I was just kidding about my “just kidding” comment

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I am blessed with the chance to spend a couple days each week with my 5-year old grandson. It is amazing how young kids learn to attempt to get their way. Recently, he said all he wanted for breakfast was some cookies and milk. I’m not normally one to judge the “goodness” of a breakfast of cookies and milk. However, for a 5-year old, I try to set a good example. I told him, “No, the milk is fine, but you need to have something else good for you for breakfast.” He said, “Just kidding.” He really had meant that he would prefer the cookies for breakfast, but used the “just kidding” statement to smooth it over with his Grandpa.

Later, I was thinking about the “just kidding” comment and realized that we almost never really mean it when we say it… even as adults. We often twist our words to justify our actions or to create our own version of the facts. For example:

  • Politicians and business leaders often create a “narrative” to minimize or shift negative news (see Who needs a “narrative” when you can just as easily tell the truth?)
  • Commentators (or business communicators) often “spin” the news to alter the truth
  • We often alter the truth in the form of “white lies” to avoid hurting feelings
  • Some leave out important details to ensure their own viewpoint is heard
  • Individuals often stay silent rather than “become the bearer of bad news”
  • Tragedies have occurred because individuals with critical information allowed themselves to support the prevailing opinions (e.g., group think)
  • We frequently see negative consequences because an individual hesitated to “create waves by raising a concern”

Certainly, there are times when our words and actions must be filtered. For example, we typically prefer our doctors to remain positive (“This is serious, but we have a number of options that we can try”) rather than blunt (“You have no chance… you’ll probably die a miserable death”). Some balance is needed. However, what keeps us from being more open, honest, and transparent in our business dealings?

I have to admit that during my last few years working, my “filter” became much thinner than earlier in my career. During those last few years, I became much more outspoken. I sought opportunities to provide alternative ideas and raise issues. I was once termed “the King of Candor” during this time. However, rather than create problems with my own management team and others, this approach was appreciated. In fact, individuals frequently sought my thoughts in meetings and privately because they knew I would provide unfiltered thoughts. I gave up trying to appease others and the result was a greater sense of appreciation for my opinions and perspective. In retrospect, I wish I had adopted this approach much earlier in my career.

Managers need candid individuals to provide balance. All too often, we make poor decisions because we unconsciously solicit only concurrence, not the truth. We need individuals that will disagree with us and will provide alternative approaches. I am not saying that we need to become disruptive or tolerate individuals that are destructive. However, seeking (or providing) alternative opinions will only strengthen the team, the decisions made, and the ultimate performance of the organization.

So, as an individual, seeks ways to enhance your courage to be more candid. Speak up when needed. Always ensure that others have the complete story. When you disagree, respectfully say so and why. Be professional, but be honest. Seek ways to make positive things happen, not to simply identify obstacles.

As a leader, seek individuals that will provide that contrarian viewpoint. Reward open and honest dialogue. Encourage dissenters to speak up, but encourage them to also provide their rationale and potential solutions to problems. Proactively, avoid group think or individuals that merely go along to avoid waves.

So, the next time you are tempted to say, “Just kidding,” remember the words of one of the most trusted and important journalists of the 20th century:

“To be persuasive we must be believable;
to be believable we must be creditable;
to be credible we must be truthful.” 
― Edward R. Murrow

Have a great day!

Why some give up, check out, or lose heart… and what we can do about it

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You can see it wherever you look… people that have given up on life, their jobs, or on themselves. Often, at the least, this might be manifested as poor performance in the workplace. At it worst, it can result in physical harm to an individual or others.

Many have written about the reasons individuals give up, check out, or lose heart. Today, I would like to add my thoughts and, hopefully, provide some practical steps we can take to either help ourselves or others keep dig out or prevent these “valleys” from becoming something permanent. Additionally, understanding the reasons why some give up can help us as leaders, family members, or friends take proactive action to keep ourselves and others motivated.

Reasons why some give up, check out, or lose heart

  1. The pain becomes too great to withstand – Pain, either physical or emotional, can become debilitating. When someone experiences pain day-after-day without a pause, they can begin feeling things spiral downward… Will it ever get better? Will I ever have another good day? I can’t even get out of bed, much less function. How can I thrive when it is doubtful I will even survive? Pain can also lead to the abuse of alternatives that might become addictive or more harmful. Even the most positive, enthusiastic person can lose that edge when pummeled by pain for an extended time. It is important that we understand the impact of pain in an individual’s life and be sensitive when we see it in others… or ourselves.
  2. What I do doesn’t matter – Everyone has an innate desire to be productive. We all want what we do to matter or count for something. Most desire to make a difference in their work, in their family, or in their neighborhood. When an individual starts feeling that their life doesn’t really matter, they lose heart. When we start feeling that our work is meaningless, our effort diminishes. It is important that we find our real purpose and understand that, because we were created by the God of the universe, we have value.
  3. No one cares what I do – During my time in the workplace, I heard many individuals explain to me that because they felt that no one really cared what they did or how they did their work, it became meaningless to them, as well. When you feel that no one else cares, you lose heart. Finding meaning, even if only in your own eyes, in what you do makes a great difference in how you feel about your work and your value.
  4. This is no longer fun – People often check out when the things they do no longer brings the enjoyment or fulfillment that they expected or that it once did. When our work or life becomes difficult without gratification, we can slip downward. Finding some enjoyment is essential to happiness and when it cannot be found, we become demotivated.
  5. I am all alone – Loneliness can become a truly difficult life challenge. When an individual feels alone in the world, they can slowly slip into thinking that “it doesn’t matter anymore” which often leads to something worse. Finding a way to stay connected with others is essential to happiness and self-worth.
  6. I am overwhelmed – That feeling that life is throwing more at you than you can handle will often take an individual into a valley of despair. Being overwhelmed with work or time deadlines or fatigue can all hamper your well-being. Finding ways to manage the load, or at least recognizing that “all you can do is all you can do” is important to maintaining a proper balance.
  7. No matter what I do, it is wrong – When you believe that you are not successful and never will be, it is tempting to give up, or at least slack off. Finding ways to be successful, even at little things, can help one reclaim that feeling of worth and value that failures tend to diminish.
  8. There is no hope that things will get better – When an individual loses hope, despair is sure to follow. Have hope in the future is critical to finding meaning today.

Warning signs that someone is or has given up

Here are a few things to look for in others or yourself to determine when someone has given up or is losing heart”

  • They have lost their sense of humor
  • Their work performance has gotten worse
  • They spend more time alone
  • They laugh less
  • They avoid others
  • They blame others more
  • They don’t seem to care about things they used to love
  • They stop hobbies that were formerly important to them
  • They begin doing just what it takes to get by
  • A sense of sadness is evident
  • They begin spending less time taking care of themselves
  • Screen-time becomes more important than people-time
  • They begin abusing food, alcohol, drugs, or anything else
  • They begin talking about self-destructive actions, dreams, or thoughts
  • They become less reliable

When you see an individual exhibiting these behaviors (or, you find yourself experience them), it is time to take some productive action to help a complete slide. A few suggestions are offered below, though you may need to be aware that professional help could be needed, as well.

Actions for keeping others motivated

What can you do to help restore someone else that has or is showing signs of giving up, checking out, or losing heart? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Be an encourager – Verbalize positive thoughts, comments, or accolades when merited. Be intentional about positive feedback.
  2. Provide a future event –  Plan something that the individual can look forward to. Speak about the future. Create a positive goal to strive for.
  3. Provide a new assignment, new challenge, or new opportunity – Be intentional about creating variety in the life/work of the individual. Be creative.
  4. Be a friend – Have a meal together. Do something with the individual. Share your own life. Be vulnerable. Ask about things in the individual’s life.
  5. Help them see the value and purpose in what they do – Be specific about how the individual’s work/life matters. Show them the result of their work. Show them how much they mean to your and others.
  6. Introduce something fun – Schedule something fun that is unexpected. Do something light. Make smiling important and routine.
  7. In the workplace, avoid micro-managing – Do not (repeat, do not) demotivate an individual by micro-managing their life and work in the workplace. There is, perhaps, nothing that will demotivate an individual more or faster.
  8. At home, be more positive – Find something positive to say. Do it often. Do it sincerely.
  9. Spend time with the individual – Nothing says, “I care” more than spending time with an individual.
  10. Encourage more life balance – A proper balance in life (work, family, self, hobbies, etc.) is important. It helps to distract when things in one area become difficult.
  11. Introduce the ultimate “hope” – We all need hope. You can find my ultimate “hope” at this link (What is your hope?).

