and sell your services to get the next consulting job. Your time spent marketing your services is unpaid and in the beginning, that will be a large chunk of it.

From developing new service offerings, to writing proposals for new work, to drafting thought leadership pieces, opportunities to learn and contribute are endless.

That means learning to constantly adapt and be as flexible as possible with your aptitude, time, and work style. It also means you have to be a master at managing your time and organizing your projects.

Having to create everything yourself can be a great learning experience but it can also be overwhelming. Consulting is known for its long hours, tight deadlines, constantly changing projects, and lots of travel. It is known for its insecurity.

The Upside

Consulting instills in its recruits an extraordinary amount of discipline and efficiency. You learn to be focused and quick on your feet. You learn to have a strategic mindset and to instill that in others.

A consultant is a problem-solver, a solution generator, a thought leader, a visionary and an execution machine. Being a consultant requires technical know-how and a keen awareness of how people and management systems work (or don’t as the case may be).

Consultants are like chameleons. Most employees are defined by their job descriptions, but consultants can create their own brand and to an extent, their own job description. From one project to another, consultants build knowledge and bridges of learning between issues they have previously addressed. They innovate new tools and approaches. Consulting isn’t only based on competencies. It’s based on creativity, ideation, and execution.

People often hire consultants because the skill or remedy they need is missing internally. So, to provide value means learning new skills and developing varied interests. It means having a job where no day is quite the same as the last.

Before You Jump

Consulting can offer you incredible experiences and career prospects—but it does also ask for a significant investment of your time and energy.

There are many things to consider before making the big leap but based on my experience, if you’re thinking about consulting, there are three fundamental questions you must answer that are more important than all others. If you struggle to answer these three, then you’re not ready. It does not mean you’ll never be read. It just means you need more time. I focus on these three because they are somewhat intangible and what most people don’t see when they are blinded by the shiny light of freedom and flexibility.

1.    Do you know what you’re good at?

If you want to work for yourself as a consultant, it’s important to first get clear on what value you have to offer.

In consulting, there is no cap to the different areas you can get involved with.

There are many different fields of expertise to choose from: coaching, accounting, grant-writing, marketing, communications, IT, HR, PR and so on.

When you’re new and you need to build up your portfolio, the temptation is high to be a Jack or Jill of all trades and take on whatever comes your way. I am not entirely against this strategy because you can learn a lot from the variety of projects you take on. And at the end of the day, you need to pay your bills, right?

Still, the sooner you decide on your niche and your expertise, the sooner you will be defined by it and paid for it. The bonus is that by defining your niche you will be paid for what you love to do and for what you’re good at. That is after all why you decided to leave the security of your steady paycheck, isn’t it?

2.    Do you like to hustle?

The second thing to know is that you have to enjoy the hustle (or learn to enjoy it).

When you first start, consulting is a rollercoaster ride of rejections, false leads and dead ends. Hustling runs the gamut. You have to work like a maniac to create brand recognition and create engaging content to drive traffic to your site. You have to learn about SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, lead generation, and content marketing. You have to write proposals that may or may not win you a gig and constantly stay ahead of your competition. You have to execute these strategies systematically to create a pipeline of work in order to maintain a steady income stream. This is all unpaid work.

Yes, you may be able to tap into your network and create a steady stream of work from your existing contacts and avoid having to do the above mentioned hustle. It is often the case that consultants are brought in by a key manager or executive who continues to be a source of work for some time to come. But if you expect to drink from this well indefinitely, you’re mistaken. Organizational politics will eventually catch up to you or the person you’ve relied upon will retire or simply move on. Your work will then suddenly dry up.

When this happens, you’ll have to expand your client base and you’ll need to learn the skills outlined above to do it.

3.    Do you like to network?

Referrals and relationships are powerful in generating new work. Opportunities stem from relationships so networking is key. You have to meet people from different spheres to extend your connections. Leaders know what they need for their business, so if you can convince them of your value, they’ll bring you in.

