Chapter 1: A Winning Program
"Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed." When I first read those opening lines from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking,
they shook me to the core. The words rang with truth and power, and like millions of others, I became "hooked" on the concepts of positive thinking. And like millions of other people, I adopted the principles in all aspects of my life, which led to an incredible personal transformation. Barely twenty-one years old, I became a new man! My personal relationships improved vastly. I became more confident and focused. The "bad breaks" I had been experiencing seemed to evaporate. And unlike other self-improvement concepts, positive thinking principles stayed with me and led me to many successes in my personal and professional life. Most self-improvement programs are a lot like Chinese food; that is, it tastes great and fills you up, but then a few hours later you're ready for pizza. The principles of positive thinking are different because they are built on a solid foundation of indisputable, universal spiritual and scientific principles. It was while working with the Juran Institute, a quality management consulting firm, that I made the connection between positive thinking and business. During my eleven years with Juran as a consultant, I worked with numerous organizations, helping them to achieve greater levels of performance by focusing on quality.
Much of the emphasis was on making higher-quality goods and services: things
and the processes
by which they were created. What bothered me was that little attention was paid to the people
responsible for making the "things" and designing the processes. What finally convinced me that we were neglecting a critical performance issue was a discussion I had with Ritz-Carlton's CEO, Horst Schulze. Ritz-Carlton had just won the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA), which recognizes companies for outstanding quality. It had invested thousands of dollars in learning and applying TQM concepts and practices companywide. I wanted to hear directly from Horst what he thought the key to the company's success was. The "people" factor had been brewing in my head, and I wanted to independently, albeit nonscientifically, corroborate it. I asked him a simple, nonleading question: "Mr. Schulze, of all the business concepts you employed to become an MBNQA winner, which would you say was the single most important factor?" It took him barely ten seconds to respond: "People! Having motivated, energetic, hardworking people with great attitudes. That's the single most important factor." He was not suggesting that it was the only factor but that it was the most critical. As I conducted more formal research on MBNQA winners, the "people factor" emerged as a common denominator of success. Companies such as Motorola, FedEx, Westinghouse, Milliken, Xerox, and others had all made huge investments in developing their people. But which aspects of people development yield the greatest return? Which aspects help us bring out the highest potential of our people?WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE FAIL TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL IN BUSINESS?
In my workshops I ask participants to take a moment and, on a blank sheet of paper, write all the reasons why, in their opinion, people fail to reach their full potential in business. Perhaps you'll want to try it, too. It's important not to read ahead before doing this simple, yet revealing exercise. So go ahead and make your list. Write down as many ideas as you can think of without evaluating them. Once you've created your list, evaluate and place in rank order your top three reasons. I've conducted this exercise hundreds of times with people in all walks of life. Now take a look at the box above. It lists typical responses.
Now review the list. Were any of the responses similar to what appeared on your list? Chances are that many were very similar, if not the same. Do you see a pattern? What many people immediately notice is that the list can be divided into two broad categories, internal and external. Look at the list again (either yours or the one in the book): Which factors are internal, and which are external? For instance, is lack of confidence internal or external? Most people would agree that it is something internal to the individual and therefore more directly controllable than an external factor. How about fear? Low self-esteem? What were your top three reasons? Are they internal or external? More than 95 percent of the time, people list internal
factors as reasons why people fail to reach their full potential in business. According to the noted psychologist Dr. James Fadiman, "When we get stuck while trying to reach a goal, it usually isn't because we need to learn a new technique. Rather, it's because we've run up against one or more internal barriers.
Until we deal with those inner obstacles, all the good intentions, plans, and motivational strategies in the world won't be good enough to see us through to our goals."
What we're talking about here is attitude.
Each year companies invest millions of dollars in knowledge and skills-based training to improve performance. Yet the results have been dismal. In proportion to the investment, little improvement is made, certainly not enough to justify the investment. Training focused on knowledge and skills is not enough. In most cases where people know what to do (that is, they have the knowledge) and how to do it (they have the skills), they still don't follow through (perform) nearly as well as they could. Self-limiting beliefs and negative thoughts that shape attitude are the culprits, blocking effective application of knowledge and skills.
