If only I had more time

I find myself thinking that so often. Right now I serve as the Executive Director of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I teach adjunct at Spring Hill College, and I am working with an amazing group of community leaders to bring innovation and entrepreneurship structure to my new hometown of Mobile, AL (not to mention other volunteer work that I do).IMG_20140508_073843

(Places like this do help the process. Taking time to reflect and enjoy your surroundings are helpful)

Still, it bothers me when I think about all of the other projects (including this website) that I just can’t seem to spend my emotional and mental capital in more places. The truth is, we all want to do more. The organization you work for wants to, the school that you attend desires to, and you wish you could – but the reality is, we all have to be strategic about what we choose to do, otherwise we will be spinning our wheels.

If you are like me, this is a really hard lesson, I mean REALLY! So rather than just whine about the problem, sit down and write out your list. Choose five things that you feel that you can really invest yourself in. No more than five. No cheating…and if you can’t come up with five – open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there. Why five, because that it just makes sense – trust me, or don’t (I mean you only have five fingers on a hand…it was just meant to be – and no, don’t tell me you have two hands…I know that but really when you start to go to the second hand for anything do you really remember it, no…I didn’t think so!)

Go forth and invest yourself wisely!

Productive Conflict.

CONFLICTNo, you didn’t misread the headline. Yes, it is possible. Contrary to how we generally view conflict, it actually can be a positive and productive thing in an organization. I would go so far as to state that any team or organization that doesn’t promote healthy, creative, content-oriented conflict will not grow or innovate.

Earlier this week, as part of my work at the SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I was able to co-host a hangout with Bill Stierle. Bill is a specialist in communications and relationships, oh and he also serves to mediate and facilitate high-conflict situations. During our Hangout, both Bill and Hugh Ballou challenged the idea that ignoring conflict in our organizations is acceptable. Bill points out that conflict typically flows from one of three levels: 1) Thinking style, 2) Emotional style, or 3) Belief style.

The reality is when we break conflict down into those three levels we begin to provide framework for thinking about what healthy conflict can look like in our teams. If groups work toward developing a safe-place for conflict (removing blaming, shaming, shooting down ideas, triangulation, and avoidance), true growth can occur.

As innovation researchers are quick to point out, new ideas stem from bringing together things that aren’t normally thought of together…this type of thinking will bring on conflict (potentially at any of the three levels), but if we operate from an empathy framework toward the person bringing forward the idea then we have provided space for growth.

But that isn’t always easy. Many times we get really passionate about things that we hold to (thoughts, emotions, beliefs) and we have trouble seeing how others might think, feel, or believe something that we don’t. Bill suggests we can only build an empathetic link as we connect a “feeling” word to a “need” word (at the 23:53 mark of the video, Bill digs into this area…watch it!).

How does conflict impact your team (positively or negatively)? What have you recognized as you “normal” response to conflict? How would creating a safe space for conflict look on your team?

Working Remotely…Why Its Important to Know, Before You Go!

For the past decade I have found myself working in quiet settings (for the most part), offices that were made up of no more than 5 people on the average day, but recently I embarked on a new (remote) work adventure. As a member of the new workforce, I showed no fear at the idea of working from a location far away (geographically) from the rest of my team. Lets be real working at a computer, talking on the phone, and using a webcam were all a very normal part of my life as someone who is a borderline Millennial (depending on the defined years). These 5 things I have learned in my experience are important for you as you think about making the step to a remote workplace.

1) Know Yourself.

If you have a challenge working unless you are “at work”, this might not be the setting for you. If you enjoy quiet as you work, allowing you to focus deeply, this might be the right setting for you. If you need to be in front of people often and have a lack of comfort with technology, this might not be the setting for you. And so on. 

The key is, to evaluate yourself and your specific needs, before you take the plunge!

2) Find Outlets.

You will need to set up (productive) interactions with people. Regardless of your intravert/extravert tendencies, we all need people to help spark the work that we do. Be strategic in setting up lunch meetings, phone calls, coffee house interactions, or other similar engagements that will allow you to stay engaged with people that help you move your sphere of work forward.

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3) Get Up. Go Outside. Stretch. Relax. 

While you may not see outside your office when you are in a traditional work setting, you at least are likely to get up and move around. Working remotely, it is easy to get into flow of work which is only interrupted by the crick in your back or neck that comes from having failed to move in hours. Get up, go see the outside, move around, and even relax. The truth is you are saving your organization time and money by not being in a typical office setting so use a little of that to maintain your health and sanity!

4) Be Disciplined.

Going down a rabbit hole is easy, regardless of your setting, but in a remote workspace (especially if you are working from home) this can be particularly dangerous. Make sure that you set up your schedule in increments (find something that works for you – maybe the Pomodoro technique) and be disciplined about not getting lost or straying too far from the core of your work. Give your brain down times, but be careful about getting lost on peripheral things that have little impact on your work.

5) Eat (in other places besides your desk).

Seriously, what is worse than eating food at your desk (ok, so there are more than a few things I could list). This is the one that to me becomes dangerous to your functioning. It is important for your brain and body to have different settings. Moving can help differentiate actions, it also allows the blood to flow and the brain to engage new images and stimulants. If nothing else, eating somewhere else (even another room in the same location) gives you a break from the routine and helps refresh you. 

Overall, the opportunity to work remotely increases flexibility for workers and organizations alike. Be mindful about these 5 areas (and others, share below) and you will set yourself up for success!

*It is important to note that working remotely, doesn’t specifically mean that you are working in your home office. There are a variety of workspace options present in the marketplace today that go beyond just being at home.. 

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

BreakfastThis famous statement attributed to Peter Drucker, the leadership/management guru (though there is no proof he ever said that) is one of my favorites! This doesn’t make strategy un-important, but it does dig down to the reality that undergirds successful organizations – PEOPLE and PRACTICES!
Adam Bryant, in the first chapter of book Quick and Nimble describes culture like this:
 
“A successful culture is like a greenhouse where people and ideas can flourish – where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better ways to serve customers” (p. 11)
 
Both visuals are important culture. In both images, when culture eats strategy for breakfast and when culture is a greenhouse, you might say that culture is what continually forms an environment for the strategy to flourish. You can have a great strategy and terrible culture and you ultimately will fail. But try to find a place with a great culture (not just a fun culture) that doesn’t thrive?
 
People will go the extra mile in an organization with a great culture, they will personally bring their best, because they realize that they are valued as an active shaper of the organization as a whole. When that isn’t true…you hate getting up for work.
 
So if you lead…remember it starts with culture. If you are not a leader, by position, lead by example…set the tone for the organizational culture that you want to see, if this is rejected…keep your eyes open for other places that do get it!

Be up front, even when it hurts!

One of the most important lessons I have learned in relationships and organizational life is that things that bother you, don’t stop – unless addressed. There is something innate in most of us that drives us to avoid confrontations (though I admit, there are a small percentage who seem to thrive off them). We don’t like the idea of addressing things because we fear what could happen, yet we willingly let the problems reside inside of our head, our emotions, and our bodies.

STOP!!!!!!! I know that it sounds easy, but that is what must be done in productive relationships and organizations. In both settings, it is important to create a safe space where we can be up front with one another in a caring and sensitive way, to state the frustrations, challenges, and/or needs that we have in moving forward.

The flip side to this is, we have to provide this space for others as well. There will be times that we unknowingly have offended, annoyed, overworked, or under-appreciated someone that is important to our daily life. When that happens, we need them to tell us…hurt as it will! This is how we grow!

We daily function with an image of both our self and our functioning that is developed from our internal viewpoint – meaning it lacks the depth and clarity of what we would see if we examined ourselves from a 360 degree perspective – but when we give others accepted space to be able to engage with us, the opportunity for real growth begins!

Today, make a plan for being upfront when your team, friends, or family do things that overwhelm, under-perform, or just plain grate at your nerves. Use “I” statements (e.g. “I feel overwhelmed when this happens”) as opposed to “you” statements (e.g. “You are overwhelming me when you do this…”) *We need to be certain that trust has been established in these relationships  prior to addressing issues.

Life is too short and too amazing for each of us to carry things in our baggage that could be remedied by addressing them gently with those that are important to us!

Great article on Collaborative Organizations

We know that none of us is as smart as all of us, right? I love to come across work by others that speak to the core of what this project is all about…collaboration and teamwork. Earlier today, I came across the following article: 12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations (the article and model below are the from Chess Media Group)

What I love about this article, and why I am recommending it, is that Jacob Morgan gets it! Collaboration is all about flexibility, impact, and value. Collaboration can’t be forced, but it can be encouraged. Too often, when we promote collaboration, we don’t think about the individual differences in personality that influence the way people see collaboration. Instead, we are thinking from a purely skill/knowledge set approach. If you want to breed greater collaboration, give people space, let it be on their terms, and be sure to provide them with value.

Read the article and also, check out Jacob’s book – The Collaborative Organization!

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Why Unstructured Time Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Your Organization

ImageFrederick Taylor and Henri Fayol each were responsible for developing a new way forward for labor. Fayol and Taylor were both responsible for much of the improvement in thinking about how work was accomplished in late-1800s through the mid-1900s. Many of the improvements for organizing a workforce into producing consistent, replicable work in industry can be attributed to their improvement of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Both of these engineers developed new concepts for management, of which some still can be found in operation today.

Why the history lesson? Today’s worker is all too often bound to a physical building, desk, or even phone by many of the management improvements of an era 80 to 150 year old. We still have the concept of the 40+ work week, time cards, and even office management that was perfect for industry but is largely out of place in the present technological, mind-oriented work world.

One of the saddest by-products of this overly rigid, out of step with what should be reality, work existence that many people live is that we constantly face burnout, disengagement, and apathy. One suggestion that seems to present an alternative to this chained-to-your-desk, time-card-punching functioning of previous generations is the institutional embrace of unstructured time.

You can read about the concept and its effects here, here, here, and here. The reality is that this unstructured time rather than being responsible for Facebook wandering and blog-rolling is often responsible for tremendous innovation in organizations. When you give people autonomy, resources, and support, it is amazing what they can come up with.

How would unstructured time impact your own workplace?

[Coaching Corner] Pay Attention to these 4 Gaps to Overcome Prolonged Organizational Ineffectiveness

Sitting at your desk, couch, table, or preferred reading spot, you probably find yourself like many others wondering when the economy will fully turn around. In fact, you, like many others in similar situations, might actually have just been thinking about the difference between where your organization exists now and where you know it could be in the future. The good news is, you recognize there is a gap between what is and what could be. What if the beginning of the end of this organizational turmoil began with examining how you recruit and retain individuals and how you plan for the future, today!

In the present extended economic downturn, all organizations are facing tremendous challenges, internally and externally. One primary area of discomfort resides in your human resource capabilities. Right now, you are facing stiffer competition for every job posting due to a flood of un- and under-employed workers. This has allowed you and your competition to the opportunity to overly specialize openings, as with a bevy of individuals, you can easily weed out the masses to fit your needs. In part due to these changes, as well as the greater availability of continuing higher education, more individuals are taking advantage of their lull in employment and accessibility of higher education to engage in programs of learning and development.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for organizational growth, right? Well if you don’t adapt your organizational practices, it may simply be fool’s gold! While on one hand this might seem to be the perfect storm (think – greater pools of candidates with increasingly better capabilities), the other hand might be hiding a great potential for continued organizational despair.

If you, and your organization, fail to enact new strategies to adapt to the new economic realities, better candidates certainly will not be the magic wand to cure your ailments. The pace of change in the present economy, make necessary that you conduct thorough and forward-thinking gap analyses, or else the hiring of new individuals could actually exacerbate your organization’s downturn by costing you more money to onboard, people that in the end will become discontented with stagnant or outdated strategies.

Think about it, presently you (if you are responsible for recruiting or retaining employees) probably faced with stacks of resumes and pages of emails with resumes and cover letters. Your job is to cull through the carnage to find the person that best duplicates what you lost when the previous employee left the organization. Yet, is that really the best tactic? Does filling a present need (or even a previous need, in some situations) really help your organization turn into an industry leader?

Noted scholars on organization diagnostics, Harrison and Shirom (1999) note, that when decisions are made regarding closing current gaps, such framework can be tremendously short-sighted and miss the future needs in the environment. Which really begs the question, do you want to go where you already have been, or do you want to lead the future?

If you want to lead, it is imperative that you engage your organization in preparation for diagnosis and dialogue. Examine your present and anticipated future. Ask members of your organization, including executives, what they see as a long-term destination of the organization and do this prior to enacting hiring practices.

So where do you start? HRD experts, Gilley, Eggland, and Gilley (2002) note that organizations should examine potential gaps in four places to best prepare for the future: need gaps, performance gaps, management gaps, and organizational gaps.

Need Gaps – In the present economy, many organizations easily fall prey to simply trying to ‘replace’ outgoing workers with those that duplicate lost skillsets. However, when organizations examine need gaps in their personnel, it will better allow for adapting to the present and future climate. In many organizations, this means a greater emphasis must be placed on training for new skills, knowledge bases and abilities for current and future organizational needs. It is expected when these needs gaps are analyzed and endeavors are created to close these gaps the organization will have organizational members who have expertise in areas of greatest importance to the success of the organization.

Performance Gaps – Your organization probably has experienced one of the realities of the open systems framework – loss of energy within the confines of a system. In most organizations, this loss occurs simply due to poorly developed or maintained performance systems. Such gaps in performance may result from poor job designs, salary and reward structures that don’t meet the needs of high performing organizational members, and even poor realization of barriers to performance (both internal and external) in a work environment.

Management/Leadership Gaps – While bookstore shelves are covered with books on improving management and leadership ‘techniques’ many organizations still suffer from gaps between expectations (or expectations for the future) and current management and leadership behaviors. It is no longer acceptable for managers and organizational leaders to lack the important ‘soft skills’ in this knowledge economy. Organizations must prepare for the future by hiring and developing individuals throughout the organization that communicate well, listen effectively, dialogue with individuals at all levels of the organization, and facilitate the development of others. This means that organizations must examine their investment in training and development of organizational members, as well as the examples set by those at the executive level.

Organizational Gaps – This may be the largest and most overlooked area of need in gap analysis. Many organizations suffer from misfit between personnel and technology, personnel and organizational structure, technology and environment, environment and strategy, etc. While obviously a potential strain on resources, particularly in the present economic slowdown, conducting a full organizational gap analysis can actually save time, money, key organizational members and stress and strain in the long run. Too often, organizations continue to function with low levels of adaptability and reflection even as the environment, personnel, product/service, etc. changes. It is imperative that organizations not only enact, but encourage a continual analysis of organization-wide gaps in order to stay prepared for the future.

Your organization cannot afford to simply duplicate past performances, nor can you simply replace outgoing employees in filling present and future job openings. If expectations exist for increases in future performance throughout the organization, a greater level of inquiry into the present and intended outcomes related to the needs, performance, management and organization must be conducted. Strategic preparation and design cannot be wishful thinking if growth and increased performance are desired. Begin to think big, be creative, and ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization.

If quick fixes worked, wouldn’t more things already be fixed?

Truth be told, they often make me laugh. Until they make me sad. Quick fixes have been the rage for generations. Think about it, if those get rich quick ideas actually worked wouldn’t more people be rich? If those weight loss programs actually helped people lose weight and keep it off, don’t you think more people would be slim and obesity wouldn’t be such an issue in our country?

It is attributed that Philip Stanhope, former Earl of Chesterfield, once said “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Yet, that bring so much of the quick fix, band-aid orientation of our present culture into question.

How many leaders are searching for 3 simple steps to huge turnarounds in their organizations? How many entrepreneurs are looking for the 5 things that will suddenly make them millionaires? How many church leaders have bought into the notion that these 7 things will suddenly transform your church into a mega-church? The answer is too many!

All too often we settle for easy when true success means extra work. We fail to ask the question behind the question. We aren’t willing to invest our time and energy in the things that really have impact and because of that we are constantly looking for the next silver bullet.

What goals do you want to accomplish this year? How are you working to meet those goals?