Friday, December 7, 2012

Taking Responsibility

“What piece of this issue or opportunity has your name written on it.”  -  Susan Long, author of 'Fierce Conversations'

Here is a thought experiment.  Consider the common situations below, for which people very often think they have no responsibility :

  1. One of your employees is performing well below expectations...
  2. A new customer onboarding process was botched...
  3. You don't have time for a quarterly strategic summit with your key leaders...
  4. 15 minutes after scheduling a golf game this Saturday you learned that your kid has a baseball game at that same time..
  5. It is 5:15PM. Everyone else has left the office, but you'll be there until 8:30PM (and this is nothing new)...
  6. Your largest customer ran a promotion on your best-selling product and just wiped-out your entire inventory...

Now consider the completion of the scenarios above:
  1. ...and you have not completed a performance review in 2 years for any of your direct reports.
  2. ...and you have known for some time that there is no regular interdepartmental coordination meeting for this process.
  3. ...because your calendar is full of 'urgent' fires that have to be fought day-to-day.
  4. ...but you never share your calendar with your spouse or significant other because you don't like being 'checked-on.'
  5.'ve never asked yourself, "why am I so busy and the people that work for me are not?"
  6. ...and your operational staff does not interact with customers
It's easy to chalk up shoddy performance  and missed opportunities to 'things that just happen in life', but the truth is that we have more control over those things than we are comfortable admitting. 

Consider writing down 2 or 3 things that went wrong in the last couple of weeks and ask yourself Susan Scott's question, "What piece of this issue/opportunity has my name on it?"

You can access Susan Scott's blog here. Take the time to do so, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Act Like A Horse. Be Dumb. Just Run.

“Act like a horse.  Be dumb.  Just run.”  - Jumbo Elliott, Hall of Fame, Villanova Track and Field Coach

Finishing kick, with Dad watching on.
While you are overthinking your next move, your competitor is getting stronger, faster and smarter.  While you are putting together more rationale for a plan you are late to launch, your boss is losing confidence in you. While you are procrastinating on a decision, your employees are losing passion for their jobs.

Learning requires three activities:  Insight -> Decision -> Action.  And it has been said that the most critical phase of learning takes place in the “Action” stage, where you can tell who has learned the most by counting who has the most bumps on their foreheads from running into walls.

So tomorrow do something radical:
  • Start your day with a decision.
  • Take a substantial action before your second cup of coffee.
  •  Announce your intention to launch a pilot on that idea you’ve been toying with for a month.
  • Assemble your team and ask them where they think you’ve been a wimp on a decision and then make the decision on the top 3 items before they leave your office.

People love being part of an organization that is moving forward, even if it means bumping into some walls. You’ll love leading one too!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Embrace Disappointment, Embrace Silence

“There are insights and emotions that can find you in no other way than through silence and within silence.”  - Susan Scott, “Fierce Conversations”

Atacama, Chile.  A place of solitude where I have embraced that fierce,
internal conversation in life's disappointments.
If you take risks, you will endure disappointment.  Perhaps you will fail yourself or fail someone else. Maybe someone will fail to keep a commitment to you. The timing of your new venture will be wrong. Your new product launch won't catch fire.

When disappointment comes, you won’t like what you feel. When it comes, you likely will be more than a bit inconsolable. When it arrives, you likely won’t be proud of your behavior. You may sulk.  You may withdraw initially.  You may play the role of a victim.

Is there a way to avoid disappointment? Absolutely not. Not if you intend to make an impact or achieve some work that is really worthwhile.

So buck it up. When disappointment comes, take Susan Scott’s advice and move into what feels like an even more dangerous place than disappointment – silence. Sit with your questions. Refuse to self-medicate your unease. Allow for a pause. 


Because in silence will come a new way of accepting your part in your failures. In quiet you will gain clarity and find new direction. In the pause of life you will find a recommitment to your vision, purpose and desire to make an impact.

What choice is there for you anyway?  You won’t settle for failure and you won’t settle for no impact in life.  At your very core, you sense you must make a significant, positive impact in life. So embrace disappointment and move on with renewed knowledge and intensity!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Antidote: Living Robustly In Transition

My faith community is presently in a time of transition. The Lead Pastor has left and the next one hasn’t yet arrived.  Typically such times of transition last between 1 and 2 years. And while this type of transition may be common for churches, it is also a long time for any organization to be without a top leader.  Common organizational wisdom in the business world would tell you that such a long time of being “leaderless” is perilous. So why isn’t my community panicking?

I heard someone say recently, “There are only 3 kinds of people; those that are going into transition, those that are currently in transition and those that are coming out of transition.” The question then is how to make life in transitional times as profound and robust as the times when expansion is more visible. 

Faith communities navigate transition successfully, sometimes more so than businesses, because they embrace transition readily. They understand inherently that there are times of “going out” and times of “coming in” and they embrace both equally. During times of “coming in,” businesses tend to focus on things like cost reductions, improved processes and finding new markets.  Churches and synagogues however, focus first on the tending of souls (their people) during such times. You see, it’s a simple matter of understanding and prioritizing: If you focus on people first, you may also get the desired results in reductions, processes and new markets.  But if you focus most intently on reductions, processes and new markets, particularly while excluding attention to souls, you may end up with nothing. Why? Because people (souls) do everything.

An example of this is happening right now at Warehouse 242, where the Teaching Team is focusing its weekly Sunday service teaching on the concept of “Antidote.” Steve Whitby, Pastor of Creativity there, puts it this way, The term “Antidote” ultimately derives fromthe Greek word “antididonal,” which means “given against.” It’s not just a cure, it is the implementation of something created to act against our darkest enemies.” During times of transition, people and communities experience all kinds of negative emotions and behaviors, these being the “darkest enemies.” This community chose to first normalize those enemies by identifying the most likely and destructive ones. Then secondly, to grow strengths into the community by building the natural antidote to those soul sicknesses, so when the community emerges from their transition they will have expanded profoundly and robustly and will be prepared for a new stage of visible growth that they were not ready to handle before the transition.

What are some of the Enemies / Antidotes that are common in transition? Here’s a starting list:

  • Navel Gazing / Opening Up
  • Gossip / Contentedness
  • Despair / Faith
  • Impatience / Humility
  • Disengagement / Remembrance
  • Unhealthy Conflict / Fellowship of the Team
  • Anxiety / Meditation & Prayer
  • Anger / Gratitude

Now, why don’t you make your own list?

Over the next few weeks, I'll blog through some of these couplets in hopes of learning more myself.  Why don’t you email me and give me your own insights so that they can be shared? Together we’ll make transitions in the workplace ensouling.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Private Huntsman & General Eisenhower, A D-Day Reflection on Work

Private Ken Huntsman upon graduation from basic  training. 

68 years ago my father-in-law, Ken Huntsman, landed on a hostile beach in Normandy along with 150,000 other members of the Allied Forces. Their mission was to establish multiple beach heads on the French coast from which the eventual march to Germany and the ultimate freedom of Europe would be secured. Planners of the assault expected deaths, casualties and captures amongst the landing force to exceed 50%, but the potential outcome was deemed to be workworthy. 

General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces transmitted a message to all members of the force just prior to the invasion, “You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.” What no one knew then was that General “Ike” carried another note in his pocket, to be used if the outcome were disastrous and it read, “Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy, did all that bravery could do.  If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

It is impossible to know who showed greater valor on D-Day; the men who went ashore under heavy machine gun fire and bombardment, scrambling around obstacles and barb wire or General Eisenhower who sent the soldiers ashore knowing that many of those men were going to a certain personal  apocalypse. Privates and Generals all did their parts to secure a single success at great hazard to themselves.

And while the freedom of Europe does not hang on the outcome of the work you do today, the same lessons are true; work is ensouling and creates dignity when:
  • Our contribution is critical.
  • Our contribution is appreciated.
  • We must muster our bravery to storm our "work beach head."
  • You believe you are fighting for the benefit of the person on your right and on your left.
  • You understand how your contribution fits into the very big, epic picture.
  • No person is deemed to be unimportant, based on their rank. Every person counts.
Ken marched from Normandy to Germany. When he returned to the US, to his young bride Lucille and toddler son Ron in Missouri, he bore scars on his soul from his sacrificial service. They were not physical, but they were substantial and they were lifelong.

My wife Kathi likes to share this favorite childhood memory: One afternoon she walked through the bedroom where her father was taking a nap.  He was obviously fast asleep when he spoke these words loudly and clearly, “Hi, I’m Ken Huntsman, Man of the Year!” 

Indeed he was. Oh that we could all awake proclaiming the same of ourselves!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Mickey Drexler Could Have Taught General Lee

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, after Confederate attacks on the two previous days had failed, General Lee ordered a strike at the center of the Union troops’ lines.  In order to make that strike, troops under the command of Major General George Pickett and two other commanders had to cross an open field at a quick walking pace for nearly one mile, all of it unprotected from enemy fire.  That march is now infamously known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The soldiers and their commanders knew from their first steps that they were likely going to their graves.

Pickett’s Charge is a good metaphor for what I recently heard from a friend about her workplace.  Her company had rushed a promising new product to market, but in the opening deliveries it became clear there were problems with the product’s performance.  The company dutifully promised to credit customers for any losses incurred, began addressing the manufacturing issues and continued to put pressure on the sales team to reach the quarterly sales objective.  The company succeeded in the first and third goals, but failed in the second.  So now they have a mess.

With thousands of defective widgets sold and delivered, the company will get to write lots and lots of credit memos, but some of the company’s managers will still collect their quarterly compensation because they made their revenue figures. 

What won’t show up on the income statement are the pieces of sales people’s back ends that have been chewed-off by unhappy customers. Or the sense of betrayal some sales reps feel, knowing none of the company’s senior managers actually visited customers during the crisis to see the situation for themselves.  Sales people will be well aware long into the future that they work for managers who will send them into certain doom when there is money to be made by their leaders.

A story like that one is completely unnecessary, because mistakes are going to be made.  Mistakes don’t have to lead to soul-killing work experiences.  They should lead to future success.

J Crew window at a store near my home.
The brand features great quality, modern versions of classic fashion in terrific colors.  

Drexler’s doing two things well: He’s willing to take a bullet himself for the bad decisions he or his company makes; and he makes mid-game corrections based on complaints he receives, turning them into success.

What’s the lesson here?  It’s okay to make mistakes, but when a big one occurs, be willing to take the heat yourself, learn on the fly and make corrections quickly.  

What's keeping you from running to the battle lines (and a potential success) right now?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gratitude Always Looks Good On You

What did you wear to work today? A uniform? Business casual? A suit and tie? Jeans and a t-shirt? A blouse and skirt? 

Whatever you wear, wear gratitude. Gratitude always looks good on you! 

Gratefulness is one of the most subtle yet infectious-for-good attitudes we can possess. It can change our own outlook of challenges we face, giving us courage to embrace them. It can infect our co-workers as well, becoming appreciation and respect for others. Gratitude transforms our perceptions of most everything, providing peace and new ways of seeing old tired situations and problems. 

Start showing and saying "Thanks" to the people around you right now. Folks are going to find you more attractive. 

When you meet today to talk about some seemingly intractable issue today with your team, start by saying, "I'm glad I'm not alone in this. I'm glad we face it together!". You will instantly be a more effective manager. 

Wear gratitude. Gratitude always looks good on you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Work Like Today Is The Worst Day of Your Life

If you lived along the coastline of Louisiana the day Katrina roared ashore back in August of 2005, you could easily have called it the worst day of your life. But it can also be said that the events that followed proved we are often at our best when the climate is at its worst.

Orchid Ceramics had a small facility in New Orleans when Katrina hit and all of the employees there suffered personal trauma and huge personal losses. All of them faced unimaginable emotional shock in the first days after the storm and then ongoing stress set in later as the days went by, when they realized that the landscape of their lives had been changed forever. All of them suffered loss of property and faced months of restoring, repairing or rebuilding their homes. Some had lost everything.

In the aftermath, Maurizio Francescon, the manager of the New Orleans facility, chose to do something surprising and ensouling. He chose to reopen his retail store just days after Katrina hit, even though there was no power, no air conditioning, no lights and no customers. He set a required “return to work” date that was well out in the future. But employees could also opt to return to work on an earlier date, if they chose to do so.

How many employees do you think returned to work before the mandatory “return to work” date?

All of them.

In the days after Katrina, the team members found work ensouling. Work was a place to go and engage head and heart, a place to forget some of their personal drama, a place to draw support from others who were facing common challenges, and a place to rebuild a business together.

Manager of New Orleans, Maurizio Francescon (L) rebuilds a business and the lives of his employees.
Other employees around the globe immediately joined in with offers to help in any way possible. In the end, it was decided the best thing they could do was to pass the hat and offer to cover the property losses of their fellow employees. And they did just that. Their fellow employees raised enough money to “make whole” all of the property losses of the individuals in New Orleans, some of whom had lost literally everything.

The worst day in the lives of the team in New Orleans brought out the very best of each person in that company: both in those that were directly impacted by the storm and those that had the opportunity to come alongside to help.

Work can bring out so many good things in us. Don’t wait until a Katrina-size storm hits your business to learn that lesson. Use the challenges you face today to unite your employees and ensoul your workplace!

Work like today is the worst day of your life and you will be ensouled.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Singular, Yet Personal View of Reality

"Come together, right now!" - John Lennon

Alignment is more than just corporate speak. It is at the core of credibility and, therefore, a big part of workplace ensoulment.

Some years ago, the company I worked for at that time took our key customers to visit our manufacturing and logistics facilities in South America. During the visit our customers got the opportunity to do more than hear “dog-and-pony scripted presentations.” They got to meet people in our organization at all levels of the company and shoot from the hip in real conversations: equipment operators, customer service staff, logistics managers, our CEO, members of our Board of Directors and some of our key shareholders. We didn’t script any of the meetings, we simply told our employees to use the opportunity with customers to learn something for themselves and to candidly answer whatever questions our customers might have.

Cartegena de Indias, Colombia

On the last night of the trip during an informal gathering, our customers surrounded one of our board members and peppered him with questions. Anything went and the questions were direct and often tough; the kind that are meant to show cracks and rattle the best salespeople. He handled it with great aplomb.  And then when he had finished listening carefully to their questions and answering them in as much detail as they needed, he began to ask his own of questions; all of them incisive and all of them strangely similar to what they had heard from other team members that week.

At the end of the give and take one of our customers remarked to our director, “Wow, here’s the thing: YOU are saying exactly what our sales manager from your company tells us, which is the same thing we heard in your factory, which is the same thing we hear from the logistics and customer service teams, which is the same thing we heard from your CEO. You are ALL sending the same message.” All the other customers standing with him nodded in satisfied agreement.

When everyone in your organization shares just one view of reality, it does two wonderful things:  
· It creates astounding credibility with your customers. Customers can smell a “pat answer” or “corporate speak” from a mile away. They regard true alignment as credibility because it is authentic, personal (every person can tell it as part of their own story), and it’s not orchestrated. Something like this can’t be purchased for any amount of money. 
·  It builds confidence within your team. I watched another group of people that night as the final conversation went down.  I watched my sales and service managers stand a little taller and saw smiles break out across their faces as our board member engaged their customers.  These are the folks that are at the front of the battle lines every day and they take the biggest bruising in the execution of strategy. When they realize the alignment of the forces behind them, they’ll tackle their jobs with renewed vigor!

Do you want to start working to create a singular, personal reality in your organization? Try some small things first. Pay close attention to what is being said about your business in every single conversation. Be ready to ask penetrating questions and challenge inaccuracies. Quiz your top management every time you get the chance, to tell you in their own words what is going well and what needs repair. Embed some part of the company's goals into every individual's development plan. Be ruthlessly honest yourself about your organization's challenges.

Before long, everyone will possess a singular, but personal, view of reality.  Now THAT’s ensouling!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mistaking Busy-ness For Purpose

I remarked recently to my friend Tom Lane about how many of my newly retired friends struggle to find direction in their lives. Tom is a guy that is something of an expert in helping people find direction, he is a partner and is one of the primary consultants at The Center For Intentional Leadership.  I told Tom my observation; how for 30 or 40 years people run the “hamster wheel” in the workplace or at home; making decisions, porting kids from one activity to another, rushing from meeting to meeting, fielding complaints from customers, making sure that orders got out the door on time; and then suddenly, it was over. One day they pass magically into the ranks of the “retired” and emails stop arriving, the phone stops ringing, kids leave the nest and now nobody looks to them for any decisions, big or small.

I heard a story years ago about a recent retiree that began micro-managing his wife’s every decision, treating her as he had treated his direct reports in the workplace. After about a month of this behavior, it became insufferable for her and as he was giving her a tip on how to do some job she had done daily for their entire marriage she broke and exclaimed, “You know we did just fine without you here for 40 years! Don’t you have something better to do?”

Recently I became aware of the fact that many retirees unwittingly fall into alcohol addiction. A 2004 article in the New York Times quoted one recent retiree as saying, “There was nothing to do except read and drink and gradually the drinking took precedence over the reading. I got completely out of control.”

I was relating all of this to Tom and told him I thought this pointed-up how important it was to live with purpose in life. “All these people had purpose when they were working, but when they left the workplace or when the kids left the home, they lost their purpose.”

With insight, Tom corrected me. Wagging an index finger in a knowing and friendly way he said, “Nah, they never had purpose. They were just busy. They were just busy from the time they were in their 20’s and 30’s and they mistook busy-ness for purpose.”

When someone makes a stunning observation like Tom did, there is only one rational thing you can do: let it sink deeply into the cracks of your own life by asking a few tough questions of yourself.  Here are a few you can ask, but also take time to think of your own:
  • Am I masking a lack of purpose in my life with busy-ness?
  • Why am I busy? Does it provide a false sense of security? Does it make me feel important?
  • What lessons am I teaching my children by scheduling every minute of their young lives and then serving as a frantic porter who moves them from activity to activity?
  •  If I removed 60% of the activities in my life, would I experience a sense of loss or confusion? With what would I most likely anesthetize that sense of loss or confusion? 
  • What will I leave and who will truly be grieved when I am gone? How much of my time is given to that legacy and to those people in my calendar this week?
Lose some busy-ness and find some purpose in your life!

“Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not necessarily the same thing. You can reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the world’s standard and still miss your purpose in this life.” – Rick Warren

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Broken Robin's Egg

Life is at the same moment both beautiful and tragic.  A broken robin’s egg that I spotted during my run today reminded me of that truth.

I spent a portion of my professional life with a great team of people who courageously joined together to launch a new company, then nurtured and grew it spectacularly, then struggled to keep it going during cataclysmic market changes and then ultimately shuttered it.   And while there might be tendency to see any shuttered company as a failed experience, the truth is that it was 8+ years of both beauty and tragedy. It was an experience that those of us who shared it together would not trade for anything, because it was incredibly meaningful.  Together, we built an ensouled workplace.

Meaning is found when we bring together the beauty and tragedy of life, refusing to artificially bifurcate the two and instead view them together in oneness.  Because beauty and tragedy reside together in our work experience, work can be incredibly meaningful.

What does the robin feel when she returns to the nest to find her eggs gone?

When you announce the shuttering of a company, people experience tremendous anguish.  Of course tears are shed, some people nearly hyperventilate and others almost stop breathing and confusion reigns in every head in those first few moments after the bomb is dropped.  And if you have created an ensouled company as we did, the tragedy will seem even greater because what is lost is not merely a paycheck, but also lost are friendships, common vision and you fear, “I will never be lucky enough to work for a company like this again.”

Next year, the robin will carefully build yet another nest.  She will lay her eggs and defend her young from her enemies.  And what encourages me most is to know that she will not have lost her song.  As she stands guard over the new nest, she will sing full-throated above her new joy.

One of my ex-workmates, a senior manager, posted on our Facebook alumni site recently, “I hope I can infuse all the great qualities of our old workplace into my new company.”  Like the robin, the song of ensoulment continues to be sung in new places as our employees build new nests in new workplaces.  Once heard, the song of ensoulment cannot be forgotten.  It continues to be sung full-throated by those who have learned it and they will teach it to others.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Duck, Regrets & Judo Masters: How Regret Can Be Good

The face of the elderly woman on my TV screen is moving in painful contortions as she repeats a single phrase over and over, “If only…if only…if only…”  It is gut-wrenching to watch.  She is a prisoner to the regrets of her childhood past, which she spent as an orphan.  Her life is little more than a cautionary tale for us:  left unchecked, regret will embitter our hearts and choke the joy out of our lives completely.

But you can transform regret into a powerful tool for good. In order to do that, you’ve got to become a judo master in the way you handle it. Take the energy of regret when it comes rushing into your head and hurtle it into the future.  Simply ask, “If I continue on my current path in life without any changes, what regrets will I have in my last days?”

If you allow that question to percolate deeply, it is bound to change how and why you work today.  For some people, answering the question will help them choose to work fewer hours.  For others it will have the opposite effect, it will motivate them to work much harder.  It might make you more willing to take risks with your career.  It might give you the courage to forgive someone that brutally put you down. It might empower you to confront someone that has been taking advantage of you. For sure it will make lasting impacts on anyone who is willing to ask it and then let it plumb their soul.

This last week, "Duck", a college friend of mine from 30 years ago died with no warning, leaving behind a wife, children and many friends to stumble through the sudden loss.  He never reached the age when most people struggle with accumulated regrets.  And it has reminded me that there is no better time than today to perform judo on my own potential regrets, allowing them to be a powerful catalyst for change in my life today.

“For us to get real results in the real world, we must be in touch with what is, not what we wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are.  The only thing that is going to be real in the end is what is.”  - Dr. Henry Cloud

L to R:  Mike "Duck" Taylor, me, my wife Kathi and Michael Hairston after a road race in Mulvane, Kansas in 1982.
To quote Neil Young, "Long may you run."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Volunteers, Mercenaries, Drones & Indentured Servants

Marc Dickmann is a pastor. Like most pastors, he depends on volunteers to complete the bulk of the work for which he is responsible. It’s not “church as usual” where Marc leads.  Marc’s volunteers lead innovative and critical ministries like “LiveBirds,” a growing business that creates jobs for people impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe; “Christmas Village Toy Store", a pop-up Christmas store that empowers at-risk families to provide affordable new toys for their families at discounted prices; “Family Promise,” which uses the church facilities as a week-long shelter for families that are working towards getting back on their feet.

Can you imagine entrusting the most critical and complex portions of your strategy to volunteers?  How on earth do you keep workers motivated when you have no compensation to offer, no real authority to control their calendars or power to simply direct them?

Saying "thanks" and defining reality...the note amidst my desk reading.
Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader is a servant.”  One reason Marc is such a smashing success with his all-volunteer workforce is the consistency with which he defines reality, then says thank you and serves people in between.  When you have a meeting with Marc to cover the details of the work you are doing with him, you can expect a card to show up in your mailbox a few days later.  The card will say “Thank you for making a contribution by ---.” Then he goes on to detail what contribution you are making and why that contribution is so important, thereby defining reality. When you get that letter, you feel indescribably warm inside.

Marc motivates volunteers by tapping into people’s deep-seated desire to make a lasting contribution that is appreciated by others.

You’d be much more effective and your workplace would be much more ensouled if you regarded your employees as volunteers; people over whom you have no authority or power, but who will accomplish remarkable things when they see the contribution they can make and sense gratitude from you for making it. 

The notion of an “employee" is illusion anyway. Workers are either volunteers or they are something completely different. If your “employees” are only working for the almighty dollar, then they are really mercenaries.  If you are directing the whole show, then they are just drones. If you are micro-managing temp/contract workers, then they are indentured servants. The difference between a volunteer and all the others is that the volunteer does the work because they want to, all the others do it because they have to.  Question is, who do you think is going to do the best job of the work before them?  Someone that wants to do it or someone that has to do it?

Ensoul lives and advance the organization’s mission by showing your “volunteers” that you understand the contribution they are making and that you are grateful for their efforts.  How will you follow Marc's lead today?

To find out how a chicken is changing the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, read on here Live Birds.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Work

It’s Good Friday and I am willing to take the risk of mixing religion and work, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Why Christians call this Friday, “Good Friday” seems odd.  This is the day when they remember the arrest, torture and execution of the founder of their faith, Jesus of Nazareth.  Some Christians refer to events of that day as ‘the work Christ did on behalf of others.” 

From Jesus’ example we see that work has a spiritual reality.  Jesus is still one of the most highly-respected spiritual leaders today.  He did not exempt himself from the heaviest and most difficult work that needed to be done.  Instead, he embraced the work before him, even to the point of his own suffering and death.  He did that work humbly and he did it for others, in order to “ensoul” them.

No one really knows how this day came to be called “Good” and maybe that is a good thing in and of itself.  The lack of a certain explanation allows each of us to consider the story of Jesus’ work. Whatever our individual traditions, we can ask ourselves, “What good is there in such selfless work?  What good, if any, was there in His work for me?”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Password please...."

There’s lots of noise these days about prospective employers asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords during interviews.  Expect an escalation of these sorts of privacy issues in the future, because the stakes are high and the social contracts that bound employers and employees in the past are extinct. Folks are going to be lining-up on privacy issues in the workplace in smash-mouth fashion, like opposing NFL offensive and defensive lines.

Hint to prospective employees: If a potential employer asks you for a Facebook password or for other information that is very close to ‘the line’ during the hiring process, you can expect the same behavior and attitude to continue once you are an employee. 

One objective in a job interview is to determine the ‘fit’ of the candidate to the company and the job.  Determining that fit is a two-way street.  The candidate must also decide if the company is right for them.  If you feel uncomfortable being asked for your password, refuse to give it.  And if that ends the interview, then so be it.  There is no fit.  Better to make this determination early on than years later, when you realize you’ve given a piece of your life to a soul-killing company in exchange for ‘a living.’ 

When enough great job applicants say ‘no thanks’ to companies that are trust-busting in the opening stages of the employer/employee relationship, those companies will stop saying, “password please” during interviews.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where's the (roast) beef?

My friend Dave Munger is known to be a smart, gentle and reasonable guy. Recently, he was stupefied by an event at his local deli. When he asked for 0.6 lbs. of roast beef, he received a confused stare back from the attendant.  After a bit of silence, Dave pointed to the digital scale and told her that she simply needed to put meat on it until it read 0.6.  “But people usually just ask for a ½ lb. or a ¼ lb.,” she replied. My friend, by his own description, foolishly persisted.  “A ½ lb. is 0.5, right?  So just keep putting meat on until it reads 0.6.” 

She dutifully loaded the meat on the scale, “That isn’t even going to get you one slice, sir.” He saw that the scale read 0.08 and thought, “These folks work with a decimal scale all day long and still have no understanding of how the decimal system actually works.”

At first glance, this appears to be just another story of shoddy customer service. But it is also a human story, if you put yourself in the shoes of the person behind the counter. Working with a digital scale you don’t understand results in one embarrassing customer interaction after another. Now that’s what I call soul-killing work.

As a supervisor, manager or leader, your job is to identify and draw out the good that is in most every person.  Do you believe that people actually want to fail?  Do you believe that they want to feel embarrassment in front of a customer? Or do you believe that they really want to do a good job and deliver value to their teammates and customers? 

If you agree that most people have the desire to do well, then you’ll make the personal commitment to invest in them and in their success.  It might be as easy as following up on Dave’s insight. In this case, a rudimentary exercise in the basics of the decimal system might just unlock more potential in someone than you could imagine.  You might ensoul someone by improving their skills and lowering the number of hard customer interactions they face daily.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How to sail faster than the wind

Imagine that you and the other members of your team are in a sailboat and you want to sail as fast as possible to a finish line downwind. The best strategy would be to set your sails to catch the wind, allowing it to simply push you straight downwind to the destination, right? Traveling as fast as the wind itself seems like a pretty smart plan.

But the smartest sailors will be celebrating their arrival long before you do and in a world of competition, that could mean trouble for you. What do they know that you don’t know? In her Tedx Talk, communication guru Nancy Duarte explained it this way, “You have to actually capture the resistance coming against you when you sail, but if you do it just right, your ship will actually sail faster than the wind itself.” But, how? By actually setting two asymmetrical sails at small angles against the apparent wind.

So what is the big idea here?

We constantly address life as a series of ‘either/or’ choices, when in reality ‘both/and’ solutions may harness more power and get us to the goal on time.  Some examples of seeming opposites that can be set as paired sails?
  • Ambition and Humility
  • Results and Relationships
  • Strength and Vulnerability
  • Endurance and Speed
  • Permanence and Transience
  • Your Idea and My Idea
  • Service and Price
  • Price and Quality
  • Visionary and Operational
  • Creative and Disciplined

Give up the either/or thinking and start finding ways to set two sails at once.  Your whole team is in the boat and they’ll win the race or lose it together.  Start linking seemingly opposing things and you just might find a faster way to the finish line!  And won’t it be sweet to have your celebration in full swing when your competition arrives at the finish line after you? 

(You can view Nancy Duarte's Tedx Talk where she uses her concept of sailing faster than the wind to explain how great communicators create transformative presentations below or at the link in the body of this blog).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Unconscionable Workload Costs Banks $25 Billion

If you think the problem of workload is simply a matter of life balance, think again.  Reports from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Inspector General  that accompany this week’s filing of the $25 Billion settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servers show that some executives are willing to commit gross ethical failures in order to get their jobs done.  In this case, that work was mortgage foreclosure and modification.

According to a Charlotte Observer article the failures were stunning.
  • “Employees confirmed they routinely signed documents without checking their accuracy.”
  •  “One notary at the bank reported workload going from 60 to 200 documents per day to more than 20,000.” 
  •  “Another employee described signing 18-inch stacks of documents at a time.”
  • “A manager’s notes revealed that benchmarks for signing documents were about 50 per hour.”
  • “One was hired as vice president of loan documentation after working at a pizza restaurant and as a bank teller and wasn’t given training.”
  • “Wells employees told upper level management that they couldn’t handle the workload.  Management, in turn, shortened the turnaround time for document signatures, forcing employees to sign more per day.”
  • “A mid-level manager at Wells told HUD inspectors that she started a two-week study in her department to see how much time it would take if her employee fully reviewed documents before signing them.  The documents piled up, and when her bosses got wind of it, they ordered her to stop.”
  • “Both banks hindered its (HUD) investigation by being reluctant to make employees available for interviews.”
  • “Bank of America also did not fully comply with subpoenas, and when the bank did allow inspectors to interview employees, Bank of America had attorneys present who directed employees not to answer certain questions.”

Some customers undoubtedly lost their homes unfairly. Workers deceptively put their names on documents they never reviewed. Managers  built and managed the machinations of the process. Executives set the strategy and then turned deaf ears to reports from their employees of the soul-killing that was occurring. 

Can one $25 billion fine ever redeem one of those souls?  The problem with a purely financial penalty is that although it can be used for some amount of restitution, it never fully removes the blemish it leaves on a heart.  

A penalty that is purely financial also lacks the kind of accountability that is created when someone or some persons that are responsible for legal infractions face legal consequences.  When that happens, the persons who were wronged receive validation of their suffering far beyond the validation created by a fine on a corporation.  What a pity that validation of this sort won't happen in a $25 billion settlement.

And who really is going to pay that $25 Billion?  It won't be the execs and it won't be managers and it won't be the shareholders and it won't be the employees.  It will be the consumer.  How many $5 ATM charges does it take to recover $25 Billion on a bottom-line?

What is the cost of your workload?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Get It Done Even When You Are Exhausted

It’s 4:45PM and your boss has just given you this news: the company has landed an important new account and the onboarding process must happen in double time in order to lock out the competition’s response.  “We should be glad, you know. New customers are tough to come by these days. The Sales team is depending on us.  And besides, this is job security for all of us, right?”  This is the encouragement you hear as you sit there feeling the emotions drain out of your body right on to the floor.

You know what you have to do.  So do it. Take the project off of your boss’s desk.  Make a commitment to get it done. Walk your exhausted body out the door.

Fact is, your company’s business has been strengthening for a year now and while workloads have been increasing (and fatigue as well), resources to get the increasing work done are frozen. You’re already anticipating the chorus of groans from your team when you break the news to them in the morning.

A thousand anxious thoughts are running through your head at that moment, but this isn’t the right time to discuss any of them.  First of all, everything your boss said about new customers, the sales team, and job security are true.  Secondly, people are emotionally drained at the end of the day so difficult discussions and conflicts are likely to go sideways and be much less productive.

Here, from the safety of your own desk, take time to journal all of your swirling thoughts. By doing this, you can come back fresh tomorrow and get your job done.

I’m not arguing that you sweep the issue of work overload under the rug or that you avoid an uncomfortable and necessary conversation.  I am suggesting that you need two successes.  Everyone needs the customer onboarded in a timely manner. And everyone needs the issue of workplace fatigue addressed.  You need time to gather your thoughts and arguments before you can succeed in the conversation with your boss about workplace fatigue.  Then, when you have that conversation your arguments will carry the benefits that accrued to the kind of team player who gets things done.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Everyone needs a story

A friend of mine, Todd Hahn, used to say that every night at bedtime his son would say, “Daddy, tell me that story you told me last night again!” There was only one story his son wanted to hear and he never grew tired of it.  So, of course, my friend told the story over and over and over. Once, he observed, “My son never says, “Daddy, tell me the Pythagorean Theorem.” Why? Because people need Story. While we might make decisions from facts, it’s Story and emotion that move us to take action.

Managers are skeptical of discussing relational and emotional aspects at work.  And that is exactly why so many strategies fail and many managers along with them.  Maybe strategy wins heads but it rarely moves hearts.  Managers focus too much on what is comfortable for them, but ineffective in getting results.  They focus on things like compensation plans, organizational clarity, 360 reviews, talent alignment, rote training and Balanced Scorecards. And while their thinking is well-organized and true, no one is moved by any of it. No one ever said to a CEO, “Please tell us about the Balanced Scorecard one more time, I find the subject so motivating!” 

When are people moved to press a strategy forward on their own initiative?  When they are inspired by it.  When they see their place in it.  When they realize it as an epic journey of a group of people of which they are a part.  When they become nervous knowing there’s a real chance of failure.  When they see an opportunity to build lasting relationships amongst their teammates. When they are want to give their life to it.

Inspire.  See.  Realize.  Become.  Build. Give.  When hearts are captured by a story, people are moved to action.

Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Authenticity is critical because everyone can smell fake a mile away. You must tell a story that is honest and in a way that is transparent and vulnerable.  If your storytelling is a bit rusty but you desire to motivate, there are lots of ways to hone your skills. Pick up a book like The Power of Story by Jim Loehr, or Noel Tichy’s Leadership Engine, or anything by Patrick Lencioni and learn from a master.

How will you know you have arrived as a storyteller?  When your people tell you that you have moved them emotionally and you see them taking action and see them repeating the story because it has become their own.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Find the candy!

There’s a potentially high demotivation factor when you feel like your job makes little impact in the larger scheme of things. Truth is, seemingly mundane jobs stand to make critical contributions to an organization’s success. For this to be so, however, the people that have the supposedly “non-critical” positions have to take the lead.

A start-up building supplies manufacturer had the problem of making a big splash in a crowded market and their brand needed attention.  To get that attention, the company invested in all the right advertising and marketing stragegies, and hired a crack team of managers.  But what really made the biggest splash with new customers was a big surprise:  It was the team that shipped pallets of tile from the warehouse every day.

How did they do it? 

They put candy in every shipment of tile that they sent from their distribution centers to their customers.  

When asked why, the team in the warehouse said, “Because we thought it would be fun to do.”  It was not long before warehouse teams in the customer base were thrilled when that company’s shipments of tile arrived!  If five deliveries from five separate companies arrived simultaneously at the dock, guess which one got the handled first?  To put my own spin on a Jim Gaffigan joke, “When you put candy in a pallet of tile, it’s not a pallet of tile any more.  It becomes a game of “find the candy in the pallet of tile!”

What happened next was most surprising.  The delight delivered by the candy opened relationships with customers at the operational level, at a point where they almost never happen.  Those interactions, in turn, provided a wealth of information and insight for the manufacturer. And as they acted upon what they learned, it eventually set them far apart from other competitors.  That’s because being a “supply chain champ” depends more on relationships and less on expensive information management and supply chain solutions. That’s what a McKinsey survey showed and who am I to argue with them?

So what’s the lesson here?  Ask your whole team, “Where can we deliver candy these days when people think we are only going to give them Product X or Service Y?”

You may be surprised by the number of ways you discover to sweeten the deal for your customers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to demotivate your best people

Before you delegate that project sitting on your desk to your top (and presently overwhelmed) employee so you’ll sleep better at night, you need to consider whether your actions will have that same affect on the person who receives your gift.

Many top achievers get much of their personal work satisfaction (ensoulment) from doing a worthwhile job with a high degree of quality.  They actually define personal success by the quality of the work they do.  What happens when you pile too much work on them?  Their sense of achievement slips.  They experience anxiety.  If they bring up the subject with you and you respond by instructing them to “prioritize better” they will feel invalidated because your response does, in fact, invalidate them.  And if you persist in not hearing their pleas that you understand them better, you may just lose them altogether.

So what to do?

Really get to know the people who work for you.  How are they defining “success?” Cater to their definition as much as possible because the degree to which you can change that internal value is limited.

Be sure the workloads you delegate are really fair. Don’t assign every tough and high profile project to your top achievers. Give others a chance to shine and give your top dogs a break from the frenzied pace of the hunt.

Instead of telling someone to “prioritize,” help them to prioritize by telling them what work needs to be done at the highest quality, what work can be simply completed rote and what work can be killed altogether.

Stop being a coward. Say ‘no’ to your own boss. Or at least, “not right now.”  Too many managers simply let unreasonable, stifling workloads flow downhill instead of speaking truth themselves.  If you are whipping your employees and piling on the work because of your own personal internal stress, chances are you are also acting cowardly so you need to step up and first apply these principles to yourself.