Un-Stuck: Improve Your Performance
Un-stuck - a TEDx Presentation
It was a real treat to give a TEDx talk last week in Greenville, SC. The theme for the TEDx program selection committee was “Living Your Life by Design!” Wow, that is a tall order for a 15-minute talk! Imagine what it would mean to truly “Live Your Life by Design”… it could be fantastic right? Just imagine the possibilities: you are living your life feeling empowered, there are no limitations, you feel calm, confident, expansive, grounded, centered, powerful, focused, and clear. You are the author of your dreams. Now that would truly be Living by Design!
But what if you feel stuck instead?
What if you do not feel grounded enough? Centered enough? Clear enough? What if you actually sometimes feel like a victim of all that is going on around you? What if you do not feel clear when you sometimes need to make important decisions? What if you feel that you are not properly prepared and supported? What if you know you do not have the right training, the right knowledge and those around you have all the control? What if you feel powerless?
There is a BIG DIFFERENCE in these two mindsets.
The first one is being able to truly live your dreams, but the second, sometimes all too familiar, scenario is one that I call simply being stuck!
I know what it feels like to be stuck and during this TEDx talk I shared with everyone what I have learned over a lifetime engaging the condition of stuckness. It is frustrating to feel small, ungrounded, unprepared, tense, and without focus. But I guarantee that it is possible to change your state of being from stuck to un-stuck, which is the same as living your life by design with intention, power, and focus.
Being stuck is a natural condition…it is in our biology, it is part of our neurological functioning. But it is not destiny. If you are not right now living your life with meaning, purpose, and intention, then you are probably somewhere in the stuck camp.
So, how do we become free of stuckness? How do we become calm and clear? How can we learn to be grounded and powerful each day where we can live our life as though we are the authors of our destiny?
It is quite simple and I look forward to sharing with you my story of experiencing and studying the phenomena I call being stuck. I will upload the TEDx presentation as soon as it is available in the coming weeks. This is just a heads up!
Let me add that the process of preparing (The Seven Arts, Art of Preparation) for this presentation was a great challenge that I would recommend to all of you. If you had just 15-minutes to explain how you would Live Your Life by Design… what would you say?
Prime Minister Abe and President Obama: Building Relationship is Key
Following the recent elections in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party now has a super majority. I was disappointed to hear just days ago that newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was unable to work out scheduling difficulties with the Obama Administration such that the Prime Minister’s first visit abroad would be to the United States. I believe it is time to practice “The Art of Preparation” (Seven Arts process) in order to re-energize the relationship between Japan and the United States based upon trust and mutual respect. As President Obama begins his second term, both the United States and Japan have much in common with respect to the problems we encounter both domestically and internationally. Let me explain.
First and foremost, the United States and Japan cooperate on a global basis and together form the cornerstone of our mutual security interests in Asia. A strong, vibrant Japan (growing at 3% annually) is in the interest of Japan, the United States, and the global economy. Japan is the size of Montana and yet it is the third largest economy in the world following China and the United States.
Second, in recent years a polarized and ineffectual Congress/Parliament causing inefficiency and stagnation has weakened both Japan and the United States. Both nations need to put their “house in order” tackling government debt as a % of GDP. The United States has to control spending (the budget deficit) and focus upon growing exports (the trade deficit). Similarly, Japan, in addition to it’s debt burden, faces problems of demographics (aging population) and deflation.
Addressing these challenges in alignment would serve both nations. I agree with Robert Kimmitt* that we are going to witness (hopefully within the next two years) progress in trade for Asia as well as Europe. In Obama’s second term, the Administration will focus upon The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who will certainly be re-elected managing a 70% approval rating at home even while successfully steering the European Union around one challenge after another, especially Greece). And, in the Pacific, Japan will be a key participant in the G-20, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Japan’s role in these global trade discussions is critical and yet I fear that Japan’s influence in recent years has been set back by a revolving door in the Prime Minister’s Office (6 persons in the past 7 years). Indeed, the average term for Japan’s Prime Ministers in the modern era is just 2 years! The strong support for Prime Minister Abe in Japan is something that can be leveraged such that Japan’s voice at the international table is strengthened. It is in the interests of the United States to have a strong Japanese representative where better results can be secured for Japan, the United States, and the global economy.
