Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cleaning out the closet

A closet is a storage place where we hold items that we love, that we forgot, and things that we haven't had to courage or the time to discard. The closet is a mindset - fraught with emotional ties, and cluttered with treasures of the past that we hang on to because we don't have the time or courage clear it away.

The problem with the closet is that sometimes we hold on too long sometimes, and before you know it, we are living in the eighties, still wearing those killer shoulder pads. Think about, even if they came back into style, should you ever wear them again? Do you want look like Grace Jones? Can your hair ever be big enough again? Can you see stirrups as a part of your life? Stretchy pants with seam down the front of the leg and the stretchy waist?

Questions of a graver nature: Should you ever re wear your past? Do you really see yourself in a Flock of Seagulls hair cut again? And should the Farah hair style come back, should we all jump? And for you men out there. Do you think Don Johnson's Miami Vice look should never be resurrected? Especially here in Saskatchewan where the wind chill will win over the linen every time?

It's important to step back once in while and take a good hard look at what and possibly who you may be harbouring, because it could be horning on other possibilities. And if case you have not caught on to all the clothing metaphors of the last 3 paragraphs, let me just say, it's time to "shoe" away all that unnecessary stuff and start anew.

All kidding aside, I don't seem to do well in my own closets. I harbour memories and loved items. Like the Simon Chang blouse with killer shoulder pads I bought in the 80's that I couldn't afford but saved for. (I tried it on, and, yes, I do look like Grace Jones in it - hence my advice on shoulder pads. We must have had very small heads back then, and very large hair.)

I also have in my possession, a black demim fully studded jacket with shoulder pads that literally surpasses my hips. That's a lot of wing span! (I bought it at a thrift store in 1986 because it was a classic then.)

All kidding aside, I really do need to clear out the closets, but more importantly it's time to clear out the closets of the mind. Find out what is cluttering up thoughts and what is taking up space.

So now that we are 2 days into 2010, here's what I propose. Make a list like you do every year and answer three questions.

1. What am I going to start doing?
2. What am I going to stop doing?
3. What am I going to keep doing?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Planner's nightmare realized.

Planning is one of those things you love, or not.  For some it is painful, possibly because of an experience.I have done some thinking about this and here are some conclusions as to why this phenomenon is occurring so vehemently.

1. We use words that no one else would use in the real world.

Planner speak: "Honey, I have undertaken an initiative to achieve maximized revenue potential by offsetting our spending in key focus areas, such as footwear, automobile usage and entertainment. This is necessary given that our financial strength is at risk this quarter, and I fear our shareholder will require additional capital, thus impacting our long term goal of future sustainability."

People speak: "You cannot spend another dime on shoes, hauling kids around and hanging out with your friends because we are broke. The bank is taking our house so we are out on the street.

2. We think flow charts are good communication tools.

Planner speak:

Step 1 - develop an environmental scan.
Step 2 - document risks.
Step 3 - Assess risk.
Step 4 - Develop action plan.
Step 5 - Seek approval.
(Step 5A: Make adjustments based on feedback.
Step 6 - determine resource requirement.
Step 7 - seek approval.
Step 8 - Implement.
Step 9 - Feedback

People speak: What do we need to do? How much money do we need? How many people do we need?

3. We force them to do stuff they haven't done since grade school.

Planner speak: OK everyone, let's count off from 1 to 4:

Group 1 - you are talking about how we are going to achieve our employee satisfaction target of 80% in 5 years.

Group 2 - you are talking about how we are going to maintain our customer satisfaction rating of 85%.

Group 3 - you are talking about how to achieve our CSR Index of 85% by 2014.

Group 4 - you need to tell us how we are going to achieve our revenue targets by 2014 and ensure our expenses are in line."

People speak:

Group 1: Why should we care about employee satisfaction? Isn't it good enough that they have a job?

Group 2: "When do we go for a beer? OK, who is going to write this down. OK, so what do you think. Yea, I think so. That's good enough.

Group 3: Does anyone know what a CSR index means?

Group 4: We're expensive because you guys waste money. And we can't get our stuff done because you guys don't do what you are supposed to do.

All: OK. Who's presenting? (Tip: Pick the keener wanna-be planner with the smelly marker up his nose.)"

4. We think everyone cares.

Planner speak: "We will align the organization by ensuring each department plans includes the core measures of the balanced scorecard. Each measure will have supporting initiatives. (Pointing to the strategy map). At the end, we will document all the measures, targets and initiatives and be able to conclude that alignment is occurring and where gaps exist."

People speak: "blah, blah, blah. When is this over? If my boss can't figure this out, I am safe. Let's hope he cares less than I do. Oh, a text message. . . important business, gotta run."

So, here's the best I can offer for advice for those venturing into the next board room or full out planning process design:

1. Speak English. Use words you would use in a social environment. Use words they can spell and talk about with their friends.

2. Realize that your zeal is not shared. Kill the flow charts, flip charts, and smelly markers. They don't care. They just want to leave quickly. Set meetings for no more than 3 hours.

3. Make it entertaining. Kill the bossy facilitation style and resist the urge to be a grade school teacher unless you want them to throw spit balls. Give them the floor to talk about what matters the most and don't talk to too much during the meeting. Build in recreational activities and don't be afraid to sing and dance.

4. Make them look smart. After all the group work is done, take their ideas and turn them into a masterpiece that they will love and that makes them smart. The goal is to hear them say, "That's exactly what I meant to say. I get it."

5. Keep it simple. Do things once. Listen. Observe and don't expect them to do their job. If they wanted to plan, they would have done so by now.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If the earth could talk

I am not an environmentalist. I probably wouldn't tie myself to a tree. And sometimes I forget to recycle. But I do believe that all things are connected. The earth, the sky, the organisms in the ground, and the human beings who inhabit the earth.

Biology 100 says that we are all connected. It was the last class of my degree. I left it to the bitter end because I dreaded the sciences. But that class, ironically enough, has been the foundation of my philosophy in my life and my work.

Trees are connected to the earth creating a network for another living set of organisms to exist and fulfill their purpose. Every living being has a purpose to sustain the earth.

Take the seed for example. It begins with a single cell, and then it grows, layering life upon life until the DNA building has completed, and it is ready to deliver on its purpose.

People are like that. We develop in the womb, as our DNA falls into place. The color of our eyes, the tone of our skin, the color of our hair. It's quite remarkable because no two people are exactly the same.

Each one of is is born therefore with unique qualities. After we are born, the process continues. We grow and learn about our values as people. We become who we are by what we stand for. What we will abide. And what we won't.

We experience life, but how we react to life is what tells the story of who we are. If we were a tree, we would have rings. As we become more industrialized, urbanized, economized and technologically dependent, are we losing sight of the reason we are here at this time in this time of the universe's evolution?

The business world is another ecosystem of organisms, ideals and philosophical questions. Business is based on metrics. Hard facts of a measurable nature that measure progress. In the balanced scorecard way of thinking, these are usually focused on people and culture, the value of the product or service being offered, society's perception, and of course financial performance. Supposedly, values which describe the philosophical metrics are the overriding factor, since presumably all activity occurs in the context of the values or organizational philosophy.

But values / philosophies and actions / metrics are not inextricably linked. As the saying goes, "what gets measured gets done." And by virtue of what we decide to measure, we are actually choosing what to ignore. It is still possible to achieve business targets and ignore values, because values tend to go unmeasured. Unchecked. Values are voiceless because they tend to be emotional and subjective, as opposed to their objective, hard-nosed relatives the metrics.

Ignoring values will work in the short term. But over the long term, the ramifications are significant. And we can say an organization is value based, but actions speak louder than words. As one keynote speaker once said, if you want to see what a company values, look to the balance sheet.

We mine the earth for resources, but we don't always invest in the revitalization part. We often do not respect the earth and our connection to it by the things we do. We mine the value out of people sometimes, but sometimes we take that for granted and do not invest in them appropriately before we discard them. We see our physical and cultural differences as problems at times. We seek to conquer, rather than to understand.

It takes no difficulty and no time to see and recognize that which is on the surface. We are impatient. We do not take the time to understand and to celebrate the living experience. We tend to pluck it before it can grow up to become whatever its DNA says it should be. There is a voice that we are missing, and that is a common understanding of why we are here and why today matters.

After thousands of years of living on this planet, I wonder how we would answer the question - "We are here to . . ."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The demise of the great story never told

Every year I get a phone call from my mom at the crack of dawn (6:35 AM) who reminds me that she was, at this time, X years ago, awake and in pain. I like the story, and I like hearing it. When my girls were young, they used to ask me to tell them their stories. We don't do this as a rule I find. Tell the story of our lives.

Telling stories is a way to building and maintaining culture. They tell of lessons learned. I am afraid that an entire way of life is being lost because we don't value the telling of stories so much. We are hooked on immediacy. We short form everything now. We text or email. And now the new version of hyphenated living is "sexting." We are, I believe, becoming functionally and socially illiterate with every LOL, BFF, LMAO.

