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Posts tagged ‘Organization Development’

Creating New Leaders from Within

While the predicted tsunami of Baby Boomer retirements has not yet materialized, the fact remains that 42% of the workforce will become able to retire by 2017 and 70% within the next 10 years.1 The question for all organizations is how to best prepare for this significant change in leadership and management?

Many organizations look externally for candidates. But with intentional planning and preparation, new leaders and managers can be built through internal processes. The following outline of questions provides a foundation for creating such a process.

What are we trying to achieve?
Every organization has a mission. It has linchpin positions or capacities that keep momentum moving toward fulfilling that mission. A linchpin is a special pin that is used to keep axles on vehicles. In organizations, a linchpin keeps the team functioning smoothly, delivering what is needed – with a great attitude. A linchpin manages operations efficiently. A linchpin looks to the future, translating plans into actions while remembering the lessons of the past. A linchpin knows that it is about relationships throughout the system. Can you state the mission; and, list the linchpin positions and what they achieve for your organization?

What does it mean to be an effective linchpin?
Take your linchpin list and apply the “know-do-be” algorithm. Create a one-sentence statement of what makes someone effective in each linchpin position. For example:

  • Know skills that allow the person to manage people, processes, and technology.
  • Do behave in ways consistent with achieving results in building positive relationships, thinking strategically, and communicating well.
  • Be a person who is an athlete in self-awareness, practices trustworthy and authentic leadership, and has a calling to serve others.

What are the essential linchpin competencies?
Now add a column to your list that gets specific about capacities and competencies that are necessary for success in each linchpin position. These should include knowledge and expertise, behavioral competencies, and critical success factors. Again, the examples are general; your list should be as specific as possible, limited by the needs of the linchpin.

Knowledge and expertise might include:

  • Possesses technical skills
  • Understands how to cultivate productive relationships
  • Communicates skills and values
  • Develops resources
  • Understands organization finances
  • Asks the right questions
  • Works across complex organization systems

Behavioral Competencies might include:

  • Self-managing
  • Exemplifies integrity
  • Resilient in uncertainty
  • Adapts to new environments
  • Builds trust
  • Manages strategic relationships
  • Influences others
  • Communicates confidently
  • Handles conflict resourcefully
  • Mentors and coaches others

Critical Success Factors might include

  • Committed to the organization’s values
  • Innovative and creative
  • Understands the financial impact of decisions

What actions need to be taken?
Add a fourth column that lists names of persons in your organization who have high potential for leading and managing each linchpin position. For each person identified, create an action plan. Their plan should include opportunities to expand knowledge, grow behavioral competencies, and be given opportunities to act. Here are concrete ideas to use in systematically developing leaders and managers:

  • Job rotation
  • Special project assignments
  • Action learning: study and make recommendation on a significant issue
  • Individual coaching and feedback
  • Targeted training – online or in person – in operations and leadership
  • Opportunities for role transition – allowing them to serve temporarily in a linchpin capacity while someone is on vacation or leave.

What other actions will support this process?
How will you communicate this information throughout your organization? Would a profile and checklist for each linchpin capacity allow everyone in the organization to understand the requirements and development path? How might you build this into your performance reviews? When and how will you start building your leadership pipeline?

There are many compelling reasons to begin building an actionable plan for developing future leaders. What first steps will you take to begin planning today?

1Government Accounting Office

Other reading:
Godin, S. (2011). “Linchpin: Are you indispensable?” Penguin Group, New York, NY.
Charam, R. (2012). “The Leadership Pipeline.” Wiley, San Francisco, CA.

Success – or not

“We want to be successful; we want to be the best,” is one of the most common responses when leaders are asked about organization goals. But as I watch those organizations and individuals who are outwardly and apparently successful, I wonder, “Is that what we really want? Or do we want to inspire mastery?”

Success is a peak moment in time, captured in a photograph or by the plaque on the wall. It might be captured in Monday morning data, now the recent past. It may be celebrated for a night or a few days. It might even be noted on the local television station or newspaper. But success is not lasting.

Mastery focuses on what there is to learn, where the growing edge might be, and the discipline to continue moving forward. Mastery demands endurance and courage. It is not motivated by success or perfection – which have more to do with how others view us and what we do.

