Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adieu 2011: It's been nice, but I've got to keep moving.

Dear 2011,

Year end is a pause and a celebration.
Some very good things happened this year that have been in the works for a while.

In 2006, I created and implemented a strategy to change direction, both personally and professionally. Essentially, I challenged convention and walked against the traffic in my work and personal life.

Two things happened. An accident of poetry resulted, and I have made changes in my life that continue to inspire the way ahead in terms of health, self awareness, helping others and work.

Joining Gold's Gym 5 years ago was liberating as I got hooked on group fitness classes. Last year, I became an fitness instructor at Golds, teaching Centergy, which is a yoga / palates combination that challenges and redefines the brain and the body. I love it because not only does it keep me focused on my own fitness goals, it helps others to set and achieve their goals. I have to say teaching 2 hours a week is the best 2 hours of my week, because it's all about them, and not about me. And that is the secret to happiness. To get off the "me" track and help others stay on their track.

Self awareness is about paying attention to the negative noise that bombards our lives, understanding how we interpret these sounds, and managing a response. In 2006, the process that I embarked on included writing 30 minutes a day. Surprisingly the output was in a poetic form of expression. After 5 years of learning about the publishing process and editing, I titled this accident of poetry:

"Died of a . . . a private collection of lives lived so far, found walking against the traffic and told through an accident of poetry" 

The manuscript was finally delivered to a publisher for consideration this week. I will not be giving up my day job. But as my daughter says, that's the only way you will know.  Fingers crossed, but I will continue to write, whatever the outcome.

Giving back is an important part of my life and business philosophy. Over the past 2 years, I have been helping George Reed establish his George Reed Foundation as a member of the Board. We are proud of our first gala fundraiser in December.  Working with the Board and the planning committee has been one of my great joys of 2011. It feeds my soul, and now we can help people who have disabilities or are disadvantaged in our community.

Family Services Regina is another non-profit that I continue to support, both as a Board member and whenever possible in the community.  This agency helps families and individuals who are suffering in a cycle of abuse with a myriad of professional programs and services. We hold two fundraisers a year - Juke Box Jive and a Luncheon.  I urge you to get involved by attending or providing sponsorship and donation.

In the work quadrant, after 16 years of a freelance love affair with strategy and communications, Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Consulting Ltd. came out of the proverbial corporate closet with a declared focus on creativity, entrepreneurialism and opportunity.

In 2012, you will find me working with a brand of leadership and teams who are creative, entrepreneurial and optimistic. And you will find me at the gym.

So 2011, it's been nice, but as the song goes, "I've got to keep on moving".  2012, I will see you on the other side of midnight. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

To Facebook or not to Facebook: That is the question.

 Everyone is communicating these days. Facebook, Twitter, blogging and LinkedIn, for example, are commonly used. Since the birth of these social media babies, everyone is communicating. But are they? That is the real question.

I would say, it depends on what you have to say, how often, and whether or not your target audience is listening. If you are Gene Simmons or Justin Bieber for example, you might not have anything to say, but people are willing to listen. (Incidentally, did you hear what Bieber got for Christmas?)

Facebooking has become one of the communication vehicles that business can use to reach an audience. Images are easily uploaded as are status updates.
For those who like to share a thought a moment, there is Twitter.  

LinkedIn is described as the business meeting place. Profiles are professional in nature as are the conversations.

Blogging is another vehicle that helps you get the message out in the form of story.  My view on blogging is that they should follow journalistic principles.

Personally, I love them all, but I am a professional communicator so I enjoy the experiment.  

From a business standpoint, these tools can help you educate your audience in an integrated way.

For example, my website at is fully connected to my Facebook page, blog, Twitter account, Linkedin and to my online CV.  This allows me to provide information to potential clients or employers from a single point of access.

I update my blog weekly, or when I have something relevant that others might find interesting. My blog is updated to my Facebook page and Twitter. I am also careful about who I accept on Twitter by not allowing opening following.

From a personal standpoint, these tools help families and friends to connect a way never before possible. 

But if you are a business interested in entering the fray of social media here are some things to be aware of.

1.  Strategy 

We often confuse the toys and the tools with the strategy. Social media tools are just enablers that may be a part of a broader communication strategy, or may not. I recently heard an interview with Jon Bon Jovi who acknowledged the potential power to reach millions of people simultaneously, but that he will never be tweeting about his dinner. That's not his strategy. The band Bon Jovi uses social media to talk to their fans about the music.  Not dinner.

2.  Investment 

There are costs - time, financial and reputation -  so be prepared to invest or walk away. Communication is an art and a science, I would recommend consulting a professional communicator. Just because you can utter the English language does not make you a communicator. (I can count, but that does not make me an accountant.) Communications professionals understand audience and messaging. They can help you reach your audience and manage your message in good times and in the times of crisis.

3. Content

You need good, relevant content that people will be interested in reading. A Facebook page without good content becomes stagnant. The upside to a Facebook page or blog is the content is easily updated so it can alleviate website management costs. If you have a story to tell, blogging is a great tool, but there again, it is best to access professional resources to blog your story. Bad blogs are just noise.

