THE MILLIONAIRE’S TALE
Martin Seligman is considered one of the fathers of the positive psychology movement which studied positive psychological traits and trained people to achieve them. His decades of experiments and clinical study resulted in a book titled Learned Optimism. In it, he describes a 20 year study of 1,500 participants that brings optimism and attitude out of the “warm and fuzzy” compartment and places it squarely in the cash and business compartment — making it, for our purposes and this readership, a Business Essential. The study showed people with negative expectations make less money than those more positively oriented. Of the 1,500 participants, Group A (83 percent of the subjects) chose their jobs with the specific desire of making a lot of money. Group B (17 percent of the subjects) chose their jobs because they had positive expectations of the work itself. After 20 years, 101 millionaires were produced from the 1,500 person group. To everyone’s surprise only one (1) millionaire came from Group A (“the money-seekers”) whereas Group B (“the work-believers”) produced 100 millionaires.
As an interesting aside, more than 70 percent of the millionaires skipped college altogether and of the 30 percent who did attend college, nearly 75 percent of those people graduated in the bottom half of their class. Dr. Seligman concluded that the altitudes of the participants were determined by their “attitudes” and not their “aptitudes.” The good doctor maintains that positive expectation is the key characteristic of financial success!
As before, let’s ask some tough questions of ourselves:
1. Is attitude-building a central practice of yours when you’re with your employees?
2. Do you monitor what comes out of your mouth, careful that your language reflects business expectations you’ve set?
3. Are you guilty of sabotaging your own best intentions through negative, often destructive, self-talk?
UNDERSTANDING THE JARGON OF EXPECTATIONS
Like most fields of study there’s some jargon that’s used in the world of attitude. To learn it is to understand it; to understand it is to better reach it. Explanatory style is the way we choose to explain situations to ourselves. In other words, what are the “stories” we construct and tell ourselves? Please note that, for our purposes, sharing positive expectations with your staff does not mean whistling a self-deluded happy tune while the repo guys are unplugging the CNC router. For negative types, there’s a tendency to think bad things and down days are permanent with no chance of let-up — this style renders us helpless. To them, this recession is part of a long string of lousy economic periods; one they make certain everyone knows trails them like flies at a picnic. For those who paint sunnier expectations, the bad times are only temporary and when good things happen, it is most likely because of a positive trait they possess. Pessimists tend to think that bad happenings are pervasive, widespread and unfair. The optimists around us don’t hesitate to externalize what’s bad. (“The economy just rolled over us — there was no one to blame.”) Once again, the core message is that everyone encounters adversity and everyone develops a belief as to what created it. The last part is trickiest: How do you handle that adversity? How do you respond to this super-sized business challenge?
OPEN UP BEFORE YOU CLOSE DOWN
At this very moment, you and your employees share the risks of 2009. There’s every possibility that things could become bad enough — quickly enough — that you will have to institute an across-the-board pay cut or let go of an employee that you can no longer afford. As they say, you now all have some skin in the game. Now’s the time to share the challenges before you, but first you might have to share some previously confidential information. If you’re uneasy, it’s simple enough to have everyone sign a confidential information agreement. Then, schedule your first-ever “Expecting The Best” meeting:
• First, clearly define all the expectations, the roles assigned and who has overall responsibility for fulfilling them.\
• Prepare some spreadsheets and charts — photocopy certain sections of your recent financial statements along with any of the strategic plans and budgets you have had in place over the last few years.
• Strive to establish that everyone on your team understands your company’s position right now vs. where you want to be and need to be; teach them about the gap.
• Determine your monthly break-even numbers and how much cash you need each week to meet payroll and keep the suppliers happy with your payment schedule.
• Make your expectations visual where possible. Nothing beats an old-fashioned thermometer showing your progress.
• In a wicked economic environment, some achievements are very nearly impossible (i.e., increasing profit margins). Don’t track what can’t be done; instead design creative improvements that make your company better and better known.
In summary, remember how psychologically powerful a steady hand on the tiller is to your own crew. You are under the watchful eyes of your employees as they wait to take their cues directly from you. How you react to every obstacle and pitfall is enormously important to the capability of your staff. Give them your best in order to fuel the return effort on their part. Gloomy forecasts needn’t strip out a company’s natural need for goals, objectives and expectations for success. Without shared expectations, it’s the company, and not the forecast, that becomes unnaturally gloomy. I fully expect you to change that.
About the author: Chris Traynor, Surface Fabrication’s senior business columnist, is the director and knowledge scout for Whip-Smart Management Consulting LLC. Wayne, N.J. (www.whip-smart.com), as well as a board-certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR). Traynor has 25 years of experience in the solid surface industry as a consultant to fabricators, distributors, manufacturers and associated firms. He can be reached at email@example.com.