Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for the ‘Busy Season’ Category

Inspiration

Posted by debrahelwig on May 17, 2013

GoneFishin“Take a damn vacation”.

I stared at the prescription paper in my hand. It was an official Rx pad, doctor’s name at the top, my date of birth, his signature its usual illegible scrawl. And that was all it said.  No pills, no creams, no shots, no treatment.

William O. Snell, D.O. Marietta, Georgia. Best doctor you’ll ever want to meet. I adored him. But that day I thought he’d taken leave of his senses.

“Very funny,” I wheezed.

“I’m serious, Deb,” he said. “All this” – he gestured generally toward my upper body and its autoimmune disease-laden, serially offending lungs and sinuses – “is getting worse because of stress. You have to break the cycle. Get out of here. Go away. Take a damn vacation. Let your body heal itself. Give your brain a chance to rest and set everything else in order.”

And you know what? He was right. He did prescribe some meds, but the thing that really, completely, totally got me well was not the antibiotic and the steroids (which I’d taken again and again and again, only for the infections to return). The real cure came after a week on Daytona Beach, alone with my husband and the sound of the ocean.

The thing I loved about Dr. Snell was his utter pragmatism and his way of treating the whole person that a lot of clinicians miss. He gave you shots when you needed ‘em and dosed you up with antibiotics when it was required, sure – but he also had a big sign in his office that said “For good health: pray daily and take two weeks of vacation every year.” Here’s what I learned from him:

Just like muscles need rest after exercise, and your tummy needs time to digest after eating a big meal, your brain needs space to rest. A person’s ability to manage stress and heal their body is impaired if they run from thing to thing to thing and never take a break.  Even if it can’t be a full vacation, some time away (a day, an hour, a breath) from routine and pressing work can make an enormous difference in attitude, in productivity, and in inspiration.

As professional services folks, we instinctively know this.  It’s what all the end-of-year Tax parties are about, and it’s why U.S. public accounting firms are ghost towns from April 16 to April 30 pretty much every year (and in Canada, from May 1 to May 15). To be productive, to be happy, to THINK, we have to break away.  But it needs to be more often than the blowout “we survived tax season” extravaganza!  Big breaks. Little breaks. Deep breaths. Making spaces, intentional and full of energy, to give us the inspiration that will carry us, healthy and focused, through the next thing we want or need to do.

Lookie here:

Inspiration – breathing in. Taking a breath. Taking a break. Getting ideas. Coming up with something new and exciting. Becoming energized.

Expiration – breathing out. Pushing through. Breaking down. Falling apart. Ending. Death.

I think I’d rather inspire than expire, wouldn’t you?

 

** To that end, I’m off on my annual vacation and will be back here on the blog in a couple of weeks. See you at the end of the month!

 Photo by atomicjeepLicense.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Painful Lessons

Posted by debrahelwig on May 2, 2013

pain“Where does it hurt?”

When there’s pain, that’s always the first question, isn’t it?  It’s what I’m asked by my doctor when I present myself with weird Lupus symptom of the week; it’s what I ask my Pre-K child when she falls down and starts crying.  It’s what my boss asks when something goes wrong in the office.  Where is the pain?

And then, we treat the place where it hurts.

It’s a normal response to a very basic cry: “HELP me. Fix what’s wrong. Make the pain stop.” After all, it’s human nature to want things to be better – and as quickly as possible, thankyouverymuch. It’s awful to be in pain, to see someone in pain, to be part of an organization in pain. So we cut to the chase.  We deal with what hurts, RIGHT NOW. The doctor prescribes a medicine. I spray my daughter’s knee with Numbz-it. My boss throws out the software (or the person, or the process) that was causing the trouble. We treat what’s wrong, and it gets better.

Only, sometimes, it doesn’t.

