A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Burnout During Organizational Change: The B-DOC Model

Are there specific steps that occur prior to burning out?  Are there certain benchmarks that you need to meet in order to recover from burnout?  Are you more susceptible to future burnout if you’re still recovering from a burnout?  According to my research, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes.”

In this 8 ½-minute “mini” webinar, I’ll discuss burnout from the perspective of employees who have experienced it when their companies underwent transformational organizational change.  But more importantly, these steps seem to be replicated even if the burnout isn’t change related.

Coming up next:  The REAL Costs of Burnout.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Have We Lost the Ability to Say “NO” at Work?

say-no limited timeOne of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace is work overload.  Too much to do, too little time, not enough resources, not enough energy!

Stress management techniques wisely advise that we need to take back our ability to say “no” when we recognize that we cannot do all that is expected of us.

Tell that to your boss and watch what happens.

We humans have limited supplies of time and energy.  When we have exhausted these reserves, then our interest in related projects also eventually depletes.  We may know this intuitively, but the modern workplace practically demands that we ignore our human limitations and continue to take on more work – or face the consequences.

Throughout my blog posts, I have consistently called for a re-emergence of humanism to find a new (and better) way to work in the modern workplace.  Throughout my career, I have consulted with and coached clients who are frustrated, angry, burned out, and underperforming.  The common thread is the inability, unwillingness, or fear of saying “no.”

Like many of us, I can remember as a young girl that saying “no” to my parents resulted in some form of punishment – or at least “the look” and a very strong reprimand.  Old habits die hard, so I shouldn’t be surprised when we continue to avoid saying “no” in order to avoid displeasing the people in our professional lives.

Although we are not put in “time out” at work, saying “no” to our bosses can lead to some form of direct or indirect reprimand.  Consider what saying “no” to a new assignment can mean to our jobs and careers:

  • We are not viewed as “team players.”
  • Our loyalty to the company is questioned.
  • We are being insubordinate to our bosses – which will not be forgotten in our annual performance reviews.
  • We are being “difficult.”

The tragedy is that saying “yes” to others (especially when we don’t really want to) actually undermines our current and future relationships with that person or organization.  In addition, we are much more likely to experience the negative effects of cognitive dissonance:  we are acting in a way that contradicts how we really feel.  This leads to anger, resentment, and burnout.

Why Saying “No” Can Be a Good Thing

Although saying “no” was grounds for punishment as a child, we are no longer children but adults whose contributions are critical in order for our companies to excel.

So how can saying “no” to an assignment actually be a good thing?

  • Saying “no” can indicate a significant lack of resources that will eventually undermine the success of the assignment.
  • Saying “no” can reinforce the need to better delegate the workload or increase staffing (temporarily or permanently).
  • Saying “no” can benefit customers by keeping their expectations realistic and then delivering on those expectations.
  • Saying “no” can protect the company from litigation arising from illegal actions by employees.
  • Saying “no” (and having that “no” accepted by management) can increase employee commitment and engagement because we are being heard and respected.
  • Finally, saying “no” can protect the organization from negative “group think” and open the door to future innovation and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, many companies view an employee’s “no” as a sign of disrespect, insubordination, and grounds for future discipline – including termination.

But the fear of saying “no” ultimately does nothing to support the health of either the organization or the individual worker.  Not standing up for something that you believe is wrong ensures that the unrealistic demands, disrespectful treatment, and stressful workplace will continue – for you and others.

How to Say “No” at Work

Learning to say “no” can be a challenge for many workers – as equally challenging as learning how to accept a subordinate’s “no.”

How do you create an environment in which an employee’s “no” is viewed positively?

First, always consider Mehrabian’s three channels for effective interpersonal communication:  55% of meaning comes from nonverbal cues, 38% from tone of voice, and only 7% from the words themselves.  Be sure that all three are in alignment.  In other words, don’t say “no” using a hostile tone or defensive mannerisms.

Second, provide a brief rationale for your “no.” Be sure to include a logical reason why you are refusing the request and the potential benefit to the person making that request.  For example, be clear that taking on the new assignment will undermine your ability to successfully meet the deadline for another important assignment.

