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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?

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Appreciative Leaders Must Support The Change and Improvement


Sometimes I get the urge to go back and re-read publications, journals, and books and I often find things that I may have forgotten reading or a concept that really sticks out to me.  Over the last few days I have finally found some time to get back in to my Performance Improvement Journal from the International Society for Performance Improvement, and came across a couple of articles that I felt really speak to the current times, and the needs of organizations today.

With the current climate of business, change is inevitable.  We are living in one of the most dynamic environments that has ever existed.  Just look at BP, the fall of AIG, the challenge to GlaxoSmithCline’s diabetes drug Avandia, the new regulations for the financial industry about to be signed in to law, the constant change and advancement of technology such as mobile phones and services, or cable and satellite television services.  In all of these scenarios change is happening in a rapid and radical manner and the success of these companies relies on the ability of each of these organizations, and the many systemic components of each, to be agile and be able to adjust.  At the very least they must be able to adjust adequately and adeptly, at the best they must be innovative and revolutionary. 

Imagine for a moment the impact that these changes has on each one in the organization!  You’ll probably notice the weird structure of that last sentence; the use of “each one”.  In “The Power of One” (Roger Kaufman, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010), Dr. Kaufman talks about how “all change, or lack of change, starts with one.  That one might be an individual, a small group, an organization, or society.”  Think about how many “ones” exist in most (use your own for a moment) organizations, and as I said before, think of the tremendous impact to each of those ones from these radical and incremental changes.  Every business unit, division, team, and individual person…every one of them will be impacted differently by the dynamic environment and must adjust in their own ways.  The key is that each of them must also be aware that they can and should be the catalyst for change.  But how do they get there?  It is up to the leaders in an organization to make this happen.

As a practitioner of Human Performance Technology (HPT), I find myself questioning why more leaders aren’t looking at their organizations from the systemic and systematic perspective that is at the root of HPT.  This means looking at it as a whole system made up of parts that must fit together properly, and understanding that ALL of the parts will impact all of the others.  How many managers, supervisors, executives, and even the front-line employees in many cases understand this?  It has to start with the leadership.  Many people believe that a system’s perspective must be very rigid and static, which is completely counter to the dynamic environment as described above.  However, as described by Jennifer Rosenzweig in “An Enlightened Look At A System View” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010), “A  complex adaptive system can be characterized as being dynamic and constantly changing.  When it is vibrantly humming along, the people within it are adjusting smoothly and efficiently to change on a continual basis.”  Based on this, we can say that in fact it is possible to have a dynamic system that can meet these ever-changing needs of business, and can be done without getting stuck in “analysis paralysis”.  Rosenzweig goes on to say “Although plans, processes, and strategies are in place, new decisions are made when new input arrives.  And these are not decisions imposed by senior leaders but instead are made in the moment by people embedded in the system.”  In other words, it truly must be adaptive and dynamic and involve all ones, and it has to be the leadership of the organization that supports, fosters, and facilitates this environment!  This is not an impossible task, and can be achieved through the utilization and support of HPT at all levels of an organization.  Individuals must come to realize and know “his or her role and ties his or her efforts to a larger purpose to do what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010)

One of the important pieces of this is helping people to go from being “brick layers” to “cathedral builders”.  For those that have never heard the story, I’ll choose to use the one from “Transitioning from Brick Layer to Cathedral Builder: Performance Consulting and the Power of One” (Darlene Van Tiem and Jeffrey McElyea, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010). 

” A performance consultant was conducting an analysis of brick layers.  The performance consultant approached the first of three workers and asked, ‘What are you doing?’  The first man, not wanting to participate in the analysis, answered, ‘What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m laying bricks!’  undaunted, the performance consultant walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.  The second man responded, ‘I’m making a living.’  The performance consultant was intrigued by the different perspective.  Finally, the performance consultant asked the third bricklayer the same question: ‘What are you doing?’  The third looked up, smiled, and said ‘I’m building a cathedral.’  The performance consultant thought, ‘Now, that’s what everybody should be doing!'”

