Leadership Hacks to Improve Performance

It’s difficult to keep up with the speed at which information and decisions are moving in our technology-driven world. This has created a new range of challenges for us when trying to execute strategic plans in these fast-paced environments. This has intensified the dilemma of having too much to do in too little time, with many people feeling a sense of overwhelming as they look for new ways of doing things.

Leadership Hacks: A faster approach for a faster world

A leadership hack is anything that helps you (or your people) accomplish more in less time. This can include:

·      Shortcuts that many not be commonly known

·      Simplified steps to make a task easier to do

·      Fast-track processes that speed things up

·      Any approach that simplifies and speeds up a task

To accomplish more you need to hack your current approach with new ways of thinking and influencing that will enable you to do more in less time.

Individual Leadership Hacks maximise your performance

A common pattern for many people is to constantly check and recheck their inbox, which fragments focus and can also interfere with decision making. Resist this temptation.

Take the time to turn off notifications and if you really need to focus on completing a task, put the mobile phone in the drawer, you can check it when you are finished. Increase the speed of going through your inbox by using these 4 steps. 1) Quickly scan through your inbox to get a quick understanding of the emails, 2) Delete the emails that are not necessary, 3) Sort the remaining emails by importance, and 3) Respond accordingly. This is a simple hack that can allow you to clear your inbox in less time and help you stay focused. 

One on one Leadership Hacks empower direct report performance

Let’s be honest there are tasks that you should delegate that you hold onto. 

Many of us don’t delegate because we do not want to take the time or don’t trust the abilities of that person. A Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Why aren’t you delegating?’ found that almost 50% of companies were concerned about the delegation abilities of their people and most did not offer any training on how to delegate.  A delegation hack could change this dynamic into one that empowers an individual and frees up time for the leader.

Invest 10-15 minutes to work with the individual to create a 1 page plan. Rather than tell them what you want them to do, start by asking them what they think the steps should be and guide them. Capture what they share on an ipad or piece of paper to ensure understanding. Once the steps are identified, ask them what order should be taken in executing the steps and mentor them toward the most efficient method. To finalise the delegation hack schedule a couple of check-ins where they will update you and show you their progress. 

By implementing a number of leadership hacks, you can fast-track your performance and accomplish more in less time.

How to Get Your Priorities Right

For centuries Native people around the world had to prioritise what was important for them to survive. Many of them followed a Sacred Order, sequence followed to ensure survival in any given environment.

If you look around our world today, many of us are having a more difficult time to identify what is important in our lives and how to prioritise where we put our energy and focus into.  Even some of the research is showing how many people are feeling unfulfilled or a bit lost and start to question what is important.

We can however learn from the ancient wisdom that was passed down from these native people. Here are 3 strategies to help us get our priorities right.

Strategy #1: Track the Signs

To get back on path and ensure that you are doing the things that matter, you need to be aware of what you are currently putting your time and energy into. This is more than just taking a minute to look up from your computer screen and think about your ‘to do’ task list for the day. It is about taking an objective view of what you have been actually doing and checking to see if it is right or not.

Start tracking your past behaviour and where you have been spending your time. Think of yourself and an ancient tracker that is reviewing the ‘footprints’ that have been left behind. What would all of your tracks and activities show about where you invested your time and energy? Would these ‘prints’ show your spending time on the things that are important to you? With the people that are important to you? Or would it show that you have been too busy on other things? By tracking the signs you can look objectively around your current activity—and what you may need to start changing to getting you back on path.

Strategy #2: Seek the Wisdom of Elders

As we get older we gain more experience and insights into different situations, which often allows us to be more understanding or gain wisdom. Unfortunately our western society often does not value the wisdom and insights of the older generation.

Native people had a deep respect for their elders because of the vast array of knowledge they held and would often seek them out when faced with a major decision. We should do this more often. You should identify a number of elders that you respect and admire for their wisdom that could provide you with advice and guidance to help you get your priorities right. Often, they will allow you to see the things you don’t and help you get back on path after a 10-minute conversation.

