Posted tagged ‘communication’

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???

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…?

Carbon footprint

August 25, 2011

When I was a kid and disputes were escalating among siblings, your “ace in the hole” often was, “I’m telling mom” or “I’m telling dad.”  You knew you ran the risk of being called a tattler or escalating things further, so you tended to only play that card in desperate times.

Fast forward a few years…

I always thought that CC in an email stood for “courtesy copy.”  According to the search I just conducted, it stands for “carbon copy” and is defined as:

Carbon Copy, it is for those that are not part of the main email but are just being informed of it

But that’s not what it’s used for in many organizations, is it???  It’s used to tell mom.

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I have a theory that I bet some really smart developer with access to an organization’s MS-Exchange data store could prove or disprove.  I submit that the level of bureaucracy in an organization can be measured by counting the number of emails that everyone cc’s their boss on in comparison with the total number of emails they send.   The higher the number, the more you have to tell mom to get a co-worker, peer or someone else who doesn’t “report to you” to actually take action and help you when there’s nothing in it for them.

It’s a sad state of affairs when two co-workers who allegedly work for the same organization and should have the same goals won’t collaborate unless it’s under the watchful eye of one of their bosses.

Why don’t you take a moment and ask what your “carbon footprint” is?  If it’s more than 5 to 10 percent, maybe it’s time to reduce your emissions…

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…

Dante was right

June 13, 2011

Here’s a challenge that quite a few of my clients are facing these days.  How do you foster collaboration, social networking, and other employee “bonding” platforms while not letting the “inmates run the asylum” at the same time??

The short answer is that you take governance seriously.

That’s where Dante comes in.  Dante, as many of you astute students of medieval literature well know, was a 14th century poet who wrote The Divine Comedy.    In the Inferno cantica, Dante describes the nine levels of hell.  Those being:

I think Dante’s model has some relevance even today.  So here are my six circles of Collaboration Governance Hell:

1.  I have no Governance plan.
2.  I wrote one but “forgot” to share with users, stakeholders and sponsors.
3.  I wrote one and shared it with stakeholders and users but did not get anyone’s explicit approval.
4.  I wrote one after our intranet was up and running for 2 years because things were “starting” to get out of control.
5.  I downloaded Joel Olsen’s white paper / governance plan and did a mass find/replace with my company’s name.
6.  I wrote one but it’s just a list of all the things that I don’t think users and site admins should be allowed to do.

If you’re hanging out in one of these circles, don’t despair.  Just double your resolve to get out by:

- leveraging good governance content that is already available on the internet

- customizing it to reflect what really matters in your world and culture

- assuring it gets reviewed and approved by ALL your stakeholders

- developing a way to gently enforce it without emulating the Third Reich…

If you can follow all these steps, someday you may actually find yourself in Purgatorio…  OK, so that’s not Paradiso, but it’s a start!

Nature v Nurture

May 26, 2011

I was hanging out in my friend Lori’s office a few weeks ago.  She had a magazine in her lobby – HR Magazine.  Who knew such a publication even existed??

The cover story?  “Slackers, Can they be saved?”  The byline?  “Most slackers can be turned into better performers by removing organizational conditions that create or enable loafing behavior.” 

Next, the definition:  “Slackers are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be.”

And finally, the requisite quadrants of slackers, who apparently fall into one of four quadrants:  Sandbaggers, Weasels, Parasites and Mercenaries.  I kid you not.

I would post a link to the article, but you have to “join” HR magazine first and I already re-upped my membership in the KKK this spring, and there are only so many hours in a day to stereotype people and then mistreat them…

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Let me just say a few quick things about this:  I understand that it can be challenging to get the most out of any team on any given day.   I also understand that a lack of motivation can cripple any undertaking.  But I suspect that many of these so called “slackers” are highly engaged parents, mountain bikers, runners, audiophiles, volunteers, or hobbyists.   Nowhere in the article, whoever its intended audience might be, does it suggest that the leader or senior executive might be the problem.    The article does seem to suggest that a manager’s job is to “catch them,” calls them “time bandits” and bemoans the fact that in this age of computers, slacking is “easier to mask.”

Maybe the organizations goals are not clear.  Maybe the slacker cannot relate what they do to the achievements of the team, department or company.  Maybe they think the company’s “mission statement” is a bunch of BS.  Maybe management’s actions and words are more misaligned than a Yugo that just jumped a 2 foot curb.  Maybe they showed up for their first day at a new job all those years ago, full of enthusiasm and optimism, and the management style, hypocrisy and bureaucracy drained them of their energy like a slow leak in an above ground pool.

As Rodney Dangerfield said long ago, when asked by his spouse to take the trash out, “You cooked it, you take it out…”

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!

Newton was right

March 3, 2011

Newton’s Laws of Motion were a brilliant advance in the world of physics in the 17th century.  Groundbreaking stuff.  And who knew how broadly applicable they could be!

My favorite is Newton’s third law.  To summarize:  for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  How true, how true!!   He actually said it more elegantly than that but that’s the gist of how we non-physicists think of it these days.

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I was talking to a friend of mine this week.  Since I am not directly involved in sales these days, I didn’t realize Monday was “end of month.”  He, on the other hand, did.  He told me he had been getting calls from his sales manager for the past week or so, asking him if he could close one of the bigger deals in his “pipeline” before month-end.  From my buddy’s perspective, his manager was essentially pestering him.  He finally said to me, “I am not going to make my quota for this month anyway, so even if I could close the deal today, I won’t.”

I am sure there are many viewpoints out there on who’s right and who’s wrong in this little instructional tale.  Pile on!!!

But I don’t really think that’s the point.

The sales manager, for reasons that mattered only to him, decided to “push.”  And then, when he didn’t get what he wanted, he decided to push some more.  And I imagine he might actually be surprised to know that his salesman decided to “push back” even if it was done passively.  Did he really think that calling five times a day was going to help close the deal, motivate his salesman, or meet his monthly quota??

The moral of the story:  Even in sales, don’t mess with the Principia…


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