They say genius is simplicity. The perfect phrase that speaks to all of humanity. "I have a dream . . . " - Martin Luther King's great vision yet to be realized, perhaps never to be realized. Those who espouse short and succint phrasiology do not acknowledge that this vision came from a well of pain, thought and a deep desire for a better world.

No, there is a difference between MLK's crystal clear vision and pithy public relations based - advertising like - slogan driven dogma. "Just do it." Is it genius or is it memorable? If it's memorable, is it meaningful?

With the advent to cell phones over the past few years, we are shortening our communication even still. BFF. LOL. LMAO. I fear we are losing touch with who we are as human beings. Has technology finally won? Has the access to technology and the point in time immediate communication driven us to a point of absolute illiteracy? And we are hooked on it. We do everything while we text. We drive. We eat. We have conversations. We . . . sext? And now there are laws against driving and texting; there are company commuication policies against texting in meetings; there are legal charges being laid for sexting when it is construed as inappropriate, harrassing or threatening.

So when did we become so digitized, what does this mean for our culture. My theory is we are losing our ability to express full ideas, in a respectful and meaningful manner.

If I could guess, having no scientific data to back it up, I would say that we are increasingly moving toward being functionally iliterate as a society. I would guess this is impacting the younger part of our society (12 - 35 year olds who are really part of the digital revolution). Are we are losing the ability to interact as human beings or are we just communicating on a higher level? Will this fade away like transistors did, or is this here to stay. We think nothing of a drive by email. A shot in the dark. We think. We type. We push send. Done.

I spend most of my time thinking about how to get messages across. How to tell a story. How to get others to tell a story. And I have to say, I am so disappointed because we are cutting ourselves short on two fronts: we are not good at telling a story, and we are not good at listening. So we are functionally and socially illiterate.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a journalist - to be able to tell stories about important things. So I did. I told great stories about an exodus from Rwanda, and the impact of the wall in Germany and about a woman who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I wrote about quilting bees, which are stories of another kind. And I wrote about school closures in Rural Saskatchewan and the impact on communities. And then I went to "the dark side" (the Corporate Communications side) to write about business matters, telling people where how the money is made and where it goes. This is all worthy and worthwhile.

But I am deeply disappointed by what I see on TV and read in the paper and the short cuts that we take to telling important stories. Journalists are supposed to be story tellers of our time, just like great writers and story tellers like Jonathon Swift, Shakespeare and John Ruskin were the story tellers and life recorders of those times. Literature tells the story of civilizations past.

Today's literature is becoming more and more abbreviated into text messages, sound bites and pithy but meaningless news casts. Today, for example, an important story about feeding hungry families at Christmas was badly told. But the next story about how electronics were the hot sellers this Christmas season was given more air time, had high sound quality and higher visual quality.

As a former journalism professor of mine used to say, that sucks. A good story told in a bad way - with bad quality and poor production - becomes a bad story because the message is lost in the medium.

The last bastion of hope in regaining our human literacy is the song writer and the musician. We seem to take the time to listen to music. So that gives me hope. As long as we will listen, and as long as song writers are telling real stories of our time, we might have a recording of this time on earth.

I hope that we come to our senses and start taking the time to talk to each nmore and listen more. We are so impatient. The time we have is rare and not all stories are equal. In my book, feeding hungry families will always trump electronic sales. Real words said out loud have more meaning than an insensitive email. And sexting? LMAO.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

If I were a carpenter

I call it nirvana.  The perfect combination of good governance combines business planning, risk management, communications and social responsibility.

It all begins witha  ittablishing a governance framework as the foundation for the work that we do. This involved recommending a change to the Board of Director's governance model, to integrate traditional governance responsibilities like planning, enterprise risk management and reporting, with social responsibilities, like ensuring we are balancing the social and economic interests of our stakeholders, and making them aware of the companies direction and actions.

I then hired a team of professionals who have expertise in these areas, and who are natural born teachers, coaches and mentors. Their job is to develop the frameworks and policies that are needed and to engage the various audiences in the conversation about direction, action and social values.

They need to understand and negotiate the needs of each of our audiences, which includes the board, executive, staff, the community and our shareholders. This is a challenge given that what we do is new to the organization. In fact, before I began working with this organization approximately 18 months ago, these functions did not exist in the way they do now.

There have been challenges, but we have overcome them. When making a change of this type, one should expect resistance to change, processes and new accountability. But resistance is just another way of saying we are not done the job and we need to keep teaching and leading.

I always say, "We have to take them where we want them to go." We cannot give way to what is right because its uncomfortable. The learning process is like that. It's hard but then it becomes natural. It's like being in grade school and learning multiplication; once you have learned it, it's easy.

Leading change requires care, compassion and conviction. It's easy to give up and give in, but then what. You can never go back. By definition, one you have begun, you have already changed. So to give up prematurely is to end up in a new lost place.

The people in this new department have begun to thrive and the work they do is evidence of their talent and their commitment. I am more proud of their accomplishments more than anything else.

So I am standing now, standing on the edge of what's next, I see that there is much to do for we have only just begun.

The next step is to implement the frameworks and policies that we have created this year and help bring them to life in the organization. This will mean new ways of doing things. New practices. New ways to think. New ways to act. What we bring is the beginning of a new culture, and that takes time. It will require that leaders beyond me carry the message in everything they say and do.

This is the deep end of the ocean, and what we do will give rise to a new way to managing the company. It means adopting accountability and responsibility as a value from the top of the organization to each person who comes to work every day.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The seventh factor

The other day I attended a presentation on change management. The presenter was describing how the leadership of that organization turned a sour, disengaged, highly contentious organization into a positive, well focused organization that the community appreciates. What the speaker walked through was a planning process.

1. Get people involved. Ask their opinion about what the issues are.
2. Get stats. Find out what is happening.
3. Determine the hot spots and deal with those until they are minimized.
4. When hard decisions have to be made, involve the people who have to live with the decision so they can internalize the change that is needed, and more importantly they can defend it.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Let everyone know what you are doing. Share the vision. Share the plan. Share the results. And then listen.
6. Apologize and make amends with those who may have been affected by past mistakes. This is the hard part. But healing wounds is part of moving on. Involve them in your process and heal together.

As I sat listening, I realized that the speaker missed one important point. Point number 7 should have been this: Lead with integrity. Place your faith in others and let them be leaders too.

The speaker was the CEO of the company and he was the important ingredient in the whole mix, but because of his integrity and humility, he did not bring attention to himself. But I will say, he spoke from the heart. There was not a speaking note present. Nary a word was written down.

As an observer of people and the human experience, I pay attention to the attributes that make good leaders. And they are far and few between. I would say I could count them on one hand. So I feel privileged to hear his story. Without him, points 1 to 6 would not have happened and the change would have failed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Butterflies need to be free.

Somebody once told me I was like a butterfly. I take that as a compliment. I love butterflies. I love that butterflies are free spirited. I love that they are beautiful. And I love that they are a here for the moment kind of bug. And yes, it's a bug, but bugs can be beautiful too. Just ask another bug.

But the person directing this comment did not see the butterfly analogy the same way I do.

This person was a linear person. A project manager / accountant, hyper logical, unemotional, slightly uptight . . . individual.

And I get that. I just can't be that.

I am a big thinker. A creative person. I believe in possibility. I love change. And I love to see things happen. I am a change junkie. I get bored with status quo when it's time to give it up. But I am also logical. Raised by a pack of accountants, and a rogue salesman, I possess the innate talent to do calculus. I know the quadratic equation and how to apply it. I get matrices. I love charts. I love project charters and spreadsheets. And I love a good budget.

My "way" simply clashed with his "way".

He was uncomfortable with the fact that he could not easily predict me, or control me, because he could not relate to me. He could not "catch me."

My response was this: "Stop trying."

Seeing the shocked look on his face, I immediately realized I had to meet him half way. I had to find a way to work with him. A compromise was needed. Realizing that his apparent need for control is really about his need to know what he needs to know to do his job, I found a solution that worked for both of us.

I promised him that I would never embarrass him, never catch him off guard, and never let him be caught in front of his peers not knowing something he should know.
I also committed to meeting with him bi-weekly and setting the agenda. It was a win - win. His need to know - ness was addressed, and my need to be free was saved.

So, what's the moral of this story.

1. Don't react. Try to hear past the words and look for the intent.
2. Seek to understand. We all have a comfort zone.
3. Be in control without taking control away from another person. Nobody has that right.
4. Never make your boss look bad or wonder what he or she doesn't know.
5. Butterflies are free. Don't mess with nature.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I respectfully decline . . .

Ideas that are borne out of the inability or fear to imagine.
That a disagreement constitutes a need for a change. Sometimes right is right.
The assertion that one person has the right to control another person.
Attempts to make others feel inadequate.
The judgement of a person's ideas or values if they are true.
That we are responsible for other's lack of knowledge. We live in the information age. There is no excuse.
The view that only others make mistakes.
That arrogance and confidence are the same thing.
The notion that only winners win.
That one person's fear is the responsibility of others to conquer.
That people with an education are the only people capable of being intelligent.
That leaders are only capable of leading.
That visionaries are only leaders.
That to be a leader one cannot admit fault.
The values of others if they are not consistent with one's own values.
The notion that team be used as a convenient term when otherwise there is no "we" or "us".