Mastery is not the same as success – which is only a moment in time. It is a constant pursuit of improvement, growth, and creativity. It is resilience in times of less than desirable outcomes and even outright failure.

Leaders can act to promote the pursuit of mastery over success:

Analyze Failure. Intermountain Healthcare, a system of 23 hospitals in Utah and Idaho, routinely analyzes physicians’ deviations from medical protocols. The goal is growth and improvement. Actively tracking and analyzing deviations and sharing the outcome data encourage physicians to buy into this program. The goal is to motivate people to move beyond the surface: “procedures weren’t followed,” to identifying critical thinking skills and understanding outcomes and results.1

Promote creativity. Mayo Clinic created the “queasy eagle” award honoring near, but abandoned wins. The goal was to create change and transformation after realizing that years of intolerance of failure stopped medical breakthroughs. In the 18 years prior to this award, Mayo had created only 36 new ideas for patient care in a particular field. In the year following, 245 new ideas were created, some of which are now patented.2

Build a learning culture. A learning culture is one where failures of all types, large and small, are reported, analyzed, and used as opportunities for discovery and growth. It is a culture where experiments are encouraged over and over again. Some leaders worry that being sympathetic to failure will lead to “anything goes.” In our complex world, failure is certain. It is our response to it that will dictate whether positive change and transformation emerge.

Creating an organizational culture that seeks mastery over success is not magic. It must be fought for every day in a disciplined, intentional way. It requires leadership, not management. If you lose this battle, you may lose the battle for talent and sustainability.

Mastery invests in people not just tools. It encourages risk rather than punishing failure. It rewards contribution not competition. It accepts responsibility rather than assigning blame. It thinks of span of influence, not span of control. It focuses on “what” is right instead of “who” is right.

A master does not know a subject perfectly, from end-to-end. An organization that seeks mastery will not be a perfect place to work. Those who seek mastery know that there is more that they don’t know that what they do know. The learning organization knows that there will always be more to learn.

Those who lead toward mastery know that courage is not the absence of fear. How do you define success?

1Bohmer, R.M.M. (2010). “Fixing Health Care on the Front Lines,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010
2APQC. (2006) “Mayo Clinic Innovation: Putting Ideas into Action,” American Productivity & Quality Center, p. 139.

When Nothing Can Be Done

“Nothing can be done about that, it’s a government regulation. This is the way we’ve always done it. If we change the way we do that, something will go seriously wrong. We don’t have the money, people, or time to improve. We’re just stuck with the way things are.”

All of these statements have some truth in them. Variations of these stories exist in every government agency and private industry group. The stories involve excuses and blame. Excuses are made for not tackling challenges or taking accountability for needed improvement. Blame is assessed to others and external circumstances, blame that allows the status quo to live another day. They can all be examples of “learned helplessness.”

Learned helplessness can infect organizations and individuals. It was first studied in dogs that were subjected to shocks, and, when allowed to escape the shock, the animals chose to be passive and accept the shock. They had learned not to act and failed to notice the change in the environment that would have allowed a different outcome. Further research has shown that like their best friends, humans and organizations can exhibit the same behavior.

Employees feel hopeless in the face of bureaucracy and rules. They stop being creative and follow the same mind-numbing routine. Managers stop asking for what is needed and helpful because too often the answer has been, “We can’t.” Leaders are tired of pushing for change and more resources. Even when something is possible, they feel still feel helpless and hopeless.

Martin Seligman, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says that learning helplessness happens when people in an organization no longer believe they can act to make a difference. The result for the organization is a downward performance spiral followed by decreased communication and respect for others. People spend all of their energy trying to protect themselves.

Changing learned helplessness in an organization’s culture does not happen quickly. As leaders and managers behind the desk, it’s up to us to stick our heads up, recognize the assumptions of learned helplessness, look at what we can control, and open up the escape routes.

Start by recognizing the language and behavior of helplessness: “we can’t; we’ve always done it that way; remember, they didn’t replace that position; we don’t have the money; it’s the new regulation.” Then take action to overturn the collective helplessness … one step at a time.