4. Frequency   

I would ask you to consider frequency.  Bogging down the Facebook pages and mail boxes of your "friends" who "like" you can be like an guest that never leaves. We might "like" you, but we will "unsubscribe" so we never have to hear from you unless we initiate the conversation.  

5. Management and monitoring

Your social media sites need to be monitored. While you want to attract your market, you will also attract those who feel they have the right to say whatever they want all over your pages. For example, when a disgruntled employee vents all over your page, you need to be aware of it, and you need to either offset the situation by blocking, or you need to remove the offending comments.  If you play in the world of social media, you need to be aware of privacy and permissions as the tools and the world continue to change and evolve. The default privacy setting for Facebook is open, because that is the intent, but it may not be yours.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scratching the Intrapreneur's Itch: the Lynearthinking Way

An Entrepreneur attempts to make profit by undertaking a task or business enterprise though risk and initiative.

An Intrapreneur is described as an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, and does not have to follow the Corporation's usual routines or protocols.

Whether one is an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, these people are the risk takers and inventors of our time. They have an itch to scratch and they build a scratching post.  Then they find a way to make others want it to and bingo, we all have a scratching post.

Entrepeneurs have a reputation for being risk takers. They may be former corporate intrapreneurs whose revolutionary creativity and spirit scared the beejezzuz out of their conformity loving counterparts (and supervisors).

The fact is, to be successful in any business, both are needed. A visionary who cannot implement is a dreamer.  An implementer with no vision becomes irrelevant.

But there tends to be a clash of culture between the dreamers and the doers.  It is a classic case of pink flamingos and brown ducks  trying to co-habitate.

I believe that this chasm between the brown ducks and pink flamingos has its roots in the control based origin of strategy as a military tool.  When it was introduced into business thinking, the reigning mindset was one of command and control.

But since then, thinking has changed. We know that success requires engagement, creativity,reinvention and due dilligence. Therefore, the culture of the organization is the key to putting to rest this clash of the feathers.

An organization that values creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership is more likely to ensure the structures and procedures that are required to run a business also facilitate and encourage brilliance. Non-linear processes are in place to provide for incubation and expression of creativity.

The planning process is culture based.  It both mirrors the current culture and issues and can be used to enhance the culture.  

Organizations that are control based tend to create structures and procedures that are linear in nature, with decision making at the top of the organization. In this environment, proceses are linear and budget driven. I have seen as many as 9 budget drafts in a single process.  When this happens, nobody knows what is behind the numbers, and frankly, by that time, they don't care, and don't want to share their plans. So they spend the next year quietly implementing whatever plan they might have, reporting the bare minimum and quacking in code so nobody will ask questions. As this cycle continues, year over year, the same plans seem to be brought forward, and nothing seems to get done. The waters become stagnant.

People who want to get somewhere - the Intrapreneurs - become frustrated. And planning never gets off the executive table.

As a strategic planner with a penchant for creativity and a solid appreciation for due diligence, this is the Lynear way of thinking and planning.

1.  Executive sets the targets up front and communicates them so that everyone knows the appetite for direction, spend and speed. 2 buckets are put aside:  one for day to day operations, and one for development. Each "bucket" has its own own planning, decision making and reporting process.

A. Operations
  • Managers develop their operational plans and budgets that describe inputs that are required to run their business area. For example, an accounting department that runs the core activities of budgeting and reporting will need to define the employee requirements needed to perform the work.  
  • Each operational plan is reviewed against the already communicated targets and approved by the executive of that area. 
  • Once plans are approved and budgets are rolled up, they implemented and reported quarterly through a corporate process. 
B. Development
  • Establish an initiative  or developmental planning process whereby new or ongoing initiatives are planned, scoped and brought forward for discussion through a committee assigned to direct the development budget.  
  • Each initiative must describe what will be accomplished, how, when, the amount of employee weeks that will be required (this is subtracted from the operational plan), the technology, systems and capital required to implement the plans for the year, and the associated risks.  
  • The "Development Committee", comprised of senior members of the management team (not executive) debate the initiatives with the creators, and make a recommendation on the best use of the development budget. 
  • The executive can then review and approve the development plan.  
  • Approved initiatives are implemented with progress against plan reported quarterly through a corporate process. 

The Lynearthinking model facilitates an environment whereby planners own their plans and are responsible for leading implementation, which includes inspiring others to help them. Things that get done are reported. Things that do not get done are reported. Accountability is achieved.

The key to the Lynearthinking model is sustained leadership and commitment.  Once an organization commits to this path, the usual change - based reactions occur.  People may resist engagement if they do not understand what is being asked of them, if their leaders are not on side, or if they do not like to plan, and would rather execute.