It is for these reasons that I hope experienced statesmen like Abe and Obama can form a personal relationship of trust and mutual respect - - both are at the beginning of what could be a mutually beneficial change journey. At the end of the day, getting the deal done, whatever “the deal”, requires compromise and mutual understanding. Cultivating this kind of relationships is key and at the heart of the Seven Arts change process.
I agree with Kimmett that the United States and Japan “need to make tough decisions at home and engage confidently in external discussions, including discussions with China. And ‘confidently’ means being willing to listen, learn and make changes, even as we defend our core principles. Japan, like any country, will defend very strongly its views on territorial and sovereignty issues. But I think it is important for Japan also to demonstrate willingness to engage in dialogue on specific measures to reduce tensions”.
When Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the United States is rescheduled (in February hopefully), I hope that the two leaders can prepare the way for a Seven Arts type relationship characterized by real trust and frank dialogue. In this way, as our nations confront real economic and security challenges, we can expect that our leaders have already paved the way personally so that in the future they can get down to business when faced with any emergency or important task. It would be wonderful if Japan were now entering a period of stability and international leadership. This was most recently the case during the able tenure of Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (2001-2008) who served the relatively long tenure of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006).
* I recently read a very smart piece (Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13, 2012) written by Junji Tachino, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Asahi Shimbun. The article was based upon an interview with Robert M. Kimmitt who is an experienced diplomat with decades of Washington experience working in the State Department, Treasury Department, and also served as United States Ambassador to Germany. I found that the article was not only smart, but also it reflected core elements for managing change (Seven Arts) between governments.
Beyond the Fiscal Cliff: Let’s Operate from Abundance, Not Fear
We are all hopeful that sanity and rationality will prevail. We have before us a working model that recommends both spending cuts and mechanisms for collecting additional tax revenue. The gap we face is an annual deficit in excess of 1 trillion dollars. We must address skyrocketing healthcare costs, and the expanding cost of entitlements (as baby boomers become seniors), and we must also close the loop holes that create lost tax revenue occasioned by a broken system. The options are clearly spelled out in the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Report (The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform). That Alan Simpson (R) and Erskine Bowles (D) could work out a bi-partisan model would be a good place to start for President Obama and House Speaker, John Boehner.
Actually, why not “think big” beyond the fiscal cliff? Instead of solving our deep and significant budget problems by operating out of fear (as in avoiding a scary “fiscal cliff”), why not use our present economic situation as an opportunity to solve our problems operating out of a mindset of abundance and fairness? This mindset of abundance is consistent with the Seven Arts change process and, I believe, is good for America’s economy long term.
Let’s be specific.
I recently saw an interview (conducted by Dr. Fareed Zakaria) with another high profile, distinguished bi-partisan pair. Imagine an O’Neill-Rubin Report, or better yet, actually following their recommendations for both tax reform and putting America back to work. Paul O’Neill, a Republican, former Secretary of the Treasury and former CEO of Aluminum giant Alcoa was trading recommendations with Robert Rubin, a Democrat, former Secretary of the Treasury and former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs. What struck me was the power of thinking big and using our current time crunch (approaching the cliff) as an opportunity to truly tackle all the problems that we know exist in our broken system.
For example, let’s think big (read “abundance”) and use the cliff (read “fear”) as an opportunity for Congress to:
- Fix our legalized system of corruption in Washington. Candidates for public office receive campaign funds from lobbies, corporations, and special interest groups. The same people get elected and then, in return (quid pro quo), create legislation that systematically reduces our annual federal tax revenue by bestowing preferred tax exemptions that amount to an estimated 1 trillion dollars in lost revenue. This lost revenue repeats itself annually because it becomes part of the tax code. As Zakaria stated, “It is the gift that keeps on giving!” Fix the tax code, make it fair to all, and the government nets 1 trillion dollars in annual revenue without raising taxes.
- By the way, a second benefit follows from the first. According to some analysts, eliminating tax preferred exemptions would enable the government to actually lower the current corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% making international investment in America much more attractive. Finding mechanisms to increase foreign investment would go a long way to put Americans back to work and stop the systematic out sourcing of American jobs. Corporations seek not only low wage workers abroad, but also a preferred tax system for conducting business overseas. Our tax system is not business friendly when compared to other nations actively seeking foreign investment.
- Simplify the operations of tax collection. We could replace corporate taxes, personal taxes, and payroll taxes all together if we adopted “pay as you go” tax often referred to as a value-added tax. Simply tax the consumption of goods and services we want and need. This seems like a big idea, perhaps even a radical idea, but it has been around for a long time and O’Neill suggests it could easily lead to the third big fix.
- Simply the system of tax collection. O’Neill suggests that the current system is very difficult to police and that an estimated 400 billion dollars of annual tax revenue is lost simply due to citizens cheating the system through non-filing or deliberate attempts to deceive engaging in fraud. To make matters worse, O’Neill points out that the current system required to collect taxes costs the federal government an estimated 431 billion dollars annually. As an experienced executive, he quipped that even a monkey could figure out a more effective and efficient system of fair tax collection. The system itself is broken and right now we have an opportunity to fix our system and prepare the country for economic growth and fair tax treatment for all American citizens.
Let’s think big, pull out a blank sheet of paper, and work together in a bi-partisan manner with a mindset that is operating out of a sense of abundance, not fear. President Obama already listens to Mr. Rubin, but I would argue that Paul O’Neill might have some ideas for turning around our economy just as he did the fortunes of Alcoa.
The business climate at present is uncertain which causes businesses to avoid capital investment. We have an opportunity to think bold, innovate, create certainty and fix our economic problems. Creating a sound and stable tax system we can believe in will spur growth, capital investment, and hiring thus putting more Americans back to work. As O’Neill says, “let’s put people back to work and give them a chance to compete”. I would add that The Seven Arts change process is exactly the right tool to enable employees to compete by giving them the tools to “be the best they can be” and succeed.
More Economic Bad News and the Good News of the Seven Arts
The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitive Report entitled “The Global Competitive Index 2012-2013: Strengthening Recovery by Raising Productivity” has just been released. Unfortunately, the United States has once again fallen in the rankings from 1st in 2008, to 4th in 2010, to 7th in 2012. That’s the bad news.
However, here is some good news underscoring the universal application of the Seven Arts principles. Of the “12 pillars” used by the WEF to measure competitiveness, I’d like to highlight five (see below) that are related to the Seven Arts change process. As readers of this blog and The Seven Arts of Change know, engaging the Seven Arts significantly enhances a company’s financial performance and global competitiveness by creating conditions whereby employees are encouraged to grow and develop at work. And yet, as evidenced by more macro and micro-economic data, America is falling behind.
I’d like to see America return to a position of economic leadership, in part, by leveraging the Seven Arts change process on a grand scale. These principles that enhance a company’s productivity and competitiveness can be applied in any industry and in any location. I believe that the universal application of this transformation process is underscored further by the critical decision criteria used by the WEF to measure a country’s competitiveness all over the world.
Let’s consider five of these WEF benchmarks (called “pillars” in their report) that echo the importance of the Seven Arts change process aligning people development, process improvement (including technology), and delivering value to the marketplace. In this fundamental sense, a company’s competitiveness and productivity mirror a country’s ability to do the same. The conditions for success are so similar that I would advocate more companies adopting the Seven Arts approach to transformation and performance improvement. These sequenced principles have the power to not only help America return to a position of global leadership, but also to do so by helping every employee to engage in the challenge of personal growth in order to “be the best they can be”.
Here are five measures of long term productivity and competitiveness:
1. Higher Education and Training
Citing the report, “Quality higher education and training is particularly crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain by simple processes and products. In particular, today’s globalizing economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers who are able to perform complex tasks and adapt rapidly to their changing environment and the evolving needs of the economy”.
The Seven Arts change process is all about education and people development!
2. Labor Market Efficiency
Again, citing the report, “The efficiency and flexibility of the labor market are critical for ensuring that workers are allocated to their most effective use in the economy and provided with incentives to give their best effort in their jobs”.
The Seven Arts change process means putting the right people in the right positions, giving them the tools to succeed, and rewarding all. If you want people to” think and act like owners”, then I always say, “make them an owner through pay for performance systems and rewards”.
3. Technological Readiness
“In today’s globalized world, technology is increasingly essential for firms to compete and prosper. The technological readiness pillar measures the agility with which an economy adopts existing technologies to enhance the productivity of its industries, with specific emphasis on its capacity to fully leverage information and communication technologies (ICT) in daily activities and production processes for increased efficiency enabling innovation for competitiveness”.
The Seven Arts change process always means giving every employee the information and communication tools they need to be successful. If you expect world class performance from every employee, then it is required that world class communication tools be afforded each member of the team.
4. Financial Market Development
“An efficient financial sector allocates resources saved by the nation’s citizens…to their most productive uses. A thorough and proper assessment of risk is therefore a key ingredient of a sound financial market.
Business investment is also critical to productivity…the banking sector needs to be trustworthy and transparent…”
Using the Seven Arts change process means that the company allocates financial resources by investing in people. The investments ought to be productive in the sense of generating significant financial performance improvement. In this way, the shareholders (and employees) enjoy a significant ROI while enhancing global competitiveness. Moreover, the Seven Arts change process seeks “boardroom awareness” for all. Therefore, trust, integrity, and financial transparency are a must.
5. Health and Primary Education
“…a healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness and productivity. Workers who are ill cannot function to their full potential and will be less productive. Poor health leads to significant costs to a business as sick workers are often absent or operate at lower levels of efficiency. Investment in a provision of health services is thus central for clear economic, as well as moral considerations”.
During the Seven Arts change process, employees learn principles of peak performance characterized by mental, emotional, and physical fitness. To be the best you can be at home and at work requires unifying one’s mind and body. Employing the Seven Arts helps everyone to be calm, focused, and aligned. This heightened level of activity creates “eustress” typical of peak performance. Without clarity and alignment in an organization, dysfunctional “distress” creeps in which then contributes to sickness and ill health. Ensuring employee health and safety is a must.
In short, the much anticipated and recently released WEF report “Global Competitive Index 2012-2013: Strengthening Recovery by Raising Productivity” underscores one more example of the power and effectiveness of using the Seven Arts principles to set people up for success using five pillars of prosperity - - education, financial incentives, information (making tools available to connect people and improve the process), investment capital, and a focus upon employee health and safety.
Click image to see the full report:
Private Equity is NOT the Villain
On a recent trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul, I read an editorial in the local paper The Star Tribune. Casey Whelan of Maple Grove wrote,
“Public pension funds, union pension funds and teacher retirement funds have invested, and continue to invest, a significant amount of money with private equity firms. As these firms profit and create wealth, the retirement funds are able to pass it along to their members. Since these funds are owned by millions of hardworking citizens like you and I, you and I are direct beneficiaries of the success of private-equity firms. They are a vital part of a well-functioning, free-enterprise economy that benefits both Republicans and Democrats.”
In my opinion, this is exactly correct and I know this from firsthand experience. Indeed, the benefits to private equity investors can yield even greater dividends than the economic benefits stated above. The lives of hard working employees of companies owned by private equity firms can be significantly improved with the right kinds of performance improvement investments. At Wellspring Capital Management, for example, we are working to “Secure the Future” for all employees at JWAluminum. By changing the way we work, we are creating a world class high performance culture that is becoming a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace. Creating this kind of WIN culture at JWAluminum will increase the overall value of the company thus improving the ROI (return on investment) that helps both investors and owner-operators (the employees at JWAluminum).
Last year at Wellspring’s Annual LP (Limited Partner) Meeting, it was my pleasure to give the keynote address. With billions of investment dollars represented by the limited partner firms in the room, I shared real examples of successful turnarounds and explained in detail the reasons behind the dramatic turnaround success of JWAluminum in the very first year that we began the WIN Initiative (2010). This Seven Arts approach to business transformation included what we call “The Stake in the Outcome”. This new performance-based company policy made every JW employee bonus-eligible based upon executing the company’s annual objectives. The logic is simple, real, and honest: If you want employees to think and act like an owner every single business day, then I always say, why not make every employee a bonus-eligible owner?
The success continues to this day as right now, in 2012, every JW employee is on track to secure a 3% to 9% (of annual salary) bonus at the end of this fiscal year. Accordingly, all JW employees care (as owners) and all eyes are upon our WIN target behavior (see Chapter 3) of “doing what we say”… thus executing our 2012 annual business objectives.
The fact is, private equity is good for the economy. With a concerted effort to retain jobs in this country, PE firms like Wellspring Capital Management can do much to improve a company’s performance thus enabling it to better compete and return value to both investors and employee-owners. JW employees are literally changing the way they work by 1. developing people through continuous training and education (including financial literacy and transparency), 2. improving processes (IT, finance, and sales,) and 3. delivering superior products and value to the marketplace (operations). In combination, we are doing all this at JWAluminum because the premier private equity firm Wellspring Capital Management is willing to invest in people! The employees of JWAluminum now have the training and education means and the necessary financial support to secure their future. By working together, we are creating a high performance WIN culture that gives both employees and investors a sustainable competitive advantage.
Let’s break this down into simple steps. Private equity firms like Wellspring are first interested in buying companies that are ripe for change and at the right price. Second, the change process requires finding superior leadership talent capable of designing and executing operational improvements. The third and final stage for private equity entails selling the much improved company at a higher value (and multiple) in order to return to their limited partner investors a profit. (Remember too, these limited partners are you and I in the form of our retirement funds that include…teacher retirement funds, union pension funds, railroad trusts, university endowments, and bank investment funds). The beauty of the Seven Arts change process is that this formula for success is now shared with every employee. By providing real, honest, and transparent business education and training, the quality of life for every owner-operator employee can dramatically improve at work!
At the end of the day, PE firms seek innovative ways to enhance a company’s value by improving its measurable performance. The Seven Arts of Change principled-process can be followed by anyone with the desire to improve their company’s performance.
Bottom Line: When you treat people with dignity and respect and give them the educational tools to succeed in business, then you are simultaneously improving the quality of life for every employee AND you are also improving the financial performance and ROI for all investors. All it takes to achieve this WIN/WIN situation is to align the interests of the employees with the processes that lead to change and performance improvement.
Asian and Abrahamic Religions
It was an honor to be included in this PBS Documentary as well as serving as a panelist for the World Affairs Today television program. See previous BLOG posts for October 6, 2011 and September 11, 2011.
Thanks again to the Producers, Directors, and to Moderator Sally Quinn of the Washington Post.
Both programs will be aired on Sunday, May 27 as follows:
Asian and Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Ground in America, May 27, 2 – 4:00pm
World Affairs Today, May 27, 5 – 6:00pm
For local stations and schedule, check: MHz Networks
MHz Networks is an independent, non-commercial television broadcaster delivering international, educational programming and providing diverse cultural perspectives for a globally-minded audience. MHz Networks national channel, MHz Worldview, brings programming to globally-minded audiences in the U.S through affiliates, including cable, satellite and telco, reaching over 42 million households nationwide.
Clarity is Power
The Seven Arts of Change “process” can work as a principled model helping to solve any business crisis, including the “debt bomb” fiscal crisis faced by our nation. Congress needs a wakeup call and a new process for working together to responsibly manage our nation’s economic debt crisis.
Here is the problem – spelled out very clearly. This will take six minutes of your time.
This was prepared by a former IBM Accountant. Here’s a link to his background.
Here is a process for leading change in business as well as Congress.
Congress must recover from its addiction to borrowing. It has become standard operating procedure AKA “the way in which we have always done things”! Raising the debt limit again and again is a “bad habit”. Raising the debt ceiling with no strategy to balance the budget is simply not acting responsibly…like letting down your family and friends because of your addiction. This is Congress not “taking responsibility” at all and is therefore letting down an entire nation. It is the behavior of addiction plain and simple. America, we can do better than this.
Being the Best you Can Be in a World of Constant Change
One of the reasons change efforts fail (for individuals as well as corporations) is because people fail to maintain a positive sense of urgency over time. Leading business transformation that lasts is not unlike embarking upon a diet and exercise program that lasts such that the overall health benefits are maintained over time. The key is creating an environment where performance improvement habits are maintained and evolved over time even as the environment around you continues to change every single day.
It is also the case that you often cannot control events or market conditions that surround you. The key is developing a habit of being prepared for constant change. Ironically, change is the one thing we can count on. There is stability in your life when you or your company are prepared for and expect things to change on a daily basis. In short, change is not a reason to fail. Change is actually the fuel and the engine that drives successful change processes that last over time.
In my own consulting practice this is the reason why I insist upon agreeing to a three year change process to ensure stability for lasting change over time. The way you maintain a sense of urgency for continuous change and performance improvement will be different in year three of a change process versus the burning platform for change used in year one. By the time a company has successfully turned itself around at the end of year one, the market conditions as well as people’s attitudes will have necessarily changed in year two and year three.
After initial success people feel better, but they might become complacent. At the same time, new competitors may have entered the market and changed the dynamic for competing successfully. For example, a new low cost provider may have entered the market, or a competitor introduces a higher quality standard by innovating a new manufacturing technology, or a most threatening situation might occur when a new product enters the market with the specific aim to take your job by putting your company out of business.
Proactively preparing for these kinds of dynamic marketplace conditions is the reason companies must continue to practice The Seven Arts of Change. This means institutionalizing daily educational mechanisms (“Boardroom Awareness”) in order to keep all employees in the know in order to maintain the sense of urgency that will enable employees to secure their future over time.
Change is the constant. Change must not only be anticipated, it must be fully embraced when an individual or corporation desires to maintain excellence in a world of constant flux. Preparing for change is not something that happens through events, training programs, and meetings. Unless an individual or a corporation learns to change the way they work on a daily basis, you never anchor the change process in the mind, heart, and soul. Successful change efforts must be embraced at a deeper spiritual level that allows people to maintain focus and thus respond to adversity when it matters most.
I’d like to share a personal story in the video below.
My Dad (pictured here) was fond of saying that ten years post-dental school (US Navy) there was not a single procedure, technology, or tool that he used in his dental practice that was the same. Simply stated, you have to keep up, maintain continuous education as well as a sense of urgency. In all walks of life, we must embrace change in order to be the best we can be.
A Mustard Seed Can Change the World
It was my pleasure to sit down with Dr. Simon Rakoff, entrepreneur, job creator, and ki-aikido practitioner in daily life. Simon began his career as one of America’s heroes - - a fireman and paramedic in our nation’s capital (Washington DC metropolitan area).
One day Simon had an idea and acted consciously (Chapter Five) to execute his vision by creating a software company that lasts. He sold that company during the dot.com era, but retiring while still so young was not an option - - Simon has too much energy and passion for that!
Simon went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Development. It was my pleasure to serve as a member of his doctoral committee. Simon’s dissertation entitled Expanding Leader Capability: An Exploratory Study of Daily Practices for Leader Development was a statistical study based upon the principles for realizing bodymind unification (Shinshin Toitsudo) in daily work life as taught by my teacher - - the late Koichi Tohei (1920 – 2011), Founder of The International Ki Society.
Today, Dr. Rakoff continues to pour his energy into numerous projects including consulting to the Department of Homeland Security, teaching leader development seminars for individuals and organizations, and using his past business experience to help others create new businesses from mustard seeds to successful enterprises that last.
We sat down to discuss The Seven Arts of Change: Leading Business Transformation That Lasts… (fixed video link)