Monday, August 31, 2009

Being more productive at networking events

For many people in sales roles, networking events have become the chief avenue for avoiding having to make cold contacts. There is always the possibility of meeting your next new client at a networking function, and you can have some social time in the process. These types of functions can be a beneficial part of your marketing mix, but only a part - and if you want them to be more productive for you there are a few criteria to remember:
  1. Know what your goal is before you walk in the door. Are you looking for appointments? If so, how many at this function? Do you need the answer to a question? Is there a particular person that you are trying to find? Or are you simply trying to meet and make a positive impression on as many people as possible?
  2. Have a planned introduction. Expect to be asked, "What do you do?" and possibly, "How did you get into that line of work?" You'll give a more credible impression if you don't stutter or stammer - that makes it sound like you don't know what you do. And for heaven's sake, don't become a candidate for On-And-On Anon! It's supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue. Answer the question and then ask one.
  3. Know whose agenda you're on. A client said to me the other day, "Well, that wasn't worth the time. All he wanted to talk about was his agenda - we never got to mine." When in doubt, refer to criterion #1. If your goal is to set a one-on-one appointment with this person, being on his agenda is fine if that leads to an appointment.
  4. The other networkers aren't prospects, they're suspects. You don't have enough information yet, nor have you earned the right yet, to present your product or service. This isn't a group sales meeting. Meet people, gather contact information and/or set a follow-up appointment, then move on. They are trying to do the same thing, so if you monopolize their time you'll erode their positive attention.
  5. Keep moving. If you want to talk to only one person, skip the networking event and make an appointment to talk with them at their office. If you're not meeting new people or refreshing acquaintances with as many as you can, you're squandering the networking opportunity.
  6. Help other people connect. Many of the other people at networking functions are uncomfortable, so you will do a service by helping them meet the people you know. Networking is about building a net of positive relationships, and when you help someone they will be likely to want to reciprocate.
  7. Learn some graceful exit techniques. You can excuse yourself to refresh your drink, or introduce two people and move on once their conversation has started. You can be creative as long as you're polite.

Networking is not a direct sales activity - it's a method to increase your pool of potential prospects, and a way to become known so that people can refer prospects to you. You might have to give several times before you're in the position to get. If you're too impatient about your own agenda you'll place yourself in the dreaded high-pressure salesperson role, and your increased visibility as an arm-twister will hurt, not help, your sales efforts.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Originally uploaded by Jasmic

Do you consider yourself to be still unfinished? Like the puzzle on Jasmic's photo here, is the basic image there, but a couple of pieces are still missing?

I guess the follow-up question is the bigger one: how do you feel about the fact that you're not yet finished? Do you think of it as the good news, that you've still got growing and learning to do? Or does the idea of being unfinished leave you feeling inadequate or incomplete?

I'd like to think that there is always room for something better, more enriching, more powerful, a bigger contribution to make. But sometimes it's hard to admit that I don't know - and the more I do know the more ignorant I realize that I am. That fear of feeling ignorant is part of what causes some of us to hide from the idea of a continuous becoming process. We hunker down and dwell in those things of which we imagine that we can be certain, in those already-strengths that we wear as badges on our sleeves or medals on our chests.

I know that I've quoted my colleague Tom Gibbons on this before, but - "There are only two ways to be: green and growing or ripe and rotting." In that light I'll take green and growing, hands down.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jim Poland is posting today:

Yesterday morning I awoke to learn that a very dear hero of mine had passed on, the Honorable Senator of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy. Teddy had served his constituents and the good people of the United States of America for forty-three years. He was first elected to office to fill the unexpired term of his brother, John F. Kennedy.

Senator Kennedy fearlessly pursued access to quality health care for every citizen as a right, not a privilege, throughout his entire career in the Senate. In a senior paper I wrote for my undergraduate degree in the 1970s, I studied and used elements of the health care access improvement that Teddy and a peer Republican Senator were proposing, along with research on the cost of excessive hospital facilities across metropolitan areas of our country that was completed by my great-aunt Dr. Eleanor Poland. As a result of my extensive research then and my tracking of developments ever since, I am more convinced than ever that Ted Kennedy has been right all along; access to quality health care must be considered a right for every citizen.

On June 9th the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Senator Ted Kennedy, released for consideration by the members of the Senate the Affordable Health Choices Act.

Chairman Kennedy and his committee members clarify in this Affordable Health Choices Act that they believe:

“It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should establish a means for all
Americans to enjoy affordable choices in health benefit plans, in the same manner that Members of Congress have such choices through the Federal employees health benefits program."

The Senator Kennedy’s Committee proposes freedom to each and EVERY STATE IN THE UNION the FLEXIBILITY to choose to establish, or choose NOT to establish, a GATEWAY FOR AFFORDABLE HEALTH BENEFITS FOR INDIVIDUALS AND EMPLOYERS.

Here is how Teddy and his team of Senators frame their superb proposal:

It is the purpose of this section to facilitate the establishment of Affordable Health Benefit Gateways in each State, with appropriate flexibility for States in establishing and administering the Gateways.”

That day in June, the draft proposal’s release was accompanied by this summation:
“The Affordable Health Choices Act (AHC Act) includes the following five major elements:

  • CHOICE: An important foundation of AHC Act is the following principle: If you like the coverage you have now, you keep it. But if you don't have health insurance or don't like the insurance you have, our bill will give you new, more affordable options.
  • COST REDUCTION: The AHC Act will reduce health care costs through stronger prevention, better quality of care and use of information technology. It will also root out fraud and abuse and reduce unnecessary procedures.
  • PREVENTION: The best way to treat a disease is to prevent it from ever striking, which is exactly why The AHC Act will give citizens the information they need to take charge of their own health. The bill will make information widely available in medical settings, schools and communities. It will also promote early screening for heart disease, cancer and depression and give citizens more information on healthy nutrition and the dangers of smoking.
  • HEALTH SYSTEM MODERNIZATION: The AHC Act will take strong steps to see that America has a 21st-century workforce for a modern and responsive healthcare system. America must make sound investments in training the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who will serve the needs of patients in the years to come. It will make sure that patients’ care is better coordinated so they see the right doctors, nurses and other health practitioners to address their individual health needs.
  • LONG TERM CARE AND SERVICES: The Affordable Health Choices Act will also make it possible for the elderly and disabled to live at home and function independently. It will help them afford to put ramps in their homes, pay someone to check in on them regularly, or any of an array of supports that will enable them to stay in their communities instead of in nursing homes.”

For decades, Senator Kennedy pursued the improvement of the health of EVERY American child, youth, adult, and elder. He tried all these years to ensure that every citizen, poor or rich, in vitro, new born, or aged have equitable access to proper preventive care, acute care, and/or care for managing the effects of a chronic disease. Over those years he has been vilified by the Right Wing, with some calling him disrespectful and inaccurate names for his efforts.

Kennedy was a member of the Federal Employees Health Plan. He was living with cancer of the brain and you’ll recall that he went into seizures during festivities on the day of President Obama’s inauguration. It was no secret that Teddy was not faring as well as Senator Arlen Specter in staving off the progression of his cancer.

Chairman Kennedy’s committee proposes that every State in our country be allowed to implement a means to provide “affordable”, equitable insurance access to the quality care available in that State and in doing so, receive help from the Federal Government. Or, each State can decide not to implement a “Gateway” and decline help from their national government and national coffers.

The mainstream media and even his Senate peers have failed to notice the most striking aspect of the draft he released. The Affordable Health Care Act is Reagan-esque in its core premise and perhaps even Federalist in nature, meaning that states and the Federal government share responsibility and final authority in certain elements.

On June 9th, Senator Kennedy released his and his committee members’ latest recommendations on how to improve the access to quality care for all Americans. It appears that he then went home to see out his last days with his family and closest friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Behavior norms for effective meetings

Man in meeting
Originally uploaded by tisner

Meetings are a key tool in a participative, involvement oriented company. They are also potentially the biggest time-wasters, cost-consumers and conflict-generators that you manage. You've read a zillion times about some of the principles for holding effective meetings, but let's review - because way more people KNOW these things than actually DO them.

  • Distribute an agenda in advance so participants can prepare.
  • Allocate a specific time frame and stick to it. Incorporate an allowance for discussion if two-way interaction is what you want.
  • Have someone take notes.
  • Distribute a list of action items once the meeting is complete.

Beyond the "stuff" that you do for your meeting process, you also have the human dynamic to manage, and here's where a lot of meeting leaders leave too much to chance. Take a look at this list:

  • No phone calls are to be taken nor texts sent during the meeting. When we are present we are completely present.
  • We start on time and end on time. If you're not here when we start we will (choose one) lock the door, fine you a dollar, make you sit in the corner, ignore you, etc.
  • You may eat or drink while in the meeting, but may not consume mind altering substances (caffeine excepted) or food items that stink while in here.
  • Leave your title at the door. We all have equal rights to our contributions, and to speak them without retribution.
  • No swearing, name calling, or spitting in the corner. This is a civilized room.
  • No personal attacks.
  • In God we trust - everyone else brings data.
  • We will test and measure. We do not engage in dueling opinions before the fact.
  • After the meeting someone will take action on the topics we discuss here. You will know what your assignment is before you leave.

You get the idea. It might seem at first blush that these things are common sense, that there wouldn't be a need to write them down. But in practice it's been my experience that leaders complain about things like, "People are never on time for the management meeting." This is probably because the group has waited for them to arrive in the past, creating an expectation that the group will wait. Then other people who don't want to waste the first five minutes waiting for the late arrivals will then ALSO start to show up late. It becomes a slippery slope.

As with any behavioral expectation, you will get the best compliance if all parties involved have a say in the development of the expectation. Agree upon the means by which a violation is called out, and what consequences will arise from a violation of the code. You as the leader set the tone for acceptable behavior - by what you tolerate and don't tolerate before you reel it in.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time to put your foot down

Early this morning I shut down a discussion about health care reform that I started on a social networking site. We had more than 200 posts on the discussion, but I shut it down and deleted the whole thing because some of the participants in the it were being so hateful and frankly, racist, that I decided that I would no longer provide the forum for them to spew their venom.

Civil discourse leaves room for dissent. Not everyone is going to agree on the issues. But notice that I said "civil." I learned anew in this discussion group that there need to be ground rules, where some topics and modes of communication are out of bounds and won't be tolerated.

In the public sphere I've seen what started as a creeping decline in civility turning into an avalanche of failing understanding and good will. Things like:
  • Foul language
  • Vulgarities, including picturesque sexual imagery as slang
  • One-way shouting
  • Flagrant untruths, circulated with the intention to do harm
  • Stereotypes proudly paraded around what was supposed to be a serious discussion
  • Physical threats

What gets me is that some of the most outrageous behavior and blatantly false statements have an audience - even fans. There is not attempt to verify, no hesitation before the lemmings jump aboard the crazy wagon.

There are those of us who usually choose to let the commenter show himself (or herself) for the narrow-minded and ill-informed person he is. But when people aren't applying their own critical thinking to the process they don't see the misinformation. They don't evaluate it - they just repeat it as though it were fact. And the monster grows.

So in my little corner of the online world I decided that we have all had enough of it on my watch. Enough open airtime. Enough baseless accusations. Enough tolerance on my part. I'm not standing for it any more. You're out of bounds. I'm calling you on it, and we're done.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Going, going....gone!

Watch out below
Originally uploaded by City of Overland Park

At our house, tomorrow is the first day of school, so today is the last day of summer. It's not Labor Day, and it's not September 21st. It's today, and there's a lot of summer livin' to do in the next 18 hours or so.

Fortunately we've done a lot of our summer rituals this year - we've been to the mountains, to the beach. My 13-year-old has been to an amusement park, we've seen several of the summer blockbuster movies, and we've made a number visits to the dog park with Cookie and Boomerang. We danced in the waves and dug in the sand, collected leaves and examined bugs. We've had picnics and sleepovers, late bonfires and early walks.

What is it about the last day, the last minute, that makes the experience more intense? I'm thinking that it's the time that we're least likely to take it all for granted. We look and listen more intently, we smell the smells and feel the textures so we can preserve them, just as they are right now, in our memory banks. Then when the air is frigid and the ground is blanketed with snow and ice we can recapture them, savoring thoughts of Coppertone and snowballs, freshly mown grass and the voices of children.

What if we would live every day as though it were the last day of summer? How much richer would our experience be if we were to really BE there? If we were to really listen when people were talking to us, and really look at their face and body language to get their whole message? What if, instead of gulping our dinner down, we'd really taste what's going in?

I'm thinking that more of the richness of life would be revealed to us. I'm thinking that we would feel vigor and amazement, that we would be more intentional about doing something that would make THIS moment count.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Symbols in persuasion

I hope you enjoy the joke about the new international symbol for marriage uploaded to Flickr by avlxvz. It's tounge-in-cheek commentary about the relationship between spouses. In more serious applications, however, symbolism is used to communicate messages from simple to complex. Our ability to recognize them in action can give us better understanding and therefore more capability to respond appropriately.

  • Sets and props - When you see an official speech by the President of the United States you'll most often see him standing beside or in front of the American flag, or behind the Presidential seal. It's the symbol of his authority. Other authority figures use their own physical props to convey the "I'm in charge" message without having to utter the words - corner offices, expansive windows, designer suits, etc. Married people wear rings to symbolize their fidelity. Athletes wear logos to convey their team affiliation.
  • Social behavior - An example of a behavioral symbol is that of seating the most honored guest to the right of the host. It's hypothesized that the origin of this custom is from the time when leaders had to worry constantly about being assassinated. If an assassin were to be able to grab the right hand of the host and thereby completely disable his sword-wielding ability the host would be - as it were - toast. So being invited to sit on the right, using this interpretation, is a sign of complete trust.
  • Buildings can become symbolic because of events that happen there (the twin towers of the World Trade Center,) or because they are the only one in the world (the Eiffel Tower.) It becomes quite a challenge for architects to create iconic structures like the symphony hall in Sydney, Australia.
  • Natural structures like Mt. Fuji, the Grand Canyon or the Giant Sequoias can be symbolic as well. They often are used to represent nature or majesty, or the importance of environmental responsibility.
  • Signs and logos - The most obvious of the symbols are the letters I'm using right now to represent a thought to you. But we all make associations with the golden arches, the swoosh, the international "don't" sign, the swastika and the fish. For some logos, the intention is to spread the common message far and wide. For others, the symbol serves as a method for secret communication among comrades (like the sneakers dangling from a wire above the street in a tough neighborhood.)

One of the challenges in symbols is that they are most effective when their meaning is shared by all of the people with whom they are communicated. We won't know whether that is the case until we see the result of the communication. I might see the Capitol building and think of the proud tradition of democracy in my country; another might look at it as a representation of partisanship and corruption.

If I'm having an argument with someone it might be because I (or they) are interpreting a behavior in a symbolic way. I go shopping and they interpret it as a lack of caring about finances - they go golfing and I see it as not caring about the family. You get the drift.

Keep your eyes open for symbols and you'll uncover a whole new layer of meaning in what's going on around you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Assessing effective time use

Originally uploaded by Maggie's World

How do you know whether you're investing your time wisely or wasting it? This isn't about speed, or about efficiency (no extra steps in a process.) Today's topic centers around goals, targets, or whatever term you apply to those defined outcomes you want to achieve. Here are just a few examples of possible activities:

  1. You invest an hour per day on Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn.
  2. You mow the lawn.
  3. You pay the bills.
  4. You have lunch with a well-connected business friend.
  5. You make phone calls to schedule two sales appointments.

Which are the productive activities? It depends upon your goals.

  • If you want to generate $1,000 in revenue in the next 60 days, numbers 4 and 5 are productive, the others are not.
  • If your goal is to meet your future life partner (yet unknown to you) this year, items 1 and 4 might be the best ways to spend your time.
  • If you want to maintain a spotless credit rating, number 3 is the way to go.
  • If you want to go through the week without being nagged by your spouse, I'd suggest number 2, and 3 and 5 are pretty good backups.

You can't truly evaluate the effectiveness of your time use until you have defined your goals and prioritized them. Prioritized goals create the foundation upon which you allocate your time investment. Since your time resource is finite, you'll have to make conscious choices about what comes first. Otherwise, you'll become what Zig Ziglar called "a wandering generality," being pulled along by habit and momentum from external sources. Drive or you'll be driven by someone else's goals - that's how it goes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The biggest cultural divide in communication

One of the biggest cultural divides we'll ever have to cross has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, etc. It's the cultural difference most of us have to navigate every day - the one between men and women. I know, big surprise.

You've seen it in action - the mystery of the "coffee klatsch" or the meeting that seems to disintegrate into a game of "test my baseball statistics." Perhaps you've felt the frustration of trying to communicate a simple point to your spouse - and the process turns out not to be nearly as simple as you thought.

One of my favorite resources on the topic is the book You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. She's a social linguist on the faculty of Georgetowne University who has studied the different ways in which men and women communicate, and the different relationships they create through communication with others of their same gender. For example,

  • Men use "report talk" while women use "rapport talk"
  • Men use humor, insults, knowledge of data, etc. to one up one another and establish a pecking order. The guy with the best joke, best knowledge, best slam gets to be the top dog.
  • Women, on the other hand, seek to level the playing field among themselves. Woman A says to Woman B, "I love your dress." Woman B replies, "This old thing - I've had it for years and it's getting too tight." Self-deprecation is a big tool in female-to-female interaction.
  • Men hear the message - women hear the meta-message, or the message behind the message. Husband says, "My coffee is cold." Wife retorts, "You always expect me to wait on you!" Husband sits with puzzled look on his face and thinks, "Where did THAT come from?"

Dr. Tannen has said, "We all know we are unique individuals, but we tend to see others as representatives of groups." When we see "woman" or "man" (the group) when communicating, rather than "Sue" or "Jim" (the individual,) we can tend to distort and sometimes discount their message by overlaying it with our assumptions about the group that they represent. For example, an innocuous statement by a man might be interpreted as a play for control or domination, or a complaint from a woman might be discounted as "another in a series," without merit.

When we can recognize the cultural differences - rather than get frustrated or jump to conclusions - we can choose to adapt our behavior to become more effective within the cultural context we're operating. In the workplace both men and women benefit when they can effectively use both gender styles in communication. In a male-dominated department a woman can gain respect by being able to talk trash (humorous insult behavior) with the guys, or to talk sports or give great data. Men in largely female work settings benefit when they can acknowledge the social aspects of that cultural environment.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Choosing the right method to develop people

Over the years business owners and managers have complained to me during our intro meeting that they have invested resources in training their staffs but haven't seen improvement in behavior. One of the contributors to the effectiveness of a staff development process is to choose the methodology appropriate to the situation.


Training is the transference of skill from one person, usually an experienced "doer", to another. The goal of training is to get consistent replication of a behavior - first time, every time. Often the trainer demonstrates the skill, the trainee practices with trainer oversight, then the trainee practices the skill without assistance. "Just do it" could be the theme of training.


Teaching sets the conceptual framework, assuming that there is the potential for variation in future behavior. A person versed in the knowledge base might choose several possible courses of action, but would do so based on sound theoretical foundation. The teacher is often selected by a credentialing process, not necessarily based upon experience doing the same thing the student will be expected to do. "Know why so you can make a better decision" is the goal of teaching.


When you have an experienced group already possessing skills and knowledge, you still often have a need to gain consensus and buy-in. This is where facilitation comes in, where a leader guides discussion among the group but does not impart skills or information to the group. The members of the group enlighten one another based upon their individual backgrounds. The facilitator is selected based upon their effectiveness with managing group process, not because of their content knowledge in the specific area being discussed by the group. "Elicit the knowledge and participation of each member" is the goal of facilitation.

One might think that facilitation is "the ultimate" method for developing staff, because it acknowledges the contribution of every participant. But facilitation cannot be effective if it is attempted with a group that doesn't possess enough foundational knowledge and experience. Facilitated groups should be experience-based and application-oriented, not theoretical.

Training, when involving experienced employees, can generate resentment and a lack of application unless the methods are fresh enough that participants see a valid rationale for changing their habits. Even when they see the rationale, however, the experienced employee will be "fighting" their prior patterns of behavior. Management needs to make sure that the company's processes, rewards, structure, etc. are aligned with the new expected behavior if they want training to take hold and stick.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When is enough enough?

I've had it up to here.
Originally uploaded by w.wei

"I've had it up to here!" they exclaim. They're sick of dealing with it, they're feeling exasperated, they're done. When is enough enough?

It's possible that the person is simply complaining. The process of complaining is a social lubricant among some - when we share obstacles we have something in common. When we complain it demonstrates to other people that we can differentiate between "good" behavior and conditions and "bad" behavior and conditions.

The downside of complaining is that it reinforces an attachment to the things we say we don't like. And attraction theorists would say that it brings more of the things we don't like to us. I haven't even mentioned the impact that it has on creating an environment for the people who are kind enough to listen to us - over and over again.

But when is it time to do something about it? When is it time to stop talking and take some action?

In the workplace there are often measurements put into place that create criteria for the evaluation of performance. If someone isn't producing to a certain level they often get retrained, then progressively disciplined if there's no improvement, then terminated. I won't kid you by saying that this is universally the case at work. Lots of managers keep peace by leaving performance issues unaddressed until they are so intolerable that the person has no real opportunity to recover - they're outta there.

This isn't to say that employees are often terminated without notice. Instead what happens is that when the boss says "enough is enough," they start documenting all of the employee's sins with the specific intention of collecting enough evidence to terminate. This practice wastes productivity and time, and does a disservice to the employee by creating the false impression is fine and dandy until the warnings start rolling in.

In our personal lives it's often harder to decide when enough is enough. Some people have a shorter fuse than others, and some can let a lot roll off of their shoulders. Some people stay with the proverbial "person with the black hat" so they can look like a hero by contrast. It's a self-justifying behavior loop in which they get stuck.

Whether said in anger or frustration, saying "enough is enough" over and over without taking action is creating and reinforcing a victim's mindset. There is always a choice - you have to determine whether the investment for making a certain choice is bigger than you want to absorb, but there is always a choice.

And if you choose not to take action, then perhaps you'd be better off admitting that you are choosing the things you don't like and stop consuming everyone else's time and sapping their energy complaining about them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One event - many ramifications

Yesterday my daughter declared victory - she lost her first tooth. In and of itself, this isn't a big deal. Not when we've all got health care debates, job losses, marital battles and over-long grass to worry about. And it's of little consequence to you when it's my kid and not yours.

But this was a really big deal, just as it is with every 5-6-7 year old who has it happen to them. Losing that tooth has a lot of meaning attached to it:
  • It's tangible evidence that you are growing up
  • It's a status symbol when your teeth go before those of your friends. After all, everything is a race, isn't it? At the other end of our life, the goal is to have our teeth go last in our peer group.
  • It demonstrates bravery, especially when the story is told that you reached right in and yanked it out yourself.
  • It's an opportunity to prove the theory that a fairy will indeed tiptoe past your sleeping parents, enter your room and pay you for your valuable body parts. (That's another one that has a completely different connotation later in life, and later still.)

The big deal is in the eye of the beholder. Why shouldn't we celebrate others' milestones? Sure, you're a Vice President and that first supervisory job is years in your past - but for that newly promoted person

  • It's a measure of success in that they did well enough in their job to receive public recognition and more responsibility.
  • They'll likely be receiving a bigger paycheck, funding more of the things that fuel their enjoyment of their personal lives.
  • Their new title will give them increased credibility. When they speak people will listen - because they're the boss.

Just like some people need bigger and bigger thrills in order to feel the rush of adrenaline - think amusement parks and the bigger, faster, scarier roller coasters - some of us get a bit jaded about accomplishment and milestones. What's one lost tooth compared to a new driver's license? And who cares about being a new driver when you've just come in below par on your favorite golf course?

We can be so caught up in ourselves and our own experiences that we forget about the ramifications, the significance that they have for the people they are directly affecting. If we're not choosing to tune into it, we can become callous to the things that bring people (and ourselves) joy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Diversity mindset revealed in language

Easter Peas
Originally uploaded by erikrasmussen

What's the first thing you notice about these peas? That there are four of them? That they're in a pod together? That they are all about the same size? Or do you notice that they are all different colors? Do you notice that they are not quite what you expect from peas, color-wise?

The discussion of race came up recently in what was a different-than-usual way. Someone was at a town meeting and talked about all of the "angry white people." The person who said it was also white, and after the incident they were criticized both online and in person for choosing the racial descriptor.

