Date: 8/29/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou

Last week in this space the topic was our beliefs and attitude and how those drive our behavior and, effectively, the outcomes in our businesses and personal lives. Apparently I didn’t get it all out of my system, because I’m still thinking about it now.

We live in a world that demands almost constant change. Most people we work with admit that. Yet so many of them have created an environment in their organizations that makes that change almost impossible. And it’s not because of budget decisions or something like that; it’s because of the attitude of the leaders.

We are all faced with things we don’t like. Not liking how something is functioning or the outcomes you’re getting is different than having a bad attitude about it. You have to recognize where things need to change in order to be able to effectively change them.

The problem comes when, instead of identifying how we’re going to change things that we aren’t satisfied with, we just complain about how much we don’t like the thing we aren’t satisfied with. We go on and on about how that thing is damaging us and how hard it makes our lives and how we wish we didn’t have to deal with stuff like that. All of which does nothing but make it harder for us to change.

Think about your leadership team. When barriers (or even opportunities) arise, what do people say? Do they have conversations about how to push through those barriers, or how to take advantage of those opportunities? Or do they sit around whining about how unpleasant this situation is, and how they sure wish they didn’t have to deal with stuff like this, and how hard their lives are because they have to deal with stuff like this? Unfortunately, there are a lot of groups that fit the second description.

If you’re the leader, you can’t allow yourself to fall into that trap. If you do, it infects everyone around you. I’ve been around organizations whose leader is solution-focused, and I’ve been around organizations whose leaders like to complain. Guess which ones are more successful?

As you’re faced with all kinds of challenges, make sure your response is always change. It may be to change the situation, or change your organization. It may even be to change yourself and what you believe. Whatever it is, don’t let your response be to sink down into the mud. Get up, get out, and get moving.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 8/22/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.” – Katherine Mansfield

We’ve talked in this space before about beliefs and attitude, about how your beliefs about whatever situation you’re confronted with dictate your behavior in that situation, which leads to a predictable result. It’s true in every facet of our lives, personal or professional – our beliefs, our attitudes, drive the outcomes.

Yet so many people, even those who claim to be leaders, seem to prefer working on just about anything else. They’ll spend hours poring over various reports, or brainstorming opportunities for growth. They’ll call for and lead countless meetings, regularly start up new initiatives, work to mitigate risks to their business. Very rarely do people spend time assessing their beliefs, much less trying to change them.

Think about a situation or an event that has recently happened in your business. Maybe you lost a big customer, maybe a key member of your team left for a competitor, maybe something else. Think about that event and ask yourself, “What did I believe when that event happened?” For example, if you lost a key member of your team, your belief could be that it’s not a big problem because you have confidence in your organization’s ability to attract & develop talent. Alternatively, you belief could be that since you’ve lost that key person the whole business is going to fall apart, whatever will we do without that person, it’s going to be a disaster, etc.

Can you see how those beliefs would drive different behavior? The positive one could cause you to implement your recruiting process with energy and focus. The negative one could to negativity, wasted energy on blaming someone for that person’s exit, stress about what to do next, etc.

It seems overly simple, but the reality is that this happens every day. As a leader you’re faced with some kind of activating event constantly. And I’ve seen over and over that what the leader’s attitude is about that event will dictate how the organization responds. It’s not just your behavior you’re driving – as the leader, you’re driving (up or down) the behavior of everybody else too.

So today when something happens in your organization that demands a response, don’t rush into action. Stop and take a deep breath, and think about what you really believe about the situation. If it’s not positive, take some time to work on changing that belief. Maybe it’s just a matter of awareness, or maybe it’s about positive self-talk, or maybe you need consistent reinforcement from those around you. Whatever the case, just remember that the action you’re about to take is driven by what you believe – so change that first.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 8/15/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The past few posts in this space (here and here) have spent some time on the idea of priorities and making sure we’re focused on stuff that’s really important. Our time and energy are limited, so we need to focus on what’s really critical to our businesses.

But there’s a difference between ‘critical’ and ‘worth doing’. You can look at the role you play in your organization, and the key issues your business is facing and figure out what’s critical to the success of your organization. But what about you?

