Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Don't Doom Your Initiative With This Word!

This Word Dooms Change Initiatives

If I told you, "You should know better," does it mean you do?

If I told you, "You should do it the right way," does that mean you can?

If I told you, "We should eliminate the word "should" from the English language," do you think it will happen? 

How many times have you sat in a meeting and heard someone in a leadership position make a "should" statement because they're not happy with the way things are going and they want to initiate changes? They say things like, "That shouldn't happen! We should change this!" Did you notice a lot of heads nodding in agreement? Probably. 

How many times have you seen changes that "should" happen actually become real?

"Should" Misrepresents Reality About What People "Know"

We all have different experiences which have shaped how we think and how we perceive what is going on around us. What seems like common sense to one person is foreign to another. Thinking or, even worse, saying someone else should know something you think you know implies they are perceiving and thinking exactly the same way you are. The guy on the island in the cartoon, below, will think the guy in the boat is an idiot for being so happy to have found land...and vice versa. The problem: At this moment, neither has any perspective on the other's situation.

Its all about Perspective (Humor)

"Should" Assumes The Right Way Is Your Way

Sometimes you realize success. This often translates later into a perception you have achieved some level of expertise as it pertains to that succcess. The problem is, everything changes and you don't always get the results you want when you try the same things in different situations. Saying someone "should" do things the right way, implies the conditions present during past successes exist in the current situation. 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. --Albert Einstein
"Should" also implies the criteria for success is the same for everyone. The difference between the behaviors you would have expected to observe after reading the article referenced on the cover page of the issue of People Magazine when it was published some years back and Miley Cyrus' current version of "The Right Way," I suspect, is miles-wide. Is Miley wrong? Was Billy Ray Cyrus wrong? Who is right? Who knows? I'm only a human being and therefore not qualified to judge. The purpose here is only to illustrate that one person's version of "The Right Way," the way one "should" behave is, almost invariably, different from anyone else's. It doesn't matter if it "should" be that way, or not. It is that way.

"Should" Makes It Optional

If you want to change conditions in your situation, you must "Do" what it takes to make it happen. Change must be led. You must provide, purpose, direction and the appropriate behavioral drivers to accomplish the change you want. Otherwise:
  • No one will understand why they need to contribute to the effort.
  • No one will understand what they need to do to contribute, or when to do it.
  • No criteria for success is communicated and understood. There is nothing to work toward.
  • It is an option. Why? It's not a direction. If you're lucky, one person might do something different. Keep hoping for that and that the "something different" is what you had in mind, sport!

How To See The Changes You Want Actually Happen

Do you want things to change? Of course you do.  So Stop, Think, Communicate, Plan, Execute, Monitor, Adapt.

  • STOP- Don't react and make a "should" statement. It will be meaningless and impotent. Stop. Don't speak yet.
  • THINK- Why do you want it? What value will the effort create if it is successful? What do you want? Define your vision. Set clear standards for the results you seek. Take the time to understand what it will really take to cure your pain. Who needs to be involved? What resources are required? Think! Think about whether you are willing to do what it takes to lead the change you seek. If not, don't say another word about it to anyone until you are. You will have more opportunities to think about it, I promise. Why? Because until you commit to leading the change, it won't...even if it "should".
  • COMMUNICATE- If you believe you are willing, clearly communicate your vision and purpose to the people who can help you plan and execute. Be ready to listen. Be open to changing your vision to something you hear that might make it better.
  • PLAN- Identify the things people will (notice the absence of the word "should" there?) do to make it happen. Focus on whether the actions will contribute to your vision. If they do, add them to the plan. If they won't, don't. Task organize (who, what when, where & how).
    Communicate, Listen, Listen, Listen. Adjust the plan based on feedback that will improve it's probability of success.
  • EXECUTE- You've set the criteria and the conditions for success. Make it happen. Did you notice it yet? You're leading.
  • MONITOR- Your people are making it happen with zero "shoulds" and a whole bunch of "will". Pay attention to what's happening. Compare reality to the plan. Are you getting what you want (time, effort, results)? If so, make sure you're handing out high-fives and belly bumps like they're hard candy at an Independence Day parade! They deserve the recognition.
  • ADAPT- If you're not getting what you want, Stop & Think! Yes, that's right, you have to go back and change the plan. It's not good enough...even if it "should" be. Then you need to lead the change...again...again...again. 
Julie SHOULD run a brush through
her hair when she gets out of the
wind or it will be tangled. She might.

The word "should" will probably not be removed from the English language. You, however, can lead yourself to change how you misuse it. STOP. THINK of the value such a change could create if you were successful!  

Food for thought: Here is a test to illustrate why "should" is a word to avoid whenever possible: 
Go to and look up "Should". What do you get? Is it what you "Should" get? Interesting, isn't it?  

The Visual Thesaurus is a great tool! I use it all the time to help me understand the relationship between words...especially words that represent values. The words we use are important, they shape the way we think, the way we listen, the way we respond and react to what we hear. What do you hear when the word "should" is used? What did you get when you ran the test on "should" with the Visual Thesaurus? The way I would answer both questions is, "Something else". You don't get what you think you "should," you get "something else".
Disclaimer: I am a human being. I have used "should" inappropriately many times. If you look, I'm sure you will find evidence. It's not important. This is important: I am constantly trying to change and improve. I not only should but will keep trying.

Are you a human being too?

Do you want to see changes in your organization? What do you WANT? Do you KNOW what to DO to get it? Will you BE a Leader?


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