40. Preparing to Perform: What Superstars Do That Most People Miss with Special Guest, Andrew Sykes
The senior leaders who take time to prepare themselves physically and emotionally, who take time to plan and prioritize what they’re going to do, and who take time to be intentional about what a meeting is about, what outcomes they will get, so they can run it with efficiency, are the ones who just blow the doors off their performance and have a team that thanks them for it. —Andrew Sykes
Don [00:00:26] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:35] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued.
Don [00:00:49] Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges.
Don [00:01:02] And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Don [00:01:18] Welcome. I’m your host Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions. We are thrilled to be continuing our conversation with guest, Andrew Sykes, whom we spent time with last week.
Don [00:01:29] Andrew is an expert on leadership organizational performance and business development and he’s the CEO of Habits At Work, a Chicago-based firm that helps people create and master high-impact work habits.
Don [00:01:43] Andrew has spent over a decade researching workplace habits that make business performance thrive. Over the years, he’s created a powerful, actionable framework for a habit change.
Don [00:01:54] And today, he’s going to speak with us about three fundamental habits within that framework that help leaders prepare to perform at their best and what superstars do that most people miss.
Don [00:02:07] Welcome Andrew and it’s great to have you back on the show.
Andrew [00:02:10] Wonderful to be back again, Don, thank you for having me.
Don [00:02:13] Andrew, you’ve coach leaders for a long, long time, many years at all levels, to help them learn and master the power of habits to create thriving high-performance employees and companies.
Don [00:02:23] In the last episode, you spoke to our listeners about the three habits around how to become a magnetic leader. And today, we’re going to spend time talking about how to help leaders and managers really prepare to perform at their highest levels in the workplace.
Don [00:02:37] What our listeners will gain here is some clear evidence about how to show up at work each day prepared to perform at their best.
Don [00:02:45] For our listeners who are new to the podcast and are unfamiliar with your work, can you briefly run through the 11 habits, just for some context, and then let’s dive into the three habits we’re going to talk about in this episode around preparing for outstanding workplace performance.
Andrew [00:03:01] Sure Don.
Andrew [00:03:01] The 11 habits include many things that we know are essential to performance. Things like telling stories and presenting ideas—very powerful for salespeople and customer success and leaders.
Andrew [00:03:14] Habits like negotiating so that we get what we want while customers feel they got what they need. But, there are a set of these habits that aren’t so much the performance itself as the things we can do to prepare to perform.
Andrew [00:03:28] And work is so busy and frenetic that it feels like we just go from one performance to the next. We go from one meeting or from one presentation to the next. We don’t really take the time to make sure that every time we do perform, we’ve prepared to make it really count.
Andrew [00:03:46] And, in the world of professional sports and other areas, the ratio of practice to performance goes up the better you get. But in the world of work, the more experience you have, the less we tend to prepare.
Andrew [00:03:57] And, I think our leaders, in particular, and the businesses that they lead pay a price for that.
Don [00:04:02] Andrew, of the three habits you mentioned that support exceptional performance, can we break each one of them down for our listeners and talk about their meaning and why they are so critical?
Andrew [00:04:13] Sure Don.
Andrew [00:04:13] The first one is the habit of planning and prioritizing. And, this probably sounds to listeners as the most boring one.
Andrew [00:04:21] But if you think about it, if you spend your time being busy, but busy doing the wrong stuff, it can not only wear you down emotionally and leave you flat but it actually can harm a business.
Andrew [00:04:34] And, we all think that we do the right things at the right time. But, if we were really honest with ourselves or we watch someone else working, we would question a lot of the choices that people make.
Andrew [00:04:44] And, one of the reasons for it is, as human beings we’re drawn to attending to what’s urgent, what’s stressful, what fire is alight. Versus instead on focusing on the things that are most important.
Andrew [00:04:56] And Eisenhower taught us this with his Eisenhower matrix, which is just a way of looking at is something either important or not important? And, is it urgent or not urgent?