How do you feel about the work you’re doing? I don’t mean to ask if it’s valuable or if you’re earning your paycheck or if it’s financially adequate. I mean, how does the work you do make you feel? Sometimes in our organizations we don’t want to ask that because it sounds a little too intangible, maybe makes us feel uncomfortable because heaven forbid we talk about our feelings at work.

But you’re going to be engaged in your career and your work for 40 years – maybe quite a bit more these days. It’s not enough to just be busy. It’s not enough to just cross things off the to-do list, or to improve profitability in your business, or grow X% per year, or etc.

Does the work you’re doing truly engage you? Do you really believe that what you’re doing matters in the world, even if it might seem like it’s just your corner of the planet? When your work goes well, do you really feel like you’ve brought value to other people, or that you’ve improved people’s lives in some way?

Nobody ever lies on their death bed and says, “Boy, I wish I’d spent more time doing stuff that was pretty meaningless to me.” So think about what you’re doing with your life professionally. Do you feel good about it? If you spent your entire career doing what you’re doing, would you get to the end of your life and feel like you’d been successful (and I’m not talking about $$). If you can’t answer “yes”, then is it time to do something different?

It’s easy to fall into a comfortable routine in our careers. And perhaps the comfortable routine is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. But what if it’s not? Don’t spend your career gradually drifting off to sleep. Wake up and get back in the game. Make sure you can look back in 50 years and say, “Now that was worth it!”

question mark

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 8/8/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“The truth is, hardly any of us have ethical energy enough for more than one really inflexible point of honor.” – George Bernard Shaw

Whether you’re talking about honor or your business, it’s extremely easy in today’s world to let yourself get stretched thin. There are so many things flying at us that if we try to catch them all we run ourselves ragged. We just don’t have the energy (mental or physical) to take it all on.

The ability to prioritize your efforts is one of the most underrated and under-talked about qualities of a great leader. I think you could make an argument that there is nothing more important. It doesn’t matter how great you are in terms of various leadership skills. If you’re working on the wrong things, it’s all for naught.

So before you think about how to respond to a given crisis today, or how to attack a problem that’s arisen, or how to deal with a particular employee issue, STOP. Ask yourself:

What is my most important role in this organization? All of us do any number of different things in our businesses, but there are a lot of them that could be done by someone else with little or no impact. But there are a handful of things that have a big impact on success that can only be done by you. What are those things?

What is the most important challenge facing this organization? We all get paid to solve problems, or so we believe. But what problems? What things that, if left unaddressed, could severely damage your business? What things could have a negative, long term, strategic impact on your business, as opposed to the things that are just annoying?

What is the most important opportunity facing this organization? Most businesses have any number of potentially positive outcomes in front of them. Which ones have the chance to transform your business into what you’ve always wanted it to be? Which ones fit exactly into the vision you have for your business?

It doesn’t do any good to complete a bunch of tasks that don’t matter or that don’t advance your organization closer to your vision. We have to guard our energy carefully. Make sure you’re working on stuff that counts.



Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 8/1/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.” – Rumi

The world is full of business leaders who feel completely overwhelmed. They have almost literally a hundred things to do every day, and that doesn’t count the things that will come up that are completely unexpected. A lot of them started the business because they liked making the product or service, and all this ‘business stuff’ is more than they bargained for. Others have had formal business training and years of experience and still feel like they don’t know where to begin.

There’s nothing right or wrong with any of that. Every one of us feels that way sometimes. The right or wrong is in how people choose to handle it. Over the years – and again in the past 3 months – I’ve seen all of these responses:

Total paralysis. I feel so overwhelmed that I can’t do anything other than think about how overwhelmed I am. It isn’t that I’m choosing to do nothing; it’s that I literally cannot make myself do anything to solve my problem.

Retreat. I feel so overwhelmed that I’m just going to focus on the simple, mundane tasks that I’m comfortable doing. I have no idea how to approach big issues, so I’m going to busy myself with just being busy, even if the things I’m doing really add no value.

Become a marathon runner. I feel so overwhelmed that I better work 20 hour days so that I can address every single one of these problems immediately. Everything that I’m faced with is of the utmost importance, so I have to work on it all right now.

