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Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed No Matter What!

Mark Sanborn
Contributor: Mark Sanborn
Posted: 09/21/2011

HRIQ speaks with Mark Sanborn, author of Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad or In Between.

What are the key things that allow you to succeed even in challenging times, outlined in your book Up, Down or Sideways?


I was once asked, "What are the 3-4 things you do every day to ensure your ongoing success?"

What a great question!

How would you answer if asked what you do every day to ensure ongoing HR success?

Too often we either don’t know what we should be doing or we don’t do those things consistently. We ensure our success when we understand and practice the regular routines or daily disciplines that work independent of circumstance. In HR we can be of great service to employees by helping them understand what they need to be doing to become and stay successful.

Since none of us can accurately predict the future, my book focuses on what we can and always should be doing regardless of what’s happening around us. I explain three mindsets and six methods that enable you to mitigate the downs, take advantage of the ups and maximize the sideways periods. Rather than constantly changing focus depending on external circumstances, Up, Down or Sideways focuses on the "good shoulds:" those things that always benefit us when we do them regularly.

One of the methods I discuss is the importance of continually creating value. What your employer or client once valued from you may have changed. Value is a moving target. We need to be vigilant to make sure that what we do—personally and organizationally—is so valued that an employer or buyer will pay us to keep doing it. Look at the rapid path from floppy discs to cloud computing for an example.

How can we be
"interactive"as business leaders and learn how to identify and interact with forces bigger than ourselves that are out of our control?

The forces bigger than ourselves are those things that impact our success but that we have no control over. The economy, stock market, global financial markets, government actions and game changing innovations are all examples.

Instead of trying to predict what might happen, ask yourself what has or is happening and understand the impact that has on your decisions and actions in HR. At a personal level, we know that social media has many implications for our success even if we don’t completely understand how it might change in the future. Those who were early adapters and learned the basics of social media ahead of the general population are enjoying a competitive advantage. At an organizational level, HR has been charged with determining both the potential and pitfalls of social media. We didn’t invent the medium but we interact with these new opportunities to decide what to do personally and organizationally.

What are some strategies and tactics for overcoming barriers to the principles you outline?

The biggest shift is moving from what you know you should be doing to doing it. In my leadership development work I call it IQ: Implementation Quotient. Dramatic change often forces us to do what we knew we should have been doing. I think the winners are those that do what needs to be done before they reach a crisis situation.

How can the "Scorecard for Success" you outline be applied in business?


It goes back to the familiar saying, "How you keep score determines how you play the game." If we focus only on hard business outcomes like sales, market share, stock price, etc., we limit ourselves. If things like employee and customer loyalty, quality of work life and personal growth are part of our scoring system, we can enjoy some level of success even when hard results are down due to circumstances beyond our control.

How is happiness a predictor of success in the workplace, and what, if anything, can business leaders do to make sure they are fostering a culture of
"happy"employees?

Recent research in neuroscience shows not that we are happy because we are successful (although no doubt success makes us happier than failure), but that a positive attitude and happiness orientation actually increase our odds for success. Attitude and orientation become a tool for achievement rather than just a result of it. I don’t believe attitude is everything as is often said, but I do believe attitude is the first thing.

For leaders, that means being happy and pleasant at the very least. You may not be predisposed to cheerleading behavior, but a negative attitude or the appearance that the weight of the world is on our shoulders are contagious. If you want others to be happy and upbeat, start by being an example. Yes, I know that sounds simplistic, but it powerfully affects those around us whether we realize it or not.

What are some of the other common barriers to success you
ve witnessed in corporate America?

One of the most common is confusing a meeting with taking action. While meetings are important on many levels (analysis and action planning for example), it is what happens after the meeting that matters. If people don’t leave a meeting with a clear agenda of what they are responsible for doing, and then actually do it, the meeting was a substitute for real effort.

Another common problem is confusing activity with accomplishment. The point of business—and life for that matter—isn’t how busy we are during the day but what of importance we’ve been able to accomplish. Interestingly we can often accomplish more by doing less if we cut out the trivial and insignificant.

Finally, I caution about the "magic bullet,"or the belief that there is some idea, person or cure that will save you. Ultimately you succeed by doing the work that needs to be done. Nobody is going to do it for you. Ultimately leadership is about taking responsibility. Books, seminars, consultants and the like can help, but they never replace the need for focused action.

Mark Sanborn
Contributor: Mark Sanborn
Posted: 09/21/2011