Is Your Competitive Philosophy Building or Killing Your Culture?
Welcome to CFO.University’s transcript of Erik Gillam’s CFO Ed Talk, “Is Your Competitive Philosophy Building or Killing Your Culture?”. In his CFO Ed Talk Erik shares how to build a team culture that is happier and less stressed, leading to increased productivity and profit.
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Think about the last time you were really stressed out or discontent. How did it make you feel? I know when I get that way, my palms get sweaty, my stomach goes in knots and I feel almost paralyzed. The last thing I’m thinking about is how productive I am at work or the next big thing that’s going to help change my company. So, I can give you statistics about how happier employees or less stressed out employees are going to make your company more profitable. But you probably already know that. That’s common sense. So, how do you develop an environment with your team that increases happiness and decreases stress and discontent? I was struggling with this question a couple years ago when I decided to do an activity. This activity involved me. Every night before bed, I would write in my journal. I’d write about what happened during the day, if I had any stress and if I did have stress, what caused the stress. Six months into the project, I decided to stop and look back through my journals. The main theme that I took from this activity was that I was really stressed out in situations where I had a perceived lack of control. Let me give you an example. It’s promotion time, so and so may get promoted and I might not get promoted. I don’t have any control over so and sos performance. I don’t have any control over the promotion cycle. All I have control of is my abilities. Nonetheless, it was stressing me out. I dug deeper and came up with two core catalysts for what caused these feelings - Competition and Subjective Self-View.
Competition and Subjective Self-View
Competition is baked into our DNA through millions of years of evolution. We’ve been competing for food, shelter and resources for generations. It’s even alive in the culture that we have today. We compete in athletics, academics, to get into the right school, to get the right job and to get the right spouse. Here’s an example of competition in a place where I didn’t even think about it happening. I’m driving on the freeway, during rush hour and I’m in the middle lane. All of a sudden the lane to the right of me starts moving faster. So, I switch lanes. That white car that was in front of me is now my competition. I don’t know why. I don’t know this person. But as my lane goes ahead, I feel better about myself. As my lane stops, the middle lane goes and he passes me, I feel terrible. What have I done? How did I make this choice? Why is that my default?
Subjective Self-View - The way we look at everything in the world, including ourselves, goes through the lens of the things and the actions that we’ve had throughout our life. One thing that’s natural with everybody is making what we are best most important to us and what we are worse at the least important. I’m going to paraphrase the Bible a little bit, but I think it brings out my point. The Bible says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”. Must I think so highly of myself that the best thing I can do for anybody is to treat them the way that I treat myself? I will go back to driving for my next example. You’re driving down the highway and you come up behind somebody who’s going five or 10 miles an hour slower than you are. What is this person doing on the road? How do they have a license? What are they thinking? On the other hand, if somebody flies by going 10 or 15 miles an hour faster than you are. This is a crazy person! They’re going to get somebody killed. I should call the cops. I hope they get pulled over. But you, every time you’re driving, you’re always going the right speed. Whether you’re late for a meeting and you’re trying to push it or you’re right on time and taking it easy. It’s all subjective. Competition together with this subjective view of oneself is a recipe for stress and discontent.
Goals Change Your Focus
What can we do? How can we solve this problem? You have to have specific goals. Goals move the focus from other people and how you compare to them and put the focus on something you have control over. You set your achievements. Goals can’t be just words. There are five specific aspects of a goal. I suspect everybody has heard the acronym SMART before. I can’t stress enough, how important it is.
SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Timely. It’s tough to get all five parts in one goal. I’ve had people come to me and say, “Erik, my goal for this year is to increase industry knowledge or increase knowledge of finance”. Well, what does that tell me? That’s pretty broad. Will you be able to sit down with me a year from now and tell me that you’ve met that goal? A SMART example of this goal could be; I want to increase my knowledge of interest rate swaps. To do that, I’m going to read three articles and give a presentation at the end of those six months. Is it specific? Yes, I want to increase my knowledge of interest rate swaps. Is it measurable? Yes, it’s three articles and one presentation. Is it attainable and reasonable? You should be able to get that done in that amount of time. Finally, is it timely? We’ll know at the end of that six months, if you have met your goal or not?
Steve Jobs is an example of somebody who had very specific goals. Do you think when he was sitting down with his design team coming up with the idea for the iPhone, he said, Guys, I think we need to make something a little better than the competition or we need to make something a little different. No, he said, I need a phone that doesn’t have buttons. I want the whole face to be a touchscreen. I want a phone that’s going to change people’s lives. We could argue that some of Steve’s goals weren’t timely and he did put some stress on people. But, he was very effective and helped grow Apple to be the giant it is today.
Let’s go back to the driving example. This time, I am going to put goals to it. Instead of just driving from point A to point B and trying to get there as fast as I can, I set a goal for myself. I gave myself a buffer. Normally it takes me 45 minutes to go from point A to point B in traffic. I gave myself an extra 10 minutes or 55 minutes. Now when I’m driving, it doesn’t matter if I stay in one lane or get in the other lane that’s going to save me one or two minutes. I know I have a 10-minute buffer. It takes the stress out of the situation.
Goals help you not only in the workplace but in your personal/family life too where you can apply these same principles. Set goals for how much you want to save. What adventures you want to go on in the next 10 years. How you want to treat your spouse and how you want to raise your kids?
At the end of the day. We all want to work with people that are healthy, happy and less stressed out. You have an opportunity to increase profit and productivity without spending one extra dollar by setting up a process where you implement goals. Take control of your goals.
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