Keeping myself motivated

What if you find yourself giving up? What if you don’t really care as much anymore? What if you’ve lost the enthusiasm you once had? Well, the list above is a good one for you, too. However, let me add a few additional things that I know can help:

  1. Find a way to serve someone else – There is no way to take your focus off yourself than to find a way to serve someone else. Someone once said, “You can’t call a day a good day unless you’ve done something for someone else that could never repay you.” When you serve someone else, the greater benefit is always for yourself, not the one you served.
  2. Make a change – Sometimes, we just need to do something different. Re-arrange the furniture. Drive a different way to work. Find a new job. Go outside your comfort zone. Sometimes, a single change can kickstart other areas of our lives.
  3. Visit a Children’s Hospital or Eldercare Home – Seeing the challenges and strength in someone weaker than ourselves can often motivate us to be different in our own lives.
  4. Make a new friend – Really, when was the last time you made the effort to nurture a new friendship? Give it a try.
  5. Initiate something fun with someone else – Be intentional about scheduling something fun. Go to a ballgame. Play golf. Take a class together. It is likely that this would be good for both you and the other individual.
  6. Start a journal, blog, or notebook – Sometimes, taking the time to write down your thoughts and aspirations can be motivating.
  7. Learn a new hobby – Getting into a rut can often be broken when we decide to learn something new. Consider learning something new than you can do for a lifetime.
  8. Start with small steps – Make a goal that is very achievable. Celebrate that success, then do it again. Small victories can encourage us and motivate us to take bigger and bigger steps.
  9. Be the light in someone else’s darkness – Find someone that you know that needs to see something positive in their own life. When you become a light for them, your own world becomes a bit brighter.

 

Today, as we stand on the brink of another new year, is a great time to look for ways to rekindle that spark of encouragement in the lives of others… or, our own lives. Finding ways to both recognize and do something to help those that have given up, those checking out, or that friend that has lost heart can make the difference not only for them, but for us, as well.

 

Finding happiness… even when the sun doesn’t shine

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One of my nephews married a Norwegian girl and their family now resides in Norway. It seems the Norwegians believe it is important for children to be taken outside every day, even as infants. Despite the cold, Norwegians feel it is necessary to expose their children to all types of weather rather than protect them by keeping them inside except for clear and warm days.

My initial thought was they believed the cold helped build a tolerance for extremes in weather. I didn’t really understand there was a more important reason until I read the following quote:

“Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly, it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the ‘bad’ days in favor of a handful of ‘good’ ones – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.”                                                    – Nicolette Sowder –

I recall that, as a child, I rarely stayed inside because of the cold or bad weather. My siblings and I walked to school (I can’t recall a single day through elementary school that I was driven to school) and played outdoors nearly every day of the year. When it was cold, we bundled up. When it rained, we enjoyed the puddles and mud. When it was hot, we removed our shirts and wore shorts. I’m not sure my childhood built resilience, but it certainly did not give us easy excuses.

Today, it seems, children suffer from overexposure of a different kind. Over-protection by parents, grandparents, teachers, and others promotes a view that we can take a mulligan when the conditions aren’t perfect. If we don’t like our boss, we don’t have to do our best on the job. If we don’t like the work, we can simply quit and stay at home. If my teacher is unreasonable, my parents will fix it. If we aren’t promoted within the first year, we quit and find a new job. We have become individuals that thrive in sunshine, but avoid bad weather. Our happiness has become dependent upon how much sunshine we experience in life.

Someone once said:

“A good day is not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to the events of the day.”                                   – Unknown –

 

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is toughness. How much toughness do you exhibit? Are you one that can quickly move on from disappointments? Are you known as someone that will get the job done regardless of the barriers or challenges you face? We can’t allow the amount of “sunshine in our lives” to define whether we are a good employee, a good parent, a good spouse, or a good friend. We must develop the skill (or whatever attribute or ability you want to call it) to be focused and not easily distracted by challenges or inconveniences.

In Oslo, the average number of hours annually with sunshine is 1668. That number is undoubtedly impacted by Norway’s latitude. Marseille, France experiences 2858 hours per year of sunshine. In the USA, Phoenix leads the way with 3872 hours of sunshine per year…nearly 2.5 times that of Oslo. Where I live, the average is 2594 hours annually… well below Phoenix, but still over 60% more than Oslo. So, do you think the people of Norway allow the lack of sunshine to impact their happiness? In fact, studies year-after-year rank Norwegians as some of the happiest people on earth. They are unaffected by their lack of sunshine. Perhaps, Sowder is right. Perhaps, we need to learn that attitude is a choice nurtured by how well we have learned to tolerate adversity. Things might not always go our way, but we can choose to thrive in any circumstance, not merely stay inside to avoid discomfort.

 

Succeeding at things that don’t really matter

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What is success? Really, what does it mean to succeed at something? The dictionary definition talks about accomplishing a target or purpose. Some define success as attaining a personal achievement, such as a promotion or financial goal. Others would define success in more general terms, such as contentment, happiness, or a sense of fulfillment.

