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18 January

Personal and Professional Effectiveness in a Changing World

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A talk by Eric Kimani to the CITAM Leadership Team Retreat on 18th January 2008



My dear brothers and sisters,

Thank you for inviting me to come and speak to this distinguished leadership team on this very challenging subject. I would like to issue a disclaimer that I am not intending to provide all the answers to career and personal effectiveness but I will only give a few pointers because it is a wide subject with wide application. It can be discussed at many levels and with multiple applications. I am glad you have chosen the very instructive little book “Who Moved my Cheese” as your point of reference for your retreat. My talk will deal more with “When and what to do when the cheese moves”.

I will be speaking from the backdrop of the famous words of Charles Darwin and I quote;

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”

I will begin with some definitions to allow us to agree on the context within which I speak.
I define effectiveness as “doing the right thing or the right job at the right time” as opposed to efficiency which has been the thrust for much of the past with calls for producing with minimum waste and minimum effort.
The dictionary defines effectiveness as “having a definite and desired effect”.

In the metaphor of the cheese story, effectiveness is about knowing when the cheese is about to move or has moved. It is about knowing and doing the right job in a changing world. How do you do it? In one company I joined as an internal auditor. I later created the position of Internal Audit and Cost Controller for myself and again later one as Financial Controller. Both positions never existed before. When I left as finance director that position was abolished! I was later to work in the position of Finance Director which was abolished with my departure. Personal and career effectiveness is about doing the right things and not about doing things efficiently which is presumed in your job. I tell people that efficiency is good- it will lead to praise and at best a bonus but only effectiveness will earn you a promotion!

Personal and career effectiveness begins with knowing your roles and finding the balance of those roles. You must begin by defining what you are about. I define my life on two levels;
1. My role as a father, husband and family member
2. My role in society as a leader, entrepreneur and business leader.
To perform these roles I need to be;
1. Physically fit
2. Spiritually fit
3. Informed.

Everyday I seek the balance of these roles. I score them daily on my daily journal and repeated failure to achieve an acceptable score on one sends signals of danger. I have found this approach extremely beneficial in fulfilling my roles. To be able to meet the competing needs I am forced to seek a balance of roles. For example I am often called to exercise with my wife or children to fulfill both my parental and marital role and keep physically fit.

Consider what you want to achieve as a mother, father, community leader or employee. Decide what steps you will take daily to fulfill these roles. Mirror yourself that you are on course and not stagnated by scoring daily or every so often. Life is a game of chess and to quote Marcus Buckingham “The key difference between checkers and chess is that in checkers the pieces all move in the same way, whereas in chess all the pieces move differently. Thus if you want to excel at the game of chess you have to learn how each piece moves and then incorporate these unique moves into your overall plan of attack”.

You must begin by defining your mission if you are going to seek personal effectiveness and career growth. The subject of developing a personal mission statement is for another day.

I will now look at a few ways in which you can seek personal and career effectiveness

1. Do not be too comfortable where you are.
In essence we are all happy when things are working out well. When our jobs look secure; our health is good; our families are doing well; our marriages are working. We indeed get to assume that life will always be like this. Many of us take our jobs for granted. We assume that they are our entitlement; we deserve them. We begin to hang the coat on the chair and take off for a while; we begin to take off unnecessary sick-off. When things suddenly change and there is retrenchment we begin to blame the company; the country the government and the leadership. We blame the system as unjust. I have a friend who lost his job as CEO over 15 years ago and he continues to tell the story to any one who cares to listen that his boss unfairly had him sacked. He never got another job. Not long ago a victim of retrenchment in a company I know did not tell his family of the retrenchment until seven months later when the money run out- He woke up every morning and pretended to his family to go to work! Like one of the characters in the cheese story, he did not want to believe that the cheese had moved.

Many of us take our spouses or our children or friends for granted. I know couples whose marriage broke because they did not take care of the “small matters” around them. Two marriages of friends I know well broke because the wife suddenly realized that the husband could not give up drugs. When I asked the wife when she knew that the husband was on drugs, she said she suspected long before they married but hoped he would give up! She refused to smell the cheese & respond accordingly then. Twenty one years into the marriage he never did and the marriage is now broken!

2. The more important your career/spouse/child/friend is to you the more you want to hold onto them.
Many people have lost the opportunity to grow their careers because they want to remain in the known territory. Someone said that you can never discover new lands until you are prepared to leave the shore. I have watched people wait for a company go down with them and then spend all their years in court corridors seeking compensation. They fail to read the signs of the times. Their fear of change often immobilizes them to taking no action. They forget that fear is an ingredient of our lives. They justify their actions with reasons that border on the ridiculous. They do not keep their antennae up to know what is happening and are caught unawares. I know one executive who lost his job and spent the next many years in court fighting that he was wrongly terminated. At the end of it all he was thoroughly “bruised” by the court battle!
Human beings have a streak to want to do the same things over and over- remaining in their known environment. We have a fear of the unknown. Someone described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Human beings are capable of remaining in denial for years. When we stay in denial our performance and capacity suffers. When we are in denial with our families, we only delay the inevitable with regard to our spouses, our children or our other relationships. Ask yourself this question; Assuming that your current fears are that;
1. You might lose your job
2. You might lose your marriage
3. My son/daughter is on drugs
4. You might be HIV positive
What will you do?
Stephen Covey says “in the space between stimulus and response lies your freedom to chose”.

You must be prepared to leave the comfort zone if you are looking for personal and career growth in a changing world. When I was nearly 40 I decided I needed to read for a degree in Law. For me to get where I am in career I figured that I needed this among other things. It was not easy- I burnt the midnight oil. The opportunity cost was high.
You must recognize fear for what it is –False Evidence Appearing Real!
Like Richard Branson of Virgin says, “If you look at all the miles between, you might not take the first step. Whatever it is you want to achieve in life, if you do not make the effort you won’t reach your goal. Take that first step. What ever your goal you will not succeed until you let go your fears”. Jesus feared so much that he perspired blood and still did it anyway!
The biblical story of digging trenches when not a cloud was in the sky is instructive!

3. It is okay to be afraid and change.
Reasonable fear acted upon is a prerequisite for success. I keep telling people that for myself, bold and fearless as I may seem to many, nothing has made me more anxious than changing career and jobs! Yet I have done it more regularly on average than many. Sometimes I have experienced great fear with regard to my family and my financial security.
Reasonable fear should propel us into action towards desirable positive change.

4. Be alert of your circumstances often to ensure that change is not shifting things around you.
Using the metaphor of the cheese- smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old. Many people lack the simple skill of knowing when circumstances change: when the job is about to disappear; the spouse is on the wrong tangent; the youngster is on the wrong path! As the saying goes, “if you fail to change change will change you.”
This skill that tells you when circumstances are changing is key to career and personal growth. Sometimes it is as simple as changes in how your immediate boss responds or treats you; changes in how your spouse dress or reacts; changes in the behavior of our young ones. This is almost what people call a gut feeling! I once worked for a company where, for ulterior reasons, my boss was not particularly impressed with how I was working and I noticed that he began communicating with me through third parties. The writing was on the wall. I choose to leave as early as I could and hence on my terms! When your teenage son or daughter begins to lock themselves in their bedroom –begin to smell change and find out what is happening! When your spouse begins to complain about things that have never bothered them in many years, begin to know that change is in the air. A friend of mine has had a marriage problem now for a couple of years. The errant spouse began telling stories of the need to be away in places they never had to go before; they started coming home late. Eventually what was an admirable marriage hit the rocks!
In one of my earlier jobs, my boss once walked into my office and asked me bluntly “now that you have trained your junior to handle what you do so well, what do you propose to do?” I answered him loudly with a resignation in due course that pleased him and that worked out extremely well for me! Learn to smell when the cheese is getting old!

5. Learn Creative imagination.
Imagine that which you would like. Every successful venture begins with a single thought. It begins with dreaming/envisioning. In the metaphor of cheese it begins with you imagining yourself enjoying new cheese even before you find it- It works like self-prophesy and will lead you to it!
I love telling the story of how years ago as I went through the agony of private study as a mature student of law. The easiest way to get me to do more jogging laps without noticing it was to keep thinking myself as a qualified lawyer. I would draw the guest list for my graduation repeatedly in my mind! In 2003 most of those on my imagined guest list attended my party on being admitted as an advocate of the high court of Kenya!

Personal and career growth calls for planning. Plan how you wish to play the game of life. I plan mine in 5 year blocks, changing and amending as necessary as I go along but I notice without fail that I have largely worked towards my plan for the last two or so decades. Plot your life on paper and say to yourself where you wish to be in 5 years and what you need to do to get there. It forestalls failure and builds your confidence. Plan to succeed. Positive thoughts elicit the energy and desire to take action. Dream and envision what you want. Last year I decided I wanted three things in the next five years. I have nearly achieved two! I turned 50 last month. I started work at 23 and therefore reckon I am half way through my life. I am changing my game plan for the second half of my life. I plan to retire from active work at 75! This is creative imagination.

6. Keep life simple.
Do not over-complicate life through detailed analysis and complicated plans. Like Tom Peters says “if there one thing that makes God laugh is to see us plan, and plan and plan”! The rules of life should be Fail; Fast; Forward. Try it and if it fails try again fast and move on! In the metaphor of your cheese story, you need to know and accept when the cheese moves and that it has moved! Do not spend time and energy mourning the fact that it has moved! A lesson from evaluating my life…everytime the cheese moves, it creates an opportunity for me to reach higher heights and achieve greater success but ONLY IF I seize the moment. The same applies for all of us.

7. Nothing changes like change!
Appreciate that change is unstoppable. Adapt to it. Imagine what happened to the gatherer when he saw his neighbor planting food crops- He must have thought they were out of their mind! Imagine what happened in the agricultural revolution- A single tractor wiped out the jobs of hundreds of people in a flash! Imagine what happened during the industrial revolution with a single conveyor doing what 100 men did previously? Do you remember containerization? What about the information revolution? Do you remember the bank queue of not long ago with many cashiers struggling to serve so few customers? And today a single ATM machine stands on every street corner without anyone manning it and 24/7 and 365 days a year! When I hear some people say computers and email are for the young I laugh at their resistance to change! Enjoy change! Be part of change- this way you will never be out of work. I have been a CEO at a tea company; a tyre company and I would not be surprised if tomorrow I am managing a hospital!

Career and personal effectiveness is about belief in yourself; it is about conquering your natural and imagined fears; it is about identifying, anticipating, monitoring and adopting to a changing world!

In my characteristic style I would like to finish with an instructive true story on change….

General Motors was for many years the market leader in automobiles out of Detroit. Their systems were all geared towards selling big cars. So they continued producing big cars to feed their established system.

They did not adapt to change and their systems, style and structure were all unsuitable for the rapidly changing world with its constantly changing needs. Today Toyota is the world’s leading automobile company. Its ability to sense the cheese moving is phenomenal!

Can you begin to anticipate what will change?

Thank you.
© Eric Kimani 2008

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