Problem Solving

Don’t Blink.

Managers tend to get caught up in the big, structured, scheduled acts of management.  The weekly sales meeting.  The monthly one-to-one conversations with your direct reports. The performance reviews.  We think that if we plan and execute these well enough, we will have managed…and that the stuff that happens in between will take care of itself.

There are also parents who focus only on the big vacation or attending the school play or coaching the soccer team on Saturday.  Sure, all that stuff is important, and you should get it right.  But you’ve still got to be there for your kid and for your employee in the moment.  Most of the great opportunities to manage aren’t scheduled; they come and go in the blink of an eye.  The problem that’s just arisen.  The firefight that’s just broken out between two of your team members.  The out of control email discussion.  The moment of self-doubt that your seller is experiencing.  You can’t plan for all of them, but here are a few of the great moments broken down.

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Slow it down.  What your employees bring you is often important, always urgent.  You’ll always deal with the situation better if you buy a little time.  “I know this is important.  I need a little time to work through it with you.  Let’s meet at 2:30 today for a few minutes.”  The lack of instant gratification is a good lesson all by itself.

Give homework.  While you’re slowing things down, force your team member to do some of the critical thinking.  “When we get back together, please bring me two possible solutions to the problem.”  Not one, two.  Making them consider a backup plan is forcing them to engage in critical thinking.

Break it down.  The big, hairy problem that’s plaguing your team member is actually a bunch of little problems and dependencies stuck together.  A great manager doesn’t just cough up a solution: she takes the time to break it down and force a conversation on how we’ll get to a solution.

Ask how they’re doing.  Then ask again.  Whether it’s during an issue-based exchange or just on the spur of the moment, hit the pause button and ask your employee how he’s doing.  And then, after he give you “fine,” ask again.  Ask what he’s excited about.  Ask where he’s challenged and where you can help.

Be fully there.  In these or any exchanges with team members, remember that attention is relationship currency.  You buy their engagement, belief and performance with your full attention.  If you’re perpetually distracted, multitasking or checking your phone, then your currency becomes virtually worthless.  Your managerial superpower goes unused.

Your moment to be a great manager is here.  Don’t blink:  you’ll miss it.

Life on Mars.

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, ‘this is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work”

~Matt Damon as Mark Watney in “The Martian,” 2015.

In the dynamically wonderful and broken world of digital marketing, media and advertising, we all live on Mars.  We find ourselves alone in and facing the latest existential crisis.  The technological shift that happens overnight and threatens to render your business model obsolete in minutes.  The public fiasco that frightens the advertiser herd into a stampede away from whatever it is you’re selling.  The dawning realization that – from where you sit right now – you simply can’t get to your number.

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It’s at times like these that I like to pass along this little gem of a speech that slid in at the end of “The Martian.”  Having survived the unsurvivable, Matt Damon’s character makes the essence of survival very simple.

“That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

You just begin.  You do the math.  You solve one problem at a time.  Simplistic? Perhaps.  But is there really any other way out?  When I coach managers and sellers in our business I often find them feeling overwhelmed and broken by the perceived enormity of the challenges.  Indeed, if you find yourself struggling intellectually with the entire issue it will, in fact, break you.  But the best managers and sellers – the best executives of every stripe – all seem to have the same rhythm.  They slow it down.  They break it down.  They solve one problem and then the next.  And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

They also realize that what we do – as people and as executives – is a team sport.  They tap into their own generosity and to the generosity of others.  They beat back the crippling cynicism that hollows the soul and drains the spirit and they choose to believe that – given the chance – others will rally to help them.

“Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

Welcome to Mars.  You’ll do fine here.