How Fit Is Your Business Part 3: Balance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 3: Balance

In Part 2 of this series, we discovered that in business, FLEXIBILITY provides the ability to use core strengths to adapt and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities. BALANCE, the focus of Part 3 of my “How Fit is Your Business?” series, plays a key role in identifying and leveraging those opportunities.

 Does your organization have access to a diverse network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise?

With the Winter Olympics upon us, I am appreciating more than ever how balance is necessary for success in all competitive sports. Just watch Mikeala Shiffrin dance through a slalom course, or Nathan Chen leap into another quadruple jump on ice, landing perfectly on one foot, and you will see what I mean. You would be hard-pressed to name a sport where balance was not a key success factor.

Dynamic Balance in Action

Author, Practicing Dynamic Balance

We understand balance, in physical terms, as not just the ability to maintain equilibrium and focus, but to regain balance during the countless times it will be disrupted. For me, as a Masters Alpine Racer, slalom offers the greatest opportunity to practice this aspect of balance. It is the most technical of the alpine events, as the gates are set the closest together, requiring high-speed shifts in direction and balance. The event is sometimes referred to as “a series of linked recoveries”.  The skiers that excel are not necessarily those who never lose their balance, but those that master the art of recovering it.

What Does Balance Look Like in Your Organization?

By using the fitness metaphor, we can move beyond purely metric-based approaches to balance, such as Balanced Scorecard, the strategic and performance management system, and inspire fresh thinking and practices.

In this post, I highlight three key aspects of organizational balance.

  • Stability: Identifying gaps in your Relational Web
  • Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities
  • Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

Stability: Identifying Gaps in your Relational Web

One of the keys to sustained business success is implementing management practices, systems, and processes that balance Flexibility and Stability. Both are essential, though many leaders mistake stability for control when, in fact, stability is dynamic (just watch one of the Olympic mogul competitions to see what I mean).

Rather than being static, balance is the ability to make countless adjustments and adaptations while maintaining focus on a clear vision or goal.

One of the most effective ways to ensure the capacity to make those adjustments while making forward progress is to weave a robust Relational Web. Like the spider web that inspires it, your Relational Web has the capacity to expand and strengthen as conditions require. It consists of your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

While your web is more than your social network, it includes it, and for good reason. A recent study of 180 teams at Google found that the most productive had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks. How did they build those networks? One notable strategy was to consistently rotate their lunch partners.

Too often, we stay within our comfort zone socially, or tend to stay within familiar experiences. Comfort is wonderful in reinforcing and confirming our value, but it does little to expose us to new knowledge, perspectives or resources.

Learn How to Identify Gaps in Your Relational Web

Identify the gaps in your Relational Web to ensure that you have the balance to be effective when things don’t go as planned. Take a few minutes to consider if you have ready resources for when you need to:

  • Create a solution for, or resolve an unfamiliar customer issue
  • Learn a new technology
  • Make sense of a complex situation (business, interpersonal, political/governmental, other)
  • Deal with a difficult interpersonal/cross-cultural situation
  • Pursue a new idea or opportunity
  • Understand a change in business strategy
  • Change course in response to a market, regulatory or other external shift

Very likely, if you thought about specific people and resources you might tap for each occurrence, you discovered some gaps in your Relational Web, or found that the same names popped up more than once. Identifying the gaps in your Relational Web is the first step to expanding and strengthening it for more stability. You can find more ideas and strategies to do just this in The Agility Shift.

Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities

This series began with an invitation and guide to reflect on your organization’s Strengths. This practice is both energizing and Strength-building, as the reflection process itself can help amplify your assets and inspire leaders at all levels of your organization to

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

live into them more fully. Often, a renewed appreciation for your strengths as individual leaders, teams and as an organization as a whole is enough to inspire innovative solutions to previously vexing issues.

Strength reflections can also lead to the discovery of new growth opportunities. For example, as you reflect on recent successes and look ahead to your aspirations to the year ahead, consider:

  • What new strategic alliances or partnerships could help you reach your goals?
  • What new learning approaches or resources will be needed?
  • What new skills, knowledge and talent will you need to foster internally or externally?
  • What leadership qualities do you want to recognize and reinforce? How will you do that in a way that positively builds on your culture?

These are just a few reflections that can lead to generative ideas and action for more Balance in the year ahead. Athletes and businesses alike must regularly shift their development focus based on current needs and long-term goals. Expect this to be a dynamic process. For example, in any given time period you may need to shift your focus from strength to flexibility, or from endurance (the topic of Part Five in our series) or to balance, itself.

 

Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

It’s not balanced if it’s not sustainable. As innovators, we are all biased towards action. This can be our blessing and our curse. Balance is as much about effective resting and playing, as it is about effective action.

I have written extensively about the need to create space (literal, social, psychological, emotional and metaphorical) for play in my book, From Workplace to Playspace. Playspace is the space for the play of new ideas, for people to play new roles, for improvised play and for more play in the system. It is not necessarily about the “funny hats and games” kind of play, though I admit to being a fan of spontaneous silliness in the right context. Playspace is essential for any agile system. If there is no room for play, there is no room for responding effectively to the unexpected because both require space to maneuver.

Play and playspace also provide an opportunity to rejuvenate, which we all need to stay in balance!

No System Can Sustain Itself Without Rest

There is no shortage of research cataloging the diminishing returns of overworking.  When we are regularly pushed beyond capacity, our minds, bodies, and spirits lose their ability to be effective, let alone to be creative and agile. Balance includes a healthy dose of rest to off-set all of that activity. The occasional all-hands-on-deck marathon in response to a crisis or opportunity is to be expected. If it becomes business as usual, expect to see a drop off in productivity and innovation, not to mention in the engagement and retention of your top talent.

It may be tempting to concentrate all of your organizational fitness strategy on activity because that is when it feels like things are really getting done (and who doesn’t love getting things done?!). However, sustainable success includes balancing all of that action with Rest and Play as part of your organizational fitness strategy.

In the next post of this series, I will explore the fourth “fit” business indicator: Speed and Mobility. 

Do What Scares You

After a busy fall working with leaders in a wonderful range of organizations here and abroad, I am waxing my skis and getting ready to head to ski racing camp in Colorado tomorrow.

This will be my third year in a row. I blocked the dates and sent in my deposit as soon as camp was announced—not because it is comfortable or even fun, at times it is, but the real reason I started going and continue go is because it scares me.

Followers of my sporadic blog posts know that I returned to ski racing, a somewhat delusional passion from my Iowa youth (I seriously thought I could be a contender!), after a birthday that ended in “0”. I skied every chance I could as a teenager—park district bus trip to Wisconsin (I’m on it!), University of Iowa ski trip to Colorado that they foolishly opened up to area high school kids (I went on it!), weekend trips with my parents to Midwest resorts and the occasional Colorado ski vacation (I planned the rest of my life around it).

The Racing Bug

Somewhere along the way, I got bit by the racing bug and also starting racing in as many Midwest USSA division races as I could get to, which included road trips to Minneapolis to race at Buck Hill, long before Lindsay Vonn was born!

Coming back to skiing and ski racing when most of my friends have long since hung up their long underwear has taken a lot more commitment. When I was younger, it was easy to round up a group of adventurers willing to give it a go—many clad in their Iowa overalls.

These days, it is much harder for me to find friends who want to head down the hill on two waxed planks, let alone into the cold. It was this challenge that led me to explore more organized ski activities, including racing clubs and camps.

With a great recommendation from a friend and former ski instructor, I found my way to Dave Gregory’s Peak Performance Ski Camp that he holds each November at Copper Mountain and summers at Mount Hood, Oregon.

Now, as I pack up for my third trip, I have a little better idea of what to expect, and yet, the apprehension has not lifted. Did I train well enough? You can never be too fit for racing. Will I crash? No question. Will I get hurt? Always a possibility. I still go because it still stretches me. It still scares me—not in a “why again am I jumping out of this airplane?” way—but in a way that pushes me out of my comfort zone, physically, socially, mentally.

Accepting the Challenge

This year it took, even more, commitment and intentionality as I had major surgery over the summer and had to make a concerted effort to recover, rebuild my strength and confidence. It has given me even greater respect for athletes such as Lindsay Vonn who have had countless setbacks in their careers and yet come back, again and again. They make the effort and put in the work to return to peak performance, even when they have every invitation to use the latest injury to make a graceful exit from the competition.

My experience in life and especially these last few years, helping leaders, teams and organizations become more agile is that doing what scares you is where the learning is.

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

Being a little (and sometimes a lot) out of my comfort zone is where the growth and where new confidence is built. One of our race coaches says, “If you never crash, you aren’t trying something new. You aren’t learning!”

I have realized I can’t very well travel the world talking  about The Agility Shift and helping leaders be more effective in the midst of the unknown, if I am not challenging myself to do the same.

This post is for leaders who are charged with helping your team, department or organization become or sustain your competitiveness in volatile conditions, and for those of you who see the value of becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable in your life and work.

As we move into the holiday season, which is often associated with cocooning, being cozy with friends and family (which is a wonderful way to recharge our spirits), I invite you to also look for the opportunities that lie ahead that scare you. It doesn’t have to be ski racing, or even a physical challenge. Maybe it is just accepting an unexpected invitation before you start over-thinking it, go ahead and say, “yes!” sign up, and jump in. Maybe I’ll see you there!

What are you doing/might you do that scares you?

 

 

Be More Agile in 2016

As we embark on a shiny new year, many of us are resolving to be more of the people we know we can be and bring more of our best selves to our families, friends, communities and organizations. While the studies show a steep drop off in resolution success after the first week, and even more so after the first month, there is still value in taking the time to set new and aspirational goals.

One to the biggest values, in this annual ritual is that it is an invitation to take some time out to reflect on the year that was and notice when we felt most engaged, effective and fulfilled. These prompt questions may get you started:

• What were you doing during your peak experiences?
• How did you set yourself up for success? What support did you tap?
• How did you persevere through obstacles?
• How did you celebrate your successes and share the glory with others?
• And perhaps most important, what lessons did you learn that can guide your success in the year ahead?

If being more agile is one of your goals for the coming year, here are a few lessons from my own recent experience and reflections:

Be Intentional: Your best chance of success comes with making a conscious commitment to the practices that support agility. I outline many of these practices in my book, and find that I need to recommit to them myself each day. One of my coaches at a recent ski racing camp I participated in this fall regularly reminded us to set an intention or goal each time through the race course. The intention could be something we wanted to work on, do differently Julia Mancusoor experiment with. I noticed that this level of intentionality made a huge difference in my progress. The same carries over into our life and work practices. Set a new intention for agility as you walk into your next client meeting, idea generation session or learning experience, and see how much more effective you are.

Make a Mindset Shift (again and again): Agility is not simply a set of practices. These will have little sustained impact without first, second and last making the mindset shift to be open to new perspectives and learning for responsive action. This shift includes embracing your current context as fluid and preparing to be effective in the midst of change, rather than planning for the mythical stable future.

Cate cycling through Vietnam

Cate cycling through Vietnam

Seek out New Experiences and Perspectives. The best way to keep your resolution to be more agile this year is to leave your comfort zone and intentionally put yourself in new and unfamiliar situations that call on you to do, think and see things differently. This might be as big as traveling solo to an unfamiliar land, as my friend Cate Creede did (and beautifully described) recently. It could mean seeking out a stretch assignment, or new responsibility, or developing a new skill, language or perspective.

Notice. As you enjoy on your new, more agile year, you will gain the most from it, by noticing what you are experiencing as you experience it. When are you at your best? What new capacities and competencies are you developing? How is your confidence growing to think on your feet and tap your past experience in new and unfamiliar contexts? You might choose to jot your notes in an old fashioned notebook, like the one I kept during my racing camp, or use any number of apps, such as Evernote to record your insights on the fly.

Assess. One of the best ways to ensure your reflection leads to new insights and action, is to be thorough in assessing your agility in relation to your current context. To help people who are committed to making THE AGILITY SHIFT I developed the AGILITY SHIFT INVENTORY (ASI). I invite you to take it today (it is complimentary and only takes about 5 minutes) and receive a free Agility Shift Conversation and Catalyst Guide along with your results.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. I will share more lessons learned and suggestions in future posts and encourage you to share your experiences, trials, tribulations and insights here, as well.

Here’s to your agile New Year!