Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can you find the decision maker?

Originally uploaded by aeter
If you look into this sea of faces (or into the sea of people at a trade show,) can you identify the person who will be able to give your project a "go" decision?  If you can't discern the decision maker you might as well keep your presentation powder dry.

Remember the definition of a true prospect for your products or services?
  1. They have a need
  2. They have money to buy
  3. They can make the decision
There are more people than only the decision maker who will be willing to talk to you.  These other folks might even tell you that they are the decision maker, and to some extent that's true.  They can choose to filter you out - that's a decision.  They may perceive, or may even have been told, that their job is to narrow down the resource options to only one or two recommendations to pass up the line.  But if you focus your energies on them you might be wasting your time, and theirs as well.

When the ultimate "yes" decider is not in the room at the beginning of the conversation you have no opportunity to determine the #1 criteria above.  Yes, the person downstream with whom you have the connection might have been deputized to research the options, to filter out the chaff from the wheat.  But you won't know what that ultimate "yes" person really wants and needs from you unless you talk with them directly.

Another part of the discussion that you can't really have (or at least can't get your best answer to) without the "yes" decider is the discussion about budget.  The filter person might have been given a number, but their number will likely be much smaller than the "yes" decider's number.  If the CEO wants to do a project, even if the primary budget for it isn't big enough he or she can find the money in other buckets to get it done.  He or she will reallocate the funding in other departments, from other projects, to yours if the potential rewards and/or the avoided consequences are significant enough in your project to justify doing so.

A common concern expressed by salespersons who understand the importance of the true decision maker in their sales process is how to find out that information without offending their contact in the company.  Nobody wants to hear that they don't have enough mojo for you to talk to them.  And many of them are decision makers - they are limited to the answer "no", but they ARE decision makers.  Consider these questions:
  • What is the usual process that your company uses to make decisions on this type of project?
  • Who, if anyone, could veto a decision to move forward with this?
  • If I were able to come up with a viable solution for your issue, what would be the next steps?
When you ask about process you are taking the value of the person out of the equation, neutralizing concerns about relative status.  With the second question you are asking about the "yes" decision maker without risking insulting the person in front of you.  And the third question is another way to find out about the decision process.

Sales time is expensive, for you and for your prospective customer.  You will make more sales and experience (and create) far less frustration if you master this sales fundamental.  No approach works 100 percent of the time, but these have been demonstrated to be pretty reliable.  Good luck!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

These are the villains of social media

Most people are still learning how to navigate social media.  You might be on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Perhaps you're a frequent Twit, er, Tweeter.  Maybe you let the world know on FourSquare whenever you stop at Starbucks for a latte.  But if the point of social media is to be social, make sure that you're not inadvertently one of the villains.  Otherwise you'll not make the friends or build the influence and positive image you desire from being seen and heard online.
  • The Braggart - "Hey world, look what I just did!"  Everybody has good things to share from time to time, but the Braggart's entire content consists of "Look at me!" posts.  If Facebook is where your family gathers you might find more tolerance for constant posts about your son Johnny's latest handstand.  But maybe not.
  • The Huckster - "Come buy my ____________(fill in the blank)!"  Social media can be an effective way to announce special events, and to sign people up.  There is little tolerance in some quarters - on most LinkedIn discussion groups, for instance - when a newbie pops in and spams with a promo in the middle of other contributors' posts on economic policy.  Hucksters tend to stalk big discussion threads, thinking that they will have the biggest audience for their deal of the day.  Unfortunately for the Huckster, group leaders are now watching carefully, even screening posts before they appear online.  The intruder is likely to find the door slammed in his or her face.
  • The Borrowed Philosopher - It's great to share a pithy quote from time to time, but if the goal of social media is to get known online, other people's words won't help people get to know you.  If you don't have anything of your own to say, maybe it's better that you don't say it.  Otherwise the channel turns into a boring echo chamber of Pollyana-isms.  Perhaps this isn't exactly villainous, but it won't attract people to you.
  • The Soapbox Stander - Certain media are more tolerant than others on this one.  Every person has the right to his or her views on social issues, politics, religion - the subjects that are controversial or even socially taboo for public discourse.  The Soapbox Stander becomes a villain when he or she can't have any other conversation, or when the tone becomes so strident that it becomes uncomfortable for other participants in the conversation.  It's best if the Soapbox Stander can find a group of likeminded ranters with whom to socialize, or a site where energetic argument is the stated goal.
Social media etiquette is still being sorted out - sometimes it takes an appearance of one of these villains (or one of their partners in crime) for the social infraction to be identified and remedies and preventive measures to be created.  Think about what you're posting, and where and with what timing.  Be intentional about your tone - reread it before you click "Post".  That way your profile picture won't be appearing on the "wall of scoundrels" any time soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Six consequences of low EI in leadership

Product DetailsThanks to my friend and colleague Tim Raine for the idea for this post:

There's a huge difference between working for a boss who is smart and working with a boss who is people-smart.  The ability to get along with people is one of the critical success factors for leaders.  You have heard the Dwight Eisenhower idea that  "You can't push a rope - it doubles back upon itself.  Instead you have to pull."  That rope image relates to individuals' emotional intelligence (EI), or the lack thereof.  To pull is to help people want to follow, and EI helps you know how to generate the "want to" motivation.

In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence,  Daniel Goleman cites six problems that arise when EI is lacking:
  1. Work Overload
  2. Lack of Autonomy
  3. Skimpy Rewards
  4. Loss of Connection
  5. Unfairness
  6. Value Conflicts
These are cultural issues, meaning they are more than one-person problems.  Over time a leader or leaders lacking in emotional intelligence make decisions that place people, their individual and collective needs, in the back seat.  The low-EI leader forgets to take the people issues into account, or ignores them as irrelevant information.  Sometimes the low-EI leader even derides the concept of EI as being reserved for "soft" leaders who can't make the tough decisions and get the job done.

When a low-EI decision is made one time, it might not be too difficult to come back from.  But over time, each decision, each process, etc. that reflects a lack of attention to the people dimension contributes to a culture that creates employee disengagement.

Nobody said that work is going to be fun all of the time - isn't that why it's called work?  BUT - understand that employee disengagement results in low productivity, lower quality, higher turnover (costly), higher absenteeism, and a host of other ramifications that are going to reduce the company's viability over the long term.

I've said it before and I'll say it again that I dislike the term "soft skills," for human relations skills, because I think it implies that effective people skills are extras, nice to have but not necessary.  That's not the case at all.  Your staff represents a huge percentage of your investment in your business.  To mismanage that asset is poor stewardship, and it will cause you to squander your full potential for success.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Too many cooks in the decision making kitchen

Perhaps a better title for this post would be "not enough real cooks in the decision making kitchen."  Where does the buck actally stop in your company?  It is quite possible that you are wasting time and money, and in the process frustrating your best leaders because of the process by which you make decisions.

Approval processes are often audit processes thinly disguised.  The first person in the process has the authority to rule out an option, but not enough authority to approve it.  (Wouldn't want him or her to make a bad decision!)   He or she then passes it along to a higher authority.  Depending upon the size of the decision, THAT person might exercise his or her veto right, but if they want to proceed, the ball is again passed uphill to the next level.  After a couple, perhaps several, handoffs the real decisionmaker grabs ahold of it and makes the final thumbs up or thumbs down call.

It's quite conceivable that 4 or 5 levels of your organization are getting involved in this one decision, each level reworking the thought process of the one before it until somebody has the actual authority to say "go."  Notice the word "rework" in the prior sentence.  Re-deciding is rework, and rework is waste. 

So how can you improve the situation, and reduce the waste?
  1. Identify and communicate the decision making process to your organization.   If it's a production issue, let your organization know who has the final word.  If it's a creative issue, tell your folks who has jurisdiction.  You might even identify certain dollar limits for decisions within an authority level, much like bankers are assigned loan authority limits within they can unilaterally approve or decline loans.  Then once you've laid it out, stick to it.
  2. If you want multiple points of input, do it as a team with a defined process.  Inter-office mail can take days, and setting up a series of meetings with a Congo line of individuals can take weeks, even months.  The decision might be a moot point, an opportunity missed, if your cycle time is too long.  Get them all into the room at the same time, perhaps even create a regularly scheduled time to handle whatever business is current.
  3. Train current and emerging leaders in your decision making criteria.  Slow and complex decision making processes are often an outgrowth of lack of trust, lack of confidence in decision making skills.  This concern is quite rational - some poor decisions have longlasting, even deadly, consequences.  Senior leaders get concerned that the employees below them on the org chart aren't going to use "common sense."  In this context common sense means applying a shared (common) set of evaluation criteria, and it can be taught.
  4. Keep a current strategic (long term) and business (shorter term) plan in place, and assign budget accountabilities.  These documents, even if they are very simple, are intended to guide decision making.  Invest within your budget parameters to forward the company's plan.  When downstream leaders understand your direction they are able to make better decisions, and you are less likely to "have to" become involved in the smaller ones.
  5. Communicate your process to your vendors.  In saying this I'm assuming that you see the value in having cooperative, not adversarial, relationships with them.  Not every decision has to go to the CEO or COO.  Some decisions, frankly, are wastes of CEO time.  Step into the vendor's shoes for a moment.  Consider how you would feel about being left dangling, uncertain about whether or not you are talking to the correct person.  High costs of sales result in higher prices, so it's in your best financial interest not to waste your vendors' time any more than you would waste your own.
  6. Drive out fear.  If you've publicly derided, demoted, even fired someone for making a bad decision, other people in your company know it and will walk more tentatively from now on because of it. 
If you don't have a good process, a plan in place, budget parameters distributed throughout your company you won't fix your decision making problem by waiting for a mistake over which you can flip out.  Do your job well and you can prevent poor decisions from being made, even without having 10 cooks stirring the pot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ten ways to improve your listening

Originally uploaded by tdub303
The person who talks the most is NOT the person who controls the conversation - the person who asks questions and then listens gains the most benefit from the interaction.  If you become better at receiving and retaining information from other people you will become more knowledgeable.  You will become more connected.  You will be better liked.  The interpersonal connection that comes from effective communication will enable you to become a better leader, a better spouse, a better friend.

So based upon that brief but oh-so-compelling paragraph you’ve decided you want to become a better listener, listening more often or with more focused attention?  Here's what you do:
  1. Implement a process that creates regular opportunity. You might schedule a one-on-one with each of your direct reports every two weeks. If you want to improve your relationship with your significant other set a weekly date night, or even a ½ hour daily walk. Perhaps a regularly scheduled phone call or customary visiting day to parents would be good for you to create listening opportunity.
  2. Consider multiple methods (channels). If you want to listen to customers you could hold a focus group, or take key clients to lunch for one-on-ones, or you could listen on paper through a survey. Take a look at how many points of contact customers have inside your business and get them involved in intentional listening, too.
  3. Manage the setting to minimize interference. It’s hard to listen well when the dog is barking, phones are ringing, or children are pulling at the hem of your shirt saying, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” If your cell coverage isn’t reliable use a land line or wait till you can be face to face rather than lose your focus when the other party’s voice is breaking up.
  4. Take time and timing into account. Don’t even THINK of asking me an important question after about 8:30 p.m. if you want to listen to a coherent answer. (How do you think I wake up so darned early to do my posts?!) Reconsider your timing if you’re preoccupied or emotional about something. This is a corollary to the interference point, because the noise in your own head will interfere with your ability to listen. In addition, be sure you’re allowing enough time to listen fully. If you ask your child, “What was the best thing about school today?” ask it when you’ll have time to hear their answer and start a conversation with them about it.
  5. If you have a specific topic that you want input on, say so. You’ll stay more focused and so will the person(s) talking to you if you are on track with the agreed-upon topic. In a formal setting resist the urge to allow “kitchen sink” discussions where participants bring up unrelated topics – that’s a key reason why meetings get way too long. If the group needs a generalized brainstorming and miscellaneous input meeting to feel heard, set it up as a separate event.
  6. Be an involved listener. Give feedback by paraphrasing what you think you heard. This will help the other person know you were paying attention (a plus for your relationship) and it will help to prevent misunderstandings. As they’re talking provide some signals that you’re listening, like a head nod if you’re in person or a periodic mm-hmm if you’re on the phone.
  7. Listen for the whole message. Look at their body language. Notice their tone of voice and the volume and pace at which they’re speaking. They will be giving you both content and feeling in the total message, and both pieces are important. In fact, the feeling BEHIND the content might be the most important thing they communicate to you.
  8. Resist the urge to give advice or solve their problem. Many times people only want a listening ear to help them think out loud. If you interrupt their talking you’re interrupting their thinking, so you’re actually interfering with their ability to handle it themselves. And as we all know, people like their own solutions better then they like somebody else’s, even better than they like yours.
  9. Keep an open mind and fight your inclination to “consider the source.” My husband and I joke all the time about the spousal discount, which means that people tend to believe only about a half of what their spouses say, while they’ll take the same information as gospel from an outside source. Our inner attitudes about the other person might filter out so much of their information that we’ll lose something that could be quite valuable.
  10. Remember that listening demonstrates the value that person holds for you. If you want to build a better relationship with someone, devote the time to listen to them. You don’t have to be the center of attention, regaling them with entertaining or informative stories. Just be there. You’ll be perceived as the best conversationalist if your primary role is to keep them talking.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Creating the space in which something wonderful can happen

I'll tell you some of my story to illustrate a point today, but this isn't only my story.  This is about making room, about creating opportunity for good things to happen, in your personal life and in your work life.

Anhui Sisters (and a couple of brothers too!)

We just returned last evening from a reunion with eight other families who traveled to Anhui Province, China in 2005 to adopt daughters.   The adoption of our two daughters (one earlier, in 1996, and this one) was the best thing that my husband and I have ever done.  The two week trip with these wonderful other families bonded us for life, and every year they become more and more my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.

Some of this would happen naturally as a result of circumstance.  We have some things in common (adoption, travel to China, daughters,) but we wouldn't automatically stay connected.   The opportunity has to be created within which the relationships we started in China can evolve, renew, and enrich themselves.

Back in January, we all received an email from one of our Anhui moms ("Awesome" is her new name) that read:
"Some friends of ours had rented a house at Virginia Beach and I said "Hey, good idea or what?'" For anyone who is interested and able to make it the house has been rented, yes I skipped all the scheduling questions in the hope that anyone who is interested will make a huge effort to join us, (yes rented) for the weekend of APRIL 15-18."
So there it was - a window that each family could choose to open and step through for the opportunity to refresh and renew ourselves as a group.  "Awesome," told us at the end of the weekend that she knew she would win either way taking this risk - either it would be a bomb and she would never be asked to organize it again (win) or it would be a terrific weekend (even bigger win).

We divvied up the responsibilities:
  • Setting up for evening meals (Diva did that.)
  • Easter egg hunt for the kids (Jen)
  • Goodie bags (Goddess and her husband Russ)
  • Sky lanterns (Cindy)
  • Birthday cake (Jeannie)
  • Dinner entrees (Awesome, Diva, Marvelous, Fabulous, Katherine the Great and more)
  • Last minute runs for food and supplies (Marc, Awesome, Russ, Goddess, Greg, Cindy)
  • DVDs, wii, DS games - everybody did their thing
  • I'm sure I've missed some things, but you get the idea
Once we were at the beach house - NO SCHEDULE.  The players were in place, the time and space were set, and...
  1. The kids played, and played, and played
  2. Seashells were collected
  3. Kites were flown
  4. Bocci and "Apples to Apples" games were taught
  5. Frizbees were thrown
  6. Air mattresses were bounced upon
  7. Sand forts were built, crushed and rebuilt
  8. Talking, talking and more talking
  9. Walks were taken along the shoreline
  10. Countless photographs
  11. A big sister put together and showed a multimedia presentation of the weekend highlights
  12. Kids collapsed with giggles from the Flarp noise putty (I won't describe why they did!)
  13. Sky Lanterns were launched under a full moon and starry sky
I don't think that anybody was ready to go home, although school days and jobs were awaiting most of us.  How refreshing that weekend was!  How wonderful to go with the opportunity set before us, and the space allowed for us to do whatever the spirit moved us to do.

Thank you to Awesome for figuring out that the only thing the Anhui Sisters and their families really needed was the opportunity.  They would take care of the rest on their own.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Don't try to push them through a doorway

Push Push
Originally uploaded by jeff_golden
"Who died and left you boss??!"  siblings have been known to exclaim in times of fraternal stress.  Kids say that when somebody else they view as a peer tries to grab a position of supreme knowledge and authority, and then to impose it on them.

When you're a leader it's your job to try to influence others' behavior, either through relationship (power) or through position (authority).  But you'll be less than effective if you try to "push a person through a doorway" rather than leave a door open for them to choose to step through.

Do you find yourself in an informal recurring role as "teacher" with your friends and family?  Do they ask you to share your knowledge, or are you in a habit of volunteering it without being asked?

If you are constantly telling people what they should do and how good they could be, you're not acknowledging where they are and who they are.  You are basing your relationship with them on their performance, not their personhood.

This can sneak up on you, because your intentions can be completely good and helpful.  But when you say something like, "Wow, you've lost weight!"  you're focusing on their performance and placing yourself in the role of evaluator.  If instead you say to the person, "Wow, you look great!" you're acknowledging them as they are right in this moment, rather than viewing them in a comparative sense.

Why is it important to you that people around you improve in the way that you want them to?  If you look around you and find that you have established a pattern of relationships with people who aren't "as far along" as you are, it's quite possible that it's all about you.  It's about your need to feel smart, to be better, to be the teacher or parent with them. 

