Proven, Practical and Powerful Habits

Lisa Nirell, founder of EnergizeGrowth® LLC

Let’s be honest. How many of us stick to our New Year’s resolutions?

I’m pretty convinced they are a waste of energy.

Now that we’re in February, most of those resolutions are already falling to the wayside. As the business cycle picks up, it can seem impossible to stay on track.

In my experience, habits are the key to long term progress, not resolutions. Thankfully, I had the pleasure of meeting James Clear, and he is a master at building positive habit muscles. He is the bestselling author of Atomic Habits, which has taken the world by storm.

In addition to what I learned from his excellent book, I suggest six strategies that I have successfully tested with myself and my CMO community.

  1. Be real about your baseline. Many of us (including me) are born optimists. When someone asks me how I spend my time, I tend to think that I spent my day productively with minimal interruptions.

That’s not always the reality. For example, I might forget to turn off a notification and it pops up, uninvited, on my screen.

Take a tip from the timeless advice of Peter Drucker in his seminal book The Effective Executive: Create a simple spreadsheet to track your day. Measure and record how you spend each 15-minute increment.

At the end of the week, where are you wasting time? Are you binge-watching too many Netflix shows? Are you scrolling through Instagram six times a day? Those wasted moments can undermine your week in a hurry.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a fan of free time to think, reflect, exercise and journal. The digital distractions are the true saboteurs.

  1. Get RACI. 

Confusing roles and the habit of copying everyone on everything can destroy team efficacy. In fact, inMotionNow surveyed in-house creative teams last year. They report that 66 percent of the respondents said that getting information to do their work is either “difficult” or “very difficult.” We have room for improvement in our marketing profession!

The responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) is a communications tool that will change how you and your marketing teams collaborate and serve customers. When tracking a project and copying other team members on the status, assign them a role. Members can perform one or two of four roles: Responsible, Accountable, Consultative, or only Informed.

Responsible person is working on the project; this may be more than one team member. The Accountable person is the “go to” person to dole out awards when things go well, and fix things when they fail. They are often the approver, too. The Consultative person is a subject matter expert; they enjoy a two-way dialogue when appropriate. Finally, the Informed person simply needs to receive periodic updates or attend select status meetings via one-way communication.

This model also reduces the number of people who feel that they need to “weigh in” on every milestone, thereby reducing delays.

Colleen Phelan, Director of Marketing Services for Atlanta-based Delta Vacations, has seen some significant performance improvements with her in-house team. They manage and launch at least 2,000 projects annually. She spoke recently to our Marketing Leaders of Atlanta™ group.

Over four years, Phelan has seen significant gains in her team’s productivity. Employee satisfaction jumped from 24 percent to 94 percent. Team turnover has dropped 50 percent. She attributes part of her team’s success to following the RACI mantra.

  1. Build a gratitude moment into your team meetings. In lieu of staring at your phone or laptop, turn them off and make eye contact. Ask each person to show thanks to someone within or outside the organization.

If the recipient is in the room, ask them to make eye contact while thanking them.

This may bring some people to tears—and that’s okay. In our digitally-driven culture, we are unaccustomed (and suspicious) of this level of connection.

If your colleagues want to express thanks to someone outside the room, ask them to deliver a handwritten note to them within the next 48 hours. You can buy personalized, affordable and elegant notecards here.

  1. Watch your language. Here’s an experiment to consider.

When we set goals for ourselves, frame them in the positive. This way, we are able to set an intention of who we want to become or what we want to accomplish, rather than what we don’t want, which automatically puts us into a negative state of mind.

For example, if your intention is to eat healthier, frame the goal as “I will eat fruit and vegetables every day,” rather than “I won’t eat French fries.” Thinking about what you won’t be able to do makes us less likely to accomplish our goals.

James Clear says “our habits are a vote for our identity.” And our identity is borne from our self-talk. 

If we tell ourselves, and others, that we are a healthy eater, we have a greater chance of ACTING like a healthy eater. We are training our brains to act and think in new ways.

  1. Find freedom in discipline.How many of your digital, events planning, branding and demand gen programs and marketing functions are supported by a documented process? This becomes a lifeline for new employees when attrition occurs. It also helps teams avoid costly debates and drama around roles, timelines, and responsibilities.

I recently spoke with Charlene Li, Founder of technology and innovation advisory firm Altimeter and the upcoming book, The Disruptor’s Agenda: How to Create a Strategy for Breakthrough Growth. She told me “the most disruptive companies are very process oriented. When I visited companies such as Google and Amazon, I was surprised how they seemed calm and focused, not chaotic and crazed.”

  1. Let your brain drain (in a healthy way). Language controls our conversations. Conversations with ourselves determine our problem-solving abilities. Last year marked many personal transitions for me. I became very frustrated when I put my head on the pillow and allowed negative thinking to dominate. It triggered bad dreams and sporadic sleep, and this continued for months. My health, weight, and ability to focus at work suffered

I’m asking questions differently now.

For example, instead of asking “why is my relationship with my (friend) not working?” I’ll say “My relationship with my friend is not working. I wonder what I need to make it stronger.” According to James Clear, this shift in how we approach a problem frees up our brains to do its nighttime cleansing work, without making us feel like a failure.

If you’ve already dropped your New Year’s Resolution, that’s okay. Take the opportunity to consider picking just one habit to transform. Picture what you want. Set the intention to get there. Then schedule 2 minutes a day to begin the habit. This way, we can evolve not only in our personal lives, but as the leader we bring to the office every day.

Copyright 2019, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Lisa Nirell, the founder of EnergizeGrowth® LLC (www.energizegrowth.com), helps CMOs accelerate marketing innovation and growth. Innovative companies such as Adobe, LinkedIN, Google, and Hilton hire Lisa to formulate new strategies and launch breakthrough marketing ideas.  

She also leads several private CMO peer communities, including the Marketing Leaders of DC™ and Marketing Leaders of Atlanta™.

A frequent keynote speaker, Lisa’s the award-winning author of The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World, and EnergizeGrowth NOW. Download your free CMO Innovation Trends Report at www.energizegrowth.com/cmostudy

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