Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Not All Babies Are Beautiful

This morning Susan Sabo of Organizers Inc. and I went to visit Jamie Joffe, the harried publicist who couldn't keep up with the business end of her home-based public relations company.

Well, it was all my fault, but we ended up doing a lot of chatting and not so much organizing. It was really funny to hear Susan's cynical take on the advice from Philadelphia executive coach Marty Sikora. I printed his comments in an earlier post titled Give Yourself A Break. Essentially he said that most people don't change very quickly, so it makes a lot more sense to take very small steps, become accustomed to those changes and then change more.

Susan's reaction was a dubious roll of the eyes. Susan had sent me an email about it from her West Chester office. I will print it here, so you can read between the lines yourself.

"This post is charming! I appreciate the coach’s approach to baby steps and more importantly, keeping your energy working on the really important things.

Encouraging a client to move very slowly is also a great way to have a long relationship.

Using Mr. Sikora’s analogy for weight loss, the 30% of Americans who are extremely obese would spend the rest of their lives taking baby steps to get to a ‘normal’ weight. In the meantime they’re likely to suffer many of the ill affects of obesity including hypertension, diabetes, and ridicule.

As productivity professionals we are about getting things done. We have clients who don’t enjoy the label colleagues give them for having a messy office because it is incongruent with their professional abilities. They have missed too many deadlines and opportunities. Or, perhaps they want to use the money they’re paying in late fees and interest on their clutter-buried credit card bills for an assistant or something fun.

Many folks who work with us productivity specialists often have "aha" moments and epiphanies. By working with us they get skills that the education system didn’t deliver for them. We develop systems that they couldn’t develop themselves. These systems often result in quick organization of an office because papers and information have a path and way to flow.

Our clients have moved up the corporate ladder or expanded their own business and are handcuffed by the need to handle so many more related tasks. We have the key to unlock those handcuffs with new procedures and routines.

One of my clients managed a manufacturing plant with a budget in the tens of millions dollars. He had evolved skills at working with people and is a genius with special knowledge in biology and manufacturing. He wasn’t so good at putting paperwork and magazines in the right place, and he had 8,000+ messages in his inbox. He kept everything just in case.

We removed nearly a ton of papers from his 12 x 12 office and created easy guidelines for paper retention as well as a supporting filing system. He then used the email system’s mailman to manage the hundreds of emails received every day. In six sessions he ended with an attractive office that matches his professional abilities. He is calm when collecting information for a meeting and can do it in minutes. He can even have meetings with his staff in his office rather than the conference room down the hall.

He could have taken one small stack at a time and would have been on the effort for the rest of his career."

4 Comments:

Anonymous Melissa said...

I've said the same thing myself and I firmly believe it. People don't change, at least not fundamentally. Sure, they can change behavior, but depending how hard-wired their tendencies, even that can be hard. BTW, I'm not a professional, but from years of trying myself and observing others, I've concluded that Marty is pretty much on track.

I too struggle mightily with clutter. I doubt I'll ever be someone who uses color coding or labeling of stuff. The thing I've been doing is trying to purge. I take old books down to the local bookstore for credit and I make sure to throw away empty boxes and old newspapers. Even that little bit of behavior change is extremely hard for me.

Good Luck, I'll be curious how this goes.

8:13 AM  
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4:55 PM  
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5:30 AM  
Anonymous mario sikora said...

Hello Susan,
I was just reading your reaction to my letter to Jane Von Bergen on her blog (“Not all Babies are Beautiful,” April 5, 2006). You have valid points about the needs of your clients, and serving the needs of the client should be the primary focus of any professional. As I said in my email to Ms Von Bergen, one must do a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to making change. If the payoff is worth the effort, the effort must be made. In the case of the client you described, it was of value to him to make dramatic changes in the area of organization. It seemed to me, however, that the dramatic change approach was not working for Ms. Von Bergen and she needed a different approach.
I feel compelled to point out a couple of things: According to Fast Company magazine, statistics show that only 1 in 9 people who have life threatening medical conditions (heart attacks, stroke, etc.) are able to make the lifestyle changes recommended by their physicians. If people who have just had a heart attach have a difficult time making changes, how difficult will it be for the rest of us?
While I don't know the statistics on successful weight loss, anecdotally it seems that yo-yo-ing is the fate of most people who lose weight quickly through dramatic measures and they tend to gain it back while people who take the slow and steady approach keep it off longer.
I also feel compelled to respond to your comment "Encouraging a client to move very slowly is also a great way to have a long relationship." I charge my clients a flat rate for my coaching work rather than an hourly rate to avoid the exact issue you are implying. I get paid to help my clients address the performance issues they have hired my to address and I get paid the same amount if I spend 6 hours with them or 30 hours with them. Therefore, it is in my financial interest to help them get results the fastest way possible.
Sometimes, however, the fastest way is the slow way.
Warm Regards,
Mario

9:37 AM  

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