From Reactive to Proactive





ID-10071284We are so often caught up in the reactive, and it is an inevitable part of life and business.  There is too much data to be able to anticipate all of it coming at us.  So how do we make a transition from reactive to preemptive?

Know the Destination

You can’t go somewhere unless you know where you are going.  Simple, I know.  But do you jump in your car to go somewhere without having a destination in mind?  Probably not.  So what does your professional destination look like?

Taking time to plan an endgame is necessary for a huge transition.  You need to be able to define success not only for you as a leader, but for the team as well so that there is a sense of momentum and, ultimately, accomplishment.

Set up Your Waypoints

Every flight plan has waypoints, intermediate destinations that help to set the overall course.  Your journey from Reactive to Proactive should have waypoints as well.  In Project Management they are called Milestones.

The purpose of the waypoint is to provide you with a series of connected destinations that help to ensure a safe path is set and that you are moving in the right direction.  You can choose your waypoints to be in units of time, percent completion, accomplishment of specific events, or even arrival of the destination for only a part of the entire vision (completing the journey for one product line before expanding to another).

Understand Your Compromises

It’s difficult to get everything you want.  By knowing where you need to compromise you allow yourself a safety that will prevent you and your team from being discouraged.  Know where you can balk and where you mustn’t in order to help ensure success.  Some areas cannot be compromised, define them.  Others can be sacrificial should circumstances require it, be ready to sacrifice.

Communicate Your Destination

Give others the vision you have.  Allow your team and your supporters to envision the destination with you.  Take every moment you have to describe your destination in detail.  Outline how it looks and give them the ability to see it with you.  This will make others hungry to help you succeed.

If I told you we were going on a road trip your first question would be, “Where to?”  If I simply said, “West,” that wouldn’t be very motivating.  If I said, “The beach,” that might be more motivating.  But if I took the time to describe the beach, how it looked at sunset, the warm breeze that blew on my face, the sound of the waves crashing on the nearby cliffs, and the long boardwalk the stretched over the water, you might be more excited about going there.

Invest in the Change

Change is a movement of inertia.  The organization has momentum in its current direction.  If you want to change that direction, you have to be willing to invest in the force required to overcome that inertia.  This investment may come in the form of additional people, a new technology, external support, rebranding and marketing, or a number of other things that will give you the force needed to change your momentum.

Celebrate the Change

I am a big fan of celebrations.  They can come in small forms of encouragement or lavish company parties.  The purpose is to keep people motivated.  Once you have gained a little momentum in the new direction you have to keep pushing.  Celebrations as simple as a pat on the back can help to accelerate your change.

The Challenge

If you are in the midst of a change, look at your flight plan.  Do you know the destination?  Do you have your waypoints?  Do you know where you may have to make compromises?  Have you visualized your destination and shared that with others?  Have you made the proper investments?

If not, take the time to figure it out.

Do you see a need for moving from reactive to proactive in your business, in your life?  Start today with planning on how to get to your destination.


Ockham’s Razor doesn’t Always Work

Image courtesy of adamr/

Image courtesy of adamr/

The simplest solution is usually the correct one.

But this isn’t always true when it comes to people.  We are exceedingly complex; emotionally, socially, psychologically.  Humans are influenced by internal, unseen drivers just as much (if not more) than obvious external stimuli.

The problem is not that the method of Ockham’s razor is flawed.  The issue is that there is typically insufficient data to arrive at reasonable assumptions in the first place.

In Life

I love my wife dearly, but I just don’t understand her sometimes.  I’m sure she would say the same of me as well.  Most of the time we try to be honest and open with one another, but it isn’t always easy.

I have recently had to deal with the death of my dog, Sandy.  She was very important to me and it has been a difficult recovery.  I don’t always show things the same way that my wife expects me to, and she interprets that as a different emotion.  Likewise, she tries coping with the loss in ways that I can’t understand.

As a result, based on the data we have observed, we have made assumptions about one another.  Those assumptions led us to believe that our assessments of one another were accurate because they were the simplest of the solutions.  However, our assumptions were wrong, based on a misinterpretation of the data, and we have had to engage in more open dialogue to better understand one another through our grieving processes.

This is true in many personal situations when interacting with friends, family, and acquaintances.  We make assumptions that lead to judgment.  It is natural.  It’s human.  It’s complicated.

At Work

We often forget that people are people.  We try to separate work from home, but that doesn’t really happen.  We have a hard time relating to people that we simply don’t know well.  We may be having a rough day and then someone asks something of us that is troublesome and we immediately jump to conclusions about motive and method.

Solving problems at work is easier when it is about a machine, a program or a system.  Those things don’t muddy the waters with emotion and intellect.  They simply work.  People, on the other hand, react, anticipate, judge, emote, and in general, complicate the work environment.  This level of complexity can be a bit much and the data is too intricate to fully understand.  As a result we make assumptions about people, but our assumptions can lead us astray.

A Good Assumption

I have found my own razor when working with others.

This person’s intentions were right and good unless otherwise proven.

By using this razor I have simplified my life.  It has prompted me to ask questions, get to know people, and expect decency from others.  It has changed my perspective of people.  And I firmly believe it is true.

I challenge you to take one week and apply this razor to your life.  See if it changes you.

Are You Working on the Right Things? Getting the bang for your buck.


Dog-catches-own-tail_1We all chase our tails at some point in our careers.  Some of us more than others.  We are looking for a result that is not even possible to achieve but we are so consumed with the chase that we aren’t even looking beyond the circle in which we are spinning.

I had such a situation when I was managing a production department.  I was tasked by my managers to reduce changeover times on my high-speed bottling lines.  Changeovers accounted for over 8 hours of downtime each week.  When you cyphered how much production that amounted to it became quiet the priority to reduce that number.  It was also the number one cause of downtime on my production lines when Pareto’d with all of the other documented downtime reasons in my department.

As a result of the data, we were putting a lot of time and energy into reducing changeover times.  We were trying alternative crewing, modification of equipment parts, timing of lunches and breaks and alternative scheduling whenever possible.  We did see some modest improvements, but nothing that removed changeovers from the top spot of the downtime list.

During a meeting I was asked by the V.P. what the improvement on the line would be if we were to reduce changeovers.  Through all of the efforts we had made, we had never stopped to ask the simple question of the potential of the improvements.  So, I answered with a political, “I’ll get back to you on that,” and I went to my office to crunch the numbers.

It turned out that we were only capturing 20% of our actual non-productive time (some of that was in reduced performance and minor stops as well as untracked downtime events).  But changeovers were tracked 100% of the time.  Using these numbers along with our scheduled run time over the previous year I learned that changeovers only accounted for 7% of our inefficiencies.  Even if we were able to cut changeovers in half we would only realize a 3.5% gain in efficiency on the line.  My lines were running at an average of 85% efficiency (against an accounting standard, that is a whole other topic) when my budget was 98% efficiency (again, a whole other topic).

All of that effort wasn’t going to get me even close to my goal.  My efforts had to be in other areas and it would take a combination of improvements to get to where I wanted to go.  I immediately changed by tactic and went back to the meeting with a whole new approach on how to improve my production.

Excited about the new opportunity, I began informing the V.P. of my intentions and how they would better our systems.  His reply, “That’s great, but when are you going to get changeovers down?”

The moral of the story is that you need to look at the potential gains before you invest all of the effort.  This can be a hard science application like my example, or building a team, or investing in the development of an individual (you can’t send a duck to eagle school, see here, and here).  Understanding what you can gain will not only give you proper motivation when the gain is significant, it will help you set a plan to put the efforts of you and, more importantly, your team in the right proportions to maximize success and reduce frustration.  In short, as Mr. Stephen Covey stated, “Begin with the End in Mind.”


The End of Winter…Perhaps? A Lesson in Extremes

Image courtesy of dan/

Image courtesy of dan/

I live in the Chicago area, which means that along with corrupt politicians I am plagued with cold winters, hot summers, and not much time in between.  For those of you that have been keeping up with the national weather this winter you have noticed that the entire United States has been through quite a bit of a cold snap.  Chicago had to deal with actual temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (I didn’t make a mistake, that is a negative sign).  It the summer we will undoubtedly have a week of highs that will reach, if not breach, triple digits.  That is a 120 degree swing!

We can cope with these changes because they are gradual.  Yesterday was 50 degrees and it felt like a wonderful summer day to me.  Everything is relative.  If you peppered 100-degree days in with -20-degree days it would be miserable (not that they aren’t by themselves).  However, the gradual changes makes for a more tolerable extreme.

The caution I am giving here is the analogy of the frog in the pot of boiling water: put a frog in boiling water and he will jump out, but put him in warm water and slowly boil it and he will stay in and not notice the difference.

If you are in a working environment where the pot has slowly started to boil, how can you tell?  Have you ever worked with the people that say “we have always done it like that”?  Those are the folks that started in cool water and have reached a boil and don’t know it.  Extremes can sneak up on us if the change is slow.   And these extremes aren’t limited to processes or equipment, they can be related to culture and working relationships as well.

So how can you make sure you are not in hot water?

  1. Benchmarking.  If you can, benchmark your industry and see where you sit.  Don’t give yourself excuses either, if you are at the bottom, so be it.  Get better.
  2. Long-term trending.  See if you can get trends from the last decade.  Don’t look at the last few years as they may be too small of a sample size (Have you seen the stock market daily chart versus the 3-year?  One is not necessarily and indicator of the other.)
  3. New-hire assessments.  Use your new people as thermometers to gauge your water temperature.  Have them write honest one-month, three-month and six-month essays about your organization.  Make them anonymous so that they can be completely truthful.  They are the frogs that just entered the pot.  They can tell you if the water is too hot.
  4. The Right KPIs.  Make sure they are the right KPIs (read here).  It is not always easy to tell if you have the right one, but looking at these trends versus your standard can help.  You should always evaluate your standard, too.

Those 50-degree days seem great in the winter, but they seem downright cold in the summer.  Make sure you are using the right thermometer when you gauge the temperature.  A point-of-reference is necessary to understand your true situation.

Fraudulent Leadership


Have you ever been in over your head?  There are times when we are put into situations that we are not prepared to handle.  It is how we respond to these challenges that either affirms our leadership skills or exposes us for the phonies we truly are.  Which are you?


  1. Hide their faults.
  2. Compensate for inadequacies through intimidation.
  3. Stop trying.
  4. Forget how to learn.
  5. Treat others as underlings.
  6. Pretend to know everything about everything.
  7. Think they are the most important person in the room.


  1. Talk about their fears with trusted friends.
  2. Seek advice from mentors, coaches, and peers.
  3. Surround themselves with people who know more than they do.
  4. Set goals, personal and professional, to close gaps.
  5. Build bridges and tear down walls to expose weaknesses within themselves.
  6. Find something to learn every day.
  7. Focus on people, not power.

It’s okay to be in over your head.  If you are never in the deep end you won’t learn how to swim.  A little panic can be a great motivator.  Use it, don’t be paralyzed by it.  People will respect you more when you can admit you need help.  It is better for you and the team to acknowledge your shortfalls and try to work on them.

Crybabies can Take a Walk


Can you identify the crybabies at your place of work? Is it you?

Symptoms of a Crybaby

  1. Fingerpointing: “Sharon did it!”
  2. Making Excuses: “I’ve had so much on my plate I haven’t been able to get it done.”
  3. Changing the Topic: “I know, but… How are things going in Shipping lately?”
  4. Placing Blame: “Well I may not have finished the report, but Tim didn’t get the presentation done.”
  5. Sweating the Small Stuff: “It’s so hot in here.” “I need a new chair, this one is uncomfortable.”
  6. Naysaying: “Why do we do it this way?” “This is stupid.” “Things are so messed up.”
  7. Speaking in Absolutes: “I ¬always have to do this.” “She never has enough work anyway.” “I have to do everything.”

Ways to not be a Crybaby

  1. Help others out: “Hey Sharon, do you need some help?”
  2. Take Responsibility: “I know I missed the deadline. That is why I am working to finish it right now.”
  3. Address the Issue: “Thanks for bringing that up. I will take care of it immediately.”
  4. Own up to it: “I apologize. I struggled with the first part of the report. Do you have any tips so I can get it done more quickly?”
  5. Fix it OR Forget it: “I dress in layers to stay comfortable.”
  6. Bring Solutions: “Can we try it this way to see what happens?” “I have a suggestion on how to improve the situation.”
  7. Understand the Difference Between Perception and Reality: “It seems I do a lot of these reports. Could you help with knocking a few of these out for me?”

How to deal with Crybabies

  1. Let them know they are doing it and refer them to the above suggestions.
  2. If (1) fails, let them take a walk right out of the front door.

Crybabies bring down morale and create a negative work environment for the rest of the team. If you can’t coach them out of it, start working them out of the team.

Knowledge is NOT Power


image source:

At some point you have heard the quote “Knowledge is Power”.  I think we have all taken this to be the motivation for education.  Get smart, be powerful.  After all, the person credited with the quote, Sir Francis Bacon, is one of the fathers of the scientific method.

Knowledge is power.

―Francis Bacon

While I don’t necessarily disagree with the statement above, I do think that it is incomplete.  I would like to add a few words to create my own statement: The proper application of knowledge yields power.  Let me explain.

Knowledge in itself is useless

Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.

―Albert Einstein

Approximately 14 people die each day at work (United States Department of Labor, 2013).  It’s a horrible thing to think that 14 people go to work every day to earn for a family and then never get to go home to them again.  Knowing this, does it give you power?  If you didn’t know this already before reading this page, did I just make you more powerful?  I don’t think that I did.  Let’s face it; most of you may not even let this knowledge affect the way you behave at your job.  It may not influence the decisions you make about your employees.  If not, you have not gained any power from this knowledge.  But, there is hope.  There is potential.

The more knowledge you have, the more options you have.  The better informed that you are, the better decisions that you can make.  But we all know people (or we are those people ourselves) that have made decisions counter to what our knowledge advised us to do.  Therefore, that knowledge was useless (or the knowledge was fine, but we were useless).  If that is true, then knowledge itself cannot be power.

Making knowledge useful

Personally, I don’t like knowledge being useless.  It’s wasteful.  So what can we do to make knowledge useful?  Simple; apply it!  That is science; that is leadership; that is simply being a good citizen.  Applying knowledge is what creates change.  And change is what drives improvement, innovation and invention.

But applying knowledge is not quite enough.  Remember our phrase states that it requires the proper application of knowledge.  For example, if I know that reducing inventory in our maintenance department will save the company the associated carrying costs, the application of that knowledge would be to reduce the inventory.  However, if I simply reduce inventory and don’t do it the right way, I will still achieve the goal of saving the carrying costs, but I will create additional costs in excess equipment downtime due to not having parts in stock, expediting orders on purchases, wasted mechanical labor on pursuing work that doesn’t have items in stock and more.  These costs will surely offset the savings that comes from my application of knowledge.  The result will be a loss of respect from my maintenance staff, an upset manager at my inability to meet the budget, upset production peers for causing additional downtime on their equipment, frustrated customers for late deliveries or extended lead times; the list goes on.  This actually resulted in a loss of power.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

―Abraham Lincoln

So the proper application of knowledge requires even more knowledge.  How, should we reduce inventory to gain power?  Depending on the process there are several ways, vendor managed inventories, consignment agreements, ABC prioritizing, new ordering methods.  So knowing this knowledge it again needs to be applied.  But this needs to be applied properly by including the right people.  If we try to do reduce inventory in a vacuum we will surely alienate others and again lose power, not gain it.

This could be an endless cycle of exploration and obtaining knowledge.  One must be careful because trying to pursue all of the knowledge to apply it all perfectly can lead to hesitation and stagnation.  Use a mini risk assessment to decide if you have enough knowledge on what to do and how to apply it.  If the reward outweighs the risk, take action and apply the knowledge you have.  If you didn’t get it all right, you can adjust along the way and make corrections for the new knowledge you gain as you progress.

So what do i do with this power anyway

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.
                                   ―Thomas Jefferson

Congratulations, you gained knowledge, applied it properly and now you have power!  Now what?  We all seem to want more power.  But once we have it, we need to know what to do with it.  There are a lot of things that we can do with power once we have it.  Since we are the ones with the power, it is up to us to decide what to do with it.  Most people don’t really know how to wield the power that they have and it is simply wasted or used for selfish gain.

I think that the most effective use of power is to give it away and teach others how to do the same. By giving away power you effectively increase your own.  Power given away is exponential power.  John C. Maxwell wrote “A key to empowering others is high belief in people.” You have to believe in the power of other people and help them to achieve it.


How have you seen knowledge wasted?

Building Something Amazing Takes Time


I’m not a patient person. I want results now. But no matter how much I want those results now I still have to wait for them. The bigger the result, the longer I have to wait.

Building a System
When we put together programs and systems it takes a very long time not only because systems are typically complex, having to consider and negotiate inherent exceptions to the rule, but also because it takes people to run these programs and helping them accept change takes considerable thought, planning and time. Whether managing a project where a new program is being constructed or implementing a new CMMS where it takes months of collecting and inputting data, these systems test our patience.

Building a Culture
Culture can happen organically or it can be directed and focused. Ideally, it is the latter, whereby we set guiding values and bring in people that embody those values while shaping the behaviors within our groups to demonstrate our commitment to them. This is deliberate and time consuming. Considering that the topography of our personnel landscape is constantly changing, it means that this is a never-ending job to manage and can create tedious pressures that demand the most of us.

Forging the Way
Major initiatives don’t happen over a single night. It takes a lot of strategy, typically years of it, and it requires vision into the future. Gaining the right knowledge and creating the plans are only the beginning of blazing the trails to new horizons. The less traveled the road, the longer it will take to get to the destination.

Keeping the Motivation

  1. Understand your goal. Know the payoff that will come with the patience you need. Envision all of the ways this undertaking will benefit you and others. Think of the intangible benefits as well.
  2. Build a support team. Create the passion for the goal in others and get them to buy in to the program. With others having passion for the goal it will keep you on task and help you to endure the time it takes to achieve it.
  3. Count the hours. If your goal is truly time-based, mark down the calendar. You will see a physical change and look forward to crossing the days off of the list.
  4. Create milestones. Set smaller, step-wise accomplishments that are necessary to achieve the overall goal. Celebrate making the milestones and keep up the morale of you and your team.
  5. Practice makes perfect. Be willing to keep adding goals that are further and further into the future. The more you exercise patience, the easier it will come for you.

In our society of short-term gains it is important to understand that long-term payoff is usually much larger and more significant. That 1-year payback is nothing compared to the ten things that you can create over ten years that will payback tenfold.

How else can you practice patience?

Can You See the Storm Coming?


Meteorologists have the best job in the world; they can be wrong 100% of the time and still be employed.  But if we miss the big storms we can be left exposed to the elements.  What we often forget is that the storms can be brewing from within our own back yards.

Beware the Calm Before the Storm
If the birds aren’t chirping watch out!  If there is no noise going on there is probably a problem brewing.  There should always be constructive conflict happening.  That means you will hear a little bit of heat in a discussion, and that isn’t all bad.  If the air is too calm, people are sheltering you from what is really going on and that can be a sign of bad things on the horizon.

Where there is Thunder there is Lightning
Too big of blow-ups are the other extreme.  If people are exploding with emotion that means they are having a hard time coping with the stress of work.  That stress can come from many different things.  This is not something to sweep under the rug.  If you hear of a blow-up then someone is having a rough go of it and it needs to be addressed.  A Leader will make sure that the underlying issue (the lightning) is found and dealt with appropriately.

Reaching Steady-State
Small storms are a good thing.  We need some rain and weather is always about nature trying to reach a steady-state.  Introduce a few storms every once in a while to make sure that you are always making improvements.

Remember, we can’t always control the weather.  Not every day will be sunshine and a warm breeze.  Be prepared and understand that storms will come.

What are some other signs of storms?

How can Leaders better control their weather?

Obsessions are Necessary


Photo source:

I have recently started an obsession with flying ultralight weight-shift aircraft (also called trikes).  I am early in my obsession so I have started with internet searches and reading materials.  I have never piloted an aircraft before so this is all new to me, and fascinating.

Obsession is usually thought of as a negative thing.  Merriam-Webster defines the word as

a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.

The words “disturbing” and “often unreasonable” make this sound like a horrible thing.  Webster even goes on to use stalking as an example of obsession.  While this may be the way we generally think of the word, obsession is what has created greatness as well.

Let’s remove the negative connotation from the definition and our new definition becomes

A persistent preoccupation with an idea or feeling.

Now that’s better.  My obsession with trikes is not hurting anyone, if anything it is providing me with motivation to work towards a goal.  Unfortunately, this hobby is expensive to get into and costs money to enjoy.  Additionally, it requires knowledge and training that I don’t currently possess.  Therefore, I need to have a strategy on how to get into it.  This strategy gives me purpose and planning.

Innovators and leaders in history have been obsessed people.  Obsessed with the ideas of success or accomplishment for the betterment of mankind or science.  Wouldn’t you say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was obsessed with equal rights?  Could you agree that the Wright brothers were obsessed with flight or that Henry Ford was obsessed with producing an affordable automobile?

Our heroes are often obsessed people.  But they are obsessed with things that we consider noble.  We must learn to channel our obsessions into productivity.  Taking obsession to fruition is a process that must be planned, paced and produced.  As leaders, we must get other people to buy-in to our obsessions.  We must demonstrate our passions to inspire others to be passionate with us.  This doesn’t take anything magical, it simply takes commitment and the right touch.

I hope that I can be as passionate about how I can help others as I am about my future hobby.  Right now my wife doesn’t think my obsession is a good idea, but I have a strategy for that, too.  I know that if I can inspire her to support my obsession then I can do anything.

What are you obsessed about?

How can you channel your obsession into a positive outcome?

What are some techniques you use to get others to believe in your obsession?