Thursday, November 18, 2010

Backbone vs Wishbone

“You don’t need a Wishbone, you need a Backbone.”

This thought provoking message comes courtesy of Joyce Meyer, prolific author and speaker, in a program she recorded called “Living with Excellence and Integrity”.
Troubles come to companies both large and small, to individuals, and to brands. The business pages have seemingly endless stories to report of quality issues, questionable ethics, and cover-ups.
How did they end up on in those headlines?  Frequently, it's a slow and steady progression of missteps.  It’s taking the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome. It’s investing more in public relations than in continuous process improvement. It’s pooh-poohing the industry analysts. It’s asking for employee feedback and then rejecting what they say.
As we Americans head to our Thanksgiving tables, how many of these corporate leaders will be eyeing the wishbone and thinking "if only it were that easy".   
What times like these require, though, is a backbone not a wishbone.  We can’t wish trouble away.
In today’s business climate, acknowledging the truth of the situation is a sign of strength. The faster a corporation steps up and takes accountability during a crisis, the more likely they are to regain the trust of their customers, their employees, and their stockholders.
But you know what that takes? It takes courage. It takes integrity. It takes backbone.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feed the Brain, File the Papers

I have this cartoon by guy & rodd (February 26, 2005) on my office bulletin board.  It's an excellent pictorial representation of how I feel about the piles of paperwork that accumulate on my desk, my bookcases, my dining room table, etc. 

And lest you feel the need to lecture me on doing more bill paying online and receiving more newsletters via email, let me assure you that I am making these transitions.  Still, between the USPS and the kids' school backpacks, the papers continue to arrive at our doorstep. 

In recent weeks, I've been exploring different strategies I might apply to help me address this bad habit of letting the paperwork stack up.  I'm trying to make a behavioral change that'll last, not an easy task for a mere mortal.

Here are three of the strategies that didn't work: 

*Tell a leopard to change it's spots - I am just never going to be that person who puts paperwork away as soon as I'm done with it.  I envy the desks of those who are wired this way, but for me, I just don't see filing as being urgent or more important than getting on with the next thing.  Telling myself I'm not going to make piles is unrealistic.  I need a strategy that addresses the pile, not the fact that I make one.  

*Once in a blue moon - This was the method I had been using previously, and it's how I'd get myself to the state of futility.  Save it all up for one big effort.  Only, once the piles get too large, it's overwhelming.  And even once it's done, the cycle just repeats.  I needed a better system than that.   

*Make it a requirement - Who was I kidding with this one?  If I don't do it, do I tell on myself - to myself?  Funny how quickly that "mandatory" item on my weekly task list just kept getting pushed out further and further on the calendar.  Fastest way to get me to ignore something is to tell me that it's important when it isn't, and I doubt I'm alone on that one.

Then, by chance, I found myself on a webinar where I was prepared to take notes, only to learn that we could just download the handout.  As I continued to listen to the speaker, my eyes wandered over to a stack of papers.  Gingerly, I pulled a few sheets off the top and started filing.  I didn't finish all of it by the end of the call, but I had made a significant dent.    

A new strategy was born.  

*Feed the brain - The reason I don't like filing is because it's boring.  I have a very low threshold for boring.  But keep my brain entertained, and my hands will suddenly comply with such menial tasks as finding the right file folder for the latest copy of my auto insurance policy. 

Now, I can't count on handouts at every webinar, so I've added a few websites to my favorites list where I can listen to cool speakers like Seth Godin with "This is Broken" and Daniel Pink with "Drive: the surprising truth about what motives us".  I now have at least one hour a week on my calendar labeled "Feed the Brain, File the Papers".  In between appointments, I'm content to cultivate a small pile of non-urgent paperwork.  

My desk never looked so good.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Putting the Central Office on Alert

I subscribe to More Magazine because a) I'm a woman b) of the right age and demographic, c) whose son's middle school does an annual magazine drive.  Plus, I usually find something of interest.  

In their September issue, buried within an article about women in the workplace, I found a comment about an important element of virtual team dynamics. 

"More difficult is the culture shift that requires workers not to unconsciously punish colleagues for being out of the room."

Behaviors and attitudes by those in a central office need to be inclusive of those located in other locations.  Most slights are unintentional, but they can still be damaging to overall team morale, productivity, and cohesiveness.  

See if you can spot 4 missteps in the following short example. 

Scene:  Central NYC Office, majority of team members in the conference room with handful of virtual team members from across the US on the conference speaker phone.
  • Mary (NYC) Meeting Facilitator:  "Good Afternoon everyone.  Glad you could join us for our monthly lunch meeting.  Help yourself to sandwiches on the side table.  John, you're first up in the agenda.  You mentioned you had some handouts you wanted to share?"
  • John (NYC):  "Yes, I'll pass them around now."
  • Peter (Seattle):  "Do you have those in electronic form that someone could email out now?"
  • John (NYC):  "Oh, right, sorry about that Peter, I just finished it before the meeting and meant to email it out before I went to the copier.  Let me just step out to ask Ellen to send that around.  Be right back."
  • Mary (NYC):  "Let's skip ahead to the next item on the agenda and come back to John in a minute.  Brrr, you can really feel that air conditioning when it kicks in, can't you?  Okay, I'm looking for ideas for our next employee engagement survey.  Anyone have anything?"
  • Susan (Phoenix):  "I have an ..."
  • Mike (NYC):  "Here's something we did last year..."  (proceeds to share)
  • Mary (NYC):  "I like it.  Anyone else?"
  • Susan (Phoenix): "Well, in our office..."
  • Lauren (NYC):  "I heard they had some success over in IT with..." (proceeds to share)  This continues with sharing from members in the room, and Susan gives up and disengages.
  • Mary (NYC):  "Okay, let's go back to our first agenda item and John's handouts."  Meeting continues.
#1  Forgetting to email handouts to those not in the room is a common yet unintentional slight.  It take discipline to change your schedule such that items are completed well enough in advance for email distribution.

#2  Very subtle, yet still common, is a greeting of "Good Afternoon" when it's morning for those on the phone.  It denotes the bias toward those in the same room rather than being welcoming to all. 

#3  The company catered lunch is only being served to those in the room, which is logical and practical, but it's the kind of injustice virtual team members can come to resent if it happens frequently.

#4  Technological challenges are at fault for the last one.  No one is intentionally talking over Susan.  When the air conditioning kicked in, the ambient noise was enough that the speaker phone stayed with the room, never letting up to allow the NYC team members to hear Susan.  In this case, the onus is on Susan to let the group know what happened or else it will occur again and again.  

If you're leading at the executive level, these examples are not your issues.  You have competent assistants to take care of meeting materials and you use senior staff conference rooms with up to date equipment.      

But this is what's happening with the teams that report to you if they have virtual team members, and that makes it your issue, too. 

The good news is that these kind of slights are low-hanging fruit on the larger Virtual Team Challenges tree.  With a little training to bring awareness, the team can turn this around and prevent future "punishments" to those not located in the central office. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sara and Sony - A Story about Constructive Feedback

Here's a short story about constructive feedback.  Some of it I know to be true, and some of it I'm guessing at.  I'll let you know where the facts end and my opinions begin...

Sara Bareilles' biggest hit on her Little Voice album was "Love Song".  As she tells it, the record company said she needed an up-beat love song on her album to be marketable.  She didn't agree, she wasn't happy with the feedback, but she wrote a song anyway and it was the album's first release.    

If you're familiar with "Love Song", you know it's actually an anti-love song whose lyrics are cleverly written to sound like a message to a significant other.  But they're not.  She wrote it for the record label...literally. 

"I'm not gonna write you a love song, 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one, you see.  I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you tell me it's make or breakin' this.  If you're on your way, I'm not gonna write you to stay. "  It's up-beat, catchy, and it was a huge hit.

I just saw Sara on the Today Show yesterday, and apparently the first release from her new album, "King of Anything", resulted from yet another unsettling discussion with her record label. "I guess we have issues", she said.  Based on the lyrics, it sounds like they were giving her feedback again. 

"Who cares if you disagree, you are not me, who made you King of Anything.  So you dare tell me who to be, who died and made you King of Anything."  It's already ruling the airwaves.

Here's where the facts end and my thoughts and speculations begin. 

Sara and Sony Records seem to me to be a perfect example of a successful outcome to the constructive feedback process. 

Let's reset this for the corporate environment (not really a stretch, though is it, to call a major record company "corporate").  First, you have a smart, talented "employee" in Sara.  She has a unique sound, her lyrics are intelligent and relevant, and she's got personality.  Second, you have Sony's management who understand the customer base and market demand.  Management sees the potential in Sara, likes her work, but sees the need for a revision in order to best position her as a new artist.  

Enter the constructive feedback.  Management tells Sara that their strategy is to led off the album's release with a catchy pop love song to ensure air play and gain momentum.  Here's the rub - she hasn't written a catchy love song for this album.  Sara wants to release her album as is and does not welcome this message.  How does writing a song that's just like everything else on the airwaves show off her talents as a distinctively new artist?     

And then the magic happens.  Sara listens to the feedback, and writes a "love song" while still maintaining her voice and demonstrating the talent that sets her apart.  The song has witty lyrics with tongue-in-cheek humor, and the sound is uniquely her own.  And even more amazing, after listening to the song, lyrics and all, management goes with it.   

Think about that for just a minute.  If you asked an employee for a deliverable, and what you got back was a result that was right on the money, delivered with a smile, but accompanied by a message that everyone would hear about how they were forced into doing the project against their will, would you still stamp it with your approval? 

I say kudos to Sara for being open to the feedback (at least twice at this point), and finding a way to deliver while still maintaining her voice.  And, kudos to Sony Records for recognizing a good thing when they hear it, and having the humility to roll with the punches.  

Seems to me they've got a good thing going here.  Keep up the constructive feedback!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Connect the Dots

Did you do Dot-to-Dot puzzles when you were a child?  Many were like this where some of the picture is provided and you finished it yourself by connecting the dots.  If you were experienced, you might have even guessed what the picture was before you finished the puzzle.

Leaders, especially senior leaders, are often frustrated that they have to "connect the dots" for their teams.  They've provided the outline and believe that, like the picture above, it's enough of a head start such that their employees can take it from there. 

In reality, what they get looks like the result of a dot-to-dot that wasn't numbered.  Either a completely different result (picture) than what was expected, or no result at all because people didn't know where to start.  

Take for example a strategic plan.  If you deliver the plan to your teams with no further direction, you've basically sent them a dot-to-dot with no numbers.  They need to know how to connect that plan to their functions, roles, and responsibilities.  When you number the dots, you provide the direction such that they can see what you expect, they know where to start, and they know when they're done. 

One of the best ways to connect the dots to a strategic plan is to set individual and team goals in performance plans with wording that specifically ties to the plan. 

And it's not just strategic plans, it's internal communications, directives, policies, etc.  How does that information relate to your team?  What, if anything, do they need to do differently?  WIIFM (What's In It For Me) says the team, and the leader responds by drawing the dots and numbering them.

