Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guilt If I Do, Guilt If I Don't

When did going to the gym become something I feel guilty about doing?

My friend, Guilt, calculates the cost of me going to the gym (gym membership, nanny coverage, lost work productivity) and reminds me of all the things that are on hold or that I should be addressing while I work out. I ignore him and leave the house.

As I walk to the gym, Guilt starts mapping out the most efficient way to workout and shower so that I minimize the amount of time I am there. I often skip classes because when all is said and done, you are at the gym for almost a whole hour and a half. When I work out on my own I can get it all done in an hour. Guilt doesn't like it when I'm there for more than an hour.

I climb on to the elliptical, I strap on my headphones, and try to steer the channel to something "valuable" - maybe CNN? When my hand inevitably
reaches to change the channel to any of a number of reruns of crime shows, Guilt starts a-buzzing, "Isn't it bad enough you aren't working/taking care of your children/supporting your husband?! You are doing something just for YOU?! And now you are actually watching trash TV on top of it?! You could be at LEAST using this time to read a business book!"

I take off my headphones and flip on my Kindle which is loaded with 10 books I really should read. The bouncing and reading aren't mixing. I flip it back off after 5 pages and put the headphones back on. Guilt is quieter because I tried but he's still there.

I finish my workout, run down the stairs, shower in 5 minutes and put my hair in a ponytail because I don't want Guilt yelling at me if I take too long to get ready. I leave - happy that I got it done but it's a tainted happiness. It's one laden with "yeah, butts".

I remember in my 20's, going to the gym was something I felt guilty about NOT doing. But now, with a career, two small children, and a husband who works full time, I often feel guilty when I am at the gym, or for that matter, doing anything just for me.

This isn't really my story anymore...I have learned that guilt is THE most unproductive motivator, if not actually demotivating. Guilt is a killer of all things good, and provides no positive outcomes. Guilt should be put out to pasture, pronto.
But dozens of clients I've talked to over the years continue this internal struggle of knowing when it's not only okay but required that we put ourselves first. Career, physical health, passions - these are things that we all would bend over backwards to help our families prioritize. Now it's time for us to believe that we deserve equal priority, and we should ask for that from those who support and love us. And Guilt needs to go hang out with someone else.

Rebecca Rodskog is a Change Management Coach and Consultant, an Actress, Speaker and Writer. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Debunking the 24/7 workday

I've spent a good part of my career as impaired as a drunk. You have too if, like me, your nightly sleep averages less than 5 hours. According to medical research, this makes you the cognitive equal of someone DWI.

"OK, I'll be careful driving," I want to argue, "my caffeine-fueled brain works fine!" Apparently not. Looking at the judgment of sleep-starved medical interns, error rates jump as much as 6 times. We have a hard time taking a sober look at this when, as Harvard Business Review points out, our work culture glorifies sleepless machismo in the way "we once glorified people who could hold their alcohol."

As we bid farewell to the dog-days of summer, those few August weeks when America's passion for the 24/7 life wanes ever so slightly, let's ask why we plunge so readily into our post-Labor-Day norm: meeting-packed days, harried emails, texting, around-the-clock availability for work, little rest. Today's headlines might make us think twice: On scores of global competitiveness, Sweden now outranks the US while later this month the new "Wall Street" film opens with the title "Money Never Sleeps." Maybe it should.

We office workers log more hours than any prior generation because we can (thanks to technology) and because we assume we must (thanks to global competition). These days, if you want to be a go-to person, you want to be seen as always-on. Besides, a strong work ethic is a great thing, right? That's what we tell ourselves.

But is working as many hours as we can the same as being productive?

"Available 24/7!" said the email from my hairdresser. Now, I've never known anyone who, at 2AM, absolutely had to have a trim. So why "24/7"? Because this language is current code for "I'm serious. I'll put you first. Choose me." Good PR, perhaps. But what's the customer benefit? How straight would your 2AM haircut be? In fact, this meme has real costs which we increasingly see in both anecdote and research.

"I realized I couldn't have a real management job anymore. I couldn't handle the calls after midnight," a woman named Ann told me. She worked for a boss who dialed her number whenever he had something to say. Sending a message or waiting until morning - these were things he just didn't like to do. Perhaps Ann's boss was un-reformable. But Ann hadn't even tried to change things by acquainting her boss with voice-mail or looking for a management job at a more stable firm.

In her bones, Ann, like too many of us, believed her boss was in the right. She thought that to be a good employee, she had to take the call, wherever, whenever it came.

Early in my career, I was dumb enough to sign up for the jobs more enlightened people side-stepped. I spent my early 30s managing global portfolio trades. Days started at 4AM and nights were peppered with foreign voices calling to say "your client is going to be mad because ..." someone screwed up in London, Frankfurt, or Singapore. About to crack (from brain-cell depletion and spousal pleading), I switched to a gig with more standard waking hours, but with plenty of ways to work and travel all the time. I learned that any job can be 24/7 if you believe that's the only path to glory. And I did.

Until one day a management guru (on my employer's dime) told me this: "If you can't get your job done in 10 hours a day, there's something wrong with you or there's something wrong with your job."

So many of us define our self-worth by how hard we work, we have trouble disentangling our egos and even asking if there might be a better way. When we've pushed ourselves to be good students, get good jobs and deliver results, it's hard to hear that our more-more-more approach may not be the right one. For many, being asked to examine how we work feels like being asked to be mediocre.

Our 24/7 dogma, and the reaction to it, generates two clashing extremes: Total Buy-In (Ann's view) and it's opposite, the complete (largely female) rejection of 24/7 and sense that we should be able to work any hours we want. Interviewing male managers for our book Getting to 50/50, we heard a lot of complaints about women being unrealistic about hours - particularly after having kids. We too were speechless when female graduates of fancy medical schools told us it should be OK to take whole summers off and high-paid executives said their employers shouldn't blink if they do school pickup at 3:00 every day for years. Polarized views lead nowhere and keep us from building lots of sensible things like good after-school programs (so we know kids are happy while we're at work) and efficient office norms (so we can think straight when we get home).

Thomas Edison's view that genius, or just good work, is 99% perspiration is largely right. What we need is a more sensible dialog about the best way to perspire. Management expert Tony Schwartz's new book Why The Way We're Working Isn't Working, takes on the fallacy that "human beings operate most productively in the same one-dimensional way computers do: continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time."

While I couldn't live without my many multi-tasking devices - they save me from missed meetings, tight deadlines, lost dogs, etc. I have to force myself to heed the data. It says that our brains really do only one thing at once. Sure, I can tell myself I'm a parallel processor, responding to a crisis on email while, simultaneously, writing up next-week's presentation. But the facts say something different: I would get both tasks completed faster if I finished one and then focused fully on the other, 25% faster actually.

What's clear is that blind belief in 24/7 is turning us into inebriated slow-pokes. What's less clear is how to stop it. How do we change habits and structure our teams to improve our return on time?

In one study, Harvard Business School's Leslie Perlow looked at programmers producing code that was substantially the same in China, India and Hungary. What the teams in these three countries shared was this: certainty that its own cocktail of process and hours was vital to producing high-quality work. But Perlow found there were vastly different ways to complete the same work. One team averaged 60+ hours per week to produce the same results that another team produced - at equivalent quality and profit - in 40 hours per week.

Perlow's two decades of research spans several continents and a range of intense fields like engineering, finance and consulting. In a US study, Perlow found that "those who work hardest do not necessarily contribute the most to the corporation's productivity, and, in fact, that often no one benefits from this behavior, not even the corporation." Working round the clock generates bugs in the code, management gaffes, and firedrills that put both individuals and their employers in peril.

In a recent article, Perlow describes four years of work at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The management consulting giant ran time-use tests on real-time assignments to see if it was possible to produce top-quality work without 24/7 culture. One BCG team mandated that each consultant, on an important project with a new client, work only four days a week. Another required consultants to unplug and abstain from work (no email, no cell phone) after 6pm. Turns out, if you know you're required to switch off, you think much harder while you're on. And team members quickly figure out how to communicate to colleagues what they need to know so dropped balls are avoided. Teamwork, sharing and passing information, improves by necessity. Having to articulate what we are doing is a great discipline.