Every time you hear or see learned helplessness showing up, ask, “What do we have control over? What one small action could you take that would make a difference for you or our team?” Ask the person or team to create a S-M-A-R-T experiment with you:

  • S – Safe. If things don’t go well, your team should be able to continue functioning.
  • M – Modest. This is a simple, first step out of the danger zone of learned helplessness; it is not a destination where everything is “fixed.”
  • A – Actionable. The team should be able to act quickly, determine what works and what doesn’t, make adjustments, and try again … all within a week or two.
  • R – Research. It should be an experiment that gathers information for future decisions, not an experiment with the goal of improvement.
  • T – Test. The experiment should deliver information that is beneficial for overcoming learned helplessness and offering hopefulness rather than becoming a new strategy.

An example: Imagine a scenario where an organization attempts to use online employee scheduling, starting in the year 2005. The effort repeatedly fails. The organization’s employees learned over time that the online scheduling environment is a failure. Ten years later, when management is presented with a new proposal for online scheduling, they may still resist the idea because of what they learned ten years ago. This reaction to the new proposal is an example of learned helplessness. It does not take into account the changed online environment where everything from smart phones to tablets to computers could allow access to scheduling. The change in environment has the potential to deliver success. The next step is to create a S-M-A-R-T experiment on a micro-scale to see what might be possible.

In the end, the question is not, “did we meet our goal?” The questions are, “how did this experiment move us away from being stuck? How did it change our assumptions about what is possible and what isn’t?”

See the culture of learned helplessness. Look for possible escape routes. See which ones are open. Then use them.

Other Reading:
Seligman, M. (2013). “Learned Helplessness.” Oxford University Press.
Kegan, R., Lahey, L. (2012). “Immunity to Change.” Harvard Business Press.

For more on overcoming learned helplessness: Just tell me what to do!

the decision to trust

One of the quickest ways to gain everyone’s focus is to say the word “trust” in any given situation: work, training, coaching – the workplace, community organization, or family. We know who we trust and want others to trust us. But we don’t spend much time thinking about how and why we trust others and how and why others trust us.

Have you ever extended trust and gotten burned? Distrust leads to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are associated with processes initiated by the amygdala – the “low road” of the brain. A judgment of distrust immediately sets up the fight – flight – freeze experience in a threat response.

How do you feel when you’ve extended trust and received trust in return? Neurological research suggests that trust is correlated with the presence of oxytocin. This hormone is associated with healthy personal connections demonstrated by reduced fear response and increased well-being. In a trusting environment of relationships, the high-level brain functions – critical analysis, logic, creative thinking, and verbal ability – are easily accessed.

From behind the desk as leaders and managers, we function every day in workplaces where there is never enough time to reach the end of the “to-do” list. We face an unending series of conflicting demands. We are forced to change priorities often, sometimes on the spot. We do not always have control over compensation or promotions. We try to be transparently honest, consistent in our actions, and caring about each person. Yet we wonder why at times people work with an air of resignation, with a lack of trust in our leaders and organizations.

Understanding trust in the workplace:
Trust in the workplace is about vulnerability. In the workplace we are vulnerable in the areas of money, role, or promotions. And vulnerable to intangible things like beliefs, a way of doing things, status, or reputation. We are vulnerable to other’s actions. When we trust, we hope their actions will support and, at least, not harm us.

Trust is the focus of safety, autonomy, and human dignity. When we trust, our reactions include: I am safe. I can be open and curious. I can handle what is happening. I communicate freely, offer ideas, and expect the best. The opposites are true for distrust: I am in danger and under threat. I need to protect myself. I can’t handle this. I complain, withdraw, and expect the worst. I experience fear, anger, and resentment.

When we choose to trust we are making a complex decision. Stating that we trust someone is based on our judgment in four areas: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

  • Integrity has become a buzzword. It is invisible. But at its core, integrity is honesty: telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Other qualities that are a part of integrity are: congruence – acting consistently from our values, humility – putting others first while being more concerned about what is right rather than being right, and courage – doing the right thing even in the face of challenges.
  • Intent is part of our character. At its core is sincerity and motivation. To increase trust, intent must be visible. We communicate openly about what we are choosing to do and why we are acting. We communicate that our motivation is to act for the genuine benefit of others. We seek ways to create “enough” rather than function out of stress and scarcity.
  • Capabilities are more than the traditional “KSA” – knowledge, skills, and abilities. They include “TASKS:” Talents – natural gifts and strengths. Attitudes – our map of the world and how we behave. Skills – what we do well, specifically ones that are relevant to our work. Knowledge – learning, insight, and awareness. Style – our unique approaches to work, our personality.
  • Results represent our track record in taking responsibility for accomplishing goals and getting the right things done.

Managing trust in the workplace:
Since trust is a complex decision, as leaders and managers we can begin to understand ourselves by asking, “How am I acting and communicating in ways that build trust in my integrity and sincerity? In my intent and care? In my capabilities and competence? In my results and reliability?”

We manage more successfully when we ask ourselves why we don’t trust someone before we begin having workplace conversations. What are we saying when we say that we don’t trust someone? Do we have issues with their integrity? Intentions? Capabilities? Or, results?

Then we begin the conversation with being specific about our concerns about what they have done, not focusing on what they are. Ask how they see the situation and listen carefully for issues of integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

Ask what they would do to restore trust. State clearly what actions and attitudes you need to experience from them in order to restore trust. Close by asking how they will commit to act in a trustworthy way.

On the flip side, if we have broken trust, the only antidote is to acknowledge and apologize. Acknowledgement means recognizing the betrayal of trust from the other person’s perspective – even if it was unintentional on your part. Be specific about how trust was betrayed: by integrity, intent, capability, or result. And apologize: take responsibility and state your intent to act with good motives and care for everyone’s benefit and well-being. It always includes not repeating the action and acting to correct the problem at hand.

Practicing trust in the workplace:
Observe your co-workers and begin to distinguish between different types of trust issues. Reflect on what others you trust are saying and doing that makes them trustworthy. Ask, “What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?”

Inspire trust by seeking to understand yourself and your own credibility, and then consistently behave in trust-building ways with other people. Consider how you can communicate so that others do not misunderstand you. Create and hold an intention to be trustworthy. An intention will bring clarity (why I’m doing this), meaning (why it’s important to me), and purpose (why this reflects my values) to everything that happens

Trust in the workplace takes an understanding how others judge trustworthiness, observing language and actions, and setting an intention to be a trusted leader, co-worker, and employee. Relationships based on mutual trust are the foundation for health in our companies, government, communities, and families.

What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?

Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!

“Could I give you some feedback?”

Just reading these words brings a rush of adrenaline.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down. We are continually assessed, evaluated, rated, offered feedback. It began at home: do this, don’t do that, “No!” And continued from kindergarten: 300 assignments, papers, and tests per year of school. And in debates at work over which process works best, how to analyze the data flood, and where to spend the shrinking budget. And don’t forget performance reviews: hundreds of hours are spent preparing and engaging in that annual process.

Our entire lives we’ve received feedback: how to do it better, change, improve, and grow. Sometimes the feedback is immediately useful. But at other times it is off base, poorly delivered, or offered without understanding of our situation. Done badly, feedback can leave us angry, demoralized, and unappreciated.

Why is receiving feedback hard? How can we use challenging and even crazy-making feedback to gain insight and succeed?

Our first reaction after hearing feedback is to identify why it is wrong. And there is likely something wrong about all feedback: lack of understanding you, the situation, or even flat-out incorrect: Telling me to mentor people when that is your goal, not mine. Critiquing my new plan for training while forgetting that your plan doesn’t include an online component or even require electricity. Suggesting that 2+2=7. Once we’ve identified the mistake, we stop listening.

The challenge is to recognize our defensiveness and choose a different path.

Begin with identifying what is being offered. Feedback is a word that wears different masks. Are you being offered appreciation that encourages and motivates? Coaching that increases knowledge, skills, and abilities with an opportunity for growth? Or, it is evaluation that describes expectations and where you stand in relationship? Even when we’ve identified what is being offered, it can still be hard to understand and easy to dismiss.

Feedback often falls into one of three categories: helping you, helping the person offering feedback and your relationship, or helping the organization or team. Here are three strategies for moving beyond defensiveness and toward discovery for each category: identify your reaction, make the pitfall shift, listen, and ask follow-up questions.

  1. Reaction: That’s not who I am! Or, that’s wrong!
    Pitfall shift: from You are wrong. to That statement is inaccurate.
    Listen for: information that I don’t have, the other person’s perspective, impacts that I am creating without being aware
    Ask: Do you have an example? What are you concerned about in this situation? How do my actions impact you or the organization?
  2. Reaction: Really – after all my hard work? Or,you are the problem here, not me!
    Pitfall shift: from This is not my fault. to I can see my part; let’s look at the bigger picture because there a multiple things at play here.
    Listen for: what the system issues are, for the relationship issues, including what each person is contributing or not contributing to the issues.
    Ask: Help me understand what you are saying; then, I’d like to discuss how/when/why you are offering this feedback and my concerns. How do you experience me contributing to this issue; what is most upsetting to you?
  3. Reaction: I always make mistakes and mess things up. I’m a failure, right?
    Pitfall shift: from I’m hopeless. to I’m surprised and would like time to think; could we meet later this afternoon or tomorrow to create a plan?
    Listen for: can I look for the coaching that is being offered and find an opportunity to grow, rather than focus on the judgment? How can I change the way I talk to myself so that I don’t automatically swing toward disliking myself?
    Ask: In your experience with others, what steps could I take that would help me improve and grow? What could I change that would matter most to you and the organization?

When receiving feedback, be your own champion. You don’t have to decide whether the feedback is fair or even correct. You don’t have to promise change. Practice understanding what kind of feedback you are being offered, identify your reaction, avoid the pitfall, listen, and ask good questions.

Attempt to use the feedback to create possibilities and generate options. Look for options that benefit you, the feedback giver, and the larger team or organization. Agree on the goal and the process for next steps, even if it is gathering additional information, inviting others into the conversation, looking for strategies for working around individual failures, preferences, or tempers, or simply taking two weeks to see how things develop. Be clear. Know where each person stands when the conversation ends.

Remember, feedback conversations are not one-time events. Most often they exist as part of an ongoing relationship, with multiple interactions over time. Understanding your own reaction, where you stand, and what the next step for you is will help both of you relate. In the end, you are the most important person. You are responsible for your reactions and for your willingness to learn and profit from feedback.

What questions do you ask when evaluating feedback?

multitasking or multiswitching?

“Wrong!” I want to shout every time I read that multitasking is a myth. I can write a blog post, answer email, keep an eye on my incoming text messages, and have a mid-morning snack.

What I’m doing is asking my brain to constantly make switches. Ready, set, go. Start writing. Switch, read email. Switch, take a drink. Switch, compose answer. Switch, take a bite. Switch, read a snippet from an article. Switch, write some more. Switch, quickly read and respond to a text message. Switch, … .

Our brains are amazing organs. Every time I automatically make a switch, my brain has to seek a stored memory and reaction, then re-route seeing, hearing, thinking, muscle action, and coordinate a response.

“See? I can multitask.” I want to believe that I am organized, quick, and efficient. I can do it all. But after years of multitasking, it is starting to sink in: I’m not multitasking – I’m “multiswitching.” The fact is, when I switch my attention, I become less organized, quick, and efficient. This is a hard lesson, one I didn’t want to believe in spite of a convincing, growing body of research: when we divide our attention we waste time and lower our work quality.

How did I learn this lesson? I sat in my reading chair one day and picked up a book. I’d been eagerly awaiting this book and had bought it in paper not as an e-book. I started reading. Less than three pages later I was answering a text message. Then my email “pinged,” and I was off to my desk. The next afternoon, I had to start over from the beginning. The same thing happened. I stared from my desk at my reading chair that is less than four feet away. Had I lost the ability to read a book? I looked at the pile of four books, all partly read. It was clear that the answer was, “Yes.”

I began an experiment. I set a timer for 10 minutes. Could I stay focused for 10 minutes on my book? I looked up many times, but I made it. 20 minutes? After several days, I found I could sit and read again, even become absorbed in my book.

I still “multiswitch” much of the time. But I continue to create experiments, working to regain my ability to focus on one person, one task, one thing at a time.

What experiment will you try to move beyond “multiswitching?”

*Image credit: Unknown creator, Shambhala Sun, May 2014

the art of procrastination

It’s been sitting on the corner of your desk for the past two weeks. It’s a decision waiting to be made, a project waiting to be started, a feedback session waiting to be scheduled. You stare at it. Then leave for another meeting.

All of us procrastinate. Every human being does. In a society obsessed with speed, efficiency, and productivity, we always have more to do than we can possibly accomplish. The question is, “Are we procrastinating well?”

