Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Annette Simmons says you might be bug soup


Annette Simmons, author of the book"Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins," 
Google Images: commons.wikimedia.org
was speaking to a group of marketers, coaches and storytellers on the topic of reinvention
.  She talked about how you don't start anything from scratch.  There is a process of destruction that has to precede creation or resurrection.

She used the example of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that has become the symbol of reinvention, of rebirth.  But Simmons' next comment took the attendees aback for a moment:  "The caterpillar spends a lot of time in the cocoon.  While we're in there we're bug soup and we need to acknowledge that."  

Bug soup.  Have you ever thought about it that way before?  The caterpillar enters the chrysalis looking sort of cute in a caterpillar-ish sort of way, then emerges beautiful and flying in its refined state.  Have you stopped to consider the detail of what happens behind the walls of the chrysalis?  Bug soup.  What an apt description for how it feels sometimes when the going seems really hard.  There is a time of languishing, unattended, feeling destroyed with no re-emergence in sight.  

Simmons says that sometimes in the process of reinvention we might need to take time to back up and take another road.  "Backing up is not a waste of time.  Sometimes you can't go forward without examining the past."  One of her other points is that we need to experience our feelings fully, however uncomfortable they might feel.  "Emotions buried alive don't die," she advises.   You have to be in them, experience them, acknowledge them, before you can move on from them.  

She told a story about a team building exercise she was supposed to do with a group of military folks in the early 2000's,just after the weapons of mass destruction weren't found in Iraq where they were expected to be.  The group couldn't even consider going through her planned activities to build the team until they had the opportunity to discuss the elephant in the room - "Why couldn't we find them?"  They were devastated, haunted by the feeling that they had failed in their mission.  They had to deal with that first in order to free themselves to move forward.

You could expect that almost anyone would want change to be more like the removal of an adhesive bandage - one quick rip that hurts a bit, but then it's over with - quickly - and we get on with our lives.  Real transformation isn't like that.  We have to become bug soup first if we're going to emerge and fly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What you can learn about reinvention from Sankofa

The good news - and for some, the bad news - about personal
Google Images: deanza.edu
and professional development is that you are never "done."  Your life experiences continue to evolve, and if you are to master them you evolve too.  You can choose to reinvent and renew yourself outside of some external influence.  It's a decision rather than a reaction, and this choice of continuous improvement puts you in the driver's seat.


One of the principles in personal development comes from the west African legend of Sankofa.  The story, told a few years ago during an online reinvention webinar, stuck with me, and so I'm sharing it here with you.

Sankofa was a bird who had a stick.  He was flying on a journey, and in the process dropped the stick.  As he progressed on his journey, Sankofa realized that he needed the stick.  So he went back to fetch it, and then proceeded on his way.

The point of the Sankofa story is this - sometimes there are things in the past, in the "former you" that still have value.  There may be things that you learned, traits and talents that you have forgotten you have, or relationships that used to nourish you.  Consider what was good about the past and take it with you into your future.  Going back to fetch it does not mean that you are not moving forward.  Assemble the resources you need for your journey, even if it means that you have to backtrack temporarily to gather them, to shore them up.

Notice in the image of Sankofa above that the bird's body is pointing forward (toward the future) while he turns his head backward so his beak can retrieve the egg.  The egg symbolizes life force or lifeblood that will help Sankofa on his continued journey forward.

You might have circumstances in your business or in your life that are requiring you to retool or even completely reinvent yourself.  But remember Sankofa - take with you the good things of the past that can help you in the future.  You are not starting from scratch, from ground zero.  You are already on your way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why are you in that meeting, anyway?

It's really expensive to be sitting around that table
Google Images: timemanagementninja.com
looking at your colleagues and direct reports.  Communication is important, of course, and meetings are vehicles that allow you to make sure that everyone involved receives the same information at the same time.  (They might interpret it differently, but you'll be saying the same thing to the whole group.)


Some leaders sacrifice communication because their meetings feel like a waste of time - or deteriorate into conflict.  But you can increase the productivity of your meeting time if you recognize the purpose behind the gathering and then structure the agenda to suit the purpose.  You can make the most of your group sessions by knowing clearly what outputs you want from the time invested:

Potential Meeting Purposes

  1. Communicate downward from management- One-way informational, perhaps with Q & A included.  This leaves an opening for two-way communication, and will come across as less directive (autocratic?) than it might if you issue an edict via a memo.
  2. Reporting among functions - Generally one-way informational, used to hold people accountable for functional accomplishments, and to keep other functions in the loop for a purpose like customer satisfaction or quality.  Note:  If there's no give and take the reporting can be done more efficiently via email.  Save your meeting time.
  3. Problem solving - A topic is thrown out on the table for the group to discuss and to develop a solution.  The decision making process may vary, but the group should be told who will make it: the leader, the leader after team input,  or the team by consensus. 
  4. Implementation - In this type of meeting, the leader or another participant brings a task to the table, and the purpose of the meeting is to allocate subsidiary tasks to participants.  The meeting output is typically a follow-up document, plan, or email to confirm the action that is to be taken, and by whom.
  5. Brainstorming - When done most effectively, this meeting is used to generate ideas, not to filter them and/or evaluate them.
  6. Educational - To download more and/or new information to the meeting participants.  This might be leader-driven, or delegated to a specialist participant, or handled by a guest speaker.
This isn't to say that there aren't more categories - this is a sampling of meeting purposes (or purposes for meeting segments within a larger gathering.)  If you aren't receiving the results you want from your staff, take a look at your recent meeting agendas and see whether you have a pattern of topics or of methods that are out of alignment with the outcome you want to achieve:
  • Perhaps you want more employee input, but your recent meetings have been all about communicating "down."  Your participants might have the perception that you don't really want their input if you're not habitually asking and providing time for them to answer.
  • If you want better decision making, make sure the group has the data to analyze the situation effectively.  Then manage the process of gathering individual interpretations early on in the conversation, weighing alternatives, and later converging on an agreed-upon decision.
  • If you're wanting follow-through from meeting items and aren't getting it, check to make sure your agenda includes a spot for assigning accountabilities, and a report-out segment in the next agenda.
  • If you want more teamwork, check whether you as the leader are consuming all of the agenda and doing too much of the talking.  Spread it around as a development opportunity for the various members of the team.  Give the group opportunities to discuss, to interact, to make decisions together.(This also helps in the case that you would unexpectedly have to be out - or would be promoted!)
A frequently asked question is whether team building is an appropriate and effective agenda item.  Team building is a side-effect of effective meetings, team leadership, task structure and work proximity, not an agenda item.  You can talk about teamwork or sponsor facilitated experiences all day long in the meeting room, but if you are creating a competitively hostile work environment, or one of perceived scarcity, your team building meeting agenda item will be sloughed off like so much sunburn.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The hidden benefit in planning ahead

It's said that people spend more time planning a two-week vacation
Google Images: sussexcountyonline.com
than they do planning their lives.  Do you agree that it's true?  If so, then why?

Part of the reason is the hidden benefit found when you plan ahead for some event with positive associations attached to it -  the anticipation.

When you know that you're headed for an appealing vacation destination:

  • You can Google it and see photos of it
  • You can map it and find out exactly how you want to get there, and how long it will take
  • You can start to imagine the activities that you're going to engage in there
  • You might even be able to "feel" the sun and "smell" the air 
  • You select your clothing, and perhaps you buy a few new things
  • You talk about it and daydream about it
By the time you have done all of your preparation you have already spent mental time there.  The anticipation of the vacation, even though you're not yet baking on the beach or smelling the mountain air, has filled you with positive expectation.  It makes the next few days of drudgery (if that's what you have) easier to bear, because you've got it coming up.  Only ten more days to cross off on the calendar, then nine, eight, seven, and so forth before you're hauling your prize trout out of the spring-fed stream.

Sure, it can be fun to decide spontaneously to pick up and haul off on an adventure, one where you decide every day where the next day will take you.  We won't even get into the subject of whether you have brought the right clothing or enough money for the on-the-spot adventure.  The thing that you miss when you simply up and bug out, though, is the bonus enjoyment - the anticipation. The last minute vacay gives you the 4 days or 10 days that you are on the road, but you don't benefit from the exciting ramp-up beforehand.  

Is it possible that you don't derive full value from other parts of your life if you don't plan ahead?  You might think that sounds a bit starchy and predictable.  But there's no denying the pleasure involved in looking forward, knowing good things are to come in short order.  Where are you going, and when?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where did you learn effective team leadership?

Where is it that you learned what you know about leading a team?
Google Images: catherinesolizrey.com
 How did you find out how to create the environment that contributes to good morale, employee loyalty, high productivity and quality?

If you're like most people, you acquired your knowledge by indirect, even circuitous means.  You probably either

  • Modeled off of someone else in the same type of role, or
  • Used trial and error to discover what works
The biggest transition anyone makes in the workplace is when he or she moves from being a doer to one who helps others do.  And in many businesses, the leaders are selected from the best doers - super-workers become supervisors.  Unless the individual is in a player-coach role - another discussion entirely - the role of team leader requires a whole new skill set.

Many if not most companies relegate their team leaders to the two leadership learning methods noted above.  Some companies are fortunate enough to spot interpersonal skills in individuals before they tap them for leadership responsibilities, and so the learning curve doesn't seem too onerous.  But many companies say the equivalent of "have fun with that!" and wait for the new team leader to mess up before they provide any training opportunity.  

By the time senior management is taking corrective action with a struggling team leader, damage has already been done to the function of the work team, and the team leader and the individuals surrounding him or her have already developed habits of thought about whether or not that person is going to be able to cut it.  Why incur that cost and risk when the situation is largely preventable?

The effective team leader has to be able to execute in areas like:
  • Communication
  • Performance feedback and discipline
  • Creating effective work groups
  • Leadership through influence (relationship power) rather than through overuse of authority
  • Maintaining positive, productive attitudes 
  • Goal planning and goal achievement
  • Developing staff members
  • Translating company-level goals into individual accountabilities
  • And more
The investment in developing your team leadership capabilities and/or that of your key team members pays off in tangible and intangible ways.  Reduced absenteeism, reduction in waste, increases in productivity, etc. show up in hard dollar terms on your bottom line.  What doesn't necessarily show there is that you - yes, you the Big Kahuna - can find it more fun and rewarding to be at work.  If you're not going to do it for them, or even for the company, do it for yourself.  Set the foundation for a workplace where you enjoy working.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A small biz role model in social media

One of the most frequently asked questions by small businesses we meet during our SCORE volunteer business mentoring sessions is "How can I use social media to market my company?"  No wonder.  If a business owner is willing to invest sweat equity in it, social media presence can be completely free of hard dollar costs.

A York, PA business, JR's Fries, is a Central Market stand that is open only three days per week.  The owner, Ron Jacobs, has been on Facebook with the business for 3 years.  And in that time the business has gone from zero to 18,000 followers.  Now for the litmus test:  when asked over the weekend whether his Facebook activities have had an impact on his sales, Jacobs replied, “Oh heavens yes!”

"Mr. JR's Fries" says that he spends a ton of time working his social media.  Jacobs says he uses two principles in his time curating his Facebook page:
  1. Answer every person commenting on his posts individually, and do so via private message.
  2. Say only positive things online.

It’s the personal answers that consume a lot of Ron Jacobs’ time, but he wouldn’t change anything.  It’s the building of personal relationships that causes market-goers to choose to visit his stand.  He promises that when you come to see him at market you’re guaranteed “three smiles from the Fry Guys.”

One of the small biz follow-up questions about the value of social media is, “What do you post on there?  It seems like it would be hard to come up with content.”  JR's Fries posts:
  •        Photos and descriptions of foods being prepared for today’s market menu.
  •     Specials and customer favorites.
  •     Shout-outs to people who recently visited the stand.
  •    “Sending positive vibes” on off-market days.

At JR’s Fries it’s not only about the fries, barbecue sandwiches, burgers, mac & cheese or Pa. Dutch Pot Pie.  JR’s Fries sells warmth, friendliness, and positive thinking.  It’s hard for any person to get enough of that as they go about their weekly business, so they go to see Ron for a serving.  At JR’s Fries they give it for free, whether you visit them in person at market or online on Facebook.  See for yourself how Ron Jacobs does it at https://www.facebook.com/jrsfries.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Is this relationship a conspiracy?

The example in today's post is about a dynamic in a family.  But similar relationship conspiracies happen in the workplace too.  They can result in interdepartmental turf wars, waste of money and resources, hostile work climate, and preventable staff turnover.
Google Images:  fathersblessing.com


Rick was a 42-year-old father of a 14-year-old son. To say the two were having problems would be a gross understatement – they rarely spoke unless the words were contentious. At first Rick dismissed their relationship problem as typical teen-parent interaction. But his son RF’s behavior was getting worse the tighter Rick drew the leash, as Rick continually noticed poor behavior and withdrew privileges.

Rick thought he was simply holding RF accountable for his actions. But there was more going on than that. Rick had developed attitudes and assumptions about his son that drove his increasingly restrictive actions. Worse, his tactics weren’t working; he was getting more and more of what he didn’t want from his son.

You could call this situation a self-fulfilling prophecy, or you could call it the law of attraction in action.  The dad in this scenario focused on something - in this case poor behavior on the part of his son - and the misbehavior grew.  This isn't magical - it's a demonstration of the process of attitudes driving behaviors and behaviors driving results.  Rick’s attitudes toward RF caused him to over-generalize, to interpret an otherwise small incident as an indicator of a basic flaw in his son's character.  Rick began to talk to RF in cold, cutting ways. Whenever an event was open to interpretation Rick saw it in the most damning terms. His attitudes drove his actions, which contributed to his results – alienation from his son.

A similar process was going on inside RF. He wasn’t blameless, but he started to develop a self-protective shell so his dad’s attacks wouldn’t hurt so much. That only helped a little. RF developed a habit of thought (attitude) that if his dad was going to accuse him of something anyway he might as well do it. He kept pushing the buttons that aroused Rick’s ire.

Both Rick and RJ were conspirators in this little family drama. Each leapt to inaccurate conclusions about the intentions and motivations of the other, and the actions they took as a result their assumptions about one another intensified the rift between them. When two people are involved in a dysfunctional relationship like this one neither is typically completely innocent. They both add some of the fuel to the fire.

Fortunately Rick realized one day that he was actually contributing to the very situation he hated. He wanted a warmer relationship with a responsible, upstanding son. So he decided to look for the things he liked about RF. He started to try to pay more attention to RF’s good grades. He noticed when RF did a good job with mowing the lawn and made a point to compliment his son about it. And Rick decided to overlook the little mistakes that RF made. He decided to lower the boom only when RF’s actions posed a safety risk.

It took a while for RF to respond to this change in his dad. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop – rarely had a compliment come in a long time that wasn’t followed by a critical or cutting remark. But over time RF noticed that he was being given more respect, so he gave more respect back to Rick. His attitudes and assumptions about his dad shifted, so his behavior did too.

One of the questions most commonly asked of coaches is "Which you should try to change first – your behavior or your attitude?" Your best bet is to go at a situation like this with both barrels. You can set short-term behavioral goals like Rick did, to notice (and acknowledge out loud) the things his son RF was doing well. In addition you can start to reshape your attitudes by using affirmations or other sorts of positive input. The vast majority of your behavior (80-90%) is automatic, a function of conditioning, so only by changing your conditioning (your attitudes or habits of thought) will you be able to sustain the course of action that will attract the results you want.

The other question often asked is “Who should go first?” Sometimes when the dance is well ingrained the partners play a game of chicken, each waiting for the other to take the first step toward a new start. The waiting game only creates more disappointment. If you want things to be different you’re the one who goes first, simple as that. Your own thoughts and actions are the only things you can control here.

So take a step. You don’t have to live in a conspiracy. Don’t play that way any more. Instead, create a vision in your mind of the way you’d like the relationship to work, and focus energy on developing the attitudes and the actions that will help to attract it.