Friday, February 3, 2012

What to do when you're stuck

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CBS News
February 2, 2012 7:41 AM
By Margaret Heffernan

Leaders always face difficult, apparently intransigent problems. You can look on the bright side and appreciate that this pain always represents learning. But the reality is that, all too often, getting stuck is frightening. Here are some ways to get un-stuck:

Stop working
The natural tendency, when up against a tough problem, is to keep working at it. And, up to a point, that's what you should and must do. But we all reach a moment of diminishing returns, where we are retracing the same old thought lines, beating our heads against the same brick walls. At those moments, it's crucial to stop. … To find new approaches means you have to do something new too.

Do something completely different
Codebreakers will tell you that often the best way to solve a problem is to look away from it. … Exercise brings a rush of oxygen into the brain which definitely helps. … Even the slightest physical movement can jolt you out of the mental rut in which you are stuck.

… Don't start something that takes time - that's displacement activity. Just choose a simple enough task that will shift your thinking while you do it.

Have a conversation (not a meeting)
Conversations about the area you're working in will force you to frame the subject, to define and articulate exactly what it is you are working on. The very act of articulating it may help you to see it differently or to define it for yourself more clearly. …

Ask for help
Don't expect a solution. … Instead, discussing a range of approaches may spark a chain reaction that eventually leads you to see the solution - or at least part of it….

Go to sleep
… I know so many people who have had great ideas in their sleep that now, if I'm working on something particularly intractable, I will deliberately think about it just before I doze off. I want my mind to work on it. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, of course. But even if I don't have a revelation, the next morning I'm alert and ready to try again.

Don't panic. Remember: You've been here before. … So don't forget that you already have those successes under your belt. You've confronted horrible obstacles before and cleared them. That means you're very likely to be able to do so this time. As long as you keep your nerve and keep going.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
  • Margaret Heffernan Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on
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8 Things Your Employees Need Most

Forget about raises and better benefits. Those are important -- but this is what your staff really wants.
By Jeff Haden@jeff_haden   |  Feb 2, 2012
Pay is important. But pay only goes so far.

Getting a raise is like buying a bigger house; soon, more becomes the new normal.

Higher wages won’t cause employees to automatically perform at a higher level. …

To truly care about your business, your employees need these eight things—and they need them from you:

1. Freedom.  … Autonomy and latitude breed engagement and satisfaction. Latitude also breeds innovation. …

Whenever possible, give your employees the freedom to work the way they work best.

2. Targets. … Targets create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Without a goal to shoot for, work is just work. And work sucks.

3. Mission. …. Striving to be worthy of words like "best" or "largest" or "fastest" or "highest quality" provides a sense of purpose.

Let employees know what you want to achieve, for your business, for customers, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own.

Caring starts with knowing what to care about—and why.

4. Expectations. While every job should include some degree of latitude, every job needs basic expectations regarding the way specific situations should be handled. …

Few things are more stressful than not knowing what your boss expects from one minute to the next.

When standards change make sure you communicate those changes first. When you can't, explain why this particular situation is different, and why you made the decision you made.

5. Input. Everyone wants to offer suggestions and ideas. Deny employees the opportunity to make suggestions, or shoot their ideas down without consideration, and you create robots.

Robots don't care.

Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. When an idea doesn't have merit, take the time to explain why. You can't implement every idea, but you can always make employees feel valued for their ideas.

6. Connection. Employees don’t want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people.
A kind word, a short discussion about family, a brief check-in to see if they need anything... those individual moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations.

7. Consistency. … While you should treat each employee differently, you must treat each employee fairly. …

The key to maintaining consistency is to communicate. The more employees understand why a decision was made the less likely they are to assume favoritism or unfair treatment.

8. Future. Every job should have the potential to lead to something more, either within or outside your company….

Take the time to develop employees for jobs they someday hope to fill—even if those positions are outside your company. (How will you know what they hope to do? Try asking.)

Employees will care about your business when you care about them first.

  • Jeff Haden
    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

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