Today, I would like to talk about misconceptions about success. During my 40 plus years in the workplace, I saw countless individuals that achieved a lifelong goal, yet they felt unfulfilled, disappointed, or empty. They believed that life would magically get better when they achieved the goal or target they had relentlessly pursued. In fact, many individuals actually felt LESS fulfilled when an important “life target” was achieved. It seems that it was the journey that brought the motivation and fulfillment more than actually achieving the target.

William Carey spoke of the true meaning of success early in the 19th century when he said

“I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

Carey’s insight dating back nearly 200 years is still meaningful for us today. Success has more to do with achieving a purpose than a target. I have worked with many individuals in my life and career that did not understand this difference. I recall many times at year-end reviews when an individual argued for a higher rating because they achieved all their goals without realizing that goals alone might not equal success.

When I mentor individuals, I often say to them, “If I would ask you to bring everything of value that you have produced for the company in the last year, or five years – in other words, your work product – and place it on the table, how big would the pile be? What would you bring? And, how can you be certain that it was really achieving the purpose you are intended to achieve?” Some individuals would answer in terms of reports written, projects completed, or a checklist of things directly associated with their jobs. It is the rare individual that would answer in terms of value provided to the company, its customers, or the ultimate user. Too few of us think of our work, or our efforts, in terms of what is really important.

Carey’s quote recognized that individuals need to be occupied with activities. We need to feel some sense of accomplishment. However, we should all routinely ask ourselves, “Would I rather fail doing something truly significant and meaningful than to succeed at something that has no meaningful impact. Is it more important that I achieve 10% of things that truly make a difference in the lives of those I love, or to achieve 100% of things that are meaningless.” Yet, how much of our time is spend on the trivial or meaningless? Then, we beat ourselves up over things that won’t even be remembered a year from now.

So, to sum this up, let’s ponder a few questions today that can help us drive toward true success:

  1. Will the things I do today truly make life better for anyone else? Will it make my own life better?
  2. Do I know my real purpose? Are my activities today helping to fulfill that purpose?
  3. Am I looking at the bigger, broader picture or just focusing on the trivial matters of today?
  4. What do I need to change that can help me, or someone else, achieve true success?
  5. What is the most important thing I need to do today? How can I make sure that I get this done?

Finally, I believe that achieve success, or fulfilling our purpose, is not an endpoint, but a process. There should never be a time when we say, “I’m done. Mission accomplished.” No matter how old we get or what we accomplish in life, we can still impact others. We may not even see the impact of our life’s work during our lifetime. So, keep going and keep looking for ways to pour your life and your efforts into others. Our ultimate purpose may have been the impact we had on someone else.

 

“Ask” is not a noun!

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Don’t do it! Don’t get caught up in the “ask movement”! How many of you have heard someone say, “What is the ask?” in the last couple of years? Well, I have had it up to my ears and have to speak out. “Ask” is not a noun!

Why do people do it? Why do people continue emasculating the language with made up words or made up uses? Well, there are three pieces of advice I would give any of you that must deal with the world of corporate jargon:

  1. Stop trying to be cute! – Most individuals desire to be and feel modern… to be with all the new thoughts, approaches, and terminology. To do so, some feel it necessary to create new ways to say the same things we’ve been saying for decades. Converting the word “ask” from a verb to a noun simply is not that cute. Is it too hard to use two syllables (as in “request”) or must we conserve our breath and use only one syllable? I think most individuals, especially employees involved in actually doing the work day-by-day, appreciate openness and honesty more than cute derivations of perfectly good words like “request.”
  2. Stop dumbing things down! – These same people that say we need to simplify things will turn right around and say to shareholders something like, “…by retaining a nominal level of fungibility, we sustain the durability of our assets…” Are you kidding me? Straight talk always promotes credibility and trustworthiness. Manipulating our language in such a way appears to be an attempt to hide the truth or mask reality or spin bad news. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  3. Stop perpetuating the preposterous! – Those that feel the same way I do about such abuses of our language need to take a stand and stop doing it! I remember a time when someone used “ask” in front of me as a noun. I looked at that individual and said, “Do you mean ‘request’? I’m not sure I know what you mean using ‘ask’ that way.” That seemed to stop the nonsense, at least for a time.

That’s it for today. I am merely urging all of us to speak clearly, speak the truth, and remember that ‘form’ only beats ‘content’ when you have no value to add otherwise.

Have a great day!

All good things must end… now what?

fall leaves

Autumn has finally arrived in my home area. I truly enjoy the changing of the seasons, especially the crisp, cool weather of the fall. Each new season also reminds us of the good times we experienced in the previous season. I had a great summer, spending most of it at the shores of a beautiful lake. So, a very good summer has ended and a beautiful, cool new season has begun.

Life is a lot that way. We enjoy many good experiences in life that eventually end. But, when they do, what comes next? Certainly, some transitions are easy. When your 5 year old goes to kindergarten, the goodness of a happy childhood transitions to something else that holds promise and excitement. However, when a happy or good chapter of your life is interrupted unexpectedly, what comes next? How do you handle those sudden changes that abruptly alter your life? What’s next after you lose a job you love? How do you acclimate to life alone? How do you survive, then thrive when undergoing a life-altering event?

I have observed or experienced seven key tools that can help this transition from something good to something new:

  1. Force yourself to breathe (Don’t quit!) – When thinking back to sudden life changes I have experienced, the first thing that occurs is usually panic. You are thinking, “How could this happen? Why me? Why now?” One of those initial reactions might be wondering how you can possibly go on. You might be tempted to just give up. However, picking yourself up and recognizing that you have to keep going is an important first step in such a transition. This does not normally come naturally, so you might have to remind yourself to breathe… to put one foot in front of the other… to get out of bed. Overcoming these first pangs of panic is important in re-establishing a sense of normal.
  2. Limit your time looking back (Don’t linger in the past!) – My wife’s grandmother lived through the depression and two World Wars. She saw famines, hard times, and loss. One of the things she used to say and encourage others when a life-changing event occurred was to take the necessary time to mourn the good times, but there comes a day when you have to pick yourself up and move forward. It was her way of saying that a time of reflection is necessary, but we cannot let the past swallow us up. It is good to set a time to reflect, after that, we need to get going again.
  3. Realize that good often gets in the way of better (Look ahead!) – Sometimes, the end of one good thing leads to a better thing… or even a great thing! How many of us were stunned to lose a job, but, after finding a new job, could honestly say that it was a blessing in disguise. We may have never taken that bold step to do something new without that boost. Realizing that life changes often lead to “our biggest break” can motivate us during times of transition.
  4. Be open and lean on others (Don’t do it alone!) – We were all raised to become independent. We were encouraged to stand on our own feet and “just deal with it.” Often, we feel that this means we keep our hurts and disappointments to ourselves. This may not be the best way to handle life changes. By sharing our feelings with others, the burdens become shared and, thus, lighter. This is why we all need relationships and friendships to share the highs and lows of life together. Being open, honest, and transparent can often deeper the relationships we already have, as well.
  5. See the big picture (Broaden your perspective!) – In the midst of a life struggle, it might be difficult to see how it fits into the overall puzzle of our lives. Even negative events are pieces that help to make us whole and complete us. Often, the struggles we face today become pathways of hope for others. My own career journey has provided me with many good and negative examples that I now use to help mentor others. That doesn’t mean it was easy at the time, but if we remember that our experiences make us who we are, it helps us to see a broader picture and might provide encouragement during the struggle.
  6. Look forward (Trust God!) – For me, the most important tool I have to get me through life transitions is my faith in God. His constant care, guidance, and love for me sustains me. When I trust in Him, my cares diminish. God’s Word, the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) I believe this and it encourages me.
  7. Imprint happy memories of the past (Remember and Learn!) – My daughter’s family recently lost their pet dachshund that had been a member of their family for ten years. Yesterday, my four-year-old grandson from that family said to me, out of the blue, “We’re glad we still have dog food at our house because that helps us remember when we had a dog.” Remembering those “good times” is important. Looking back can often help us to look forward. And, learning from our past helps us make better decisions and appreciate each day more that we might have otherwise.

Someone once said,

“The most beautiful moments always seemed to accelerate and slip beyond one’s grasp just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.”E.A. Bucchianeri

We cannot always hold onto those “good things” that come to us. Learning to appreciate each day for what it is and to move beyond life changing events are important life lessons that make us better individuals in the end.

I have often said to others, “Today might be your best day yet.” However, when it is not… learn from it, appreciate it, savor it, and look forward to tomorrow. You never know when that “best day yet” might come.

 

Actions you should take during those critical first 24 hours after closing an FDA inspection

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Much has been written and said about preparing for an FDA inspection (or other regulatory inspection). However, I have not seen anything written which describes what actions are needed during the critical first 24 hours after the inspection closes. Certainly, you need to begin preparing any needed response to the inspection results, but there are a number of significant actions you must take during the first day post-inspection that could very well determine your success or failure for the next inspection.

Let’s take a look at those critical “first 24 hours” actions:

  1. Communicate results to management – Most firms have a policy or standard practice that communication to management regarding inspection results is required immediately after the closing conference. This is important. However, it is also important to communicate to management any other details or actions that could elicit future concerns (such as a Warning Letter) or items that should be addressed in other similar facilities. FDA expects that actions taken be global in application, so other sites should be made aware quickly of any issues that could apply there.
  2. Thank individuals involved in managing the inspection – It is essential that one of the first actions you take after the inspection is to personally thank those that worked so diligently to manage the inspection well. Those in the front room, back room, subject matter experts, and those working behind the scenes need to be identified and thanked for their work and actions leading up to and through the inspection. Many of these individuals worked far beyond their normal work schedule during the inspection and, in some cases, delayed vacations, missed family events, or postponed other important work to ensure the inspection was successful. Consider doing something special for key individuals, such as a gift certificate for two to dinner. Take the time very quickly after the inspection close-out to thank them both privately and publicly.
  3. Thank the entire site for supporting the inspection – A successful inspection result is always tied to the diligence and efforts of the entire site. A site-wide communication summarizing the basic results of the inspection and thanking the site for their efforts goes a long way to encourage future compliance and improvement activities.
  4. Begin laying the groundwork for the next inspection – In most cases, the data and information that will be reviewed during the next inspection begins the day after the inspection closes. The days after an inspection is NOT the time to become lax or less diligent. Emphasize to your inspection management team, the site management team, and all individuals at the site that it is important to remain diligent and exercise a high level of compliance every day and in every activity. This communication can be included in the site-wide communication mentioned above, a site-wide meeting, video, or other means, but it is important that you emphasize continued and ongoing diligence.
  5. Initiate actions to capture and sustain positive momentum – In many cases, the teamwork, effort, and cross-functional camaraderie experienced during an inspection is unmatched by any other activity that occurs at the site. For the period of the inspection, everyone is singly focused on a positive inspection result. Utilize this momentum and work to sustain it. Celebrate this success with a pizza party or other event. Utilize this momentum to tackle other important site projects. Quick action can ensure that you don’t merely get “back to normal” the day after the inspection closes.
  6. Assign responsibilities and actions for any needed formal response – The inspection may result in the need for a formal response back to FDA (or other regulatory agency). Verbal or written items should be addressed comprehensively, so beginning action early and assigning responsibilities for initial/immediate actions are needed early. These do not need to be completed in the first day, but individuals should begin these activities as soon as possible after the closing.
  7. Assign responsibilities and actions for any new “lessons learned” or “close calls” – Most inspections result in “close calls” or “lessons learned.” Assigning responsibilities for actions associated with these should also be made soon after the closing. Speedy action may improve quality, improve compliance, or reduce other risks.

The key point is that it is good to celebrate the conclusion of a regulatory inspection, especially if the result is positive. However, there are some actions you should take within the first workday after the inspection to ensure a smooth transition back to “normal”, to ensure that key contributors are recognized, and to ensure that actions are taken to set the stage for an even better result on the next inspection.

Good luck on your next inspection!

 

A Thousand Lifetimes

I wanted to share something that I saw a few months ago that is meaningful to me, especially today. Carved in a memorial brick in a church in southern Florida, I saw this:

“To Ray: If I live a thousand lifetimes, you’ll still be my sweetheart. – From Maddy”

I don’t know Ray or Maddy. However, I was touched by Maddy’s sentiment to her beloved Ray. But, I wonder if she waited to tell Ray until it was too late.

Today is the 43rd anniversary of my marriage to Elaine. She is the greatest blessing of my life! The years have been full, fun, and fast. Through it all, there is no one I would rather spend my days with. She is my best friend and my sweetheart of a thousand lifetimes! Happy Anniversary, Elaine. I love you!

It is my wish for all of you that you might find the love and happiness that we share. If you have found that love, don’t wait another day without sharing what that person means to you. Express your love today. Don’t assume that you can wait till tomorrow. Say it while you still can.

Have a great day!

Overcoming ‘first day’ fears

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The coming end of summer brings the return to school. Over the last week or so, I’ve already seen dozens of ‘first day of school’ pictures. Most of these photos have children standing on the front steps holding their new, freshly stocked backpacks or a sign indicating that this is the day of firsts. I have also seen photos of teachers proclaiming their joy to return to the classroom.

For every ‘first day’, there is also a ‘last day.’ The first day of kindergarten, for example, signifies the end of a key phase of life for both the child and the parents.. a phase in which they had grown comfortable and confident. It means that the child is leaving behind something precious and special for something else that promises to be new and exciting, though, perhaps, a bit intimidating. In these ‘first day of school’ photos, you can almost see a sense of anxiety mixed with the anticipation. Starting something new is like that… anticipation, anxiety, excitement with a dash of fear or hesitation mixed in.

We experience many ‘first days’ throughout our lives… first day in a new job, first day in a new city, first day married, first day alone, first day as a parent, first day retired… Most of us just go with the flow regarding firsts. However, there are times when some forethought and planning would help us cope or prosper during these times of transition.

There are also times when individuals work feverishly to avoid a ‘first day.’ They either fear the unknown of a new chapter or they have become so comfortable where they are that they simply would rather take the risk of settling for their current situation than taking a step into the unknown. For example, I have known many individuals that have clearly reached a dead end in their career. Yet, they can’t or won’t take a step to explore new possibilities or new opportunities. By staying “comfortable”, they forfeit challenges, new relationships, and career advancement (including financial gain).

As a parent, we tell our fearful kindergartner that school will be fun and exciting and they will make new friends and learn so many new things. But, often, those same parents will continue going to the same dreadful job, doing the same things, because they are afraid to look at new opportunities themselves.

I have learned that there are three primary questions that you need to ask whenever you face or are contemplating a new ‘first day.’ By spending some time asking – and answering – these questions you can be better prepared for that next chapter that you face.

  1. What are you leaving behind? – When contemplating a next chapter, it is often good to take an inventory of what you have today. By objectively looking at your current situation, you can often identify whether a new start or next step is needed. From a career or life perspective, you should ask:
    • Will I reach my potential if I do not make a change?
    • Am I learning?
    • Am I having fun?
    • Will I reach my life goals (financial, work\life) if I stay?
    • What will I be doing in 5 years?
  2. What are the risks and benefits of your own ‘first day’? – Whether you know it or admit it or not, we all are risk managers. We mitigate an automobile accident by buckling our seat belts. We exercise caution when cleaning the gutters. We protect our children. In the same way, we exercise caution around ‘big changes’ in our lives. When faced with a big decision about your next potential ‘first day’, do a formal risk\benefit analysis… write it down! Often, this activity can make it clear what you need to do next.
    • What happens if you don’t make a change?
    • What is the best case and worst case scenario if you do make a change?
    • How will your life be different a year from now if you do make a change? Or, if you don’t?
    • Is you fear or hesitancy based on facts or emotions?
  3. What will I need to help me take that step toward a ‘first day’? – If you think a new direction or ‘first day’ is needed for you, what steps should you take now?
    • Be brave – Just like you might tell your new kindergartner, be courageous. There is nothing to fear. This is a new adventure. Good things are coming.
    • Get prepared – For a career change, do your research. What is your logical next career step? What skills do you want to highlight? What are your target companies? Who, in your network, do you need to speak with?
    • Focus on the facts – Eliminate the emotions that can drive your anxiety and give rise to second thoughts. Focus on where you want to be, what you want to do, and what steps are needed today. Don’t linger too much on the past and the good times you’ve experienced. Keep things in balance.
    • Remember other ‘first days’ in your life – You have done this before. You’ve gone through other ‘first days’ and they have been blessings in your life.

Sometimes in life, we just need to charge ahead with something new, something different. But at other times, we are not given a choice. The questions outlined above can even help with ‘forced transitions.’ Though it may be very difficult looking ahead in challenging times, we need to think about what’s next. How can you make the very best of the days, weeks, and months ahead? Recognize that leaving some things behind is very difficult, but that you can make the best of what lies ahead.

Enjoy this new school year. Watch the excitement of the kids as they become more comfortable with new teachers, new friends, and new surroundings. And, watch them grow in the process. With their growth, comes more confidence and more comfort. Let’s learn from the children as we contemplate our own next ‘first day.’

A meeting survival guide

meeting room

Who likes meetings? I dare say that none of us awakens in the morning excited about the meetings we get to attend that day. Thomas Sowell once said, “The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings. I would estimate that in my 40 years of work life, I probably attended more than 50,000 business meetings! At that rate, how many more do you have to look forward to?

So, what is the secret to surviving so many meetings? What tips can I pass along to help those that still have 20 or 30,000 meetings to attend in their career?

Here are a few suggestions I have for helping you survive your next thousand meetings. I’m sure there are others you can suggest, but these few cover some of the basic concepts that I have learned:

  1. Start and end on time – Few things drive me nuts more than wasting the time of everyone else to recap “what we’ve covered so far” for someone that is late for a meeting. To combat this, I always made it a point to start meetings on time. And, when someone comes in late, I simply tell them they can get with someone after the meeting to catch up on what they missed. After a time or two, every those chronically late begin showing up on time. Don’t allow one or two individuals to waste the time of others that made the effort to be on time. And, don’t allow meetings to extend beyond the time scheduled. This forces you to work efficiently and effectively to accomplish, at a minimum, the key objectives of that specific meeting.
  2. Have a purpose for every meeting – You should never organize a meeting without having (and communicating) its purpose. What are you trying to accomplish? What information needs shared? What decisions are needed? By clearly and carefully constructing the purpose statement, you can help ensure that everyone gets what is needed and that time is not wasted. I remember countless meetings where the organizer had waited weeks or months to get the key individuals in the room at the same time. However, due to a lack of organization, the ultimate goal of the meeting was not accomplished because the objectives were not outlined and articulated beforehand or at the beginning of the meeting. (Side note: If you have to entice individuals to attend your meeting with donuts or cookies, you might consider whether the meeting is that valuable. Though donuts at morning meetings is nice, it is preferred that participants attend because of the value of the meeting rather than the hope of getting that chocolate covered delight.)
  3. End every meeting as quickly as you can – How many meetings have you attended in which it seems the purpose was achieved in the first 15 minutes, but the meeting dragged on for another 45 minutes during which nothing new was accomplished? I remember a Senior VP once saying during a meeting, “I’m buying, so you can stop selling now.” He was referring to the meeting organizer continuing to pitch a recommendation longer than needed. When the purpose of the meeting is accomplished, adjourn… simple as that. If you demonstrate that YOUR meetings will be efficient and purposeful, you are likely to get attendance of needed participants in the future. If you know your time will not be wasted, you are likely to feel a meeting is important. Get it done, then move on!
  4. Stay focused on the meeting purpose – Another key reason you should clearly establish a goal or meeting purpose is to ensure that you stay focused on the task at hand. If you are the organizer, prevent participants from deviating into other subjects. Bring it back by saying something like, “That is an interesting subject, but let’s stay focused on our problem. We can possibly address that in another forum.” Too many meetings are hijacked by individuals that hope to use the group to address their own issue or situation. As the meeting organizer, it is your responsibility to keep the meeting on target.
  5. Take notes and summarize (especially if there are action items) – For every meeting, someone needs to take notes and summarize the results for all participants. This summary can be short and to the point or long and comprehensive, if needed. But, a summary sent to all participants is essential for ensuring the success of the meeting. A summary is essential if action items were assigned. Don’t assume that everyone left the meeting with the same understanding as you. Make sure by providing a summary.
  6. Handouts and PowerPoint presentations are OK, but there are rules – There are some individuals that will state that handouts and PowerPoint presentations are not acceptable in meetings. I disagree. These can be essential for keeping individuals focused, summarizing key background information, or directing the discussion. However, keep the following in mind when creating these:
    • Economize on words – only state what is essential
    • Don’t be cute – fancy graphics and automation can be a distraction
    • State the takeaway point on every page, slide, or document – state clearly in the header or banner what the reader needs to know (eliminate their need to study the slide and interpret its importance)
    • Keep it simple and easy to read – enough said
    • Minimize pages – when in doubt, leave it out
    • Include a summary or list of key takeaways – this is your opportunity to ensure that the reader “gets” your key points
  7. Everyone that attends a meeting should add or gain value – for some, the value obtained is information that can guide future actions. For others, the value is a decision or direction. For others, it might be sharing insight that participants might not have gained otherwise. Some individuals never participate or comment during meetings. A good practice is that before attending any meeting, commit to adding value by asking a question, making a comment, or volunteering for an action. I have found that participating in meetings, especially with senior management members present, is a good opportunity to demonstrate your own value to the organization. And, if you are the meeting organizer, don’t invite individuals that will not contribute or add value to the meeting.
  8. Come to meetings prepared – Many times I observed individuals coming to meetings unprepared to participate, unprepared to provide an update on prior actions, or unprepared to make needed decisions at the meeting.  Take a few minutes to get up-to-speed on the meeting purpose and come ready to add value to the discussion. 
  9. Pay attention – Do not attend a meeting simply to show your face. Do not attend a meeting, yet spend the entire time reading email. If you go, go prepared to focus on the subject and the discussion occurring.
  10. Only have a meeting if it is needed – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t schedule a meeting unless it is necessary. Many of my 50,000 lifetime meetings could have been avoided if individuals had simply talked with each other beforehand. Things typically get done better and faster when the affected parties talk together in small groups… not in meetings at which individual egos and territorial protection comes into play. When at all possible, avoid having meetings that are not essential or purposeful.

I’m sure each of you could add a few additional items to this list. However, I have found that by following these ten tips, meetings can be shorter, more effective, and produce greater results.

Good luck with your meetings today! I hope they are shorter, better, and more enjoyable than you could have expected.