I ran squarely into this problem just a couple of weeks ago, when I began a macabre dance with a series of raging, screaming, agonizing headaches. I’d wake up feeling bad and go to bed feeling worse. Just taking a deep breath sent my left temple into a series of angry neural expletives. My reaction? “Where does it hurt?  My head!”  So treat the headache and it will go away! But 10 days of ibuprophen, yoga, massage, hydration….none of it helped.  I was desperately sick with the pain. I thought about seeing a neurologist – maybe it’s Lupus related? I mused about brain tumors and all sorts of wacky stuff.

Then I got a happenstance call from my brilliant friend Brantley Moate. Brantley is a certified massage therapist, trained in Asia. He understands pain better than just about anybody I know. And he was just, by chance, calling to tell me about a fascinating book he’d been reading by a neuroscientist called Lorimer Moseley called Painful Yarns.  You can get the gist of Moseley’s ideas in this fabulous TEDx talk:

I listened, and I watched. What Moseley said hit my already aching head like a bomb blast:

Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. But pain in a particular part of the body doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong where it hurts; nor does intensity of pain necessarily equate with level of injury. Treating “where it hurts” and “how it hurts” may not fix the problem. You may need to look elsewhere to fix what’s really wrong.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  So I might need to look at something besides my head and its supporting muscles to fix my headache? YES. Yes, indeed.

Turns out, the reason my head was hurting had absolutely nothing to do with muscle fatigue or sitting at the computer too long, or brain tumors, or Lupus, or any of the stuff that had been racing through my head – or any of the stuff I’d been treating. My problem was I NEEDED SLEEP.

For a couple of weeks I’d been working late and getting up early, doing projects for the office and the kids – and as a woman of 44 with Lupus, my body evidently can’t take the “four hours a night and fake it til ya make it” I’ve been putting it through for most of my life.  When I started really thinking about what might have changed in the weeks leading up to the headaches, what might have impacted me and caused my body to say “something is wrong here!” it occurred to me I might need a little more rest.  So I did something very uncharacteristic for me: I changed one of my regular patterns. Instead of throwing medicine at my problem, I changed part of my normal routine.

And it worked. Three days of 8+ hours per night and BAM. Headaches gone. Completely gone like they’d never existed.

Wow.

My now-not-hurting brain started to really spin on this idea. Where else are people I know – especially me – mistreating pain? And the obvious answer came back: AT WORK.

We’ve just spun through another absolutely insane busy season, full of chances for things to go wrong. And, now we’re a couple of weeks past April 15 and done with the “thank God we made it” party, we’re about to sit down in our teams and dissect what went wrong. We’re about to identify our pain. To say “where did it hurt?”

That’s good. Whatever we find, that pain is real. No doubt. And treating it is necessary. Absolutely.

But Lorimer Moseley shows – heck, my headache shows! – that identifying pain is just a starting point, nothing more than an indicator that something is wrong. It doesn’t say what. Or where the problem actually started. Or how many “normal patterns” or people or projects may actually be involved.

Treating the precise pain points we identify will feel productive, because we’re doing something, by cracky!  But unless we’re all very, very careful, dealing with those pain points may actually fix nothing at all. And when the problem (and the pain) crops up again – and again, and again – then we’ll be 1. back where we started (or worse) and 2. demoralized and really in a mess.

So let’s take a vow this year to stop before we start. Take a breath. Recognize pain for what it is – for all it is – a warning to look deeper.

Photo by random_dave: film for sale. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Professional Services, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Run a Good Race

Posted by debrahelwig on April 4, 2013

runner downSpring has sprung!  Easter is past, warm weather is on its way, the flowers are beautiful…

…and for my friends in public accounting, the April 15 deadline is looming like a BIG LOOMING THING.

Every industry has something like this – the project deadline that can’t be moved, that comes with a workload so crushing it hurts just to breathe. Everyone is focused on URGENT and MOVE IT THROUGH and GET ‘ER DONE.

When the churn comes around, you’ll run into people who get hyperfocused on the work on their desks – and ignore everything (and everyone) else around them. If it doesn’t directly affect their projects, they don’t care. They can’t. They’re too busy. And God help you if you have a situation that affects your handoff to them! Watch them go from pleasant to surly to snarly in about 2 seconds flat.