 Strategy #3: Listen to Your Inner Vision 

Inner vision is the voice that comes from deep within our soul that communicates to us on a deeper level. It is not just a trivial voice in our head, it is our intuition, a gut feeling or a sixth sense that we can use to help us do the right thing.

Think back to a time when you knew something deep inside to be true. You may not have had the facts or evidence but you knew it to be correct and this came into reality.  As human beings were a wired to be guided by this, we may just need to retrain ourselves and start listing to our inner vision, which will show us what is important to us.

It is easy to get distracted and mix up what is important to us, however by using these simple strategies you can help get your priorities right.

Hacking the 5 Distractions to Productivity

Research shows up to 65% of future leaders feel busy all the time. When this happens, productivity starts to suffer, and you can get distracted. The trick is finding easy ways to keep track of these distractions and limit them.

Here I share five common distractions you need to hack to ensure you don’t get diverted. 

Distraction #1 Lack of Energy

The flurry of constant activity and the need to be switched on all the time takes a lot of energy—and this is what limits many people from achieving as much as they could. The Huffington Post’s Anne Loehr reported in 2014 that the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute (HPI) found when you’re constantly physically and mentally taxed, your energy drains and your effectiveness diminishes, and you start to lose your edge—just like a professional athlete. To stay productive, you need to take the time to recharge your batteries. This includes managing sleep, diet and exercise to maintain your energy.

Distraction #2 Wrong Mindset and Self Doubt

Too often, self-doubt gets in the way and starts to stall forward progress. This can show up as an inner dialogue guiding you when you’re in your leadership role. If these voices start creating doubt, it’s easy to start second-guessing what needs to be done. This creates a distraction that can take you off track. By gathering feedback from those you trust you can ensure that you keep the right mindset. 

Distraction #3 Time Fillers and the Biological Need to Be Busy

We seem to be wired to believe that if we’re not constantly doing something we’re wasting our time. A famous experiment in the 1950’s by James Olds & Peter Milner placed small electrodes in the brains of rats to stimulate the part of the brain that released dopamine whenever the rat pressed a lever. The result was rats becoming addicted to pressing the lever up to 700 times an hour. We as humans have a similar response mechanism to dopamine. We’ve become so highly strung that we need to be busy all the time. And worse still, people get caught on a treadmill where it doesn’t matter what they’re doing if they’re busy at it.

For many of us we need to stop and think about why we are doing something and make sure it is not just to fulfil the need to feel busy. 

Distraction #4 Technology and how it Overwhelms

Focusing on what’s important is becoming harder due to the constant barrage of digital information and technological overload. People are being distracted by things that are not relevant or important. It’s estimated that, on average, we have 4000 thoughts per day flying in and out of our minds. This makes it extremely challenging to focus on any one thought for a period before technology introduces another random thought to distract you. Make sure that you control your use of technology and not the other way around. 

Distraction #5 Interruptions that Steal Your Time

Interruptions from staff, work colleagues, suppliers, customers and any other area that may distract your flow and use of time slow you down. If you analyse these external distractions, they fall into the common categories of what we can see, what we can hear and what we can touch or more accurately how the surrounding environment can impact us. Keep track of which interruptions are taking your time and develop strategies to limit them. 

Regardless of the distraction, identifying ways to reduce interference and increasing your effectiveness by implementing fast track strategies or hacks to accomplish more in less time are important solutions. Often just being aware of the distractions is half the battle.

Are Team Meetings a Waste of Time?

One of the biggest workplace challenges is finding time to complete your work and attend meetings.  With the increase in digital technology, email and video meetings you’d expect that the number of meetings have decreased. Unfortunately research shows the opposite with a recent Harvard Business Review article showing that many executives are spending 23 hours per week in meetings, with 65% of managers saying that these meetings kept them from completing their work.

Most finance executives know the importance of having a meeting agenda that is created before the meeting to help ensure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting and the relevant meeting logistics such as timing, location and who will be in attendance.  One of the biggest challenges when it comes to meetings is identifying the true purpose of the meeting and selecting the correct meeting process to follow to enable you to achieve the outcomes desired.

