Zen Manager – What Zen Can Teach You About Managing Your Business Better

January 18th, 2012 3 comments

zenmanager At first pass, the word Zen conjures up images of dark rooms, with incense burning in the corner.  There’s probably a person sitting in full lotus murmuring, “ohhhooooommm” over and over again.  Not exactly the person you may take business advice from.

On the other hand, the word Zen conjures up images of inner peace and tranquility.  There are several principles and concepts often linked to the practices of Zen, such as: simplicity, focus, and awareness.

Perhaps as managers, we can take some concepts from the practice of Zen and apply them to our own management practice, achieving a greater level of inner peace and tranquility. (trivia fact – did you know Steve Jobs practiced Zen?)

Let’s take a look at these three principles in more detail.


As humans, we tend to over-complicate where we don’t need to (especially at work).  We have meetings for meetings sake (think Dilbert).  We create process where we don’t need process.  And we spend hours writing that email which could’ve been easily solved with a 10 minute phone call.  The list goes on and on.

Contrary to popular belief, acting simply does not mean doing as little as possible.  It means doing as little as possible to achieve a particular result.

To be simple, it means always asking, “Why is it this way?” and “How can it be better?” It means rethinking what you do until the clutter has fallen away to what is essential and useful.

Look to your own organization and see if it could use some process de-cluttering and simplifying.  While it may take a lot of work, it will be worth it in the end.


There’re volumes of stories about businesses and organizations operating inefficiently by taking too broad of focus.  They either sell too many different products, offer too many different services, or their departments struggle because they have a “hodge-podge” list of responsibilities.  They lack focus!

Focus (like simplicity) also takes the right mindset.  The more narrowly you can focus your organization the better.  As a manager, you need to balance organizational needs with your team’s ability to focus and keep their eye on reaching a clearly defined vision.

Sometimes that means sacrificing a new offering in order to maintain the right level of focus on your current offerings.


Finally, awareness is a critical skill of any manager.  Measuring organizational performance, having a pulse on team morale, understanding potential risks and assessing your team’s level of focus are just a few of the areas a manager must have awareness to.

When you combine the practices of simplicity, focus and awareness, you have the ability to be amazingly successful.  And after all Steve Jobs used these same principles to build Apple.  And that seemed to turn out pretty good :)

Categories: Productivity, Thought Leadership Tags:

Build An Organization You Would Want To Do Business With!

January 10th, 2012 Comments off

Picture yourself as a prospective customer of your product or services.  Go ahead – close your eyes.  Let’s really get into this.

Now that you have this vision locked in your head, ask yourself…

“Would you do business with yourself?”

This is a simple, but extremely powerful question.  Yet, it’s a question any engaged manager should be thinking about frequently.  And if it doesn’t fully meet your criteria, what are you doing to change it?

I’m not talking about just the company you work for – after all, you may not be able to completely influence that.  However, I am talking about your domain – your department – your organization.

Recently, a friend told me about a company called 37 Signals.  37 Signals is a small software company specializing in on-line collaboration and information sharing applications.  Pretty cool stuff, but I’m a technology guy.

37 Signals’ company motto is, “We built the company that we’d want to do business with. We hope you do too.”  Along with this powerful claim, they go on to tell you their fundamental rules on how they do this…

  1. Useful is forever
  2. Great Service is everything
  3. Clarity is king
  4. Our customers are our investors
  5. Basics are beautiful
  6. No hidden fees or secret prices
  7. Software should be easy
  8. Long-term contracts are obscene

It’s pretty clear from this list, 37 Signals is focused on customers and keeping it simple (with product, pricing, contracting, etc.).  As a consumer, I’m thinking who wouldn’t want to do business with a company like that.  The good news for them, is they have been very successful at staying focused on these commitments.


So how can you apply this to your work?

If you have external facing customers you directly work with, you may already have a sense of your problem areas.  Think about why customers tell you they buy from your competitors.  What are the areas you get the most complaints?  Consider if the difficulties are product or service related.

