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Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
Over and Over Again

By Barbara Poole

A couple of weeks ago I had one of those domestic bursts of energy and spent an entire day cleaning my house. I vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed and polished like a woman possessed. It was like one of those characters that author Tom Peters used to describe as a "maniac with a mission." When the ordeal ended, I surveyed the fruits of my labor with a sense of righteous satisfaction, the smugness that comes with knowing that someone could eat off my floor if they wanted to. Then I left town for a week.

Guess what was waiting for me when I returned? A layer of dust on all of my tabletops thick enough to write your name in, tufts of hair blanketing the floors and carpet from my perennially shedding golden retriever who works overtime when I'm gone, bathroom sinks covered with film and toothpaste remnants, drooping plants in need of water and trimming.... You get the picture.

If I were designing the world, I would make houses that only needed to be cleaned once. And laundry that could do with a single washing. And monthly bills that only had to be paid once in a lifetime. Just for good measure, I'd probably throw in a meal that I could cook once, that would generate enough leftovers to provide quick frozen dinners from now until I couldn't stand the taste of my own cooking anymore.

Alas, nobody asked me to do the design work.

There's an old saying that goes, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." I think an appropriate variation might be, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing often." Housecleaning certainly falls into this category, although it may be not my favorite thing in the world to do. Beyond the mundane, everyday examples of where this logic applies, there are huge opportunities in the work environment for doing things over and over again.

The professional organizers of the world would have us believe that the most efficient way to manage our use of time is to handle things once. Do it, delegate it, or dump it, they tell us. Open your mail next to the wastebasket. Touch the items in your in-basket just one time, and get them out of your hair forever. Would that it were all that easy.

Personally, I believe that there's an awful lot that goes on in most offices and work settings that ought to be done more often, not less. This is particularly true when it comes to management practices. I frequently hear stories from clients about the various techniques they have implemented in managing to challenging situations, whether they be tumultuous change, difficult employees, or performance deficits. These Dilbert-esque stories often have the "flavor of the month" element, as in, we tried the latest, greatest intervention once, it didn't work, and so we tossed it out and decided to try something else instead. If you want evidence, just try engaging a typical manager in a discussion of quality circles, team building, continuous improvement, reengineering, management by wandering around, etc. After their eyes glaze over, they'll be glad to cite you chapter and verse of "been there, done that." It's no wonder that the corporate arena is slightly jaded about these things.

Now mind you, many of these management fads are built around a base of sound logic. The problem isn't that they don't make sense, it's that they're applied inconsistently and in the hopes that they will represent a "magic bullet" of sorts – use it once, and it will cure what ails you.

So management fads aside, it occurs to me that there are some good, old-fashioned basics that we ought to be using consistently, mindfully, and more often if we really want to help people improve their performance and achieve stronger results. Here are just a few examples:
  • Communication – I can't tell you the number of times I've heard frustrated managers complain that people forget, ignore or otherwise fail to integrate the information they have conveyed. As if relaying an important message once is all that's needed. During times of radical change, (and I think these days qualify) it's virtually impossible to overcommunicate. Yes, that means telling people the same thing more them once. Over and over again, in some cases. Not because they're oblique, but because they're getting pummeled by a ton of simultaneous stimuli every day. It's worth what feels like overkill. Honest.

  • Feedback – Human beings learn by incorporating feedback. It lets us know how close we are to the target, what kinds of adjustments need to be made, and how to refine our approach for better results. Unfortunately, many managers withhold feedback out of fear of hurting people's feelings, or because it feels too time-consuming. Yes, it does take time, and yes, you have to do it often to effectively shape performance. But it is good performance that you're trying to cultivate, right?

  • Acknowledgement and Recognition – Perhaps the most important key to sustaining motivation among your employees is acknowledging their contributions and recognizing a job well done, however small it might be. All of us need to know that we are valued, not just for what we produce, but on a very human level, for who we are when we show up every day to exchange our life energy for a paycheck and a sense of accomplishment. Take the time to acknowledge and recognize people – often, repeatedly, over and over again.
I have to admit, I may still dream about the idea that in a parallel universe somewhere I could clean my house once and be done with it, or issue instructions a single time and know that they would be followed, or show somebody a new technique just once and trust that they would get it. But for now, I'm fine with the reality that repetition is the key to a lot of good things getting done. And I'm willing to say that over and over again.

©Barbara Poole, Success Builders, Inc., 2002

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