In a recent episode of the All You Need Is a Plan podcast, we were fortunate to be joined by some cherished people at a)plan coaching: longtime personal and professional coach, Michele Christensen, and a)plan coach, Molly Rodau. Hosting the discussion were both a)plan founders (and two of Michele’s coachees), Michael Counts and Sara Ellis Conant.
While the episode itself is a great listen, we felt inclined to also write about this topic, which we hold near and dear to everything we do at a)plan coaching. The insights included herein are primarily those of Michele, Molly, and Sara. We thank them all for facilitating such an important and thoughtful discussion around what it means to achieve excellence with ease.
What is Excellence With Ease?
Let’s first consider what this phrase means. At a)plan, we have seven core values, one of which is Sustainability. For us, Sustainability means prioritizing wellbeing – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We do so in order to show up as our best selves for our clients, colleagues, and anyone else with whom we might interact.
As a maturing company, we face common challenges seen at most companies entering a high-growth phase. We want to build things quickly. We strive to pack tons of value into our service. And we understand that “the grind” is an inherent part of startup culture. To this end, working hard and achieving “excellence,” or successfully executing on our vision, is critical.
The question then becomes: How do we authentically embrace our Sustainability core value while delivering work results that consistently elevate the company? For us, and an increasing number of our clients, “excellence with ease” is the answer.
Why Excellence With Ease Might Feel Like a Conundrum
Traditionally speaking, “ease” and “excellence” are viewed as being at odds with one another in the workplace. This is rooted in the fabric of our society. Capitalism itself has conditioned us to operate certain ways in the workplace. This is urgent! We need more! Faster results! No time to slow down!
While companies are generally getting better about recognizing burnout-inducing habits, capitalistic values are here to stay. That puts the onus on individuals, leadership, and organizations to infuse “ease” into the ways they work.
“The times are urgent; let’s slow down.”Bayo Akomolafe
To borrow from author and poet, Bayo Akomolafe, the best path forward in situations of urgency is often the opposite of what you might expect: slow down! The bigger our goals, the more we need to slow down to make purposeful steps in the right direction. This is how we add “ease” to our work.
It’s normal to view excellence and ease on two opposite ends of a spectrum. But massive opportunities unfold once we start to recognize the broken nature of this framework. Practicing both at the same time does not require the “math problem” of subtracting from one column to add to the other.
The Excellence With Ease Muscle Takes Time to Develop
With such deep-seated conditioning, learning to embrace the coexistence of excellence and ease takes practice. But why is this such a difficult muscle to develop?
It all goes back to our original conditioning. When an unexpected deadline pops up and we’re suddenly under pressure, alarm bells go off and we revert to our “no-ease” instincts. In these instances, the entire validity of “excellence with ease” comes into question. We demand results from others; we relax our end-of-day clocks; we respond to emails on the weekend. Best practices are thrown out the window in the name of excellence.
But a better place to focus at least some attention in these high-pressure situations is on ease, not excellence. What is personally needed right now? Am I well-resourced? There is no higher task than to return to center, and that’s particularly true in moments of high stress.
Trust Is A Necessary Part of the Equation
Where most companies particularly struggle is in trusting that excellence will still be achieved, even while embracing a greater emphasis on ease. It’s never about sacrificing excellence. Trusting that you and/or your organization will get where you want to go is critical in fully embracing a wellbeing-focused culture.
With the right backdrop, trusting yourself, your coworkers, and/or your leadership becomes a lot easier. For example, you and your employees need to know how to work hard. You need high standards and the ability to focus on outcomes. Because ease without effort, focus, and drive is just relaxing. Most of us don’t have room to just relax when building something important or working towards big goals.
“Ease is not the reward of excellence, but rather the path to it.”Michele Christensen
With ample trust, what organizations eventually realize is that ease is not that reward of excellence, but rather the path to it (as so elegantly put by Michele in our podcast episode on this topic).
5 Systems to Set Up at Your Company Today
Now let’s get tactical. Excellence with ease is not just a mindset; it can be used to inspire organizational practices that reflect the culture you’re striving to build.
“Build systems to support people and people to support those systems.”Molly Rodau
As Molly said it best, the systems we put in place at our organizations should support the people using them. And when done right, people will support those same systems. Achieving such harmony can be done by creating systems that embrace excellence with ease. Here are 5 systems that we recommend (and put to use) at a)plan coaching.
1. Centering Before Meetings
Before team meetings, take 5 minutes to center and ground as a team. The 5 minutes of lost productivity for a 1-hour meeting pays major dividends when the remaining 55 minutes are defined by a highly focused, centered team.
2. Sprint Planning
Sprint planning is an agile practice core to the Scrum framework. While sprint planning itself doesn’t embrace “ease,” it can help promote it. Sprint planning involves team meetings every two weeks where the next “sprint” of work is planned out. At a)plan, our sprint planning doesn’t just consider the work at hand, but also the people. We plan around the fact that some days will not be as productive as others, or that we might not be on our A-games everyday. Creating this space to be flexible helps institute ease into our process.
3. Radical Prioritization
With so much to do, we simply will not be able to do it all. Nor should we try to do it all! Radical prioritization forces us to pick the things that get our attention. That means learning to say “no.” When we accept the fact that we cannot do it all, we can be excellent where it matters, and draw boundaries with our time and attention.
4. Embracing Gratitude
So much of a)plan’s coaching method revolves around building on what’s working. Consider the metaphor of blowing on a little ember to expand the flame. Gratitude is at the center of this process, and that’s why it’s baked into a)plan’s coaching method and app. Embracing the sources of your nourishment is key when searching for ways to add ease to your day.
5. Giving and Receiving Feedback
According to Harvard Business Review, the highest performing teams give positive and critical feedback in a 5:1 ratio. That is, for every 5 positive comments, one critical comment is also provided. Optimizing feedback around these findings is not always easy, but it’s a great place to focus attention.
Excellence With Ease Is Forever Work
Excellence with ease is not a destination, but rather an ongoing process. The “dance” of rewiring our neural pathways, discovering new systems, and teaching others to do the same is a never-ending journey. But fortunately for those of us at a)plan, it’s a dance that we love.