New book tells how to overcome work obstacles

Managers take note

[Russell Bishop] isn't particularly interested in management theories -- the business consultant and coach is focused instead on execution and getting results.

He quotes Dave Logan of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and himself an author, who penned the article, ["Three reasons why business books are bad for you"] -- an odd topic for a writer of business books. "But what he's saying is that most of them are just a whole bunch of B.S.," Bishop says. "The challenge [with most business books] is that either you have the ivory-tower person who is inventing something that should work or someone that made something work in their culture and they say it will work in all cultures. Neither of those is true. It always has to be adapted, so what I made my book about is not any kind of theory -- I don't care what kind of theory you have, it's how are you going to execute" that matters.

Bishop, 63, who is the founder and president of the consultancy Bishop & Bishop and a [columnist at The Huffington Post], wrote "Workarounds That Work," which will be published Jan. 7 by McGraw-Hill, while holed up for six weeks in a condo he and his wife own in Hawaii. Gary Krebs, the group publisher at McGraw-Hill had been reading Bishop's columns and approached him about writing a "fast-track" book on overcoming obstacles. "And away we go," Bishop says of the whirlwind experience.

But he had decades of his work as a consultant to businesses globally to draw upon, including years with the time management expert David Allen, Bishop's former partner who penned the book's introduction. What Bishop has encountered over those years are companies full of roadblocks -- indeed, all companies have at least some -- in the form of unneeded processes, resistance, meaningless (and seemingly endless) meetings, and all sorts of other obstacles that frustrate employees and cause inertia.

Often, workers will point fingers at others, refusing to take responsibility for obstacles that they could work around if they would only think differently about the roadblock. That process begins by asking "what could you do that would make a difference in your job that requires no one's approval, cooperation, support, or agreement other than your own?" From there, Bishop advises asking "what you could do if you had agreement, support, cooperation, or approval" and contemplating how you might influence those who are necessary to make the changes occur.

Lastly, he recommends pondering how "control and influence will enable you and your organization to respond more effectively to your business environment," as he writes in the book.

While the book includes many examples, one in particular stands out. Allen and Bishop were due to meet with a client in Louisville, Kentucky, in January 2010 when blizzard conditions elsewhere caused a long flight delay for Allen from Los Angeles, where he was told there were no flight options that would get him to Louisville in time for an early meeting the next morning. While many -- if not most -- travelers in such a predicament would chalk the problem up to bad weather and figure the flight problems were insurmountable, Allen instead figured there had to be a workaround.

He got back on the phone with American Airlines and found there was one remaining flight to St. Louis, so he booked a ticket quickly and before takeoff rented a car. After landing in St. Louis he figured out the best route to Louisville given the bad weather and drove seven hours. "We both walked into that meeting at 7:30 a.m. as though nothing had happened, one of us a bit more refreshed than the other," Bishop writes. "The client was none the wiser -- just well served."

Interestingly, he also writes that "many of the workarounds that you can employ are basically stealthy ones. That is, no one is likely to notice what you did differently, but people may notice that things are moving better. Even if no one else is aware of the change, at least you will be. One of the chief benefits of this approach lies in the improved quality of experience you will find in your job along with your enhanced ability to overcome obstacles and get important work done."

In other words, many workarounds require no one other than you to make a choice to not be hampered any longer by an obstacle, Bishop says. That falls along with his advice that it's fruitless to try to convince those who are resistant to try something new -- instead they need to be educated about how to picture themselves in a "winning scenario."

"It's very rarely that anyone resists because what they want to do is resist," Bishop says. "They resist out of fear and they resist because people are so good at making up negative fantasies in their lives." Often, there is a tendency to ask ourselves if we take action "what if" something bad happens as a result. "My mentor once said to me, 'Hey, Russell, if you're going to have a fantasy about your life, why would you have a fantasy where you lose?'"

Bishop quickly adds that envisioning positive outcomes isn't some new idea that he created -- indeed, few of the ideas that he or any other management expert offer are. "These notions are, of course, timeless. None of us invented them -- they're just how it is. I think what's different is the velocity, the volume, there's more coming faster than ever before. People are just besieged ... and overlay that with the worst economy we've seen in a lifetime, so now you've got fear, and it's palpable, in organizations."

Which brings us to the feeling of being overwhelmed, which is something many of his clients can relate to even in good times, but that has become particularly fierce in recent years. First, he suggests that it's important to overcome procrastination because "unfinished tasks, projects and objectives all hold a certain amount of your mental energy, attention or focus," he writes in his new book. Second, it's important to recognize the work that needs to be done as a priority and the tasks that can wait. Attendant with that is also engaging in an ongoing evaluation of what tasks are no longer necessary and eliminating those.

But still many of us will feel overwhelmed with far more work than we can ever possibly get done, which leads Bishop to this nugget of wisdom from his book: "The first counsel I offer is that having more to do than you can get done is actually welcome news. You may ask, what's so wonderful about having more to do than can readily be done? It's called having a job. You're employed. By definition, a job means having more things to do than can get done. That's why it's not a temporary job. Things keep showing up that need to get done, and you were hired to help. Not to get everything done, but to keep everything moving."

Which leads to a question in the interview with Bishop about how to keep things moving when there are skeptics in the midst who aren't able to envision success or who are stymied rather than positively challenged by roadblocks. Skeptics come in two varieties, he says -- those who really do care and want to do good work, but who are skeptical and those who are "real skeptics" and therefore are themselves roadblocks.

"The real skeptics can be left alone," he says. "The worst pains in the tush self-select out of a company."

As he winds through more advice, offered via his book and his column as well, Bishop pauses to say: "You can tell I get really juiced about this stuff."

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Nancy Weil

IDG News Service/Boston Bureau

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