Friday, November 27, 2009

Would you like fries with that?

Sometimes I am taken aback by the number of times we carelessly say and do things that affect others. I call it a drive by slam. This takes on many forms: a terse comment; a turned back; a closed door; an insenstive email that leaves a footprint.

In this world of instant communication, instant coffee, instant results, instant food and instant gratification, I see instant hurt feelings, instant resentments, and instant dissatisfaction every day.

And it's so easy, because in this day of instant whatever, we treat each other like they are commodities to us. Our possessions. Something we can buy, use or disregard.
We treat people like they are fast food.

Give me what I want, when I want it, and if you don't, there will be repercussions.

This is 1959 thinking and I am tired of this, and it makes me tired. I just want to step off the world and get away this this instant stupidity that I witness.

So, if anyone actually reads this stuff, here's what I would challenge you to do if you see yourself engaging in this, or being engaged.

1. As a former CEO of mine used to say, take the high road. Do not lower yourself by reciprocating in a negative way. Once you do that, the offender's actions are null and void, and your negative actions are now the issue.

2. Confront the behavior with the person. The "Crucial Conversations" method works well. Have a stated objective or a problem to solve and do not detract from it. Meet the person face to face and state your case. Do not become defensive. And stay with it until your objective has been accomplished.

3. Do not let others make you feel bad. When people spray negativity, nastiness, or disrespectful behavior, you do not have to accept it. Let it go. Do not accept it. Disregard their behavior. Acceptance constitutes acceptance. Do not be a victim. Do not give power to the negative behavior.

4. Be nice to someone and all the above would be unnecessary to say. Pick up the phone. Have a personal conversation. Treat people with respect. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I wish I said that.

Tom Jackson took the stage at Casino Regina this week to invite the citizens of our fair city to join him in supporting the food bank. As I was standing in the back of the room, I was taken aback by his presence. Not because he is famous but because he has something important to say: "I love you."

What powerful words. Words that say, "no matter who you are, or what mistakes you made today, you are worth the effort." Every person deserves to hear this every day, yet how many times do you really hear it? How many times do you say it? How many times do you mean it?

At the end of the day, I often think about the events. I think about what happened. What bothered me. What caused me to cringe. What I said that might have been insensitive. How many times I felt impatient. The times that I could have been more understanding and less judgemental. And I shudder, and pray that others will forgive me today, or look past my imperfections, which are many.

And then I make a promise to myself: Tomorrow I will be better. I will seek to understand. I will listen to each person like they have something valuable to teach me that I must know. I will try to help just one person have a better day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Things my dad taught me.

November 11 is Remembrance Day. We will remember all the soldiers who died for our freedom. All the soldiers who gave their young lives without having a chance to live their own. All the soldiers who stood up for something, and gave their life for it. As we remember this sacrifice, I hope we take the time to ask ourselves - are we living the life that we deserve to live? Are we living our lives to the fullest?

Or are we taking it for granted, and frittering it away, aimlessly wandering, waiting for someone to pull us out of our haze. Are you at least trying to discover your own potential, or are you lost and disengaged. Do you know there is a planet under neath your feet and a sky above you? Do you know that this life is a gift? A fleeting gift?

Sometimes I am disillusioned when I see people become disengaged from all the parts of our lives. We go to work, seeking to be entertained. (Hello, it's called work for a reason.) We think we have the right to complain and do nothing about it. We don't stand up for change, and we don't want to make it happen. We only want to talk about. Complain about it. Rate others and not ourselves. We all want "you" to change, but we will not change ourselves, or take responsiblity for our actions, decisions and behaviours.

This concept of self - responsibility is something that I believe in. To me, it's about personal freedom. The freedom to choose. The freedom to live. The freedom to be accountable for one's actions. The freedom to . . . be free. So often, I see people forgo being responsible for themselves. I hear people blame others for their lot in life. I see people judge those who try to make things better, without lifting a hand themselves.

I become impatient when I see this happening. And then I remember what my dad says.

1. Where ever you go, you are the only constant.
2. You can't change people. You can only change how people effect you.
3. All you can do is your best.
4. Show up.
5. Don't say that word.

So on this important day of remembrance, take the time to remember the people who stood up for freedom and peace so that you and I have the freedom to choose the life we want to life. And spend a few minutes considering whether you are doing justice to the sacrifice.

A Pittance of Time - Terry Kelly

Pomegranate Extracts Treat Diseases of Inflammation

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is it water retention that's the problem?

Werewolves, demons and bats, oh my. The full moon is on the rise, and things are outa whack. I swear, a succession of craziness can only be attributed to one thing. A full moon.

The Moon is known to have a huge effect on the ocean's tides. While the moon's gravitational force causes the water to rise up, the earth is also pulling downwards, causing tides. Water levels are dependent upon the force of the moon. So with a full moon comes the high tide.

From this observation, the concept of the moon affecting human behavior evolved. This is because the human body is 80 percent water. It is believed that just like the ocean, when the moon is full, there will also be an upset of water balance in the human body, causing a person to behave irrationally.

Lately I have observed this phenomenon. Not water retention. Perfectly sane people doing perfectly insane things. And there can only be one explanation. The full moon.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the next full moon is scheduled for November 2, 2009 at 7:15 PM. In preparation for this lunar event, I did some web surfing on the topic (what else does one do when one can't sleep) and discovered some interesting "facts" about full moon-ology.

The Farmer's Almanac website provides some helpful tips to manage the effects of the full moon.

When to Plant, Wean, Castrate, Build Fences, Harvest

The age-old practice of performing farm chores by the Moon stems from the simple belief that the Moon governs moisture. Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist, stated in his Natural History that the Moon "replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them."

Here are some helpful hints for those in the agriculture business:

1. Rail fences cut during the dry, waning Moon will stay straighter.

2. Wooden shingles and shakes will lie flatter if cut during the dark of the Moon.

3. Fence posts should be set in the dark of the Moon to resist rotting. Ozark lore says that fence posts should always be set as the tree grew. To set the root end upward makes a short-lived fence.

4. Don't begin weaning when the Moon is waning.

5. Castrate and dehorn animals when the Moon is waning for less bleeding.

6. Slaughter when the Moon is waxing for juicier meat.

7. Crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are best when the Moon is full.

8. Best days for fishing are between the new and full Moon. See our best fishing dates for the year.

9. Dig your horseradish in the full Moon for the best flavor.

10. Set eggs to hatch on the Moon's increase, but not if a south wind blows.
(Source: The 1994 Old Farmer's Almanac, Martha White

Good to know. But what about the superstitions. After all, it is hallow e'en. Turns out, werewolves are also thought to occur on full moons.

A werewolf or werewolf is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf or an anthropomorphic wolf-like creature, either purposely, by being bitten or scratched by another werewolf, or after being placed under a curse. Werewolves are often granted extra-human strength and senses, far beyond those of both wolves or men. Apparently, werewolves are vulnerable to silver bullets, should you encounter one this full moon season.

There has to be something to this theory. The belief that the moon and its effect on people is rooted in science, superstition and language. We sing about it, make movies about it, and we talk about it all the time.

The Latin word for moon is Luna. Other words that are derived are lunatic (late 13th century), meaning insane. It can also mean "moon-sick". Lunacy was formed in 1541 as a "condition of being a lunatic,", originally in reference to intermittent periods of insanity, such as were believed to be triggered by the moon's cycle, or "month-sickness."

The fullness of the moon has always been blamed for catastrophes in both nature and human beings. In some cases, the moon was used as an excuse of a committed crime. England lawyers in the 19th-century used the "guilty by reason of the full moon" defense for their cases - pointing out that their clients could not be held responsible for acting under the control of the moon.

Whether it's science fiction, science or just fiction, it's hard to say. There are studies that attempt to link crime to the full moon. In 1974, Psychologist Arnold Lieber, from the University of Miami began conducting studies centered on the crime rates of Miami-Dade County in Florida.

From the data gathered, he concluded that full moon has direct effect over the increase in homicide rates. He contacted the media, Miami police, and a hospital administrator to warn them about the danger that comes with a full moon.

In 1978 he wrote a best-selling book called, "Lunar Effects: Biological Tides and Human Emotions", which made his studies more known to the general public. Lieber didn't stop there; he published another book in 1996 and continued to expand his theory about the moon's influence on human behavior.

We are so connected to the big rock in the sky that we have actually made it part of our everyday language. It can be an action: to moon someone. We can "howl at the moon", "moonlight" at another job, be "moon struck", head over heels in love,or we can "shoot the moon."

To bring this to a point, I can only conclude, based on the observations of the world and times thus far, the full moon could be one of the reasons we are all a little crazy.

But if the theory of monthly craziness holds true, we should probably plan an intervention since there seems to be a trend as old as time.

