Are We There Yet?

by Geof Lory

I've recently seen a commercial for a certain SUV where the children in families of different cultures continually pester their parent with the age-old question, "Are we there yet?" I had to chuckle as I let that thought rattle around in my head. Do they know where "there" is, or do they just want to be somewhere other than where they are, cooped up in a car with their parents and siblings? Do they blindly assume their parents know where they are going? Does it matter to them where they are, or do they just want to know when to expect being done? And most importantly, why do they want to know? Why can't they just enjoy the journey?

This mantra is so familiar on projects that it makes me ask the same questions. How many times have I heard, "Are we there yet?" Have I just had enough of my teammates and this project? Do I even really want to know where we are, or just when we are going to be done? Are we there when the car stops or when we have reached our final destination?

The nice thing about a car trip is that the final destination is well defined. Grandma's house, the cabin up north or Disney World. All clear, measurable goals deliberately decided on and shared by everyone in the car. With the exception of a few pit stops and perhaps some detours, everyone arrives there together, where they were headed to from the moment they got in the car.

When was the last time you were on a project where the goal or vision for the project was equally as clear - as clear and elevating as Grandma's house? Did you talk about it and get as excited about it as children do about Disney World? Did it elicit your passion; consume your thoughts, like the drive to the cabin? I doubt it. Yet if you compare the relative amount of time and money spent on our projects to the time and energy we commit to vacation destinations, it doesn't even come close. So why are we willing to spend the greatest portion of our waking moments doing things without knowing exactly why or where we are going with it?

Creating a project vision is tough stuff, not easily done and perhaps even more difficult to maintain. As difficult as creating the shared vision is, staying in a team frame of mind that is continually aligned with that vision can be a daily struggle. Momentary demands of daily life drag us to places where maintaining the level of consciousness necessary to stay focused on the end goal can be a real challenge. In projects and parenting, our consciousness quotient -"CQ" - seems to be extremely low.

One of the ways I attempt to keep myself focused on my goals is to be clear about my intent. This is more than just "put first things first" or "begin with the end in mind," as Steven Covey advocates in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Being intentional is an act of self-examination, looking at yourself objectively and asking, "what was/is my true intent in doing that?" Holding yourself 100% accountable by acknowledging your real intentions allows you to choose your actions. And now that you have chosen your actions it only follows that you are responsible for your actions and the consequences of those actions.

Over time and with practice, this choice creates an upward spiral of personal empowerment that develops behaviors that defy the wasteful drama of dysfunctional teams and families, increasing personal satisfaction, and opening the door to untold opportunities.

As parents and project managers, our buttons get pushed on a regular basis. Responding without regard for our true intent conveys an impression that the vision is not foremost in our minds and erodes the trust necessary to effective guidance and leadership. Taking time to get in front of those knee-jerk habits and check in with our true intent will instead re-enforce the values and principles we say we believe in. Reminding others of our shared vision, rather than castigating them for deviating from it (or at least from our limited perspective) elicits a collaborative mindset rather than a contentious one.

Recently while driving up north for a family vacation we were no more than 15 minutes on the road when the sibling contest started in the back seat. "She's looking out my window!" "Nuh uh, she took my Gameboy and won't give it back!" Not the way I had envisioned the start of our family vacation. So I steered the van (of course I have a mini-van, what else did you expect?) over to the side of the expressway and turned to the girls and asked, "OK, what is our vision for this vacation?"

I ignored the sighs and rolling eyes and asked, "You do know what a vision is, don't you?"

"Yes Dad, we know, it's the preferred future place we would rather be in," they replied in unison.

"Well then?" I hinted, waiting for a response.

Erika, my youngest, immediately spoke her mind. "I want to have fun!" I looked to Jenna, my eldest, and asked what she thought of that. She quickly concurred, "I want to have fun, too." I looked over at my wife in the passenger seat and asked her, "Beth, how do you feel about that?" In spite of the circumstances, or maybe because of them, she didn't hesitate to agree, "Fun sounds like a good idea to me."

"Great, we are all on the same page, because I want to have fun, too," I said as I prepared to get the van back on the freeway. But just before shifting into drive, I stopped and turned to the girls for a confirmation. "So, if our shared vision for this vacation is to have fun, it is fair to assume that if anyone is doing anything that is not contributing to us all having fun, it is everyone else's responsibility to inform that person, is that right?"

"Sure Dad," with nods all around.

Well, we were barely 30 minutes down the road before the girls started in on each other again. I thought for a second. Should I threaten them with taking away the Gameboy? Maybe tell them we wouldn't go to Paul Bunyan Land if they didn't settle down? Instead, I calmly turned to them and said, "Can one of you explain to me how what you are doing is contributing to us all having fun? Because I can tell you, Beth and I are not having fun listening to the two of you fight."

No threats, no corporal punishment, no degradation, just fresh consciousness. I only had to ask that they align their actions with their intent. We all need that from time to time; I know I do. And I'm fortunate enough to have family and friends that hold me to my intent. As a project manager, while up to our elbows in schedules and budgets, contest and confusion, keeping a clear sight of our vision is tough. However, if we have never established a shared vision, it is impossible.

A shared vision is the guiding beacon of the team, the test of every distraction, and the rallying point for all progress. Get it down, make it clear, share it, publish it, keep it top of mind. But most of all, use it.

Remember, without a shared vision, the question, "Are we there yet?" is meaningless.

[This article is second in a series. Members can review the previous article - "Conscious Parenting Mindset" - in our column archives.]

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