Monday, May 20, 2013

Back to the future!

Why does it seem that we always have so many big problems to deal with? You would think there would come a point when all of those major issues would be dealt with and we could relax – just a little. But they keep on coming, and on any given day our list of problems is as large as before.

If you consider this situation over a relatively short term (that will vary based on your type of job and industry), that certainly may be reality. But, let’s consider what happens over a much longer period of time. Again, this may be a year or longer depending on your particular situation. Especially if you’ve been brought in to “clean up” an area or a product, you are probably looking at time periods of a year or longer.

Let's do a little time travel, shall we?

Take a look at the actual “big” issues that you are dealing with now, and compare them to the big ones you were battling a year ago (or some reasonable time interval). Try to actually recover your issues list from back then through email trails, notebooks you keep, status reports you wrote, or any other means. Look at each set (past and present) and score them as “big”, “medium”, or “small” in terms of their level of severity. Of course, we are assuming that your basic job and responsibilities are about the same.

Now, compare the two sets of issues. In some situations, the comparative severities might not have changed much. But, if you’ve been working to improve your people, improve communications, update inefficient processes, and generally help the team be more productive, you may find that the average level of severity is a little less dire right now.

Sure, you still have problems to deal with – you always will. And, from your perspective, you still have “big” problems that need to be fixed. But items that you currently consider “big” might only have made the “medium” category a year ago. It’s just that when you solve all your bigger problems, your smaller ones become your bigger ones. You have to step back, look at the issues you and your team are contending with, and realize that things might actually be getting better overall.

At times that I’ve done this with my teams, we’ve actually said things like, “Wow, these are the things we actually consider to be our biggest problems now!?!” Getting that fresh perspective is important for your own well-being – as well as the team’s. Again, there will always be problems, but it’s both gratifying and vital to recognize improvement having occurred. Otherwise, if all the work isn’t resulting in overall improvement, why bother? And if it is, then making folks feel good for their accomplishments is an important step in providing yet more motivation to continue the effort.

More importantly – you have to recognize your successes. It’s great if you have a boss that showers you with praise for your wins more frequently than your annual performance review. But, let’s face it, that can be rare. You probably beat yourself up enough over the things that go wrong. So, you have to look at what you’ve done right, and pat yourself on the back. Even if you do that on a short-term basis, it’s important to consider the long-term effects of your efforts as well. And when you can look at your own set of “big” problems and chuckle to yourself, “Wow, these are the worst problems I have!?!” you’ll sleep much better that night.

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