For my youngest son, putting on his shoes is a BIG JOB. Catch him in the right mood, and he’ll get it done. But if there’s the slightest distraction in his path or in his mind, if he’s upset about something, if there’s an excuse, he’ll take forever to put them on, stropping all the way.
You are probably something of a professional when it comes to putting on your shoes.
Which things are you avoiding, putting off, getting distracted from?
Things get easier if you do them all the time. You know what to do, how to do it, where to find what you need to do it – and perhaps most importantly, that you can and will do it.
What’s your daily?
When you’re in the way of doing something you’ve develop the practical, mental and emotional muscle memory that makes it easy for you to get it done, which is not necessarily the same as it being easy to do.
When you’re in the way of something, you also have far more bandwidth to apply elsewhere. We often spend this bandwidth on other things (continuing a conversation, watching or listening to something), which is fine… but for important jobs, we can use that bandwidth to find ways to do them even better.
This is how to become a professional.
Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?
Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.
Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?
Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*
*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.
Make something people can use.
Put it in their hands.
See what happens.
If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.
Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.
If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.
What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?
You’ve got it when they’ve got it.
You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.
You can fill a bucket pretty quickly under a tap. But try and fill a lot of buckets at once – a drip here, a squirt there – and it can take a long time before you have enough to work with in any of your buckets. And you’re probably wasting time, energy and water moving constantly between them.
Love it or loathe it, you’ve got to know where the money’s going to come from, and where it all goes.
Get it right from the start – it’s essential to the health and credibility of your project or organisation.
It also works like an extra sense, helping you spot trends, opportunities and issues earlier than you might have otherwise.
Financial Intelligence, Revised Edition: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean by Karen Berman and Joe Knight is a really great place to start.
Two approaches to getting work done:
The Big Push
The Big Push works well for defined tasks with clear deadlines. Block out some time, gather what you need, and thrash. Get the job done.
It works especially for urgent tasks – a sales or funding proposal – and there are plenty of other tasks that it’s worth giving a Big Push just to get them done:
- Creating a new service or resource
- Filming a video
- Launching a new website
- Prepping a presentation or event
- The Annual Report
There are other things, though, that are important (though probably not urgent) that benefit from regular attention. These are usually jobs that are open-ended by nature. You can’t finish them, but they’ll cause a crisis (or at least, damage your capacity) if you don’t identify them and set aside regular time to work on them:
- Financial structures
- Maintaining and improving policy documents
- Investing time with your team for both management and team-building
- Keeping a website up-to-date
- Making contact with potential partners and seeking out opportunities to share about your work
- Non-urgent supporter relations
Little and often.
Drip by drip.
Where’s the starting line?
Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us: we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.
We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.
How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?
What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?
When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?
*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.
Richard Hackman‘s second lens on teams and team performance is about the team getting better at what it does over time.
If you’re leading a team, your evaluation of the team’s performance can’t be based solely on whether you delivered the goods last time. You’ve got a bigger picture to think about, including whether your team is getting better over time.
Team growth is key too: “What happens to the team itself over time? Does it grow in capability? Is it a better performing unit after its completed this project than it was before?Richard Hackman
As your team delivers the goods this time, is it getting stronger and better able to deliver the goods next
- Is the team clear about a shared vision what it’s trying to achieve and where it’s going?
- Are your values being strengthened through this project or are they compromised and in danger of withering?
- Are you developing shared standards and practices that will make doing the same jobs easier tomorrow?
- Are team members getting better at their individual roles?
- Are you getting better at communicating, cooperating, helping each other out, having fun while you work?
- Is the wrapper of essential resources and partnerships around the team being strengthened? (think ecosystem, not machine)
I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.
This is the ninth post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.
Rule 9: Become ever more professional
Professionals do it right, they make it work, and they don’t take it personally.Seth Godin
Of course your non-profit organisation should be professional.
You need to:
- Show up – be there for the people you seek to serve
- Show up – it takes time to get good at what you do
- Show up – you need to go deep in the context that you’re serving, know your clients and their context really, really well. Few people do this
- Show up – for your clients and your team, especially when you don’t feel like it today
- Keep your promises
- Do good work that no-one else can do (if only because no-one else will)
- Make it work – which might mean going beyond your technical contribution and paying attention to the necessary ‘wrapper‘
- Understand the full stack of skills that make your organisation’s work possible, and get a working knowledge of as many of them as you can
- Find partners, colleagues, friends who complement your skills and personality
- Learn to get help, delegate
- Do you work in the right way – find lasting solutions that don’t sacrifice things that are important to you on the way
- Stay client-focused – there might be a ‘show’, and you might even have a big role, but it isn’t about you
- Stay honest – the professional pushes back against donors with ideas that won’t work, or won’t help even if they do work, or that aren’t really about the clients (see Rule 1)
- Stay honest – be clear about what you do and don’t, explain what’s not working, own your mistakes
- Find the right price for your work – a price that enables you to do it sustainably and with space for human connection, ensuring of course that your work is worth more than people pay for it
- Create more value than you capture
- Communicate clearly – you have to take responsibility for knowing your audience, for being clear and convincing, for stopping from time to time to make sure you’re being understood
- Build assets – deliberately do things that will make it easier tomorrow
- Be there early
- Start on time
- Stop on time
- Stopping on time means, with enough time to talk to people afterwards
- Create boundaries that allow you to do good work, and to be generous
- Be committed – overcome The Resistance (ala Pressfield)
- Read and learn – all the time
- Read within your field
- Read outside your field
- Read fiction, poetry – they’ll enrich what you do
- Apply what you learn – try new things
- Understand how new technologies have and are changing your work
- Try to see the future
- Think about what you do
- Write about what you do
- Connect with others that do what you do, or things like it
- Be generous – share what you know
I’m stopping writing now, so that I can go and show up for some people by making pancakes.