What would happen if you would operate from the assumption that people are perfect just the way they are?  How would your relationship with them change?  You might:
  • Be more likely to tell them the truth as you see it
  • Interact with them as though they can accomplish anything
  • Point out their natural strengths and qualities
  • Talk with them in terms of possibilities rather than problems
There is more benefit available to you than simply a change in your relationship with other people if you choose to stretch these interpersonal muscles.  By practicing these things you can instigate a change in yourself.  You can become more accepting of yourself, which will free you from the need to educate and control.  That, in turn, will enhance and accelerate the improvement in your interpersonal effectiveness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to win at the bargaining table

Originally uploaded by themexican
To start off, let's make sure that we're in sync on definition of terms.  Negotiation is "mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement." (  It's a mutual process, meaning that it's different from issuing ultimatums or making pronouncements.  Negotiation is a process of give and take between parties with the goal of reaching a mutually acceptable outcome.

If you want to avoid walking away from the table with no deal, or doing so feeling like you have been taking advantage of, consider these pointers from Stanford Graduate School of Business:

Plan Ahead
Think ahead about your goal, your desired outcome for the negotiation.  You need to consider AHEAD OF TIME the point at which you are willing to walk away. Make a list of things that you are willing to budge on, and those components of the deal that are important enough that you will not be willing to surrender.  Remember that you are not the only one at the table.  If you anticipate the other party's concerns you may be able to enter the negotiation with some ideas already in place.  Test your assumptions once you are actually engaged with them. 

Remember that there isn't a "Fixed Pie"
Don't assume that both parties have to lose something in order for the issue to be resolved.  You may be able to satisfy a mutual interest if you are willing to suggest alternatives that have not yet been explored.

Frame the issue to influence the other party
You take a risk if you assume that the other party interprets the issue in the same way as you.  Instead of going with your assumption, take some time at the beginning to frame it as you see it.  Then when you see that the other party has accepted your premise, negotiate from the framework that you have laid out.  (For example, in recent Congressional budget negotiations, all sorts of ideology-related cuts were framed as deficit reduction in an attempt for them to gain acceptance.  This strategy worked to influence some of the public, but wasn't completely successful with the negotiating parties.)

Consider cross-cultural issues
You take a risk of an unsuccessful outcome when you assume that the other party in the negotiation is just like you.  In cross-cultural negotiations there may be greater differences in values and priorities than you are used to handling.  This can be dealt with by doing some research during your planning phase, and then testing your information once you are in process in the negotiation to make sure you haven't simply replaced one incorrect assumption with another.

Remember the parameters for the negotiation
The outer limits of the negotiation are called anchors.  When the other party proposes a solution that you think is completely unreasonable, be careful not to use the solution as the anchor for further negotiation.  Make sure that you and they start negotiating in earnest from two reasonable positions.  Who gets to determine what is reasonable?  Typically the party with the upper hand going into the negotiation.  For example, in the case of a real estate transaction, the seller has the upper hand unless they are in some circumstance like financial distress where they must sell now at whatever price.

Slow Down
Have you ever sold something to someone who took the asking price without any haggling?  Did you feel good about that transaction, or did you come away thinking that you should have asked more?  If you're like most people, you were kicking yourself afterward for asking too little.  If you're on the other end, always offer less, even when you know the price is an incredible deal.  It will help the other person come away from the negotiation feeling good.

Be a good sport
Nobody likes a gloating winner.  Be gracious, even when you know that your negotiation skills have enabled you to garner greater benefit than the other party.

Remember when you are engaged in negotiation that it is likely, perhaps even a given, that you will be encountering this person across the table again in the future.  The relationship points that you add or deduct in this transaction will have an impact on your future success.  Understand that you are laying the groundwork for the next negotiation, and the next, during this one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

At least you've got your health

Originally uploaded by andy in nyc
No matter your station in life - rich, poor, young, old, senior executive or front-line contributor - there is a thread that binds you to every other person in the world.  It is your reliance on feeling good and fit enough to accomplish your daily routines and challenges.  Sometimes it's easy to take health for granted.  You might not notice you're knees until you injure them.  (I know, spoken like an aging person.  Trust me, it's not for sissies.) You might not think twice about your weekly indulgence of triple bacon cheeseburgers and super-sized fries until you're super-sized yourself.

This isn't all within your control.  You might eventually succumb to cancer, or to a stroke, or even to the bad driving skills of another person under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  But there is so much that you can do to influence your own outcomes.  Are you taking a conscious and active part in managing the state of your health?

Benefits Selling magazine recently published results of an employee health survey.  ComPsych asked employees "Which health issue are you most trying to stay ahead of this year?"  Here's what they said:
  • 39% - weight loss
  • 23% - stress
  • 22% - exercise
  • 7%   - diet improvement
  • 5%   - quitting smoking
  • 4%   - other
The good news is that all of these areas of concern noted by employees are health issues that they have control or influence over.  Nobody I know is being forced to breathe air through a thin tube of lit tobacco.  Nobody is inadvertently consuming a gallon of ice cream.  The vast majority of health-influencing behaviors are habits, and like other habits, they tend to respond well to goal planning.

If you have a specific health concern right now, what are you doing about it?  If you're still contemplating and not acting, or if you have taken some action but aren't seeing the improved results you want, consider these ideas:
  1. Define the problem.  Excess weight, the most common concern of these survey respondents, can have a number of causes and contributors.  You will have the most success when you have clearly identified your specific issue.
  2. Set reasonable goals.  You will stay on track longer if you establish benchmarks that you can hit with a reasonable amount of additional attention.  Small successes give you the motivational fuel to pursue larger and more ambitious goals.  The goals will be more motivational to you when they are measurable.  "Better health" won't do it like "Eat 5 fruits and veggies per day" will.
  3. Know why you are doing this.  What is the impact on you, your family, your finances, your other goals, if you were to achieve an improvement in your health?
  4. Face your obstacles head-on.  There are reasons why you haven't solved the problem before.  Give yourself a leg up by naming them, then
  5. Develop multiple potential solutions.  Your obstacles aren't STOP signs unless you allow them to be such.  Brainstorm, do research, ask experts, or do whatever you need to do to identify your path over, around, or through your obstacles.  It's helpful to have a Plan B in your pocket in case Plan A doesn't give you the results you want.
  6. Commit to action.  Be specific about the action you are going to take, and by when.  If it helps, enlist a buddy with similar goals to help you stay on track.  Make appointments (yes, actually enter them in your calendar) so you don't step on your own needs for the sake of somebody else's goals.  You can't be of optimal benefit to the somebody else and the world if you're not in the condition to do so.
  7. Evaluate your progress regularly.  Some changes require daily follow-up and tracking.  If you are trying to make a big change make your follow-up frequent enough to keep your goal front-and-center in your awareness.
  8. Engage your perseverance.  Keep your ultimate goal in mind.  It will help your current activity toward your goal feel more important and easier to do.  It took you a while to get where you are.  Expect that it will also take a while to make the improvements you seek.
Even in times of economic stress (perhaps especially then,) you can take steps to improve your health.  Only YOU determine whether you take matters into your own hands - nobody else can do it.  There are a lot of things you can do for free, so finances aren't a show-stopper.  It's a question of whether you are ready to choose to be in charge of that part of your life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Are you ruder than a congressman?

Originally uploaded by egasbarino

You're not imagining things if you think that your legislators are too busy arguing to get anything done.  A recent study by Harvard University professor Gary King confirms what you have thought all along.

In an article in Investment Watch, it is revealed that

Professor King and two graduate students analyzed 64,033 press releases sent out by all U.S. senators from 2005 to 2007. They used a computer program to sort them into different categories, based on their content.

Three of their categories were well known to political scientists. Over the years, they have come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Congressmen, which holds that there are three primary ways a legislator expresses him- or herself.

The first is credit-claiming. That involves a legislator trumpeting his own role in securing a bridge or a dam or some other thing voters want. “ ‘The government did this thing. It’s because of me,’ ” King explained.
The second is position-taking. This is the thing that “Schoolhouse Rock” and civics classes teach you is the point of congressional speechifying. “ ‘I’m at this point on the ideological continuum,’ ” King said.

The third traditional category is “advertising.” It might be recognizing some hometown team or dignitary, a nonpartisan effort to get one’s name out there. “ ‘Look at me! I’m a member of Congress!’ ” King said.
But Professor King discovered a fourth category that accounted for 27 percent of the communication - comments that were solely taunts of the other side.  And it's hard to dispute his view that this behavior pattern is distracting Congress from doing what it is elected to do:  "To find common ground to solve national problems."

It may be a statement of the obvious to say this is a validation of the idea that gaining points and keeping one's seat is more important than doing the job in Congress.  But the question behind this is - how exclusive is this to elected officials? 

Is this behavior a reflection of a national culture of one-upsmanship, or is the pattern of taunting leaking from Congress into the culture?  Is the protection of one's own position becoming more important than achieving a common good, even outside of the political arena?

In the workplace there is an overarching goal that everyone is supposed to be pursuing.  So if you assume that every leader and every employee is focused on that, the pointing out of other's shorthcomings should be the exception rather than the rule, right?  Right?

