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.