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Professional Balance and Performance: Make Room for White Space on Your Schedule

In your very busy professional lives, it is easy to become awash in work and related commitments. It is easy to lose the balance between your personal and professional lives. It is easy to be consumed by your vocation while any hopes of enjoying an avocation slip away with the sunset as you leave work. Turn this tide and make room for “white space” on your calendar.

You are driven, successful, and passionate about your work – and tired and burning out. White space is that deliberate patch of calendar or schedule that remains open to your imagination – it remains open to possibility. The white space represents an effort to find more balance in your life.

  • Highly effective organizations recognize and support the idea of workforce wellness and balance. The leadership acknowledges, and models, an ethos that optimizes the professional energy of their team – to support them reaching their full potential – including time to recharge and recommit to a sensible balance between the innumerable demands of work and the other interests that make a full person. These strong organizations make that balance a priority – they allow for white space.

The white space represents that golf outing to catch up with a visiting colleague, that four-day weekend with family or friends, an afternoon baseball game that you have been meaning to catch for the last ten years. That white space represents the full you, as you are not only a driven and talented professional, but also a person of complex interests and aspirations.

To the extent that you can, given your position and organization, try to include some or all of the following actions in your white space schedule and planning:

  • Take your earned leave or vacation time – it’s not a benefit if you don’t use it;
  • Use some of that leave time to sprinkle a couple of “half-days” into your monthly calendar – even a small break from the routine can be exhilarating;
  • Re-ignite your personal interests by ensuring that they are accounted for in your monthly or quarterly scheduling – see the possibilities;
  • Take time to consider what’s important to you – then include those things in your “life planning calendar”. (This important calendar will undoubtedly be dominated by your work, but that too should be something you generally enjoy, even while it may be draining you.)

Remember that as you work, you are earning the privilege and opportunity to succeed in balancing your energy and commitments. Your professional life will be enhanced as you find a stronger equilibrium between all things professional and the other things that make you who you are – family, friends, hobbies, interests, and community activities. You will be more accomplished in all aspects of your life if you are more centered and fresh.

While it is easy to be overcome by the seeming tidal wave of work commitments and professional obligations, you must seek balance for your overall wellness. Turn this tide and make room for “white space” on your calendar.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Professional Courtesies and You: Be a Force for Good in Five Easy Ways

All of us have experienced the inattentive worker at the check-out counter, the business contact who won’t return our calls, the less than friendly bank teller, the co-worker who refuses to put paper in the copier, the far-away stare of the department store employee, and the general indifference to common courtesy that surrounds us at times.

The coarseness in society can be demoralizing at least, and maddening at best. It’s enough to make us grumpy. Don’t go there – counter-act the frowning faces with a smile.

Our world can be a challenging place on the best of days – people are people, after all. The key to our cheerful success is to remain, well, cheerful. I’m not suggesting that we only see things through the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but I am promoting a resolve that works to inoculate us from the sad sacks that seem to be everywhere. Keep your cool, stay positive, and be your best self in the momentbe chill, as they say.

Here are five ways that help you stay focused on the positive and may promote good cheer in others:

1.  Always practice common courtesy – it’s remarkably easy to say please, thank you, nice job, keep it up, good morning, good afternoon, can I get the door for you, and so on. Treat people how you want to be treated.

2.  Smile and be affirmative – no one wants to hear how bad your morning went – and I mean no one – especially your clients or customers. As the old adage goes, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. Be positive – uplifting – it will make you feel better even if you fake it for the first couple of hours in a day.

3.  Return calls, email, and texts in a reasonably timely manner – don’t be that person who just can’t seem to close the loop with people. If you must, send your holiday season “thank yous” in March, but in your professional life, be timely in everything. Return calls and email – people like responsiveness.

4.  Be present and attentive – right now – you will get more out of life by committing yourself to the here and now, and make people feel more appreciated in the process. Pay attention, bring your best energy to what you are doing and you will be more effective as a result – it just simply works.

5.  Consider your daily legacy – how you want to be remembered today – your reputation and impact are built brick-by-brick, action-by-action, day-in and day-out. Get in the habit of reflecting on your day and how it impacted people – it will make you better, more accountable, and happier over time. You just might make some other people happier too – and that would be nice.