What Perlow and others keep finding is that success does not require 24/7. What it does require is more rigor in how we manage ourselves, using supremely simple tools:

·Clear goals. "The most effective firms focus on a limited number of well-defined objectives," says Adrian Ott author of The 24-Hour Customer. For example, a popular case study, shows how the down-and-out Lehman Brothers equity research team ( #15 in the industry ) rose from the ashes. How? In 1987, a metrics-driven manager, Jack Rivkin took over and lead the team to #1 in three years. Rivkin told his team exactly what he wanted from them: to focus all their energy on high-quality analysis - and specific steps to get there. The team was evaluated on a score card measuring all relevant, quantifiable activity: number of calls, written reports, client visits. And there were no secrets. The numbers were out there for everyone in the department to see.

·Good process. Time-diary research, where workers record what they're doing hour-to-hour, reveals a lot. Even at well-run companies, high-performing knowledge workers say big chunks of their day, sometimes half of it, are wasted on ill-planned meetings and cleaning up after snafus. Studies show that declaring "quiet time" (protected hours to get vital thinking work done), encouraging collaboration and overlap produce world-class results more profitably. "We need to replace 24/7 with 80/20," says Sasha Grinshpun, an executive coach who works with firms like Google and IBM. "If we understand where we can add the most value, we can focus on the 20% of our work that generates 80% of the results."

·The Zero-Baloney Standard. "Nanny cam most managers," an executive suggested, "and they'd have a hard time explaining where their time goes, even to themselves." For most of us, metrics-driven leaders and time-off by fiat are hard to come by. But is there something we can all do to give 24/7 a sanity check? Welcome the auditors - let them examine the ledger of "to do's" and test what's really valuable versus baloney. A partner at a global accounting firm told us how she and her spouse vet each other's calendars once a week. They talk through which meetings/dinners/golf games are truly critical and triage the rest. Our best friend, our spouse, our kids: they all have opinions about how we spend our time, if we only stop to listen.

So when voices chide "close laptop" (my daughter), "smartphone off" (my son), "go to sleep" (my husband), I need to give them license to steer me away from the shoals, past the siren song, of 24/7. Sailing somewhere between Gordon Gekko and Sweden will likely prove a better course for all of us.

Visit the Washington Post for this piece and more from the entire column.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Too Few Women In Tech? How We Can Improve Diversity.

Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch just came out with an article about women in Silicon Valley with a fairly controversial headline: Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men. He argues that women really don’t want to be entrepreneurs, there aren’t very many women entrepreneurs, and therefore it is unfair to blame him for not having more women speakers at his conferences. Basically he states that he tries very hard to have women speakers and venture capitalists try very hard to fund women entrepreneurs, but they cannot find them.

Now, I can tell you that in my 17 years of working in Silicon Valley, I have never talked to a venture capitalist that has said they are looking for female entrepreneurs to fund. But I have spoken to conference organizers looking for female speakers. I actually agree that they are probably unfairly criticized, but I don’t think it is because there aren’t enough female potential speakers. I think that woman might be much more selective about where they go speak. If you are a female entrepreneur, and a mom, and you are asked to speak at a conference, a balancing act occurs in your head. Is this conference worthwhile? Is it worthwhile enough to give up an evening with my children? Or a few days with my kids if it requires travel? Perhaps this balancing act means that women are less likely to say “yes” to a boondoggle, or a conference that might be fun but is unlikely to bring them more clients or additional funding. I don’t know if this is the reason it is hard to find speakers, but I suspect that it is one part of the equation.

I asked my friend Robbie, a Silicon Valley marketing whiz/consultant, for her thoughts on Michael’s column and here was her response. What do you think?

I think the reason Tech Crunch and the other event organizers have a hard time getting women entrepreneurs to participate in their programs is that there is a relatively small number of big name women entrepreneurs and they are in high demand. The real issue is why there are so few successful women entrepreneurs.

While most VCs would love to invest in more qualified woman-run companies, they tend to work the networks of people they already know, who are mostly male, and rely in great part on personal references to identify and qualify companies. In addition, the timing for founding companies is tricky for women, who often find themselves choosing between starting a family or starting a company. While men are increasingly involved in childrearing and household management, the reality is that the bulk of these responsibilities still falls with women—even those who are highly qualified engineers and MBAs.

What can we do about this discrepancy?

Men in power positions such as Mr. Arrington need to continue to keep the doors open, and look hard for entrepreneurs who don’t look like everyone else. Women need to be more thoughtful about their career aspirations earlier on, and braver about taking risks. And couples need to share the responsibilities at home, so both men and women can have equal opportunities to create the new businesses, jobs and technologies that make Silicon Valley such an exciting place to be.

-Joanna Strober