Habits, A Monthly Review

January 22, 2018 — Leave a comment

In the previous blog about habit, I talked about habits as things you establish based on the goals you set for yourself. As you go through life and as you learn more, achieve more and experience more, you come up with more ideas and you explore what else is possible. Your horizon expands and your interests change. Thus, you need to revise and modify your habits to help you accomplish the new goals that you set for yourself.

I always consider my checklist as a living document. So essentially, as I grow as a person and as I experience changes within and around me, the tool also needs to evolve to keep up with all these changes. The basic premise is that the tools, the checklist, and the habits that worked for you today may not work for you tomorrow.

I have used the checklist as a way to also train my management team. The biggest advantage of it to me is that it allows me to get myself out of the operations because I can place someone else in there to do those tasks while I focus more on the strategy and planning. In the process, it also brought me the biggest learning which is honing the foresight and understanding that these checklists need to be validated by myself.

Significance of validating the checklist

When I exited my managing role in one of the teams at WeTeachMe, I gave my successor the checklist that I used regularly. When I handed it over to my successor, I explained to him that it was my bible that I used for the team. As long as he executes every single item on the checklist, the team will run perfectly. I also advised him that as he learns more and does more, I expect him to revise this checklist so that it works for him in such a way that it adapts to his role. This is where I came short of understanding and later realized the following mistakes.

  1. I thought handing over my checklists to my successor will also develop the same habits in him as it did to me. I assumed that my successor understood perfectly every single line item as I had intended to make the checklist very simple to understand.
  2. I assumed that if they did not understand something, they would come to me and consult me.
  3. I did not double-check and took my successor’s word that the things were being done.

Important note 1: Take ownership of your checklist – what you have done and what was handed to you.

About a year after my successor came in, we installed a new software system that provided radical transparency across the entire teams as it logged all calls made and automated most of the customer interaction processes.  I was shocked to discover that what was manually reported was not parallel to what this new system showed. This was an incredible blow to me because I had placed a lot of trust in my successor to not only do the right thing but also to take ownership of the team, to put as much time, energy, and love into it as I had done.  Having discovered the big disparity in the reports, I sat down with him and started talking about what was wrong. I hoped that the behaviour that the reports revealed was only an isolated blip, but it looked like it had not only occurred to himself but it also spread to all the teammates he manages.

This behaviour tells me of his lack of ownership, a lack of sharpness and the lack of courage to come to me and ask me things that confused them. I remember sitting there immersed in a feeling of embarrassment and shame that this has happened under my watch. From the moment I uncovered these issues, we went to a complete lockdown. I reviewed and double checked every single item on the checklist, which further revealed an embarrassing reality that 90% of the things reported as completed on the checklist was not actually completed and were not done to satisfaction. We’re talking about a checklist that had 20 items.

Important note 2: Convey specific instructions, expectations, and accountability.

I outlined what was my expectation moving forward. The ball was then in their court, whether they could shape up or not. If the latter would happen, then they were not in the right role. What made the whole situation even more surprising was that out of the 20 items in the checklist, 18 of them were flagged red. These items were critical to the processes, yet they have not completed adequately. Even further shocking is that the next day when I went back to check again, a lot of the comments and feedback that I left the previous day were not actioned, so these mistakes were repeated.

I completely highlighted the importance of accountability. This includes holding the people whom you entrusted with your checklist accountable for such task. I realized that giving them complete ownership but without accountability was a mistake on my part. The boomerang effect was the impact this mistake was to the business. I tend to look for the best in people. What I have learned from this experience is that while I can still do that, I also have to communicate the consequences if they fail to be accountable for their actions.

The crucial effect of failing to review goals

I shared the story above because there is no other better way to elaborate on the significance of reviewing goals. This actually shows us two sides of the fence where we see that both have committed mistakes that resulted in serious implications. The person I’ve given the role not only failed to utilize the checklist effectively but failed to review it. I, on the other hand, readily gave complete trust to this person, hence the thought of not having the need to check and review the checklist with him.