This approach is one of cultural change and takes time to engineer.  Year 1 focuses on creating the process and understanding. Year 2 is about improvement, and year 3 it begins to feel operational.  Leadership commitment is required to sustain the change so that by year 4 and 5, the way of working has been established.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Colour Couture: Heed the Free on the Runway

Last week, 52 visionary fashion designers strutted their stuff down the runway at Blanche Macdonald's Graduation Fashion show.  Sara Armstrong, home grown Saskie, launched her "Heed the Free - an eco conundrum".  Sara's inspiration behind the collection was to create beautiful garments using an ecological framework. Each piece of her collection, from the head-dresses to the shoes was created or re-inspired from previously loved items. 
Here the pictures of the runway show.  

Colour Couture

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An old soul resurrected.

She is an old soul, with a passion for making art with history and integrity and she is going to be famous.

After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Regina in May 2010, Sara Armstrong moved to Vancouver to study fashion design at Blanche Macdonald. One year later, her design is featured on the cover of Blanche Macdonald's fashion design graduate show, entitled "Colour Couture."

She took with her 21 years of artistic experience that included dance, painting, sculpting, video and multi-media creations. To Sara it seemed, the medium did not matter, so much as the message.

I like to think of Sara as the Marshall McLuhan of her time.

Whatever the medium, her creations tend to be arresting and soulful with a statement. For example, the 8 - foot headless mannequin dressed in depression black skirting and a metal chest plate that stood out in a field was a haunting yet respectful statement about how the great depression affects the psyche of women today.  Reaching out to her deceased grandparents whom she never knew, Sara created a turn of the century communication machine to send a message to them. 

She is talented. No doubt.  But having talent is only part of the patchwork of success.  One needs to have a head for business and marketing, be focused and determined, and be prepared for work.  Since moving to Vancouver in July 2010, Sara attended school, worked a part-time job to supplement her income, and interned for  Shelley Klassen, a Vancouver designer and owner of Blushing Boutique, who continues to teach her about the business side of the fashion business.

In between school, work and interning, Sara also volunteered to work fashion shows to gain behind-the-scenes experience. She took classes to learn how to felt wool and how to make shoes.  Sara, along with friend  Kelly Cairns, started Motel June,  an eco - fashion clothing line. 

Sara's new line that will be featured at the show carries the eco-fashion message as well, with each piece of fabric being created by Armstrong herself or resurrected from another previously loved and lived garment, right down to the shoes.

Every year, Blanche Macdonald provides the springboard for a new generation of talented designers to begin their journey into the wide world of fashion.  The School is the launch pad for many successful careers in the fashion industry including Shannon Wilson, owner and designer of lululemon athletica, Tenille Magnusson, head designer of Aritzia's and Canada’s favourite line, Wilfred, and Lisa Malcic whose Beba Bean line boasts A-list celebrity clients and is sold in top retailers including Barneys New York and Nordstroms.

On November 23, a new generation of designers, including Sara,  will launch their careers and their visions.  I will be there in the front row with a camera.

A Glimpse at the Future

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to conduct a memorable performance review

This article is written from the point of view of what happens when a performance review is badly managed.  Organizations that follow responsible performance management programs ensure that employees have a clear view of their expectations and performance standards and that anything that needed to be addressed during the year was addressed when it occurred.  The performance review process should therefore contain no surprises.  Moreover, the process should be transparent, in that the employee is fully aware of the discussion before he or she enters the room. Lastly, I would suggest that performance reviews are built on trust and respect, therefore it is of the utmost importance that the performance review methodology for the organization is well documented and supported with tools, processes and training for managers. When a performance review is mishandled and an employee is mistreated in the process, it is nearly impossible to regain the trust of the employee, if at all. Here is a link that I find useful in describing what a good performance review process looks like.

1.  Do not set goals and targets with your employees. That way, you can change the expectations and hold them accountable at the same time.  As an added benefit, you never risk any financial rewards. This saves the company time and money!

2.  Do not set weightings. That way, employees can be flexible and responsive to whatever needs to be done throughout the year.  Employees will rely on you every day for your excellent micro-management capabilities in balancing priorites and making decisions about how to spend their time. You will be god in their eyes. 

3.  Set up a special meeting at year end (as close to Christmas as possible is best) and send the official blank template. Ask the employee to record accomplishments, giving the person the opportunity to show off a little.  But don't let them know what will happen next. Being surprised is part of the fun and makes for nimble employees.  

4. Be Earnest! Carefully review and study their document before the meeting, in complete isolation.  Make changes to their document but do not share it with the employee.  That way, you are in control of the situation, and the employee will be surprised, and possibly speechless.

 5.  Meet face-to-face. Surprise the employee  with a new document full of your good advice and surprises. Focus your feedback on non-work related content. After all, they already know what they did. See this as an excellent coaching opportunity to make the employee not only a better employee, but a better person. You might want to comment on their fashion sense, style, voice and body language. Make recommendations for improvement. 

6.   Stay on task so that you get all your points across regardless of the employee`s reaction. This way, you can communicate your valuable insights and reinforce your keen interest in their success.  As well, the employee is less likely to use the `no goals`defense strategy because the employee will be focused on matters of a personal nature. In football and in the boardroom, a good offence is a great defence.