This has such a powerful message!  How many people in an organization, including the organization itself, know what the big picture is other than making the business money?  Making money should be a given and expected to happen.  But what does the organization hope to accomplish in the process?  How is it defined?  What is in place to drive the decisions of all stakeholders involved?  It is the leaders in the organization that must make sure that these questions are answered and supported throughout the organization, and that is what drives success and creates a “complex adaptive system”. 

In “Leading Positive Performance: A Conversation About Appreciative Leadership” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) all three authors are discussing a book that they have written talking about appreciative leadership.  I think the concept of appreciative leaders is an important one in creating the environment that we have been talking about, and to supporting the growth and development of HPT in the workplace.  Appreciative leadership, as defined by Dr. Whitney, “refers to a set of practices that turn human potential into positive performance.  It is a positive, strengths-based approach to human performance, collaboration, and change management.  It represents a shift from individualistic and deficit-based leadership processes to relational and dialogical leadership processes.”  This is a concept that can be supported by Dr. Rupert Loyd as he talks about much of the same topic in his blog “Relational Leadership“; relational leadership is truly the way of the future.  It means involvement and communication (two-way, not one) and is absolutely imperative if organizations want to have a team full of “cathedral builders” and not just “brick layers”.  This is accomplished by studying “the times when the organization is performing at exemplary levels and the quality is flawless.  From this process, we can learn specifically what it takes to support high performance in all areas all the time.” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  Once we discover what we want to happen we need to “Frame them as statements of what we want more of rather than statements of what we do not want,”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) and this must be done in conversation with the other stakeholders of an organization, not just at them or to them.  As Dr. Whitney states, “Nothing stimulates creativity and innovation more than inclusion of different people, different perspectives, and different ideas.  Inclusion enables people to exchange knowledge and ideas.  It fosters engagement, commitment to a shared future, and collaborative action.  It is generative.”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  

What better way is there to create a complex, dynamic, adaptive system than this?  In order for the changes that organizations want, and need, to take place there needs to be a shift in the leadership and management style in place today.  Otherwise the other systemic components, and thus the overall system, will fail to have the desired impact and any change associated with them will be weakened if they don’t fail all together.  Until these factors are realized I’m afraid we will continue to see the types of failures and destruction described at the beginning of this entry.

Name that title!


Have you gone on to the job boards recently?  Things like Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com, Indeed.com, or SimplyHired.com?  It can be quite enlightening when you peruse these boards and look at what companies are looking for, and what the associated titles are that go along with it.  In fact, it has really shown me over the last couple of days just how much confusion there is from one organization to another, even within the same organization (some of which are consultancy’s) as to what the definition of a specific function is.

Some of the titles that I have found are things such as”Director of Professional Development”,  “Director, Organizational Effectiveness”, “Change Management Associate” or “Strategic Communications and Change Manager”.  Now, from the titles of these positions one would be led to believe that there must certainly be a difference between them; contrary to that belief I found that most of the positions, regardless of title, were aiming to achieve the same goals.  Those goals were usually stated as “responsibility for providing strategic and operational leadership and consulting expertise in the area of organizational effectiveness, change management, and talent development” or “provide leadership, help our corporate leaders plan, implement and influence programs and individuals to increase our organization’s efficiency…will possess strong expertise in organizational design, change management, coaching, facilitation, succession planning, learning and development, and strategic planning”.  When you look at these, they both look like they could come from the same exact posting, but the first was for an Organizational Change Management Manager and the latter was for a Director of Professional Development.

After seeing something like this, I believe there is no question of the belief of organizations in the importance of the things these positions are trying to accomplish.  No matter what the title is, organizations are realizing that they have to do something different from what they are today.  I think there is still somewhat of an identity crisis that is taking place in this realm, and I’m not sure if, when, or how it will be rectified but at least there is some type of recognition of the need to make a change.  What does this mean for the Organizational Development/Performance Improvement industry?  Only time will tell, but I believe it’s safe to say that there is certainly quite a bit of, at the very least, acknowledgement of the necessity of these types of positions. 

Let’s just hope that with the confusion of titles and responsibilities that these companies can get the right people to fill the right positions, doing the right things!

I don’t even know what I don’t know!


One of the greatest concepts that I ever learned about was the “Four Phases of Competence” (actually titled as “Four Phases of Learning”, but I believe competence is a much better descriptor, and much more universal).  Recently as a new business owner I have been able to experience these on my own, very quickly and often might I add, and am thankful to have a knowledge and understanding of them.  Almost daily I run in to something that I look at and say, “Wow, I didn’t even know that!”  And thus I have moved from one phase in to another, that easily!  For anyone that owns their own business or is in a senior position, I’m confident that you know the feeling.  Someone from advertising and marketing, or from finance, or another department comes around and tells you something that they believe that you absolutely MUST know…obviously through the magical osmosis process bestowed upon you when you started your business or took your position.

What many people fail to realize is that there is a process to becoming competent in anything that you do.  That process may move faster or slower for one person than for another, but none-the-less it typically follows the same path.  There are four phases to this process, starting with “Unconsciously Incompetent”.  This is probably the time when you will get a good laugh, and in most cases you can find more than one way to use this in a joke (trust me, been there, done that!).  The truth is that this is really an easy phase to explain.  Are you aware that kangaroo’s are excellent swimmers?  What about the fact that there are more living organisims on then skin of a single human being than there are human beings on the surface of the earth?  You didn’t?  Then you were experiencing the state of being “Unconsciously Incompetent”. 

However, just by me telling you about these facts you have made the great and mighty journey from “Unconsciously Incompetent” to “Consciously Incompetent”.  This means that now you are aware that you didn’t know something.  As soon as you become aware of something that you didn’t know, you have the opportunity to and choice of whether or not to continue to pursue your gain of knowledge on the subject or to let it pass you by.  Think of the implications of this on your every day life!  This is one of the things that drives me personally to educate myself every chance I get on as many topics as possible.  Even more important, think about what this means to your business, your employees, and your customers and clients! 

So let’s say that once you are aware that you didn’t know something, you begin educating yourself in the subject in whatever manner you choose (self-study, read a book, formal education, talk to someone, etc.).  Your next goal needs to be to understand the topic, and any related processes and/or procedures, and be able to explain them to someone else.  This is where testing comes in for most situations.  Many of us will learn something, and the first chance we get we want to tell someone else about it, show them how to do it, or in some way utilize the skills immediately.  Be honest, how many times have you done that!  This phase is “Consciously Competent”.  At this point you not only know how, but you can explain it to someone else.  In some situations, you may stay in this phase (say as a teacher, or coach).  This is where many people find themselves as leaders in any situation.  You have to not only be good at what you do, but be able to teach someone else the steps in it, and help guide them through the “Four Phases” as well. 

The last phase is called “Unconsciously Competent”.  This is the time when you don’t really think about what you are doing, you just do it.  Think about tying your shoe, making a peanut-butter sandwich, or driving a stick-shift car: you don’t think about each step, you just do them.  And if you were to try to teach someone else how to do these things, you would find that it can be quite challenging.  My favorite example is the peanut-butter sandwich.  It’s used in many ways, and with all ages and education levels.  Try asking one or more people to construct all of the steps in making a peanut-butter sandwich, that someone can follow step-by-step successfully.  Believe me, it’s not as easy as one might think (I actually had a colleague put together a more than 84 step process for this!)!  This last phase can be extremely important when determining who will be teaching someone in you business how to do what they do (say in a mentor situation), or educating a customer on a product.  Just because someone is great at doing something, or knows a lot about it does not necessarily mean that they can convey that to someone else.

Needless to say, this concept is important to what I do in my career.  But I find it interesting to find myself going through these phases in the daily workings of my business, as a new Dad (my son is almost 1), and in many other areas of my life.  Hopefully this sheds some light on some situations that you are now, or have, gone through.  And if this concept is one that you weren’t aware of before, congratulations!  You are now on your way to being “Consciously Competent”!

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.