The world is full of naysayers and grumps, the caustic and the cynical, the down-in-the-mouthers and the indifferent. Don’t go there – counter-act the frowning faces with a smile, and don’t forget to put paper in the copier.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Leadership and the Family-Owned Business

Henry Ford, Sam Walton, John D. Rockefeller, and your neighborhood florist all have something in common – leading their respective businesses to success and including family in the process of propagating their enterprises into the future. While this effort may seem to be a natural development of family-owned businesses, it does not happen without careful planning and thoughtful leadership. This is true for corporate titans and the small business owner.

Growing and transferring leadership and governance of family business interests and wealth can be a perilous journey and has proven so for many people. Complex family relationships and emotions can be impediments to sound business judgment and even paralyze the most talented businessperson. It doesn’t have to be this way.

A few general rules can be adopted that will improve the chances of success in leading a family-owned enterprise to sustained success across generations.

First, keep it business-like – it may be family but they likely constitute the “board of directors” in fact, or by association. As has been said many times, business is business, and this economic bromide holds everlasting weight. Family-owned or closely held enterprises need to be clear about expectations and discipline as it relates to “running the company”. Further, there will be family members officially involved, and others who are not involved at all. Are these roles and responsibilities clear to everyone? The answer to that question must be commonly understood.

  • Over 90 percent of all businesses in the U.S. are closely held, and most of these are also family-owned businesses. (“Closely Held Corporations.” Inc., 2014)

Second, communicate early and often, and then communicate some more – virtually nothing can offset confusion and misunderstanding like sound, deliberate communication within any organization, but especially in family-owned businesses. Committing to communication will bolster team-building and mutual appreciation. Establish Family Councils that include both key family members who are involved and those not active in the business. Work to identify and celebrate the “secret family recipe” that makes the family tick and the business enterprise so special.

Third, embrace the importance of leadership in growing the business and in managing succession – establish and maintain leadership protocols and clear financial processes, e.g. a business plan, structure, and clear roles, like any successful entity or organization. The leadership dynamic in a family-owned business may be a traditional maternal or paternal hierarchy, or it may be something completely different. In any event, there is no substitute for sound leadership – mature, informed, patient, and considered decision-making and judgment. It can’t be assumed that the long-standing family framework will foster evident leadership. Current and future leaders must be identified and developed, and may not always be the heir apparent.

Finally, get expert support as needed – strengthen the business framework and gain objective advice that can reduce uncertainty and help grow, preserve, and manage family wealth – the business and beyond. The willingness to seek outside expertise can be the difference between a short-lived business venture and a multi-generational family enterprise.

This is true for corporate titans and the small business owner.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Inspired Leadership: Performing With Passion and Purpose

There are an abundance of “leaders” among us – people in power, business leaders, community leaders, political figures, military leaders, cultural icons, sports figures, and beyond. To be more accurate, there are a myriad of people filling leadership roles, both officially and unofficially. But how many are performing with self-awareness and committed energy?

Inspired leadership, that intangible effect that you know when you see it, is not necessarily in abundance. There are many people who are bearing a leadership title who are not effectively leading because they lack an evident passion and purpose for what they do. 

One can muddle along quite fine in a leadership role if there are few bumps in the road and the leader is sufficiently supported by staff and personnel. But to achieve inspired leadership – to be leaders who garner strong results from an energized management team empowered to also lead and advance the organizational vision – takes a personal awareness of passion and purpose in one’s work, interactions, and approach.

  • Inspired leaders are able to forge superior teamwork in an atmosphere of excellence that galvanizes a common commitment to organizational success.

Establishing an exceptional atmosphere does not emerge overnight. It is almost always the result of a deliberate process of focused organizational development; however, its index point can typically be traced to inspired leadership – and dedicated followership.

The inspiration point may be more than one singular leader – it may be a team, or fortunate alignment of like-minded high-achievers, but in highly-effective organizations large and small, the wisdom and vigor of leadership will be at the core of broader achievement, with growing and widespread leadership expected throughout.

It is important that leaders discover, develop, and define their passion – seeking to know:

  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I care about?
  • What are my priorities?
  • Where can I add unique value?

This in turn will inform their purpose – answering the pivotal question:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • To what end?
  • To whose benefit?
  • Where can I make a difference?

While these questions may seem trite, they are very important to understanding the context of performance. It is worthwhile – even critical – to conduct this personal assessment. Knowing what drives you, and why, will inform how you approach your work and workforce in matters large and small.

Leadership is not just getting things done. While that measure may be important, effective and inspired leadership is about further defining the realm of the possible – moving the boundaries and doing it in a way that makes “getting it done” more fulfilling for everyone, and with distinctive outcomes or impact.