Building the right relationships is critical. These relationships will determine the opportunities that become available to you. You can obviously use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook but you’ll need to go beyond that. You’ll need to attend networking events and conferences and get yourself invited to meetings where you can seek out opportunities and leads and have conversations that generate enthusiasm for your unique value offering.

Most people don’t like networking because it’s time intensive and they feel it is distracting them from their ‘real work.’ But the truth is that building relationships is central to the ‘real work.’

What’s Next?

If consulting sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is! But consulting can be a lonely business too. If you don’t want to go it alone, consider working with an established consulting firm. Alongside, the big players like Bain & Company, Accenture, Deloitte, and PWC, a slew of smaller boutique firms are continuing to crop up with specialized experts in particular industries or business problems. There are pros and cons to each but both will provide you with learning opportunities, teams, and infrastructure. These three things are invaluable when you first transition to being a consultant.

If you choose to go it alone, then the best piece of advice I can give you is this: It’s best to hang your shingle while you still have the security of a full-time job.

For example, if you can establish one or two client contracts to take you through your first six-months to a year, you can provide enough of a cushion to get you started. Those initial contracts drastically reduced the monetary risk of self-employment. This is called the Barbell Strategy and has been advocated as an investment strategy by scholars such as Nassim Taleb.

Consulting is as challenging as it is rewarding. But is it right for you? If considering all of the above excites you before it scares you, then the answer may be yes. In which case, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make the jump. If you work at it persistently, within a year or two, you may actually find yourself turning down work.

On the other hand, if the above makes you uneasy, take your time, build your network, find your niche and then slowly make the transition over time while maintaining your 9-5 safety net.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

6 Essential Skills to Master the Art of Negotiation

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6 Essential Skills to Master the Art of Negotiation

June 1, 2017 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” ~ Don Vito Corleone

Negotiation plays a major role in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Most people think negotiating is the same as compromising. They are wrong. Successful negotiation is an art form that comes naturally to some, but must be learned by most. Whether it’s a salary increase or where you’ll spend your next family vacation, if you want to get far in your career and in your life, you have to learn to master the art of negotiation.

A skilled negotiator needs to demonstrate at least 10 essential traits:

1.     Empathy

2.     Responsibility

3.     Respect

4.     Flexibility

5.     Fairness

6.     Personal Integrity

7.     Patience

8.     Self discipline

9.     Humor

10. Stamina

Now, let’s break down the essential skills you need that enhance or impede any negotiation process.

1.     Skilled negotiators are well prepared. Preparation is the single most important element to successful negotiations. Careful preparation prior to the discussion lays the foundation for the desired outcome. Understanding the issues prior to discussing them develops inner confidence. That is the key to developing a position of strength. It also provides a complete and inclusive bank of knowledge to support and reinforce your position.

There are always trade-offs in negotiations. It is essential that you clearly define your limits. Identify the intended objective and set limits to achieve the objective. Lack of preparation will most often result in unexpected outcomes that may be far less than anticipated and in some cases counter-productive to the goal and purpose of the negotiation process.

2.     Skilled negotiators are skilled communicators. Effective communication plays a fundamental role in any interaction and is essential to successful negotiations. Effective communication skills include: the ability to listen and understand the intended message of the sender, clearly expressing your own thoughts and ideas in a way that is easily followed and understood by others, and accurately interpreting the messages expressed through body language. Discuss the concept in an open, receptive manner that allows the other side to hear and understand the message and appropriately respond to that message in a constructive way. Clarity is key: Present the issues clearly and check for understanding.  Listen actively. Clear your mind of pre-judgment and distraction so you can actively listen to the other person.

Effective communication is not limited to what say and hear. It also includes body language – messages or responses sent through facial expressions, eyes and body. Correctly interpreting body language is challenging, yet necessary to accurately understand the message delivered by the sender. For your part, pay attention to your posture. Make sure that your body language does not signal closed reception. Make direct eye contact with the speaker so that they know they have your full attention.

3.     Skilled negotiators ask good questions. If you enter the conversation with assumptions about what you know, you’ll miss vital opportunities to turn the conversation to your advantage. Ask questions that can help to identify key issues of the discussion. Use the information that was acquired during pre-negotiation preparation to formulate questions that can narrow the issues of the discussion. Use well-crafted open-ended questions (“what,” “why,” “how”) that get the other party talking and revealing.

Follow-up with questions that will require a more specific answer when responses are too general. A good questioner sets the pace and direction of the conversation. Keep your responses short and very specific to the questions being asked of you. Avoid inserting information that may be interesting, but not necessarily specific to the subject.

4.     Skilled negotiators are emotionally neutral. Emotional control plays a pivotal role in successful negotiations. The higher the perceived stakes in a negotiating process, the greater the chance that emotions will play an important role in the final outcome. Techniques to regulate your emotions become an important asset to ensure an optimal outcome. Regulating your emotions starts with understanding your own personal strengths and weaknesses, then building on those strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

Regulating emotions and maintaining emotional distance is necessary to be effective. This helps to neutralize the situation and avoid conflict. There isn’t a single technique that can be effective in all scenarios for self control; however, one of the best tips to maintain control is the all-time favorite that we practice with our children: ‘time-out’. Seriously. If you find things are getting out of control, create an opportunity for a time out. Make an excuse to go to the bathroom, get a file or get more info from another source. It doesn’t matter. Just give yourself some mental space for a few moments. The ability to recognize when a time-out is necessary is an important skill to cultivate. This helps you create emotional distance to allow a recharging of self-confidence and self control.

5.     Skilled negotiators find pain points and solve them. It’s a simple formula. Solve their problems and people will be grateful. That’s just a fundamental rule of business and life. But an important point to remember is that some people can’t put their finger on the specific pain point or can’t comprehend the larger picture of what is ailing them immediately. So, be ready to break down a complicated concept into more manageable parts– working systematically from ideas that can be readily understood, then building on that knowledge to the more difficult, or complex issues.

Sometimes, you have to translate and compartmentalize the issue in ways others can comprehend. But remember that no matter how persuasive your argument, the other side will not agree to your proposal unless it solves their discontent. People make decisions in order to solve a problem. Understand their pain and then show how your approach will help alleviate it.

6.     Skilled negotiators close the deal. Closing a deal is the ultimate goal to any negotiating process; however, closing a deal is not always possible. It’s important for any successful negotiator to recognize agreement or impasse and bring the meeting to a close. The final closing of any negotiation, either as the result of reaching an agreement or recognizing an impasse, is an important skill to learn and practice. A win-win is achieved through honesty and respect from both parties. But remember that a ‘win-win’ outcome is based on the subjective perception of a ‘win’ as defined in the initial objectives established during the preparation process. That is to say, each side moves to their final limits defined prior to the negotiation process.

Closing the deal means knowing when all elements of the objectives have been met and all that remains is to finalize the process to implement the plan. If an agreement has been reached, it is important that all elements of that agreement be briefly summarized prior to the conclusion of the meeting. If an agreement cannot be reached, it is essential that the outstanding issues be briefly summarized to assure that both parties agree that no further movement is possible. Like everything that is done well, a great negotiator will systematically demonstrate skills that can enhance the final outcome of a negotiation process. Using the skills outlined above, you will significantly increase your chances of closing the deal with a favorable outcome and avoiding a ‘lose-lose.’

Summary

In the real world, we win some battles and lose others. It’s important that we learn to deal with the frustration and discouragement associated with the lost battles to become more effective in the battles of tomorrow. Perhaps one of life’s most important lessons is the realization that not all people are agreeable and easy to deal with. There are difficult people in the world and our ability to recognize and deal with the many personalities we encounter can help us to be more successful in any interactions we may attempt. Unfortunately, people demonstrate traits, even as adults, that may be considered counterproductive or even childish.

Any discussion that requires a decision at some level with an expected or unexpected outcome involves and requires negotiating skills. Whether you’re building support or overcoming resistance, you’re negotiating. In the workplace you negotiate with colleagues and clients to obtain consensus and buy-in and in your personal life you negotiate with your neighbors, your family and your friends. The above set of skills and traits will help you be a stronger negotiator in the most challenging situations and with the most difficult people.

Unless you’re ‘negotiating’ with a toddler who is having a temper tantrum in the middle of the super market isle to the horror of standers by. In that case, I have no advice to offer. You’re on your own.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

Your Bad Boss is Bad for Your Heart (and everything else)

12 Reasons Why You Should Work Like an Entrepreneur

Why Your Meetings Suck and How to Improve Them

6 Secret Weapons to Supervise Like a Superhero

10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Social Intelligence and Motivate Your People

Top 10 Tips To 10x Your Productivity And Take Back Your Creativity

3 Things Babies Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement

12 Reasons Why You Should Work Like A Consultant

12 Reasons Why You Should Work Like an Intrepreneur

May 26, 2017 •  7 minute read • by Saeed


“All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in caves, we were all self-employed… finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became “labor” because they stamped us,“You are labor.” We forgot that we are entrepreneurs. “

– MUHAMMAD YUNUS

Our zeitgeist is obsessed with entrepreneurs. They represent the new American Dream. Their overnight success stories of fame and riches are alluring but the truth about success is very different. Most successful businesses are not run on the next disruptive technology that changes the world. They are run onrather on consistent service delivery to meet a customer’s specific need.  Having an entrepreneurial spirit is not restricted to spawning new enterprises. Not at all. There are many internal employees who exhibit the same drive, enthusiasm, creativity, and innovation but do so within an existing framework – they are intrepreneurs. The main difference is that the intrepreneur is already backed by capital – what the entrepreneur spends half their time chasing. Meanwhile, the intrepreneur is busy pushing the envelope, testing the limits of their own creativity, inspiring others, and creating incredible internal value. Here is how they do it.

1.      Intrepreneurs act like they own it.

They act like the CEO. Of their team, project, space or whatever else they’re handed. It’s a good question: What if owned it? How would you behave differently? What kind of time would you put in? What kind of discipline would you apply? How would you view your team, your project, your equipment? How would you approach them? What would be your objectives? Would they change from what they are now?

2.      Intrepreneurs are visionary.

They routinely visualize an unrealized future. They can see what others can’t. They skate to where the puck is going to be. They are big picture thinkers. They innovate fearlessly.  They are creative and bold. They think and dream big. They’re not afraid to try. They’re not afraid to fail. They have a let’s ‘test it and see what happens’ attitude. The are idea machines and they treat their work environments like laboratories to experiment with what works and what doesn’t and to better understand human nature.  As Wayne Gretzky once said: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

3.      Intrepreneurs take responsibility for their own engagement.

Entrepreneurs do what they enjoy. Intrepreneurs need to enjoy what they do. Don’t like your job? Struggling? On a sheet of paper draw two columns. Label one ‘Things I Like About My Job’ and label the other one ‘Things I’d Like To Change About My Job.’ Now make the list. Stream of consciousness is best. Once you’re done, study it. Then, begin to capitalize on the things you like. Make efforts and do activities that grow that column. For the next column, identify those items you may have some control over and those you don’t. For those you don’t, forget about them. Exert no energy their way. For those you do, begin to put actions in place to change them and move them over to the ‘Things I Like’ column. That’s your engagement plan. You’re welcome.

4.      Intrepreneurs take responsibility for their own motivation.

Don’t blame others for your lack of it. Otherwise see #3.

5.      Intrepreneurs manage resourcefully.

This is not just about being frugal. It’s about doing more with less as a mindset. It’s about paying attention to the bottom line. look out for the owner, company or whatever so that not only can it survive, but so that it can thrive. Your efforts will be noticed and rewarded.

6.      Intrepreneurs Ideate AND execute.

Richard Branson says ideas are a dime a dozen. Steve Wozniack tells a story of Steve Jobs that while he was without doubt a visionary, he did not know how to execute. Not until he was fired and had to start up NEXT. When he came back to Apple, he’d learned how to execute. That difference meant the iPod, iPad and iPhone, some of the most iconic products we’ve seen produced by the technology sector.

7.      Intrepreneurs have command over the data.

Big data. Small data. Whatever kind of data. They got it. They know it. They have it down pat. They show up with facts, not opinions. That’s what a serial entrepreneur told me was his best advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. This was something he realized after a meeting he had at the White House where everyone showed up with their opinions but because he had the facts, he won the day.

8.      Intrepreneurs practice the art of persuasion.

Cultivate the ability to influence others to change how they think. That starts with your own credibility and attributes. This is where you begin to demonstrate real leadership. I once read a definition of leadership that said it’s the ability to focus the attention of others. That’s the art of persuasion. This requires you knowing when to pull back and when to choose your battles. It requires a significant amount of emotional intelligence.   

9.      Intrepreneurs understand the art of negotiation.

Negotiation comes into play daily at all levels and in every position. It comes naturally to some but must be learned by most. Intrepreneurs understand how important it is to plan for  and prepare to negotiate with their colleagues to create a win-win outcome. They negotiate to win consent, cooperation and consensus. They negotiate up, they negotiate down and they negotiate laterally. To do so, they leverage effective communication skills, emotional regulation, active listening, and clarity of purpose. Most importantly, they are closers.

10.  Intrepreneurs develop risk tolerance.

Recent research does not support the long held conventional belief that risk tolerance is solely the domain of the entrepreneur.   To the contrary. While the intrepreneur does not necessarily have to tolerate the same types of risks as the entrepreneur, they are by no means risk averse. Entrepreneurs don’t seek out risk but rather learn to manage it. In fact, researchers found no differences in risk tolerance between people who continued to work for other companies and those who went on to become entrepreneurs. Those who take more risks simply become more comfortable with it over time.

11.  Intrepreneurs are effective promoters.

It has been said that perception is reality and how people perceive you or your projects at work is vital to overall success. In the age of the Internet and social media and unrelenting competition,

the ability to brand and promote has become essential. Despite how talented you may be, pushing to the side your personal branding efforts will ensure that your talents are not appropriately noticed. Show your passion. Share your talents. Use stories to tell who you are. Part of getting promoted at work is about learning how to promote yourself.

12.  Intrepreneurs understand their customer.

Here is where you must really think like an entrepreneur. Research shows that those who understand their customers (insert audience, constituents, stakeholders, clients etc.) are more successful overall. That’s common sense too. Identify your customer, analyze them and develop key insights that help drive your acquisition and retention strategy. Customer analytics allow for more effective customer engagement providing more actionable intel to meet the long-term needs of your customers. Understanding customer behavior has gotten easier than ever. Just because you’re at the back of the house, it does not mean you should not understand the front-end issues related to customers. The more you understand the end user issues, the more successful you are likely to be regardless of your position in the company.

Tremendous forces are radically reshaping the world of work as we know it. To keep up, we need to radically shift our point of view on what it takes to be successful at work. Disruptive innovations are creating new industries and business models and destroying old ones. Similarly, we need to destroy the old model of moving tasks from the inbox to the outbox. New technologies, data analytics and social networks are having a huge impact on how we communicate, collaborate and work. We need to leverage these. Many of the roles and job titles of tomorrow will be ones we’ve not even thought of yet but the steps laid out above will help you understand and respond effectively to these new changes while creating value each and every time.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

Why Your Meetings Suck and How to Improve Them

6 Secret Weapons to Supervise Like a Superhero

10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Social Intelligence and Motivate Your People

Top 10 Tips To 10x Your Productivity And Take Back Your Creativity

3 Things Babies Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement

12 Reasons Why You Should Work Like A Consultant

12 Reasons Why You Should Work Like A Consultant

May 11, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

This is 25 years worth of experience talking. If you train yourself to act more like a consultant (a good one) the likelihood of providing incredible value to your employer will increase. I guarantee it. There are just a few fundamentals you have to get down and then practice them consistently.

1.      Consultants know how they create value. They know their strengths and they know what they don’t know. They’ve done many self-assessments and know where they have to compensate. When they work in teams, they balance skills intentionally.

2.      Consultants are all about balance. They know when to lead and when to collaborate. They know when to speak and when to listen. They are lean and mean and can balance efficiency with quality. If you can get this balance down, you’ll provide the kind of value that every employer wants.

3.      Consultants can hold multiple perspectives. Territoriality can be a big problem in the workplace. Consultants usually have a primary boss which is the client but they also have to be mindful of other power brokers. Therefore, they stay neutral. They collaborate. They work towards consensus.

4.      Consultants listen more than they talk. At least they should. By listening more, they gather more information to make a better assessment of the situation. By talking less, their advice takes on more value.

5.      Consultants take full ownership. Especially independent ones. Think of yourself as the CEO of yourself, your space, your team, and your functional area. Then act like one. What would you do if you owned it?

6.      Consultants know how to brand themselves. Certain consultants or consulting firms are associated with certain things. Period. What are you associated with? Think of brand as what they say about you when you’re not in the room. Then, act accordingly.

7.      Consultants inspire and motivate. They don’t deflate. Ever walk out of a meeting feeling deflated because your colleague was so negative that it took the air out of your effort? Consultants leave the room in a hopeful state every time. Last impressions count.

8.      Consultants are accountable. They go out of their way to seek feedback in order to improve their services and to make sure that they meet their deliverables. This quality builds trust. They are disciplined about timelines, budgets and priorities.

9.      Consultants can tend the weeds and scale the treetops. They sweat the details but they are also right there with you when you are ready to think boldly and broadly. Ideally, you would straddle both.

10.  Consultants care about presentation. They know that how things look matters. They know first impressions count and positive impressions lead to positive outcomes. So whether it’s dressing for a client meeting or the graphics on the Power Point presentation, consultants make sure things are polished.

11.  Consultants hustle and haggle. They have to in order to keep the pipeline filled with work. But in the hustle, they learn stuff. They learn to network. They learn to market. They learn technology. They learn what resonates with people and what doesn’t. They learn patience. They learn to negotiate and they learn to compromise.

12.  Consultants are constant learners. It’s the nature of the job and the name of the game. They have to move from project to project and with each new project there is a new challenge. Those challenges and the quest to always deliver the highest quality service, means they have to keep their swords sharp. That in turn means that their learning bank account is receiving regular deposits.

The dozen ways I’ve listed above are how consultants are consistently creating value. Not everyone should be or wants to be a consultant but everyone can work like one. And if you do, you will reap the rewards. I promise.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other most recent post on how to be successful when you are new on the job.

Best,

Saeed

Life is a Game of Inches

C1VOvQvW8AA5vZUApril 11, 2017 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“Little strokes fell great oaks.”Benjamin Franklin

Life (insert success, innovation, change etc.) is not a moon shot. There are no silver bullets, overnight success stories, lottery bonanzas, and sudden epiphanies that lead to big bang solutions. You can’t leap frog your way into the CEO chair. You can’t just quit the job you hate to be your own boss tomorrow.

Sorry.

Does it ever happen? Yes, of course it does. But those are the one-offs. The aberrations. The deviations from the norm. Look beyond the gloss and the hype and you’ll discover that most overnight success stories were years in the making. If you want to be an overnight success, you have to be an everyday hustler.

In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field. That’s about 10 years to you and me. Deliberate practice, in turn, requires patience and above all self-discipline. It is not a lack of luck but a lack of self-discipline that makes success elusive for so many.

To make matters worse, stress and chronic dissatisfaction with jobs (insert relationships, finances, fitness etc.)  become the flames of urgency that stoke your false belief that everything has to happen right now. With no concrete goal or system in place to move the ball forward, you are left frustrated and unhappy.

I’ve obsessed over and studied the back stories of hundreds of successful people. Here’s the deeper insight into how they level up that almost no one talks about: success is about doing the work. It is about action and action is about  implementation, follow-through, and completion. You get there, not in one giant leap of faith, but in one small step at a time. That is the difference between winning and losing.

Success is about inches not yards

In the movie Any Given Sunday, a once-great (American) football team that is now plagued with injuries and internal dissension, is struggling to make the playoffs. The coach, played by Al Pacino, has to give a speech (must watch) to his players that will motivate them to put aside their differences and work together as a team.

Pacino starts with expressing that he is overwhelmed by the situation. At first, he appears a broken man similar to his players. Then, he changes gradually to a sage who offers words of profound wisdom and a solution for how to win in life and in the game.

“You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.

That’s, that’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out that life is just a game of inches.

So is football.

Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small.

I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.”

Winston Churchill said that a speech is poetry without form or rhyme. This is one of the greatest inspirational speeches ever captured on celluloid. It is regularly used in courses about public speaking, rhetoric, coaching, and teamwork. Even if you don’t like American football, you will love this speech because it’s really about life. It is about how you execute on a plan. How you reach a goal. It is about how life battles aren’t won with a huge step or a big achievement. It is about how you progress and continually improve “inch by inch” with small steps and tasks done with full effort.

Kaizen – Cultivating a mindset of discipline

One approach to continuous and incremental improvement originated in Japan and is called kaizen. The word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). Kaizen is more philosophy than tool, more mindset than mechanism. It is responsible for the success of lean Japanese manufacturing but you can gain the benefits of kaisen at the personal, team, and organizational level. Much of the focus of kaisen is on reducing waste while increasing efficiency. The genius of kaizen is that it recognizes that improvement is not a destination, it is a process. It is a 4-step circular process usually executed in a systematic manner with some variation of these elements: assess, plan, implement and evaluate (another version is plan, do, check, act). 

PDCA-white-board

Kaizen is about instilling discipline where previously there was none. It’s about showing up and doing the work in a systematic manner, one step, one hour, one task, and one improvement at a time. Like sunlight through a magnifying glass, laser focused discipline applied in a systematic manner towards an objective or a goal has magical power.

 

All achievement follows deliberate and disciplined action.

Kaizen strives to even out the uneven nature of improvement. It is an antidote to the adrenaline fueled panic that you get when you realize your life is passing you by, your business is failing, or your team is falling apart. It is the counterbalance to those moments where you decide that you are going to tackle xyz once and for all, forever and for good only to have your fiery ambition extinguished within a matter of days or at the first setback you experience.

Focusing on big goals far into the distant future may inspire awe and wonderment at first. It may even give you a boost of motivation. But inevitably it leads to stupefaction, paralysis and inaction. Motivation is easy to find but hard to maintain. You’ll soon start looking for shortcuts and excuses for why you can’t make it to the gym or start that new blog or fill in the blank. To find success, you have to find a permanent way to get off that rollercoaster. You have to embrace the philosophy of small, gradual, incremental, and disciplined continuous improvement. The path to change is through sustained action. By breaking down big, audacious goals into small, discrete tasks, kaizen encourages that action. Live for the small wins rather than the big windfalls.

As Pacino says:

“If I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s  what LIVING is. The six inches in front of your face.”