Posts Tagged ‘corporate culture’

Everything that I ever needed to know, I learned from…

I remember a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, which talks about some of the simplest rules in life that everyone should practice as they get older.  Some of these include such truisms as “play fair”, “put things back where you found them”, “say you’re sorry when you hurt someone”, and “flush” (you can see the complete list here).  Needless to say many of these are seen to be applicable to the business world.  That is what really got me to thinking!

I was watching my 14-month-old son the other day, as he was playing with a toy.  The toy is a Chuck The Dump Truck, which talks and moves, and sort of reminds me of a cartoon version of the old Tonka trucks.  Now, generally that wouldn’t be a big deal except that until now he really had very little interest in it, but as time has passed and he continues to develop I am amazed at the changes that happen.  When we got him the truck two months ago for his birthday, he showed little to no interest and really didn’t understand the concept of it.  But after some time, he has figured it out on his own and was rolling it around the living room; it was a proud moment, and I was so excited to see it happen!  As soon as I saw it, I told him “Good job!  I’m proud of you buddy!”  to which he sat up on his knees, smiled, and clapped his hands, and then went back to playing.

There are quite a few lessons to be learned from being a parent, and from watching kids grow and develop, that can and should be applied to the business world.  I find myself always marveling at the natural development of small children and how the constantly find everything around them to be interesting.  Most adults are very similar to this, but too often I think that this trait gets stifled (amongst others).  This in turn stifles the organization that they belong to and affects every component of the organization.  We can call it what we want (satisfaction, engagement, etc.) but the truth of the matter is that there is certainly a piece missing.  Children are looked at as being amazing and special, and treated as such.  They are told the rules by those more senior around them, and then generally have those things modeled for them.  They are encouraged to grow and develop, and to see the world as a wonderful place.  What happens when they get older?  Why is it that the support component disappears?  Who continues to tell them “good job” and show excitement for their growth and development?

These are components that need to still be alive and well within each and every organization, and the leaders in the organization truly need to be leaders, just as parents and grand-parents are.  This isn’t to say that people should be removed of responsibility for themselves, but the support structure needs to continue to be there.  Ask yourself, where could you/would you be today with that type of support structure?  Or where are you today after having that type of support structure?  Are you passing it along?  For those of you reading this that are parents, what have you learned from your children today, and how are you using it?


Is “Monkey Business” a reality in real business?

One of the things that I inevitably find myself drawn to is science of any kind.  I think that’s why I fell in love with cooking; it’s simply a form of chemistry that’s edible (and for those that know me, I LOVE to eat!).  With that in mind I always seem to be reading a new article somewhere about some type of science, which then causes me to make connections and comparisons to things I already know.  In fact, I almost wrote a blog today talking about how we need to challenge what we already know in business and scrap what we thought we knew before based on an article that I read yesterday involving a string theorist who is challenging the concept of gravity(if you’re interested, you can read that article here).  That is, until I read an article that I think really speaks to why we are where we are currently in the business world, and why having an outside perspective can really help in making change.  I think as you read this, you will understand the connection quickly as well as be entertained with the test itself.

First, before you go any further, I want you to take a look at this video:

So how did you do?  It’s really interesting how something so obvious can go unnoticed.  I’m pretty sure that you can already begin to make the same connections that I did.  How often are we told what to focus on in our business life (or any aspect of life for that matter) that we miss something so big, hairy, and conspicuous?  I’m fairly certain that we can all relate to this.  In the business world I think this is where there are many mistakes made, because we’re so focused on expected outcomes, or measurements, or whatever it may be at the time that we fail to see the unexpected things that are happening or could be coming.  That stops us from being able to adjust and be agile enough to meet needs as they happen.

Wouldn’t you think that someone would notice?  This is where I think that it’s important to understand that there are those around you that can see what’s going on, but the question is whether or not you will listen.  Of course, there are also many people who you are surrounded by that are seeing exactly the same thing as you are, because they are as focused and immersed in the situation as you are.  I believe this is part of the reason for the proliferation of consulting.  It’s also the reason that leaders are saying that the number one trait that they are looking for in their senior leadership is innovation, which if we use this study can be primarily described as the ability to identify the unexpected issues as, or before, they happen and then create solutions based on that vision and understanding.  Everyone knows that there are things that they are missing, but just can’t quite seem to grasp.  (It begs the question if this is why MBA’s are beginning to be questioned as the grail of the business world.  That’s not to say that education is bad, but perhaps there needs to be some changes to the program.)

Even with all of the people who are able to see what is going on and being able to discover or create solutions, many business are mired in what they have always been doing or are concentrated on the new hot focus of the moment and miss the opportunity to identify the gorilla in the room.  Just as in the video above, it’s obvious that it doesn’t make you a bad person, or a business a bad business.  But by being so focused on only one thing, you can really lose sight of the things happening around you and the business and the related human capital will suffer because of it.

So now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s try again (don’t read ahead until you watch this!):

Okay, so I’m going to guess that this time you noticed the gorilla…but what about the curtain change and the person leaving?  i will admit, when I watched the second video, I noticed the gorilla and the person leaving, but not the curtain change!  So what does this tell us?  When we are given a suggestion of only one thing to look for or focus on, whether it be directly or indirectly, we can lose focus on other things that are changing around us.  In other words, we need to be able to keep our, and our team’s,  focus broad and be willing to listen to feedback about the changes happening when we get it.  Just because we didn’t or don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and unfortunately we don’t generally get the opportunity to rewind and see it over again (or at least if we can, by that time it’s too late!).  It’s also important to note here that we need to involve multiple perspectives consistently, so that we can see all angles of a situation, and facilitate proper measures to address, embrace, and capitalize on the changes.  As Dr. Rupert Loyd often talks about in his blog Relational Leadership this is an important concept, albeit a difficult one for many leaders to genuinely accept and utilize.

In conclusion, many of the things that I talk about for change management, organizational development, human performance improvement, and performance consulting as a whole is summarized through these videos and the concept surrounding them.  Utilizing outside perspectives can certainly help, but even more important is to develop your organization and yourself to function in the same manner as a performance consultant: questioning, analyzing, evaluating, gathering input and feedback, looking at things both systemically and systematically to ensure that all pieces fit at all times, and continually looking for ways to improve what is being done.

The original article from which these videos were pulled can be found here.

There are many opinions, but when does it change?

As I sit in front of my computer and begin to type out another blog entry, I think back to a few months ago to when I first started writing.  I believe that I have always been a better verbal communicator than written, but I wanted to take the chance in doing something different and see what happened.  I figured at best, I would get followers who wanted to hear what I had to say about the art and science that I love so much and the business that I am building around that and would enjoy it, and at worst I would end up essentially talking to myself and getting an opportunity to work on my written communication skills.  I believe that I have struck a chord somewhere in the middle, and I look at this as a developmental tool for myself and my readers.  However, I think I missed one very important point: You have to write about things that people want to hear about.  That’s not to say that I don’t think that what I am writing about is interesting or necessary, but I think I need to put some of my own commentary in here a bit.  So, this will hopefully be the beginning of what I believe will be much more interesting reading, involving both my opinions as well as some of the more specific information in to the subjects that I have been writing about up till now.

To start this new journey, I felt like I should talk about something that evokes quite a bit of emotion from me and that seems to be a “hot button” topic for others as well.  In fact, I just read someone elses blog about this topic this morning.  You can see the same entry at  I generally enjoy the articles from Steve, even if I think he is a bit too harsh on the Harvard Business Review.  He makes a lot of sense as he talks about what he calls “Radical Management”.  Essentially the concept is exactly what every consumer and worker sees, hears, and believes about the business world: in general, it is broken.

The old ways of management are not applicable anymore, and yet we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  I can’t help but to think back to the last organization that I was an employee of, and the debacle that was, is, and will more than likely continue to be there.  Every time I read a blog entry or other article that speaks the way that Steve does about the multiple mistakes being made in the corporate world it makes me wonder how many times the same message has to be heard again before changes are made.

One of the most poignant points that Steve Denning talks about is how there is an “iron triangle” that is composed of employees, customers, and management.  He states that many business improvements will affect only one side of the triangle in a positive manner while sacrificing satisfaction in the other two, or affect only two sides positively while the other side suffers.  Sad to think about, but it makes sense.

I want to address this for just a moment.  It is my belief that you must have ALL of your Human Capital working towards the same goal, and therefore any improvement solutions that you attempt to put in place must connect all of these in pursuit of the same goal.  As I have said before, the strategy of the organization is where it starts and if everyone in the organization is not working to achieve the same strategy then the organization will not succeed.  With that being said, I can completely agree that if you implement an improvement initiative for only one population of your organization (meaning only for front-line employees, or only for middle managers, etc.) it will not succeed.  It must be supported by all stakeholders in an organization, and it must be in support of the overall organizational strategy.