What about the external factors? Are they really outside our control? Can we do anything about "lack of training" or "no management support"? How about "lack of resources"? Of course not; that is, not directly. What we can do is change our view of these external factors. In the words of Stoic philosopher Epictetus, "Man is disturbed not by things but the view he takes of those things."
We can choose to allow external factors to defeat us, or we can choose to view them in a hopeful, expectant manner. And when we view external factors in this manner, we find that we really can -- and do -- have control over them.
External factors affecting performance can be grouped into three "excuse" categories, what I call the "three Ls":
- Lack: Don't have "it," never did, never will.
- Loss: Had "it" but lost it.
- Limitation: Have "it" but in limited quantities.
When we fail to achieve a particular goal or level of success, we often blame it on one of the "three Ls."
An individual with the "lack" mentality is always complaining that he or she doesn't have the resources necessary to be successful: money, education, connections, and so on. Some of us fall back on the "loss" mentality: "Things were going well with my project until two of my team members were reassigned to a new project. I can't possibly finish it in time now." Finally, there's the "limitation" mentality: "I'd like to go for that new position, but I don't have enough experience or education. I'd probably fail." Many people experience one or a combination of the "three Ls," but instead of using it as an excuse, they use it to motivate and mobilize themselves. They realize that the only real inhibitors are the conclusions they reach about external barriers.
Earlier in this chapter, I made a distinction between internal and external barriers to achieving our potential in the workplace. But as you can now see, essentially all barriers are internal
and therefore can be controlled directly. Is there anything we can do about internal barriers? Before responding, let's review where we are: knowledge and skills, in and of themselves, do not lead to high performance in the workplace. A critical ingredient in the mix is attitude, which, when positive, enables us to overcome our internal barriers. When our attitude is negative, the internal barriers overwhelm and ultimately defeat us. Attitude, by definition, is a "mental position or feeling about an object." If we can change our mental position (thoughts) and feelings, we can change our behavior. But can we really change our thoughts and feelings? As managers, can we change the thoughts and feelings of others? How? Most managers are trained to focus only on results, which are the consequences
of behavior. People whose behavior leads to good results are rewarded. People whose behaviors do not lead to good results are either not rewarded or are punished and/or sent back to training! Most managers are not comfortable with the idea of changing people's thoughts and feelings. That's the job of an organizational psychologist, isn't it? A manager might argue that the best she can do is hire people with good attitude, and hope that the attitude stays positive.
Of course, we can screen prospective employees and hire on the basis of attitude. Some good assessment tools are available for that purpose. But who doesn't hire for attitude? Some managers believe that employees can be grouped into two categories: those with positive attitudes and those with negative attitudes. But if we hire for only positive attitude, why do so many companies have problems with poor attitude? I remember attending a meeting of human resource professionals who were part of a Fortune
100 service company. The meeting was kicked off by the president, who happened to be an advocate of positive thinking. He told the group that the single most important success factor for the organization was attitude. And it was his opinion that "there are too many people in this company with bad attitudes." To my astonishment, he continued by saying, "I think we should find all the people with bad attitudes and fire them!" Although he knew he couldn't really do that, he was dead serious. What he didn't realize is that most people start their jobs with a positive, hopeful outlook. Most people come to work every day earnestly looking to do the best job they can. But as in most areas of life, we are beset with problems, challenges, and crises in the workplace every day. Even the most positive people can be beaten down. The challenge for managers is to create an environment that constantly reinforces and nurtures positive attitudes. Some good managers are inherently effective in this regard. But others require a "road map," so to speak, to show them how. This is where positive thinking plays such a powerful role -- because it provides a road map to help people get to the source of the internal barriers -- negativity, pessimism, poor attitude -- that affect performance.THE ROAD MAP TO POSITIVE THINKING
Most of us can remember a time, whether in our personal or professional lives, when we were faced with a daunting, perhaps life-threatening situation. And most of us can remember handling that tough situation effectively -- as a result of positive thinking. The fact is that all of us are positive thinkers to one degree or another. All of us have employed positive thinking techniques to get ourselves out of a jam. Most of the time we react
to situations and employ positive thinking in an unstructured way. But applying positive thinking in business requires that we develop a more structured, methodical approach to proactively
dealing with both planned and unplanned challenging situations. The positive thinking road map involves seven steps, which I will outline here briefly. In subsequent chapters, I develop each step in much greater detail.1. Define the situation.
Successful resolution of a business challenge begins with investing enough time and effort to define it clearly, yet comprehensive. Doing so may take only a few minutes, but this simple act can
- Give you a clear target on which to focus your efforts.
- Lessen any anxiety you may be feeling about the situation.
Most challenging situations in the workplace require an appropriate mix of knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes and behaviors. This step presumes that you possess the requisite knowledge and skills to tackle a situation. But all situations in business, no matter how simple or complex, require that we interact effectively with other people. In defining the situation, we need to focus on two areas. The first is our view of the situation. The second is the manner in which we conduct ourselves when dealing with other people. The definition of the situation should be a short, concise description of the business
issue and the emotional gravity of the situation.
Here are some examples:
- My team's attitude and performance are down. I need to turn this situation around, starting with our next meeting. I am worried that we will not accomplish our objectives by year's end.
- I have yet another project deadline to meet, but I'm burning out from a relentless workload. The more I do, the more is handed to me. I am frustrated, anxious, and ready to explode.
- I've just been passed over for a promotion I know I deserve, and I'm going to confront my manager. I am hurt and angry.
- I must give a presentation to management explaining why my project is over budget and overdue. I am fearful and anxious.
- It's performance review time, and I have an employee who thinks his performance was stellar, when in fact it was mediocre. I should have confronted him about this a month ago, but I waited, hoping that things would improve. He's going to be disappointed and potentially confrontational. I'm afraid and really don't want to have to deal with him directly.
A well-defined problem is a problem half solved! To get the most benefit from this book, I suggest that you take few minutes now to identify and define a challenging situation you are currently facing or expect to face in the near future. Jot it down on a pad and hold on to it. As you read through the book, there will be other opportunities to continue planning for a successful outcome to your particular challenge, and you will also find a useful guide in the Resource Section at the end of this book.2. What are you telling yourself?
With regard to the problematic situation you just defined, what are you saying to yourself? As you know, your thoughts about any situation you are facing can work for or against you. Simply put: Think positive, become positive; think negative, become negative. Your self-talk (what you're telling yourself about the situation) is the key to determining whether you're thinking clearly and rationally or letting negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration get the better of you. Chapters 3 and 4 will explain this concept more fully, as well as a method known as "truth in thinking" that can help you deal more constructively with negative self-talk.3. What is your desired outcome?
At this point, you should be clear about the situation you're facing and view it in an appropriately positive and constructive light. Now you're in a position to specify the outcome you desire.
The outcome should be expressed in measurable ways. It should include both quantitative and qualitative measurements. This step combines three powerful concepts:
- Setting goals
You have a much better chance of getting what you want if you know what you want and can write a plan using the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Once you've set some SMART goals, you'll want to prepare a plan for accomplishing them. The next step will help you do this.4. Access your positive traits.
Achieving your goals requires that you identify and eliminate negative attitudinal barriers (see step 2). In doing this, you will create a fertile environment for cultivating the positive behaviors inherent in all of us. There are ten specific behavioral traits that are characteristic of a positive-thinking and positive-living person: optimism, enthusiasm, belief, integrity, courage, confidence, determination, patience, calmness, and focus. These traits can be leveraged and brought to bear on challenging situations to help you meet your goals and objectives.5. Rehearse the situation mentally.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal
article, today's most successful business executives attribute their success to six activities, mental rehearsal being one of them. As confirmed by many business and sports professionals, by mentally rehearsing every facet and feeling of what needs to happen for you to obtain your desired outcome, you will vastly improve your odds of attaining it.6. Take action.
After taking the preceding steps, you should be well positioned to take positive action. At this point, it's a good idea to create a plan outlining the specific steps you'll need to take. This is an organic process, not a mechanical one, and you will discover that some challenging situations extend over periods of weeks and months and thus involve numerous substeps. A detailed plan will help you think through how you're going to approach each phase of the situation.7. Assess the results of your actions.
This is the final step. By taking time to reflect thoughtfully after taking action, you will position yourself for improved performance in the future. With hindsight you'll probably recognize that certain aspects of your performance were very effective, while others were less so. The intent here is for you to invest some time in assessing your action(s) so that in the future you can repeat what works for you and, equally important, correct any shortcomings you may have identified.
You can begin your after-action assessment by asking yourself the following questions:
- To what extent did I attain my desired outcome?
- What went well? Why?
- Which aspects of my plan (Road Map Steps 1-6) were most effective? Why?
- What could have gone better?
- What would I do differently next time?
- What were the specific success ingredients?
The positive thinking road map provides a comprehensive structure for planning, implementing, and evaluating our performance in challenging situations. This structure makes it possible for anybody in an organization to learn and apply positive thinking methods to business challenges with measurable outcomes. As managers, our first responsibility is to apply the road map to our own challenging situations. Next, we can be role models for positive thinking attitudes and behaviors. We also need to coach others using positive thinking tools and techniques. This helps to create and perpetuate a positive culture.
Positive thinking in business has many benefits:
THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING IN BUSINESS
- It is the key to bringing out the potential of all employees, which is the driver for high performance.
- It is the single most important factor for creating outstanding service -- just ask the people at the Walt Disney Company or Southwest Airlines!
- It stimulates innovation and creativity.
- It fosters an open, honest, trusting work environment.
- It greatly enhances interpersonal relationships, which are the key to getting things done.
- It saves a great deal of money.
The cost-saving benefits of positive thinking deserve some extra attention. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. companies lose about $3 billion a year due to negativity. This comes in the form of lost productivity due to gossiping, griping, complaining, and undermining the efforts of others. There are also costs related to customer dissatisfaction and loss of goodwill. Customers experiencing poor service will look for alternatives. If customers' complaints about poor service are met with a bad attitude, it often infuriates them and prompts them to take further action.
One of my client companies has a very fair and equitable grievance process for all its employees. It is designed to provide anyone who feels he was unfairly treated with a means of stating his case to,
if necessary, the highest levels within the organization. There are tremendous costs associated with this process, since anybody can initiate it at any time. If the process works its way up two or three levels, it occupies the time of highly paid managers and executives, who ideally should be focusing their attention on other, value-added areas.
I am not suggesting that the grievance process is unnecessary. It plays an important role in the organization and is viewed very positively by employees. I am
suggesting that use of the grievance process can be greatly reduced by learning how to deal more effectively and fairly with people. By applying positive thinking concepts, my client was able to significantly reduce the number of grievances filed and the amount of time spent on the grievance process.
In another instance, a friend of mine who works in health care encountered some problems with her supervisor. Being a direct, open person, she decided to meet with the supervisor to see if they could identify the source of their disagreements and resolve the issue. Unfortunately, during the meeting the supervisor became defensive and hostile. Other managers were called in, and after considerable intervention the situation was eventually sorted out. Could this situation have been avoided altogether? I believe so. Managers spend an inordinate amount of their time each day dealing with nonproductive, energy-sapping issues resulting from negativity in the workplace.
I've mentioned these examples of "negativity costs" because they're often overlooked and shrugged off as a cost of doing business. But living with, or putting up with, negativity doesn't have to be that way. Changing, or moving toward a positive work environment, all starts with a good understanding of what positive thinking really is.
Copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Ventrella and the Peale Center