- The threat of a Pandemic Influenza is on the rise even if the Pandemic Influenza is not. My doctor tells me to wash my hands, avoid sick people, and avoid being sick around people. This is not a light matter however. Some people do get very sick. But follow the rules that our doctors prescribe and we will all be a little safer.

- The threat of world war is always on our mind, but when hasn't there been a political struggle? Can't we all just get along? The threat of a global economic crash is always knocking, but the law of economics tells us that if we over spend, eventually we run out of money.

- The threat of job loss, job change or life change is, of course, ready at the wait, but who wants to work at the same job for all eternity?

I think we are all just a little crazy these days, and the momentum seems to be building. And we are reacting. So here are some things we might be able to do to offset the craziness.

1. Stop communicating by email or text. As Thumper's mother used to say, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

2. Take responsibility. For flu watchers, that means wash your hands more. Don't cough on people. And don't touch public surfaces if that creeps you out. If you are unhappy at work, get a new job. If you are concerned about the environment, stop killing it in your own way. If you need a change, change.

3. Accept change when it happens. In fact, hope for change. The day that there is no change in the world is the day we should worry. The ebb and flow must happen.

4. Be kind to others and hopefully they will be kind to you. And if they are not, refer back to points 1, 2 and 3.

So that, my friends, is my best offering on the eve of this full moon. That, and have a glass of water. It can't hurt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Story Teller Tells a Story of a Teller Telling a Story

I remember the way I felt the day John Lennon died. I felt that the world had lost a rare and unqiue person. John Lennon is known to most as a musician. Some people think of him as an artist. Others think of him as the poster child for New York City (which I find a bit weird.) What I think is remarkable about John Lennon is that he had an uncanny ability to reach people in their souls. Find a common message that people would listen to, care about, sing about, remember.

His song "Imagine" is on a poster in front of my desk. When I sit down to write, I am reminded of what a writer should do. A writer should raise consciousness. Tell the truth. Tell a story that will somehow cause a question, or lead to answer. "Imagine" is a plea for peace and strategy about how to make it happen. He says that if we were to stop using beliefs as a reason to fight, then there would be no reason to die. If we were to abandon our need for greed and possession, we could be a brotherhood of man.

Inspired by John Lennon as a writer, I wanted to be able to find the words that speak to people. I want to be able to be part of the truth. So I went to University to become a writer. I earned a degree in English and Journalism, and I have made my living writing ever since. But have I made my living using writing to raise the consciousness of the world on any level?

I am a business writer, a communicator, an insight seeker, and a question asker. Organizational design, strategies and plans are my specialty. I can take a confused room, a confused company, or a confused system, and come out with a direction that almost everyone would say, "that's exactly what I meant to say, but I couldn't say it myself." I can help a person articulate an idea, and bring it to life by giving them the tools and structure to make it happen. I can hear past the noise of confusion to find the words that the voices are trying to express.

I can't explain it. It's not project management (although that's a process I use.) It's not just implementing a planning process that you could read about in any business book (although I have designed enough of my own to write a book). It's not understanding the essence of the balanced scorecard, although I do.

What I think I bring to the conversation is me, and a desire to understand the angst that is stopping people from figuring out why they feel lost, but can not put their collective finger on what that means. There is a downside to this. Sometimes the angst that I feel in others is disturbing to me, and at times, I become disillusioned. But a high bounce factor brings me back. As my dad used to say on the basketball court after being slung aside by someone twice my 4'6", 85 pound frame, "pick yourself up and get back in there."

And that is what I can contribute to the world. I am not John Lennon, and I would never compare myself to him. But I do try, in my own way, to tap into the human experience of the people in my midst. My goals are small and simple. To help people understand. To help people feel smarter. To find a way to express things that bring people together, at least on the page.

Will the many business plans and corporate mazes that I have helped to decipher become historic or hang on some one's wall some day? Will anyone even remember that I was there? Not a chance. In fact, the truth is, most people take it for granted. I am the instrument, the facilitator. The worker bee. Most people do not understand what I bring to them. But sometimes they feel it when it is gone.

And that's all I can do.

Oh, to be a Zebra

Oh to be a Zebra. Galant, freedom loviing, undomesticated beasts that are unfettered by stress.

According to "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers", Zebras live in the moment and they deal with it as it happens. There is no residual memory, no lingering cause and effect. No psychological imprint of the moment. Just the moment as it came and went.

As an example, imagine a herd of Zebras hanging around. A sea of black and white. Or is it white and black? Suddenly a predator attacks and the chase is on. Fight or flight kicks in and they run. We've all seen the nature clip. The predator wins, overtaking one of the herd. The Zebras return to calm, because the danger is over, and after all, they were not killed. Apparently, the Zebra does not manifest a lingering fear that rules the bliss loving, ranging feeding existence.

Translate that to the human experience. We have the fight or flight instinct, but apparently the cement jungle manifests a different kind of reaction. When we feel threatened by something, we don't physically run away. We do other things to avoid the confrontation. Some of us check out. Others try and build allies. Others attempt to create personal barriers. And then there's the head down, butt up strategy of staying below the wire so as not to be noticed. We've all experienced changes that feel disconcerting, and even scary.

But unlike Zebras, once the change has occurred, we don't walk away, stress free. We would analyze what happened. Did we not run fast enough? Did we zig when we should have zagged? Did the beast over run us, or did we not outrun the beast? Were we ill prepared? Were we too lazy? Did we take our environment for granted? Did we think we were all friends? Is there no loyalty in this world? Can't we all just get along?

As humans, we would have a psychological reaction plan. We would be afraid. We would become resentful. We might hide under the bed or retreat from life and living? We might stop fighting, and start accepting defeat to early. We might dislike every person or experience that had a possible resemblance to the original event.

Is this rational? I think it's human. But I do know that it is unhealthy. According to the author, Robert M. Sapolsky, a leading neuroendocrinologist, describes how chronic stress can undermine your health and what you can do about it, even in the urban jungle.

As humans, we need coping mechanisms, to offset our thinking and feeling processes. We need metaphors that will help us to make sense of what is happening. We need reassurance from time to time, and we need to be resilient. We need to be able to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and move on, so the rest of the herd doesn't become afraid.

And we need leaders to create a safe environment after a change occurs. If the leader is afraid, the followers are terrified. If the talk among the heard is destructive and fear based, then the herd becomes unsettled.

And maybe that's what the Zebra has figured out? Maybe the Zebra leader is defined as the one with a high level of emotional strength who can rise above the moment for the rest of the herd.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Leadership, says that the difference is between IQ and EQ. IQ is a measure of our intelligence. EQ is a measure of our emotional intelligence. She says that IQ will get you into the herd, but EQ is what sets the leaders from the herd.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is a term that describes the ability, capacity, skill or (in the case of the trait EI model) a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

EQ can be traced back to Darwin's work on the importance of emotional expression for survival. Early writers on the subject as far back as the 1900s used the term social intelligence to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people.

To put this in plain terms, Susan Scott talks about developing "Squid Eye" to know where and who the predators are, and what are they patterns so that we can be prepared and see the signs.

But beyond the theories and practices, the bottom line is we must learn to accept the moment and live in it for as long as it is and not let it linger. We must resist our human tendency to continue the beating after the beating. We must be defiant and resist our need to analyze the situation to the point where we are paralyzed. And we have to be defiant and not accept defeat.

The name "zebra" comes from the Old Portuguese word zevra which means "wild ass". Zebra's have never successfully been domesticated, unlike their closest relatives, horses and asses. And maybe that is the key being for "zebra-ic". All science aside, I can relate to the freedom loving Zebra.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time to hit the bottle again.

Nail polish that is. Red to be exact. Not just any red. We're talking number 40, Sally Hanson ADVANCED HARD as NAILS (with nylon and retinol). So long french manicure. Shameless red, here I come.

So why the shift in attitude? Recently I have been agaw with the world around me. I find myself shocked, disappointed, paranoid, dismayed, and at times, ticked off. Why so emotional you ask? Good question. I don't know. Call it a weakness in the o-zone. Usually I have a thicker skin. Usually, I can shake it off, as long as I am religious with exercise and diet. But of late, I have been couch surfing, due to a nasty flu that took me down for a couple weeks. I had no choice but to sit and watch the world happening in front of me. The news was dismal. The weather was dismal. What can I say. Call me a Debbie Downer, but the world tends not to look rosy when one is steeped in Vick's, NyQuil, Tylenol, and where the Kleenex box is my most cherished accessory. Even my comfy blue sweats that are 4 sizes too large and are highly functional as pants and slippers hit the hamper. Alas, I am on the recovery side, and it's time to regroup.

I have had time to think and to read. I picked up the book - "FIERCE LEADERSHIP" by Susan Scott, which is subtitled, "A BOLD ALTERNATIVE TO THE WORST "BEST" PRACTICES OF BUSINESS TODAY." Yes, that's right. The letters are screaming off the page. She means business. The reason I like the book is she finds herself asking all the questions that I wonder about and talk about too. The question is this: Why is that no matter what we - the well intended do - we can't seem to resolve what ever it is that we are attempting to solve. World peace. Economic global destruction. Hunger. Cancer. Bad skin. Crime. You name it. We have many things to "solve" but we can't seem to get anywhere. She says that "best practice" is too blame, and that companies are spending millions of dollars on consultants and their ideas.