These are the habits that would take us to where we want to be, the checklist itself serves as an ultimate guide that ensures the habits are consistent and that we are sturdy in following the path. If we do not enact these habits satisfactorily, then we are all going to fail in achieving our goals 100%. No questions asked.

Important note 3: Stay true to yourself.

The implication of the whole process is that you need to be true to yourself. When you cover up a truth, you are lying firstly to yourself before to anyone else. In effect, you are cheating on yourself if you lie about your checklist. In the first place, you set goals because you don’t want to be mediocre. You want to be an achiever. You want to be a cut about the rest. This is the very essence of setting goals. You obviously don’t want your achievements to be sitting on a foundation of lies and pretentions. Working on a checklist is not as easy as just ticking an item off when you think it is done and completed. The question you should ask yourself is whether it was satisfactorily completed. If you did it haphazardly but you marked it as complete, then it would be like pretending it is done, therefore you have not maximized the full potential of that item towards your overall goal.

Factors that affect an end result of a goal

There are three factors that I believe have a direct influence on the outcome of a goal.

  1. Consistency in the habit or execution of the checklist.
  2. Strict implementation in achieving the minimum required of the habit.
  3. Level of honesty to oneself.

Failing on these three things caused a huge point of failure in the business system. All our teams interacted with each other that apparently resulted in these holes to appear throughout the department, which was taking forever to patch up. Now that we know the link that caused the single point of failure, we are working incredibly hard to fix it.

Defining A Tangible Standard

Every person has their own definition and set of standards based on needs and requirements. What I failed to impose on people surrounding me is stating my standard. I wanted people around me to become parallel to how I want things are done. I wanted them to reach my standard, but I realized I didn’t make my standard known by means of making it obvious.  Simply, the checklist is my standard of work. As long as you follow the checklist and satisfactorily complete it, then you’ve already met my standard. The checklist is what tells me that the work was done properly and with accuracy. If you don’t do one of the items in it, then you are failing.

One approach that I use to measure people’s work performance is asking where they seat on a scale of 1-10. That usually triggers rationality for a few reasons.

  1. It forces people to quantify. Asking a person how he did the work, he is more likely to say “ah it went great”, ”it was okay ”, or “it went really good”. But if you think about it, I can’t do anything with what is okay. I can’t do anything with good or great. However, if for example, the same person quantifies his performance with a 7 out of 10, I’d follow it up with what we can do to get that person to an 8 out of 10. This forces a person to formulate next steps that will push his level of work a notch higher.
  2. It allows me to gauge the person’s truthfulness and credibility. What others think as an 8 out of 10 might be a 2 out 10 for me. The story that I shared is a good example of this. He believed that he did a work level of 10 out of 10 but it was really a 2 out of 10 in my book. The realization is that people tend to implement their own standard based on what they think is above the expectations, based only on his own assertiveness. Should that person considered and took time to learn my standard, then he wouldn’t have answered confidently with a score of 10.

My learning from this is that there’s a huge disparity on how people rate themselves versus their performance. What I’m actually fixing with this person is to get him on the same page with me about what a 2 out of 10 looks like compared to a 5 or a 10, coming from my vantage point. This is the concept of my standard that I failed to make visible to everyone. At this stage, it would take a lot of effort to make everyone sync up.

Eventually, this gap in the standard will materialize in such a way that the business will suffer and take on the accumulation of similar imperfections within the process. Clients will eventually notice this and complain. As a leader, I can’t point fingers and tell everyone who made the mistake. The first rule of leadership is not to blame, always claim the fault, but take ultimate responsibility and ownership. This is the very reason why people surrounding me should be synced up to the same standard I follow.

Why There Is A Need to Innovate Your Checklist

I know I’m going to butcher this quote which I’ve heard somewhere. I’m probably using the most incorrect situation but I love this quote by Richelle E. Goodrich. It says, “You’re not a tree. So move; make something happen.” As human beings, we are not static: we learn, we grow, we evolve, we make better decisions as we learn more, and we gain more knowledge. I failed when I handled the team to my successor. I said it’s a failure because in 12 months since passing on my role, that person should have been doing exactly what I did, and it didn’t yield the same results. This checklist is exactly the same, only that the items in it are changed and modified for better results. The reasons why this can become a failure, as it was in my situation, if:

  1. You didn’t learn anything.
  2. You didn’t discover something that you can do better than I did.
  3. You haven’t really set a vision of where you want the team to go.
  4. You didn’t discover new habits that you’re going to need.

I think we should always grow, we should always learn and we should always strive to be better, even if it’s just a 1% improvement every single day. That’s what I expect from the people I have that surround me.

An Effective Approach In Reviewing Goals

I’d like to attack the checklist from multiple angles, from the top down and from bottom up. I do this because it gives me 2 different reference points to compare and contrast. The top-down part is very simple. It’s yeah, I ask a question of where I want to be in 12 months for me to start to jump up on the table and dance and say that was the best 12 months ever. That would give me a compass of what I want to achieve and where I want to get to. Once I have that in my mind, I start looking for the supporting habits below it that will take me there.

The bottom-up approach is when I look at my checklist and then I look for the things that I don’t really need to do anymore or look for the things which don’t really make sense to me. As it happens, I start leaving them. That approach is what I do with what I already have and just refine it, whereas the top-down approach is starting from a blank canvass and identifying where I want to get to and what are the habits that I need. I find that combining both works really well.

I do a monthly review of the bottom-up approach. Sometimes I’ll change things as I go through the week. But sometimes I would think, “I just close better if I do it in this order and then less jumping around”. But I usually do it on a monthly basis wherein I look through it and say, “What can I change? What can I remove?” The top-down approach I do that every year.

Benefits of the monthly review

Reviewing on a monthly basis keeps me aware of what am I doing and gauge if it is still effective for me. It keeps me practising the mindset of clearing out things that don’t work and merely looking critically at things which I think I still need. It’s almost like a mini spring cleaning every single month. Hence, the one thing that I would hate is to go through an entire year of executing on a checklist only to realize that I’ve been executing on the wrong things.

  1. Reviewing the checklist regularly trains my mind that everything that I’m doing is relevant and beneficial. What I had found in the past when I first implemented this was that I would quickly tire of using the checklist because I would think “oh it’s not really relevant, why am I using it. It’s a waste of time.” But actually, reviewing it constantly meant that it’s working. So, I keep doing it because it would get me to where I want to get to. It’s one of the positives.
  2. I strongly believe the act of thinking simply is very, very difficult and it’s a muscle that I have to practice over and over and over again. When I first set the habit, it was simple. But then as I modified, it eventually became a huge complex monster that builds on top of itself, and I just constantly need to pull it back and say, “Hey, let’s make it a bit simpler.” So, it’s a really good muscle for me to practice the act of thinking simply.
  3. It’s a really nice way for me to satisfy my skill at organizing, making sure the lines are correct and the paths it takes in front is correct.

In Summary…

My biggest key learning from that experience is the importance of clearly communicating expectations and highlight the accountability — yours and the person you would be giving your checklist — that goes with completing the items in it. It also helps that you sync up by quantifying and measuring the standard of how those tasks are executed.

Now that I have shared my key learning why we need to review our habits, it’s time that you go over your own checklist that you have created from my first blog post. This time, spend some moment each month to review them and refine them. Take a look at the things that you have not completely done. Then reflect on why it was the case and make notes on what would be your next steps moving forward.

Your next step is to mark a day each month on your calendar when you will set aside time to go through your review. Stay true to this appointment with yourself so that you will also develop in you the habit of checking your list on a monthly basis. By the end of the year, see how the list has changed you positively and how it has brought you closer to your goals.

Call to action

My goal is to help 1,000,000 people. My wish is to have these articles shared 1,000,000 times through the various social networks. For this reason, I provide this collection online for free and all I ask of you is this: If any of these articles have helped you in any way, please take a moment to share on social media, email to someone you think will find benefit, or print and leave it on the desk of someone whom you believe has the motivation, but lacks the tools to take themselves to the next level.

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