Archive for the ‘communication’ category

If a tree falls…

October 28, 2011

This is perhaps a bit less of a blog post and more of a question to my avid reader…

I have been in several meetings in the last few weeks where I cannot help but notice that many attendees (and, I might add, often in meetings with less than 6 people) are emailing, texting on their phones, and generally and openly ignoring whoever happens to be speaking at the time.  Granted, most of the time it was me talking and therefore highly justified, but I swear at least 3 times it was someone else.

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In any case, my questions are these:

  1. have we reached a point where we are all so busy and “meeting overloaded” that we feel it is necessary to respond immediately to other demands on our time, even if it means that you’re openly disrespecting someone else in the room?
  2. Is this just the nature of multi-tasking?  So these folks really are listening intently and doing something else at the same time, because we are all just that good at it?
  3. Is it that this just turns out to be the best use of the attendees’  time?  Because whoever is speaking is doing it just to hear their own voice and there’s really little value in the perspective/opinion they’re sharing?

I am genuinely puzzled by this, because I still cherish the infrequent opportunities to be in the same room with others, where their body language, facial expressions, intonations, and gestures convey something that is completely lost on con calls and IM.  But I am also open to the fact that I may, yet again, be clueless.

What gives???

Worth Repeating

October 21, 2011

I really do enjoy the “Corner Office” pieces in the NY Times Sunday Business section.  A lot of no-nonsense and inspiration leadership from CEO’s doing Q and A with Adam Bryant or another reporter.  So October 9th’s piece was no exception.  And I know I’ve written about root causes and understanding the real motivations of your teams before but this anecdote is absolutely worth repeating…  And if you can’t relate to this, you have never run a sales team.

Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, a BIG pharma company, was responding to the first question, right out of the gate.  The question was about important leadership lessons.  Allow me to summarize and paraphrase:

Joseph said he was appointed to head a division of another company and ‘turn it around.’   One serious problem was that the division missed their sales/revenue forecast every month.  He brought in a consultant and they concluded that they needed a better and more analytical sales process.

So they put the new process in place and the forecasts did not improve.  Hmmmm… 

Then he brought in a behavioral psychologist who reported, after several weeks of study, that the problem wasn’t process, it was “truth.”   Throughout the division, team members would assemble the forecast KNOWING they weren’t going to hit it and that it was, essentially, made up.  Joseph realized that, starting with him, the willingness to hear bad news as a means of getting to the truth was the right next step.

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This week, at the Berlin SharePoint Conference, I had an opportunity to spend some ‘face time’ with the CEO of a successful software company that I admire quite a bit.  He told me they were getting ready to do business reviews, and he had decided that he was going to kick off the meetings by asking everyone to list two or three mistakes they’d made in the last year, and he was going to go first.  Brilliant.

In your organization, would you be comfortable standing up in front of your peers and listing your mistakes from the past twelve months?   Because if you can, you will take a big step toward creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as learning opportunities.  That’s the  one time when mistakes are worth repeating…

Is Everybody Happy??

September 9, 2011

I am not a huge believer in polls.  I think that regardless of statistical sampling size and other factors, the way that questions are ordered, worded and who you ask still affects the outcome in ways that belie objectivity.

Be that as it may, has anyone seen the latest Gallup Healthways Well Being index as it relates to “employee engagement?”  Interesting stuff!

Allow me to summarize.  The Gallupians use three categories to segment employees:  engaged (in their companies), not engaged, and actively disengaged.  It may surprise no one to hear that 30 percent of American workers are engaged in their work, 51 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged.   A sad state of affairs indeed.

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What can you do about this??

I would suggest two things:

1)   it turns out that many economic sleuths are actually willing to admit that there’s a relationship between engaged workers and your company’s bottom line.  Personally, I don’t feel like anyone should even have to make that case, but next time you bump into your CFO in the elevator, ask her if she believes that to be the case.  If not, dust up your resume.
2)   there was an editorial in the New York Times this past week  that referenced the Gallup engagement survey but also proclaimed to find a root cause relationship that will change your workers’ sense of engagement for the better.  Get this!   As a manager, you should acknowledge and praise incremental progress in your team’s work.  That’s what keeps them engaged!  Brilliant!  It gets better.  When 669 managers were asked to rank 5 motivators, 95 percent of them ranked “supporting progress” dead last.

Are we happy now?

Put me in, coach!

September 1, 2011

One of the things I love about baseball is the subtle communication that is taking place all over the field.  The signs between the catcher and pitcher, silently communicating the type of pitch and its location.  The signs between the manager in the dugout, the third base coach and the batter, informing the batter whether to bunt, swing away, take the next pitch, or ask for more money in his next contract.  You can imagine that, if a new player showed up on the team and didn’t take the time to find out what all the signs were, he wouldn’t be very effective and would be on the bench, “riding the pine” as they used to say, pretty fast.