Selecting the wrong type of meeting will result in a waste of time that will often frustrate most of the attendees.  The key is selecting the right type of meeting—especially when it comes to critical financial trends, challenges and decisions.  There are four types of meetings, and each of them has a different purpose and process:  Reporting/Check-in, Problem-Solving, Decision-Making, and Strategy-Development.

Reporting/Check-in Meeting

Reporting meetings are one of the most common meeting formats.  They often start with managers providing an update on their department.  They can be useful if the format is tight and those doing the reporting are clear and organised in what they communicate. Mike Azbell, former VP & Financial Controller for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation found taking financial data from over 175 countries with 100 manufacturing locations needed to be done accurately and within tight timeframes.  Together with his team, he did not run a typical boring meeting, instead they would have a 15 minute working meeting at the beginning and end of each day. 

To keep these meetings on track, ideally they follow a three step process.  Step 1:  Communicate Results/KPI’s, Step 2:  Share immediate plan or activity to be taken and Step 3:  Identify any issues or assistance needed (which would occur in a separate problem-solving meeting).  To streamline time, they also used visual management systems and dashboards showing current performance and next steps.

Problem-Solving Meeting

Problem-solving meetings  are held to bring together a team of people to share ideas for solving a particular problem or challenge.  These meetings involve more than just someone asking for assistance with something and are effective as long as everyone stays focused on the problem.

There are many ways to run a problem-solving meeting, but there are five common steps that can hack any problem-solving meeting.  Step 1:  Identify the problem, Step 2: Identify possible solutions, Step 3: Discuss and rank solutions, Step 4: Agree on a solution and Step 5:  Identify who will take what action by when.  Although these are often common sense, in many meetings some of these steps are missed, leading to further complications.

Decision-Making Meeting

Decision-making meetings take place after the facts and figures about a particular issue have been circulated and people have had time to understand and identify the decision they are being asked to make.  To be successful, it needs to be clear what the topic is that a decision has to be made about and every team member has to communicate whether they agree or disagree with a potential decision.

For senior executives and finance directors, this method is often used when passing corporation bylaws, which require a formal decision-making meeting with minutes recorded for compliance and legal requirements.

Strategy-Development Meeting

These are usually complex types of meetings because they involve the setting of a company or department’s future direction, as well as the strategy or initiatives required to achieve these desired objectives.  Because of this complexity, these meetings are usually held over several days and many executives dread attending them.  If there is no efficient process in place the meeting can turn into a massive talkfest with those who are the loudest getting their ideas pushed forward.  

A great strategy development methodology is Compression Planning™ which uses visual storyboards and index cards which allows everyone to contribute ideas that are captured on cards.  These ideas are pinned to the boards and then voted on by the group.  It also uses timed topic exploration using a timer and often a neutral facilitator to keep the group on track. What normally takes 4-5 days of strategic planning can be condensed into 1-2 days using Compression Planning™. For those that are tech-savvy, the Miro online program can allow people to share ideas on virtual cards and organise them in a similar methodology.

Everyone knows that meetings are important, the challenge is selecting the right type of meeting and the right meeting process to ensure that your finance meeting does not fall into the ‘waste of time’ category.  Given the importance that financials have on the success of most businesses, CFO’s will need to lead the charge in running meetings that work.

Here are 5 things that put high achievers ahead of the rest of us

Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Report showed that 52% of generation Z and millennials are likely to change their employers this year, which for many may mean it is time to step up into a new role. 

So how do we stand out as someone that is ready to progress in our career into the next leadership role? Here are 5 key things that High achievers do that separate them from the pack.

#1 Ability to Be Productive Anywhere

Regardless of if they are in the office or working remotely, high achievers know how to get more things done in less time.  During pandemic lockdowns research reported that 94% of employees surveyed kept their productivity the same or higher as before. 

 Now that many people have moved back to the office, many managers are noticing productivity has started to slip as people get distracted trying to work in blended environments.  High achievers are productive by allocating time to two types of activity. 1) Work Activity that is about focusing on completing tasks required in the role, and 2) Recharge Activity that enables them to recharge their mindset and energy and continue being productive throughout the day. This can include going for a brisk walk to get some fresh air or taking 20 minutes for stretching, yoga or meditation.

#2 Focus on the Future

When starting to work on projects, high achievers continue to focus on the future. They allocate time to both immediate tasks as well as look for future opportunities. This allows them to allocate time for the urgent tasks as well as regularly invest the necessary time developing skills and innovative thinking with an eye on the future.

Rather than making limited short-term decisions for quick wins, they take a longer commercially smart approach by identifying and communicating the future ROI of the projects that they are leading and how this can help better position their company (and themselves) for the future.

#3 Delegate Effectively

Many people can effectively complete a task on their own unfortunately the trick comes when they need someone else to do this task for them. A high achiever has the ability to delegate to other people, so they understand what to do and are motivated to take action. Delegation is more than just telling people what to do and hoping for the best outcome. 

High achievers work with their people to identify the plan forward and empower them to complete these tasks without micromanaging them. The use delegation hacks to ensure that they delegate the right task at the right level to the right person in the right way at the right time.

#4 Communicate Clearly

Communication can be a challenging task when you are working in a hybrid workplace with some people in the office and some working remotely. Many people are struggling with the transition to the new workplace with too much, too little or inconsistent information being communicated via email.

 To help adjust to this shift, high achievers focus on communicating clearly with others. When communicating via email they make it easier for the recipient. They use an email send hack that informs the recipient of one of 5 actions to take: FYI, Need information, Decision, Action to Take, or Meeting required.

#5 Collaborate Quickly

Everyone knows that a team is stronger than the individual and high achievers are no exception. They find ways to collaborate with others and share the responsibility as well as the success when things are achieved. 

When starting a project high achievers take an open approach with others working in a collective way to identify the way forward. They often capture ideas visually to allow everyone involved with the opportunity to see and fully understand what needs to be done. By taking the role of a facilitator they allow a collective group of people to move faster toward completing a task.

Currently there is a tremendous opportunity for high achievers to advance to the next level. The key is implementing leadership hacks that can fast track your performance and your career.

Struggling to Stay Focused at Work?

Do you ever find yourself drifting off during the work day? Losing your focus during certain hours of the workday?

If so here are 3 great hacks that can help you stay focused and productive.

Hack #1 Work on Challenging Tasks During Peak Energy Times

We have all had a task or project that we had to complete, but procrastinated starting it. One of the common patterns that people fall into is that they just do not feel like they have the energy or mindset to work on this challenging task. One key technique or hack you can use is to prioritise tasks that require more thought or focus to times when energy is working in your favour. As human beings we have different metabolisms where our energy is highest–and it is easier to focus. These natural energy peaks can be early morning, mid morning, middle of the day, early afternoon, later afternoon or evening. One hack to being more focused at work is to prioritise tasks that are more challenging during your peak energy time. This makes it easier to start, easier to think and easier to complete the things that we procrastinate.

Hack #2 Control Technology & How You Use It

Have you ever just quickly checked your Facebook page and got distracted looking at posts and realised you just lost 20 minutes of time? Yes, me too. One of the challenges of smartphones and digital technology is that we can easily become distracted from something that we need to focus on at work. This can be the automatic notification of the next email that has arrived in our inbox to the vibration of our phone from the last voicemail message. Every time we get distracted by this technology, we are losing valuable time and focus. Control your digital technology by turning off those notifications and reducing the number of times you check your email and social media. 

Hack #3: Send Emails that Are Easy for Others to Action

For most of us we need to send emails as part of our role. The challenge is that many of us have not been trained on how to write an email that is easy to read and easy for others to follow. When you type an email make sure that it is not just a bunch of words that look bland and force the recipient to take the time to read everything. How can you do this? By adding visual texture to your emails. Use bold, bullets and headers to make it easier for people to read–and understand your message. If you want to focus even further, you can put in the subject line one of the five outcomes that we are trying to achieve by sending the email which includes: FYI, Need Information, Decision, Action to Take or Meeting required. By focusing on these hacks you can make it easier for them to take action.