Third, offer another option to get the work done.  This may include recommending that the assignment be divided among several employees who are experts in their individual project areas so that the increased workload does not become unmanageable for any one individual.

Fourth, don’t say “no” late in the game.  If the project’s due date is near and you had previously agreed to the deliverable due dates, don’t “suddenly” announce that you can’t finish it.  Keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and don’t be afraid to ask for help if there is any indication that the due date might not be met.  It is better to modify plans, rather than never complete them.

Saying “no” at work is hard and many of our past experiences have supported our belief that we should never say “no” at work.  But when we can’t say “no,” we feel out of control – which is a primary factor in the debilitating downward spiral toward burnout.

Learning to say “no” can be very empowering.  It can enhance our professional relationships as well as increase the levels of mutual respect.  Most importantly, it can be the first step in creating a new, more humane, and more productive way to work. Saying “no” to one thing can be the first step to saying “yes” to something much better.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #35: Single-tasking is better than multi-tasking

Paradigm Shift“There’s too much to do!!!  Do more with less!!!  Don’t waste time!!!”  These are caveats by which many of us live our lives.

For greater efficiency and financial profitability, many companies now expect their human resources to be able to multi-task in ways that are comparable to the feats made possible by artificial intelligence.

Instead of harnessing technology, it has instead become our 24/7/365 master.  We tend to expect that we can accomplish multiple tasks not just simultaneously, but also at the speed of our computers and mobile devices.  If not, we think that there must be a problem with us.

But the real problem is that many of us ignore the needs and limitations of being human.  We are not wired like computers.  We are not programmable robots.  And that is ultimately a very good thing.

The drive to not only do more with less but also to do it faster is fertile ground for our misguided attempts at multi-tasking.  The primary issue is that there is often very little consideration of the nature of the tasks themselves when we multi-task:  each task is simply a line item on our ever-increasing “To Do” lists.

Recent studies have shown that interruptions (either by others or self-imposed through the process of multi-tasking) actually interfere with our ability to concentrate and ultimately slow down our progress.  In other words, we actually waste time when we try to do too much because our brains need time to re-group in order to “pick up where we left off.”

Any “time savings” or efficiencies achieved from simultaneously working on tasks that involve critical thinking or creativity are thus undermined by the reduced quality or effectiveness of our completion of each task.

So, if the tasks require critical thinking, creativity, decision making, and/or learning, then we shouldn’t multi-task!

There a few other things that I’ve noticed about multi-tasking:

  • Multi-tasking destroys mindfulness.  We’re not totally “present” in anything that we’re doing because we are trying to simultaneously compartmentalize and control competing thoughts and goals.  The likelihood of breakthrough, “a ha!” moments is severely limited.
  • We overlook some of the most important concepts or aspects of our tasks.  Because we’re not present in the moment (i.e., fully concentrating), we tend to skim over documents or conversations.  Then we berate ourselves for missing the “obvious.”
  • We also miss the important nuances.  Since both the devil and the serendipitous discoveries are found in the details, we lose the opportunity to notice either.
  • Finally, multi-tasking tends to draw out projects beyond the time that they should reasonably take to complete.  We have a false sense of accomplishment because we completed 25% of five different projects even though we haven’t 100% completed any of them!

However, there is one type of multi-tasking that I believe can be very effective.  Multi-tasking via technology works precisely because it isn’t really multi-tasking.  Instead, it is actually a form of technological delegation.  The “grunt work” is done by technology, leaving us free to concentrate, analyze, ponder, and use our creativity to solve higher level, more complex problems.

In my own life, single-tasking actually increases my productivity in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness.  Maybe that’s because I’m fully focused and using all of my resources to get something 100% done.  By saying “yes” to this particular project or task, I can more readily say “no” to other competing interests.

What about you:  is your multi-tasking propelling you toward the goals that you want to achieve OR is it undermining your path to success?

  • Look at your past history.  How effective have you really been when you tried to do too many things at the same time?
  • Which of your key projects have you actually completed?  Did the completed projects meet your expected standards?
  • How many other projects have “fallen through the cracks” because your attention was focused elsewhere?
  • Have any 6-month projects turned into 5-year odysseys?
  • Of the projects that are still partially completed, how much time would it actually take to finally check this project off your “To Do” list?
  • Are you willing to at least try single-tasking and see what happens?

While everybody works differently, it is critical that we understand and appreciate the most conducive environment and tools needed for us to do our best work.  Single-tasking requires prioritizing what is important – then taking the time to focus on completing the task at hand.

Although it’s against the “norm” of our multi-tasking society, maybe it’s time to be a maverick and try single-tasking in order to achieve the goals and success that we really want.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Burnout: The Silent Trap That KEEPS You Burned Out

Burnout has reached epidemic proportions in the modern workplace.  But did you know that burnout has a “boomerang” effect that can keep you burned out?

In this 7-minute “mini” webinar, I’ll discuss one of the most interesting findings in my research on burnout during organizational change:  residual burnout.  Even if you remove yourself from situations that contributed to your feelings of burnout, it takes an average of 2 years to fully recover from its deleterious effects.  During these 2 years, new events can trigger responses that pull you right back into burnout.  When this happens, full recovery from burnout might take even longer.

Coming up next:  Burnout During Organizational Change:  The B-DOC Model.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Fear, Change, and Life-Long Learning


Can we ever stop learning?  Most people would agree that we are constantly learning new things about ourselves, our environment, other people, as well as what works and what doesn’t.

But how many times have you attended a mandatory training session – and been bored to tears?

Or how many times have you been “forced” to learn a new method to complete a task that required you to “forget” everything that you used to do?

In the 25+ years that I have been a trainer, facilitator, and keynote speaker, I have often been surprised that many of the participants really didn’t want to be there.  Some displayed this through a lack of interaction.  Others simply looked down and were absorbed with their smart phones.  Many adopted a “wait and see” attitude as to the value of the information.  Still others were blatantly hostile and combative to any new ideas that were presented.

Sadly, a not large enough percentage approached the training as something enjoyable, informative, and applicable to their daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities.

Of course, it is and always has been my duty and responsibility to engage the audience by answering the fundamental question that underscores all learning:  “WIIFM (or what’s in it for me)?”

Fortunately, I’ve been pretty successful in giving the audience something that they could actually use.  I admit that (thankfully) not all people have been resistant to learning something new.

But I can’t help but wonder what past experiences jaded many attendees to fully embrace new ideas in the form of life-long learning?

In corporations, a large percentage of training is required to meet regulatory compliance (e.g., sexual harssment, ethics, EEO, etc.).  However, much of the other corporate-sponsored training often focuses on building key employee competencies to successfully compete in their markets.

Such “competency-based performance models” are the new rage in business.  “Competencies” indicate a high level of mastery or expertise in key areas of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors which are then used to create a competitive advantage for the company.  In other words, it’s the stuff that you’re really good at.

But, identifying those competencies is a lot easier said than done.

Whether or not the competencies identified by seniors leaders are actually the “real” core competencies for the company, the corresponding training always focuses on changing the tools, methods, and even reporting relationships that employees use to do their jobs.

How Fear Affects the Passion to Learn

Changing the way that you work is based on a changing organizational foundation.  And that’s scary for most workers.

Perhaps most frightening is “un-learning” things that have led to success in the past.  Can we be just as good at the new way of doing something as we were in doing it the old way?

Another challenge occurs when managers don’t reinfoce the training back in the workplace – particularly if the company follows a “new is always better” approach.  This occurs when company leaders are constantly changing the way that things are done…but without a sound explanation for employees as to why.

Is it any wonder that employees are reluctant to put forth the effort to learn something new when the past has proven that it will just be replaced with something even newer a few months down the road?

Adults are not children and they have very different learning needs than children:

  • Adult learners already have insights, opinions, and assumptions about what works and what doesn’t – so we are less likely to accept new approaches at face value.
  • Adult learners are often subject matter experts in our fields – so we want our opinions to be heard and shared.
  • Finally, adult learners are busy – so if we are going to spend time in training (and not on something else), we want to make sure that we will be able to actually use these insights back on the job.

Change and the Learning Organization

We live in an age of constant, unrelenting change.  In the book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge encouraged companies to embrace life-long learning across all functional and hierarchical levels.  In a world that is constantly changing, the only way to adapt is by being open to learning new ways to approach both new and old problems.

