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Best Practices for Business Leaders Stuck in a Rut [Podcast]

Episode 135: Michael and Kathryn talk about how easy it is for business leaders to get stuck in a rut, and tips for getting unstuck. If you feel like 2020 had you spinning your wheels and you want to get back on the road to achieving your goals, then give this episode a listen.

Car on Snowy Road


In This Episode You Will...

  • Discover how to gain traction so you can get out of a deep rut.
  • Find out why a Vision and a Strategic plan can save you when you start to meander.
  • Get Michael and Kathryn's tips on how to make your work week more efficient.
“Make sure your vision is really clear. Revisit your vision. Or if you don't have a vision, you need one. One that has both your identity AND your direction."
-Michael K. Redman

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Michael:
              Hello everyone. And welcome to the HaBO Village Podcast. I'm Michael Redman.


Kathryn:
               And I'm Kathryn Redman.


Michael:
              And this is the podcast that helps business leaders build companies with passion and provision so that you can see more profit, purpose and legacy in your company. We believe that those two things can be held together, the profit and the purpose or the Passion and the Provision. And this is a podcast that really strives to talk about what you can do, practical things, mindsets and overall thoughts and extracurricular ideas.


Kathryn:
               Sometimes it's just meanderings but always about something that's related to business and related to you growing as a leader, as a person running a company, or in a company. Just ways of thinking about what does it look like to hold those intention, to know that you can live with purpose, live with meaning, but also make a living doing that.


Michael:
              Yeah, and we've been doing this podcast a long time. Today we're going to talk about the idea that we can get stuck. I was thinking about this concept where you get in this place, where you're busy, busy, busy, busy, you're doing a lot of work. You're running on the hamster wheel. You've got your foot down on the gas and a lot of energy is going and a lot of noises happening, but then all of a sudden, periodically you look up and you haven't gotten anywhere. It's like business can so often be like, "Man, we've just worked so hard in 2020, and we've put up with so much." And the pandemic has been everywhere and masks and we hate masks and I hate the pandemic and I hate COVID, a lot of hate there, and you just kind of go, "But we're working hard and we're doing ..." and then all of a sudden, you turn around and you go, "Did all the hard work, really do anything this last six months or this last year? Did we really get anywhere?" And so often we get in these ruts.


Kathryn:
               And it isn't just this year, but this year has been especially challenging for folks.


Michael:
              No, it's not just this year. No it isn't. So Kathryn and I started talking about this and one of the analogies that came up was literally, it was a moment, actually, there was a memory. When we first moved to Colorado Springs when we were first married and we moved on November 15th. And so, we spent our first winter, our first few months in Colorado, we came from the San Francisco Bay area at sea level where there was no snow.


Kathryn:
               And I had never lived in snow. And it snowed the first weekend we were there.


Michael:
              It snowed the first weekend we were there. And then after a few months there was some stuff happening in the spring. And your car got stuck at [inaudible 00:02:35] in the parking lot.


Kathryn:
               On that steep hill.


Michael:
              So she worked in this complex, this office building, there was a parking lot, it was a small office building and the parking lot was on a hill and all of a sudden trying to get out and zzz, zzz.


Kathryn:
               I do remember this now.


Michael:
              And I'm like, "Okay, I've gotten cars out of [4byin 00:02:58] in the mud, I've gotten stuck in different places, but the snow, this is a little different and what's the deal and how do you get this going?" Because that rut, that was the picture I was thinking about, was that spinning tire and as much as you try and push the car moves a little bit, and then it rocks back because it's stuck. And I feel like a lot of times that's what is happening in our companies. And then when you get out, sometimes this is really dangerous because you're putting so much energy in that when you're trying to get out of a hole like that and it happens when you're 4byin and different things like that.


Michael:
              When I was younger, we would be out in the woods doing all kinds of things. And if your tires, your front tires, you've turned them in different ways, they can actually cause the car to have a harder time to get out of the hole. But then when you get out, you've got the engine revved up so much that the car lunges forward and it can run into something else.


Kathryn:
               Because you've turned the wheels the wrong direction.


Michael:
              The wrong direction, and you're not pointing. So there's a whole issue of when you're in ruts, are you going in the right direction? Are you set up or do you think you are, and you're not and you're just going to go around in circles, how do you get out of this thing? How do you get out of this situation in business where sometimes you just feel like you're going nowhere and then you get out of that and then you get down the road and the other version of this, as you get down the road a ways and you realize you were in the wrong direction. It took you in the wrong place.


