Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Make the Uncontrollable Work Out Better for You

Last week I shared a story told by Cal Ripken, Jr. that illustrated how mentors can improve outcomes. Here's one more story that Cal shared to explain how he used Life Management to break the "unbeatable" record of consecutive games played in the Major Leagues, one of 8 elements outlined in his book Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance that Make the Difference.

Cal adopted a motto early in his career that goes something like this: do little things to make the uncontrollable things turn out better for you. The profession of baseball has lots of uncontrollable things in it. For example, spring training is a very "uncontrollable" time of year. With the new guys trying to earn a spot, the old guys trying to keep their spots, and the coaches using every lineup combination possible to evaluate all of their prospects and talent, a player has to wait until the day of a game to find out if he would play. Add to that chaos the revolving door of Managers for whom Cal played in Baltimore, and his world was in constant upheaval thanks to things beyond his control.

But he decided to do a little thing every year at the beginning of Spring Training that would help him turn the uncontrollable events into a better situation for himself. On the very first day he would enter the Managers office, usually welcomed him to the club, and then would ask one simple question: "How do you see spring training working for me?"

This one question would launch into a discussion wherein expectations by both parties would be shared. Most importantly, Cal would help the Manager create a very predictable schedule for him so he could prepare for the season effectively and proactively, rather than reactively on a day-to-day basis. Rather than allow his conditioning and preparation to suffer while he wondered if he would play the next day, he knew ahead of time and created an effective workout program that flipped the uncontrollable nature of spring training upside down, and it worked out better for Cal.

While this is a powerful principle, here was Cal's most interesting observation. For years other players would ask how he garnered so much special treatment from the coaching staff during spring training. Without hesitation Cal would share his single question and strategy for managing his personal spring training schedule. He would even encourage these inquirers and fellow teammates to approach the Manager with the same question and strategy. Over the course of many years of such encouragement, guess how many players took him up on that challenge? NONE!

What can we learn from this? Take every opportunity to be proactive in how we run our business. Why not approach a big customer and ask: "How do you see our relationship working out this next year?" I guarantee a valuable conversation will ensue. Even if your customer expresses their plan to terminate your services in six months, at least you know and have six months to either repair the relationship or find some new customers.

So, here's the take-away...decide what is the most uncontrollable in your business, and then build a plan to do small things that will make it work out better for you.