There are too many problems and that is the issue, no matter what the environment. But that's ok. It's important to know where and who the sharks are in the water. Understanding the threats that one is facing is the first step to making a decison to act.

So, we got that figured out. We can list our threats adnausium. Years ago we called it a SWOT. Today, we call it Risk Management and we can make it as complex as possible by adding subjective rating systems and multiplication factors that are designed to help leaders make decisions about what is most important. We are hooked on numbers. Rating systems can't be wrong, right? Wrong. Rating systems are all subjecive. Rating something is about a person's perspective. It is purely emotional and subjective. So here I am agreeing with Susan again. The risk management best practioneers tell us to rate things. If the person in charge doesn't know where to start, then . . . well, finish the sentence.

Let's face it. We know what to do. But we have paralyzed ourselves into believing we only have one chance, and we have to be right all the time. Clearly that is not the case. World wars have been raging on for hundreds of years despite best efforts.

We are mired in perfectionism. We think we have to be right, right now. But the truth is, no matter what the problem or threat, it will not be solved in a day. It takes days. Years. Centuries. Lifetimes.

Just start. Do something. Do not complain about it. Whine about it. Be a victim. Do not try to be a hero.

I know the tone of this is emotional, but this is not an emotional plea. This is a plea not to be emotional. To be intelligent. Active. Purpose. and Full of Integrity.

So we need courage. The courage to stop complaining, pointing fingers and waiting for someone else to solve these problems and just get busy doing something.

Hence the color red. Because the bull needs beckoning. It's time to get going.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Make it fun, and if it can't be fun, make it funny.

We are tooooooo serious. I have just spent the last week of my life planning and budgeting and I need to have fun. Don't get me wrong. I love to plan and budget - honestly.

But there is another thing that we need to do more of. Chill out. Relax. Smile. Have fun. Laugh. Guffaw. Whatever it takes - crack a smile. My rule of thumb when it comes to work is this: if's it's not fun, then stop doing it and find something that is. Or find a way to make it fun.

I am talking about enjoyment. Letting go. Being creative. Exercising the other side of the mind. Releasing some joy from within. Somehow in the world of adult-hood, we have forgotten how to play.

And this, I believe with all my heart, is the reason that we struggle with work and why it feels like work sometimes.

Now, I am an experience play-planner so I believe I can impart some wisdom here. A couple years ago, I co-developed an entertainment / sports venture that was all about play. It was an indoor race track concept that my husband was in love with, and that I helped create the business plan. The whole concept was about play. The plan included corporate events, where people could bring their teams and play and then break for their meeting. It was brilliant and there are not many places for adults to play and work.

Play requires trust. Letting go is cathartic. But most people don't let go unless they feel comfortable. But friends, you gotta let go, and the majority have to let go all at once. That is the only way to get over the awkwardness.

A couple years ago, we had a department party at a local pub after hours. We invited everyone. We sang, danced and just had a blast. That fun night actually was the beginning of a very productive team environment. After that, we smiled at each other more, and we laughed a little more, and yes, we actually worked together better because we showed each other the human side of ourselves.

Play also helps us get through the times when work is intense. In fact, if you work in a high stress environment, you gotta play. When I was in journalism school the environment was intense. 25 students competing for stories, equipment and deadlines. It was very competitive to the point where we really didn't like each other most of the time. But every 3 weeks, religiously, we would have a party at some one's house, and danced, imbibed in spirits, and just get silly. We survived J-school, and I believe it was because we learned how to play together and work together.

So go play. Dance more. Smile more. Be entertaining. Be entertained.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pass the Ketchup, Please

I have a big plate of words. About 2 years ago, I wrote a blog entry called "Structure Schmucture" through which I espoused my theory that traditional structure was not that important if it is possible to work horizontally across the organization.

Kind of like working in projects, where you pull in the subject matter experts and everyone does their part in executing a well designed plan. The team is held together by a plan of what will be accomplished, with his or her accountability outlined. The team comes together regularly to review progress and makes adjustments along the way.

While I still agree that is the ideal way of working, I have come to the most humble conclusion that I am . . . wrong. Recently I realized that this state of Nirvana that I wrote about can only exist if the fundamentals of leadership accountability are in place.

Without going textbook on you, people need to know what their job is so they can do it. One must not take the org chart for granted. It is the holy grail of the disorganized or discombobulated. The org chart defines the box that each person occupies so that person can do their job.

Org charts are more than a place to hang one's corporate hat; org charts are the place where one's purpose and value to the organization is formed, and org charts define the home team. Coming up with the org chart is not easy because there are people involved. Feelings. Lives. Livelihoods.

So I find myself eating my words, as I realize that defining structure is hard to do sometimes, and so important if it's not in place.

Do we have any Tabasco?

Monday, October 5, 2009

So this is Christmas . . .

This time of year life tends to get a bit heavy. We are up to our ying yang (yes that's a word) in hopes and expectations, timelines and details. The great part of this season is people tend to get together to celebrate; the not so great part is what we put ourselves through to "celebrate."

And sometimes people are sad because they just fall short of the fairy tale experience that Christmas has been sold to be. This time of year can be difficult for some as well. Many people do not have the resources to make sure their children have gifts to open, or a special dinner. Many people are sad this time of year because we miss those who cannot be with us.

So if you can, extend a helping hand to someone who could use it. Even if it's just a hug.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

There is hope if you believe in it.

I have a poem on my wall written by a close friend of mine who died of cancer some years ago. The poem entitled, "What I like in this world" is a list that she wrote to make her smile through the pain during her struggle with cancer.

She loved "daisies and wild flowers, butterflies, ladybugs, cats, little brown birds that stay in the spring to sing for us . . ."

Everyday I look at the wall, and I shed a little tear as I remember my friend, and then smile, because I remember that whatever I am feeling, it's going to be OK.

To often in our day to day lives, we are focused on trying to find the ultimate . . . something. The ultimate job. The ultimate car. The ultimate partner. The ultimate pair of shoes. Today I discovered the ultimate leather jacket. Somebody somewhere delivered an ultimate ultimatum.

The problem is, if the ultimate whatever is not defined accurately and realistically, we find ourselves being disappointed because the ultimate anything can never last. Inevitability the shine wears off. The novelty fades. The reality comes through.

All we really have is what is today. What we know today. And what we have to work with. We cannot be paralyzed by what we can't reach at this moment, or by what we can't have. We cannot be paralyzed by what others cannot see. And we definitely cannot be paralyzed by imperfection.

When we allow these negative influences to run our lives, we become negative. And when we become negative, we lose hope in what is possible. And that is the moment that all really is lost.

My friend teaches me every day that the sun will rise. That thunderstorms happen, but they are always followed by rainbows and ice bows, and every day the sun sets, leaving a bright orange color in the sky at dusk, and that every fall, our fields are full of golden wheat and yellow canola. Somewhere in the universe, there are comets soaring.

She reminds me to love the simple things, like green grapes and pistachios, and maple leaves in the fall, seashells and rocks, snow and sunshine.

So when it all feels kind of hopeless, and you think no one is listening, stop listening to your own negative self talk or others who are not being supportive. Tell yourself what you want to hear and have hope in the future. Because sometimes hope is powerful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just say it.

If you google the words strategic planning, balanced scorecard, or other related business words, you will find more sites, white papers, books and briefs than you can imagine. And I have to admit, I have read most of them, or at least skimmed them. I have definitely applied the concepts. The focus on my past 15 years has been helping the leaders of companies develop plans.

Well, now I have a new mission. And it's pretty exciting. My new mission is to help people talk about it. And that is even more important than the most eloquently written plan.

The truth is, most people don't care about words like business plans, balanced scorecards, corporate governance, risk management, budgets, business intelligence, or project management. Most people care about the the thing that they do every day. They don't need to know what the business plan says. They only need to know what it means to them in their job. Most people don't care about the corporate risk profile, they only need to know what they are supposed to be watching for. Most people don't care about the budget because they just want to get paid. And most people do not care about future economic projections and latest interest rate trend. They only care if they have a job.

So I have been thinking about this. What are the words of the every day people? How can we translate these nebulous concepts into every day things?

The answer I think is to focus on the audience. First of all, business plans, balanced scorecards, and risk management are for the shareholder typles. Boards and bosses care about that stuff. These kinds of documents are written to be working documents that are used by executives and high level senior managers. And these documents are used to report progress. These documents are very important because they are the road map for the entire organization.

But the real people - AKA, the people who come to work every day - need a different kind of message. They need to hear about the plan in every day language.

For example, instead of talking about efficiency, let's talk about how we can do things better. Instead of talking about engagement, let's talk about how we can get more involved and motivated. Instead of talking about client satisfaction, let's talk about doing a great job for our customers so they come back and see us again. Instead of talking about values, let's talk about the way we are toward each other.

To me, it's pretty simple. It's the golden rule, every day.

I would challenge each person to think of the place they want to be and help build that place through their actions. I would challenge each person to think of how they like to be treated, and treat others that way too. I would like to challenge each person to make the best of their own talents every day. I would like to challenge each person to get involved in his or her life, rather than watching it pass by.

A job doesn't have to be a negative experience. We bring ourselves to it everyday. But the words we use matter. They need to be the words of the people who come to work.

A One, A Two . . .

Paying the mortgage. Supporting a lifestyle to which one has become accustomed. Paying the bills. Keeping the kids in designer wear. That's what working is all about.

I have recently had this is ephiphany. Work is hard. Work is not easy. Work does not always mean doing the right things. Work is a dance. A two-step if you will. It's like walking. Quick, quick, slow. Slow, quick, quick. (Bob recently taught me that.)

Seriously though. When was the last time someone, in their 9 to 5 g-day said, Eureka, I have found the cure for cancer. Or, "Gadzooks, we have done it." Ok, maybe the latter. Most of the time, when you work for someone or something else, it is about them, their priorities, their problems. We in the workforce exist to find solutions for other people who have problems.

There is nothing wrong with that. As long as you realize that it is indeed a dance. Pick your left foot up, put your right foot down, and shake it all about, do the hokey pokey and that's what it's all about.

I try to remember this, because I am one of those people who really cares a lot about what I do. I never do anything half way. When I step into something, I do it. I don't act. I don't pretend. I don't do things half way.

There is a reality that we all must remember in this dance. In order to keep dancing, you need to keep making things happen. You need to keep bringing things to the table. You need to deliver.

But I can hear what you are thinking. "But I do deliver, and it didn't matter." The question I would ask is this: Do you know what "they" are looking for. Do you know where the line is? Do you understand what the world looks like from their perspective?

In my career, I have tried to do only one thing: Make someone else successful. And I have. And I hope there are others behind me helping me to do that, because, that, my blog-reading friends, is what this dance is all about.

That is my epiphany for this day. Over and out.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Holy Grail

I love Monty Python. In fact, I relate most things to Monty. The Holy Grail is one of my all time favorites. It is hilarious. Killer rabbits. Coconut clanking sound effects to emulate the sound of horses. Maidens to be rescued. Knights riding fearlessly on in search of . . . a cup?

This makes me think. The holy grail can represent many things. A promotion. An opportunity. A chance to do something meaningful and incredible. A chance to be the leader. A chance to work with a great leader. A chance to be part of something great. A chance to be . . .

As the legend goes, the quest was given by God to King Arthur to find the Holy Grail that would heal the land and bring prosperity back to Camelot. This allegorical tale is one of journeymen, in search of something greater.

The Holy Grail is our quest as human beings. As human beings, we are naturally are able to see and feel the signs and signals that could lead to our destruction.We search for more than what we have, to move beyond where we are, to find a new reality. The trick is to realize that we never really get there, we just get to another place.

This points to a chink in the armour of humanity. As human beings, we are always in search of what is next but we often lack vision. We want that chance to hold the secret to the future in our hands but we often lack the patience to let it take shape. We want to be successful, but often we lack ccourage and conviction. We want the holy grail but we are often willing accept a plastic cup.

Searching for the holy grail is the work of nobility. But when was the last time you read a job description asking for nobility?

Nobility has eroded over time since the onset of the industrial revolution. Ruskin, a 19th century architect and social commentator penned the Stones of Venice, which I studied in University. As an architect, Ruskin described how the move to mechanization may have allowed things to be produced more cheaply and enmasse, but it sacrified individuality.

Ruskin illustrated his point by contrasting the noble and the ignoble in Gothic architecture.

Ruskin refers to the noble imagery of the gargoyles that were typical to buildings of the time. Pre - industrial revolution, they were hand chiseled, by artisans. Each one uniquely flawed. The pre-industrial gargoyles eyes looked to heavens, representing humility under creation.

The newly mass produced ignoble gargoyles were perfectly produced, each one the same as the last. Unlike their noble brothers, the post - industrial gargoyles looked down over man, as if representing superiority over creation.

In today's terms, if the Stones of Venice were a business book, Ruskin would be describing the loss of leadership and vision, and what happens when you sacrifice creativity and innovation for efficiency and speed.

He would have said that while an efficiency focus has short term merits, it is damaging over the long term, as it will rob our desire to be creative and innovative. Efficiency does not inspire people to come to work every day. Think about it. Who says, I can't wait to get to work today to be more efficient than I was yesterday.

Wouldn't you rather people came to work everyday saying, "Today I am going to build a new widget, or come up with a new idea for . . ."

But no. I don't alway see the business world thinking this way, and it scares me. It is recession inspiring, mind numbing, economy killing and spirit crushing.

The holy grail is not about effiency. The holy grail is about hope. It is about reinvention, and recreation. It is about building for tomorrow. Inspriration. It is about being a good leader and acting with integrity and care for others. In today's terms, to hold the holy grail in one's hands is to hold a future vision that will move "us" to a greater place of being.

But alas, the accountants are in control, and the poets and dreamers are on the outside looking in.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Limerics and lyrics: lessons from my teachers

There once was a friend had I,
who told me one day,
too hard you try.
And though you may care,
others, they are not there,
and your time has been wasted, he dared.
I argued with him that day,
shouting out the attention that I pay,
is not more or less than the measure of great
and that I should never lower myself to less than that state.
And he replied
they know not what they know not,
and therefore they are not at that state.
Don't give it all away
All in one day
Show them enough such that they will sway
and ask you to come back, yet another day.

People need time.

Recently, I have been thinking about what it takes to become a good leader.  Actually, I don't know many other people who think about this and study this topic as much as I do who aren't on the book circuit.  I think about it quite a lot because I don't want to let people down who depend on me.  I want people to feel like they matter. Like they are heard.  Because that's what we all want. 

Remember when you were a kid and nobody listened?  You screamed, yelled, stomped your feet and basically caused a scene so your parents would have to respond to you.  As we grew up, we became socialized in school to behave differently.  We were taught to resist these outbursts. But feelings of being ignored or discounted don't go away just because they can't be expressed.  As we got older, we learned to go under ground with our feelings. 

In the world that I observe most of the time, I find that this type of outcry manifests itself in different ways.  Some people are verbal but they can be damaging and hurtful.  Others withdraw and hide and hope to live below the wire and go unnoticed.  Others generally resist what ever it is that happens to be presented to them.

In the corporate world, we use all kinds of code words that leaders should apply, but the concepts alone do not make a good leader.  Performance management is just another way of sitting down with people and laying out expectations.

Lots of time, we don't recognize what performance management is.  I think it's about listening and talking.  If you never meet with your staff, one on one, and don't take an interest in their work lives and who they are as people, you can never break through the barrier. 

Just like in the classroom when I was 6, bad teachers attempted to teach everyone the same way.  Good teachers knew that they had 30 different people, and worked to find ways to reach each child, somehow. 

We are not much different as adults.  Our values define us. Different things motivate us.  Different things matter.  It's about discovering who the person is, and building a relationship based on trust and honesty so that when it comes time to tackle the tough stuff, there is a foundation of safety already in place.

In my own work life, I never feel like I have enough time with people.  And that is my job.  Management gets bogged down in the work and that in itself is a problem.  If managers are actually doing the work, how can they coach and mentor.

And that brings us to another problem these days that is plaguing us.  Most managers are working managers becasue organizations cannot afford managers who are not working.  There are not enough hands in the game as it is. 

But there are some things we can do on purpose.  Meet weekly with each team member, or biweekly to discuss progress, work, issues and concerns.  Dedicate time to development of professional and personal objectives, and then talk about how they are progressing.  Make sure people know what their job is, and what is expected of them, by when.  Ensure work processes are not barriers, and give them permission to change what is not working for them.  Make sure people have the time to do their job.

I wish I was as good a manager as I am able to describe.  I try every day. That's the best I can do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ode to the balanced scorecard

Do you feel yourself being elevated from your chair just thinking about balanced scorecards? I didn't think so. But speaking of balanced scorecards, I am about to commit heresy and I can only pray that Kaplan and Nortan can forgive me some someday.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a struggle to bring balance to business. The attempt was to move the industrial revolution model where the bottom line is the bottom line to a more holistic, balanced and, dare I say, human approach that recognizes that people, customers and processes enable profit.

It was a valiant attempt, I would say. Companies all over the world implemented balanced scorecards into their corporate psyche. They set measures and targets for employee satisfaction and engagement and client satisfaction as a way to incent management to think and act in a more balanced way.

However, the recent downturn in the economy has sent us into a tail spin. We seem to be caught in a time warp heading back to the industrial revolution where driving profit at all costs is the focus.  Enterprise Risk Management is the new focus, but the perspective is one of fear, and not opportunity.  The question on  may leaders' minds is what are the risks that will disable our ability to generate profit?  And because we tend to think we are in a race, and maybe we are, the answers are short term.  Cut costs. Reduce overhead.  Streamline.  Think about it - how many new products or innovative ideas have hit the market place in the last five years? Trust me, the focus has been on restructuring and merging, and not on making new products and services.  Instead, businesses have been merging and converging to generate "economies of scale" which is just another way of saying doing more with less.

This is a problem because it begs the question. How much profit is enough? The anwer is there is never enough money at the end of the day. So, we continue to drive to this impossible goal of "profitablity" without really knowing how much is enough. Worse yet, this leads to less focus on good people practices and satisfied clients.

I have witnessed the effects of this phenomenon and I have to say, it's not good.  People and process are considered overhead - otherwise known as cost.  Therefore, in the absence of increasing revenue through creativity, innnovation and meeting customer needs, there is only one response. To decrease costs.  Granted, creativity is difficult and it's easier to cut costs.  But this line of thinking leads to unemployment, decreased confidence of the consumer, decreased spending for social programs, and increased paranoia overall.  People stop spending money. They batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst. 

In this environment, people become disposable. Good sense goes out the window.  And why? Because leaders are not being held accountable for the total picture.  They are short sighted, focusing on today and not considering the impacts of the decisions that are made.

It is a known fact that happy and secure employees are productive.  Productive people tend to have good leaders.  Good leaders tend to inspire good ideas from good people.  And good people can find creative ways to getting things done.  And when good people put their minds to it, collectively, the result is an insanely successful organization.

So, if you are reading this, Kaplan and Norton, it's time to step up the efforts to bring this awareness back to the minds of our leaders so we don't get comfortable back in the 1900's again. I would be happy to help.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Note to Self

I was walking down the streets of Montreal today in my stylish brown leather sling backs, carrying 3 shopping bags filled with shoes, sipping a coffee and taking in the atmosphere. It was a successful morning, but I was on a mission to get to a meeting on time.

Note to self: Finish shopping tomorrow!

The sun was shining. The temperature, warm. On the corner, there were two young musicians playing classical music - it took my breath away. I stopped and listened, and watched the young woman as she played her violin, eyes closed, lost in her music. Her case was open, with 5 dollars in loonies.

Note to self: Love what you do, and do what you love.

I walked past a group of burly, muscle bound workers who were taking their lunch break, sitting on a picturesque ledge with their lunch boxes open, just like in the movies. As I walked up the street toward my hotel, cabs whizzed past, nearly clipping each other`s bumpers as they raced to the finish line to pick up the next fair.

Note to self: Move to this city someday.

Tonight, my friend and I went to a quaint french-named Italian restaurant where I enjoyed grilled fish and vegetables, a not so great martini, and a great glass of wine - all punctuated with a Witty Italian waiter who speaks French. He humored me with my frenglish, and made me believe I was an eloquent linguist. I tipped him big time.

Note to self: Practice my French. Learn a new language.

We visited Hurley`s, an Irish Pub where we met Gilles, a local industrial Realtor who had remembered us from the night before. We listened to Scottish band, sipped wine and just enjoyed the night air. Everyone knows Gilles, he says, since he has been coming to the pub since it opened 15 years ago. Gilles was a wealth of knowledge. He regaled us with tales of travel, set up straight on wind chill (apparently we don`t have it in Saskatchewan and it doesn`t make it colder) and I learned the french name for Moose Jaw - Mâchoire d'orignaux. . How did I not know that, I wondered.

Note to self - Learn more about the history of our country.

As we were leaving, a local asked us for a dollar in poetry, and swore he was going to use it to get drunk. We laughed and walked away. He was charming . . .but not enough to give him money.

Note to self: Write down the poem.

We walked by the Ritz Carlton and peaked inside the front doors - oh, that`s what an obscene amount of money will buy! We cruised by McGill where university students were pouring out after a big game.

Note to self: Live more. Play more.

We stood and gazed at a collection of beautiful sequined gowns in a store window. My friend loved the blue sequined gown with matching bag. I loved the little black number.

Note to self: Attend a gala event so that I can wear sequins again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Raise a little . . .

We all define balance differently. Some people think balance is down time. Others think balance is time to pursue a special interest. Some people say balance is about leaving work behind at 4:30 pm. I happen to think balance is being able to stand on my head for more than one minute.

But here is a revelation. I have been told I need balance and I assumed balance to me was what it was to everyone else. In fact I have set life goals to work 9 to 5. To walk out the door. To leave work behind. I have made proclamations to my friends, family and co-workers. And everyone has the same reactions. Some people laugh out loud. Others smile and nod, and look at me as if to say, "uh huh . . .".

More than anything I want to be one of those people, but I can't. I also want to be one of those magazine models, but that seems to be out of reach for me as well. So here is my confession. I love to work. I love to work at work. And when I am not at work, I am known to paint a room over a weekend, or dig up my front yard just to create a new garden. Recently, I painted my red kitchen blue and then painted it red again because I didn't like it. Last weekend, I painted my family room. And when I am not changing the world, I am usually writing about it.

I need to feel accomplishment. I like to see things happen. I love to change things and alter reality. It's change that I love. Movement. Progress. A better way. And I find myself always in the wake of a huge change whether I plan to be there or not.

Over the past 5 years, my working life has been about mergers, restructures, de-structures and failed mergers. I have seen good people fall off the planet of their making, and I have seen people survive who maybe shouldn't have. I have seen mediocre people at their best, and I have seen people become good leaders. I have seen the mouse topple the elephant and I have seen what happens when people care about the same things at the same time.

It's been an interesting ride. So here I am, smack dab in the middle of another one of those wakes. And I ask myself, how the heck did I get here? I am just a writer after all. A journalist. A writer of facts. A recorder of life. How did I end up on this ship again. For the life of me, I do not know. Yet, I stand outside of myself, and I observe a change maker, a wake surfer, a storm chaser.

These times call for extraordinary people. People who actually work for betterment of others and not themselves. People who others will follow. People who help others who are not capable of changing by themselves. And I have come to the conclusion, quite often, that most of the time, people are not extra-ordinary. People are ordinary. People want someone else to make the decisions. They don't want to accept that change is theirs to make. They don't want to take the wheel, because then they are responsible to make something happen.

And that, friends, is why change is so freakin' hard. Not enough people are in the game. There are too many people just wishing it would end so their lives could go about effortlessly. I would love that. But it's not realistic. It's a vacation. Not life. Progress is work. Why should everyone enjoy the fruits of labour without labouring?

Recently, someone close to me said that there was no point in talking about change because nothing ever happens. My response was this: who do you expect to make change happen for you? Why do you expect someone to do it for you? As the song goes, "if you don't like what you got, why don't you change it. If your world is all screwed up. Rearrange it."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Be Big in the Face of Smallness. - edited.

If anyone is out there reading this stuff, for the record this is the edited version - the less whiney version.

I am claustrophobic in every sense of the word. I can not stand small places or confinement of any kind. Small rooms, small elevators, smallness in general.

Lately I have been immersed in stuff. Small stuff. Minutia. The stuff that gets under your finger nails. Clutters your mind, vision and thoughts. One day, all that stuff kind of piled up to make a bad day.

A friend of me reminded me that having a bad day is ok sometimes. And thank the big guy that we have other things in our lives that are more meaningful.

And she's right. You might have guessed that I am not a doctor. I help companies figure out what they are doing, and then I help them plan it, talk about it, organize it and basically help them get organized. I am a writer by profession, a planner by DNA, and somedays I am a sales person, a convincer, a thinker and a doer. But nobody lives or dies by what I do. Hopefully the best that I can do is help make thiings work a little better.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

In Search of Nirvana

I have always taken pride in working with purpose, on purpose. I pick my jobs and my boss carefully because I am in search of a particular environment. I look for an environment where the leadership is open to ideas, where discussion is readily had, where people are treated fairly and with respect, and where people treat each other as they would want to be treated.

That may sound like Nirvana, but it is indeed the key to bringing out the best in people. Nirvana (or least my definition) is really what good corporate builders aspire to create. They know that this kind of environment is where people tend to give their best every day.

There are no accidents in corporate culture creation. One does not wake up one day and say, "oops, my bad . . ." Culture takes time to foster and build, and it is purposeful. The question is, are we able to break down the ingredients to understand what actually goes into creating a Nirvana like culture.

Since that question is too big to tackle, let's look at a symptom of culture. Engagement. Cultures that are constructive and positive tend to have higher engagement than those that do not.

Understanding engagement is to understand what motivates human beings. Micro - managed, controlling and distrusting environments grind people down, making them feel uninspired about the work. They want to give less and care less. When this culture takes over, people are treated badly, and they feel bad about it. They act out their frustration by treated others badly in retaliation. And it is disconcerting and sad. I have seen people who are brilliant, and who have so much to offer, pull away. They lose their shine. They lose their voice, their self - esteem and their will to be as excellent as they are.

Engaged people are fully self - responsible and accountable. However, in a power based environment, performance is used as a hammer, instead of a tool to inspire progress. People dodge accountability because who wants to be hammered? It becomes a vicious circle. If people are not accountable for the way they act, or if negative behavior is endorsed by being ignored, people rebel by disengaging to avoid personal damage.

The disengaged person develops a condition of being frustrated and negative. They spend their time wasting time and being destructive. This takes on several forms. Micro managing, avoidance, passing the buck, dodging accountability, talking negatively about others and with others, criticizing and basically tearing down what others are trying to build.

Disengaged people express negativity instead of looking for ways to be successful; purposely blocking the success of another; or just pulling away and giving up. If this type of environment is allowed to occur, people will continue to feel shut down and dis empowered. They will stop giving their best every day, and start leaving before they have left.

I don't believe that disengagement can be addressed with programs, products, pep talks, performance management, or other p - words alone. Disengagement is also linked to leadership and accountability. One way to address it is through instilling a constructive culture where people are empowered and accountable for their actions, and where conciliatory behavior is more prevalent that power based control behaviors. In the constructive culture, leadership is not just at the top of an organization. It is you and me, every day being responsible for what we do, what we say and how we affect others.

It all comes down to living our values. No company would say they value control and power. A responsible company talks about things like leadership, integrity, responsibility, commitment to employees, commitment to shareholders, commitment to the community.

Values in the corporate setting are not just published in a plan or annual report annually. The values must be upheld. They must be linked to the balance sheet. In other words, if a company values responsibility, it should provide financial support to act on that. If the company values commitment to employee development, then it must provide quality training, development, performance and succession programs. If a company says it values community, then it requires investment. Most importantly, values must be challenged, and those who do not live the values, must be challenged, and some case, must leave the organization.

The problem is that there have been too many management books written with formulaic, linear strategic planning processes. Step 1. Review Vision. Step 2. Review Values. Step 3. Review Goals . . . Board and executives are numb to the idea of really exploring and testing these concepts. I have yet to hear a board member ask an executive team - show me evidence of living your values. What does this vision mean to our employees? Our community? Our shareholder? Who cares?

I feel very strongly about this, because we give thousands of hours a year to our jobs, and we want to work for organizations that live the values. Don't we?

Unfortunately, I see too often the opposite happening, and as a result, disengagement will increase in the workplace. And that's sad, because it robs you and I, and it robs society of the potential greatness that resides in each of us.

The way I see it, life is too short to be disengaged or disgruntled every day. Negativity depletes the quality of the contribution we make to this world and it can lead to illness.

To me the path to constructive progress and engagement it's so simple. Get back to basics and treat others as you would like to be treated. Before you pull a power move on someone, think about it. How would I feel? Before you make someone uncomfortable with inappropriate conversations, think about how you would feel if you were to walk into it. I feel very strongly about this. The way I see it, nobody has a right to ruin my day, make me feel bad, or make me wish I was somewhere else. And I don't have a right to treat others that way. I therefore cannot tolerate it in others, and I expect others to challenge me should I demonstrate bad behavior.

We (the royal we - aka all of us) need to take stalk of the impact we are having on others every day and either make a personal decision to change, or leave. The symptoms of disengagement will destroy a company, and it will destroy people in the process.

Can people move up the engagement scale given the right environment? I think so. But it's a choice. Coming to work every day is not an accident. We do it on purpose. So make a decision. There really are only 2 options:

- Door #1: stay and be a positive force.
- Door #2: simply leave.

Finally, remember this is work, not life. If work is not contributing to the quality of your life, then make a decision to change it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Search of Extraordinary

The other day, I received an email from a publishing company announcing a "sale" on publishing - for $200.00 less, I could publish a book. All I had to do was respond to the email.

That made me think - in this world of email, mass everything, I would imagine that thousands of people actually respond. Now, don't get me wrong. The email did not come from a disreputable firm. I actually know them, and inquired about their publishing process. But the second I received that mass email, my opinion of them dropped like a rock. They are not looking to help writers publish great works, they are just making a buck.

As a lover of English, poetry and great prose, I am actually saddened by this high volume approach to publishing a book. How can anything be good or worth reading? And how will the good make it through the endless piles of mediocrity that gets published these days.

And I wonder, is extraordinary lost? Shakespeare was extraordinary. Keats was extraordinary. They were writing and telling stories in a time when people wanted to listen. When there was an audience that actually wanted to read the prose, watch the play, hear the story.

When everything is so simple, by simply responding to a mass email, how can anything we good?

Last year, I submitted a poem to an online poetry web site just to see what would happen. I began getting emails about how my poem was being reviewed by a board of directors, and eventually it was selected for the editor choice award. The poem was published, and I was invited to the annual conference held by this organization to read the poem aloud to the poetry community. But I did not go, because I did not trust the process. I did not trust their intentions. And I did not believe that my poem was that extraordinary.

I received the anthology - it was the first poem published in the book. I have to admit, I was excited about it. This has been one of my life goals - to be a published writer.

But because this process is so - mass focused and accessible, I don't trust it. Call me cynical. But I believe we are losing our sense of what is extraordinary.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Recipe for Cake

What: Bake a cake.

Why: Because we are celebrating an important birthday.

How:  Poor cake mix into a bowl. Add water. Add 1 egg. Stir for 30 seconds. Pour into a 8 x 10 ungreased pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool on rack. Ice.

This may seem overly simplistic, but believe me, the person who wrote this recipe on the back of a cake mix box probably experience several edits before he or she broke it down to a set of perfect, measurable steps.

In the corporate world, we have to do that too. Even if we are planning some major strategy. The challenge is to keep it simple so that it is absolutely, unequivocally true, such that a reasonable and logically individual could not find fault with it or could follow it blindfolded.

Strategy answers these three questions: What is to be accomplished (the end goal); why is this necessary; and how we go about this?  Strategies take time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When equality is no longer a word . . .

There are very few people in the lifetime, and in fact, in the history of our world, who make a difference long after they are gone. You know who these people are. Great names like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King come to mind because these people made a difference to people. They were selfless. They lead with vision, not of themselves, but with a vision of the world. A place where we would have compassion for the poor, the hungry and destitute. A place where people make sacrifices for what is important. A place where equality is not just a word, but no longer a word.

Recently my daughter was studying stories of generations past who marched in the streets for peace, who fought in wars, and fought against wars, who cried when Martin Luther King died. Those people who fought those fights and thought those thoughts are likely no longer with us.

During those marches, people would cry out for equality, and it meant something tangible. The right to work. The right to eat in restaurants. The right to go to whatever schools one wanted. The right for personal freedom. The right to be treated . . . like an human being. The right not to be judged, marginalized, minimized or dehumanized by another. These are things worth fighting for still today.

Yet, at least in our part of the world, we no longer shout out words like equality and freedom in the streets. We have institutionalized the battle. Made it part of the corporate fabric of our making. And that's a step in the right direction, as long as it's not the last step. Corporations have the means and ability to provide training and opportunities that give people the means to enjoy freedom as we know it. Corporations create employment so people can have a better life.

We have achieved some enlightenment in the world. Corporations are expected to be "Good corporate citizens" who give money and time to the those who help the less fortunate. They make people development a priority. They teach, coach and mentor people to grow. They create an environment where people can grow and flourish. Good corporate citizens give of their time, money and resources to make the world around them a better place.

All the corporate capital and good will, however, can't change the world unless the individual engages in the change. That's you and me. People caring about others. People getting to know each other. People seeing past our visual or cultural differences and seeing each other as fellow human beings, sharing this life experience.

When you think about it, the word equality is only necessary in a state where it does not exist. And therein lies the question. Will we ever find a time in the world where equality is an ancient term?

And where are we in this continuum, almost 50 years after the riots and the cries for equality?

I asked my daughter what I often ask corporate types - what do you value? What do you care about enough that you would stand up for and stand up against others for? What matters to you that is beyond your own vision, but a vision for the world.

Equality was her answer. Where people are not judged for their gender, or lifestyle. Where people are free to discover the best they can be.

What a great and worthy quest. Imagine a place where equality is no longer quantified by targets on corporate scorecards. Where we no longer count the colors of skin around a table, as if tallying our level of tolerance, or intolerance. Where we can come face to face with a person and not see the difference first.

That she would say equality matters most to her does not surprise me. My daughters have been raised in a house of diversity and adversity. In my house, we have seen and suffered the effects of being turned down for a job because of another person's fear. We have lived with unemployment as a result of small minds. We all, as a result, have learned to keep the secret of our "diversity" to lessen the impact.

The funny thing is, we are not identifiable by race or by ethnicity. But we still experienced this, and continue to from time to time. I understand the quest for equality, but in the continuum, I would hope the ultimate goal is to achieve humanity where people are worth the effort regardless of who they are or where they come from. And I would say everyone deserves a chance to be bright, and to be brilliant. I would say that everyone is good and deserves a chance to prove it.

Listening to my daughters, and watching them, I hope that their generation does take our world to a more humane place than we have been. I hope that they care enough to do more than talk, but to lead, and demonstrate through their actions. I hope that they will take one step closer to that grand vision of a better place that our earthly leaders have shown us.