Inspired leadership is found in people who perform with passion and purpose.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Fostering Cultures of Success: Five Key Investments in Capacity and Climate

High-performing organizations sustain their exceptional standards by establishing and fortifying an atmosphere of excellence – they foster a culture of success. Certainly, many organizations experience high-water marks of elevated performance, but too many do not advance this capability and ethos over an extended period of time.

Sustained high performance is not easy, yet very achievable when organizations pay attention to their internal and external dynamics and make the required investments in capacity and climate. It’s not enough to have a great product or service. It’s not enough to be trendy and hip in your brand. It’s not enough to just think big.

While there is much that can and must be done in leading an organization to greatness, there are five key investments of time, energy, and intellect that will help produce and maintain superior capacity and a positive climate.

First, set high standards and unwaveringly stand by them – greatness is achieved and sustained by organizations that passionately pursue and expect excellence. This approach has room to include measured risk-taking, not being paralyzed by missteps in progress toward achievement, and remaining flexible in addressing constant change.  Keep moving forward while embracing high standards and living by them. This focus is at the heart of achieving exceptional performance.

Second, establish your values and vision and be clear about goals and objectives – chart your course and make it clear so that your organization is not adrift. Make it easy for your workforce to collectively move in the same direction. Include a range of personnel in strategic planning and goal setting. Nurture inclusion and buy-in from throughout the organization – people thrive when they are engaged in the stakes of an organization.

Third, hire and develop the best people to fit your organizationthe most important element of your business, agency, or organization is the people. You must work to get the “right team” and then focus their collective best energy on your action. Hire smartly, develop your workforce, and inspire committed performance that is galvanized by high standards.

Fourth, understand your place in the market and community and be open to changethere are few things more certain than uncertainty. Scan your environment and recognize and accept changing conditions, then revise and refine your organization’s focus and performance to meet new demand signals. Have a strategic view that is informed by the dynamic reality of your situation.

Fifth, celebrate progress and reward commitment and loyaltymake your organization the team of choice for talented people. Reward effort and evident progress toward your aforementioned vision and goals. Forge an atmosphere of productive outcomes by encouraging creativity and willing investment from your workforce. Frequently meet with your people to share anecdotes of success and provide for the cultural “storytelling” to begin. Transcend the workspace – make sure your people know that they are part of something much bigger than the buildings and grounds that comprise your infrastructure.

The most successful organizations achieve these five key investments. Storied companies, agencies, non-profits, and the military services, know how to gain excellence and sustain it. They foster cultures of success.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Organizational Alignment: People, Purpose, and Productivity

Getting everyone on the proverbial “same sheet of music” in an organization is the process of gaining organizational alignment. The effort to align can be equated to an orchestra learning a new arrangement. When everyone has the right music for their respective instrument – their organizational role – progress towards alignment can occur. The resulting sound – the organizational performance – can be exceptional when everyone plays their part in harmony with the other members.

Organizations large and small must confront the same human resource design and investment challenges in ensuring that their people:

  • effectively understand the organization’s values and mission,
  • know their role within the organization, and
  • are trained and empowered to fulfill that role.

These key attributes signify coherence in an organization. The more fully established and recognized these elements are the stronger the organizational alignment. These characteristics are at the core of determining whether or not an organization can sustain effective and efficient performance over time.

There are several lenses through which to consider alignment and its impact, including business goals and cost factors, the slope of the vertical or horizontal management structure, authority and span of control, and other organizational design concerns. Regardless of which optic you use to assess alignment, at the center of any organization’s performance will be the matter of how well its people are being employed, engaged, and empowered to effectively advance established goals and objectives. This lens reveals the alignment of people, purpose, and productivity.

Organizations that invest in fostering a culture of inclusion and communication aimed at encouraging workforce development, and the professional power of their people, improve their opportunity to perform well over time. Alignment of people and purpose requires getting everyone in the organization on that same sheet of music – working with mutual commitment to advance the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. How well this is accomplished will define how productive the organization can expect to be.

Forging and sustaining organizational alignment is no easy task, but one that is profoundly important and worth the on-going commitment at all levels – from the leadership to the new hire. The aforementioned culture should reflect the values and focus of the organization and illustrate how workers are key to maintaining a positive workplace climate that supports the entire enterprise.

There are three important actions that will contribute to gaining and maintaining the organizational alignment of people and purpose to achieve high productivity:

1.  Ensure that a thorough and introspective strategic assessment has been done for the organization. This vital strategic design investment should identify, inform, and underscore the organization’s values, vision, mission, and goals – all of which should be readily known and promoted throughout the organization.

Strategic thinking and outcomes should not be mysterious – they should be stated in plain language, to the point, and easy to understand and share throughout the organization. This is not a C-suite exercise but rather a holistic action to make the strategic message clear, concise, and compelling – for everyone.

2.  Ensure that a comprehensive “on-boarding program” is actualized and actively monitored that embraces each new employee and informs them about the organization’s values and priorities, as determined by and maintained in the above strategic design effort. A dynamic on-boarding program will plant the seeds of iterative and sustained success in furthering the organization’s culture.

The benefits of an on-boarding program will be evident over the long-term as new employees start-out more fully informed with tools to aid in their success. This must be much more than providing an organizational chart and map of the break rooms and exits. This is the professional “welcome wagon”. Make people glad to be there, well-informed, and eager to get to work and contribute to the organization’s culture of success.

3.  Ensure that the leadership and managerial members are committed to modeling the best of the organization’s expectations – they must be the culture that is desired and intended. This is the all-important “talking the talk and walking the walk”.

Sustained organizational success will be undermined, if not extinguished, if the leadership isn’t sincere and prepared to go the distance. The leadership must set the tone and be consistent in their adherence to the organizational ethos and climate. Nothing is more convincing than conviction.

At the end of the day, how well an organization realizes alignment of people and purpose will directly correlate to success or failure over time. If done well, remarkable outcomes can be attained and sustained. The organizational orchestra will make remarkably productive music.

 Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Seven Steps to Leading Better Meetings

Workplace meetings are an essential part of our professional lives. There are short ones, long ones, important ones, not-so-important ones, exciting ones, and boring ones – meetings are an aspect of how we get things done in organizations.

Unfortunately, we can become desensitized to the real dynamic importance that our meetings should represent. We sometimes drift through them simply as necessary evils. Let’s stop doing that.

When leading a meeting, whether routine or marking a significant development, there are seven important steps that you can take to ensure its relevance and success. While these steps may seem obvious, they are too often ignored.

These seven steps will make your meetings more effective and garner solid contribution from the participants.

Step One – Ensure that the meeting, even if routine, has value – have a clear answer as to why you are meeting. Meetings must have purpose and direction. Make it apparent why you have gathered the group and what you expect to accomplish. This step is sometimes ignored and can give the impression that a leader calls a meeting simply because they can. Nothing kills the mood like hubris.

Step Two – Have a meeting agenda and follow it. Meeting discipline is first established with the agenda – make it matter by using it. A good agenda is the meeting map that first draws people in and provides the framework to “see” the events and anticipate the topical progress. A written agenda may not be necessary for established routine sessions, but it still can add value if provided.

Step Three – Ensure that only necessary participants are in attendance.   Keep the meeting to the core group that is required to address the agenda – remember that everyone’s time is valuable. There is little benefit in having someone attend to simply observe, unless it is viewed as a training or growth opportunity. “Back-benching” can be necessary and helpful but use it thoughtfully – there is a potential to waste a lot of talented people’s time.

Step Four – Ensure that everyone contributes. Solicit participation from all attendees – if you don’t, perhaps they shouldn’t be there. Building on Step 3, those at the table should be expected to add value, participate, and be better for attending. Foster inclusion and contribution. Work to have people leave the meeting feeling that their time was respected and well spent.

Step Five – Ensure that everyone is aware of the time limit – set a “hard stop”. Help people manage their time and expectations. Meetings should start and stop on time – this discipline gains support for meeting as participants can better plan their day. Make sure that the session avoids the dreaded run-on ending – the long goodbye. Any after-meeting chatter should be optional.

Step Six – Ensure that the meeting remains focused – attention drift and topic creep happen all the time – reign it in. Work to be clear, concise, and compelling in the conduct of the meeting. As famously said, brevity is the soul of wit – stay on point. This focus will garner more enthusiasm for subsequent meetings.

Step Seven – Ensure that someone is keeping a “parking lot” of issues or topics that emerge in the meeting but cannot be addressed at that time. A robust meeting will likely reveal other matters of interest that need to be tracked. Capture these issues and ideas for later consideration – there may be some golden nuggets that will inform your next good meeting.