It’s a constant litany of MY work. MY deadline. MY performance review. ME oh MY oh ME ME ME ME ME…it’s all about MEEEEE!

(Sounds pretty awful when you read it that way, doesn’t it?)

But it’s just that tendency which makes stories like these resonate so strongly when we read them:

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, Spanish Runner, Intentionally Loses Race So Opponent Can Win – a true story! Kenyan athlete Abel Mutai thought the finish line of a race was sooner than it actually was, so he stopped running. Anaya, who was a clear 2nd place, chose not to sprint to the finish and instead slowed down so Mutai could win.

Contestants in a Special Olympics Race Link Arms and Finish Together – a strong exaggeration of a true story, this tale of 9 Special Olympics race contestants who stop to help up a fallen companion and finish the race together is powerful, even if it’s not especially accurate.

‘Cause here’s the truth: as deadlines approach, work is like a race. Getting to the end as efficiently and effectively as possible is important. But paying attention to the people we’re running with, and helping where we can, has a much greater positive impact than just getting to deadline day with finished stacks of work on our desks.

I experienced this truth first-hand last Fall. And it changed my life.

Last September, we were in the critical stages of launching one of our association’s most important meetings, and I dropped the ball. Big time. Just as I should have been building and launching a complex marketing campaign, my father became critically ill.

I didn’t do the campaign. I couldn’t do it. My father died. I planned a funeral.

And my fabulous, awesome, amazing colleagues? They did my work for me and never said a cross word. They put in extra hours. They did things that aren’t in their comfort zone. In that race, they picked me up and carried me across the finish line.

And I will be grateful and loyal to them, and to my company, forever after.

Offices are full of people. Folks with lives that have nothing to do with work – folks with sick kids and sick parents and broken down cars and bills and snow to shovel and God knows what else. Sometimes those non-work commitments mess with deadlines. Sometimes they destroy those deadlines.

It’s up to us to pay attention. To see when our colleagues are struggling and help them across the finish line.

In my Twitter feed yesterday, leadership guru Ken Blanchard said “Life, leadership, and business are all about giving people opportunities to be the best they can be.” Sometimes that means stepping outside of ourselves to carry our friends and colleagues when they can’t manage on their own.

Especially when the deadlines are looming.

Photo by chucka_nc. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Go, Make Something!

Posted by debrahelwig on March 14, 2013

MakeSomethingThis week, the stomach flu landed at my house.  On me.

Two days of evilness, followed by the sickest feeling I’ve ever had in my life: coming back to work to a list of 35 urgent “to do” items and an inbox with 150 actionable messages in it. It’s Busy Season in the accounting world and I was already crazy with work. Now…God help me.

And I had thought I was queasy before…

My immediate reaction was one of overwhelming inadequacy and stupidity.  Especially taking into account that there isn’t just WORK stuff. At home I have kids on spring break who are screaming “I’m bored!”; a house that hasn’t been cleaned, with puppy tumbleweeds flying across the den like we’re the last outpost on the lone prairie; bills to pay; a gratitude journal to write; a thank you note I haven’t sent; and OH MY GOD Easter is coming and I haven’t thought about cookies or egg hunts or any of that stuff….

It’s enough to send a person back to bed in a crumpled heap, never to emerge again.

It’s my guess that most of us have been in this place at some point – crushed by the feeling that “the world is falling on my head and I’ll never get out from under.” Frankly, considering it’s Busy Season, I’ll pretty much guarantee I’m not the only one feeling at least a little like this at the moment.

But, in the middle of all these feelings of “Oh My God, I will never be able to do all this,” and “I am suuuuuuch a miserable faaaaaailure!”, two independent pieces of wisdom floated into my inbox yesterday and combined in a way that stopped me in my tracks.

First, there was this post by Mike Figuolio called Quit Being a Critic and Go Create Something. Mike makes great points for anyone in a leadership role, saying:

What you must understand is your criticism carries weight.  It impacts the performance reviews of your people.  It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted.  It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not.  You get the picture – your words change lives. I invite you to go a step beyond the simple criticism.  Help build something beyond your words. … change your mindset from one of critic to one of creator.  Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas. 