7. During the meeting, monitor your email and text messages so that you can demonstrate how customer responsive you are. This will teach the employee two valuable lessons. 1.  Customers always come first in business. 2.  Employees always come second. 

8. During the meeting, answer your phone, every time it rings.  See number 7.
9. Give the employee an opportunity to vet your personal opinions against those of their mentors.  Offer to change your opinion if the employee's mentors disagree with your insights. This will demonstrate that you are an open-minded, fair and a reasonable leader who is concerned for your employee`s well-being. 

 10. After the employee has been excused, tell him or her this is not over yet. That way, the employee will be on the edge of the seat waiting for your next meeting. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The long and winding road

I don't usually write about politics, or even talk about politics. But I feel inclined to say for the first time in my life, I am inspired to believe in the future of Saskatchewan.

Tonight the Saskatchewan Party was elected with a majority government, under the leadership of Brad Wall.

I do not know Mr. Wall, but he seems to be a home grown kind of guy, with good intentions. But more importantly, Mr. Wall has the ability to lead, and make things happen. He has the ability to inspire followers and engage non-believers. To inspire someone like me to believe in the future of Saskatchewan.

Tonight, he recounted the successes of the past 4 years, and the promises kept, all which are valid. We are experiencing the benefits of a prosperous mining sector, and an open door policy for business. We have grown as a province and an economy. As Mr. Wall says, there is yet more work to do.

It is important to remember that the road to change is  a long and winding road, paved with economic evolution, hard decisions and changes that spanned the 80's, 90's, and the new millennium.

Our family's hometown, Westbend, was the town closest to my grandparent's farm community. In its day, it was a thriving little town with a co-op store, a gas station, and a post office.

Since then, Westbend has slowly but surely disappeared like so many other towns as a result of changes in the agricultural economy and policies that were implemented, such as branchline relocation and the crow rate. As the agricultural economy became more efficient and centralized, small farming communities lost services and people.

There was an exodus of Saskatchewan people looking for greener pastures in Alberta. We were part of the mass exodus that left Saskatchewan to find a job and life in Alberta.  We found jobs, but not a life. Houses were out of reach and a life of driving 3 hours a day and living in rented houses was not in my plan.

I wanted to study Journalism, so we moved back to Regina with our babies, bought a house, and got an education. In the back of my mind, however, I did not have faith in the province's sustainability, so we always kept one foot elsewhere, metaphorically speaking. 

As a student journalist, writing for the Kindersley Clarion, I remember writing about the massive changes that rural Saskatchewan had undergone as a result of efforts to streamline the agricultural economy.

Incidentally, that was the year the NDP and Mr. Romanow was re-elected with his "Quiet Revolution" plan, which promised a series of changes in 3 years. To be honest, it was not inspiring. It was frightening, hardline change. I attended a conference bullpit session of Saskatchewan delegates where they were told to change, or change would happen to them.

By the time our group of student journalists were able to interview Mr. Romanow, the "paid" media had already written all about his 3-year Quiet Revolution plan.  Mr. Romanow was a master of key messages so there was no unseating this politican.  My audience was waiting for a story that was meaninful to them so I had to get creative.

At the end of the interview session, I asked him for an autograph in my daughter's book. He wrote, "The future is yours Sara." On the same page, was her favorite poem: "Fuzzy Wuzzy Wuz a Bear . . ."

I couldn't resist the irony and the temptation to include the poem and his best wishes for Sara's future in a story about the difficulties rural Saskatchewan was facing. (A tiny moment of journalistic satisfaction)

Change happened. Later I was to write about a school closure in Dinsmore. The empty halls and classrooms still dense with chalk dust reminded me of the impact of change on children, wondering how could they believe in tomorrow when their today was disappearing.

We stayed through the 90's and into the new millennium.  We earned degrees and made sacrifices to ensure that we had meaningful employment to give our kids a good life. My husband, an industrial engineer, worked up north for more than 4 years, coming home only on weekends while I raised teenagers and worked as a corporate planner and writer for large corporations and the credit unions.  

Over the past 4 years, something has changed. Our economy has grown. There is an attitude of possiblity. There is a hope for the future. 

For the first time, I can honestly say that I have confidence in a government, and possibly, a person. I believe him when he says, "We are never going back" to despair and being a have-not province.  I believe him when he says we are moving forward.

This is where my grandparents settled, and broke the land. I can honestly say I never get tired of a sunset or the smell of the air in spring. I marvel at sundogs, despite the fact that a sighting means eminent frigid temperatures. I can't help but get out of my car just to take in the vista of a clear blue sky and a golden field.  

Something has changed. Maybe it's me. Or maybe I am finally home.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Finding a way to make poverty and despair profitable

If we could find a way to make poverty and despair profitable, I wonder if it would exist.

Would there be enough resources to stop the cycle of abuse and violence that is inherited from one generation to the next.