It probably goes without saying that those are all the wrong way. So what’s the right way? Rule #1 – not everything is of the utmost importance. So figure out what really matters. Maybe it’s growth, maybe it’s people, maybe it’s sales, whatever your business is faced with. Figure out what the critical few issues are and work on them.

Which brings up Rule #2 – narrow it down. Even once you’ve identified the critical few, there are probably still a number of things that need doing. Break it into pieces. If this change requires us to do 50 things, what’s the first one? What’s second? Put together an initial plan for the first 30 or 60 or 90 days & focus on those first things first.

Lastly (Rule #3) – get help. Whether it’s your internal management people or somebody from the outside, you’re not required to do all the work yourself. Find people with skills you lack and let them go to work.

Even in times when everything feels chaotic and overwhelming, there is still a path. It might take a little effort, but you can find it. And when you do, change happens. Good luck.



Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 7/25/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” – W. Edwards Deming

Sometimes when I visit with business leaders & individuals and the conversation turns to change, I get the impression that people are content with survival. They talk about change like it’s some unattainable Valhalla, something for people who are inherently more creative or have more resources or are some kind of Steve Jobs-ian genius. They rationalize that what they have now is what they want and they aren’t interested in anything more, so therefore there’s no reason to change. Their current level of success is enough.

There’s a problem with that. Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current level of success, it’s not sustainable by continuing to do what you’re already doing. If your business is doing the exact the same things the exact same way today as you were 6 months ago (or less!), you’re already behind. That level of success you’re supposedly so happy with is crumbling with each day that goes by.

You can’t maintain that success by not changing. You have to change just to stay in place. You have to change just to cling desperately to whatever you have now. You have to change just to make sure everything you’ve worked for doesn’t slip away.

And I can’t speak for you, but to me, ‘cling desperately to whatever you have now’ doesn’t sound like what I’m looking for from my business. Don’t you want your business to grow? Don’t you want your business to be everything it can possibly be? Aren’t there things you would like to see improved?

The ability and willingness to adapt as the world evolves is the bare minimum requirement for survival. The ability and willingness to create change in advance of the world’s evolution is the bare minimum requirement for reaching your full potential, whether it be as a business or as an individual.

So you really have three choices. You can make change as the world requires it of you. As the world moves along, you can make the changes you have to make to survive. Or you can anticipate, move faster than you have to, create change that helps your business to become something more than it is today. Or you can be satisfied with where you are, do nothing, and eventually cease to exist.

I know what I where I want my business to go, and I understand what level of change it’s going to take to get there. Do you?

change billboard

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/18/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

In each of our businesses, we spend time talking about customers and markets and buying habits and all kinds of things centered around what other people want. We try and figure out what they want and then we develop brilliant (we think) plans and strategies for giving it to them and getting paid for our trouble.

The purpose of this post isn’t to argue that we shouldn’t try to understand those things, or that what others want doesn’t matter, or anything like that (so save your angry emails). The purpose of this post is internal. It’s about what makes you go. Not your business – you.

How often do you sit down and reflect on what you’re passionate about? How often do we stop to notice that whatever it is we’re doing gives us energy, makes us feel like getting out of bed in the morning, or makes time seem to fly?

For most people, the answer is: not often enough. We do so many things because we have to, or think we have to, or think we should want to, or think someone else wants us to, and on and on. And the more time we spend doing things that don’t get us going, the less energy we have, the less we accomplish, the more we disengage.

So make a point to sit down this week and think about what excites you & gives you energy. Make a list. Ask yourself how much time you’re actually spending doing those things. Why aren’t you doing more? What would have to change about your life in order to spend more time doing those things?   What’s keeping you from making that change?

Maybe you don’t believe you can afford to do what energizes you. Maybe you don’t believe people would approve. Maybe deep down you really don’t believe you can do it well. Whatever the case, if you want your behavior to change (to more of what you’re passionate about), your core beliefs will have to change as well.

Human beings are not designed to live lives that revolve around stuff we’re not passionate about. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other things that may need to be done, but too many people are living other people’s lives instead of following their own energy.

Figure out what starts your engine, and then start it as often as you can. You’ll be happier and more successful doing whatever you’re passionate about than you’d ever be doing something that market research tells you to do.

what are you passionate about


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 1 Comment

Date: 7/11/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Whether you think you can, or think you can't - you're right." - Henry Ford

It’s always interesting to me to think about people leaving their homes and sailing off across the ocean to who knows where. These days we just tell our phone where we’re headed and off we go. Real change isn’t usually like that. You may know where you want to go, but there is still a lot of uncertainty and fear. There are any number of tangible things that can and sometimes do go wrong.

On top of that there are intangible things that trip us up. Our beliefs about the change we’re trying to make and change in general can smooth the way or create all kinds of problems. Given that our beliefs drive our behavior, it’s important to get those beliefs in line. Here are 3 things to think about.

Significant others. We often spend time trying to convince our people or ourselves that change is important and necessary. But there are a lot of people whose opinions influence our beliefs. People at home, people at work, people in our social universe. If those significant others aren’t on board, you’re in trouble. As a leader, what kinds of things could you do to reach and influence key significant others?

Attitude. By attitude I mean either your attitude about the specific change you’re making or about change in general. For example, think about a typical standard deviation curve. A certain segment of people will love every change; a larger segment will wait and see; another large segment will wait and see some more; and a few will be opposed to every change no matter what it is. Where do your people fall on that curve? Think of a specific change you’re trying to make right now and the people directly involved – where do they fall on the curve?

Perceived Difficulty. People already have full time jobs. If you just pile on more stuff, they’re going to feel like there’s no possible way they have the time/energy/resources to make successful change happen. They’re going to perceive that it’s next to impossible, or at least will be incredibly unpleasant. What are you doing to free up their time so they can effectively make change happen? What are you doing to demonstrate to them that you’ll provide them the resources to make this change doable?

Our beliefs drive our behavior. That’s true in every situation, and it’s certainly true in regards to change. So what do you believe?

change vs same

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/4/2016 1:00 PM UTC

Here in the U.S., the 4th of July is Independence Day and we're all out grilling or boating or fishing or shooting off fireworks or some other fun (dangerous?) pastime.  One thing we're not doing is blogging.

But while we're doing stuff like that (and even if you're not celebrating anything today), think about things that are important.  This holiday is about the value we place on freedom - what about all the other things you value?

It's easy to get caught up in work and busy-ness.  Stop today and think about what's important to you.  Whatever it is, it's worth celebrating.

Have a great day!


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/27/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“The talk you hear…about adapting to change is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. The only way you can manage change is to create it. By the time you catch up to change, the competition is ahead of you.” – Peter Drucker

I saw this quote for the first time recently and it made me a little embarrassed. It occurred to me that I’d said things about keeping up with the pace of change, or not falling behind changing times, or some variation of that, numerous times over the years. As soon as I read that quote, I realized Mr. Drucker was right and I’d been missing the point.

How many times in our organizations when we talk about change are we responding to an outside force? The government does X, so we have to change how we do things. Our customers are demanding Y, so we have to change how we do things. Our competitors have started doing Z, so we have to change how we do things. We make change because something forces us to, always responding, always reacting.

How often do we actually talk about change when we’re not forced into it? How often do we think about how we might do something differently even if how we’re doing it isn’t currently that bad? I think for most organizations the answer would be “almost never”. We naturally resist change, so I suppose going out and looking for it seems like a scary idea.

But wouldn’t we all rather be driving the change bus instead of reacting to it? Wouldn’t it be less stressful and more productive to not always be playing catch up to the markets or competitors or the government or whomever? I’d certainly answer “yes” to both questions.

So the next time you & your management team are together, ask some change-driving questions: If next year you needed 20% of your sales to come from new products, what would you do? If next year you needed to provide twice as much value to your customers without adding any people, how would you do it? If next year the method you use to deliver products & services to your customers was banned, what would you do? If we needed to increase the number of customers we serve by 50%, how would we go about doing that?

There are a hundred others, but at least those are a start. It’s possible (probable, even) that none of those scenarios will ever happen, but that’s not the point. The point is to be thinking about how you can create change instead of just waiting for it to be pushed on you. Don’t wait for somebody else to force you to change. Make your own change.

change paper

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

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