From that came my first BIG THOUGHT:

I am the leader of Team Debra. And I am spending all my time criticizing me, instead of creating great work. I am a professional critic – of myself – and boy, am I a mean one!

Hmmmm.

Then, from my friend Michelle Golden, I received a link to a brilliant TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

In this presentation, Gilbert presents the idea that we are not solely responsible for our own creativity. She explains that in ancient cultures, they believed there was an external source for creativity (called the Daemon, or the Genius) that helped the process along. That, in that context, our only responsibility is to show up and do the work, and the creative spark will come. That it’s not on us, as radically frail and freaky creatures, to be the source of making good stuff happen.

Double hmmmmm…

SO – this was my internal conversation that pulled all these thoughts together:

I am a tremendously horrible critic – mostly of myself. When my workload gets too deep, I immediately go to that place of “I’m a horrible failure and it will never get better.”

          This is not helpful. Instead of being a critic, what if you become a creator?  Create, don’t berate.

But I’m too BUSY to create anything! There’s this awful to-do list of mechanical stuff that just Has. To. Be Done. And it’s not creative work! It’s spreadsheets and database files and uploads and….

          Who says that stuff can’t be creative? You’re making something.

Um…

          Even if you have some stuff that isn’t “creative”, so what? Not everything has to be. Just make something every day and you’ll feel more energized for other stuff you have to do.
Maybe just make ONE thing. Make dinner. Write a blog post. Clean up something (make a clean space!). Tell the kids a story.

But I’m soooo tiiiiiired and overwhelllllllmeeeeeddd, I can’t be creative!

          Oooh, but if Elizabeth Gilbert is right, YOU don’t have to be creative. That external THING has to be creative (call it what you will, the genius, the divine, God) – but YOU
don’t have to do it. You just have to show up.

And then I do stuff?

          Right.

And work gets done? I make things?

          Right.

And I feel good about it?

          YES.

But there will still be this huge list of stuff that I didn’t do!

          But it won’t feel the same, if you’re paying attention to what you ARE doing and what you made today. Things will move faster and feel better.

In so many ways, this internal shift doesn’t change a thing. My to-do list is still a morass of electronic insanity. I’m still eating toast and bananas and wishing I felt good enough for a cup of coffee.

But this morning, thanks to Mike and Elizabeth, I’m deciding that the place where I begin my day is not with the idea that “I can’t do all this” and “I am the worst employee ever”.

Instead of being scared of my list, now I’m curious. I can’t wait to find out what my Genius (the Divine, God, the Muse) is going to bring – and what I’m going to get done.

Anticipation, not fear.

Today, I am going to make something great. I wonder what it will be?


Photo by jessica wilson {jek in the box}. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Your New Busy Season Mantra: Just Take the Darn Call

Posted by debrahelwig on February 2, 2010

Have you met Sparky Firepants?

If not, you should.

Mr. Pants (aka David Billings) is a darn brilliant graphic designer and an equally brilliant wordsmith.  On his blog, he’s got a lot to say about the business of making art.  Which, by chance, happens to say a lot about the business of doing good business. Which, in turn, directly applies to all of us folks toiling away in the accounting and legal sphere.

This week, he’s penned two thoughtful (and very helpful) posts – Why I’ll Never Say I’m Booked, and Why I Said Not to Say “Booked”.  The gist – it’s never a great idea to just hang a sign on your (locked) door that says “Sorry, Can’t Help You Now,” no matter how busy you are.  No matter if tax returns are stacked in mountains threatening to collapse on your head. No matter if your email box passed overflowing two hours ago and your iPhone is starting to smoke.

Just. Take. The. Darn. Call.

I can’t think of a more important message for accounting folks to hear at the beginning of Busy Season. (And all you lawyers out there, you listen up too – sometime your case load will reach tilt-tilt-tilt overload and all of this will apply to you too.)