Michael:
              And now you've spent all this energy trying to catch up, doing the wrong thing. I hate it and all the home improvements I've done the worst thing in the world is when you put something together and you think you've done it right, and you get three fourths of the way through and you realize there's a very important part missing and you have to take it all apart again to put that other part on because it's supposed to go on first.


Kathryn:
               Yeah, I don't like it when that happens because then I hear, "Uh-oh."


Michael:
              So let's talk about that. Everybody's faced it. Everybody's struggled with it. Let's talk about the concept of how do we get out of that. First of all, you got to find some traction.


Kathryn:
               Got to find some traction. So one of the things that has to happen is that pause to go, "Okay, first of all, I got to own that I'm stuck." And sometimes that means going to somebody outside of you to help you identify, why are you stuck? What is causing this stuckness, right?


Michael:
              Stuckness.


Kathryn:
               Stuckness. It's a very, very powerful term, stuckness. So what's causing that? So the very first step is just identifying that you are stuck and trying to begin to pinpoint what's causing it. Is it that you're just busy doing a bunch of stuff that doesn't move you forward, or are you just caught responding to the tyranny of the urgent all the time? And you're not doing anything that has forward motion built into it, but in order to know what has forward motion built into it, you really need to know where you're going. So we spend a great deal of time talking about vision, right? Talking about understanding what is my core purpose? Because part of ending up stuck is sometimes you end up in a place where you discover that you're stuck. You're in a rut, you're running in circles and you're not even doing the thing you're supposed to be doing. If you had stopped to say, "Why did I start this company? What is it that we're about," right? Is what you're doing in the middle of this place, is it even aligned with your core purpose?


Michael:
              So let's take it down to something even more practical. How do you get stuck in a day? What does that look like? What does it feel like when you get to the end of the day and you're like, "I feel like I had my pedal down and the tires were spinning and I never got anywhere."


Kathryn:
               Oh my gosh. So that is a day that I would call, you spend the day living in the reactive. So you've hit your email on the whole time. You're just handling whatever comes in, but all the while in the back of your mind, you're thinking there's this couple of really big projects and I really need to get to them. But they're not urgent, that one's not due for three weeks. So for me, when I really feel like that at the end of the day, it's when I haven't moved anything meaningful forward, I've just reacted and solved quick things that didn't necessarily need to be solved right then. And I have sacrificed the larger, important pieces to do that.


Michael:
              Yeah. So then you get into this place where you start saying things like, "I'm exhausted. I did a lot of work today and I don't feel like actually got anything really completed. Anything worthwhile completed."


Kathryn:
               Yep.


Michael:
              That's a typical what happens in a day when you're stuck and you have a rut and you need some traction, how do you get out of that? What do you have to do to break that cycle on a daily basis?


Kathryn:
               So one thing you can do is you just make a decision to say, "I'm going to block time." So blocking time to say, "I'm going to spend at least this block of time, two hours, whatever it is leaving the email off, closing my door," pre-pandemic it would be going to some other location to actually write, to actually invest in this whatever the important pieces are. So blocking time is one big piece and shutting off the things that would interrupt you. That would be my biggest way to ...


Michael:
              Yeah, I think so.


Kathryn:
               Like the Pomodoro things like that. Is that what you're thinking of?


Michael:
              Yeah, doing Pomodoros. Pomodoros are basically, I'm going to work 20 minutes on and take five minutes off and then I might work 35 minutes on and then I might even work 50 minutes on later, but I'm shutting everything down. I'm focusing for a period of time. I'll get up for 10 minutes, walk around, do a little bit of exercise and get some blood moving in my system and then sitting down. You can really get unstuck. See, because when you have that car, if you've ever been in the mud and been stuck or been off the road or been stuck in the ice, you'll know that you need some friction. So sometimes what you need is wait, you'll see two or three people bouncing on a bumper while somebody is trying to drive the car, which is really dangerous because if that car takes off, those people will end up on their butt, I know for sure.


Kathryn:
               Mm-hmm (affirmative), or with a pile of dirt in their face.