The "offender" replied that it was an accurate description of the group - the room was almost entirely comprised of Caucasians. So why was that description a) seen as necessary to the story by the teller, and b) offensive to some? Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • You might get the idea that this person was surprised by the racial composition of the group, and that's why he mentioned the white thing.
  • If so, why was he surprised by the racial composition of the group? Did it tell him (or should it tell other people) something beyond the color of their epidermis? Did it imply (to him) socioeconomic status, expected political leanings, etc.? Why?

When we went to adopt our first daughter (she was born in China,) my grandfather said, "Well, you know - all of those people are really smart." He meant it in a dear way, as a compliment, but I remember internally rolling my eyes. It sounded racist to me - a positive generalization, but racist nonetheless. It was, I thought, a relic of an older generation.

Now to present day. My daughter has a game - I believe it's called Guess Who - where you have several rows of tiles, each with a person's face on it. So does your opponent. Each of you select a "secret person" card for the other person to match via a series of questions. A player quickly finds out that when they ask "Is your person a man?" that they have a good shot of narrowing down the list of possibilities very quickly. "Does your person wear glasses?" "Does your person have a big nose?" You win when you are the first to have only one tile left, so you develop skill at finding the ways in which the faces are different.

I suppose one could say that in a largely homogeneous setting it does speed things up a bit to use a physical description as one of the first ways to help someone identify a person - especially if they are unique in the group. Perhaps they're the only female vice president, or one of only two room dads at school.

Don't you think, though, that we have to be careful? We might not be able to notice it in ourselves as easily as we do in others, but sometimes our descriptions are truly code for something else - a statement about our assumptions of intelligence, wealth, coordination, self-control, etc. that "go with" certain physical traits. It can be something more insidious - creeping racism, ageism, sexism, sizeism - that reveals itself in our language.

Thanks to erikrasmussen for this Flickr photo.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How NOT to tell an employee that you're letting them go

From the archives of Peak Performance: from the coach's desk -

I caught up with a former colleague the other day and heard the story of how he got into the great role he has right now. The ending was sweet, but the story of how he got there was appalling. So - unless they've committed a crime of some sort - here is a list of how NOT to tell an employee that you're letting them go:

  • Send a companywide email with posting opportunities on it and include their job on the list of available positions.
  • Unpack their personal items from their desk when they're out of the office and leave the box of items handily waiting for them on top of the desk for when they arrive the next day.
  • Send a singing telegram. The song will help to ease the blow.
  • Call their mother and let their mother tell them the bad news.
  • Assign two security guards to meet them at the front door, escort them to their office and monitor the packing of their office before the guards collect their key and escort them back out the door. Oh, and make plenty of noise so EVERYONE in the department can have the opportunity to know what's going on.
  • Tell them the afternoon before they leave on vacation. That way they won't have to worry about coming back in when vacation is over.
  • Tell them the day before the Christmas/New Year holiday. If you time it right everybody's tax information will be really clean, with no untidy paychecks extending into the next year.
  • Send them an email.
  • Call them when they're at the hospital recovering from major surgery. Otherwise they'll send your health care costs through the roof!
  • Tell them right before they have a baby. Their joy at the new family addition will distract them from the fact that they will have no income.
  • Tell the office gossip and they'll pass the information along.
  • Save the unemployment compensation. Don't fire them - simply make the working conditions intolerable enough that they'll choose to quit!

Given recent events, perhaps you also could congratulate them on being one of the first to participate in the new public option health care coverage!

Monday, August 10, 2009

How do you stay connected?

Stephen Covey would tell you that relationship building is a quadrant two activity. It's important, but not urgent. Outside forces aren't pulling you to create and maintain relationships. But you can't create them out of the blue when you need them - they are not instant powders, poured out of a container and mixed with water and immediately ready for consumption.

Relationships are built and maintained and strengthened by staying connected. They require regular attention or they weaken, just like muscles atrophy from under-use. How do you stay connected?

  • My extended family used to have a routine of congregating at my grandparents' house every Sunday between 5 and 7 p.m. Every Sunday, my mother's brothers and sisters and their children showed up, partly because 5 of the 7 siblings lived within 10 minutes of one another. They knew about each other's daily lives and they had relationships with their nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. Grandma was the glue for that scene, cooking and making sure everybody had a drink. Grampa kept it going for years after she died, but after he was gone the combination of busy schedules, expanding and aging families, and the now-absent catalyst that was my grandparents made the connections a little tougher to maintain.
  • The department where I last worked in a "regular" job had Monday executive staff meetings. They lasted from 8 a.m. until sometimes 2 or 3 p.m. - unless our EVP managed to find a reason for all of us to stay there for the entire day. He was criticized by his boss (and sometimes by his direct reports) for consuming so much of their workweek. But there was no question that the group was tight. They disagreed with one another freely, yet played golf, ate lunch and socialized together. They looked forward to working together, sharing inside jokes and goodwill developed in those Monday marathon sessions.
  • A friend of mine recently talked with me about the importance of staying connected with her spouse. Their ground rule is to have at least one date night per week and one overnight per month without kids. The idea is that the relationship between she and her husband is the glue for the household. When they are good, everything else - crying young kids, outside circumstances that aren't always fun, etc. - becomes manageable. Differences and disagreements don't grow more intense due to simmering too long.
  • I stay connected with my colleagues by getting together regularly with them, even though they are not located close by. We also email regularly and talk on the phone whether there is something urgent or not. Sometimes we're not even aware that there's something pressing on our minds until we're mid-conversation - then all of a sudden it emerges and we can strategize, or at least empathize with one another.
  • My aunt Iz (who is probably reading this) has stayed connected with dozens of friends the old fashioned way - by writing letters - for years. Now she's online, which makes the interaction more immediate. I need to make a point of asking her whether she still does snail mail. If she does not, Hallmark has lost a huge chunk of revenue, because Iz believed in using really nice paper, stickers, etc. to make her mail connections memorable and to show people she cared enough about them to make it pretty as well as informative.
  • Like many teens her age, my 13-year-old maintains connections via her text messages and online life. When she didn't have use of her phone during our family beach vacation she reacted as though we had cut off her right arm! And via her texting she is connecting at a rate below average for girls her age - only 7500 text messages per month rather than 8000. Poor thing.

Whether you need face time or can stay connected by phone, mail, or online means - the connections with other people are what sustain you. Even the interactions that aren't necessarily fun create the capacity for future productivity and overall satisfaction with your life. Perhaps there's a connection right now that is overdue for you to make. Ball's in your court.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reasons why you won't convince them

Whether it's at work, at home, or in the public arena, we think that effective leaders find ways to bring people around to their own points of view. I am convinced, though, that the key to swaying others' opinions is to start with people who don't have an already established view on the topic. For others, to paraphrase an online friend of mine, Brian Kelly, "We have about as much chance of convincing one another as Niagara Falls has of taking a break." Here's why:

Our fundamental attitudes (habits of thought, world views) are different.

If I have a high degree of certainty that the world is either black or white you won't convince me that there are shades of gray. If deep down I think that people are inherently bad, you won't get me to believe your arguments that they are good. That is the case because I'm sorting the evidence around me to confirm that which I already believe.

  • You can quote data to try to convince me, but if it contradicts my point of view my first response will be to discredit your source. If you keep on "educating me" you will stand a good chance of ticking me off for talking down to me, and that doesn't bring me over to your point of view.
  • You can play on my emotion, but if I notice it you will be ineffective.
  • You can cite testimonials, but I will know several others that cause me to draw a different conclusion than yours.
  • You can tell me that everyone else believes the same way that you do, but I might think that "everyone else" are morons.
  • You can position your message as exclusive to appeal to my inner snob, but I will come back at you about the views of the masses - if nobody else thinks like you do, you must be wrong.

One key factor convincing or not convincing is the sender's skill - but the other key factor is the receiver's commitment to his or her current point of view. If she or he is already "dug in," you might be better off saving your breath. Let the outcome demonstrate which one of you was "right". And even then you'll probably be able to find a way to interpret that the "right" one was you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fear as a motivator - the current health care debate

Fear of the Dark
Originally uploaded by stuant63

Fear can be a powerful motivator, albeit temporary. You'll walk across the street to say hi to a friend, but you'll run if you see a rapidly approaching truck while you're crossing. Some of our most deeply held fears were acquired by conditioning, just like we developed our attitudes about work, school, overall positiveness, negativeness, etc. And sometimes other people intentionally pull the strings of our fears, causing us to dance like marionettes.

Last evening I saw one piece of evidence of this and my husband saw another. I've been involved in a LinkedIn discussion about health care (I've mentioned this one before,) and last evening several participants were ranting about how health care reform is going to lead to euthanasia of elderly citizens, government sponsored abortions, paid health care inappropriately given to illegal immigrants and breast implants paid for by taxpayers. (I was following while at a ball game and couldn't participate in the discussion.)

My husband attended one of the town hall meetings covering the same topic last evening, and the turnout was so large that the one meeting had to be split into two in order not to be ended by a fire marshal. Emotions ran high, participants shouted. The gist of the upset was that people are afraid of having their comfy benefits taken away.

I attribute these reactions to the intentional and strategic string-pulling of individuals and groups who have a stake in maintaining the status quo. People's fears are being used as tools of manipulation so they are reacting without knowing the full picture of the real plans being proposed. President Obama has said over and over again that "if you like your health care plan you can keep it." Nothing is being proposed that involves taking health care away - this is about providing it in a better manner for more people at a lower cost to protect their quality of life and financial security. Yet pundits keep stirring the soup, counting on the fact that fear of the unknown, fear of "those people," fear of the government, etc. will galvanize people to oppose change.

In this case fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. C'mon, let's not be so gullible. When listening to the talking heads, think about who stands to gain financially if the country moves in the direction they propose -whose profits they are trying to preserve, and at whose expense. Take into account the fears they are playing on. The fear-strings they are plucking are only red herrings, intended to distract us from the real facts of the debate.

Just like shadows turn into ordinary objects when we turn the lights on, many of these fears will be proven to be false evidence when we educate ourselves with the facts. Information and your own critical thinking process is the antidote for this type of fear-mongering. But it takes initiative to find out and not eat someone else's pre-chewed "information."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So they're not doing what you want them to do?

Reluctant donkey, Egypt
Originally uploaded by dominic ball

You have laid out your expectations for your employees' behavior (or your kids, or your spouse, or your _________) and they are not doing what you have asked. What's a frustrated leader to do?

If you feel frustrated enough that your emotions are getting in the way, you could do a root cause analysis (or fishbone diagram,) on a piece of paper or white board to help you identify the possible causes. Once you have identified the biggest (root) cause you can work to resolve the cause.

But if you want some general ideas on why they are not following your directions, here goes:

  • They don't know how
  • They don't want to
  • They don't understand why it's important
  • There are external forces blocking them in some way

Said in a slightly different way:

  • Their skills and knowledge aren't up to snuff
  • Their attitudes (habits of thought) aren't in alignment with it
  • They don't have a goal, a reason, a purpose for doing it
  • Things like process, structure, and rewards are interfering with their compliance

Behavior change isn't simple, at least if you want behavior change beyond today, or for longer than this one hour. If you really want things to be different, you'll need to take action on each of these four fronts. And when it comes to their attitudes, well, they are in charge of their own - and they won't change without some sustained intention on each person's part.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Do your footprints look like seagull tracks?

If someone followed your footprints on a daily basis, would the pattern show steady and consistent forward motion, or would it they look like the tracks of seagulls on the sand - random, overlapping, and going around in circles?

In process terminology, the overlaps and circles would be called non-value-added work. NVA work adds time, cost, frustration, and the potential for errors in processes.

If you've got the seagull tracks, no wonder you're exhausted at the end of the day! And no wonder that you're not seeing the results you want to see! But you don't have to be sentenced to the current conditions indefinitely. Break down those processes and re-invent them in a way that makes more sense.

You might notice your production processes first when you think about the areas that could use some overhauling. But don't overlook business processes like billing and accounts receivable. They often get bypassed in process improvement efforts, and they can unlock stores of cash for your business operation. Target processes that:

  • Are high in cost
  • Have long cycle times from beginning to end - or take longer than you think they could
  • Generate customer complaints
  • Contain a lot of interdepartmental hand-offs
  • Generate errors or quality flaws

If you're going to re-invent a process, be sure to involve the people who actually do the work on the team to create the new one. They are the people who have the information, and they are the ones who have to implement, so they should be bought in to the solutions.

You might not want to do this alone. A neutral party, a process expert, can help facilitate your group through their analysis of the current process and the development of the new one. Now by process expert I don't mean someone who will come in and direct you re: what to do. I'm talking about someone who manages the process of this project, ensures full participation and adequate depth of analysis, prevents rabbit trails and pointless griping, and elicits creative thinking from the group.

You can read more on the ways in which more effective processes can launch your business forward in our book, Changing Results by Changing Behavior.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The good news and the bad news are the same news

Yesterday I jokingly said to a friend of mine, "The good news is that my 5-year-old is recovering from her surgery. The bad news is that my 5-year-old is recovering from her surgery." (She's a VERY high energy personality.) He laughed and replied, "That's really true! You should do a blog post about that." OK, Keith, here goes:

This photo by Denis Collette is called "the two dimensions of the same light." One dimension shows blue and one shows golden on the surface of the water, but it's the same water and the same light.

This is the same way that other events present in our lives: we can look at them and see how they are bad for us or inconvenient, or we can look at them for the learning and benefit they bring to us. I was talking to someone just the other day who commented that their life was a lot simpler now that they had to cut back on a lot of the entertainment and recreational purchasing they used to do. That's the good news in the bad news of reduced resources.

Often when we look back on situations that seemed like bad news at the time, we can find the good news in them. I remember feeling devastated back in 1996 when we were getting ready to adopt our first daughter because it wasn't happening on my schedule. I thought the process would take a couple of months once our application went in, but it took 5 months longer than that. I would burst into tears at a moment's notice because the intensity of my desire to be a mother RIGHT NOW was so great.

What I realized later was that had it not been for that bad news, I wouldn't be the parent of THIS daughter. She had not yet been born at the original timeframe I thought "should" be the timing of my adopting her. The extra months of waiting gave me the opportunity to prepare for her coming, and to line up some clients so that I could continue to have cash flow after she arrived home. (I also covered the interior of my house with stenciled murals, accents, details - my husband was relieved that we finally got "the" packet with her photo in it before I completely filled up the place.)

Sometimes what's good news for one person is bad news for another. Remember the times when you got a promotion over someone else who wanted it - or vice versa?

Whether it's good news or bad news is often in the perspective. Your habits of thought are helping to determine which way you interpret these neutral events. If you want to see more of the good news in what seems to be bad (which is the more usual comment I hear from people,) you might need to make a point of asking yourself. You might have to be intentional about looking for it.

There's no question that sometimes only the passage of time reveals the benefit in what seems to be a horrible occurrence. But you can take some comfort in remembering the order of the natural processes in forests, for example. They need to burn sometimes in order to fully rejuvenate. Out of the ashes of the destroyed tall growth new plant life emerges. Bad news or good news? Both, I think.