Here’s a short excerpt:

There’s a big difference between announcing to the world, “I’m booked” and turning down a project after you’ve heard the deadline. Saying, “I’m booked” is locking your door until August. Then what? You open the door, peer out and wonder aloud, “Where did everybody go? I’m ready now. Heeeeyyyyyyyyy!”

What does it cost to listen? How much time does it take to let someone in your shop (figuratively speaking) and ask you for help?

Yep, Mr. Pants nails it, 100%. You should read both posts this minute and take them to heart. Because here’s the bottom line: the thing that kills relationships – especially professional services relationships – is insufficient communication.

When I tweeted Mr. Pants’ post earlier today, I got a great response from Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett), a guy who knows whereof he speaks, with 10 years under his belt as an accounting firm partner and a long IT consulting career after that:

“The biggest source of ‘pissed offness’ is NOT to speak with clients, however busy you are. A 2-5 minute call does wonders.”

Hallelujah! You bet it does. Because it’s about respect. And decency. And the kindness to say, “I hear you, and what you need matters to me.”  Nothing elaborate. Not an hour long “how’s your great-grandmother’s butler-in-law these days?” coffee clatch. Just acknowledgement, and a promise to follow up or a helpful referral. Even if you say, “Sorry, my schedule is full, but here are some other options for you,” you will have acknowledged that client’s need. You’ll have shown that you care.

And “I care” does a heck of a lot more to build and cement relationships than (indifferent) silence.

So take your calls. Return your calls, every day. Especially when you’re busy.  Do it quickly and with all the empathy you can muster.

It’s the best way I can think of to ensure that your post-Busy Season will be, well….busy.

Photo by Mr. ATM (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season, Law, Leadership, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted by debrahelwig on January 13, 2010

Did you miss me?

No, really, did you?

Hurrah if you did (you make me blush)….but my bet is you’re so busy you never even noticed that I’d stopped posting to this blog for the last two months.

The stopping part wasn’t on purpose, mind you. A freakish set of health issues and work crises conspired to make every second of my available time disappear from November to now. But I’m grateful to say things are better, and I’m back on station to to share and discuss ideas with you.

SO – now you know where I’ve been, back to the question at hand.

Did you miss me?

The answer isn’t about my ego. It’s important because your reaction to my absence proves a point that’s applicable for your professional services career.

When you lose regular contact with the people you do business with, EVEN PEOPLE WHO LIKE AND CARE ABOUT YOU, you very well may drop out of their scope.

People like important clients. Referral sources. Heck, even good friends.

The old saw “Out of sight, out of mind” is a very real thing.

It’s not that people don’t care. They’re busy. According to studies, busier than ever before. And stressed to boot.

If we don’t make the effort to stay in touch, even (maybe especially) when we’re busy and overcome with crises, the likelihood is the important people in our lives won’t remember to either.

And when the moment arrives when it would be beneficial to reconnect….well, it’s awkward. Difficult. Easy to postpone. So we don’t.

And if we don’t – the potential for lost opportunities is infinite.

In my case, I’d have been much better off if I’d written a quick post every couple of weeks. Nothing earth-shattering, just a little placeholder note to the blogosphere to keep the connection open. For you, it might be sending a greeting card with a quick two-line note to a favorite client. A three word email (“Thinking of you!”) to a friend you haven’t talked with in a while. A forwarded article, or maybe a five minute phone call with a referral source you’ve neglected.

Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.

Sure, there are times when life happens. When we lose contact with important people. When we stop blogging, or emailing, or calling for real, honest reasons. And it’s hard to get started up again. Reconnecting is awkward. What do you say? How do you explain why you didn’t call or write or blog? It feels icky – at first. But, trust me, the benefits from the connections we reforge infinitely outweigh the discomfort of our avoidance.

For all you accountants out there, Busy Season is coming. Getting intentional now and making a firm commitment to stay in touch with the important people in your life and career, before your schedule swerves out of control, will go a long way toward keeping you TOP of mind, instead of OUT of mind, when April 15th rolls around.

As for me, watch this space. I’ll be hanging around here regularly from now on.

Photo by helgasms! (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: