In the book, he suggests this exercise. Put pebbles or some small marker, I use blue glass beads, to represent one week in a container. Each week remove one pebble from the jar and challenge yourself to think of what you did that week to change a life. Did you make a difference for your stockholders, customers, leaders, or employees? Did you do something meaningful for someone else, personally or professionally, to make someone’s life better? Did you reach a goal or objective to help your business grow?
Veeck includes in the jar all the remaining weeks of a life, based on the average life span. His main theme is we do not have forever, so make everyday, every moment, count. That is too fatalistic and depressing for me. Instead I used the 52 weeks of the year.
Since I read the book this last May, I started with approximately 30 or so glass beads in my martini glass. Like many things we begin, I started like gangbusters the first two months, but slacked off and skipped many weeks. Today, I caught myself up to November 16.
I started with 30+ beads. In a flash, I am down to six. Wow.
It is a cliché that “Time flies by.” It is a cliché because it is true, and when something visual represents that passing, it smacks you in the face! Professionally, personally, it astounds me to think how the year has progressed in many prosperous ways. The events I have had the privilege to attend; the people I have been fortunate to meet. But also there have been a few devastating events, which I would never believe could have occurred. How about you?
It also made reflect how cyclical we think in the world. We mentally follow the seasons, but we do so only because of our human constructs. Seasonal time is a concept we build into our lives to cope with all the tasks we need to do to succeed, and we accept periods of productivity and lax, as laws of nature.
I started consulting for large corporation in the spring, but I had been their customer for years. It wasn’t until I became a part of the organization, that I realized how much we think we are moving, but we recycle much of the past. What I was asked to do as a consultant I remembered I experienced many of the same things as a customer. The more I thought about it, I realized most places I worked were like this. Maybe some details change, but one year could remarkable begin to look like another. I believe it is because we do not challenge ourselves to do much different. Trust me, I include myself in this thought.
So we accept periods of not as much productivity as Just-The-Way-Things-Are. We are full of gusto in January creating strategic plans. In the spring, strategy seems to give way to the practicality of what can we realistically accomplish. Summer everyone mentally takes a vacation, as the weather improves. For Americans, August we get back on track when the kids return to school, whether we have them or not. Fall we enjoy the cooler weather, but we are really marking time until the holidays. Once the holidays start, we rush to complete our performance reviews (which I know few people who find this a valuable exercise, but this is for another blog), and start the stressful obligations at work and home to end the year. Then we find ourselves at January again.
You are in control of this cycle. You are also in control of your direct reports cyclic behavior. My constant mantra is your employees model your behavior. Actually, everyone you connect with will follow your example, even if they do it subconsciously. How to help manage this is setting performance expectations and keep them a part of your ongoing conversations with employees.
One idea, at the beginning of the year create one of these “ Year in a Glass” containers for each of your direct reports. Every week they give you the pebble, or whatever, and tell you what they did to make a difference the prior week. It should only take a minute or two, unless a bigger performance conversation needs to occur. It keeps everyone focused on the progressive big picture, not only the tactical everyday routine of work.
Also boost team morale and increase your standing as a leader by doing the same, being accountable to them. For all, some weeks it could be something small, “Bob needed a ride home, so I was able and happy to give him one.” It could be significant; “We delivered our project, on time and slightly under budget.” It’s a part of the environment of success you create.
Your Six Weeks
So what will do you to powerfully impact these last six weeks of 2011? Make it count.
If I can help in anyway, please let me know.
Veeck, Mike and Pete Williams. Fun Is Good: How to Create Joy & Passion in Your Workplace & Career. Rodale Books, 2005.