When you talk about customers ending up receiving the short end of the stick, you have to ask yourself  one very important question: Are the activities in the organization being done to meet the needs and desires of the customers from the beginning, including all of the performance improvement initiatives along the way?  I think that sometimes it becomes very easy to get so wrapped up in our internal business world that we forget that we are in business to serve our customers.  When it becomes all about making money, then you are going to lose sight of why you do what you do and for whom.  This isn’t to say that it isn’t important to make money, but it shouldn’t change your morals and values to accomplish it.  How many businesses built themselves from the trust and service that they provided to customers, only to fall like Goliath to David as they became a bit too big for their britches and began to do things that would never have been thought about only 15-20 years earlier?  I think many names in the financial sector could come to mind, among others.

Another thing that I want to touch on is how organizations are so quick to get rid of training, performance improvement, organizational development, knowledge management, or other initiatives when things begin to get tough.  We’ve all seen it and experienced it I’m sure.  Financially it’s seen as a drain on the organization, when the money could supposedly be utilized elsewhere to create more money.  How’s that working out for you so far?  Not too good?  Sorry to hear that, but not surprised.  This goes back to the beginning of this article: the old ways of management are not applicable any more.  As the generations change and people continue to evolve, so does the business world.  Those that are continuing to succeed and grow are those that are able to adjust to the changing market place and needs of both customers and employees!  But there are still plenty of businesses that are not faring as well and instead are choosing to stay with the command and control way of thinking as Steve Denning explains.  Something has to change.  You can’t continue to cut the components of the organization that are in place to help you and your organization to grow and develop and prepare for the future of business and expect that there will be no repercussions.

So I pose the question: When do companies start to listen, and take the chance to change in truly amazing and beneficial ways?  I’ll be looking forward to that time, and will continue to work towards that with those that I come in contact with.  Take care, until next time!

Engagement by any other name would still show passion!

What is engagement in the workplace, and what does it mean to your organization?  I think about this quite a bit, and probably talk about it with anyone and everyone that I meet more than I should.  It’s a large part of why I do what I do and ultimately it bleeds in to everything that everyone does every day.  This is a missing key to organizations and business today.  Indulge me for a moment as I explain.

Think of your favorite thing to do.  It could be playing golf, online games, fishing, hiking, cooking, reading, knitting, playing competitive sports of any kind, etc.  Now, how much time and effort do you, or would you if you could, put in to that activity?  If you speak to anyone who has a hobby or other passion that they truly enjoy, the answer will more than likely be that they have put many hours of effort and thought in to it.  If we look at sports stars, how many hours of training and practice go in to preparing to play their game of choice?  When you look at a talented musician, how many hours over how many years, did it take for them to get good at playing their instrument?

In a recent article that I read from, called “Presenting Work to Best Advantage” by Janet Howd, I really made some excellent connections, that I believe many leaders are missing today.  In the article she discusses how she observed skateboarder’s practicing techniques over and over again, directly adjacent to the Royal Festival Hall in London, where members of the orchestra practice their instruments.  The comparison in the article is absoultely astounding in it’s simple complexity.  The orchestral members and the skateboarders have many commonalities that most would never connect.  They both constantly and consistently work with their “instrument”, long hours to become as close to perfect as they can at what they do.  They tirelessly learn new things about their passion, and then immediately apply what they have learned, to the point of exhaustion in some cases, in pursuit of memorization and understanding of what they have learned.  This goes on day-in-and-day-out.  Each person is learning from those around them, while continuing to become great themselves and pass along the wisdom that they have gained to those around them.  Everyone in both groups is aware of the others around them and understands that they must be aware of them to avoind injury (in the case of the skateboarders) or sound correct and make beautiful music (in the case of the orchestral members).  This awareness draws them together in a close bond all its own.

So what does this have to do with small-business, medium-business, or ANY business for that matter?  Think about the last time you looked at your organization or any other organization and saw that type of commitment to the job and the company.  How many employees will honestly state that they do what they do simply for a paycheck, and how is this allowed to continue?  What COULD your business be doing if your employees had this type of commitment and engagement?  These are the types of questions that I and my company ask on a daily basis.  We seek to find out what gaps exist in the engagement chain, and how to fill those gaps.  Our purpose for this is the realization that many issues faced in organizations today exist because there is not this type of engagement across the organization at all levels!

Imagine for a minute a workplace where every leader comes in with a true desire to support the team members and the organization, and is constantly looking for ways to improve what they do and what their people do.  Every employee wakes up excited to go to work and genuinely enjoys coming to work, and genuinely strives to see the business succeed because it is something that they believe in and want to succeed.  Everyone equally owns the business, the processes, the outcomes, even if only in spirit.  Everyone works in varied groups surrounded by people who want to see them succeed as much as they want to succeed, and everyone shares their expertise and knowledge to make that happen.  Even when times are tough the members of the organization can understand that there are tough decisions to be made, but that overall the organization cares and values them.  When new skills are learned, they are implemented and practiced immediately with a fervant passion to not only commit the new skill to memory, but to be considered good at it, and this is supported at every level.  There will be failures at times, but it will not stop the members from continuing to try.  Everyone comes up with new ideas for ways to improve the business or change a process, not because they want to get out of doing something, but because they see a way for the organization to improve a service/product, save money and time, or re-allocate efforts from one area to another.  This is the business of the future.

This type of environment is not impossible.  Any business can have this, but you must create the right environment and conditions for success like this to grow and thrive.  When the members of an organization are truly passionate about what they do, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they and the organization are more likely to succeed!

I’m a leader/manager/supervisor…now what?

How many people have asked this question?  Whether it has been asked of you, or by you, it’s almost a guarantee that you have heard this.  Many people begin with a company and as they learn the job and the corporate environment, they begin to get noticed as someone who has talent and ability.  But how many times has that same person been identified as a great talent, only to be put in a leadership or positional authority position and fail?  Why?  Who’s responsible?  How can it be fixed or avoided?

As I continue to strive for my own personal and professional development I come across many things that spark thoughts and feelings, and this topic is no different.  I’m currently attending two certificate courses through Ithaca College, and in one of them we were required to read an article titled, “Leadership’s Online Labs” (Reeves, Malone, Driscoll).  The premise behind the article is that people utilizing MMORPG’s (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game’s) are actually gaining leadership and business skills from playing these games.  As someone who has grown up around video games, and more importantly online games this article really made sense to and spoke to me.

Many times in an organization we can forget all of the components that are necessary to form great leaders, foster open communication, build relationships, etc.  Unfortunately that can be the ultimate downfall of an organization, from the inside out.  One of my favorite quotes from the “…Lab’s” article is “Getting the leadership environment right may be at least as important to an organization as choosing the right people to lead.”  Wow.  That is powerful!  Think back to your own experiences.  Has there ever been a time when, no matter how confident you are or were in your abilities, that you failed to produce as a leader because the environment wasn’t right?  Perhaps you have been witness to an event like this?  When someone is developing their capabilities, especially as a leader, it can not be assumed that simply because they have a title they have all of the answers.  In most cases when someone is promoted in to a position they have not necessarily dealt with the issues that they will need to deal with in their new position, and should not necessarily be expected to have all of the answers, much less the right answers!  Having the right environment in place to help nurture and grow that persons capabilities and experience, the same as when they were producing in other positions in the company prior to being promoted, is crucial.

This line of thinking is counter-intuitive to everything that we know today.  But one of the lessons from the “…Lab’s” article is that in these MMORPG’s the members of a team, including the leadership, are expected at times to fail in order to come up with a better solution.  “Organizations can help prepare leaders by fostering a culture in which failure is tolerated.  They can expose leaders to risk by mimicking the structure of games, breaking down big challenges into small projects.”  Many times in these games, teams will go on a mission with the intent of success and find that they are exorbitantly under-prepared.  In such cases they can retreat, reformulate, reorganize and try again utilizing the information gained from the previous failure.  In some cases this may happen a couple of times before finding the correct combination that allows the team to succeed.  I am not by any means suggesting that any business, least of all small and medium-sized businesses, should allow for continuous failure in the hopes of eventual success.  I am however suggesting it be made acceptable for failure to happen, so long as there are lessons learned from a valiant effort, with a new and more educated plan on the other side. 

New leaders in an organization, even promoted from within, are no different than a new hire starting with your company on the front-line.  They are going to need the extra attention necessary to move them, and your organization forward.  If you are promoting someone in to a leadership position, it is probably because you have identified them as being talented, intelligent, and capable.  Don’t forget that they need someone to show them how to use their talent, intellect and capability, and that person generally is you.