Could it be in vogue to help those who can`t help themselves if it could be profitable.

The other day, I sat across the table from a man who was telling me about a vision to save people`s lives. He is the founder of the Adult Learning Centre which works to save people from falling through the cracks of our society, and to give them the tools to live in their potential.

I am inspired by his caring and understanding for those who need help. Other organizations in our city also care enough to help, like Family Services Regina. But in the people helping business, resources are tight.

Poverty alone is not the issue. If it were, the solution would be to acquire the skills and knowledge to find meaningful employment.

The people who suffer may or may not be impoverished, but most importantly, they are without hope. They are the forgotten and the invisible.

Through the course of living, learning, listening and writing, I have come to the conclusion that we are all fragile human beings.

We may not feel the edge, or see the edge, but we really do not know where the edge is, for any of us. This lesson has been brought home to me by many of my `teachers.`

Don, a `street person` by his own definition, showed me the back alleys, hotels and dank bars of our fair city, as he explained the day to day life of the people who survive on the streets.

Like many others, Don was afflicted with many problems, from drug abuse and alcoholism to sexual abuse, all of which he attributed to life on the streets.  He told me that his parents tried to help him, but the more they tried to help him, the faster he would run and the more damage he would do. Don told me that he no longer knew where his family was, and he understood. ``I wore them out. I know that.``

I also met young women who fell into prostitution to feed other habits. One young woman, who was dressed in more expensive clothes that what I could afford at the time, told me she was the daughter of a policeman, and she wanted to get clean and live a normal life.

I met a man outside of a soup kitchen who had lived a happy life as a nurse until his wife died.  I asked him, what happened. He said, ``I fell into a bottle and I never got out.  I don`t really talk to my kids anymore.``

I met a woman whose teenage daughter was being abused by a john. Despite her efforts, she could not stop her daughter from leaving the house night after night. He went to jail for a time, but how much time is appropriate for a person who steals another person`s dignity and potential worth, I wondered.

I was sad. I thought, what if that was my dad, or my sister, brother, or daughter. Would I let go of them. I hope not.

But the fact is, many people do not have the resources to hang on, and many people have lost their humanity. Many people go to bed hungry, cold and afraid.  Many people live within cycles of abuse in their families, and try to keep a job. Many people are just hanging on.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are so many people living like this, that it is a community, just like the one that Don introduced me to.

Changing a life that seems lost is not hopeless. It is difficult for the person to change. But it also seems to be difficult for society to recognize the problem. It is hard to look into the eyes of person whose basic human needs are not being met on a daily basis, so we look away. We are afraid that we will see ourselves.

I cannot count myself among the despairing.  I have lived a rich life, even if I did not have enough money.  I have parents who did not let go. I was raised  to believe that the way ahead was education.  I lived on student loans and the wages of a school bus driver for 5 years to earn a degree in Journalism, and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel: the ability to make enough money to have a nice house and life for my family, pay my bills and pay taxes.

The difference between me and Don is that I was lucky. I was born to parents who had the resources to make sure we had a home, the expectation that we would go to school, and the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities that help to create character and a sense of personal accomplishment. I knew how to learn.  I knew how to keep a schedule and stay on a plan. I knew how to set a goal and commit to it.  I stayed away from the edge of drug abuse and other forms of abuse.

The protests that have broken out all over the world seem to be creeping up to the edge of this problem, but they are not helping the plight of the woman whose daughter runs out to meet her john every night, or the teenager shooting up in the back alley.

They are not helping the young girl who got lost in the streets.  They are are not helping the person who has never known what it is to live a life that is safe. This week, a person (who was also described as a protester) overdosed in Vancouver on heroin. I fear the protests are making it worse for the truly forgotten.

What we need is to be find a way to make poverty and despair profitable.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Everything about sales and business I learned from Willard.

By the time I was 22 years old, I knew that I was not the pink collar kind of girl. Faxing was not my forte, nor were switchboards and typing on electric typewriters. I had a hunch my future would not be in a cubicle, and that I was more of an open space kind of girl.

So I ventured into the world of sales. I began selling registered educational savings plans (RESPs), guided by the original salesman, my dad.  He took me out on sales calls and I watched him work his magic. It seemed to be so easy. In fact, I asked him if what we were selling was legal. Why wouldn't somebody want to put away money for their children's education in a fund?  It seemed like a no-brainer to me. It wasn't. My dad just made it look easy because he had the magic formula.

Now, if you know my dad Willard, he is not a slick guy who wears expensive suits and gold rings, but he is the guy everybody likes. Willard is good at people. He likes people, and people like him because he gets people. His sales career, which spanned life insurance, investments,office equipment and real estate was built on the following principles which he learned across the kitchen table and not in university:

  • Care about what your clients care about. 
  • Have a plan.
  • Work the plan. 
  • Communicate the plan.  

Willard used to say, "you can say whatever you want as long as you smile." When I began selling scholarships I smiled a lot, because it was painful. I got used to the sound of "no thanks, click."

Then one of Willard's lessons came home to me: "you have to figure out what problem they are trying to solve, and then you can help them solve it."

When I put myself in their shoes and cared about what they cared about the light went on. My clients' wanted to be able to put money aside for their children. They wanted their children to have a choice in life, and not be limited by lack of money. They wanted their children to have a better life than they had.

My job was to help them develop and implement a savings plan for their children, which I did for 8 years until I made a career decision to implement my own plan to earn a university degree.

With degrees in hand,I became a journalist, business writer and strategic planner, but the principles that I learned in the "Willard Larson School of Sales and Business" continue to be relevant.

I never stop marketing myself or my skills. I care about what my clients care about, and I help them to plan their way ahead. And I never stop smiling.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I support you. Pay it forward.

I support you.

Last week, a young man committed suicide after being abused and bullied because he was not accepted.

Watch the video, and pay it forward.  Maybe we can save lives if we could change minds.  Challenge your mind, and change it.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Power of One-ness.

One . .  . 
is a number that leads to infinity.
is a lonely number, or so the song says.  
is a winning number.

One . . .  

can be an individual or a collective.
person makes a difference. 
person decides.  
person stands up for another. 
is powerful.  

I am fascinated with the power and the responsibility of one. I believe in the power and responsibility of one person's ability to impact a situation, a company, a family, a community, a world. I believe in the power and the responsibility of the collective of ones who decide to make a change, and then relentlessly forge ahead. I believe in the power and responsibility of one vision, so much so that I have dedicated my work to helping organization's of all sizes and types find that vision and express it so others can see it too.

One-ness is a vision for collective strength and success.  A vision to engage and inspire. To connect and create something together that could never be created in isolation. Some people call this "co-operation."

The credit union system for me is the best example of collective strength and vision, or one-ness that I have experienced in my work-time. Working with the credit union system, where the principles of working together for a common good, democratic decision making and autonomy (another word for freedom from ownership by government) created a standard that I have come to expect and hold myself and others too. Co-operatives are based on a set of principles and values that are unique and separate from other organizations that are not of the co-operative nature. Learn more about cooperatives . . .

I joined the Credit Union system as the Manager of Planning in 2002, making the move from a Federal government crown, where I was conducting competitive research. I had developed a matrix of financial institutions across Canada, including profitability, current strategies, and future strategies (sleeping giants). I pulled information from annual reports, shareholder speeches and the Canadian Banker's Association. At the time, financial institutions were adopting new technologies, changing the customer service model, implementing relationship management and spreading their impact through value chain integration.  (President's Choice was breaking new ground integrating banking with groceries).

When it came to the credit union system, however, it was a more difficult picture to put together.  Number one, there were literally hundreds of credit unions. Number two, there was no clear point of contact for "the system" that I was aware of at the time.

But looking at the numbers for the top credit unions in the country, in 1996, I could see this was a force to be reckoned with.  A classic sleeping giant. I wondered what made it successful. Why and how did the system continue to evolve and grow?

So when the opportunity came to work for the system, I was ecstatic and gladly made the leap to learn what it was that made this system tick. In doing so, however, I learned what makes me tick as well. 

On my first day of work, I remember mapping out the elements of strategy so that I could draw the picture back to the big idea. I wrote "one" on my white board. What if, I thought, the credit union system could be "one". It would dominate the banking industry. A classic outsider's view, I later learned.

The system is a  collective of one, that is committed to a commonly shared set of principles and values.  Each credit union is a credit union unto itself, governed by the principles of autonomy, democracy, and working together for the good of its community and members and the values of the pioneers who forged this land out of mud, rock and tenacity.

Each credit union represents a collective strength that stands firmly on a foundation of principles and values that are time honored and never discretionary.

Though it was foreign to me at first, I began to understand the passion that lives and breathes in the credit union system and why it continues to be successful. It had imprinted itself upon my psyche. My values and the system values had become one. I came to expect that honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others was and is a necessary part of work. I came to expect that working for purpose meant working for a greater good, something bigger than "me."

I came to appreciate the culture of co-operation, of democratic decision making, giving back and making a difference economically and socially.  These elements together create a finger print that is unique and competitively strong that can be possibly replicated, but never duplicated without the spirit and commitment to co-operative principles, as I was to later learn.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When not to turn the cheek.

A person in the work place lashes out at his or her employee or supplier. We have seen it and heard about it. There is no excuse for this behavior, and no plausible explanation that makes it OK.

It is plain and simple, good old fashioned, school yard style bullying in the work setting. We know who they are. We know it is not acceptable to act this way.

We knew that back in grade school, but still, we let it happen. We sat by and watched, relieved it was happening to them and not us.  We were complicit participants in the abuse unless we took a stand against the offending action.

Some statistics about bullying: 

Bullying is of a predatory nature, or even may be dispute-related in some cases, but as Namie (2003) was quick to point out, it should never be brushed off as a personality clash because:
  • Targets endure bullying for almost two years before filing a complaint
  • Targets have a seventy percent chance of losing their jobs
  • Seventeen percent of targets have to transfer to other jobs
  • Only thirteen percent of bullies are ever punished or terminated
  • Seventy-one percent of bullies outrank their targets
  • Bullying is three times more prevalent than sexual harassment
  • Bullying is often invisible and occurs behind closed doors without witnesses
  • Even when bullying is witnessed, team members usually side with the bully
  • As many as ten percent of suicides may be related to workplace traumatization
Nationwide statistics on workplace bullying indicate (Brunner & Costello, 2003, and Namie, 2003):

  • Eighty-one percent of bullies are in supervisory roles
  • Fifty-eight percent of bullies are female (Namie)
  • Eighty-four percent of bullied employees are female
  • Twenty-one percent of all workers have been targeted by bullies
Reasons targets are bullied (Namie & Namie, 2000):
  • Fifty-eight percent are targeted because they stand up to unfair treatment by the bully
  • Fifty-six percent are mobbed because the bully envies the target's level of competence
  • Forty-nine percent are targeted simply because they are nice people
  • Forty-six percent are bullied because they are ethical
  • Thirty-nine percent are bullied because it was just their turn

A model for achieving a healthy, harassment-free workplace: Canadian Human Rights Commission 

Reference: Canadian Human Rights Commission, "Anti-Harassment Policies for the Workplace:  An Employer's Guide", March 2006,, Government of Canada  

The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) defines harassment as "unwelcome behavior that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses" the individual, unwanted sexual behavior, and abuse of authority." 

Ultimately, employers are responsible for acts of work - related harassment, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 

"Harassment is against the law. Both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code protect employees from harassment related to work. Provincial human rights laws also prohibit harassment. And the Criminal Code protects people from physical or sexual assault."

The Commission states that "Employers are required by the Canada Labour Code to develop their own harrassment policies. In addition, the existence of appropriate harassment policies and procedures will be a factor considered by the Human Rights Commission in evaluating a company's liability in harassment complaints."  

To assist employers in meeting these requirements, the CHRC has established model policies for small, medium and large organizations.  Employers retain responsiblity for preparing appropriate policies, monitoring their effectiveness and updating them as required, ensuring all employees are aware of the policy and providing anti-harassment training.  

The following is an overview of the guidelines: 
Write an anti-harassment policy that is: 
  • unequivocally supported by management 
  • clear 
  • fair
  • known to everyone, at all levels in the organization; and 
  • applied to everyone at all levels of the organization. 
Create the climate by:
  • changing the workplace culture by getting the word out about the issue of harassment and involving employees in the preparation of the anti-harassment policy.
  • writing a policy that clearly says management will not tolerate any harassing situations, and make sure it is enforced. 
  • making a policy statement that the employer will not tolerate any harassing behavior and by helping employees to understand the laws around harassment. 
  • involving employees in the creation of the policy so that: 
    • people can be educated about what harassment is, why it is unacceptable, and what they can do about it;
    • people may be less afraid to speak up if they find themselves in, or witnessing a harassing situation; 
    • a strong, clear message is communicated that the employer supports the policy and will not tolerate harassment; 
    • employees have a personal interest in the policy, making them more likelly to understand and suppport it; and 
    • employees feel their contributions are valued, thereby increasing satisfaction in the workplace.
  • showing that that you mean it, ensuring the policy applies to senior management as well as other employees. When situations arise, apply the policy fairly and according to the rules, not matter who is involved.
Set up the framework 
  • Explaining what harassement is and giving examples 
  • By giving clear directions for handling complaints
  • By clarifying roles 
Maintain the gains 
  • By educating current and propective employees 
  • By training managers 
  • By trainng anti-harassment counsellors, mediators and investigators 
  • By monitoring and reviewing the policy 
Click on the following link to reference the policy guidelines and models.

Some other reading on the subject:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

There's the sweet spot in the universe

There I was, in a room, surrounded by great minds with an incredible desire to do good for others. To create something that will change people's lives by giving them the power of communication without words. "I found it," I thought, "this is the sweet spot in the universe."

The focus on the conversation was "how to move ahead", not why or why not. We were moving one step closer to a vision that began more than 25 years ago with one man who cared enough to care, and another who brought others into the caring. There was no other place I wanted to be.

I met this man of vision and inspiration at a SOHO conference last year that was featuring pictogram applications for health care providers. Wanting to understand the importance of the product, I asked the pictogram creator how this came to be.  He told me about his experience as a young speech pathologist trying to teach a young girl how to speak.  He realized that the spoken word was out of her reach, and sought ways for non-verbal people to communicate.

His life's work became immersed in understanding how visual graphics can help people communicate with their care givers, family and friends.

His legacy and his life is inspirational. When we say that one person can make a difference when he or she has a big enough heart, it is true. I have seen it, and it makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to help.

Others joined the quest to give words to the unspoken, and now his dream to help the little girl has expanded from one to many. His caring has come to life beyond the measure of one man.

On that day, my perspective on life and work was altered, and every day since. He inspired me to use my time and talents to help find that sweet spot where people come together to help bring worthwhile ideas to life in an environment that is ready for sustained change.

So if you are looking for me, you will find me at the sweet spot in the universe.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Business Planning, it's not size that matters, but how you use it.

Business planning is a competency that successful companies have acquired over time.  The question is:  how should the planning function be structured within the organization to optimize resources and achieve competency? We tend to think that size matters. I suggest it is not size, but how the function is utilized. 

I have led planning departments in silo driven organizations where department functions are hived off from one another and in a shared services organization. I prefer the shared services model because it is more efficient, engaging and builds organizational competency in planning. 

The silo model is more expensive to the organization, and may not necessarily result in the ultimate goal of building organizational competency for business planning. I would suggest that the days of large internal planning departments are less effective both financially and culturally. 

Consider the following.  

 A larger organization of 500 - 1000 employees, for example, often has a 6 person executive team, covering off the competencies needed to run the business: Finance, Communications, Human Resources, Technology, Operations and Marketing. Each of these executives is responsible to lead the organization to its strategic future.  From a resource perspective, their commitment to strategic planning should be about 80% of their time.  The other 20% of time should be dedicated to providing direction to their respective departments. 

In the Corporate environment where the governance structure consists of a shareholder or owner and board of directors, the business planning function often includes a strategic and operational business planning process, reporting cycle and development of business documents such as the business plan, quarterly reports, board reports, staff communications and strategies. The business planning function must also facilitate integration with enterprise risk, finance, communications and human resources performance management processes.  

In the silo business planning department model, the staff compliment may include a director - level at $100K plus, an analyst at $65K, a manager at $75K plus, and an administrator at $45K  for a grand total of almost $285K plus benefits.  

Here is a breakdown to time for a department that runs the corporate planning and reporting process:
  • Administration:  8 weeks / year.   
  • Document writing and review:  12 weeks/year. 
  • Research and analysis of the environment: 3 weeks 
  • Balanced Scorecard development: 3 weeks 
  • Facilitation of executive, board planning:  4 weeks 
  • Facilitation of management planning (assuming 6 departments):  6 weeks 
  • Approval process:  3 weeks (assuming board and shareholder)
  • Reporting coordination, writing and review:  4 weeks 
That's a grand total of 43 weeks / year.  The average available number of weeks for each employee is 32 weeks, allowing for weekends, statutory holidays, days off and vacations.  

The price tag of $285 K plus benefits does not utilize resources well, nor does it invite integration or shared learning. The resources are not utilized to their full capacity.  If the department is staffing 4 full time equivalents (FTEs), that means the company is paying for 128 weeks of time, 85 of which are not being used effectively.   

However,  in a shared services model, it is possible for one person with senior capabilities to lead the process with support. The Office of Strategic Management Model (OSM) by Kaplan and Norton provides the structure for this approach.  

In the OSM model, the role of the business planner is to direct and facilitate the process from the board, executive and management level, as well as to develop and implement the processes for implementation within other departments. 

The business planner will need access to administrative support to coordinate the process and book meetings, etc.(about 8 weeks / year), a person with communications expertise to help with the writing and document preparation and reporting, (about 12 weeks / year) and the borrowed time of a research or policy analyst if one exists elsewhere (about 4 weeks / year).  If the organization has a project management office, then a project manager's time of 4 weeks can be useful in assisting with the development of initiative plans that will later become projects.   

The business planner works hand in hand with the executive and the various managers to facilitate the development of integrated plans.  He or she must be adept at building relationships, interpreting information and working in an integrative manner across different teams, establishing a cooperative and collaborative approach.  

Given the role as director and facilitator of board, executive and management planning, the business planner requires an outsider's view. As an employee, the functionality can be marred by internal politics or power struggles which can cloud the process.  The business planner ultimately is responsible to the CEO, and therefore should not report to an individual member of the executive, but should work with all executives. 

Therefore, in my experience, while there are benefits to being an employee, there is greater value for the organization to hire an external resource on a 3 to 5 year contract to lead and integrate the process within.

 The organization can realize the same benefit for nominally less than $285K per year by using an external resource and opening the doors to an integrative shared services environment. 

The big pay off with an OSM / shared services model  is the creation of a strategy focused organization.  The company builds competence in business planning through engagement and making it part of their jobs.  That way, the organization is more successfully able to communicate the plan and integrate it into performance management processes at the employee level.  

Culture plays a big part in the success of the shared services / OSM model, where learning and cooperation are not only preferred, but expected.  From a leadership perspective, this type of organization is more effective and engaged, thereby increasing the opportunity for success. If the executive is indeed dedicating 80% of their time to strategic and collaborative leadership, then the shared success model has a greater chance of success.  

Once an organization can bring plan, people and processes together, profitability becomes more accessible.  The organization through this process of alignment becomes nimble and able to act on opportunity and weather storms.