I wonder, though, in a world where there is no longer a "guaranteed" job for life gig and employee loyalty isn't what it used to be, whether all bets are off in the civility department.  Perhaps watching the political sideshow is encouraging people in the larger society to be just a bit meaner in order to forward their own agendas.  What do you think?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You only think you know

Sun Circle
Originally uploaded by uberschnapp
Here's a quick demonstration for you to do:  imagine your scope of knowledge on a subject you only know a little bit about, and draw a circle of a size that represents that knowledge.  Now draw another circle, this time to represent the scope of your knowledge about a subject in which you have some expertise. 

Your second circle is probably bigger, perhaps much bigger, than the first.  Now consider this:  which circle has the larger circumference?  The second, larger circle does.  So what?

You have just represented on paper the impact of discovering how much you don't know.  As you learn about a particular topic, the scope of what can be known begins to grow.  When you discover the sun you start to consider the other heavenly bodies.  When you learn about the Milky Way, your awareness grows about the other galaxies with which you are still unacquainted.  Your perceived scope of your own ignorance grows with each new bit of knowledge that you ingest.

If you don't want to feel ignorant, don't learn anything.  Live in the comfortable pocket where you think you know it all.  It won't mean that you know, only that you have not yet recognized that there is a gap in your information.

You might feel uncomfortable once you realize how much more there is to know.  It's quite humbling to realize once you climb a mountain that there is a huge expanse of other mountains now in your sightline.  If you can learn to live with the discomfort, the ambiguity, the temporary feelings of incompetence, you can be invigorated (or re-energized) by the prospect of exploration.

How big is your circle?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Social media doesn't want your content

One Way Conversation
Originally uploaded by pixielove
Approximately every other business leader I speak with talks about how his or her company is activating their participation in social media, getting frustrated about measuring the effectiveness of their social media efforts, or some such issue.  Some are designating individuals or hiring contractors to handle this piece of their marketing.  But if you agree with Olivier Blanchard, author of The Brandbuilder Blog, you'll see that they are misperceiving, or rather underestimating, the role that social media could be or should be fulfilling for their companies.

The marketing-focused approach to social media means that companies produce content.  They blog, they produce You-Tube videos and slideshares.  Blanchard thinks that this approach is short-sighted:

"If you have ever wondered why “content” was such a recurring theme and point of focus in the social space – when it clearly doesn’t need to be, this is why. What you are looking at ..., and what you are hearing ... isn’t representative of social business or a social media program for business. What it illustrates is limited to social media marketing: The traditional marketing function adapted and applied to social media channels. This world view reflects a belief that social media management is primarily a marketing function. This is of course incorrect.
Since social media channels and the social space are not inherently marketing-focused channels, the correct approach for a business looking to see both short and long term results, is one that is NOT primarily marketing-centric, and therefore NOT primarily content-centric."
This might be good news for you if you're sweating about your lack of resources or lack of talent for the production of content to place on social media.  I could cite a multitude of examples where content pushers have been met with resistance, even hostility, in social media space, and here's why.  Social means interactive.  Content pushing, on the other hand, is a one-way conversation.

Blanchard sees the true potential in social media to be an across-the-board strategic integration with multiple functions in your company.  There are so many points in your business operation where input from and dialogue with current and potential customers can influence and improve your products, services, and their delivery.  Blanchard cites these examples:

•Digital Customer Service
•Business Intelligence

•Digital market research

•Consumer Insights Management

•Online Reputation Management
•Digital crisis management

And there are more - I chose just a few for illustration purposes.  This list represents opportunity for you to have a real dialogue with your customers.  That's social.  That's not only marketing.  That's integrated.  And that, my dear Watson, doesn't require you to invest a ton of resources in producing content.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dead artists can teach us

"Daddy" by Allison Hannah Jing-Mei Poland
Here are some thoughts from my business partner and husband, Jim Poland, in reply to a question from Kwai Yu in the United Kingdom on the Leaders Cafe Group on Linkedin (click to follow the discussion there):

Each of us has our own "canvas" to paint upon. The subjects we illuminate, like Van Gogh's Sunflowers or church steeple on a Starry Night, are our legacies.

What will your children or grandchildren "paint" as a result of the leadership you provided to them, and the self-leadership you demonstrated?

Like the thick layers of paint that Vincent squeezed out of the tubes and applied to his canvasses, you are but one generation layering your "paint" upon the prior generation's "painting" and your children layer theirs upon your colours, and brush strokes and twists.

Life is like the process for an oil painting. First you motion your hand across the canvas imaging your composition, without applying a mark. Then you lightly apply pencil strokes to help your mind's eye form your picture. Then you apply light, thin washes of colour to "block" in the image of your composition so that you can assess the "weight" of light to dark zones and foreground to vanishing point, from source of light to shadow, etc. Then boldly you begin to mix and massage your paints on your pallet, while still tentatively testing your colours on the canvas and their influence and support for your overall composition.

So goes our lives . . .

Paint on!

~ by Jim Poland
father, husband, brother, friend, artist, coach, leader 

Monday, April 4, 2011

When the way is narrow, and long - and uphill

An alternate title to this post could be "How many obstacles are too many?" or "When do the signs tell me to pack it in?"

The definition of what is one step too far depends upon the judgment of the value of the outcome.  If I want ice cream for a snack and there is none in my freezer, I'm comfy in my jammies already and it's raining outside I'm probably not going to choose to take the steps necessary to score a carton or a cone.  The reward of that creamy, cold goodness is outweighed by the inconvenience of going to get it.  I know numerous, stories, however, of the heroism of devoted husbands of jonesing pregnant wives - men who have braved blizzards for a quart of chocolate chip.

The rewards for overcoming obstacles are sometimes external, like the continued admiration and adoration of your spouse, your kids, or your boss.  They might be tangible, like the taste and texture of the ice cream.  You might stand something measurable to gain, like a promotion or a salary increase.

But sometimes the rewards are intangible and internal.  This is not to say that they aren't important.  Sometimes the biggest rewards come from knowing that you acted in accordance with your values, or that you upheld a responsibility that you think is key to your role as wife, husband, leader, child, etc.  They can't be measured or seen.  Their impact is revealed in your emotional state, in your feelings of congruence and satisfaction and competence.

I am often asked how many obstacles are too many.  The answer is simple but hard - it depends upon how big and numerous the rewards are in comparison to the obstacles.  The challenge for a goal-setter is that often the rewards piece of the plan is left to the subconscious.  It is often not articulated in detail.  The value of the rewards isn't considered completely, so the scales of motivation vs. struggle appear to be tipped in favor of avoiding the struggle.  Thus the difference - sometimes a gulf - between a goal setter and a goal achiever.

Your autopilot, your subconscious value-weighting, occurs on a daily basis.  That's why some days you ask yourself, "Why did I spend my time doing that instead of doing this?"  Your unconscious assessments of the relative rewards and consequences didn't support your doing this - so you did that.

If you don't want to live on autopilot, that which replicates the results you are already getting, you will need to bring the rewards/obstacles analysis to the conscious level.  You'll need to place your brain onto "manual" in order to conquer longstanding habits of thought and behavior.  When you see adequate rewards you'll be willing to climb a loooooong staircase, and you may shock everyone - including yourself -by doing it without complaint.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How Not to Lose the Blame Game

Blame Game
Originally uploaded by Junaid Saeed
The short answer to this how-to post, "How Not to Lose the Blame Game," is simple.  Don't play. But perhaps some additional explanation will help to make the point.  Here goes:

  • For every finger you point at somebody else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.  The harder you work to make your case that the other guy did it, the more you start to look like you're working on a magic trick where the only way to make the Ace of Hearts "appear" out of the deck of cards is to distract the audience.  Perhaps thou dost protest too much.  Somebody is going to notice.
  • Blaming a single party, or even a couple of parties, assumes that it's that simple.  Big problems are rarely attributable to one person, one cause.  Some issues have dozens, even hundreds, of contributing factors.  You don't have enough fingers to point at all of them.  In addition, causes are often NOT people, but rather processes.  The people might be doing their darnedest to get it right, but as long as they are operating in a flawed process or system, their efforts will be futile.
  • Blame sets up an environment of self-defense.  If you want to get to the bottom of it and you're pointing fingers you're likely to have a tough time wringing the information out of people.  Nobody wants to be exposed, even suspected, of doing something wrong.  Their defenses will come up and their tongues will be tied when you go on the offensive.  Cover-ups and editing of bad news could prove disastrous.
  • Blame is an abdication of responsibility.  If you want to be a leader you take responsibility and fufill your commitments.  You don't give responsibility away, even if it might seem convenient right now.  Blame is a position of inaction and powerlessness.
  • Blame doesn't change anything.  You are where you are, so now the question is not how you got here.  The question is how to move forward.  If the focus is on the future the blame game becomes irrelevant.
Sure, it can be important to look at root causes of problems so you can take steps to prevent yourself from having to learn the same lessons over and over again.  But in the search for the root causes, people are only one piece of the analysis - the impact of methods, environment, equipment, materials, and environment also need to be considered if you truly want to solve the problem.  DO you truly want to solve it?  Or is it more fun to point the finger?