Cycles: Leveraging Endings to Maximize Beginnings

A manager’s life is full of cycles. Some cycles are brief such as a talk that has to be given periodically to new employees, suppliers, or customers during a day’s worth or a week. Some others are prolonged like a sales season or the execution of a strategic plan. Every time a series ends, most likely we are approaching the beginning of a new one. What do you do at the end of a cycle to take full advantage of the new one that is beginning?

This is an important topic because not leveraging the closing stages of a cycle might set us up for repeating errors from the past. Even if we have been doing our job for years and are unlikely to make any flagrant mistakes, there is also the risk of becoming complacent with our performance and missing out on improvement opportunities. As it has been said, having ten years of experience is radically different from having experienced the same year ten times!

A good start might be finalizing “clean-up” activities that almost naturally come with the end of a cycle. Just like nature’s seasons have just imposed on us raking leaves, closing pools, winterizing our vehicles, shoveling the snow, and so on (provided you live in this type of weather!), the end of some cycles in business usually implies that certain activities must be performed, like accounting statements, compliance reports, performance appraisals, etc. Making sure that we execute all “closing” procedures thoroughly is perhaps the basic level.

Remember the first time you transitioned from one cycle into another as a manager? Or as a worker, or a student? This experience is not entirely different from passing from a set of your MBA classes into the next, or even from one year into another during our college studies. Quite frequently, we feel so exhausted from the conclusion of one stage that we want to disconnect entirely in order to “decompress” or do other things that we had to put off as we were approaching the end of the previous cycle. Beware! The fresher an experience is in our mind, the easier it is for most of us to reckon and learn from it to maximize the next cycle from the very beginning.

Julio Rocha, CEO and President of Rocha Financial Group, shares the following from Maitland, Florida: “As an entrepreneur, I use the end of every cycle (Quarter or Year) as a momentum builder for the start of the following cycle. I aim to perform my best and surpass the goals I have established. Why? This way one will always experience constant growth. Working hard at the end of every cycle does not guarantee a great finish or a great start for the following cycle but it sure keeps one in the race for success.”

Marcelo Espinosa-Trevino, President of the Orange County Chapter of NSHMBA says: “Personally, I schedule about an hour to reflect on the experiences and think about what worked, what didn’t work and most importantly, is there anything I would have done differently and how? I also think a lot about how we live in a constantly changing environment and how important it is to quickly adapt to those changes and anticipate what’s coming. I learn from previous mistakes, read about my industry and talk to peers and experts, which helps me react to different challenges during the next cycle. I also put together a yearly plan and review it for a few minutes at least once a quarter to ensure my work and projects are aligned with my goals; then I make adjustments as needed.”

Finally, Art San Martin, President of the Cleveland Chapter of NSHMBA (by the way, congratulations!! Effective this past October, this has obtained “Full Chapter”status!) tells us that: “Recognizing that transitions are natural to life and knowing that change is probably the only truly constant are key facts that have improved my understanding and appreciation of ending and beginning cycles. Acknowledging what strengths and [weaknesses we have] certainly provides a preamble to the beginning of new phases. Being humble about one’s achievements and positive about one’s shortcomings provides solid foundations to continue building both a fulfilling personal life and successful professional career.”

What do you do in order to “take stock” and leverage the endings of your cycle as a manager? I think this is a most timely issue to explore both individually and professionally, as we approach the end of the year.

I wish you a most successful closing of your cycles. May your life be filled with the professional satisfactions that will make you a better member of your family in 2008. Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanzaa, a joyful Hanukkah! (…and an apology in advance for not including so many other end-of-year traditions that we, Hispanics from so many backgrounds have…) I look forward to hearing from you via email, fax, snail mail or blog --just post your thoughts in the Comments link below.

Are the business disciplines unreliable?

Have you ever felt that your MBA gives you more questions than answers? Let me give you an example; I look forward to hearing from you if you would like to share other examples with your NSHMBA colleagues; I promise to give you full credit for your idea!

As MBAs, most of us have spent between 1.5 and four years of our lives -as well as several thousands of dollars- applying for, studying through, and transitioning from a graduate program into a better, brighter future. Clearly, we expend all of these resources because we believe there is a lot of value in studying an MBA -and, indeed, there are studies out there that show that people with graduate degrees earn more money, promotions, and similarly desirable work outcomes for themselves and for their families!

Of course, these outcomes do not come about just by showing a new piece of paper to an employer; I do not know many MBA's who have obtained salary raises or promotions when they graduate while working for a particular company in the private sector. For part-time MBA students, newer responsibilities come their way as they learn new tools while studying the different business disciplines. Full-time MBAs are more likely to experience a radical shift in their work before and after the degree, but I know that there are many variations along these lines.

Our MBA classes give us access to knowledge that would be difficult to find on our own, in addition to providing us with access to social capital -our professors and fellow MBA students- and ultimately to a diploma that signals proficiency in the disciplines required for managing organizations.

Yet, from time to time, those classes might give us more questions than answers, as in the topic about the importance of money in motivating employees. If you have read chapter five in Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton's book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense (2006, Harvard Business Press), you might be under the impression that using money as your main tool for motivating employees is extremely dangerous and very likely to lead you to disaster! Pfeffer and Sutton mount a very solid case against placing too much importance on money by reviewing studies and providing examples of companies that suggest that money (in particular pay-for-performance plans) should be used only under very limited conditions.

On the other hand, Sara Rynes and her colleagues state in a recent peer-reviewed article (Academy of Management Executive, 2002; 16(3): 92-102) that money is indeed a major source of motivation -perhaps the most important one that managers will have at their disposal to accomplish their job. They also marshal evidence from a variety of studies to support their thesis: money is the most important motivational incentive (page 100).

What gives? Obviously, the relationship between money and work motivation might be more complex than meets the eye. What do you think? What's your evidence that makes you think this way? How do you make sense of the fact that two highly respected sets of researchers seem to hold widely divergent views on the same--and extremely important issue! Clearly, this is not a trivial matter!

When asked about this dilemma, Regina Cuellar-Lee (President of the Indianapolis Chapter of NSHMBA) reflected on the fact that some jobs are so demanding on our personal lives that we expect higher pay than for other jobs that are more fulfilling. On the other hand, Mickey QuiƱones (Associate Editor of NSHMBA's Business Journal of Hispanic Research) and I discussed how difficult it is for men to even think about a cut in pay -yet many women experience it frequently due to life events such as the arrival of children or the need to take care of relatives in difficult health conditions!

Maybe you have faced similar dilemmas in other business disciplines. I look forward to hearing from you via email, fax, snail mail or blog --the latter is preferred; just post a comment using the link below...