Friday, October 29, 2010

Giving yourself full permission

Originally uploaded by Mr. Wright

Are you revealing, even reveling in, the undiluted you?  Or are you hiding your light under the proverbial basket?  Yesterday I was listening to a colleague talk at a conference about the concept of full permission.  I'm not printing her name here for reasons that will become evident as this idea unfolds.

When you are afraid, when you feel at risk, do you work to conceal yourself, to adapt yourself to the expectations you think that other people hold for you?  Or do you allow yourself to walk around in all your glory whether somebody else likes it or not?

When you give yourself full permission you don't dilute yourself - rather you reveal yourself.  Instead of walking timidly and carefully you stride into the room with purpose and the light heart that comes from being congruent with yourself.

My friend and colleague described her most embarrassing moment ever - when she was fourteen and competing in a speech-making event.  She was walking toward the stage ready to take her turn in a completely quiet room when she was surprised by a rather loud digestive backfire - and realized that it had come from her!  There was no denying the source of the sound, nor the origin of the delightful fragrance that wafted through the room immediately afterward.

She told us that she thinks about that occasion when she considers giving herself full permission.  Why not live out loud?  (No pun intended, but I find myself chuckling anyway.)  Perhaps from time to time there is the potential for embarrassment, but what about all of those other occasions when you might be tempted to edit out the very behavior, attitudes and attributes that help you bring your unique value to the people around you?

When a friend asks you for your opinion, do you really help them by not telling them what you think?  When you're in a meeting and you've got an idea for solving a problem, do you sit quiet because you have the shortest tenure and least authority in the group?  When you feel like dancing do you settle for tapping your feet?  None of these approaches helps you contribute to the well-being of the world around you.

When instead of fearing, editing and hiding you give yourself full permission - you embrace yourself for the complex and wonderful person you are.  You show up with all flags flying, wearing no disguises.  You put it out there.  Certainly some people might not like it.  But there are those who will treasure you for those exact same traits.  And you will be able to use all of the energy you used to expend on the editing and hiding and diluting - on manifesting the results you'd like to see in your life.  What a breath of fresh air!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why you should underpromise

Remember when the pizza companies would claim, "Delivered in 30 minutes or less or it's free"?  They stopped making that commitment because traffic safety concerns became an issue.  Drivers were taking undue risks, putting themselves and others on the road in danger so they wouldn't lose revenue on a piping hot pie. 

Since then the expectation of a quickly delivered pizza has gone by the wayside, although I'm sure that there are some that still arrive in a half hour or less.  But now that the promise is no longer made, and in such specific terms, the potential for customer disappointment has decreased significantly.  Perhaps a new, safer commitment could be made and kept - you can have your pizza in 2 hours or less - but that's not a competitive advantage.  Duh.  Not to mention that the hunger pangs will have passed or the household will have run down the street for a bite served in a restaurant.

Every time you make a commitment  you create the opportunity to come through and meet expectations.  Be careful about how readily you make them - you don't want to be delivering a 32-minute pizza.  Even though 32 minutes is quick, it's not 30.  You will have failed, and on a commitment that might not have been realistic or even necessary.

Also be conservative in stating your intentions.  You may express them as intent but they may be interpreted as commitment, and thereby they will be handled as such by the person receiving your message.  Solid intentions are no substitute for timely, quality delivery of product and services.  Sure, there are sometimes unanticipated circumstances that arrive and interfere with your ability to deliver.  That doesn't change the fact that you will be expected to deliver on time anyway.

When you underpromise you manage the expectation to a level that you can outperform.  You say you can deliver in 24 hours and you do so in 12.  Wow!  A pleasant surprise for your customer, friend or family member.  Pleasant surprises create positive word of mouth for you - whether in a business or personal frame of reference.

Although time is the example used here, it's not the only criterion where underpromising and then overdelivering can be effective.   It's occurring to me as I'm thinking through the keyboard here, that this is certainly part of the reason why some people don't want to set goals - they don't want to commit and then not deliver.  They don't want to let other people down, but they don't want to disappoint themselves either.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creating opportunities to listen

Listen to me... (2)
Originally uploaded by tanukifu

Virtually everyone has had the opportunity to be honked at - and perhaps many of those times you weren't choosing to be in that position.  But if you really want to know what's going on, and if you want to take beneficial action, you need to choose to create opportunities to listen.
  • Set aside the time - The most important information might not be the first you hear.  Sometimes the critical message is, at first, hidden behind something else.  You might not want to waste your time on conversation you might perceive as drivel, but if you are patient the nugget will appear.  There's a warmup process that has to be involved by one means or another before the conversation will hit its stride.
  • Manage the setting - Place yourselves in a setting that is comfortable, where you won't be overheard or interrupted.  Even if you don't anticipate anything earthshattering, setting the stage with a conducive environment will allow all parties to be undistracted.
  • Be aware of the numbers - Not everyone feels comfortable speaking up, especially about topics that might be perceived as personal or controversial, in front of a group.  When in doubt, talk one on one or in a very small group.
  • Ask open-ended questions - Give the other person the opportunity to go where they want to go in their responses, to think out loud, by keeping the topic open.  Series of yes/no or closed-ended questions can be experienced by the other party as a fishing expedition, and can shut them down.
  • Take the relationship into account - If there is a formal authority relationship involved, understand that you might have to work harder to create enough trust for the person to speak up in candid fashion.  Relationships of mutual trust and respect are built over time, so every transaction is an opportunity for you to demonstrate trustworthiness.  This might not be the time that the other person is willing to "spill it" for you and tell you what's really on their mind.  Patience and a track record of kindness will help draw them out.
  • Sometimes an exchange is needed - Unless there is a formalized relationship like boss-subordinate or coach-coachee, where there is a report-out expectation, the person to whom you are listening will often be expecting to hear from you also.  It's a matter of reciprocity.  If you ask question after question without offering anything in exchange, the other person might become defensive or begin to wonder about your motives.
You can't make effective decisions without accurate information, and as complete as the time and urgency of the situation will allow.  Your effective connections with other people are a critical tool in helping this happen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is your workspace helping you create?

My office, March 2008
Originally uploaded by Travis Isaacs

I suppose you could say that some occupations are more creatively demanding than others, although I would suggest that in today's competitive climate every role calls for thinking outside prior boundaries or self-imposed limitations.  But if your job is specifically to generate ideas that are fresh and innovative, are you helping to nurture your creative juices by designing a creative workspace?

I had the opportunity to tour a strategic marketing firm yesterday, and realized just how much my own brain responds to aesthetic stimulation.  Some spaces were intentionally engineered to communicate the company's creativity to visitors and clients, built around themes with unique furniture pieces and artwork.  Some were created by a department's own staff, reflecting their playfulness.  I was particularly amused by a sign at the doorway to one department that warned, "We kill every third account manager, and the second one just left."

The focus on office space is commonly on efficient function, ergonomic fitness and organization.  But have you considered the brain food aspect?  Designers use inspiration boards, where they can pin combinations of fabrics, wallcoverings, trims, and photographs.  Their creative stimulation is visual and tactile.  You can use photographs, samples, sculptures, stained glass windows, readily changeable accessories or bulletin boards to get the thought process cooking.

Some people create better with music in the background.  For musicians, though, sometimes the tunes and words draw attention away from work and instead lead the worker to attend to the music more closely.  It's no longer in the background.  That doesn't mean that the music isn't inspirational - the brain can create connections between disparate things.  But the creative process isn't always linear and predictable.  Sometimes it takes time for the connection to be made.

Computer programmers blow off steam between intensive coding sessions by playing foosball or shooting hoops, or by watching silly sci-fi movies.  Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000,  affectionately known as MST3K?   Work a bit, play a bit, work some more.

Collaboration can play a big role in the creative workspace.  Modular spaces with screens, easily movable chairs, writing surfaces like smart boards or white boards - or even a wall with whiteboard paint - can enable teams to meet spontaneously.  Some offices put all chairs on wheels so employees can literally take their seats anywhere they need to take them to work with someone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A few words in support of reliability

Are you old enough to remember the old TV commercial, "Timex - takes a licking and keeps on ticking"?  That watch was attached to the bottom of an ice skate and endured all sorts of other physical punishment - and then the close-up image of its face was revealed.  The second hand was still sweeping and the watch was still ticking.  (For those of you youthful types out there that check the time on your cell phones - yes, there used to be wristwatches, yes, some of them were analog, and yes, they did make a ticking sound - sometimes loud enough to entertain others during a particularly boring history class.)

Here's another example of reliability.  A colleague of mine was having a terrible commute to see a client.  There was road construction along the way, heavy traffic congestion due to the narrowing lanes, and an accident to compound the enjoyment.  When he could finally safely use his phone, he called the client to tell them he was going to be approximately ten minutes late.  "Thank heavens!"  the client replied.  "You are never late, so we were concerned that you might be dead or something."  Wow.  He's so reliable for timeliness that when he's not they assume that something uncontrollable and drastic must have happened.

If you look up the word "reliable" in the dictionary (this is from,) you'll find several synonyms:
  • Reliable suggests consistent dependability of judgment, character, performance, or result: a reliable formula, judge, car, meteorologist.
  • Infallible suggests the complete absence of error, breakdown, or poor performance: an infallible test, system, marksman.
  • Trustworthy emphasizes the steady and honest dependability which encourages one's confidence, belief, or trust: trustworthy and accurate reports.

It is possible to be reliably annoying - consistently so - like the graffiti artists on the billboard above proclaim in big red letters.  Reliable doesn't always equate to good, although it's more commonly associated with quality.  Sometimes reliability in people is interpreted as boring - like when your teenaged daughter would rather date someone more exciting to her (and scary for you.)  She enjoys the chase, the unpredictability - for now.  But you know what happens eventually.  When she starts to become more serious about a life partner she'll start to look for someone more trustworthy, with higher character - someone more reliable. Enter the nice guy.

What about you can be relied upon by other people?  What is consistent about you?
  • Timeliness?
  • Completeness and thoroughness of work product?
  • Upbeat attitude and optimism?
  • Creative presentation?
  • Effective team member behavior?
Next question:  Are you consciously choosing to be reliable, or is this such an ingrained habit (in whatever area) that you don't even notice?  Do you have habits of behavior that have become part of the scenery for you, so much so that you don't recognize the value that you're bringing to others who count on your reliability?  Perhaps if you realized the impact of your consistency you would intentionally strive to become even more consistent.

And finally, about what would you like to become more reliable?  Where would you like to increase others' trust and confidence in you?  And what would that do for the impact that you have on other people?

If you want to become more reliable overall, you might want to consider the commitments that you are making.  Every commitment is an opportunity to come through, to fullfill expectations, to be reliable.  It may be helpful to be conservative about your commitments in order to be more certain that you can follow through in a consistent and reliable way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There's no rocket science involved in becoming the best

A businessman said to me a few years ago, “I’m like a crow – I get distracted by anything new and shiny.” That self-deprecating analogy made me chuckle at the time, but it really stuck with me. The fundamentals of how you go about achieving outstanding performance don’t change all that much – you just get distracted by the glitter and forget that it’s simple.  It might be hard, but it's simple.

Dan Gable, wrestling and coaching legend, said, “The best become the best because they are always striving for perfection.” You might have your own list of the qualities and/or habits that create excellence, but here are some of mine:

Commitment that comes from a sense of purpose - the “why” behind your plans, thoughts and actions.  This might be interpreted by other people as stubbornness, and maybe it is.  It might be tested when its demand for resources bumps into other priorities and possibilities.  But commitment enables you to continue to choose the path that might not be easiest in order to accomplish your desired level of proficiency.

Comprehensive and continuously expanding knowledge of your area of expertise so that you can build your own style on a solid foundation.  As you learn more and more about your craft you discover that there are entire realms of information that you do not yet know.  You might need to check your ego if you think you already know it all.

Role models upon which to benchmark and, even better, mentors who can provide educated feedback along your path.  The seeds for many peak performances, many innovations, have been planted before you by someone else.  Learn from their learning, and keep an open mind to their feedback.  They can provide an objective, outside-of-your-own-head view, invaluable when you are working to improve.

Frequent, even daily, practicing of your technique and attention to refining your methods.  You can read every piano book on the planet, but you won't learn to play until you actually sit down at the keyboard and put your fingers on the keys.  At first your eyes and brain know what you need to do but your fingers can't execute it.  Then after practice and more practice your muscle memory lets you know where the right notes are without looking.  With enough repetition you might even learn to play the piece without referring to the music.  Same goes for a golf swing, and for other acquired skills.

Willingness to endure discomfort (or delay gratification) today for an outstanding outcome tomorrow.  It's tough for the ego to withstand a feeling of incompetence.  It's not comfortable to have sore muscles.  If you are willing to look at them as "growth pains" and not as end results in themselves you are more likely to persist.  Your willingness to endure now for the sake of later results is linked to your commitment.  The stronger your commitment is, the more obstacles you'll be willing to struggle through in order to achieve your result.  This is why it's important to define your purpose, your desired result in very specific terms, and to know why you're doing it.

Openness to test new ideas and methods that have the potential to create improvement. (This is where a little bit of the crow can be a good thing!)  The best performers are never satisfied - they are constantly stretching for the next increment of improvement.  I remember a number of years ago when Tiger Woods, although already winning tournament after tournament, totally reworked his swing with the help of a coach.  That was a tremendous risk for him - his swing was, and still is, his livelihood.

Specific ways to measure your progress.  If you assume the perspective that there is always improvement to be made, the journey to be the best has no end zone, no finish line.  Competitive swimming is such an incredible sport in my estimation, and part of its appeal to me is its measurability.  No matter who wins this race, I can look at my time and see how I'm doing.  There will always be somebody slower than me and somebody else faster than me, and while that can be important, more important is whether I'm shaving tenths or even hundredths as I tweak my training regime, my nutrition, my equipment and my rest.

It always comes down to the extent of your desire to be the best.  Even team-based outstanding performance relies on your individual willingness to do what’s necessary for your piece of the team’s success.

The obstacles in the struggle to be the best usually don't arise from the unsuccessful search for a complicated and secret formula. They arise from boredom and impatience over longstanding training routines and “I’ll make my own way, thank you” egotism that tempts you to search for shortcuts to success. Get rich quick, lose fifty pounds in seven days – c’mon, we’ve all felt just a bit titillated by those when the going has seemed long and tough.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration Point
Originally uploaded by Rice Matters

What drives you, jazzes you up?  What is it that inspires you to take action, or to invest more energy than would be necessary to accomplish the minimum?

On some days that inspiration finds you - you wake up with it in the morning or the proverbial light bulb pops on over your head sometime during the day.  But on other days it isn't going to tap you on the shoulder or bump you in the nose.  On those other days it might only be speaking in a whisper.  It might be right around the corner, but just out of your sight.

It helps to place yourself at the point of opportunity.  Take a walk in nature, read a book, meditate, listen to a stirring speech, talk to your children, view some art or plug in your favorite music.  Give yourself some silent or unscheduled space so even the quieter whispers of inspiration can break through your mental noise and reach you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sixth Ingredient in Collaboration - Commitment

The Singing Pig
Originally uploaded by fesign

It is said that in the collaboration to produce your typical bacon and eggs breakfast the chicken makes a contribution - the pig is committed.  He or she is all in. 

In other, more typical forms of collaboration, you can have all five of the other ingredients -
  1. common purpose
  2. opportunity
  3. relationship
  4. the appropriate skills and knowledge
  5. tools and process
- but if you don't have this sixth ingredient, commitment, the collaborative effort is in jeopardy. 

When collaboration happens in the workplace, the glue of job security or company loyalty helps teams stay intact even when the going gets tough.  But outside of the workplace, outside the arena where an individual might feel compelled by their job description to participate, commitment can be more widely variable, more unstable. 

Certain collaborations require less commitment than others.  If I'm working as part of a team on a project that doesn't require much energy, much time (in actual work or duration of the connection) or much risk from me, my commitment level doesn't have to be too great.  But if my perception of the required sacrifice, of labor (physical or emotional), time allocation or personal risk is that this is going to be a big deal - I need a high degree of commitment to be willing to follow through.

On occasion you have probably taken notice of the signs of commitment without having them enter your conscious mind.  Instead it may simply enter your consciousness as a general positive feeling about the group.  If you learn to notice the symptoms of commitment you can become better able to replicate the conditions in the future.  Here are a few:
  • Consistently good attendance at meetings, and attentiveness while there.
  • Willingness to contribute and to do tasks, even if there is no evident external reward for doing so.
  • Doing more than is asked - going beyond expectations.
  • Continuity in participation over extended periods of time.
  • Recruitment of other collaborators to build resources or broaden the impact.
If you are driving the collaboration, sometimes it makes sense to structure the project specifically to make commitment easier. 
  • Divide a large project into manageable bites, so each individual commitment is smaller.  Each participant can then determine how many bites they want to take.
  • Structure a specific goal with a timeline so the duration of the commitment is known ahead of time.
  • Create opportunities to build the personal connection between the collaborators.  Assign component tasks to pairs or subsets of the larger team.  Even if the goal itself generates relatively lower commitment, the connections will bring the group members together.
  • Find the fun.  Even though an individual might have completely altruistic motives, the element of fun helps him or her stay involved even when the project itself isn't going smoothly.
  • Use resources to help mitigate the perceived risk.  Tactics here will vary depending upon whether the perceived risk is really a lack of confidence in one's own ability to perform, or whether it stems from something bigger like fear due to the perceived controversy associated with the team's goal or role.  Train the team, provide the tools or guide them to the resources that they need to get the job done for you.  If the perceived risk relates to controversy, enroll a champion whose social stature will help participants summon the courage they need to associate with and commit more fully to the team.
Even though you use all of the tactics above and work hard to create the setting in which commitment to collaboration can happen, not every individual will ultimately commit.  It's their choice and their individual valuation of the factors of time, risk, etc.  Some individuals have a harder time committing to a group initiative where they are not necessarily going to be the driver - they are more at home being solo operators.  But you can create the environment and structure that is likely to create the best odds possible for a successful collaboration.  That much is within your control, or within your ability to influence.

Six Ingredients for real collaboration

Working together
Originally uploaded by Fabi Fliervoet

"The one great thing about a continuing collaboration is that they know you. And if you're really lucky, they really believe in you and think that your talent has some unending bounds to it".  -Mark Ruffalo
"I guess we've had a very close relationship because I don't pretend to know about cinema and I think I do know a bit about theatre but he does, he respected that and so we really just had a collaboration which went completely like this."  - Andrew Lloyd Webber

"I'm like a navigator and I try to encourage our collaboration and find the best way that will produce fruit. I like fruit. I like cherries, I like bananas."  - Jim Jarmusch

So much as been said about teamwork and collaboration - that they are good because they broaden the knowledge and talent base on a project by using multiple people working together to solve problems or create new things.  Teamwork and collaboration can drastically improve the quality of the output.

You can't, however, just round up a group of people, raise your scepter and command "Collaborate!" and expect a great work product.  There are ingredients necessary for it to work effectively.  If these ingredients are in place - collaboration among a group can become the go-to method for getting things done, and can produce more and better output than any of the participants could do on their own.
  1. Shared purpose - The participants need to be on the same page about the task to be undertaken, and the task is the center of their attention.  If the assignment isn't given to the group by an outside authority figure the process of coming to a shared purpose can take some time.  In more organic (informal or spontaneous) collaborations, a thought originator might attract partners through the perceived value of the general idea, or by his or her relationship skills.
  2. Relationship - Speaking of relationship, in collaboration sometimes the relationship is pre-existing and sometimes the relationship is founded during the collaboration.  Either way, some give and take, some ground rules, and a tie of mutual respect is needed for the best product to be created.  You can observe real relationship in play when individuals can give and receive negative feedback without taking offense - by taking it in and using it as a jumping-off point for the next idea.
  3. Foundational skills and/or knowledge - You can't collaborate when nobody knows what they're doing.  Collaborations are not always meetings of equals, but in effective ones each individual adds to the available knowledge bank.  Otherwise it's a training exercise, or at worst, the blind leading the blind.  When there is insufficient knowledge on the team a poor work product or no work product at all is the result.
  4. Opportunity - There has to be a place and time in which to collaborate.  Proximity of workspace adds to the opportunity for collaboration - remotely located workers require special means in order to do so, like Skype, GotoMeeting, etc.  Sometimes collaboration opportunities are squandered because the process of joint idea-generation and negotiation of a solution typically takes more time than it does for one person to unilaterally take action.  You have to allow time and space in order for it to jell.
  5. Tools and Process - These ingredients bring focus to the discussion, and enable the collaborators to take their raw input and produce a product from it more readily.  When relationship isn't a strong point in the group, tools and process can help to overcome contentious differences.  When relationship is strong but purpose hasn't emerged in full form, process can prevent the collaboration from degrading into sheer carrying on.  (Fun is good - fun without work product isn't sustainable!)
There are situations where collaboration may not be the best mode to use to produce results.  For instance, when speed in response is critical a single knowledgeable individual can respond faster.  But the benefits of quality work product, and the mutual learning and relationship glue that come from working together can lead a team or a company to greater results than they thought possible.

Tomorrow - the sixth, and perhaps the most important, ingredient.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"I will not complain"

Maasais jump - Kenya
Originally uploaded by Eric Lafforgue

One of the highlights of the World Day of Interconnectedness webinars was hearing Sandy Foster, who has lived with her husband among the Maasai in Kenya.  Over the last number of years they have traveled there to build schools, engage in some other projects and learn about the people.

Sandy told about a number of the individuals she met among the Maasai.  As she told it, life is hard for them, but no matter what they need to do to survive on a daily basis, they just do it.  They don't complain.  Here's an example:  The Maasai have realized that tourism is a way in which they can create some economic security for themselves.  A particular young man (sorry, my notes didn't specify his name) found a job working with a camel operation that catered to tourists.  In order to do his job he had to walk 4 hours to get to work, and another 4 to get home.  Sandy told us that one member of her group, when learning that story, vowed, "I will not complain."

Walking for 8 hours every day in order to earn money, without complaint.  Can you do that?  Many of us complain when it feels too early to get up for work (and to ride in our climate-controlled cars to get there.)  We complain when it's raining, and complain when there has been so little rain that the lawn is becoming crispy. 

Why do we complain?  We do so because when we see a problem we want somebody to fix it, and complaining is our way of letting them know.  We complain because we want other people to understand just how difficult our life is - sometimes because it truly is difficult and other times we do so because we think that they would stop liking us if our life is too much better than theirs.

A few thoughts arise from this:
  1. Not everything is solvable.  Sometimes we need to put on our grown-up underwear and do it, deal with it, manage it.  Complaining reminds us of the parts we don't like, but it doesn't serve a purpose.  It doesn't even relieve our frustration - complaining only calls attention to it.
  2. When we are in complaint mode we attract more of that which we don't want.  We sort our experiences looking for problems, and manage to notice the black cloud behind every silver lining.
  3. Complaint is a state of impotence, of inaction.  When we complain we are giving the responsibility for fixing it to somebody else.  Why not do something about it?  Certainly there are aspects of life over which we have no individual control, or even influence, but we do have the ability to have impact over a lot - if we choose to take responsibility.  At some point if we continue to complain yet do nothing, we are in effect choosing that which we say we do not want.
One of the lessons we can learn from the Maasai is not to complain.  For today, see whether you can notice yourself in the midst of complaining.  What are you complaining about?  Is it something that is inevitable, and therefore your complaint is a waste of energy?  Is it an issue where you would be better off refocusing on solving the problem?  Then see how long you can go without complaining.  Notice what difference it makes in your day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interconnected (literally) for a day

Yesterday's Leaders Cafe webinar marathon for the World Day of Interconnectedness was a fascinating experience on a number of levels:
  • Having the opportunity to hear ideas from speakers located in spots as diverse as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Kenya, England and the US.  Even more countries were represented in the 24-hour continuous webinar event, although I did choose to sleep, eat, and spend a little bit of time with my family while it was happening.
  • Seeing the stamina of my friend and colleague Kwai Yu, who manned the controls for the entire 24-hour duration.  Kwai was able to contribute content in between some of the speakers, keep things rollicking in the chat window during the webinars - and all while experiencing some fairly significant sleep deprivation.  I hope you had a good rest last night, Kwai!
    Kwai Yu,
    founder of Leaders Cafe
  • Experiencing the dynamic when an event seeks to push the capabilities of technology and its users, tossing the mantle of leadership back and forth from Kwai to the presenters, and orchestrating entrances and exits without inadvertently kicking anyone off the webinar or crashing the system.
  • Acquiring the product of such substantial learning.  The content shared by the presenters provided enough fodder that you'll be seeing it over the next few days and weeks here.  Thanks to all of you presenters for being so generous with your knowledge.
Creativity and energy can be stimulated by a number of methods:  reading, taking a class, engaging in planning, etc.  This was my first webinar marathon, and while I'll be processing the ideas - so much to absorb - the gears are clicking along.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sunday is 10-10-10 and...

Sunday is 10-10-10 and I'm going to be spending part of the day participating in (and leading during) The World Day of Interconnectedness. 

The idea behind the World Day of Interconnectedness emerges in almost every spiritual tradition:  that we are one body.  When one part of the body aches, the rest of the body feels it.  When the rest of the body does not feel the ache, it's an indicator of impending death.  WDI draws (and seeks to spread) hope from the opportunity to realize our potential as humans - together.

You can view an inspiring video by Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp on the topic by visiting the WDI website.  Rabbi Soetendorp is an award-winning human rights advocate, lecturer, writer, environmental activist and champion of civil society.   In addition, on the WDI site you can find out about simple actions through which you can become part of the movement toward Interconnectedness.

In support of WDI 101010, Leaders Cafe will host a 24-hour leadership webinar marathon - a webinarathon. We will have guest speakers from around the world talking and sharing the new kind of interconnected leadership - much needed for the 21st Century.

Details of the WDI 101010 and a full schedule of speakers can be found here.
The 24-hour webinar marathon will start in New Zealand/Australia - moving to Asia - then Europe and finally finishing in the USA, running from midnight GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) until midnight on 10-10-10.  Here in the Eastern US the webinar start time translates to 8:00 p.m. Saturday evening.

You can drop in to any of the webinars at any time and for as many sessions as you wish. Please join Leaders Cafe and the World Day of Interconnectedness.  The challenges we face as humans are big, but we can prevail when we work together toward developing our full potential.  Hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting Past Storming - Part 2

Originally uploaded by wentloog

Although storming is as natural as gravity and can be counted upon to happen in some form virtually every time a change happens, the duration of the storming phase of change and the depth of the temporary dip in morale in a company is an unpredictable thing. In the process I use, I'm typically observing symptoms of it around week 2 or 3 of a 9-week engagement, and the larger storms usually resolve themselves by week 5 or 6.

As for the depth of the morale dip - I've worked with groups where the only sign of storming was a furrowed brow on a few faces for a few minutes during one of our workshops together. On the other hand, in one of my other client situations we went through 9 weeks and followup without any relief in sight. 

Some considerations if you think you're experiencing storming:
  • People who storm a lot may simply be committed to their current way of thinking or behaving. It's been my experience that, once they integrate the change, they can become equally committed to the new way. They need time and a clear view of the benefits of the new path. It helps to develop manageably sized projects or goals with short time windows to help them see early victories. Don't start with trying to solve world hunger.
  • If storming is protracted, look in places other than the change itself for the resolution. In my group that seemed as though it wanted to live as a dysfunctional family, the underlying issue was a key leader whose perspective and style were creating an ongoing conflict. He chose to leave and it was as though the entire company heaved a sigh of relief, straightened its shoulders, and got on with it. His departure and the removal of the leadership inconsistency was the catalyst that got the company past storming.
  • Provide opportunities for storming employees to express their opinions, frustrations, etc. in a neutral, nonthreatening setting. Hire an outside facilitator if you don't think you'll get the straight scoop without it. It's important because (a) they are less resistant if they feel that they're being heard and (b) you will probably see the key to real progress behind their complaints. I have never - and I mean never - worked in a client company where complaints did not have some merit. When management took time to address them (meaning fix them, not defend them) they got respect from employees and a resulting willingness to try. It was grudging at first in some cases, but if employees are willing to put their toes in the water management has a shot at getting past storming.
You'll know when you're moving past storming into the norming phase when you start hearing employees make fun of the new tools and/or methods. I know when my clients are starting to integrate the principles of goal planning and action taking when they start to bust my chops about goal planning sheets. You might also see the impact of peer pressure, as some of your early adopters pull your laggards along.

A couple of parting ideas:
  1. If you want to make change in your company don't assume that your high performers are already on your team and therefore focus attention only with your fence sitters and lower performers. You need everyone to be singing the same tune, and your staff will know right off if "certain" groups are being cut out of the herd for remedial work. Can you say "Storming to the power of 3??" And you'll only have the opportunity for a limited victory, because even completely "fixed" parts will fail when put back into a faulty machine.
  2. If your senior team isn't completely on board your initiative will fail. Here, not with your line staff, is the place to be uncompromising about what you're trying to achieve, because everyone else will be modeling off of them. Your front-line employees will be seeking support and resources, and your senior managers had better be consistent and responsive or they will shoot your change initiative in the foot.  I'm not saying don't listen to your top folks - hear them out and create a future you all can get behind. Don't settle for anything but consensus, then hold them accountable for the behavior that supports your desired outcome.
Then keep your seat belts buckled, because after this change is integrated (or maybe before) the next one will be right on its heels. If you want to be a nimble, evolving company (or individual) mastering the process of getting past storming is mission critical.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Getting Past Storming

For those of you with big goals - I'd love to tell you that your process of developing yourself (and/or your team) will be a straight line from lower left on the graph to upper right, a steep and constant progression. But I won't tell you that because it would be total hooey and I have a policy not to spread hooey (at least not on purpose!)

There are 4 stages involved in change, and they follow a similar path to that of the grieving model: forming, storming, norming and performing. The forming phase (#1) is when you're psyched about the change and you see the possibilities. The norming phase (#3) is when you're trying new stuff, some of which is working and some not - either way you're refining your improved self. Performing (#4) is when you're operating consistently higher level (and of course, this is a bit of a plateau until you decide to make your next improvement.)

No, I didn't miss number two - it's the focus, so I've saved it for last.  Storming Phase (#2) is the bugaboo in many change processes. This is when you're, in effect, mourning the loss of the old and comfortable way of doing things, even when you know that the old habits aren't getting you the results you want. I've seen people use coping methods like:

1.Blaming someone else for their lack of results. The need to feel OK about themselves as they are right now has them looking for external obstacles.  After all, the fact that Mom makes a wicked lemon sponge cake IS really responsible for their Body Mass Index of 65!  Nothing good will happen until she stops baking...

2.Being generally grouchy and miserable to be around. Their new regimen of getting up one hour earlier in the morning (or quitting smoking, or stopping the $5 daily cappucino habit, etc.) becomes everyone's problem to face.  Minor storming means they'll do it for now but they sure aren't going to like it - and everyone around them will know just how dissatisfied they are.  Major storming means they resist even dipping their toe into the water of change.

3.Worst of all, making a different decision because the first one was too hard. It might seem like heavy resistance is an indicator that the decision was wrong and should be changed.  Not so fast.  Guess what - the new decision will have its own storming phase. I've worked with a number of companies over the years where senior leadership realized that they had created a self-inflicted downward spiral by caving every time the storming phase kicked in.  In addition, their leadership credibility was shot because of their lack of consistency in message.

A department emerges from storming one person at a time.  Each individual turns the corner from Storming (fighting the change) into Norming (assimilating the change) when he or she makes the conscious choice to take personal responsibility for the result. In other words, the voice in his or her head says, "OK, things being what they are, what can I do to make them better?"

When you are noticing that storming behaviors become too tenacious, there's a strategy that can help.  Determine whether the obstacle preventing change is within your sphere of control, your sphere of influence, or outside both of them.

•If a problem is within your sphere of control it means that you can unilaterally do what needs to be done to fix it. So if you really want this change to happen, put together a plan and take action on it.

•If a problem is within your sphere of influence it means that you can, with the right people on your team with you, fix it. So gather those people together, lay out your plan, allocate responsibility for the action steps and go for it.

•If a problem is not something you can control or influence, you're wasting energy focusing on it. Throw it over your shoulder and get on with your life, with the portion that you can affect. But think carefully about whether you might really be able to influence that big obstacle. Let's say your boss needs a personality transplant (or at least that's your conclusion.) Get specific with yourself about what that means. Then ask yourself whether there's something you're doing or someone that you're being that's triggering the boss's werewolf imitation. You might have more influence than you think you have.

Keep your eye on the prize to pull yourself through storming phase. This phase is inevitable - individuals and teams go through it every time there is change - although the depth of the dip in morale and the duration may vary from person to person and situation to situation. Develop a really detailed visualization of what the wonderful outcome of your goal will be and revisit it every day. Set your mind on the future as a context to help yourself make beneficial decisions in the present. That way you can reduce the storm from a destructive force to a passing shower.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Facilitation in five easy steps

Originally uploaded by dirkjanranzijn

Perhaps this title is a bit misleading - easy is in the eye of the beholder, and subject to the variables of the participants and the content of the meeting!  A facilitator is like a juggler, and these tasks are the pins or balls or plates that must be kept in the air:
  1. Create a conducive climate.  If you have control over the setting, think about room temperature and lighting, drinks and snacks, and access to comfort facilities to prevent distraction.  Once people are in the room, the climate is a more interpersonal responsibility - introducing people who don't know one another, introducing yourself, and establishing and maintaining group behavioral norms for the interaction.
  2. Keep your eye on the desired outcome.  You have an agenda, or a result that your gathering is supposed to accomplish.  Despite distractions, verbal rabbit trails, conflicts, etc. you're bringing the group back to its core purpose.
  3. Elicit participation from all players.  In a team-oriented setting the goal is to reach decisions that are the result of input by people who have relevant information and people who are impacted by said decision.  Not all participants volunteer their thoughts - many times the quiet ones are quiet because they're thinking.  Once they speak up the group will find that their thought is well considered, as opposed to the person who processes out loud without necessarily fully considering first.  In addition, variables such as relative rank, knowledge base and behavioral styles of the participants mean that you might have to guide the participation in order to elicit input from all corners and prevent certain participants from dominating.
  4. Give participants multiple communication modes.  Some people are visual, some auditory and some kinesthetic.  Handouts, easel pads and get-up-and-walk-around methods help to capture and keep the attention of the group.  Moving around from time to time also prevents blood from pooling in their derrieres and preventing them from being productive!
  5. Finish with well-defined next steps.  It's pretty common that a group meets, talks, and then nothing happens as a result.  Prevent your meetings from wearing the "waste of time" label by bringing your groups to shared understanding of the next steps, and then distributing the accountabilities for later reference.
There, that was easy, wasn't it?

Monday, October 4, 2010

How do you know?

Yellow Tape Measure
Originally uploaded by Darrren Hester

When you make a claim, how do you know that it's true?  Are you passing along information that you heard from a colleague or neighbor?  Did you see it on television or hear it on the radio?  How do you know that it's accurate?

I was reading not too long ago about the shift in American culture that creates an environment of "guilty until proven innocent."  Sure, our legal system says the opposite, and that's our espoused theory.  But outside the formalized legal system, our theory in use is often that allegations, however unproven or even downright false, can kill a reputation or a career.

A person can't be convicted in public opinion without some cooperation by the public.  The public has to be willing to take shortcuts on their information gathering.  A more responsible public refuses to take a pundit's word for it, and considers the motives behind slanderous accusations.  The average citizen has to be willing to do some digging of his or her own to separate reality from self-serving fantasy.

Mid-term elections are only 4 weeks away, and although it's always important to consider the source, the punditry, campaign ads and speeches right now are particularly important to analyze.  We need to look further, with an independent mind, to make sure we're voting for the person with whom we are most likely to agree.

Like a caricature artist magnifies a slightly beaky nose or protruding ears to characterize an individual's face, a competing political figure is highly likely to do the same to an opponent's position on issues.  A candidate's stand on a particular issue is interpreted through the competitor's own lens, then magnified and/or distorted to the point of humor or even absurdity to inflame voters.  Why vote for something when you can instead vote against something?

Every person accumulates a track record of behavior, both personally and professionally.  It's open to the interpretation of others - they will see us through their respective attitudinal lenses, which might or might not create a distorted view.  We can help ourselves to be seen as we are by creating opportunities for accountability, for measurable results.  It's harder to argue with a real record.

As it relates to other people, if we want to add to peaceful dialogue and subtract from the pointless vitriol out there, we need to ask ourselves "How do you know?" before we break our legs jumping to conclusions.  We can help our companies and our societies by asking the same question of others.  Information about another person that is interesting or even titillating in its scandalousness means that it's even more important to validate before we pass it on.  Otherwise we're contributing, even if unwittingly, to the evil in the world.