Friday, January 28, 2011

Are you prepared for opportunity? The Caleb Hanie Story.

With the NFL conference championships complete from last weekend, there is plenty of discussion regarding Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler’s injury and if it should have kept him out of the game. I think the conversation is about the wrong quarterback. I was most impressed by third-string and third-year player Caleb Hanie, who nearly pulled out the game for the Bears.

Replacing second string QB Todd Collins with a few seconds left in the third quarter (and per NFL rules ensuring that he would have play the remainder of the game), Heine looked like the best Bears quarterback that day.

As the designated third string quarterback, Hanie was inactive unless injuries or quality of play called him into service. Third string quarterbacks rarely play, because if they enter the game prior to the 4th quarter, the other two quarterbacks cannot come back into the game. Hanie had played in only two games this year and thrown only seven passes. For his career, he had only played in four games, thrown 14 passes and no touchdowns. So the likelihood of him playing in the NFC Championship was pretty remote. In fact, he probably didn’t get many (if any) practice snaps with the first team during the week.

Yet when his number was called, he was ready.

He did throw two interceptions, one of which was run back for a touchdown. But he also drove the Bears down the field for a touchdown in 81 seconds after that mistake. He looked prepared and was poised on the field. Now who knows if he will ever have the chance to play as a starter or regular quarterback, but his performance made me think about the situation he was in, much like the situations we can find ourselves in.

Hanie was likely not going to get an opportunity to perform, but he must have prepared like he would have the opportunity. When Cutler went down, they turned to Collins and he was unable to move the team (and was likely injured as well). Then the coach Lovie Smith turned to the unheard of Hanie. And he was ready for the opportunity when it presented itself. Would you have prepared to be ready like he was?

Knowing that your preparation would likely not result in any chance to perform on the big stage, would you have put in the time to understand the competition and be ready? More importantly, is your business preparing like that every day for the customer or project that you don’t think you will get (or don’t even know about today), but if you do would change the game for you? I believe the saying is true: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Some would say Hanie was lucky to have such a great game in front of a national audience. I believe it was more likely about his work and preparation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Get Others On Board With a Plan B Mindset

It’s one thing to get your own mind to be open to adaptability in a changing environment – what I call a Plan B Mindset. It’s an entirely different thing to get your team (whether they work for you, with you or you work for them) to open their mind to the same possibilities. One of the questions I get most is, “how do I get others around me to see the world in the same way?” While the question isn’t only unique to being mentally nimble, it is important to truly build an adaptable culture.

I thought I would share a few quick thoughts in how I worked to keep people aligned and being adaptable, even if it’s not in their nature:

1. Turn the question from “why we can’t” to “how could we?” It’s amazing how many people want to be the Devil’s Advocate. I work hard to ban the language from my teams – there are enough devils around, we need people who can look at issues and strategy from a curious perspective. Curiosity is an amazing gift. A powerful question to ask when someone launches into the “why it won’t work” or “why we can’t” diatribe, is “how could it work?” I think about the old Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial – “you put your chocolate in my peanut butter!” How can we combine things to make something new? How can we look at the issue from an entirely different perspective to see a new solution.

Turning the question from a negative one to a positive one helps everyone explore the issue – what would have to be in place in order to make a strategy work? If the pieces of it are too far beyond the realm of possibility, then maybe it actually can’t work. But by exploring those options, you might find a new pathway where most people saw only brick walls.

2. Don’t focus on the personalities, focus on the issues. It is easy for us to focus on the people and personalities – who is doing what, who got a new position and what does that mean, what the latest press release from a company was. Let’s be clear: working with a Plan B in mind doesn’t mean that we change directions every 38 seconds. What we have to do is separate the noise from the actual story – what is changing in the market and what implications does that have on our product, company or project? Does that mean we get it right every time? No, of course not. Sometimes the people and the drama are the story. But often they are just the noise. The important part is to talk out loud and dialogue about the difference.

3. Stories are powerful. Find examples of how being nimble and flexible helped your company, a project, your competitor – anything that can help people see a different future. People need concrete examples of the future and stories help people connect strategy and theory with how it works in the real world. Stories are how we each connect ourselves to the world around us. For most people, the example (not even a story) above of Reece’s Peanut Butter cups brought back an image of the commercial and reminded us that two things can be combined into something better (see the original on YouTube below). If a picture is worth a thousand words, a story is worth a thousand PowerPoint slides.

4. Keep people focused on the vision. If you can get people to agree that the vision is still intact, then you can begin to gain agreement on being flexible with the tactics. After all, if tactic A is not working, why wouldn’t we try tactic B to achieve our common goal. We can all become invested in our tactics. We worked hard to come up with them. We have tried hard to make them work. It is difficult to let go and try something else. But the important part is the end result – if we can all stay focused on the vision, then the way in which we get there becomes less personal.

These are my tips for keeping people focused on adaptability – in a Plan B Mindset. There are obviously many more as there are literally thousands of books on alignment and change efforts. I am a fan of Kotter’s book on Leading Change (summary of his eight-steps here or the book at Amazon). The most important point is to begin to shift the mindset of those around you. One of my business coaches ( makes the point that if you are going to the moon, a one degree shift is significant. I agree that in business, getting people to make a one-degree shift is significant as well. Inertia is hard to overcome and movement – even one degree – can help in the alignment.