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Welcome to the September 2011 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • If you are concerned about the impact of local government budget cuts on services such as public safety, I invite you to take a look at the articles posted in a new category on my blog devoted to public sector issues.
  • A press release I issued in May about an ineffective way that politicians and administrators allocate public resources managed to ruffle some political feathers. Click here to read what the politicians were upset about.

This month’s theme is success without struggle. Psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Tina Tessina recently wrote an article in which she said that one of the things she has learned as a therapist is that struggle is often used by families to structure time. She went on to say that by replacing “the drama of struggle with the delight of humor,” she and her husband have dramatically improved the quality of their lives. I think this concept of choosing to replace struggle with a positive approach of one’s choice can be applied to the workplace as well. For example, people may experience work as a struggle because they approach it as a chore or a burden, or perhaps they have an unconscious belief that nothing of value can be gained without struggle. What if, instead of approaching work as a struggle, people chose to view it as an opportunity? Without the difficulties, angst, or drama that sometimes characterize work environments, workplaces would be transformed! Would you rather be successful with a struggle, or without one?

The Feature Article, “The ROI of Leveraging Differences into Opportunities,” makes the case that leaders who focus on what employees have in common create work environments that are much more conducive to employee engagement and productivity than leaders who focus on how people are different. We compare and contrast the two scenarios, and invite you to choose the approach that makes the most sense to you.

In “12 Ways to Reduce Workplace Struggles,” the Business Solutions section provides specific suggestions for succeeding while minimizing unnecessary workplace struggles.

In the Personal Solutions section, “How to Navigate Smoothly through Life’s Transitions” identifies twelve ways to help make life’s transitions (e.g., to and through adulthood, to employee, to manager, to a different career, to retiree, to business owner) less of a struggle than people often experience them.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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The ROI of Leveraging Differences into Opportunities

Recently I was asked to speak to participants in a statewide leadership program about generational differences in the workplace. With four generations in the workforce today, it’s only natural that there is a great deal of interest in this topic, especially since some of the differences we read about seem irreconcilable. Interesting stuff! But definitely the wrong focus this group. Why?

First, generational differences are only one type of difference; the workplace is rife with others. Leaders must educate themselves about other kinds of differences as well. Second, and more important, focusing on differences, whatever their source, is unproductive at best, and destructive at worst. Here are eight reasons why this is true:

  1. Differences foster an “us vs. them” mentality, dividing people rather than enabling them to collaborate and work productively.

  2. Differences often encourage distrust, which cripples collaboration and productivity.

  3. Differences generally are based on traits that cannot be changed – e.g., age, race, gender, ethnicity – and that usually are irrelevant to the task at hand.

  4. Focusing on differences doesn’t allow people to see what they have in common or to discover what they can learn from one another.

  5. Making employment-related decisions based on some of these differences is illegal in the U.S. – not to mention that doing so is a bad management practice.

  6. Focusing on differences emphasizes what WON’T or DOESN’T work rather than on what DOES work.

  7. When we seek differences, we find them. Too often, forward momentum then comes to a screeching halt.

  8. Differences often are seen and treated as obstacles to success instead of as enablers of greater outcomes.

Would you want to work in an environment with those characteristics? What if, instead of focusing on differences, leaders kept the spotlight on what people have in common? Here are just a few of the reasons why emphasizing how we are alike makes good business sense:

  1. Changing the question from “How are we different?” to “How can we be successful together?” opens the door to entirely new and actionable answers.

  2. Commonalities allow people to move forward by focusing on opportunities instead of on obstacles.

  3. When we seek opportunities we will find them, which means the sky becomes the limit. While we won’t always reach the stars, we will get much closer to them than if we had set our aspirations much lower.

  4. Differences among people are not going away, so sticking your head in the sand won’t change things.

  5. Commonalities “seasoned” with differences create immense learning opportunities and unleash creativity and innovation.

  6. The emphasis is on what WILL or COULD work.

  7. Emphasizing commonalities opens the door to the best of all worlds, allowing us to move forward by learning, adapting, and growing as individuals and as organizations.

  8. Commonalities are seen as enablers – of action, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and knowledge sharing.

While it’s important to learn about what makes people different so we can understand others’ perspectives, it would be a mistake to dwell on those differences. Consider what a difference it would make in the work environment if leaders emphasized what’s common across human beings – i.e., that people generally want to succeed, to be respected and feel valued, to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to enjoy what they do. Imagine what could happen in YOUR organization if people focused on what unites them rather than on what divides them. In which environment would your employees be most productive, engaged, and committed? The choice is yours. What will it be?

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12 Ways to Reduce Workplace Struggles

Does going to work sometimes (or often) feel like you’re headed into battle? Do you feel like you have to fight “the powers that be” every day just to be able to do your job properly? Do you feel a great deal of resistance from others? Are you discouraged because you feel that no matter how hard you try, no one is listening to you? Does there seem to be a lot of unnecessary drama or angst in your workplace? Do you ever wish that work – and/or the people you work with – weren’t such a struggle?

I can relate to all of the above. At different times in my multi-career life, I have experienced all of those scenarios – and more. Those situations and environments are terribly draining – and usually unnecessary. But if you don’t know what to do to break out of them, they can bring you down physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. The good news is that there are practical ways to minimize those feelings of struggle in the workplace – and in life.

Recently I read an article about personal relationships that described how one couple refuses to experience the day-to-day differences and disappointments that are part of married life as struggles. Instead, they have chosen to work through the rocky times with humor or laughter instead of with resentment or negativity.

Since reducing one’s struggles in life sounded good to me, I wondered how to apply that suggestion to the workplace. Although humor and laughter certainly may reduce tension and provide some relief from one’s feelings of struggle, they may not work for everyone, or be appropriate in every situation. So here are a dozen other suggestions for substitutions that you can make that will help to reduce or minimize your struggles in the workplace.

Instead of this approach…

…substitute this one

1.

Presume that others have bad intentions

1.

Presume good intent, even when history shows it’s not always justified

2.

Take a judgmental approach to people, ideas, and situations

2.

Approach people and ideas with a sense of curiosity

3.

Shrink from, or try to avoid, challenges

3.

Embrace challenges for the opportunities they bring

4.

Foster a distrustful, “us vs. them” norm or culture

4.

Show by your actions that we’re all on the same team

5.

Look for reasons why things won’t work

5.

Ask how things could work

6.

Insist on perfection

6.

Imperfect success is good enough

7.

Give in to your need to show you’re right, or that you’re the smartest person in the room

7.

Check your ego at the door

8.

Force compliance on people by virtue of your authority

8.

Enable commitment by substituting personal power for position power

9.

Make everything a competition

9.

Seek collaboration

10.

Take a “my way or the highway” approach

10.

Provide options and welcome new ideas

11.

See the “glass” as half empty

11.

See the “glass” as half full

12.

Choose victimhood

12.

Make and take ownership of healthy choices

Which of the above approaches resonates the most with you? I challenge you to find just one that you think with work for you, and give it a try. You might just improve the quality of your life dramatically by minimizing your struggles!

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How to Navigate Smoothly through Life’s Transitions

Life is full of transitions. In fact, people experience dozens of transitions in their lifetimes, some of which may be easier than others. However, the fact that most human beings are resistant to change, even when we anticipate a positive outcome, means that our efforts to change involve some degree of struggle.

Think about it: our initial entry into the world involved a struggle, with some entrances more difficult than others. The journey from baby through adulthood is fraught with change-related experiences that take the form of physical, mental, and emotional exertion, drama, resistance, fights, and other forms of behavior that are anything but smooth.

The workplace also is replete with transitions – e.g., from individual to employee, employee to manager, employee to unemployed person, individual to business owner, employee or business owner to retiree. Each of these changes requires us to look at things, and do things, from a different perspective. Even when the transitions are experiences we look forward to, such as finally opening our own business or retiring after a satisfying career, they still represent change. Often we make the change process more stressful or laborious than it needs to be. Why? Because we’re human. The good news is that there are things we can do to minimize the struggles we experience during these times of transition, whether we choose them or the changes are foisted upon us.

Whether you are making or contemplating a transition, and especially if it is one that has been imposed on you rather than one you have selected freely, there are approaches you can take to mitigate the struggle from one role to the next. Here are twelve suggestions to help you make your transitions go more smoothly.

Instead of this approach…

…substitute this one

1.

Presume that others are too busy, or unwilling, to support your efforts or help you

1.

Presume others want the best for you and will support and assist you

2.

Take a judgmental approach to your own efforts to change

2.

Expect that you will make mistakes, and be kind to yourself when you do

3.

Avoid challenges by staying within your comfort zone where you feel safe

3.

Learn to become comfortable with discomfort: we grow only when we are outside our comfort zones

4.

View obstacles as roadblocks to achieving your goals

4.

Treat obstacles as opportunities to use your creativity to further your goals

5.

Look for reasons why you WON’T be able to achieve your goal

5.

Focus on HOW you will achieve your goal

6.

Insist on perfection before taking action

6.

Make “success” your standard, not perfection

7.

Refuse all offers of help out of a misplaced sense of pride or independence

7.

Check your ego at the door and allow others to help you

8.

Compare your progress or results with those of others

8.

Compare your progress to the goals you have set for yourself

9.

Take an “all or nothing” approach

9.

Look for the options or alternatives that exist between these two extremes

10.

Make things needlessly complex

10.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

11.

See “the glass” as half empty

11.

See “the glass” as half full

12.

Choose victimhood

12.

Make and take ownership of healthy choices

In short, life’s transitions bring their own challenges. Why add to them unnecessarily? Select one of the above approaches that resonates with you, and give it a try. What have you got to lose, except a more satisfying experience during life’s changes?

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Date of Publication: September 2011
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2011 © - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch