Thursday, December 20, 2012

Too Much Loss

It's too much.  Too much loss.  One tragedy leaves the front page, and another arrives to replace it.  
In New York State, the recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene in 2011 hadn't even completed when Hurricane Sandy hit late this fall. 
Here in Saratoga County, local communities are still reeling from the loss on December 1st of two incredible teenagers, Deana Rivers and Christopher Stewart, from the Shenendehowa High School who died in a horrific car accident.  Matthew Hardy and Baily Wind survived the crash, and have gained national attention as they recover via the power of social media.  The outpouring of love and support for these families from the capital district has been truly inspiring.
And then we learn of the unspeakable violence less than a week later just a few hours away at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  I don't know those children, those incredible teachers, or the families who grieve for them.  Yet I mourn with them for this unfathomable loss.
Too much loss.
In late 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a devastating tsunamis that ravaged Southeast Asia.  A group of musical artists released Hands Across The Water in December 2005 to benefit the children who suffered from that natural disaster.  The second song on that album is called "Get Through It" (Allson Brown, Jon Randall, & Mairtin O'Connor). 

Here are the words from the chorus:
“You don’t get over it

You don’t get past it

Don’t get around it

Don’t outlast it.

You don’t fight it

You don’t lose it

You don’t believe it

But you don’t undo it.

You don’t get over it

You just get through it.”
The song deliver a powerful message of support to those looking for a way to move forward when the unthinkable happens. 

Whether the loss occurs right here in our local community or halfway across the world, in our homes or at work, we feel it.  It connects us in powerful ways, and people are moved to help in whatever way they can. 

Praying, supporting, taking action to bring about change.  We can't "get over it", but we can "get through it".  Together.

May your holiday season be one that brings you together with friends and family, and also with the larger community that connects us during both tragedy and celebration.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Telecommuters More Susceptible to "Sitting Disease"

If you telecommute, your manager - and your doctor - want to keep you on your toes.

There's nothing new about the message that people who work at a desk need to get up and move around throughout the day.  But as the number of people working from home continues to rise, it's becoming a renewed focus. 

Telecommuters spend more time sitting than their counterpoints in the office, making them even more susceptible to what health experts are calling "Sitting Disease".   

Here are just a few examples of why we sit longer when working from home:
  •      All our meetings can take place by phone/computer from our chairs.
  •      All conversation takes place by phone/computer rather than face-to-face - again, from our chairs.
  •      We are more likely to eat at our desks when we don't have co-workers to stop by and invite us to join them in the cafeteria or at the local deli.
Throughout the day, telecommuters are missing out on those short walks that wake up the metabolism, stretch the muscles, and send serotonin to the brain.

Telecommuter Dos and Don'ts to counteract Sitting Disease:
  • Don't take those calls sitting down.  Do stand, or better yet, pace while you're talking on the phone.  Become a team member who can "think on their feet".
  • Don't limit yourself to traditional office furniture and equipment.  Do consider new standing workstations and exercise ball chairs.  Trade in the desktop for a laptop, add a headset to your phone that lets you move around.
  • Don't eat lunch at your desk.  Do move to the kitchen, cook yourself a healthy meal, and eat it standing at your kitchen counter.  If your laptop needs to go with you, so be it, but put it on the counter, not the table (with the chair).
  • Don't let preconceived notions about working from home limit your movement options.  Do short bouts of housework and outdoor activities like shoveling the walk and going to the mailbox.  "Short bouts" means the equivalent time as your peers in the office are taking when they walk from their desk to the conference room (including that conversation in the hall along the way, the stop to refill the coffee mug, and the trip to the restroom) - 5-10 minutes at a pop, separated by an hour or so of focused work effort.  Telecommuters who do a few minutes of laundry between the hours of 9-5 are not "stealing company time".  Balancing time spent at the desk/phone and time spent transitioning from one activity to the next is the same challenge, regardless of location - it's just the transition activities that differ.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about it.  Do use one-on-one meeting time between manager and employee to be upfront about your concerns and ideas about telecommuting expectations.  Managers, worried your virtual team member is spending too much time away from their desk?  Telecommuters, sensing concern from your manager and team members about what you're "really" doing when you work from home?  You need a healthy conversation about how job performance is evaluated, how work productivity is measured, and a review of the team's communication expectations. 
Find more scary facts about our sedentary lives, as well as some helpful suggestions (for men and women) in this article by Women's Health Magazine.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fact or Assumption?

Our first Halloween together, my husband and I stocked up on candy for the kids in the neighborhood.  I set the bowl by the front door a few days in advance, loaded up with a variety of chocolate bars - the good stuff.

The morning of the big day, there was a distinct drop in the level of candy in the bowl.  Considering it was a weekday, I assumed my husband must have been packing some of the candy in his lunch for work. 

Or at least I did, until he asked me, "Been hitting the candy pretty hard, haven't you?"  He had made the same assumption about me.

It was just the two of us living in the house at the time, plus the cat, who had no affinity for sweets.  Who was taking the candy?

Mighty Mouse, that's who.  We found the pile of wrappers and half eaten candy bars with tiny teeth marks behind the couch.  After informing the cat that he was falling down on the job, we put the rest of the candy in a safe place until the Trick-or-Treaters arrived.  Mighty Mouse was caught the next day and relocated to the great outdoors.

I'm reminded of this story today because it's Halloween, and mouse season, and because it's good to be mindful of our assumptions.

Assumptions come from a place of logic based on our past experiences, our general knowledge of the world around us, and the regular patterns of our everyday lives.  Our assumptions are wrong when we're missing key information or when emotion clouds logic.

Coaches working with people going through challenging transitions are especially mindful of assumptions.  Emotions are running high and the environment is changing, hitting on both risk factors for error.  A good coaching question to ask during this time is "How do you determine if that's a fact or an assumption?"

The question reminds us that we sometimes confuse assumption with fact, and that we have the ability to do the sleuth work to tell the one from the other.

Wishing you a happy, safe, and mouse-free Halloween.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

If Wishes Were Changes

"If wishes were changes
We'd all live in roses
And there wouldn't be children
Who cried in their sleep"

          "If Wishes Were Changes", Nanci Griffith, Storms

I caught myself wishing the other day and immediately started to chastise myself for such a fruitless exercise.  Wishing is for children's birthday candles, pennies tossed into the fountain, and shooting stars.  Right?

Yes.  And yet even as we leave behind our make-believe worlds, wishing is still a part of our vocabulary and our innermost thoughts. 

As adults, we know not to count on wishing alone to see change.  "I wish my boss would give me a raise."  "I wish my team member would stop stealing my ideas."  "I wish this employee would just quit so I didn't have to fire her."  These changes will take effort on our part.  So why the wishing? 

Because we don't want to make those efforts.  They're difficult and uncomfortable and risky.  "I don't like self promotion, so I don't want to talk salary with my boss.  What if she gets mad?"  "I don't like confrontation, so I don't want to talk with my team member about what they're doing.  What if he laughs at me?"  "I don't like to upset people, so I don't want to tell her she's not a fit for the job.  What if she starts crying?"

If you hear wishing in your vocabulary, it's a good sign that you have something that's unresolved and needs to be added to your to-do list.  It may be one action to drive one change, or it may be a series of actions that kick off an entire change initiative. 

And what about the wishes that we don't even say aloud, that we quickly dismiss and send back to whatever realm of the heart/soul/mind that they came from?

Those wishes are more than a to-do item.  They are powerful messages that bubble to the surface when we least expect it, deserving of a closer review.  Meaningful and sustainable changes happen when we make time to listen to that wish and all that it represents. 

I read an article written by an executive coach describing a meeting with one of his CEO clients who was wishing for higher profits.  After a series of questions about what higher profits would do for him, they arrived at a surprising answer:  higher profits would allow his company to give back to the community and make a difference.  That realization became the focus for all the actions and changes that followed. 

Wishes are not changes, but if we give them our attention, they can point us to the path for change. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

An Olympic Coaching Lesson for All of Us

I tried to watch it all, I really did, but I was just too tired.  NBC claimed they'd be showing the highlights during prime time, but they failed to note that prime time would be temporarily redefined to include late night.  I stuck with it for almost a week, but by week two, I only caught pieces of the early segments before I had to retire for the night.  

In catching up online with some of the highlights I had missed, I came across this page on the NBC Olympics site with the "Best quotes from the London Games".  They range from funny to revealing, from to hopeful to regretful. 

However, the best quote I heard during my late nights in front of the TV was not included in their list.  It came from Tim Daggett, Olympic gold medalist and gymnastics analyst during his coverage of the women's gymnastics team competition. 

As Aly Raisman was getting ready to perform her balance beam routine, Tim was filling time by sharing a conversation he once had with Aly about the pressures on her to perform, and how stressful that must be.  She replied that actually, it didn't feel like anxiety or stress for her, that she would describe it as a feeling of excitement.  Tim's reflection on this was that "I guess it's all in how you label it".

Now that's a great quote, profound actually.  It's all in how you label it.  "It" being our thoughts, our emotions, our experiences.

There were many inspiring and motivating stories to be heard over the course of the two weeks, but I would offer up Tim's insight as one that goes beyond these Olympic events and this particular athlete.  Be aware of your labels. 
  • How are you labeling the events of your life as they unfold? 
  • What names do you give to the stronger emotions you experience?
  • How aware are you of the path your thoughts travel by pure habit and your ability to choose an alternate route?
Change the label and change your perspective.  An Olympic coaching lesson for all of us.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic Pins Bring Cultures Together

This is my Olympic pin collection - all five of them.  It's small but memorable for me.  I picked these up as a teenager during the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY.  If you've never been to an Olympics, you may not be familiar with the pin trading craze that goes on between events, for athletes and spectators.  I read online (so it must be true) that pin trading started at the 1894 Athens Olympics, but didn't really become popular until the early 1900's.

I've written about my connection to the Olympics in an earlier blog, Chariots of Fire.   When the world's best winter athletes came to Lake Placid, I was just nine miles away in Saranac Lake. It was an incredibly exciting time to be in the Adirondacks. Many of us were hosting visitors from around the world in our homes, our churches, and our community centers.  Local kids like myself were frequently given pins by visitors to get us started on collecting and trading.

The Associated Press shares this YouTube video from the 2008 Olympics about pin trading.  I love the comment by the one woman about how this activity brings people together from around the globe.  The pins start the dialogue and connect people through their shared interest.  Those who travel regularly to the Olympics can share wonderful stories about the people they've met as a result of this hobby.  Even as the globe shrinks due to technology, there's still something special about meeting someone from another continent in person and interacting face-to-face.     

As people are now gathered in London for the 2012 Summer Games, I think about all the introductions that will be made possible because of pin trading.  People will work to communicate despite language barriers and cultural differences.  There will be lots of smiles and pointing, nodding of heads, shaking of hands, and laughter.  And yes, technology will help with translating devices.  What a wonderful way for the world to come together as one community, even as each person roots for their national team. 

I'll be cheering for Team USA and Communications World.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why We Reinvent The Wheel

Reinventing the wheel"As it has already been invented, and is not considered to have any operational flaws, an attempt to reinvent it would be pointless and add no value to the object, and would be a waste of time, diverting the investigator's resources from possibly more worthy goals which his or her skills could advance more substantially."  (Wikipedia)  

What happens within an organization that causes us to reinvent the wheel? 

Ignorance that the wheel already exists.  Per the definition, an individual is already aware of the wheel, yet proceeds to attempt a reinvention for no added value.  But what about the scenario where an individual thinks they are inventing the wheel, not reinventing it?  This is most prevalent in larger organizations with multiple divisions and locations.  Knowledge management is a challenge, a situation that can be improved with tools, technology, and process.  If an individual could easily research within the organization as to the existance of the wheel, they may find that they don't need to start from scratch. 

Lack of respect for others.  "Sure, their team has a prototype, but they don't know what they're doing.  I don't even have to look at it to know it won't work for our purposes.  My team will need to create it themselves."  Poor relationships and silos within the organization prevent even an initial exploration, resulting in potential duplicate of effort, and wasting time and resources. 

A culture that rewards innovation over efficiency.  Ideally, you have a balance of the two within an organization.  You may have product development focused on innovation and operations focused on efficiency.  Or, you may outlined both for one group, highlighting innovation for growth and efficiencies for maintenance.  But if all the accolades, reward, and promotion go to those who innovate, you are inadvertently shifting the balance. The resulting behavior is evident by an unwillingness to research existing solutions, to collaborate with other teams, or to share credit for work effort.  

It's clear that within an organization, "reinventing the wheel" is undesirable.  You don't reinvent that which you've already created.  But if this is something you need to address, be sure you've correctly identified the source of the problem before you implement a solution. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Outsider Thinking Drives Creativity

If you've ever used a cross functional team to solve a thorny problem, you'll be nodding your head in agreement as you watch this video.  The idea of bringing people in from different disciplines to "think outside of the box” isn't a new one, but the idea of posting R&D problems to the Internet for any person, group, or company to solve takes it to a whole new level - a global, virtual level. 

In this video from Big Think, Jonah Lehrer, author of  Imagine: How Creativity Works, shares a crowd sourcing site developed by Eli Lilly called InnoCentive designed to tap into the world market of innovators.  And it's been successful with 30-50 percent of posted problems being solved within six months.  

Not surprising that an expert from outside the company might have the missing piece since it's hard for us to see the assumptions that hold us back until someone with a different perspective challenges them. 

More surprising is what Karim Lakhani from Harvard Business School found in a study on who solved the problems.  "Most problems on InnoCentive are solved by experts outside of the field – chemistry problems solved by physicists. Engineering problems solved by chemists. And so on." 
Meaning that real progress can be made when you bring people to the table that aren't bound by your team's culture, assumptions, restrictions, and function.  Creativity and innovation will thrive in an environment with multiple disciplines, varied experiences, encouraged curiosity, and proper incentives. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Music To Energize The Team For Change

Major change initiatives are often kicked off by taking the leadership team off site to get everyone on the same page, to create action plans, and to get energized.  Music can be a great tool to bring focus to your theme while raising the energy in the room.  It's best used either in the background while people are entering the room to find their seats or in conjunction with a visual presentation or video.

If you go to Amazon's MP3 section and type in "change", you'll get over 50,000 options to pick from.  And yet, the vast majority aren't what you're looking for. 

To create the right vibe, you need songs with a fast tempo (energizing) and with the right content (change is for the better, not regrets about change). 

Here's a short list of music I'd recommend to energize a team for change:

Roll With The Changes, REO Speedwagon
     Well known, well used, yet it never grows old.

A Change Would Do You Good, Sheryl Crow
     A little more contemporary, and a song that'll get your foot tapping.
     {a personal favorite back when my daughter was in diapers, but I digress...}

Be The Change, Kat Edmonson
      Follows the theme of "be the change you wish to see in the world", always inspiring.

Changes, Santana
     A more spiritual message, with that infectious Latin rhythm.

Change, Tiffany Alvord
     Comes from the younger set, very positive message - "look at change like a brand new day".
Change The World, Taylor Dayne
     Wonderful message in the chorus - "change your thoughts and you change the world"

Rock on, change leaders.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Leaders and Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer in the U.S.  I did a little research about  the history of this annual observation, and discovered that its origins go back to our country's founding fathers.  In 1775, the Continental Congress asked that the colonies pray for wisdom in forming a nation. 

Our founding fathers asked that their names be lifted up in prayer, such that they might have the wisdom to act in the best interest of the people they represented. 

This got me thinking about how business leaders make decisions and take actions every day that affect their "colonies" of employees, customers, and investors.           

I did an online search for leadership prayers and found many sites offering up some variation of what our founding fathers requested - prayers that political leaders have the wisdom they need to make the right decisions.  Of course, the definition of the "right" decision varies, but that's what you'd expect when the topic is politics in a country founded on rights such as freedom of speech. 

What was harder to find were examples of what a leader might offer up - prayers of gratitude for the blessings received, prayers for strength and patience and compassion, prayers for guidance in turbulent times.  Where were the prayers of the leaders, political or otherwise?  

That's when I found an inspiring prayer written Julie Poland, coach, author, and founder of Summit.  With Julie's permission, I share it here for your reflection.  

A Leader's Prayer

Let me stand
Supported firmly by the foundation of my values
And in the greater purpose that calls me forth
Let me stand for the uncompromising truth
That compels me to stretch beyond
My prior expectations for myself and my contribution

Let me see
The distant hills that are my destination, our destination
The lessons of the tall old pines that grow fruitful even after fire
Let me see the effect of the river that, over time,
Can cut and mold a landscape
Even while flowing softly and serenely through a verdant valley.

Let me speak
In words that cascade like diamonds
Onto someone's shoulders, enriching them
Let me speak in tones that wrap
Like fur, warming and soothing
On skin that has been scarred and roughened by conflict.

Let me serve
With head bowed in humility
Because I know my gifts are truly not my own
Let me serve especially in times
When I am not yet ready
And in places that call for skills I have yet to discover.

Let me shake hands
With brothers and sisters everywhere
Knowing that we share our humanity if not our opinions
Let me shake hands
And look the other directly in the eye
And see the dignity and the noble intent within them.

Let me celebrate
The abundance that is already before me
That I did not create, but that has been given to me
Let me celebrate
The glimmers that light the next steps on the path
And show me that the impossible just might not be so.

Let me step out, step up
And shake the clots of mud off of my shoes
To respond to the call of the world
Let me step out, step up
And in my own way, by whatever means I can
To make a mark, a signpost for the ones who come after me.

 On this day when our national leaders encourage us to "turn to God in prayer and meditation", I offer up my prayer that you have the wisdom, the courage, and the integrity to be the leader your Higher Power calls you to be.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Your Employees Are Reading Between The Lines

Robert Lee Frost was a guest speaker at Syracuse University back in the 50's when my father was doing his undergraduate work.  During the question and answer period, a student asked the famous poet about his meaning of a particular line about the wind, and whether it could be correctly interpreted as having been intended as a metaphor for death.  Mr Frost answered, "No".  He was actually just talking about the wind.  The line had come to him as he was sitting on a high school baseball field, watching an early spring training session.  The wind was blowing.  Spring winds are cold.     

My dad laughs as he tells this story.  After hours of analysis in English classes where he and the other students had scoured each line of text for its hidden, deeper meaning, it turns out the poet meant exactly what he said.  Nothing was intended between the lines.

Whether you know it or not, this same analysis occurs in your organization every day.  Or at least it does if you haven't built a culture of open communication and trust.  Reading behind the lines is a learned behavior.  English students learn it in class.  Employees learn it on the job. 

If you want your memo interpreted exactly as it was written, here are a few tips. 
  • Know the organization's vocab history - In last year's memo, did "restructuring" mean work was shifted around, a reorganization, or actual staff reductions? If it meant layoffs even one time, it will always be so for those who lived it in your organization, and that's what they will read between the lines next time they see that word. Chose your words carefully so that they match your intentions and aren't misconstrued due to past history.
  • Don't forget what you've already said - Make sure your communications refer back to prior messages. Call it out if something has changed and explain why. Failure to connect the dots causes suspicion and confusion.
  • Maintain an active dialogue with your team - Whether you're the CEO or a front line supervisor, you need to be in an on-going two-way conversation with your team.  Group discussions allow people hear information at the same time and with the same words.  The team is less likely to make assumptions about what you write or say if they have up-to-date data and a chance to ask questions on a regular basis.    
  • Don't shy away from sharing bad news - Increasingly, employee feedback indicates that they want to hear both the good news and the bad from their leadership.  It's an opportunity to educate the whole team on the challenges of running a business and let them participate in finding the solutions.  If they know they'll hear both sides of the story, they don't have to go looking for the secret meaning of each memo.  They'll trust that you're going to tell them what they need to know, good and bad.
  • Keep your influencers in the loop - Make sure your non-management influencers (the subject matter experts, the senior team members, the change agents) are informed early on so they can assist you in shutting down or redirecting misconceptions at the water cooler.  People listen to their peers, especially those they trust and look up to.
  • Write to the level of your audience - Leave the eloquent language to the poets.  Your messages should be clear, using the language of the reader.  Employees think you're hiding something when you don't say it straight out.
I leave you with a verse from the Robert Frost poem "Two Tramps in Mud Time".  It's a beautifully stated description of what an April day is like here in the Northeast.  No need to read between the lines.  The wind is cold.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bringing Habits Into Our Awareness

"The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" is a new book by Charles Duhigg.  This video shows the author describing the "habit loop" of Cue-Routine-Reward with a personal example of a habit he wanted to change.  The habit loop is covered much more extensively in the book at both the individual and group levels.   

One of the things I found most fascinating from "The Power of Habit" was the research on how our brains can convert a sequence of actions into an automatic routine.  One example given is the process of backing a car out of the driveway.  When we're first learning to drive, this takes a great deal of concentration, but after a short period of time, we're hardly giving any thought to it at all. 

Or consider your drive to work in the morning.  You listen intently to the radio for today's news headlines, create a mental checklist for the workday ahead, and replay yesterday's board meeting in your head, all while simultaneously keeping your vehicle on the road, driving within a reasonable speed, avoiding the potholes and pedestrians, headed in the proper direction until you safely reach your company parking space.  Most days, you hardly remember anything about the actual drive, yet your brain just completed an incredibly complex sequence of activities. 

In coaching, we'd refer to that state of mind, when we're on autopilot, as being out of awareness.  That's where habits live, out of our awareness.  The first step to changing a habit is to become aware of it in the first place. 

In his video (and the appendix of the book), Charles describes an undesirable state - being 8 pounds overweight, and gaining.  He wants to lose weight, so he starts by reviewing what routines, or habits, are part of his day that could be considered for change.  A thoughtful review like this is typical in a coaching engagement.

What I like about the habit loop is that once a routine is identified, the model can then be applied to populate the associated reward that the brain was craving, and then the cue that triggered the brain to begin that routine.  This provides a tangible diagram, bringing the unseen into awareness where it can then be adjusted to drive the desired change.  Again, this is part of the coaching engagement, to identify the rewards and the cues in order to take action.

As anyone who has tried to make a significant change can tell you, awareness of a habit is just step one.  It takes well targeted action to move forward, with personal accountability, repetition, and often, support from others. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How is Science Education Like Coaching?

I'm stealing this interview from Big Think and re purposing it.  The original article on this video is by Megan Erickson, "No, Seriously. Science Can Be Funny.".  It's based on this 90 second clip from an interview with Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and his response to Big Think's question "How is Science Education Like Comedy?". 

But I'm re purposing it here because as I watched the video, I was immediately struck with the idea that the core of his response might have been exactly the same had they asked him "How is Science Education Like Coaching". 

"You always want the student to figure it out for her or himself, you don't want to give her or him the answer.", says Bill.  "You want to get people to choose, to choose to embrace it."

Whether you want to encourage discovery, change, or as this interview spotlights, comedy, you need the "audience" to become active participants. 

This is why people don't make significant change in response to being told "just do it" or "do it this way".  They need to make the discovery on their own, to choose to do it. 

And that's the science behind coaching.  Actively engaging in exploration.  A catalytic process that brings new awareness, reveals different perspectives, allows for possibility, and inspires choice.

So I choose to hear Bill Nye share a message about choice that has a broader application than initially proposed.  And not coincidentally, that's exactly how science and innovation works.  Thanks, Bill, you are The Science Guy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Overcoming Your Business Nightmares With Teamwork

You know the old saying, "the show must go on"?  Well, sometimes, it doesn't.  And if your business industry is the performing arts, telling your packed theatre that you can't deliver the show, is your worst nightmare.  Here's a story about how a prominent theatre in my local area faced that nightmare using teamwork.    

The full article appears in The Daily Gazette and is titled "Proctors overcame 'disaster' with teamwork".  Here's the scenario:  the audience is seated (all 2400 of them) for the afternoon matinee of a popular new musical, but the engineers could not get the sound to work.  Never before had Proctors been forced to announce to an audience that the show, which hadn't even started, was being cancelled.  Due to the complexity of ticketing/seating/scheduling/union hours, the next steps had logistical migraine written all over them, and the whole thing had all the potential to be a public relations nightmare.  And on top of that, there was an evening show scheduled of this same production. 

Skip to the end of the story, and what you learn is that it's in the midst of your biggest business nightmare when strong leadership and teamwork pays off.  And Proctors passed that test with flying colors.

Here's an overview of what they did right:
  • The leader steps out front - CEO Philip Morris was on site, overseeing the crisis personally.  Further, he stepped forward and took on the toughest assignment of the day-announcing the bad news to the audience.  In an emergency, you need your leader to be visible to your customers and an example to the rest of the team.
  • Explore all options -  The leadership team began thinking outside of the box on options for rescheduling well before the cancellation was made, even considering the use of "dark" days (down days for the theatre).  Be prepared to present creative alternatives and your best offer to the customer.   
  • All hands on deck - Proctors called in every employee to come to the theatre to assist.  By the time the announcement was made, there were 26 employees from various departments on the phones and staffing all 6 box offices, programmers had reset the computer system to accept exchanges without charging a fee, and work had already begun to save the show that was scheduled to go on that evening.  Leverage your team and leave no one out.
  • Honor unique customer needs - The team recognized that they had some special groups in attendance that day, specifically 3 groups of students.  Rescheduling needed to honor their request for a block of seats during a matinee show.  Also, one of the groups couldn't return to school right away, so the actors were enlisted for a special question and answer session with the students until their bus returned.  Knowing your customers allows you to address their needs.
  • Keep working on the problem - Proctors had another show to run that evening.  The engineers stayed focused with debugging of the system, specialists were flown in, and new equipment was on its way.  The team never let up their focus to identify and fix the issue, and as a result, the evening show was able to take place on time.  While part of the team works on addressing customer needs, the rest of the team stays focused on fixing the underlying issue.
  • Consider previous creative solutions - During the run of the "Lion King" at Proctors, the audience couldn't be seated until 20 minutes before the show was scheduled to start.  This was a logistical challenge, but the team was able to develop a plan to seat a full house in a tight time frame.  This same plan was called upon for the evening show when the engineers gave the go ahead on the sounds system with only 25 minutes before curtain call and a long waiting line of ticket holders.  Plans you've developed for unique situations can also work during a crisis. 
  • Be transparent - Patrons for the evening show were notified in advance that a 10 minute delay was anticipated, resetting expectations for seating times.  And the full story of what went on that day was shared with the media, setting the record straight for the rest of the general public and future patrons about how unusual this was for Proctors and how well they handled a very difficult situation.  Get ahead of the situation by sharing your story in a factual and timely manner with your customer base.  
Congratulations to Philip Morris and his team on a job well done during their worst business nightmare.   

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Study Shows CEOs Prefer Team Model

working paper that came out this month from the Harvard Business School on "Span of Control and Span of Activity" sheds some light on how today's CEOs engage with their senior executives. 

Interactions between top executives are central to the top management team (TMT) literature in management. According to this area of study, senior senior management acts as a team, not as a group of executives operating independently.  The CEO interacts with senior managers and senior managers interact with each other to share information and collectively make decisions.  

In contrast, models in economics propose the classic inverted tree model of organizational structure.  The CEO and each subordinate has a pairwise nature (one-to-one) and there is no multilateral interaction involving more than one subordinate, or with a subordinate and other managers (one-to-many).

According to the time use data from this study, when the CEO sits down for an internal meeting, there is representation at the table from across the organization.  In fact, "almost a half of CEO interactions with insiders are in fact cross-functional, which provides some initial supportive evidence for the team model of managerial interactions", and this lends itself to collective thinking and decision-making. 

One of the findings reported in the report's summary is that "CEOs interact with their subordinates in a team-like fashion and less as a group of independent executives. This is generally supportive of the central implicit assumption of the TMT literature that senior managers interact like teams, and in contrast with the simple inverted-tree model prevalent in the organizational economics literature."

There's more to learn from this study about CEO interactions with subordinates, yet the confirmation that the cross-functional senior team is going strong seems to mirror the increased focus on team dynamics within the industries of leadership training and development, management consulting, and executive coaching. 

"Individuals don't win in business, teams do."  Sam Walton

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Answers To Your Questions About What Coaching Can Do For Your Organization

In celebration of International Coaching Week, I share with you today a link to the Library of Professional Coaching.  As noted on their home page, "Our library includes a growing collection of articles, research briefs, and white papers which will serve as the ultimate free Internet-based source of information about professional coaching.  It's an easily searchable database of trusted, high-caliber, peer-reviewed content." 

This site is a valuable resource to those looking for answers to questions like these about coaching:
  •      Why does an organization hire a coach?
  •      How long is a typical coaching engagement?
  •      How does coaching work for groups and teams?
  •      What is the Return On Investment (ROI) for coaching?
  •      How is coaching applied in different industries?
Additionally, you will find a wealth of articles on leadership topics such as :
  •      Managing Change
  •      Applying Emotional Intelligence in the workplace
  •      Ethics and Values
  •      Breaking Down Organizational Silos
  •      Employee Engagement
Sponsors for this site include the International Coach Federation, and you can find more articles, research, and case studies about coaching on their Research Portal.

If you are interested in coaching for your organization,

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    Living In Your Calendar

    I just read an article today on Harvard Business Review, thinking I might learn about a new productivity tool.  The article is called To-Do Lists Don't Work by Daniel Markovitz.

    Turns out I was already following his suggested alternative, I just hadn't thought to give it a name.  I like the one he's come up with, Living In Your Calendar.  Having used this method for a few years now, I share it for your consideration. 

    Here's Daniel's advice:  "The alternative to the feckless to-do list is what I call "living in your calendar." That means taking your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar."  "In essence, you're making a production plan for your work."

    For me, what that means is that my day, while still full, is realistic.  If the task doesn't fit, I move it to a day and time where it does.  And if something of higher priority comes up (for example, a client meeting), I move the task to a future day/time on the calendar to make room. 

    • Sanity  As I said, it makes for a realistic day.  Things don't so much move off the list as they just get done.  And I don't lose track of the rest of the work because it's already been scheduled somewhere else on the calendar.    
    • No Guilt  The to-do list always made me feel like I was starting my day with a backlog of things I "should" have bene able to cross off yesterday.  The calendar method instead follows the philosophy that there's a time and place for everything.
    • Prioritization  Since I'm scheduling, not just making a running list, I put things on the calendar in a manner that corresponds to due dates, appointments, and even best time of day for my work style. 
    • Running Time Tracker  When I look back on my week or my month, it's easy to see where I've spent my time and then I can adjust on the go-forward if I think it's not in balance with my business goals.  It can also be an easy way to keep track of accomplishments.
    • Tough Fit For The Corporate Environment  If your typical day is back-to-back meetings with other people, you'll spend too much time moving your to-do appointments around.  At best, you might be able to work them into early or late day, but even then, only if you have little to no meetings with people in other time zones.
    • Public Viewing  If others (like your team) have access to the contents on your calendar, they will also see these appointments, along with the details.  Unless the whole team has adopted this method, these appointments with yourself to do work may look to others more like free time such that they can insert themselves by calling/stopping by.  It can take a lot of discipline for you to protect these to-do appointments.
    • Harder To Delegate  If you set up to-do's as tasks (Outlook), you can delegate them.  If you set them up as appointments, you can't.  The calendar approach assumes you are the only one who can do the task, or at least that you need to be involved while it's been accomplished.
    So depending on your work situation, Living Your Calendar is an approach to consider.  The small business leader, solopreneur, or senior leader with a manageable meeting schedule (perhaps, 4 hours or less per day spent in meetings) would seem like a good fit.  Corporate leaders who are already double and triple booked in meetings from morning til night, not so much.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Owning Your Team's Destructive Behaviors Is Step One

    My HR BFF sent me the link for a recent article on teams from TLNT, an HR blog.  It's called 10 Destructive Behaviors That Can Bring Down a Team’s Success by Deb Spicer. 
    Here is the list (further descriptions can be found within the article):
    1. Power Coalitions (cliques)
    2. Piranha Factor (saboteurs)  
    3. Complacency/Status Quo
    4. Lip Service
    5. Competing Factions Within a Team
    6. Round Here Thinking
    7. Strong Silos
    8. Passive-Aggressive Behaviors
    9. Blindness to Customers
    10. Engrained “Old Culture”
    Chances are you recognize these from your own experience, and could even add on a few of your own.

    And while I agree that this is a good short list on destructive team behaviors, I worry that compiling it in this manner sends an unintended negative message that the team members are the the source of all problems.  In other words, "Oh, the trials and tribulations of being a leader and all the nonsense one has to deal with."  In my experience, the behavior described in that list is a direct result of past and present management capabilities, policies, and culture.
    • Was a team member rewarded by their last manager for delivering on their goals even though the manner in which they achieved it meant that another team was unable to deliver on their goals (e.g., resource hogging, refusing to collaborate)?  Knowing how a new team member was incentivized/rewarded by prior management is just as important as it is to communicate your own expectations going forward.  If it's different than they've experienced before, call attention to the difference, monitor, correct as needed, and reward when the new desired behaviors are demonstrated.    
    • Is the culture you've established for the team one of competition or collaboration?  If it's competition, expect to continue with about half of that list (cliques, silos, saboteurs, lip service, passive-aggressive, competing factions). 
    • Did the recent reorganization merge teams that had previously not worked well together with the expectation that common leadership (aka, sharing the same boss) would "fix" it?  Don't count on it.  Merging silos on an org chart does not make them go away.  It takes sustained effort with consistent messaging by the new leader to break down silos.
    • Does your team have both individual and team accountability well defined?  And if so, do you really deliver on that?  Organizations that move "problem" employees around rather than address poor performance do not uphold individual accountability.  Teams that set only individual performance goals do not have team accountability.  This is where complacency/status quo, 'round here thinking, and ingrained old culture come in.
    So yes, recognize the destructive behaviors.  Then get busy understanding where they come from and determining how you're going to address them.  Whether you created or inherited the problems, you own them now.  And that's good news because these are just behaviors, and behaviors can be changed.  Own it and then change it.

    Although targeted for those in HR, this website is full of great articles and webinars for leaders in any part of the organization.  Check it out at

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Hire A Coach And Reach Your New Year's Goals

    It's a new year.  Know how I can tell?  No, not the calendar, not the fanfare in Times Square, and not the long lines at the mall to redeem the holiday gift cards. 

    I can tell it's a new year because during every commercial break on TV and radio, in every form of print advertisement, and on every banner ad, there's a message informing me that now is the time to lose weight, start a new exercise routine, join a gym, and begin that diet.  New Year's Day is the official start to the "Get Healthy" season.

    It lasts about a month.

    One of the ads I saw last week on TV was by Nutrisystem with Janet Jackson.  It struck me that their core message was as good as any you'll hear about what it takes to be successful in meeting your goals - weight loss or otherwise.

    "You have to have a plan and then you have to get on it."

    The plan tells you where you want to go, why you want to get there, how you'll get there, what the timeline is, who will be involved, what investments are needed, and how you'll measure success. 

    And then you have to get going.  Or as Nike says, "Just Do It". 

    A coach can help you make that plan, get moving, and reach those goals.  There are fitness coaches, career coaches, life coaches, nutrition coaches, speaking coaches, and yes, executive coaches like me who want to see you be successful. 

    If you've struggled to meet your goals, you don't have to go it alone this year.  Reach out to a coach.  Even if what you're focusing on isn't their niche, coaches know other coaches, and we love to recommend and refer. 

    Make your New Year's resolutions last longer than a month this year.  Add a coach to your team and see that transformation come to life.