“Looking back, the thing that’s really impressive is that here were these leaders running the Civil War, and people…had time to meditate on the day’s events…They weren’t multi-tasking; they had time to reflect. It’s a luxury many leaders just don’t have today, and that’s a real loss.”
The above quote is by Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian, in the April 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review. The entire article is great and this quote struck me in particular.
I’m a knowledge worker. My job involves utilizing large amounts of information and making decisions that support the goals of the organization I work with. Some are straightforward while others requires a fair amount of analysis and consideration.
When it comes to strategic initiatives, it can be all too easy to go with what worked in the past, without considering how it may impact the present. This is where the danger lies. Considering the fast paced world most of us live in it’s important that we take the time to reflect on what we do and did, both professionally as well as personally.
It’s also important that these reflections be recorded. I know that sounds obvious but think about it–how much of your organizational member’s unique knowledge is accessible–to other staff, vendors, and partners?
For example, in a former role I managed the annual update to the employee handbook. My partners and I made policy decisions that impacted thousands of employees. It was also my responsibility to communicate what changes had been made and why. Part of the strategy in accomplishing this was by saving the previous drafts of employee manuals that were created over the years, along with a supporting notes and communications generated. As a result, we became much better at determining which policies were effective and which weren’t.
Having these reflections on record also help to preserve and perpetuate an organization’s unique culture, which is often underrated and should not be taken lightly. I know that many people argue that a job’s a job, but all things being equal, people tend to choose organizations that reflect their professional or personal values.
Another way to look at it is like this–if your top talent got killed tomorrow would their best practices, leadership decisions, etc., die along with them? It’s morbid, I know, but I’m trying to make a point. This is why when Steve Jobs took a leave of absence in 2009 people started to wonder if it signaled an end of an era at Apple (as well as rattle shareholder confidence). When employees who represent the best of a company’s values and vision leaves it can have an effect on morale and productivity. Preserving their output for others to access helps to minimize the loss of critical resources.
Here are a few suggestions on being better at self reflection:
- Set aside (idle) time for yourself. Too often we use what little free time we have to do more stuff. Give yourself time and permission to do nothing, within reason. And stick to it the same way you stick to your other commitments.
- Stay healthy. Numerous medical studies show that a good diet and regular exercise have a positive impact on brain functions. It also helps with stress management, making it easier to think more clearly.
- Write it down! This is the one I struggle with the most. I’ll have a great idea and by the time I’m ready to implement it I’ve forgotten the most crucial elements (Doh!). So now I carry around a pen and a notepad to jot things down in the moment. It damages my street cred but it preserves my thoughts.
- Promote and utilize collaborative tools within your organization. Wikis, blogs, and intranets are some of the tools that may be used by organizations for capturing its members knowledge. It’s important that they’re easy to use and are supported by top management.
- Share. Aside from colleagues, you should try to speak with those outside your normal comfort zone. Remember, you’re responsible to all stakeholders. Being able to effectively explain yourself to them (and vice-versa) will only benefit you.
If you want to continue to make quality decisions then take the time to reflect and share this insight with others. Without it you could be missing important opportunities for yourself and your organization.