 If you’d like further Leadership Hacks, for yourself or your team, I’d be happy to give you a hand.

Productivity for Working Remotely

How do we keep staff productive whilst working remotely?   Research during the pandemic lockdowns showed that large amounts of staff felt burnout and isolated when they worked nonstop with their eyes glued to a computer monitor for eight to ten hours a day.
To ensure productivity for working remotely we need to safeguard staff so they don’t fall into past routine. We need to help shift their mindset to the way they work when working remotely.  To help them be productive and happy here are 3 key activity types to focus on when working remotely:  work, recharge and relax.
Work Activity
Work activity is the activity that staff are tasked to do on a daily basis, which takes up the majority of their time and energy.  Just like working in the office, these remote work tasks are generally easy to identify and include day to day responsibilities that people normally do.  For remote staff this activity will often include both working ‘in the business’ on short term immediate things that are due and working ‘on the business’ which involves longer term projects.
When staff remove the daily commute to the office they have more time.  Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed during the pandemic remote workers worked on average 48.5 more minutes per day.  It is no wonder that productivity during the pandemic increased as remote staff spent almost an extra hour a day working! The challenge was this pace of remote work is not sustainable and resulted in many staff being burned out.  This is why the next two types of activity are so important to remote work.
Recharge Activity
How many times have you worked a long stretch in front of a computer and realised that you were a bit drained and not as productive or clear thinking as normal?  This is what happens to remote staff when they do not take a break to recharge and continue working at their laptop screen hour after hour.  
In a normal office environment, people take mini breaks to chat to a colleague or get a takeaway coffee by walking to a café five minutes from the office.  This allows us to recharge our energy physically and mentally.  However, when people work remotely, they can often feel a bit guilty about taking this break as it can be seen as wasting time.  This often encourages staff to work longer before taking a break to recharge.
A recharge activity boosts our energy and lifts our focus on the work tasks that we need to do.  This can be taking the dog for a 20minute walk at afternoon tea to shift the energy in the afternoon or meeting a colleague for a quick lunch meeting at a local café.  The key is to ensure that the recharge activity is a mini break that only takes a small amount of time and helps put energy back into people.  
Relax Activity
Another common challenge when working remotely is that the workday starts extending longer and longer into the evening.  When working remotely it can be a bit tricky to separate work time from personal time.   I worked with a manager who mixed up these hours and did not realise it until her children started complaining about the fact that they had been eating dinner at 9pm almost every night for the past month.  Unfortunately, she did not create boundaries to ensure that work activity did not take over her life.  
If we want staff to sustain productivity and be happy, they need to be able to stop work and just relax.  To help them, discuss what time they will stop their work activity and encourage them to take time to relax.  If they have been working on a large project and putting in a lot of work hours, have them take half a day off to relax and do something that will allow them to have a break.    
With remote work here to stay, if we help staff understand the 3 types of activity they can be improve both their productivity and their happiness. 

Building Future Leaders

“We’re trying to get things back to normal, but it feels like a lot of my staff feel a bit stuck at the moment.  They have a massive workload, and we are trying to make the hybrid workplace work and still not where we need to be yet.”

This came from a conversation I had with a Senior Leader this week.  He knew that he needed to do something to keep the next generation of leaders developing, but he was concerned.  Many had been working more hours to keep up with the workload and several were starting to show signs of fatigue.

When you have done something that is exhausting, sometimes it is important to get some re-motivation and new ideas to help you and your people gain some momentum. Rather than just slogging away and hoping for this inspiration to come in between the massive workload, many people need something else. So what can you do?

A smart way to do this is to sign up for the Future of Leadership Conference.  These incredible one and half day events have started to be rolled out across Australia and the feedback has been incredible.  You and your leaders get the chance to learn from some of the best minds in the country.

You will need to be quick as only the Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth locations are remaining and they will be once again a great way to re-motivate yourselves and your people.

Please click here to find out more and join us as and support Hands Across the Water.  I will be speaking in Adelaide on the 19th of May and Perth on the 20th of May so it will be great to see some of my clients and friends that I have missed during the lockdowns.  Use the Promo code Scott15 to receive 15% off.

Will You Make Pasta for Mothers Day?

I am very lucky to live in a wonderful place that is close to the beach and has incredible places to eat.  One of our family’s favourite places to eat is Pilu/Acquafresca because of the authentic Italian food.  I have known Giovanni Pilu for over 15 years, we met when our daughter started school together.  I have watched in admiration as he gained many accolades including achieving two hats for his amazing food.

To help others learn the art of making pasta, he held a pasta making class.  With Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, I quickly bought a few tickets to take both my wife and my mother-in-law (ok, I admit I was getting some positive deposits into the emotional bank account, but it was amazing!)  We had a wonderful experience learning about the different (and easy) ways to make fresh pasta at home and of course enjoyed the fresh pasta afterward.

As Giovanni took us through the art of making pasta, everyone was listening to the wisdom that he shared.  The way he spoke about the importance of the ingredients (fresh healthy flour, not high processed cheap store flour!) and the importance of the sauce and how this can bring together the entire dish.

What I especially liked is how he has a ritual with his family where they will all make the pasta together and then roll or shape it for their dinner.  It sounds like a great way to have a nice red wine and enjoy the company of family.  We have already committed to doing this as a family and we are looking forward to putting into practice the skills we just learned.

So what will you be doing to make Mother’s Day this weekend special?  How can you show your appreciation to those that have helped to raise children and be a positive influence in their life?  Sometimes we get so busy with everything else that we forget to make these moments special, especially for those that we are truly grateful for.  Don’t wait to plan something on Sunday morning, take some time now to plan to make it a special day.  I can also highly recommend making some pasta!

If you are looking for another type of food, maybe something to help feed your soul, I would like to invite you to the Future of Leadership 1 Day Conference that supports Hands Across the Water. Please click here to find out more and join us as I will be speaking in Adelaide on the 19th of May and Perth on the 20th of May so it will be great to see some of my clients and friends that I have missed during the lockdowns.  Use the Promo code Scott15 to receive 15% off.

The World Needs more Thinkers

A very close friend of mine, Bud Matkowski, passed away this week.  He was a friend that I met whilst studying Native American survival and philosophy 30 years ago in the US.  Over the years we stayed in touch with me traveling to visit him (including doing a Vision Quest on his property) and him traveling to Australia to visit me.  He came from a working class background and built an incredible log cabin in the woods of Maine before he was diagnosed with Leukaemia in his 60’s and successfully overcame it with a bone marrow transplant.  

He was such an insightful person full of amazing wisdom that I made sure to introduce to my children, bringing each of them separately from Australia to spend time with him for a week in the Maine woods (my eldest daughter is his god daughter).  One of the things that I enjoyed the most was our long conversations about life.  Not just the superficial talks that most of us have with others, but the real deep conversations about how important it is to live our lives and make a difference to those around us. 

Bud believed that the world needs more thinkers.  Because we are so busy rushing from one thing to the next, many of us get into a pattern of exhaustion, only to realise that we have lost a few months of time that could have been fully lived (and wow doesn’t social media, binging on Netflix and television eat up our time!)  When we were trained, many of the Native American elders looked at the western world and identified us as ‘walking coffins of flesh’ because we are so busy doing things that are not important that our souls start to die and not living the life we were meant to.

Parents watch their children grow up and before they know it, they are out of the house and that precious time together is gone.  As we grow, we forget the importance of connecting with our parents and elders and those that made such a positive impact on our lives.  The reason?  We are often too busy to take the time to think and remember who guided us and the conversations we had to help us think about what is truly important.

So when was the last time you had a real thought about life and who the important people are in your life?  Are you taking the time to think about your life to ensure you are living the life that you are meant to live, rather than aimlessly drifting in a job or relationship that is not serving you?

When we start to truly think about our life and what we want, we can start manifesting the life that we are supposed to live.  Bud was an incredible example of someone that took the time to think and live the life he was supposed to live.  I am proud to have called him my friend, but in reality he was my mentor who taught me many things.  We need more people like Bud.  The world needs more thinkers.