Monday, January 4

Setting The Pace: Present Tense

"How did I do, you know, last year?"

Although my son didn't know it, his question followed a common conversation trend. Most people were (and still are) mulling over last year.

AdAge called it the year the marketing world will happily put behind it. Politico recapped the top media blunders. Andy Carvin at NPR posted a word cloud expressing the responses of more than 500 people about last year. And so on and so forth.

"It's the wrong question," I told him.

You might ask how you are doing instead. Then you might find out "how you did" is irrelevant by comparison.

"How am I doing?" he asked.

"That's my question for you," I laughed. "How are you doing?"

Last Thursday, he didn't feel like he was doing all that well. He had a math paper to redo, 300 pages in his AR book to read, and felt rundown after taking a break from tae kwon do during the holidays. He didn't feel like he could get it all done.

This morning, four days later, he feels differently. Because after our conversation, he stopped focusing on how he did and started focusing on what he was doing.

So when I asked him today, he said was doing great. He had finished his math on Thursday, read 100 pages in his book every day to complete it, and began an exercise program with an investment of 30 minutes a day. Today — with all of his holiday homework complete, readiness to test on an AR book, and feeling positive about the future — he really is doing great.

In fact, he said, meeting all of his pace-setting objectives for 2010 wasn't even difficult. He still had time to visit his grandparents, work on a beginner electronics project with me, play with his younger sister, and enjoy free time on Club Penguin. We took in a movie too.

What can you learn from a ten-year-old?

By changing his focus from what he "had done" to what he "is doing," we were able to put his ideas into actions and his actions into results. Results tend to motivate people to move forward. And maybe they can for your team too.

Five steps to jump start internal communication.

• Plan to take action based on current employee assessments.
• Provide a clear direction to help them move forward today.
• Discuss and implement pace-setting actions that can start immediately.
• Practice reflective listening, using it to help overcome doubt or fear.
• Promote mutual trust by asking them how they "are doing."

By the end of the day (or throughout the week), ask them how they are doing. If they answer with enthusiasm, it's working. If they answer with anything other than, find out why and help them prioritize in order to achieve those early pace-setting goals.

It might seem overly simple, but my son wasn't the only beneficiary to setting the right pace for a new year. Within four days, we sent one business proposal out for review, added two new clients, and completed three major projects. We're doing great.

Putting in a few weekend hours on my part didn't dampen my spirits either. I still had time to tackle a few household chores, start a training program, and work in plenty of free time. So I'm doing great too. How about you?

How are you doing?

You don't have to answer right away. Give yourself a moment to adjust. Take until the end of the day (or end of the week if you really have to). And then let me know if the present tense feels better than the past tense for you, your family, or your team.


Pete Codella on 1/4/10, 11:10 AM said...

Great advice, Rich.
I’m not really one for setting grandiose New Year’s resolutions. I think they’re about as effective as annual employee evaluations. If it’s something you focus on once a year, you don’t get much out of it.
Thinking in the here and now is a great way to stay motivated and focused. This feeds into the immediacy of the Web and social media, especially for corporate communicators. The more we can address current trends and thinking, either in support or offering an alternate point of view, the more relevant and useful our communication will be.
Here’s to a fabulous 2010!

Rich on 1/5/10, 10:07 AM said...

Hey Pete,

I agree, of course. I haven't been big on new year resolutions as much I've been a proponent for doing. Anyone can set something into motion, but most actions aren't adopted until they are practiced for more than 90 days.

It's one of the reasons the gym always fills up in the first two weeks of the new year, and then steadily tapers off until it reaches December levels by March. If they continued doing, it would become part of how they identify themselves.

Great to hear from you. Look forward to seeing our paths cross in 2010.


Andy Carvin on 1/6/10, 3:44 AM said...

I don't think it's the wrong question at all; it's just a different question. If I'd asked people how they were doing, I would have gotten either a smaller collection of single-word adjectives or multi-word answers that wouldn't work in the Wordle tool. Given the fact that we were reporting on summarizing the year, asking people to give their own summary with any one word answer they wanted to offer led to a huge diversity of replies - more than 1000 words being used by over 5000 people. Asking "how are you doing" wouldn't have given us words like "change" or "Obama" or "teaparty" or even "autotune," which are really rich in capturing the zeitgeist of the year.

While asking people how they are doing is a great question, I think it would do a disservice to people to give them only one word to answer it in, and it was the one-word nature of the response that was the whole point in this word art project.

Rich on 1/6/10, 10:14 AM said...

Hey Andy,

I wasn't saying your question was the wrong question. My son's question was the wrong question.

As for your word cloud post, it was informative and entertaining, otherwise I wouldn't have linked to it.

What I'm also saying is while it is all fine and good for the media to look backwards, individual outlooks and leadership communication requires us to look forward. Thinking and taking action in the present helps us do it.

Hope that clarifies your place in this post. And I hope you are doing well.

All my best,

Theresa111 on 1/8/10, 6:25 PM said...


This is one of my favorite posts you have written that I have read. Looks as if you got your son to think the right thoughts because he certainly applied himself. Looks as if you got your synergy from him and you all got busy with new proposals, too.

What a great way to get people to get busy and really apply themselves instead of past efforts. /this would be a great discussion at BlogCatalog. It could reach some of our bored bloggers searching for good direction. Instead of them looking for others to amuse them, they could be writing and setting the pace for an improved 2010.

Loved it!

Theresa111 on 1/8/10, 6:28 PM said...

Sorry! Need to edit:

Meant to round out my thought ...

... really apply themselves, rather than be concerned about their past efforts and if they measured up. We can never go back and change them.

Rich on 1/9/10, 12:53 PM said...

Thanks Theresa,

You might be right too. It could make a great discussion at BlogCatalog, given bloggers have a tendency to look backwards at the stats instead of looking forward for great content.

I hope you're ready to have your best year yet too!

All my best,


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