Thursday, August 07, 2014

8 Days to 40: Lesson #6

Lesson #6:

In 2007, I began working for a Utah company called AtTask. It is a project management/work management software company. I was hired to be a trainer/consultant. My job was to work with new customers via phone, forums, in the classroom, and on-site to help them implement and adopt the software.  This was my job for my first year there. During that time, I worked with many well-known companies, including Luis Vuitton, Corporate Executive Board, Greenpeace, Smashbox Cosmetics, Cisco, and Netflix. I hadn’t been exposed to large companies in corporate settings before this job, so the experience was eye-opening and very valuable for my career.

To accomplish my job successfully, I had to help these companies carefully map out their people and processes and then integrate them with the tools the software provided. When I accepted the job, it was all about technology. I really thought that is what it was about. I was wrong.

All my clients had major issues. Some were not tech savvy at all and struggled to learn. Many had terrible, broken processes. At the root of it all I kept running into the same thing…people. Pretty much every challenge we faced was rooted in problems with people. There were very few clients who didn’t have real issues with people. From office and corporate politics to bad habits to bullies to you name it.

I would go home and tell my wife all about what I experienced. I would explain with disbelief how dysfunctional my clients were. These were some of the top, most well-known companies in the world. Yet some of them could barely manage even a meeting. It was a real struggle sometimes to make progress.

For a while, I didn’t know how to help them. I pondered it a lot. How was I supposed to help them be successful with software when they were so handicapped with their issues? How was I, the technology trainer supposed to teach them anything?!  I quipped once that I felt more like a therapist than a technologist. It was just a joke at first, but I have made a career out of being a good technology therapist.

Anyway, one Sunday I was in Priesthood class at Church and was listening to a good lesson on families and how to be better families. We were talking about different challenges we had with raising and managing our families. As I sat listening to the discussion, the Spirit came over me and All the criticism I had toward the pure stupidity of some of the things clients did came before me and I could hear myself as if I were talking to my wife about how we managed our own family. Some of the same complaints were there.

“I can’t believe that they have no idea how to plan”
“They struggle with basic communication”
“They improvise everything because they have no idea how to strategize and plan against that.”
“How can it be so hard for them to understand the basics of goals and metrics and rules and processes? I mean, it’s so basic…”

Think about it. Our clients were paying more than $200/hr for my time. They spent a ton for the software. Some clients paid more for the software than I made a year – easy. You see, in business, we invest millions into learning and implementing new stuff. We put so much effort to becoming better, to refining. Yes, sometimes business is bad at it, but they sure invest a lot of time and money trying.

Yet, I would come home to my most important portfolio, my most precious project – my family, and do everything my clients did and worse. I didn’t have a budget. I couldn’t manage a good meeting with my wife on many things. We had no goals and no metrics. We just lived day to day, dealing with marital/familial politics, finances, and communication as they came. We didn’t plan. We improvised. Every day. We didn’t truly invest in our family. We were just raising one, like weeds in the ditch to the side of the road – not a well planned garden

Oh no…I felt like a hypocrite. And to me, that is one of the worst things to feel. I sat in that room that Sunday realizing that I hadn’t put in equal effort to teach and manage my family well. We weren’t using  the right tools, our processes were either poor or undefined or non-existent, and at the root of it all was people. Us. Me. Yikes. Not a great thing to realize. But WHY? What was the issue that made it so hard? What was I missing?

I went home that day greatly motivated to figure out not just how to help my clients, but most importantly, how to help my small family become what it should. Later that day as I pondered this new perspective, the 18th verse of the 29th chapter of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, came to mind:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish:…”

I have always liked that statement, but in that moment it took on new meaning to me. You see, what I found with my clients and myself as the biggest limitation to success is and always will be vision.What my family needed was a vision and to be driven by it. Not just some general goal to be saved and return to God, but a real vision for who and what we wanted to become! We needed something to drive how we thought and acted. Actually, I personally needed it as well! 

When I returned to work, I attacked the problems with a new approach. It included backing out of the technology for a moment and having what one of my clients called an “Oprah Moment”. It was that moment when I would tell my clients to forget the technology and the processes and their problems. I would then give them a speech that would help them see the real impact the software could have not just in their company, but in their personal lives. If I could help them simply work a bit better each day and have just a little less work to do, then maybe, just maybe they would have a bit more energy for their family when they went home. Maybe they could even find a way to go home happy. I told them they had the choice to either add or take energy away from their lives, and that what they did with the tools and processes we were working on, did in fact impact that. I told them they had a choice. Either let the issues they faced continue to tell them why they couldn’t, or get the vision together and overcome and obtain.

It was interesting what such a short, but brutally honest moment could do for my clients. They latched onto it and it was usually enough to get them on-track and excited to be successful. It was a turning point of great magnitude. Eventually I began starting all my consulting engagements with the speech. We would always start with a vision.

Truthfully, I have given myself the same speech many times, and it made as much or more impact on my life.
Since 2007, I have gone on to work with hundreds of other companies in similar situations. That approach to vision and mission-driven design and implementation has never failed me.

A simple, shared vision could overcome seemingly insurmountable problems. It is the same in my life and family. When we have a defined vision and align our goals and activities with that vision, we can truly accomplish miracles. I have witnessed it in business, family, and myself.

The question is, do you have a vision? Really? Is it written down and defined? Do you have defined goals and metrics for yourself and your family? Do you measure your activities for success and for alignment to make sure your efforts are moving you forward toward your vision? Do you treat them with the same importance you would your business or your job? If you don’t, I ask this…would you do the same for your business? Or for your sports team or your relationships? I don’t know for you, but I know it is hard to do and I still have a long way to go to being great at it. But it is also critical for success.

I fear most of us are WAY too causal and haphazard with the amazing gift of our families. I know I am at times. The truth? Our lives, our families really are our most important projects and portfolios. Doesn’t it merit at the least, the effort and time we put into other areas of our lives and the same discipline of vision, goals, measurement, utilizing the best tools, fixing processes, and investing into fixing problem areas? Yes, I know it is – and the return on that investment is an eternal one without end.
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