In addition to these seven steps, consider following-up non-routine meetings with a thanks and a brief summary, separate from any meeting minutes, so that the attendees understand your appreciation for their time and contribution. This thoughtfulness goes a long way to emphasizing the relevance of the meeting and your expectation that it was meaningful.

Meetings may be a large and necessary part of our professional lives, but they certainly don’t need to be drudgery. Lead meetings that engage people and garner value – today, tomorrow, and always. Alright, I have to go – I have a meeting. 

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Four Sure Ways to Own Your Attitude

Your attitude is one key aspect of your performance that can make or break your day, regardless of how talented and gifted you may be. In a room full of experts, attitude trumps aptitude every time.

If everyone can do good work, the person who does it with enthusiasm and good cheer will stand out. People respond to people – bad moods, negativity, disinterest, and detachment can be seen and felt and erode an interaction, team, or transaction.

Everyone has the choice to be cheerful or not, optimistic or not, positive or not – these perspectives are not assigned to you – you own them. Your attitude is a big part of how you interact with and affect people.  It must be understood as a centerpiece of your professional impact.

Here are four important ways to own your attitude and be better with the people around you:

First, recognize that your attitude will define your day. Start out right – clear your head and ready yourself for the day. Consider what’s ahead on your way to work and focus on priorities and how to meet them with good energy. You decide how you want to influence your day.

Second, recognize that your attitude will directly impact others. Unless you are a truly independent worker (there are very few), you will interact with other people every day. Determine how you want to be thought of today. Define your day’s legacy – the impression you leave with people. Make it good.

Third, recognize that being positive is a “force-multiplier”. Cheerful, positive energy is infectious, just as being sour and negative can gain a similar response from people. Be energized and affirmative as much as you can be – it will garner favorable reactions from other people. We are social creatures – we respond to each other. Be a positive force and grow it in others – it works.

Finally, recognize that you control your reactions. Everyone has a bad meeting, day, or more; however, remember that even if you can’t control much at work, you can control yourself. How you react to adversity is how you will be remembered more than how you respond to good fortune. Everyone can smile when things go well. Always think and consider before you act, but especially when managing through a difficult circumstance.

Bring your best self to work every day, and that includes your outward energy and view – your attitude. You will be more effective and gain better results if you approach your day with an animated commitment to adding positive value – attitude trumps aptitude, every day.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Six Key Themes of Effective Leadership

The topic of leadership is studied and written about from every angle – and rightly so.  Leadership is the critical art of fostering positive support and action from people to realize an objective – achieve a vision.

We love and revere our effective leaders but don’t always fully understand how they do it.  Why are some more successful than others?  The fact is leadership can be learned, practiced, and refined, and must be as people grow into positions and opportunities that will expect and require leadership driven results.

Here are six key themes of leadership perspective and performance that can add strength and depth to anyone seeking to be more effective:

  1. Recognize that everyone is – or can be – a leader.  You have the opportunity to lead by example, by performance, by your presence every day.  You can influence progress from any level of an organization.  We must develop our people to lead as a natural course of organizational growth.
  2. Recognize that everyone is a follower – we all work for someone.  Skilled and mature followers become, or are, skilled leaders as well.  Leadership and followership are two sides of the same performance coin.  We must reward and refine skilled followership as it strengthens organizations and may eventually translate into leadership.
  3. Be a constant learner – expand your skills.  Effective leaders recognize that they cannot be all-knowing.  They seek the information they need and draw on the talents of their people through inclusive engagement.  Humility is a powerful force that allows you to grow.  Reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow – then be so.
  4. Focus on people – leaders make a difference in people’s lives.  Effective leaders know that they matter because of their people.  You may be in a leadership position but you have to gain trust and support to effectively lead.  An axiom to remember: You are not leading if no one is following.
  5. Practice receptive leadership – “listen-consider-engage”.  This approach will help you avoid the curse of “fire-aim-ready”, a bad sequence every time.  Your professional generosity is measured by the recipient, not you.  Take the time to understand what your people need from your time and energy.
  6. Be self-assessing – take time to reflect.  Work to know what is working and what is not.  We are best when we are open to improvement – re-focus daily and acknowledge that you might do things differently next time.  Possess a passion for your action – re-commit every day.

While some people may have skills and traits that are commonly associated with leaders, virtually everyone can improve their leadership capacity with considered effort.  This capacity can then be drawn on in any circumstance by anyone at any level in an organization or communityto be more effective.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC