Proactive Means Now

For many of us the new year begins with the best of intentions. It’s not so much that we delude ourselves in committing to resolutions we will never pursue as it is the open calendar before us filled with possibility and promise. What can we do with all of those days between now and the end of the year? The choices are as endless as the opportunities.

Almost immediately we start falling behind in our daily tasks. Days into the new year we are already playing catch up. Why can’t we get ahead of our task lists and beat the daily grind into submission? Why can’t we focus on projects and prospects that matter? Why do we spend endless hours on stuff but still waste so much time?

Maybe it’s just too easy to kick the can.

Difficult challenges don’t sort out themselves. They have to be wrangled and wrestled. That’s the kind of intellectual and emotional commitment that takes the force of will to muster. If you want to achieve meaningful progress, you have to get ahead of your calendar, not let it consume you.

Want that glorious promotion at work? It’s not going to find you.

Want to make a significant dent in your competition? They aren’t going on vacation to give you breathing room to pounce.

Want to learn a new skill, a new language, accelerate your ability in an artistic discipline, or finally figure out why your department is going sideways instead of upward? Those are all really difficult things to do that won’t take place between Facebook posts or tweets.

If you want to stop drowning in your dizziness, learn to think proactively. Set your sights on a potential outcome and work your way back to the present. Envision a roadmap and establish a set of checkpoints that will lead you to a better outcome. Own the outcome by owning the process.

Most important, you need to do it now. Not in a month. Not in a week. Not tomorrow. Not in an hour. Now means now.

Procrastination will cost you your dreams. If you have dreams, you need to act on them. Even if you don’t have dreams, and you should, if you have stuff to do that will make you more successful and personally fulfilled, you need to do it immediately.

Not after breakfast. Not after lunch. Not at the day’s end when you are exhausted, pissed off, and want to climb under a blanket. Do it now.

I don’t care if you’re busy. We’re all busy. If you are putting off the stuff that matters for busywork, knock it off. Do the hard stuff first. Busywork is a punt. People do busywork to look busy, often at the expense of making a difference.

What does it mean to be proactive? It means not waiting to be reactive.

Reactive is a deflating death march of punch lists.

Proactive is an uplifting rallying cry of planning.

Reactive is missing a sales forecast and formulating a remedy to catch up on lost business.

Proactive is outpacing a sales forecast by building customer loyalty through surprising and delighting.

Reactive is compiling a list of customer complaints bludgeoning customer service.

Proactive is regular ride-along listening sessions in customer service to turn suggestions and trends into repeatable wins.

Reactive is lowering prices to steal market share with thin margin transactions from customers who will easily abandon you to save pennies.

Proactive is designing a brand that is equal parts price, service, and quality so that small fluctuations in price become ignorable noise to your best customers.

How do you stop being helplessly reactive? You have to commit to the habits of being a self-starter. You’ll know you’re a self-starter when your boss asks a question in a meeting and everyone looks at you to serve up a suggestion fearlessly.

Ready to be a self-starter?

You need to move faster. If you thought something was going to take a week, do it in a day. Force yourself to accelerate.

You need to act with higher quality. If you thought good enough was going to please a customer, you’re wrong. Exceed their expectations.

You need to utilize fewer resources, not more. Use every tool that is available to you and don’t worry about what you don’t have.

The formula for reinvention is better, faster, cheaper. Not one, not two, not two and a half, all three.

What does being proactive mean?

Proactive means to take on a task before someone asks you to do it. It means to finish the task with excellence before someone even knows you started it.

Proactive means knocking the stuff off your to-do list that will have an impact, not the maintenance stuff that no one will notice.

Proactive means knowing that email is a tool, not a task. Unless you work in customer service, no senior executive is going to promote you because you answered all your email.

Proactive means plan for a crisis by avoiding it. If you’re dealing with a surprise crisis, you’re already reactive. Anticipate the crisis. Write down your response to the crisis before it happens. Scenario plan. Have notebooks filled with scenario plans.

Proactive means investing in quality assurance testing at five cents on the dollar instead of a product recall at 200 cents on the dollar.

There aren’t that many commonalities in the success stories you may admire, but one that holds true is urgency. Setting priorities, making time for abstract planning before reporting memos consume you, carving out blocks of time to schedule the milestones of your challenge — that’s how big things in your life will happen.

No outsider will hold you to the promises you make to yourself. You have to decide you want to be proactive. Then you have to remain consistently proactive.

Someone has to make change happen. Why not you? Your future outcome is at this moment in the making. Think about how you could be feeling this time next year if only you can get ahead of your day.

Being proactive is more than a choice. Being proactive is finding the freedom to make this year a year like no other.

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Image: Dilbert.com ©Scott Adams

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Things That Work, Things That Rot

I think I know why Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, if not the most valuable. Simply stated, the company’s products are elegant, and they work. They are intuitive, and they work. They are designed with vision, and they work. Most of all, they work.

Am I willing to pay a premium for that? You bet. Are a lot of other people? How do you think they amassed more cash than our Federal Government (which, incidentally, has proven of late that it does not work). Yes, people will pay a premium for elegant, intuitive, well-designed, visionary products that work. To the victor go the spoils. We get tremendously useful products. Apple gets our cash. We may grumble about the constant upgrade cycles, but we shouldn’t often grumble about the value proposition, We get what we pay for, and in my mind, it’s worth it.

My experience earlier this year buying my first iPad could not have been more pleasant. I began my research polling friends on my Facebook page for feedback on what configuration to buy, and not only got great information, but rave endorsements for the iPad2 itself. I then went to the local Apple Store and despite the fact that they were sold out of iPads, a very well-trained and nice salesperson spent a great deal of time with me going over my options, then suggested I order my iPad online (with free shipping and engraving) to get it sooner. Other customers in the store were also Apple evangelists and offered me lots of friendly tips on apps I might like. I went home, ordered it on a Monday afternoon, had it on Friday morning, and used it all that weekend without any need of a manual or user guide. To take this all the way home, on a recent business trip some of the functionality froze, but when I searched my issue on Google, there was plenty of user feedback that accurately told me how to “reboot” the iPad and unfreeze the grayed-out state I encountered. The fix from problem to resolution with community help took six minutes.

LoveCustomersCompare and contrast this experience with my recent encounter with my telecom company. Early last week, my broadband connection to the internet vaporized—gone, kaput, no warning, no connectivity—in the midst of this week’s heavy stock market trading, which made the timing even more problematic. With sweat inducing trepidation, I called the 800 service number, and after five minutes of voice assisted prompts, I got a very polite person on the phone. This person thanked me for my business, assured me I was appreciated, took my phone number in case we got disconnected, then began to ask me to plug and unplug things which I told him I had already done. Thirty seconds later he accidentally cut off the call. He never called back.

I dialed the 800 number again, went through the voice mail prompts, got another polite human being ten minutes later. This person apologized for the first person cutting me off. Then after some give and take and checking with her supervisor several times while she put me on hold, she communicated to me more than thirty minutes later that my “old” DSL modem, which they had sent me in 2005, was incompatible with a change they had made in their network “at the central station” (sadly, my neighborhood is largely stuck with ancient DSL technology, but that’s another grating story). She then congratulated me on my eligibility for a new and improved free modem upgrade, which she would order for me as soon as her supervisor approved it. I had to go to a meeting, and indeed, 45 minutes later she called and left me three voice mails to congratulate me again that the free modem had been approved and would arrive in 24 hours. It did.

Unfortunately when I connected the new modem, it did not connect to the internet, so I called the 800 number again. After the voice prompts I got another exceptionally polite employee on the line, and this person apologized for the fact that the new modem did not work, but told me a ticket was open and would be resolved by Friday. It was Wednesday. I needed to be online. The nice person said he would escalate the issue, but that a configuration change had to be made at the central station according to the notes in the file.

I lived without hard-line internet through Thursday, saved by my iPad which of course worked fine. On Friday morning I still had no internet, so I called the 800 number again, went through the voice prompts and got another wonderfully polite person who apologized again, but told me the switch at the central station had not been adjusted because of a work stoppage, asking me if I had heard or read about this. I said I had, but I wondered why they would have made a network configuration change earlier in the week, not told me, and sent me a free modem that needed to be configured at the central station when there was no one available to do that. The wonderfully polite person agreed with me that this was wrong, and said I should have been called before the change was made originally to advise me a new modem was coming before they had sent it. I asked if all this was supposed to happen without me calling and he said yes, absolutely, then apologized again for the inconvenience.

I asked when I would have my internet connection again, and he said he hoped it would be by Monday, if someone was available to make the change at the central station during business hours, since they did not work weekends, if they were working at all. I offered some less than polite words about the impact this was having on my ability to conduct business in a turbulent equities market, and suffice it to say, with a certain number of carefully worded phrases (including a promise to write this blog entry), my connectivity was restored about four hours later.

I suppose that’s one way to take a job to completion.

I write this not specifically as a celebration of Apple and an indictment of my telecom company. I offer it instead as a lesson in excellence and the loyalty a true commitment to customers will garner. What Apple does should be the norm, not the exception, but because it is the exception, they enjoy almost unreal loyalty from their customers. I believe most if not all businesses once aspired to such a level of passion, but today, not so much. Mediocrity seems to be good enough for a lot of businesses, and as customers, we are just supposed to grin and bear it. That’s one of the true costs of everyday low prices. Quality can become a coin toss.

Perhaps it is time to put a stake in the ground and demand better products and services in every capacity we consume. With all this choice, customers are supposed to be Job #1. But are we really? If we have been reduced to being consumers rather than customers, than at the very least, let us consume well—without frustration, without anger, with reasonable expectations of the value chain. I have a better idea: let’s not be consumers, let’s be customers and expect to be treated that way, with respect, forcing healthy market competition for our loyalty. We pay a lot for this stuff, honestly, we do. Quality should be a given.

Not much to ask, products and services that work—and that work well, all the time.

Then again, perhaps I might share with you another example of trying to replace a battery for a mobile device from a branded store where the device remains on sale but the batteries not so much. Nah, I’ll spare you, just scroll up and do a search and replace.