Michael:
              In a pile of dirt. So one of the things is to put stuff underneath. So if you're stuck in the ice or stuck in the mud, one of the things that works really good is sand. Having a couple of things of sand in the car, because you can pour that sand down there. And the sand, especially on ice creates a certain amount of traction. Putting branches underneath it, cutting branches off of trees and sticking it under there, wood or something like that. Because all of a sudden it gets you traction. So a Pomodoro or some time management working system is really good for that. But when you're in a company and you're looking and it's even more than a day, it's a season. You keep hitting that ceiling where you can't break through, you feel like growth has been there, but you've been saying it for a year or two or three or five.


Michael:
              And I know that sounds crazy. I'm like, "Who says, they're going to keep growing at five?" But I mean, I've said it. I'm like, "Oh, this is going to be the year. I think this is really going to be ... We're going to be busy." I mean, I used to get teased because I kept telling [inaudible 00:10:04] staff, this month's really going to be a busy month. And then they're like, "They're all busy. We're okay with that, but you don't have to worry about it." I'm like, "Oh, I guess, okay." But you get to the place where all of a sudden you're like, "Wait a minute. I feel like we've worked really hard for the last year or two and we should be farther along and why aren't we growing? Why aren't we at that place? Why are we stuck in that?" It feels like the rut, the place you're stuck, your wheels are spinning. It feels like you're going around the same mountain all the time.


Kathryn:
               Mm-hmm (affirmative). So one really good example of that would be certainly for us and for me, one of the struggles we've had is that if we know that we need a certain size of client to keep coming on, and then we keep taking on smaller clients who don't pay as much, you feel like you're working just as hard, but you're not making as much as you need to make to keep growing, right? So that is a rut that's easy to get in where you know that you can't keep doing it the way you've been doing it, but you still do.


Michael:
              Yeah.


Kathryn:
               So that's just one example of how that can work and you just get stuck and you look up and you're thinking, "Yeah." Because those small clients are just as much work sometimes as the larger clients, but they're not as profitable. So how do you begin to make different choices to get out of that rut so that you are enjoying the work and you're being rewarded for it? So that's one example.


Michael:
              No, I mean, that's a great point. And so, when companies are there, what do you do to get out of that? This is where we talk about making sure your vision is really clear. Revisit your vision. If you don't have a vision, you need one, you need a clear one that has both your identity and your direction.


Kathryn:
               Yep.


Michael:
              And then on top of that, do you have a strategic plan? Are you working a strategic plan? It's amazing how often the reason you're spinning and you're stuck is because you got off the road.


Kathryn:
               Oh, so ...


Michael:
              Think about that.


Kathryn:
               ... instead of driving down the highway, you pulled off the road or you took a detour thinking that's going to be faster, it turns out to be a dirt road and you're doomed.


Michael:
              And you're stuck.


Kathryn:
               Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Michael:
              You get into these places where this is not the main road or you thought, "Maybe I'll find something cooler over there," and you got off the main road. You lost traction, you got off your direction and you may have done it, you didn't even realize it. There was a Y in the road and you didn't realize that when you went left, you should have gone right. It wasn't obvious, it wasn't simple. You didn't even realize that you made a mistake, but going left is equivalent to, I started doing the tyranny, the urgent. I just started dealing with things that were in front of me and I thought that I had myself on trajectory. I thought the wheels were in a certain direction. I just put my head down and got the work done because I was heading in the right direction and it would get me somewhere and some day I'd look up and I'd be in the right place. And there is a sense in which when you're on the right road in the right direction ...


Kathryn:
               Then that is true.


Michael:
              ... then that's 100% true. You just got a clock away the, if you're going across country, you got to clock away the miles. And sometimes you just feel like it's just hours of nothing, but you don't stop because it's nothing, you just keep going. There's a work there, but you've got to be in the right direction and on the road. So that idea of having clear vision and having a good plan, and then that strategic plan where we're talking, what is your annual goals? Pick three annual goals, maybe pick up a three-year goal. And this is going to work towards your BHAG, right? Your three year goal, your one year goals, your three one year goals, and then break those down into quarterly things that you need to do and accomplish to get those goals accomplished.


Michael:
              And then you need to be paying attention to those weekly. What's going on weekly. What has to happen weekly to hit those quarterly goals, all that stuff. I find that when we get really, really stuck and we feel like we've just been spinning, we haven't been clear enough on the longterm goal, or we haven't been clear enough on the short-term goals to get there. And we get stuck into the, it looks like we're busy. I mean, we're busy and it looks like it's the productive busy, when really it's not as productive as we think. So we have to come back to the strategic plan.


Kathryn:
               Yep. I agree, I agree. It's true. And I think one of the things that happens when you're in the middle of that stuff too, is that it can be really easy, especially this year has been obviously really difficult on a lot of people, but when you're tired and when maybe your self care has gotten a little sideways, it's really hard to go after the stuff that requires effort and energy and thought it's way easier just to do the stuff that's in front of you that's easier. And so, the choice to say, "I'm going to tackle the hard stuff. I'm going to tackle the stuff that's on my plate that doesn't come easy, that I can't just check off," those decisions are things that you have to make if you're going to keep growing and keep moving forward.


Michael:
              Yeah, well, and this year is even more difficult, like you said, because COVID does cause us to feel like, I mean, there are so many obstacles in our way anyway. I mean, we really have been on a detour that took 3,000 miles to get 10 is what it feels like for a lot of us. What do you do with that? I think there's a point at which you have to take assessment and go, "Okay, we're at this. We're probably going to be at this a little while longer. How do I create now? I'm not waiting for COVID to be over, I've got to figure out what it's going to look like for me to live a healthy life with good healthy behaviors, and then get back to, okay, this is the way it is."


Michael:
              Whatever your business is, how are you going to just assume right now that this is the current situation, this is status quo. And it may be for three months, six months a year, but this is status quo. So how do you reassess because we have new needs. And then looking at that and then just going, "All right, this is what happens." This is why strategic plans aren't long, long, long things is because rocks fall from the top of the mountain.


Kathryn:
               From the sky.


Michael:
              From the sky and they land in the middle of the road and you can't get around them and you have to take a detour. There are things that happen that you just have to go around. And so, if you're not flexible and you can't adjust, it's going to be way more painful and you're going to feel like you were stuck way longer.


Kathryn:
               Yeah.


Michael:
              So getting stuck is being willing to go, "Okay, now we need to reassess, reevaluate, come up with a new plan and let's implement the plan."


Kathryn:
               Would you say that, I mean, I have this vision in my head when you were like, "Rocks that fall from the sky."


Michael:
              The sky.


Kathryn:
               So suddenly there's a rock in the middle of the road. And part of what it could look like, especially in business to be in a rut is you think you have to chisel away and get through the rock. You keep running yourself against that rock because that's the direction. And so, if you're not flexible and you can't detour around it, it's going to take you a lot longer to break that boulder down.


Michael:
              Oh yeah. I have this image in my mind of this picture that is actually a two lane road in the mountain area and there's literally a 15 foot, 20 foot tall boulder right in the middle. There's nobody chiseling away at that, that ain't going to happen. It's going to be something that dynamite is going to be needed and you probably don't have it.


Kathryn:
               That might not be your primary business.


Michael:
              So detour.


Kathryn:
               So either hire somebody who has some dynamite or go around it.


Michael:
              Yeah, exactly. All right. So that's the conversation today. We wanted to talk about just that idea. We understand that it's really frustrating right now and that when you are in these places, there are things you can do when these places that you feel like you're in a rut, when you feel like you're spinning your wheels and you've just been spinning, spinning, spinning, or you feel like you're just going around the block, going around the mountain over and over and over again, it's time to stop, take a look, what's your vision? Where are you supposed to be going? What's your strategic plan? What have you done that isn't helpful to get you there?


Michael:
              And then make some decisions, make some changes in the midst of that and you may actually want to get an outside perspective, especially when it's really confusing, it's like, "I don't know." And an outside coach or consultant is going to be really good value to you. I think that's enough for today. Just talking about that, realizing it's a challenge. And I want us to be more effective and more efficient. These are the things that eat away at us to stop us from accomplishing our goals.


Kathryn:
               Yeah. And those rob our sense of passion and purpose when we feel like we're not getting where we need to go.


Michael:
              It really starts to feel like toil and not labor. And so, we want to get you back on the track of how do you align what's true and your emotions and all of that in the right direction. So that's it for today. If you like what you're hearing, please go over to the podcast worlds and say subscribe, whether it's Apple, whether it's Google, whether it's what other is out there because now we're in so many different podcast arenas. We just thank you for listening. We ask you to hit subscribe, tell your friends about us and come back next week because we're going to talk about something equally as imperative I'm sure. Okay, now we're going to end. I'm Michael Redman.


Kathryn:
               And I'm Kathryn Redman.


Michael:
              Have a great day.


Kathryn:
               Buh-bye.