Notice that “learning” corresponds with “change.”  Given the high degree of change resistance in many organizations, it is not surprising that these fears will be most noticeable in employee reactions to training and development.

  • Ego plays an important role in the unwillingness to abandon old beliefs and replace them with something which is currently unknown.
  • Economic realities threaten our feelings of security when we aren’t initially “good” at something new because we fear that we are now “replaceable” in the organization.
  • In today’s time-strapped workplace, there is often an expedited learning curve that just isn’t conducive to learning and then implementing higher level, complex ideas.  It’s just easier to continue to do things the old way.
  • Information overload is a genuine problem affecting worker productivity and organizational performance.  Exhaustion and fatigue coupled with misguided attempts to multitask cause us to shut down to new ideas.  There is simply too much to learn and do.  We are overwhelmed.

Learning inherently questions the status quo in order to create something that is more efficient, effective, and powerful.  This is a double-edged sword for many senior organizational leaders.  An informed workforce is like the child who isn’t afraid to say that the emperor isn’t actually wearing any new clothes:  employees can and will challenge organizational leaders and the decisions that they make.

Moving toward a commitment to life-long learning is therefore a major paradigm shift for both the organization as a whole and the individual workers within it.  But fearing new ideas and stubbornly refusing to at least try them is a prescription for failure in a constantly changing world.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Don’t extinguish the flame

As humans, we are hardwired to want to understand and know more about ourselves and our environments.  Many times we will fail in our first attempts to try something new – but that shouldn’t prevent us from continuing to move forward.  This is perhaps the greatest advice from Senge’s Fifth Discipline:  failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn.

Once the fire for learning has been lit, we humans tend to continue to stoke the flames:

“Knowledge always desires increase; it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself.” (Samuel Johnson)

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Curiosity, Thinking Outside the Box…and Noticing

CuriosityIn my consulting practice, keynotes, and training sessions, I have consistently recommended that business professionals need to become more curious.  In fact, I often recommend a megadose of curiosity in order to solve problems and make better informed decisions.

Obviously, curiosity is essential to being creative – which is closely related to the ability to “think outside the box.”

Curious, creative people tend to ask more questions, investigate more thoroughly, and are not afraid to “play” in order to come up with new ideas, innovations, and solutions.

Then why do so many creative people fail to turn their dreams into reality?  Are we focusing on the wrong things?

Recently, I began reading a fascinating book, The Power of Noticing by Max Bazerman.  While we’ve all been encouraged to analyze the internal and external factors that can contribute to the success or failure of any given action, the idea of simply noticing is often overlooked in decision making.

As a university professor, I’m often amazed at how many of my colleagues are fantastic at delving into minute details – but missing the “big picture.”  In academia and business, many people unfortunately remain in their area of expertise and ignore anything that is not related to their field of interest.

In other words, many people “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Although specialization has long been an important consideration for a job-related promotion, there has been an urgent need for business professionals to also have at least a rudimentary understanding of how their particular job fits in with all the other jobs in the organization.

There is a tendency to become complacent when it is assumed that we already know the key factors in a situation – at least in terms of how they relate to us.  In our minds, it is just logical that we focus on those important elements and ignore the rest – somebody else will focus on them, right?

The current trend is toward harnessing “big data.”  As I’ve noted in many of my blog posts, “big data” is critical in business and can be a powerful tool to help move a company up to the next level – but it is only part of the picture.  Focusing exclusively on the “data” (without noticing any factors outside that data) skews both the information and ultimate decisions arising from that data.

Bazerman’s book addresses these issues head on and challenges us to actively notice what is going on around us.  The book, however, is not a fluffy, “here’s how to heal your relationships” kind of book.  Instead, it looks at major failures that led to loss of revenue, reputation, and, more importantly, loss of life (such as in 9/11 and the Challenger space shuttle disaster).

If we don’t notice, then we are bombarded with “predictable surprises” – situations that we did not expect…but should have if we had only taken the time to notice.  In other words, “hindsight is 20/20.”

The goal, of course, is to help our foresight (not just our hindsight) become 20/20.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Noticing Forces Us to Challenge Our Assumptions

We all have blind spots in how we take in and observe information – it’s part of the way our brains are wired.  This short, classic video simply asks you to count the number of passes made by the basketball team in white.

Here’s another example from a “real life” experiment:

If you watched these two videos, then you might have been surprised at something so “obvious” that you didn’t notice.

Thinking inside the box means that we are following the instructions given to us.  We’ve been taught to block out anything that is not related to the subject or object of our focus because it is “irrelevant.”  But this tunnel vision actually skews our ability to see what is really happening.

Noticing, therefore, is more than just observing.  I agree with Bazerman that the ability to really notice is often underrepresented in modern business.  Whether we ignore these insights from ignorance, arrogance, or a focus on the bottom line is debatable.  But what is not debatable is that not noticing can lead to horrific consequences that could have been avoided.

  • How aware are you really of what is going on around you?
  • Do you notice certain things – then dismiss them because you assume that they are not relevant to you?
  • What assumptions are skewing your ability to be curious and notice?
  • Isn’t it time for you to take the notes of the signs that you might have been missing?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #2: Live your life by YOUR priorities

Paradigm ShiftA few weeks ago, I posted Paradigm Shifter #30:  Believe what people do (not what they say)In that post, I mentioned that people’s actions are the only true reflection of their real priorities.  It’s just as true a reflection of you.

Today’s hyperactive pace often leads to many of us doing things because we think that we have to – even if they aren’t necessarily aligned with what we say is important to us.  But actions do speak louder than words.

Priorities are not the mind-numbing “to do” lists.  Nor are they the “have to’s” that other people demand of us.

Instead, priorities reflect our values, beliefs, and (when acted upon) our dreams, goals, and aspirations. Life is short and, without priorities, we tend to flounder and may never attain whatever it is that we deeply want.

When I was 27 years old, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Two months later, Nana (my grandmother who lived with my family from the time I was a little girl) died.  Fifteen months later, my mother succumbed to cancer; she was not even 60 years old.

Because I didn’t have children, I knew then at the age of 28 that I was the final link in the lineage from my grandmother to my mother to me – and, from a generational perspective, I was “next.”  I faced these losses by making a concrete vow to NOT reach the end of my life saying, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

This epiphany was a momentous turning point for me.  Too often we believe that we are invincible…that there is always a tomorrow.  While some people believe that this is the prescription for frenetic activity, I instead believed that workaholism (that compulsive commitment to work which is rampant in entrepreneurs) was not the answer.  (Ironically, many years later, I discovered that workaholism is actually one of many false cures used in attempts to overcome burnout.)

Life is many-faceted – all of which are clamoring for our attention.  We have the opportunity to choose at any given moment what is a priority and consequently on what we will focus our attention.

It was inevitable that my change in perception came with a major shift in priorities:

  • I chose not to be the workaholic business owner who never had time for friends or family.
  • But I also did not want to be unsuccessful in my business because I was too focused on “saving” the people in my life – even if they didn’t want to be “saved.”
  • I recognized that there usually always is another day – but that each moment is precious and should not be squandered.
  • What I choose to spend my time on in any given moment is a blatant reflection of what is important to me at that time.
  • Furthermore, if everything is important, then nothing is truly a priority – prioritization necessarily characterizes some things as more important than others.
  • Finally, the unique way in which we balance all these activities and situations is reflective of what we truly believe is important and worthwhile.

I would love to say that this perceptual shift was met with great enthusiasm and support by those around me.  It wasn’t.  Probably because when you say “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to something (or someone) else.

Because people change, it also means that people’s priorities will also change.  Sometimes they will still be in sync, but, other times, they may actually be counterproductive.

It takes courage to define exactly what it is that you want in your life…but it is only the first step.  The much more difficult challenge is to choose on what you will spend your time:  minute by minute, hour by hour, week by week, year by year.

A basic law of physics states that nothing is motionless:  so if you’re not moving forward, then you’re moving backward.  The biggest regrets that I’ve observed in family, friends, colleagues, and clients relate to never finding the time to do what it is that they say they really want to do.

Although it sounds cliché, we can’t please everyone – but, at the end of the day, we can please ourselves.

Living your life by your own priorities and having the courage to ensure that your actions align with those priorities is not selfish.  In fact, I’ve found that we are much better people to be around when we are genuinely happy with what we are doing in our lives.  In my own life, just a few of the times that I went against the advice of well-meaning friends and family in relation to my career include:

  • Going back to graduate school for two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. when many of my friends were looking to scale back toward retirement.  (One of the best decisions I ever made.)
  • Quitting a full-time faculty job due to an abusive dean when many people told me to “quit caring, do the bare minimum, and collect the paycheck.”  (To me, this was simply hypocritical and contradicted my deeply held beliefs about healthy human resources, effective workplaces and, of course, the important relationship between a professor and his/her students.)
  • Proselytizing the concept of humanism in the workplace at a time when many of my colleagues deemed this as naïve because “business is about bottom line results and not employees.”  (Glad to say that there is an increasingly large body of research to support the relationship between human resources and corporate sustainability.)

Earl Nightingale is often quoted as saying, “You are what you think about.”  What you think about is the catalyst for what you will act upon.  And what you act upon reflects your innermost decisions about what you believe is important in every moment.

Living your life by the priorities that you set for yourself is not just a guarantee that you will continue moving forward (despite the obstacles) on your path to the goal.  The added bonus?  The chance for regrets about “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is almost nil.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

What REALLY Works to Recover From Burnout (Webinar presented by Dr. Geri Puleo)

Although it’s always best to avoid burnout, what can you do if you already feel burned out?

In this 11-minute “mini” webinar, I’ll share 9 common and not-so-common strategies to break out of the burnout cycle.  Since everyone is different in terms of their burnout symptoms and the causes of their burnout, there is no “magic bullet” for recovering from burnout — however, I did find one “sure fire” remedy that was used by over 90% of the participants in my research to drastically reduce their feelings of burnout.

Coming up next week:  Residual Burnout:  The Silent Trap That KEEPS You Burned Out.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

From Employee to Entrepreneur: The Major Changes You MUST Make

Business owner multitasking

To many people, owning your own business and being your own boss is an enticing dream.  Visions of controlling your destiny and not being told what to do are reminiscent of a professional nirvana.

For many other people, being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster of conflicting emotions.  Entrepreneurship is a never-ending series of situations that can move from feelings of total control, creativity, and freedom…to feeling trapped, blindsided, and a slave to the company that you have created.

Working for someone else vs. being your own boss is a major decision that should not be taken lightly.  Being a business owner is not for the faint of heart.

Yet in today’s challenging job market, many professionals blithely open their own consulting firms or small businesses without fully understanding the critical changes in perception that must be made in order to succeed.

8 Perceptual Changes That Differentiate Entrepreneurs From Employees

One of the most popular recurring misconceptions about being a business owner is that you now call all the shots.  You can basically do whatever you want because you own the business.

However, businesses of any size do not operate within a vacuum.  No one – even the one-person sole proprietorship – is immune to the internal and external forces that affect a business:

  1. Changes in market demographics, lifestyles, and product preference.  Many new entrepreneurs look at what they are good at and turn them into products with the idea that, “If you build it, they will come.”  However, just because you do something well does not mean that others necessarily want it OR that they are willing to pay for it – often times not at the price point at which you want to sell it.   Even more importantly, people are fickle and their preferences change; if a new competitor comes out with a product or service that is more enticing, your customers are very likely to at least try it out.
    Key Questions Are you focused on both daily operations and long-term strategies to continue to thrill your customers so that they keep coming back to you – and do your operations effectively enhance your ability to actually do it?
  2. Fluctuations (often dizzying) in the economy.  Even experienced economists are wrong in their predictions about where the economy is going.  Without proper contracts in place, a client can decide to cancel or postpone an order due to economic changes that affect their businesses – and which also affect yours.  There is always an element of risk in any business.  When you are an employee, a bad economy might result in being downsized; but when you own the business, it might result in significant debt, sleepless nights, and personal as well as company bankruptcy.
    Key Questions:  Do you have processes in place to mitigate financial risk – or are you too highly leveraged?
  3. Flawed assumptions about what works in business.  Too many employees who have become entrepreneurs attempt to use the same business models as their previous employers.  The problem is that these employers usually had well-known brands, deeper insights into their markets, established clientele, and higher levels of working capital.  Adjusting a large company’s business model to suit a start-up or small company is more than just “tweaking”:  it requires gut-wrenching, data-driven analysis as well as an in-depth understanding of your unique strategic goals as the owner of an unknown business.  The real costs of an unsuitable business model can be substantial on financial as well as emotional levels.
    Key Questions Have you aligned industry insights, market trends, and labor with your business model?
  4. Failure to innovate.  Innovation is generally higher in entrepreneurial ventures – you have to be creative and think outside the box in order to do more with less in a way that creates value for your as yet unknown clients.  Many new entrepreneurs unsuccessfully try to replicate the products, services, guarantees, and/or price points of their large corporate competitors.  Creating and selling products/services is more than just manufacturing and marketing; the final offerings reflect a long line of processes, assumptions, and risk-taking that are unseen by the consumer yet dramatically affect those final outputs.  Necessity is the mother of invention and the only way to differentiate your company from the “big boys” is by doing something differently and doing it well.
    Key Questions While you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” what unique selling proposition (USP) does your company possess?
  5. Failure to implement.  Innovation and implementation work hand-in-hand – but this dual focus is probably the largest bailiwick for entrepreneurs who are cash-strapped, overworked, and desperate to close sales.  The greatest idea must be operationalized in order to be transformed from a dream into reality.  Without effective processes and engaged employees, it becomes extremely difficult for a company to “make good” on what it is attempting to bring to market.  The challenge is even more difficult for a one-person sole proprietor or consultant.
    Key Questions Even if your idea is great, do you know how to streamline the input/transformation/output process so that you can meet deadlines and sell the products at a price point that actually covers all your associated costs and expenses?  Are your employees on board and enthusiastic about what you sell and are you able to adequately compensate and recognize them for their efforts on behalf of your business?
  6. Viewing your business as your baby.  Many people have likened entrepreneurship to parenthood.  Your business is like your baby because you created it, nurtured it, and protect it to the best of your ability.  Like children, your business can give you a great deal of joy and pride, but also a great deal of pain and frustration.  Both businesses and children eventually mature and move away from the original owner or parent; it is only through solid processes, people, and products that your business can “grow up” into an independent entity that continues to thrive and grow.  But letting go can be extremely difficult.
    Key QuestionsCan your business baby survive without you – have you put in place the necessary processes to allow it to grow?
  7. Too closely identifying with your business.  No matter how large or small your business, owners usually see their enterprises as reflections of themselves.  Although many companies are eventually sold to new owners, many other companies remain under the tight control of the original owner.  This is both a good and bad thing.  It’s good because there is a hardwired need to run your business in a way that makes you feel good and allows you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror with pride and dignity.  But it’s also bad when it leads to rigidity and change resistance to ideas that you didn’t think of – especially when your business is in crisis.  Unless tempered, the amount of emotional connection that an entrepreneur has toward his or her business can skew sound business decisions due to the need to satisfy and substantiate the owner’s ego.
    Key Questions How great is the overlap between your business model and ego?  (Hint:  There is always an overlap!)
  8. Physical, emotional, and energy limitations of being human.  We are not robots or automatons.  Unfortunately, humans need time to rejuvenate physically as well as mentally.  Maintaining high levels of motivation and stamina is a challenge.  Many entrepreneurs lie awake at night (losing much needed regenerative sleep) thinking about the problems that still need to be solved, the clients who promised to pay but didn’t, and the ever-increasing “to do” list.  We can’t do it all and when you say “yes” to one thing, you must say “no” to something else.  This goes back to your strategic goals and how your business relates to the rest of your life.
    Key QuestionsHave you realistically determined the necessary trade-offs prior to launching your business – or are you over-extending yourself physically and emotionally?

Owning your own business is inherently different from working (however hard) as an employee in someone else’s business.  While the stakes are higher and the risks are scarier, the financial and emotional rewards of entrepreneurship are significantly greater.  While these trade-offs are not for everybody, to someone with an entrepreneurial mindset, these rewards offset the risks.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #19: Creativity and implementation are NOT mutually exclusive – success requires both

Paradigm ShiftEmployers place a high premium on creativity in their workers.  Learning to “think outside the box” is a critical skill to successfully compete in today’s constantly changing market and workplace.  But it takes more than great ideas to be successful.

Success – today and in the past – requires not only creativity, but also follow-up and implementation to convert an intangible idea into a tangible innovation.

Having owned my own businesses for over 25 years, I’ve found that coming up with new products and services is relatively easy – in fact, it’s downright fun.

However, my experiences have also taught me that it takes analysis, critical thinking, perseverance, determination, risk management, and simple hard work to manifest those ideas into something tangible.

The combined ability to not only create but also to implement requires a new approach to prioritizing, problem solving, and decision-making.  Success in today’s age of unrelenting change requires both.  For example:

  • You’re a key player in major brainstorming sessions regarding new product development – your ideas are great and everyone is inspired. But, when it comes time to do the hard, often monotonous work of actually manufacturing these products, you tend to walk away and delegate that “operational stuff” to the “non-creative types.”  If the products don’t go to market, it’s their fault for not being able to realize your ideas.
  • You’ve earned the reputation of being methodical, diligent, organized, and efficient – but you’re also known to be somewhat change resistant. Trying to incorporate new ideas into your established routines and processes tends to have a ripple effect that (in your mind) creates chaos.  Why try to fix something that isn’t broken (at least not yet)?
  • You’ve decided to really expand your business with several new product lines – all of which are so important that they need to be developed at once. You’re excited and energized, but after several months of trying to juggle wide-scale product development along with your routine tasks, you’re frustrated because you haven’t made significant progress on any of these products.  A year later, none of them is ready to go to market.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Depending on the culture, some companies bestow kudos on the creative types for their vision and rule-breaking.  The “operational types” and analysts are considered to be less important to the company’s future than the visionaries.  Conversely, other companies rely so heavily on effective operations that they silence the “crazy” ideas from those “creative types.”  Being able to do what we say we can do is more important than “wasting” time trying to innovate within our companies, fields, or industries.

What I have learned is that, while status quo operations can leave us vulnerable and ill-prepared for a constantly changing environment, creativity without disciplined implementation is just a dream that never takes form.

Making the shift from an operational/managerial mindset to one that embraces creativity/leadership –and vice versa – can be a challenge.

The difficulty might be from the necessity of using both sides of our brains in interacting with our environments.  Another cause could be expectations of the organizations in which we have worked.  Yet another cause could be our own histories relating to the types of recognition that we have received.  Finally, society is somewhat intent upon “pigeon-holing” us:  you’re either a creator or a doer.

In today’s era of constant, unrelenting change, learning to feel comfortable with both creativity and implementation is a critical competency to finding a new way to work.  This powerful synergy of creating and doing is hard to duplicate.

Here are just a few tips to help you embrace the synergy of being able to create and implement:

  1. Identify your preferred style: First determine whether you tend to approach problem solving and decision making from a creative, “outside the box” perspective OR a linear, analytical approach.  This is both your starting point and your default style.
  2. If you tend to be more creative: Try to visualize the steps between where you are now and the culmination or realization of this new idea – not just a paper trail, but a colorful movie depicting the journey.  Be curious and use your creativity to peer into all the different routes that you could use to go from “here to there.”
  3. If you tend to be more analytical: Challenge yourself by asking, “what if?”  What would happen if you changed any of the assumptions or individual elements needed to achieve a goal?  Be fearless and use your linear thinking to mitigate risks by preparing for obstacles that are unforeseen on the surface.  Take pride in your ability to uncover those “hidden” obstacles and develop appropriate responses.
  4. Befriend someone who is your opposite: If you are a creative, make an effort to truly understand the thought processes of an analytic – and vice versa.  Remember that one approach is not superior to the other:  in fact, both are necessary to successfully compete in the modern workplace.
  5. Good news: the tools of creativity and implementation can be learned:  Regardless of your preferred style, each perspective can be understood as a set of tools used to prioritize activities, solve problems, and make decisions.  Balancing creativity with implementation results in visualization plus action – perhaps one of the most overlooked secrets to success.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

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