So I am always a bit amazed when a vendor that is being  paid handsomely for their efforts introduces a new “player” in a meeting or on a conference call, allegedly with some new expertise that is greatly needed for the project/endeavor to succeed, and the first words out of the new player’s mouth are, “I’m really not familiar with your project or environment.”

Really?  Did the person coordinating the resources from your end not take the time to fill you in on a few key details, like what we’re trying to accomplish, who the team is, what our milestone dates are and what your role will be??  Or did you not bother to ask??

imageWhen you play pickup baseball in a park or schoolyard, there are no signs.  That’s because everyone playing are a bunch of amateurs, not paid professionals.

How do you want YOUR team to be perceived…?

You know you make me want to shout

August 18, 2011

As Raymond said in Rain Man, “I’m a very good driver.”  In order to be so good, I need a lot of information.  I need to know where all the other cars around me are, how fast I am going, how much fuel I have left, what gear I am in, what the speed limit is, and of course, who am I listening to on the sound system.  I have devised a system to deliver all this information to me in real-time, while allowing me to focus my attention on the road in front of me as well.

I have five other people sit in the car with me, each responsible for some key piece of information, and have them all shout it at me, constantly, for the entire trip.

What??  You think this is a bad idea???

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Well, then riddle me this.  Why is it that every time I create a well-crafted dashboard for an important project, program or entire collection of projects and ensure that it is kept current, executives and other “drivers” of the business never look at it, choosing instead to be “shouted at” by the other people in the car?

I am not suggesting that a dashboard is a substitute for genuine and important human interaction, but I do think that humans, as many studies show, are genetically pre-disposed to assembling and interpreting disparate visual information quickly and accurately.

What gives?  Is is the colors on my pie chart?  My far too infrequent use of the term “almost done” and “coming along nicely” in the status narratives??  Or do they simply not care?

I can fix just about anything except the last part…

PS – Here’s an awesome footnote:  If you google “dashboard” on Google Images virtually every image is a Business Intelligence Status dashboard, not the kind behind the wheel of a car…  Go figure.

There’s no I in “me” either

August 11, 2011

I suspect many of you will join me in condemning two little phrases that I just can’t stand:

  1. There’s no “I” in “team”
  2. Win, Win

As an aside, I might point out that, ironically, there are two “I”s in Win-Win, but that’s off topic…  So let’s tackle the first one.

The gist of “there’s no I in team” is that high performing teams put the interests and goals of the team in front of their own personal goals and interests.  And I am sure there are many examples of this, even in the business world.

But one thing I am equally sure of is that just telling someone that there’s no I in team and considering that “mission accomplished” and expecting some radical behavior change is completely misguided.  Why?

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Because in most work environments, there are a long collection of motivators that encourage many folks to behave as if they were just told there’s no “I” in Mississippi…  Some of my favorites, recently encountered, include:

  • ego
  • the need to be right
  • a distaste for acknowledging that a different approach that didn’t come from you might actually make more sense
  • your annual merit review, which rarely involves the rest of your team in a group session
  • fear of the unknown

I am sure many of you could add to the list (in fact, feel free to) but my point is really just that if you want to create and sustain a team that GENUINELY and CONSISTENTLY behaves with the team’s interests first and each person’s second, you need to recognize that there are powerful forces working against you and that significant and frequent reinforcement and recognition of team behaviors may become your top priority for the foreseeable future.

If not, I suspect you’ll wake up when it’s time to vote and find out that the “I’”s have it…

Deafening Silence

April 28, 2011

There’s an old, old expression: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  It is intended to mean that people who complain the loudest and longest often get their way.  OK, I get that.  If somebody is “in your face” demanding better service, restitution, free donuts for their grief, whatever, you are going to be inclined to give them what they want and “shut them up.”

Now be honest.  As a product or service provider, once they’re gone and you’ve “met their demands” you are likely to either mutter under your breath, or casually remark to a co-worker, “what a rear anatomical part of a donkey…”

Nevertheless, you have gone above and beyond!  You have satisfied an otherwise disgruntled customer.  You have saved your business from their on-line rants.  Good for you!!!

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So what have you done for all your clients or employees that haven’t complained because they are either satisfied or delighted with your products, services or management style?  There’s a chance the answer is, “not much, I have been too busy greasing the squeaky wheels.”

That’s part of the premise of Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, the Thank You Economy.  I heard an interview with him on NPR and it made me think about the best ways to strike a balance between openly upset customers and employees, and ones who are quietly complacent.

Maybe this week, you can find some time to grease a wheel that isn’t squeaking yet…

Common Cents

April 22, 2011

Two years ago, I consolidated all my 401k and retirement accounts into a single account so I could watch it not grow more easily.  That included transferring the money I had in a Charles Schwab account.   The following month, I got a statement from Schwab that said the balance in the account was one cent.  That’s right.  $00.01.  I can only assume that some instantaneous computer-driven interest-calculating program granted me a “dividend” at the very moment I took out all my money.  So I did what most self-respecting, lazy procrastinators would do – I ignored the statement and threw it out.

I have continued to receive statements every month showing my balance of one cent.  To be honest, after 24 months, you’d think it would have grown to two cents, but such is the state of our economy I suppose.

But wait…

Last week, I got a letter from Schwab informing me that the State of Michigan requires them to send me paperwork that I have to fill out and return, indicating that I wish to keep the account open.  If I do not respond by May 11, they will turn over the “assets” of the account to the “unclaimed property department of the State of Michigan.”  As hard as any of this is to fathom, I am not making it up.

As much as I wanted to do nothing (see self-characterization in paragraph 1) guilt got the better of me and I called Schwab, asked the nice person who answered to close the account, and I also let them keep the penny…

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So here’s the thing.  Between all the people and computers in the state of Michigan AND at Charles Schwab, don’t you think someone would have recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and put a stop to it, if for no other reason than doing some simple arithmetic around spending 40 cents every month to send me a letter to tell me I still had a penny in an account I had liquidated?  But no one did.  And here’s why…

Because it’s not their money.

As a leader in a small, mid-sized, or God forbid large organization, are you still capable of thinking about expenditures as if it were your money?  Do the teams you lead think that way?

If you don’t or they don’t, maybe you should Talk to Chuck…

Cha-Cha-Chains

April 13, 2011

 

When my daughter was younger, I was very interested in how she spent her day, what she did at school, etc.  So naturally, I would typically contact her best friend’s mom’s sister-in-law to find out more.  I think her name was Margaret.

“Margaret,” I would say, “what’s new with my daughter Alice?  What did she do today?  Anything I should be concerned about?”

And Margaret would typically say, “Gee, I am not sure.  Let me ask my sister-in-law.”  And she would.  And her sister-in-law would usually say, “I don’t know.  Wait here.  I’ll ask my daughter.”  And she would.  And her daughter would sometimes say, “I didn’t see Alice today.  Maybe she was on a field trip.”

And Margaret would return to me, sometimes hours later, and say, “Why don’t you just ask Alice?”

“That’s a great idea!”  I exclaimed.  “Of course!  Just ask my daughter directly!”

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That’s a bit of a long way around to make a point.  But that never stopped me before…

Have you ever worked in an organization that is so tied to its “chain of command” that even if you knew who was working on an initiative or had some information you needed, you would typically first consult the org chart, see who they worked for, and possibly who THAT person worked for, and then ask them?  To be honest, Xerox was a bit like that.

When you think of all the time and productivity that is wasted by following the chain of command to get information, seems like there’s got to be a better way.

Maybe next time, you should just “Go ask Alice…”  Is that so wrong…?

Less is More

April 7, 2011

I had a strange convergence of events this week.  I have been working closely with a client during the requirements phase of a big, complex project that could easily evolve into “more is more” if we’re not careful.  I am reading ReWork by Jason Fried, which is just an interesting little collection of one or two page thoughts on how to work smarter and be more productive.  On page 83, there’s a segment titled “Throw Less at the Problem.”   Inspiring and counter-intuitive!  But here’s the convergence topper!

I was watching Jimmy Fallon’s talk show.  His guest was Jerry Weintraub who, among other things, supposedly managed Elvis Presley’s road show engagements for a while.  He told a great anecdote on the show, which I will try to summarize:

He said he booked Elvis at an afternoon gig in Miami in July.   According to Jerry, Elvis had two key requirements for his performances:

  1. there need to be women in the front rows of the audience (duh)
  2. the venue has to be full

Jerry booked an 10,000 seat arena for the show.  He called to check on ticket sales and was told by the local promoter that the show had sold out.  When Jerry got there the day of the show, the promoter fessed up and said they really had only sold 5,000 seats and that he lied about the sales because he thought that’s what Jerry wanted to hear.  Who wants to go to an indoor concert in the middle of a July afternoon in Miami??  So Jerry had to sell 5,000 seats in a few hours to make sure the arena was full for Elvis’ concert.  Or did he???

He said he hired a few local workers and removed 5,000 seats from the arena!  Brilliant! Elvis was very happy with the “sellout” for the show.

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So next time, before you throw more resources, money, time and effort at a problem, consider what you might take away instead…  Who knows what you might come up with!


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