Andrew [00:05:07] And, many authors have used the same tool to help us just focus every single day on the things that matter most. At Habits At Work, we have a system we call, “A Daily Do’s,” which is to focus on one thing that you must do today that will have the greatest impact on the business or your results. And, then two things you’re likely to do and three, that maybe you’ll do.
Andrew [00:05:30] And, that sounds like an easy system, but what it does is it focuses the mind on the most impactful to the least so you attend to those things when your energy is high and as a first priority rather than later on.
Andrew [00:05:43] Part of planning and prioritizing is also learning the essential skill of how to say, no, or not now, or not me, to the things that tend to pull us into doing the wrong things at the wrong time.
Don [00:05:55] I love what you say here about these daily do’s. We talk about with our clients, Andrew, the importance of beginning the day with intentionality.
Don [00:06:04] And many employees, they come to work every day without a specific intention. They might come to work in, just as you said, they look at their emails to see what’s the most urgent or not even what’s the most urgent, but what’s the most recent email.
Don [00:06:17] And, we become reactive in our in how we respond during the day. And, we talk about starting the day with intent. And, so some of our clients, for example, are starting their day, managers are starting their day with a simply daily huddle. No one sits down, it’s not a meeting. It shouldn’t last more than eight or nine minutes. And the manager simply goes around to each employee and says, what do you have to get done today? What’s top of your list?
Don [00:06:41] And, what we know is that if an employee begins the day with that kind of intentionality, it’s actually much more likely for those things to get done.
Don [00:06:49] Would you agree with that approach?
Andrew [00:06:51] Completely. In fact, the research suggests that if you just spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each day setting out what your priorities are and setting that intention, you will avoid something like two hours of unproductive tasks in that same day.
Andrew [00:07:06] That’s an extraordinary return on investment for companies and it just comes from focusing on the right things in the right order. Simple in theory but it takes some discipline.
Don [00:07:17] Do you think that just how we’ve become as a workplace culture that just responds to emails has changed the way we process tax tasks and are able to prioritize?
Andrew [00:07:29] Absolutely. I think that the email programs that we use have become our de facto method for prioritizing. And it’s prioritizing someone else’s important things for us rather than us taking control of our own careers and saying what for me or what for my customers are the most important things that I can do.
Andrew [00:07:50] And, the answer is almost never get to a zero inbox.
Don [00:07:53] I love that.
Don [00:07:56] The next habit you talk about is one that I don’t think many of us are very good at and that is self-care. What is so critical about self-care as a habit and how it relates to our performance when we’re at work?
Andrew [00:08:08] It’s a little like planning and prioritizing it’s something that people know they should do and they tend not to do. And it has a similar impact.
Andrew [00:08:17] If you think about the average American employee, they come to work each day in less than full health. They’re worried about making ends meet and maybe spending time on or at least stressing about their financial security.
Andrew [00:08:31] And, as we know from the surveys that you do, many employees are disengaged. They’re not happy at work. They don’t have a sense of purpose.
Andrew [00:08:39] And just imagine the price we pay if every day, every employee comes to work a little unhealthy, fatigued, unhappy and insecure.
Andrew [00:08:49] Or, by comparison, what would be available if every employee showed up in the best shape of their life with purpose and clarity of their tasks not distracted by financial concerns?
Andrew [00:09:03] If they had all of the freedom that that brings what would be available for your company? And, I think the answer is just amazing levels of productivity and engagement and customer success.
Andrew [00:09:15] And so, the big question is what’s wrong with work that we’re not having this result?
Andrew [00:09:20] And, I think one of the answers to that is the way that work is designed. It’s almost as if it was planned that each day employees would leave a little less healthy, less secure and less happy. Because we cite work as the reason why we don’t work out. We talk about work as the source of our stress. We talk about what we earn at work and it not being enough as the source of our financial insecurity.
Andrew [00:09:45] I think as a leader it’s possible to build these healthy habits of self-care into the workday given what we know about just how much better we think, how much faster we’re able to work and how much more stamina we have when we’re in the state of health, happiness and security.
Andrew [00:10:03] As an employer, I think it is massively intelligent to pay my employees to work out every day, to take time to relax, to have a financial plan and work with them so that they show up fully alive and ready to kill it for us.
Don [00:10:18] Andrew this is so interesting. We’re just starting to see now medical science start to see work as a cause of ill health and source of disease. And, I think our listeners and managers and leaders need to stay tuned to this, that medical science is now realizing that work itself is a source of illness.
Don [00:10:40] And, we’ve certainly seen it in the data that we work with and as you mentioned, we measure employee engagement inside our client companies, but one of the things that is starting to show up is that in these workplace cultures where workers are more engaged in their work, they actually file fewer health insurance claims across all vectors of disease and discomfort and medical issues.
Don [00:11:04] So people that work in these top-down hierarchical punitive fear-based cultures, you talked about, are sicker. And if we want our employees to be able to operate at their top performance we obviously have to be concerned about what these causes of ill health are. I love that.
Don [00:11:24] A note to our listeners that Andrew has a book about his habit of self-care called, “The 11th Habit: Design Your Company Culture to Foster The Habits of High-Performance.”
Don [00:11:34] Andrew, I want to know, I thought about this last week but didn’t ask you, why is this called The 11th Habit?
Andrew [00:11:40] Don, it’s a great question because we believe that health care is the most important habit and therefore should be the first. But, what we’ve noticed is both company leaders and employees themselves tend not to worry about or focus on their health, happiness and security until it’s too late until it’s lost or until it’s as they say at the 11th hour.
Don [00:12:03] So, we call it the 11th habit just as a reminder to leaders not to leave this too late. It is the genesis of performance for companies and really should be attended to first despite the ordering.
Don [00:12:15] I couldn’t agree with you more. Our listeners should look on the show notes for the link to that book.
Don [00:12:21] Andrew, lastly you mentioned the habit of running effective meetings. Again, it sounds like something most leaders and managers can and should be doing. Is the question then, what is the opportunity around this habit that most people are missing?
Andrew [00:12:36] It is exactly that. And they’re missing a few things.
Andrew [00:12:38] The first is that we spend more time in meetings than we do with our family. And, when we ask people what your experience of meetings at work, the answer we get is mostly boring, unproductive, off track, no result or worse.
Andrew [00:12:53] And so, we need to ask ourselves, why is that? And, we think the answer is people go into meetings and go straight into performance mode. They don’t prepare to have those meetings be extraordinary.
Andrew [00:13:06] And, there’s a couple of things you can do to prepare. Don, you did exactly one of what we recommend right at the top of the show. You introduced the purpose of our time together and you elaborated on the benefits that each person would get.
Andrew [00:13:19] We recommend leaders set up purpose and benefit for every meeting. And start the meeting by saying our purpose today is X, the benefit of what we’ll gain is Y. Is everyone on board?
Andrew [00:13:29] At Habits At Work, if people aren’t, we say, feel free not to join this meeting. Why spend your time in a meeting that’s not aligned with your purpose and what you can expect to gain from it?
Andrew [00:13:39] But the other thing to prepare, is to prepare to close meetings with power. And we found that people either don’t close them at all or rush to close them when everyone is distracted, running off to their next meeting. We recommend starting to close a meeting more than 15 minutes before the top of the hour if that’s when your meeting ends.
Andrew [00:13:57] And a close should include summarizing what was discussed, agreeing on next steps, who will do what by when and how. And, who will they let know what their progress is. Then acknowledge people for their contribution in the meetings so that they leave that meeting as if it was a great experience and things were achieved.
Andrew [00:14:16] And, finally come back to that purpose and benefit and say, Don, the purpose of our time together today was to talk about three habits that prepare people to perform. And, what we hoped your listeners would gain is some clarity on how they can show up and stand out ready for action every day. Did we achieve what we came for?
Andrew [00:14:33] And, if not, maybe we need to set a next meeting. If we did, wonderful. Everyone leaves with a sense of accomplishment.
Andrew [00:14:39] That’s what it looks like to run an effective meeting and effective meetings are the places in which cooperation is fostered and progress is made in business. It doesn’t happen over email. It happens face-to-face in meetings.
Don [00:14:53] It’s interesting, Andrew, in the first episode we talked about the three habits for magnetic leadership and it was essentially about relationships. I mean listening, being empathetic.
Don [00:15:03] Relationships, and you said the statement in that first show, that relationships drive virtually everything in the speed of business.
Don [00:15:10] And, here we are again, even with something that seems as mundane and cognitive as a meeting. But, these meetings are relational opportunities to help employees understand both their relationships to the task, but the relationships of the team it even to things like mission and vision.
Don [00:15:29] I want to just summarize what we’ve talked about today.
Don [00:15:31] That you had three habits around preparing to perform. The first one was around planning and prioritizing. And, you talked about how we need to distinguish between that which is critical, that needs to be done during the day versus important.
Don [00:15:47] And, I also loved your line, the ability to say, “no, not now or not me.” And that’s something I certainly want to take with me and use.
Don [00:15:55] The second habit was self-care. And, I like the way you included both the what we would expect around healthcare, where the health issues are personal health, but also, you brought up financial health and how important that is to be a part of this.
Don [00:16:10] And from a neuroscience perspective, as we would look at it, what we’re trying to do are to eliminate the things that would consume our metabolic capacity outside of work. And if we’re worried, if we feel threatened, stressed, if our body is weak and not able to perform at its physical best, that certainly is going to be a drain on the metabolic resources we can bring to the workplace.
Don [00:16:31] And, then lastly, running effective meetings and how important it is to plan for them. We actually have a half-day workshop on running more effective meetings. And it’s true, most of the work needs to take place before the meeting and then there’s important work that needs to take place after the meeting.
Don [00:16:46] Too many people, bring people into a room and then try to figure out or talk about what needs to be done. This is not an efficient use of people’s time. But you talked about identifying at the beginning of the meeting the purpose, the value, why are we here, what are we going to get out of this.
Don [00:17:01] And, I like the way you talked about closing with power. To give people, to get them going on some action steps and let letting them know and energizing them to go get it done.
Don [00:17:12] Andrew, any last thoughts on this subject of how leaders and managers can best prepare to perform? And, why is this so transformative in the workplace? Bring it to a close.
Andrew [00:17:24] Don, I think as leaders there are many expert traps and one of them is that moment in our careers where we say, “I’ve got this.” And, what I’ve noticed is, that’s the time when many people stop practicing. It’s why we say that experience is the enemy of mastery. And, practicing and preparing to perform is the genesis of genius.
Andrew [00:17:48] So the more we have experience, the more we think we don’t need to practice. We don’t need to perform.
Andrew [00:17:54] But, what I’ve noticed is the senior leaders who take time to prepare themselves physically and emotionally, who take time to plan and prioritize what they’re going to do and who take time to be intentional about what a meeting is about, what outcomes they will get so they can run it with efficiency, are the ones who just blow the doors off their performance and have a team that thanks them for it.
Don [00:18:18] Andrew thank you very much for joining us today. And, we look forward to having you back on the show. Would you be willing to come back in a couple of weeks and take us through more of these habits?
Andrew [00:18:29] Don, I love our conversation, of course, I would be willing. I’d be happy to do so.
Don [00:18:32] Excellent Andrew we look forward to having you back. Thank you.
Don [00:18:36] That’s it for today I’m your host Don Rheem. Thank you for listening.
Don [00:18:41] Over the next several weeks, we invite our listeners to join us for our special guest series where we talk with subject-matter experts one-on-one about critical workplace challenges.
Don [00:18:51] Our guest next week is Kerry Goyette, founder and CEO of Aperio Consulting Group, a corporate consulting firm that leverages people analytics to build high-performance teams. Carrie will speak about the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
Kelly [00:19:08] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 Solutions.com right now.
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