Procrastinating poorly is finally cleaning out the basement, but paying a late fee on the bill that was due today. Worse, procrastinating passively is numbing experience by surfing the web or watching television all while lying on the couch. These types of procrastinating are unquestionably problematic.

On the other hand, active procrastination – the art of delay – is an important skill. Procrastinating well is putting off shoveling the driveway or cleaning your file drawer by doing something that is more valuable. Active procrastination can improve our decision-making and better inform our actions.

What makes active procrastination beneficial? First, it stops the clock. What is the actual deadline? Understanding the timeframe allows for assessment: Am I asking the right questions? Do I have all of the data and information required? What have I experienced in the past that may be influencing my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings? How do my needs for certainty, approval, and belonging effect this?

Active procrastination allows us time and space to check our reality and intuitions. Our tendency to passively procrastinate may be unhealthy avoidance. Our need to constantly race quickly forward with decisions and projects may be supporting our need for control and certainty. Brené Brown states that slowing down allows us to trust ourselves and use intuition well, to “hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.”1

Secondly, it allows for a delay in making the decision or taking action until the last possible moment. If there is one minute to the deadline, you have 59 seconds to make the choice, a month  – 29 days, a year – 364 days. The best athletes know to the millisecond how long to wait before hitting the ball. The best managers know how precisely how long to wait before offering feedback in order to have the maximum effect. The key is using the delay, the gap, to the best advantage.

For example, actively procrastinating until the last moment to offer feedback allows you and those you are interacting with to fully consider how the experience has affected you. It creates a space to understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The gap allows time for preparation: for insuring that our values and actions line up, listing contributions that are being made, identifying problems and growth areas, seeking options to support development.2

The psychologist Robert Sternberg says, “The essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly.”

Are you actively procrastinating: first stopping, then engaging the gap?

Notes and further reading:

1Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. (p. 89). Penguin Group US.
2Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (p. 203). Penguin Group US..
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Macmillan.

driving with the brakes on

I pulled out into traffic, accelerated, and then – instinctively braked the car. The brake lights on the vehicle ahead had me reacting before my brain had fully processed the situation. Scanning the road and beyond, I realized there was no reason to be braking. And, in fact, the vehicle was traveling at normal highway speeds. They were, unaccountably, driving with their foot on the brakes.

I know leaders who drive with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. They sense the need for change, but find five ways a day to avoid it. And, the truth is, we all prefer the known to the unknown.

We are comfortable with our mediocre status quo. We deny what we see in front of us. We escape, getting far enough away from the issue that it doesn’t touch us directly. We distract ourselves with busyness and the tyranny of the immediate.

Oh how we hate change. Oh how we dislike endings. The messiness, frustration, anger, denial, disenchantment – the loss, all disturb our equilibrium. Yet, as Henry Cloud says, “Knowing the names of the streets is not a good reason to keep living in hell.” 1

If I said, “The building is on fire! Get out!” Change would happen quickly. If I told you that the store a mile from here is selling your favorite electronic device two-for-one this afternoon. Change would happen quickly. To create an ending requires fear of the negative consequences and the allure of the positive possibilities. How do we create necessary endings?

Start by playing the movie. This is the movie that shows what happens tomorrow, the month after that, and the following year. “Do you want to be having the same conversation with the same incompetent employee next month and the month after that?” Or, “Do you want to be unable to purchase the new equipment you need now a year from now because you haven’t fired the person who can’t get the billing done before the deadline?”

List your frustrations: someone who is performing poorly, someone who won’t listen; ineffective operation management that is producing financial problems, an ongoing pattern (yours or someone else’s) that doesn’t change, a strategy that doesn’t work. Stop the distractions. Tell yourself the truth. Play the movie. Smell the smoke. Make the change.

Enlist allies. Surround yourself with people who share your urgency. This creates heat from the requirement to be visibly responsible and accountable. It creates peer pressure from people and team members who are supporting and contributing energy. Heat plus pressure create energy to get unstuck and create forward motion. Turn up the heat. Make the change.

Make the vision visible. This line has begun to fall on deaf ears. And yet, our brains are designed to create what we imagine. It’s why basketball players envision the ball going through the hoop before they release it in the act of shooting. Make sure your actions support your imagined vision. You can’t make the shot if you don’t have the ball. You can’t make the shot if you don’t release the ball. Talk about it. Write it down. Post photos of the new reality. Make it real. Make the change.

Set a deadline. Deadlines force endings and change. Is April 15 near? The closer it is, the more likely your income taxes are complete. Deadlines create structure, organize energy, and direct focus. Be specific about your expectations. State the consequences. State the deadline. It works for the underperformer, the project, or initiating a process change. Light the fire. Make the change.

Be trustworthy. Endings and beginnings are not invisible. Living the change is a daily activity. Actions must match words. Intentions must be clear. Competence must be displayed. Results must be seen. And in the mist of change, intentionally connect with people in a meaningful way. Seek to understand their concerns and challenge them to consider what is possible if time and energy are properly invested. Act with integrity. Make the change.

Time and energy are our primary resources. Leaders use these resources to act and, sometimes, go where others are not so that others can follow. Leaders create necessary endings so that new beginnings are possible. “The truth is that there is no ending or better time coming unless we do something.” 2

Is it time to stop driving with the brakes on?

Further reading:

1Cloud, H. (2011). Necessary Endings. Harper Business: New York, NY.
2Kotter, J. (2008).  A Sense of Urgency. Harvard Business Press: Boston, MA.

dictionaries and encyclopedias

Every organization develops its own language and stories over time. It’s “the way we do things around here.” Some have long lists of acronyms.

Scott Berkun observes about his year at WordPress.com, “Every corporation has the same platitudes for the importance of clear communication yet utterly failed to practice it. There was little jargon at Automattic. No “deprioritized action items” or “catalyzing of cross functional objectives.” People wrote plainly, without pretense and with great charm.”

We all want clear communication. Jargon and acronyms are only two of the things that cause miscommunication. Distractions, choice of words, and different cross cultural experiences do too.  Unless the person I’m communicating with can accurately translate what I have said, little or no communication takes place.

Notice the words, jargon, and acronyms you use today. Which could be replaced with a simple, clear phrase?

Meeting of the minds

Berkun, S. (2013). The year without pants: wordpress.com and the future of work. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

designing powerful questions

As a facilitator, questions are one of the tools of my trade. Using the same questions every time creates boredom, dullness, and decreases creativity. I work to create effective questions in the moment. And, one of the questions I am asked in return is, “How do you create good questions?” The World Cafe process suggests that there are three dimensions to creating effective questions:

  1. Scope or scale of the questions
  2. Assumptions in the questions
  3. Construction of the questions

Scope starts with clarity of purpose and intention. Begin by asking yourself what is the purpose and intention of the interaction. Scope should set a context, create a boundary (scale), and be relevant. Without scope, people are overwhelmed, shutting down the opportunity for conversation. For example: How can we cut our budget? or How can we create world peace? are questions with a broad context and no boundaries. Rephrase with scope in mind: What are the opportunities we have in the next week, month, and year stop doing things that no longer serve our clients and start doing something new? How do you create peaceful time for reflection for yourself and your work group within your meeting process?

Assumption starts with understanding of objective and audience. Since people respond to the assumptions made in the question, ask yourself what outcomes are desired and who will be part of the conversation. Assumptions should provoke inspiration and forward movement toward the purpose and intention. Notice the different assumptions in these questions: “What did you learn from our project planning experience?” compared to “What are you learning now from our project planning experience that relates to the current project?” The assumption is that learning is continually happening and has current application.

Construction uses language and shaping. The word chosen to open the question exists on a continuum from less to more powerful.  The less powerful questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  The next level questions begin with “when” or “who,” the next with “how” or “what. ” “Why” questions stand at the top of the continuum. They are special because “why” questions can either provoke defensiveness and reenforce beliefs or they can evoke curiosity and imagination.

Once the opening word is chosen, use active language to shape the direction. The example above applies where past tense “did you learn” is replaced with “are you learning now.” Active language can invite change, innovation, or imagination: Based on our conversation, what change will you make this week in how you structure meeting processes? What are you thinking or feeling now based on our conversation? What are your current concerns about this subject?

Powerful, effective questions increase the value of our conversations through focus on purpose, intent, relevance, and action. Participants engage and connect. Powerful questions can change the thought patterns of individuals and teams, moving beyond business as usual.

What strategies do you use to create effective questions? Do you have a “root” word or words that you use when building effective questions?

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