Workplace Wisdom

Take a Fresh Look to Salvage a Challenging Time

Had a call with a client this morning. Business has been slow for him as it has been for so many. He runs a consultative service company, and described a number of concerns and frustrations: problems satisfying one client, challenges getting a second to keep commitments for schedule and scope of work, difficulties getting a third to agree to terms at all. His tone intensified as the issues he described became more complex and seemingly more intractable.

I had to interrupt to tease him a little. “I know the expenses keep coming, and your revenue is down, but tell me the truth — if times were good, and you weren’t so worried about cashflow, wouldn’t you think this was a terrific mix of potential? All these aggravations would be the equivalent of job security — just look at how much your clients need you to help restructure their businesses!”

He laughed, a little startled, and agreed. It was a great mix of work, and showed a huge amount of improvement and movement since we started working together six months ago.

You Have to Do the Work (to Get the Result)

Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge your progress when, despite all your efforts, you seem to be standing in the bottom of a deep hole. It’s hard to even notice the quality of your actions while you’re waiting, painfully, for a satisfying outcome. Here’s a wonderfully illustrative excerpt about the importance of building momentum out of “the quiet discipline” of “turning the wheel” from an article Jim Collins wrote for Fast Company magazine in October 2001 around the time his book Good to Great came out:

“…you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward… You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work… You keep pushing steadily… With each turn, it moves faster, and then — at some point, you can’t say exactly when — you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.”

Back to my client. We talked about how much he has learned and grown, and how he has actually shifted the role of the business in order to expand existing client relationships and begin to build new ones. We discussed how much better the company was positioned to take advantage of recent shifts in market opportunity. He agreed to pause when he gets frustrated, and check how far he’s come. He promised to take a little more time for self-care, so he won’t be too exhausted to keep moving forward, pushing on that wheel, and manage to fit in at least a good laugh or two every morning, even if he has to buy a joke book.

It’s reasonable to hope for better conditions. It’s natural to wish for success. It’s frustrating to have to keep grinding away when you want to be cruising lightly along. But the conditions are what they are and the work needs to be done.

Instead of deciding the glass is half empty, decide if you want to drink what’s in it. If that’s the taste you want, make the most of it. What are the small, consistent, persistent actions you need to take to turn your wheel? Commit to doing them — and then evaluate how much the glass holds.

Onward and upward,

LK

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