What's obvious to senior management is not obvious to junior management is not obvious to individual contributors.  Invest the time to connect the dots up front and then sit back and watch your organization reap the rewards.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blah, Blah, Blah

One of the many reasons why a coach is hired in regard to communications, is that they are are asked to work with an individual who is perceived as "long-winded".  It may show up in presentations, during meetings, or even in one-on-one conversations.

The most typical explanation for the behavior of the long-winded is that they crave the spotlight.  And indeed there are those who pontificate because they love nothing better than the sound of their own voice. 

However, I think most people who struggle with succinct verbal communications fall into less boorish categories.  See if you can recognize your favorite long-winded speaker (or maybe even yourself) in one of these:
  • They are detail oriented.  They value data and they assume that you do, too.  Their communications are prefaced by facts, dates, figures, definitions, and names that justify their final conclusion.   
  • They have a strong need to be understood.  These folks are best recognized by the fact that they say the same thing several different ways.  This means that it may take them 3 or 4 times longer to communicate their ideas while they use a variety of descriptions and examples to ensure that you comprehend what they are saying.
  • They don't see/hear/recognize social cues.  This is actually a mixed group.  Some who fall into this group simply don't have the skills to pick up on social cues such as body language, facial expression, or verbal cues that indicate that it's time to stop talking.  Others in this group may possess the ability, but they also require it.  For example, if you maintain a neutral expression as you listen, they will continue until you either nod, or smile, or provide some indication that they have been heard. 
  • They are isolated.  We all need connection and a media in which to express ourselves.  When individuals who work in an isolated area or group finally find an audience, their cup runneth over.
  • They are verbal thinkers.  Some individuals create as they communicate, their ideas just now coming together as they talk with you.  They often possess self-awareness of this and may even say "I'm thinking out loud as I say this...". 
Having an understanding of the source may help you in your work relations with the long-winded for those situations where you have influence.  It may help you to have patience in those situations where you don't. 

The reality about human communications, though, is that we need clarity in order to reach comprehension.  And in most cases, the more precise the message, the better your chances of being understood.   

'nuf said.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ask If It Matters

One of my first involvements with survey work was on the backend, responding to the results.  The organization had conducted an employee survey to measure engagement, and the leaders were given the survey results along with the instruction to develop action plans addressing areas of dissatisfaction.

After reading my reports, I realized that we needed more data. All we had was a score against a blanket statement. For example, “I have the tools I need to do my job.” Tools? That could be anything from paperclips to computer software, an ergonomic keyboard to server connectivity, a Blackberry to training and development programs.

This was the motivation for our subsequent employee meetings – to get to the data behind the question. By the end of those meetings, however, I had also learned an important lesson.

Some areas of dissatisfaction weren’t worth addressing.


Because the issue didn’t matter to them.

The survey asked employees to register their level of satisfaction per each issue, but it didn’t give them a method to voice whether the issue was Important to them or not.

For maximum improvement, we would need to address the areas where dissatisfaction was present AND it mattered.

My teams told me that having the right tools was important and that we'd improve productivity as well as employee engagement by creating action plans to address deficiencies.  However, they weren't feeling any urgency to address another area related to training and development, so we tabled it.

Some surveys measure both satisfaction and importance at the same time, and the resulting data allows for a more accurate picture of where to invest energies.  However, if all you have is the satisfaction data, you can improve engagement simply by engaging employees in dialogue about what matters to them, and then encorporating that into your action plans.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Good Application for the Reorg

Organizations go through restructuring exercises for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which I would propose is to assure corporate boards and stockholders that "action is being taken" and "sweeping changes are underfoot".  The reality, though, is that the majority of reorgs do not improve business performance.

However, having just read reports from two unrelated studies, I'm seeing a connection between a large challenge and a good application for a reorg.

One of the key findings in the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study is that there's a new primary challenge facing these executives:  Complexity"Increasingly interconnected economies, enterprises, societies and governments have given rise to vast new opportunities.  But a surprising number of CEOs have told us they feel ill-prepared for today's more complex environment.  Increased connectivity has also created strong - and too often unknown - interdependencies.  For this reason, the ultimate consequence of any decision has often been poorly understood.  Still, decisions must be made."

In the June 2010 edition of The Harvard Business Review, there is an article by Blenko, Mankins, & Rogers titled The Decision-Driven Organization.  These authors propose that "reorganizations are popular with chief executives, who believe that making big structural changes will lead to better performance...In reality, a company's structure results in better performance only if it improves the organization's ability to make and execute key decisions better and faster than competitors." 

The complexities of today's business climate make decisions even more challenging and more impactful than ever before.  Yet the speed and nimbleness with which these decisions need to be made is staggering.  A review of how an organization's structure does/does not support decisions in today's complex conditions sounds like good advice to me.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An Uninvited Guest

We just returned from a visit to Old Forge, NY where my sister and her husband have a cabin that sits on a small lake.  In the village, you can find plenty of souvenirs to remind you of your adventure into the woods, all of which come with a picture of a moose, or a loon, or a bear, etc.  The symbols of the Adirondack wilderness can found on almost any piece of clothing imaginable.    

Turns out, we would not be the only visitors to the camp this weekend. 

Round about lunchtime, a black bear showed up to check out the good smells from the prior night's cookout on the grill.  Luckily, we were all safely inside and the camera's battery was still fresh.   

Now, there's been evidence of bears at their cabin before.  Sounds in the middle of the night, the lid pulled off the bear box (Adirondack trash bins) the next morning and trash spewed out into the road.  But an extended visit in the middle of the day?  While we're all inside the cabin?  Getting on its hind legs to look inside the windows and doors at us?  This was something new.  

A while after it had sauntered on down the road, my husband and brother-in-law could be heard outside with new motivation to repair the bear box so the garbage could be stored away from the cabin.  And that night, bird food/feeders were brought inside.  Discussion is underway about how to better better secure the deck/grill.

I was struck by how motivated we get to take action once things get up close and personal. 

Want a motivated work force to deliver on their goals?  Need to motivate your manufacturing team to follow the safety procedures in the plant?  Looking to motivate your leadership team to bring your company out of the industrial age and into the information age?

Motivation is and always will be a personal matter.  Find a way to bring the issue to their doorstep, and you'll see action.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer's Theme is Not Team

Ah, summer has finally arrived.  And so it begins.

Promises of vacations and long weekends dot our calendars.  Lunches extend as we leave our desks to brown bag it outside on the picnic tables.  Even the music on the commutes in/out of the office gets slower and smoother.  I knew it was officially summer today when I heard Corinne singing "Put Your Records On".

Summer, prime time for productivity in the office.

Say what? 

Really.  Personal productivity, that is. 

Goodness knows you're lucky to have even half the team show up for a call given the overlap of vacation schedules.  Networking meetings that used to take place over the lunch hour turn into full day outings.  Even in Crackberry Nation you have to wait longer for return emails and phone calls once June Solstice rolls around. 

Summer's theme is not "team".  From late June through to Labor Day, it's all about your opportunity for personal productivity.  Checking off items on your own to-do list builds momentum and frees up energy for the bigger stuff that arrives in September when everyone returns to their desks.

Here's a short list of ideas for your consideration.  

  • How 'Bout Those Development Plans?  Your plans, I mean, not those of the people who work for you.  Hire a coach, take a class, read a book, attend a webinar, and expand your world.   
  • Take a Long Lunch - and bring one of your employees with you.  Summer's a great time to hold one-on-one meetings outside the office.   
  • Clear Out the Clutter - Seriously, do you need all that paper?  And how about that email inbox?  Getting rid of the clutter adds time back into your day and gives you space to breath again.
  • Listen to the Stillness - Take advantage of the quieter office season by giving yourself the gift of stillness.  Growth occurs when we're present and still.  Quiet your mind and listen for what rises to the surface.
  • Revisit Long Range Plans - Pull out the strategic vision, the mission statement, the 3 yr, 5 yr, 10 yr plan.  Is it still relevant or does it need an update? 
  • Surf the Net - Research your competition.  Look for what's new in your industry.  Check out what's happening on the global scene.  What are your customers saying about you in their blogs, on Facebook, on your website?  
Put Your Records On, close your door, and embrace your summer of personal productivity.   

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ready, Aim, Fire

The top two "leadership qualities" for success according to the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study are Creativity and Integrity.  The report further goes on to say that CEOs see the relationship between the two as critical.  

That got me thinking about what this critical relationship might look like. 

Might look like in a PPT deck, of course, because that's how we corporate types communicate.  (hmmm, perhaps fodder for a future blog...)

Corporate Integrity means aligning behaviors and actions to the company's core values.  Here's a fictitious example of a company with four core values and how their integrity might be illustrated. 

Where does Creativity fit into this picture?  I'm going to paint it in as a series arrows.  Curly arrows, because creativity is rarely straight and linear.  

In this example, a creative suggestion to cut costs by moving production offshore would not be put into action because it's not aligned to the value of "Made in the USA".  But, a creative suggestion to partner with another US manufacturer might just be a bulls eye.

Use Integrity as the target, aim the Creative artillery, and fire away.   

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lowering the Hurdles

My 10 year old daughter just competed in her school district's annual Track & Field Day events.  She ran the hurdles, something she's never even attempted before a few weeks ago.  Low and behold, she's actually pretty good at it and secured a solid 4th place finish.

The hurdles are lower for 10 year olds.  Even the taller students wouldn't stand a chance trying to clear the heights you see at standard track meets.   Does that take away from their accomplishments?  Of course not.  Without lower hurdles, they wouldn't even be in the race.

I'm reminded of something our Learning & Development team did for my Client Services teams.  I told them about some personal development goals we had for our emerging leaders.  We wanted them to have the chance to get in front of their teams and hone their presentation and facilitation skills.  However, they didn't have the time or the skills to develop the materials, so the weren't even getting off the blocks.  Plus, the content had to be truly valuable to the teams or it would backfire on us.  

The solution?  We lowered the hurdles to give our emerging leaders a chance to be in the race.

Our Learning & Development partners wrote the content, agendas, supporting materials, and facilitator guidelines for a series of relevant topics that the emerging leaders could use right out of the box.  It was a great success.

Here's to 4th graders and emerging leaders getting their first taste of success with lower hurdles.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Recipe for Team Success

Anyone who cooks will tell you that it's the little things in a recipe that really take it from average to outstanding.  It doesn't take much talent to throw the basic ingredients into a slow cooker and come out with a stew.  But if you want a meal that really delivers, you need the recipe with the extras.

Teams are just like that.  You can throw a group of talented people together and call them a team, but success happens when you finally get the extras worked into the mix.     

Foundational Ingredients
  • Shared Vision ensures that each member understands the desired outcome of the chef.
  • Trust is the glue that keeps the team together so it doesn't separate.
  • Respect acknowledges that each team member has their own unique flavor based on knowledge, experience, innate talents, and perspective.
  • Feedback tells the team when and how they need to adjust, like licking the spoon every once in a while. 
  • Humility means understanding that the recipe is successful because of the contributions of the whole team, not just one individual.
  • Celebration will differ by the season, but it brings out the best in each team member when success is recognized.    
Optional Ingredients (Flavor to Taste)
  • Humor keeps things from boiling over.  
  • Friendship, if available, brings sweetness.
  • Fun adds zest to a bland combo.
Turn up the heat once in a while to get things moving, but not so much that the team burns out.  Add and remove team members as the meal plan changes, and keep an eye on the balance so your flavor doesn't sour. 

Keep this simmering in the slow cooker, and you've got a recipe for Team Success.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Motivational 360

I'm coming out of the closet to profess my love for  A risky move for a coach, yet there it is.     

This love affair began back in the 1990's when a peer from my customer service management team sent me a link with the poster you see here.  "Customer Disservice - We're not satisfied until you're not satisfied."  I've been hooked ever since.

My friend knew I was having a tough day with a particularly difficult client.  All the positive energy available to me had drained away, and I'd reached the moment when you know it's either laugh or cry.  I prefer a good laugh.

I like to call this a "Motivational 360" - a humorous twist that takes you 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but because of the timing and the delivery, you actually keep going and end up back at motivated again.  Along the journey, you vent some dark emotion, laugh at yourself, and then go back to business as usual.  

This can be a highly effective tool when used properly.  For example, say you're trying to engage a team of leaders in a dialogue about a difficult subject.  Show a few of these posters, let folks loosen up, and maybe even laugh a little.  Create a safe environment where people can let their hair down.  Then, ask which one of these posters best reflects a real situation going on for them right now.  Once you get a few people talking, it's not long before others join in and you're having meaningful dialogue.

Here are a few do's & don't for using this kind of technique:

DO use this with a skilled coach or facilitator.  Used improperly, and some team members may get stuck wallowing in the 180 degree turn, or Demotivation.

DO use this with a seasoned team who are all well aware of the issue you are trying to improve or resolve.  A more junior team may not be mature or experienced enough to understand the underlying intent of moving the group forward.  As a result, the information could be shared after the meeting in ways that you had not intended.     

DON'T use this with outside vendors or customers.  This is a tool for internal teams where a trusted and confidential dialogue about motivation and change is the goal.

DO be cautious when using humor when you have a diverse cultural group.  What an American finds amusing could easily be viewed as inappropriate or even insulting in another culture.

DON'T just use it and then lose it.  It will only be positively impactful if the dialogue drives meaningful sharing that leads to action steps and eventual change.  If you start it, finish it.

If you appreciate wry humor, I think you'll enjoy a tour of .  Even their FAQ page is entertaining.

Here's to some humor and some motivation in your week.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Damage of Disconnect

It was years ago in the ER that I first learned about disconnect.  I had returned from a business trip and was experiencing heart palpitations - at the ripe old age of 25.  After undergoing a battery of tests, the doctor started asking questions about my week on the road.  Yes, long hours with very little sleep.  Yes, lots of caffeine.  Yes, stressful client negoations.  The final diagnosis was a mild degree of WPW (Wolff-Parkinson-White) Syndrome.  So mild in fact, that if I just took better care of myself, I'd rarely be bothered by it again. 

Turned out to be an accurate diagnosis.  It was also an important lesson on the degree to which I was capable of disconnecting from myself in order to pursue a successful business outcome.  And of course, I'm not alone in this experience.  Take the very common occurance when after countless hours at the computer, our bladders finally bring us back to a very present, very urgent state of awareness.  

There are those who would say that the ability to disconnect is actually a desired characteristic for the busy executive in today's corporate climate.  They claim to disconnect from emotions, physical needs, and even values in order to meet the demands placed on them.  I disagree, and it goes beyond personal health.  

It's the exact opposite of disconnect, presence, which delivers the best business results.  In a state of presence, we have access to tools like discernment, intuition, and compassion.  These tools are highly effective for reaching the desired outcome in the shortest period of time and with the greatest degree of integrity.

Connection to our own emotions allows us to connect with others, and whether you do business face-to-face, over the phone, or via the web, you know the importance of making that connection with your customer.  Leaders experience improvement to employee morale, productivity, innovation, and loyalty when they allow themselves to be emotionally available to their teams.

Keeping a connection with your physical needs is easy to understand from a long term health perspective.  It's also important in order to maintain a sustainable energy level, mental alertness, and physical pace over the short term. 

Finally, it's the disconnect from our values that's playing out in the headlines.  We shake our heads at each new business scandal, yet when was the last time we did our own values inventory?  Being present with our values and acting in accordance is what defines integrity.   

Stay connected and be present.  It's what's best for you and your business.       

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Overcoming A Propinquity Deficit

I first learned the term "propinquity" on a road trip.  I bought the audio cd of "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything" by Kerry Patterson (and others) to convert downtime into my own private learning lab on wheels.  

Propinquity caught my attention the way odd sounding words do, but it really hit home when I applied it to my experience of working with virtual teams.  At the time, my group was spread out across ten different corporate offices and I was headed to one of them while I listened. 

The theory of propinquity, the impact of space on relationships, by Festinger, Schachter, and Lewin is explored in several applications in this book, including the corporate environment.  Their research shows that physical proximity plays a key role in spontaneous group efforts at work, and that distance contributes to silos. "If you want to measure who doesn't trust or get along with whom, take out a tape measure."

Well, my group was sorely lacking in propinquity and we did have our silos.  Yet, we also had some very strong relationships within the group that crossed time zones and state lines.  What were those individuals doing to overcome their propinquity deficit?

  • Client Teams - While the organizational chart reflected teams grouped by location and function, it took members from several teams to pull a whole project together for a client.  These less formal client teams formed strong relationships as they learned to respect what the others contributed to the project and trust that the hard work they handed off to the next team member would be met with the same level of effort and skill.  They rarely saw each other in person, but they communicated by phone, email, and IM on a daily basis.
  • Teleconference Lunch 'n Learns - This is a great tool for learning and it also puts the spotlight on an individual as a subject matter expert.  As remote team members get to know each other for their specialties, they become more likely to reach out across offices when they have a question. 
  • Newletters - A monthly newsletter kept the teams in touch.  In addition to articles on clients and projects, it featured different team members each month so the group could learn about their backgrounds, their hobbies, their families, and their career aspirations.  Another section highlighted work anniversary milestones, graduations, wedding and baby announcements, and special honors.  Photos were included wherever possible.  Names on the organizational chart became real people.
  • Quarterly Strategy Sessions - The budget included travel funds so that the top leaders of the group, each from a different office, could meet quarterly to create and review strategy.  These were key relationships for keeping the entire group connected and strong. 
  • Shared Outlook Calenders - Management opened their Outlook calendars to the entire group to encourage interaction.  When you can't walk down the hall to see if someone's free or in a meeting, a quick check of the Outlook calendar is a pretty good alternative.  This also allowed the leadership team to find out in advance about travel plans so that they could sync up and arrange for additional face to face meetings while traveling to the same location.
The bottom line is that virtual teams have to make an effort to get the same strong working relationships that other teams come by more easily based on their proximity.  

I highly recommend "Influencer" for many reasons, the theory of propinquity being one of them.  And if you've read this far and not said the word "propinquity" out loud, you should give it a try.  Rolls right off the tongue and is guaranteed to get someone's attention if expressed at your next virtual team meeting. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Building Successful Change Leadership Teams

I'm pragmatic by nature, the practical kind of leader you can count on to keep the business running at an even keel.  So when someone says "We need to make a change..." my first reaction is usually "Why?"

Does this make me Change Resistant?  On the contrary.  As someone whose career has centered around business transition, it just means I'm true to the definition of a pragmatic - concerned with making decisions and actions that are useful in practice, not just in theory. 

If your organization is undergoing a major change initiative, take a look at who's on that leadership team.  To be successful, it needs a healthy mix of perspective and experience.  
  • The Innovative-Not much change will occur without your innovators.  These leaders have the fresh ideas and the energy to keep the team moving forward. 
  • The Tenured-These are the leaders who have seen change come and go within the organization.  They know what's worked, what's failed, and why.  Their knowledge about past initiatives contains critical information for the success of the current mission.
  • The Well Connected-Networking is what these leaders excel at.  If your initiative needs support from another area of the organization, they can get that done.  They also know where you'll meet resistance, why, and what you can do about it.   
  • The Voice of the People-Of your entire leadership team, these individuals are the most in touch with your employee base.  They play a critical role during integration and restructuring initiatives.  Not only can these leaders articulate the perspective of the employees during your planning phase, but they'll also be critical for corporate communications once actions begin.
  • The Pragmatic-These leaders are not in favor of change for the sake of change.  They want to know there's a true business advantage, one that they can be communicated to the stakeholders.  They'll make sure the change is sustainable and carries a true return on investment. 
A successful change initiative starts with the right idea, at the right time, and led by the right people.  Build a balanced change leadership team, and you'll be off to a great start.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Today is March 15th, which turns out to be the "ides" of March on the Julian calendar.  Now I'm no study of Shakespearian plays, but I know a few quotes, and "Beware the ides of March" from Julius Caesar is one of them.  The significance of this day for Caesar is that he will be assassinated by a group of conspirators.  And despite numerous warnings and signs, Caesar, a very superstitious man, still ventures forth on the ides to meet his doom.  

One of the themes of the play is that the characters confuse their private selves with their public selves.  Caesar loses his ability to distinguish between his omnipotent, immortal public image and his private, vulnerable self.  His ambition leads him right into the deathtrap.   

It seems not a day goes by that we don't hear about some celebrity, politician, or corporate leader apologizing, defending, or resigning as a result of a scandal.  They had a lapse of judgement about their omnipotence and are now paying the price.  Did they also receive warnings along the way that they refused to heed?  Did they believe that their public image was untouchable, that no one would dare betray them, or that they were beyond reproach? 

Integrity is a measure of how well your actions align with your core values and represent your purpose.  Another way to define it is when your public self and your private self are in alignment.  And since each person defines their own integrity, it takes vigilance to develop your alignment between your calling and your conduct.      

"Beware the ides of March" could be a reminder to all of us to heed the warnings when our integrity is in jeopardy.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

Virtual Teams & Technology, A Fairy Tale

Gather round everyone, and I'll tell you a fairy tale about how technology enabled virtual teams to live happily ever after...

"Once upon a time, there were teams of hard working employees, each reporting in to a noble leader right there in their own offices. Times were peaceful, clients were happy, and bonuses were paid out every year. Then one day, the benevolent Queen Economy fell victim to a terrible illness. In order to survive, the businesses were forced to consolidate, and the employees now reported to noble leaders in offices remote from their own. With little money to travel, how would they communicate, hold meetings, work together as a team? Fortunately, the businesses were blessed with technically savvy professionals who set them up with sophisticated web conferencing capabilities, highspeed data transfer lines, global phone systems, and video teleconferencing equipment. Soon, order was restored across the land and times were again peaceful for the new virtual teams. In fact, things went so smoothly, Queen Economy was able to stay focused on her health and made a full recovery. And they all lived happily ever after."

Wouldn't it be great if it were true? That all we need is the right technology to connect us and then everything just falls into place? But alas, the truth is that technology is just one piece of the puzzle.

In fact, after attending a webinar last week, I learned that most experts on virtual teams consider technology to be a much smaller part of the success story. An important part, but only ~10% of the total equation. So what's the other 90%? According to authors Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, "Virtual Teams - People Working Across Boundaries With Technology", 90% of the success comes from the people component.

This made me smile a big smile. Why? Because I worked for many years leading virtual teams, and that had been my exact experience. And if you're leading virtual teams right now, it should make you smile, too. It means you're an important part of the success equation, and any opportunity for you to step up as a leader and show your stuff is good news.

So yes, make sure your teams have the technology they need to work and to connect, but, don't be lured in by the fairy tale that technology it's the end all solution. Your virtual teams need you and your ability to create an environment that unites them while still recognizing their unique cultural differences, skillsets, and histories.

And while we focus on our virtual teams this week, let's also take a moment to send a Get Well card to Queen Economy. I think she could use it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Written Word or Spoken Word?

[This blog is an excerpt from my presentation, Communications During Times of Uncertainty]

Let's say you have an important communication that needs to be delivered to your organization. And, let's assume that like many companies in the last few years, there's been a lot of change and uncertainty within the organization. How do you determine the proper communication vehicle for your message?

Here's a short list of factors to consider:

Size and Geography

Is this a global organization, a single office site, or somewhere in between? If an organization is in one location, regular face-to-face communication by leaders is recommended during times of uncertainty as this can be done at no extra cost and it strengthens relationships with management. However, the more sites you have, especially with a global organization, the more expensive it is to deliver a message in person. Teleconferences can be used when language won't be a barrier and time zones are manageable. Recorded video/audio emailed or posted to an intranet site can also be effective if a Q&A session is not needed. If you have senior staff in each site available to deliver your message, this can be another way to deliver your message in person without the expense of travel. Otherwise, written communication will be most cost effective for multiple sites.

Urgency of Delivery

Most communications that need to be delivered urgently are not celebrations. They tend to fall along the lines of emergencies (natural disaster), major organizational change that has just occured (key leader is leaving to "pursue other career options"), and instructions for speaking to press/clientele (as in, "no comment"). Under these circumstances, your initial communication is best done in writing. You may be an excellent speaker, but the reality is that very few of us are able to effectively deliver urgent news in person without inadvertently creating more cause for alarm. There's nothing like being called into an unscheduled meeting without an agenda to send an already nervous team into a panic. Your staff will convert an urgent tone of voice into anxiety, a hurried body language into fear, and their own minds are racing so fast they won't hear much of your message. Conversely, a well written memo can be delivered quickly via email without passing along emotion that can be misinterpreted. It also allows the individual to go back and read it as many times as needed to fully comprehend the message. Your initial email can always be followed up with teleconferences and team meetings depending on the next consideration, which is:

Potential for Emotional Reaction

Is this a message that will add to the uncertainty (hiring freezes), confirm fears (closing an office), or be perceived as a takeaway (cutting benefits)? If so, your communication plan should include face time so that questions can be raised and addressed before emotions mushroom. If the communication involves detail that employees need to have, plan to send it in writing in advance to the management team for review with talking points. Follow up with a memo to the full staff, and ask the management team to address with the teams immediately thereafter using the tips from the talking points. Allowing time for Q&A is important when emotions are running high.

Instructional vs Informational

The more instructional your message, the more important it is to put it in writing. If you are communicating a deadline, an action with multiple steps, a policy, training expectations, etc., these need to be given in writing to provide clarity and consistency at the time of the communication. It further allows the reader to file it away or put it on their calendar and review it again when they most need it. Informational communications such as sales wins, high level news sharing by multiple teams, and year-on-year status can be done verbally during team meetings and conference calls. These can be accompanied with bulleted PowerPoint slides as needed, but the details can be delivered verbally allowing individuals to take notes of what is most relevant to them.

Private Sector vs Public Sector

If your organization is privately owned, you have more bandwidth to put information in writing without need to consult with the legal department. Once a corporation has stockholders, there is a need to be more cautious about the content of written business communications. Emails can be forwarded, intranet content can be cut and pasted into new messages, and memos can be photocopied and brought home in briefcases. Conversely, verbal communications translated into an individual's own handwritten notes are less likely to travel. Your message can be delivered verbally along with an instruction of confidentiality and request that it be cascaded internally as needed in further staff meetings. An example of this would be a high level monthly financial status that's shared with senior level management and then cascaded verbally to employees prior to the detailed written quarterly statements that go out to all the stockholders.

Credibility of the Communicator

If you plan to deliver a message in person, make sure the person delivering it (and that includes you), has credibility with the team being addressed. Get feedback on this. Do you come across with sincerity and authenticity? How do you do with Q&A? Do you have an established relationship with this group or is this your first meeting? During uncertain times, face-to-face meetings are a wonderful opportunity to restore trust with teams. However, if it's not done well, it's also the fastest way to alienate yourself and create suspicion about your message. Get the right speaker for your audience, or else plan to deliver it in writing instead.

Here's to good business communciation, especially during times of uncertainty.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chariots of Fire

On paper, it was really a good idea. I was looking for a family friendly film to show to the Jr & Sr High classes from our church, when I came across Chariots of Fire at the local library. Perfect! It's about values and personal faith. It's an inspiring true story. It's about the Olympics, and that's what's playing in primetime television right now. The movie is 120 minutes long, so I'd show the first half one Sunday and the second half the next. Great plan.

Chariots of Fire went down in flames. My son was part of the viewing group, and he wasted no time afterward telling me that it was the most b-o-r-i-n-g movie he'd ever seen. No way was he sitting through the second half next week. There were no chariots, Mom, much less chariots of fire. Plus, they talked with accents so he couldn't even understand what they were saying.

*Sigh* I saw the same movie with my church youth group when I was in high school, and we loved it. What happened?

Well, in retrospect, turns out there were a few key differences.

First of all, movies have come a long way since then. Considering the special effects these kids are used to, this film had no chance of holding their attention. Who cares that it won 4 Academy Awards. The only special effect Chariots of Fire had to offer was slow motion to create suspense and drama during the foot races.

The film is rated G. G means Good when you're looking for something parents will approve of for a church youth gathering, but it means Go-to-sleep to the average teenager. Back in the early 80's, a teenager would still go see a G rated film. If it was redone today, they'd have to spice it up to at least PG-13 if not R. Seems teenagers don't go to G rated films anymore unless it's one of those nature sagas like March of the Penguins or Earth where it's cool to be green.

And as for the connection to the Olympics, well, yes they are in fact taking place right now. However for these kids, it's just another TV program. When I watched Chariots of Fire, it was a year after the 1980 Winter Olympics. Anyone remember where those games took place? Lake Placid, NY. I lived in Saranac Lake back then, just 9 miles away. When the Olympics came to town, we volunteered at the events, worked at the restaurants, participated in opening and closing ceremonies, and even had the chance to watch the games in person. School closed for two weeks while we hosted visitors from around the globe. For us, the Olympics had been a very real and personal experience.

So where did I go wrong? I took the surface value similiarities - teenagers, Olympics, epic film, church activity - without considering the underlying contextual differences, and assumed a favorable outcome. Frankly, I know better.

I'd still recommend Chariots of Fire, just in case you haven't seen it. And this week, I'm grateful for the reminder to look below the surface.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Be the Catalyst

Catalyst: a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction by reducing the activation energy, but which is left unchanged by the reaction. (

If you work in the sciences, I'm sure you're quite familiar with catalysts and how they can be used to move a process along faster and at a lower temperature. And since the catalyst is unchanged by the process itself, you can use it over and over again.

Regardless of the industry in which you lead, doesn't that sound like something you'd like to have at your next business meeting? Imagine it, an entity that lowers the political temperature of the room and speeds along the process by creating a different path for finding the solution. Wishful thinking? Not at all. In fact, as a leader, that catalyst could be you.

As you attend your meetings this week, pay attention to situations where tempers flare, discussions get stuck, or agendas go off the tracks, and notice how you and others engage/don't engage. Do you sit back and wait for the reaction to finish itself out without you? Do you enter the reaction, but find that you're not making an impact? What would you do differently if you were willing to play the role of catalyst in that reaction?

Here are some things to consider:

* You have to be willing to set your personal agenda aside. The catalyst isn't trying to direct the outcome. Rather a catalyst is allowing the current process to find it's best path to reach the desired end goal as defined by the group.

* You may have to give up the glory for the greater cause. Many times, the catalyst isn't even remembered at the end of a reaction. In fact, if it truly becomes a changed reaction, the group deserves the glory for following the new direction, not any one person. Over time, others will notice that meetings are improved just by your presence.

* You need to be very grounded and centered. The catalyst is unchanged at the end of the reaction, and thus you need to be in a mindset that is open and present, but strong and enduring. If you are distracted or unsure of yourself, you will not be able to meet the demands of the catalyst's role, and may get used up or burned up by entering into the reaction.

Look for your opportunities and give it a try. You may find that you are effective in this role in some situations and not in others. Just like a chemist, you have to know when a catalyst will improve the reaction, and you have to use the right catalyst for the other elements involved and for the desired outcome. But as a leader in your organization, you likely have some good instincts about this already.

Here's to good Chemistry in your workplace this week.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Red Door

A few years ago, we moved out to the country. Mind you, it's only four miles from our former home in the suburbs, but that's upstate New York for you. Since then, as time and budgets have afforded, we've done some remodeling projects to restore our circa 1850 home to its farmhouse roots. One of my contributions was to paint the outside doors red. I had heard that in early American times, a red door was a sign of "welcome".

I've since learned that there are multiple meanings for a red door depending on culture, religion, and the historic period in which it's done. I've also learned that the reason this welcome sign was important to early Americans is because travel by horse and buggy was slow. A red door told a weary traveler that this was a safe place to stay for the night.

So here is the irony in that for me. My house has red doors, but no guest room.

I've been thinking about that lately and how it parallels another door in the workplace - the "open" door. It's most often a fixture of someone in leadership who says, "I have an open door policy". The message is similiar to that of the red door, "Welcome, come in. This is a safe place for you."

As a leader in your organization, do you have a red door? If so, do the weary travelers (employees) take you up on that offer, and are you ready for them when they do? Maybe the door is open, but you're too busy with other obligations to host a visitor so they've given up trying. Or maybe the door is open, but it's such an intimidating walk down the executive hallway that they never make it that far. What if the traveler bears a message of bad news, is it still a safe place to visit?

Your house needs to match your door. Your actions need to match your promises.

As for our home, we purchased a top-of-the-line inflatable bed to set up in the office area. It may be a circa 1850 farmhouse, but it's a modern day family our weary travelers are visiting.