By Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand, authors of “Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Changes“
In our wired world, we’re always on, flipping from task to task, and struggling to keep up with a burgeoning to do list. And we’re not alone. Everyone we work with seems to be in a frenzy of activity all the time, focusing on firefighting while juggling multiple deadlines in between a whirlwind of meetings, emails and conference calls. The pace of change often overwhelms our ability to cope.
But change never stops. Most of us have many changes on our plates, both work and personal, that we are trying to manage. So how can we handle it all and avoid personal and organizational burnout?
In our new book, “Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Changes” – titled for our term for strategic, agile change – we share a number of ways individuals and organizations can successfully change and grow while avoiding change fatigue and burn out.
Here are three Stragility skills you can try today:
In our lives, we’re so busy building and adding things that we often forget to ask what we should STOP doing. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he was overwhelmed as project after project was presented to him. Famously he concluded that the company needed just four focus areas – great desktop and portable devices for consumers and professionals. That led to the iPhone and Mac products of today.
What can you stop doing today to free up capacity for your passion project? Once you’ve stopped as many as you can, prioritize the rest. Think about each in terms of potential impact and probability of success. Here’s a handy grid you can use:
Pace Yourself and Celebrate Quick Wins.
Pacing is not just a skill for athletes. Instead of doing everything at once and burning out or doing a little of everything but nothing well, we can pace our work over time the same way a runner trains for a marathon. For example, a start-up we know divided its work into crawl, walk, and run phases as it moved toward launching its new app. By pacing, the company was able to learn from failures and adjust, then celebrate progress on its journey.
Most of us need short-term goals and milestones to sustain our interest and keep our momentum. As we move our work forward, think about rallying milestones or “dates with destiny” (first prototypes, investor meetings, PR events) that will focus, energize, and create urgency for the change within your business. Then take the time to recognize everyone’s contributions and celebrate these milestones.
Manage Energy Not Time.
A lot of recent studies are finding convincing evidence that energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance, not only for world-class athletes but also for business professionals.
We’re expected to be available 24/7, always “on” through endless meetings and projects. To cope, we multitask, eat poorly, and cut back on family, physical, and spiritual activities to focus on the mental and emotional demands of our work lives. And we don’t build in time for recovery. Doing this too long, we “flatline” – with low energy and motivation. As more and more of us do this, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization.
Instead, we can learn to use our positive energy to get more done and inspire others to get behind the changes we are leading. To recharge those in your organization as well as yourself, brainstorm with walking meetings, provide healthy snacks, start a walk at lunch initiative, and take frequent breaks. Another thing we have learned, through meditation and yoga, is the power of our minds in framing how we react to things. In other words, the same stuff framed and faced differently can lead to dramatically different outcomes. Talk about change as new, exciting, fun and an opportunity you are grateful for, and it will likely feel less like work.
These three Stragility skills can greatly improve you and your team’s ability to win at change every time and avoid burn-out. Start by objectively prioritizing and eliminating non-critical work and projects. Then pace your work. Think of it as a series of sprints rather than one endless life marathon. Finally, manage your own energy by eating better, sleeping and taking time to recharge throughout the day and seeing the world optimistically. Make doing less and accomplishing more a priority.
Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand are the authors of “Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Changes“. Auster is Professor of Strategic Management and the Founding Director of the Schulich Centre for Teaching Excellence at the Schulich School of Business, York University. Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates, and previously served as Global Marketing Director at Procter & Gamble.