Even if your department does not work directly with your external facing customers, this still applies to you.  In this case, your customers may be internal facing customers, or another department.  You can still ask yourself if your department is easy to work with.  Or better yet, ask yourself if your internal customers would buy from you if they had a choice.  Would they prefer to get your services elsewhere (if they could).  Depending on the answer, that could be very telling about how your group may be perceived.

And if you are the type of business you would do business with.  That’s awesome!  Keep up the great work, promote it, and then challenge yourself to be even better.


Your Challenge

Go ahead…. Ask yourself the hard question and be honest with yourself.  And if you don’t like the answer, start getting a plan in place to do something about it!

Categories: Customer Service, Leadership Tags:

20 Successful Habits for New Managers

December 20th, 2011 Comments off

Very happy successful gesturing businessman, isolated on white background Whether you are new to management (or you’ve been at it for awhile), it’s critical to build the right skills and success habits to stay in top management form.

Here are some sure-fire habits you should have in your management tool-kit:

Managing Your Business

1. Know what you were hired to do

2. Become a student of your business (e.g., revenue channels, expenses, resourcing, staffing, etc.)

3. Schedule time to “think” about your business

4. Define your organization’s Areas of Focus and have a roadmap for the year ahead

5. Keep a sharp-eye on your “key metrics”


Managing Your People

6. Know Your People

7. Master the performance management process

8. Partner & collaborate across organizational lines to achieve mutual success

9. Recruit all of the time

10. Motivate and thrive with employees in a virtual work environment



11. Build your own communications strategy

12. Set clear expectations and timelines

13. Write laser focused (and impactful) emails to get responses

14. Give memorable presentations

15. Have survival skills for difficult conversations


Managing Yourself

16. Break down work into specific tasks and align to your key Areas of Focus

17. Schedule your day for maximum impact

18. Get more done through single-tasking

19. Manage your email to work for you

20. Plan & run effective meetings

**Bonus Habit: Learn how to beat distractions (here are a few distraction busters)


ADD TO THE LIST:  What other habits and skills do new manager’s need to have?

Categories: Leadership, Misc Tags:

4 Great Reads for Creating Simplicity and Habit Building

December 13th, 2011 Comments off

2011 was one of my top years for consuming non-fiction writing.  Over the course of the year, I read over 20 non-fiction books.  Topics ranged from personal achievement, leadership, management, writing, to more esoteric topics such as minimalism.

Simplicity & Habit Building

As I looked at the list of books I most enjoyed this past year, I started to notice two distinct themes drawing my attention:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Leveraging habits to create long-term success

Books that most influenced me in 2011

Out of all of the books I read, the following books (in no particular order) have really shaped my thinking:

  • Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System
  •  Rework
  •  The Habit Factor: An Innovative Method to Align Habits with Goals to Achieve Success
  •  18 Minutes : Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

I’ve always had a passion for keeping my focus clear and simple.  Rework in particular, outlined some great organizational strategies for keeping work and business simple.  Zen to Done offered some great ideas on keeping personal focus simple and straight forward.

From a habit perspective, I’ve really latched on the concept of achieving greater success by focusing on habits vs. goals.  Habits and goals are NOT mutually exclusive.  However, I’ve found by focusing my time and energy on working on the right habits (each day/week), I can achieve my goals faster.  I’m also able to build long term, sustainable success through changing my behavior.  The Habit Factor and 18 Minutes both focused on building successful habits and routines.

Everyone Can Benefit From These Books

These books are great reads for managers and non-managers alike.  I found I can take the concepts learned in these books and apply them personally, as well as through the lens of a manager and coach.

Whether you are trying to build the right habits to be a better manager, or create the right organizational habits to achieve customer success – the concepts apply equally.  The same can be said for creating simplicity.

Most of these books are quick reads and worthy of your time.

Regardless of if you read these books or not.  I do encourage you to read to get new perspectives and ideas.  There is so much information and so little time to consume it!  Happy reading!

Engage Your Employees – Schedule a Stay Interview Today

December 6th, 2011 3 comments

There are typically two times we (as managers) interview our people.  We interview them on the way in and on the way out.  It doesn’t have to be that way!

If you’re looking for an effective way to engage your employees while they work for you, you may want to think about setting-up time during your next employee one-on-one meeting to conduct a stay interview.

A stay interview is a great way to:

  1. signal to your employees that you’re interested and engaged
  2. build trust
  3. understand what motivates each of your employees
  4. get employee-specific or organizational issues on the table
  5. provide an opportunity to acknowledge and recognize good performance

As a manager, it’s critical to know what’s on your employee’s mind about the company and organization.  It’s equally important to understand each person’s motivation.  HINT:  You may be surprised to know, it’s rarely about the money.

Having stay interviews is a great addition to a company’s overall performance management process.  However, don’t wait for your company to start this process.  Go ahead and give it a go for yourself and really get to know your employees!



Get More Done: 3 Distraction Busters You Should Use Now!

November 29th, 2011 Comments off

Email, instant messaging, knocks on the office door, cell phones… Lion’s, Tigers and Bears… Oh My!!!

In today’s world of information overload, instant gratification and a never ending barrage of distractions – it’s a wonder that we get anything done. 

And I admit it!! I’ve had my share of difficult times staying focused on some of my most critical projects due to common everyday distractions.

There is good news!!  You can often control your destiny by practicing a few distraction-busting habits!

Here are 3 quick and practical tips that have helped me defend against distractions.  As a result, I can better focus my time on making progress towards my most important tasks.  And through this efficiency, I’m able to better schedule and carve-out time to deal with these distractions on my terms.  Here we go…

1.  Turn off your email inbox alerts – Some email settings are defaulted to alert you every time you receive an email.  For me, the constant interruptions of email alerts became distracting.  Anytime I saw an email alert, I would stop what I was doing and see if I could quickly reply.  As a result, I could never get a rhythm on the work I had carved out time to do.

Easy solution…. Go into your email settings and turn-off your email alerts.  I tried this, and results paid off.  I was able to stay focused and didn’t feel the pressure of responding to every email instantly.  Instead, I scheduled time to review and respond to email.

2.  Single-task – Most people multitask.   Research has shown multitaskers are actually really bad at multitasking.  I know for me personally, I find I’m less efficient and focused when I multitask.  I have too many windows open on my desktop.  I try to catch-up on emails during conference calls… it’s all badness!

Recently, I tried single-tasking.  WOW!!! Whenever I work on something (or I have a meeting with someone), I make sure I only have the documents I need for that activity.  I put everything else away.  I also turn-off email.  This forces me to be completely focused on the project at hand.  By taking this approach, I get more done in a shorter period of time.

3. Check yourself hourly with a “beep” – I learned this neat trick recently and has helped me ensure I’m doing what I should be doing.  I wear a digital watch with a timer.  I set the timer to go off every hour (e.g., 12:15).

Each time my timer “beeps”, I take a moment and get aware of what I’m doing.  Am I working on what I should be working on?   If I’m not, I can use the beep as a reminder to get un-distracted.  Or I can acknowledge the distraction should take priority.  Either way, I’m aware and making a decision.

By implementing these quick (and easy) changes to my working style, I actually found I got more done.  And I always made continual progress on my most important things.

Three Factors that Lead to Better Performance and Personal Satisfaction

November 22nd, 2011 3 comments

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Pink talk about his book, Drive – pretty amazing stuff!  As a manager, it was extremely interesting to hear what he had to say around the topic of motivating employees.

Most companies continue to reward people with cash in order to incent better performance.  However, science has shown that there are other motivators at work to drive employees to better performance.

  1. Autonomy – ability to be self-directed
  2. Mastery – satisfaction of getting better at stuff
  3. Purpose – desire to contribute to a greater good

KEY TAKEAWAY –>  As a manager, if you want better employee ENGAGEMENT – you need to find opportunities to give your people the ability to be autonomous, have chances to get better at stuff and help provide a cause greater than just profits.

Check out this super-creative 10 minute video of Daniel Pink describing what really motivates employees.  Not only is the content great, but the presentation is unique.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.



QUESTION:  In what ways can you better engage and motivate your employees?

Categories: Working with People Tags: