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.