Culture Is A Verb: Just Do It

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Culture is critical. It differentiates companies, it creates energy and excitement, and it builds identity. In other words culture is a verb- it is what people say, do think, and feel. Yet too many culture initiatives are built with a noun mindset. What person will lead the training  and communication plan? We can change our workplace if we paint the walls or add a foozball table. We can copy that thing our competitors have that seems cool. Just Do It are three little words – but they are the summation and expectation of action that define Nike. So how can you “do” culture? Make it personal. Be Intentional. Commit completely.

Make it personal. There is no better way to change a culture than to change yourself. If you know that accountability is an issue at your workplace and that the lack of clear goals is impacting business results and engagement then be the change you want to see. Create goals for your team. Publicize them. In meetings use a RACI to confirm the roles people are agreeing to. Let go of your noun mindset – What are other people doing? I haven’t seen that anywhere else here. I should wait until something is rolled out officially across the organization. These are culture killers. Culture consultants and culture trainings/framework help us set a clear, common course, But unless you get in the blocks and run, you can’t win the culture race.

Be Intentional. The best (worst!) example of the disconnect between culture and action is perhaps Enron. Their vision and values statements begin with
“As a partner in the communities in which we operate, Enron believes it has a responsibility to conduct itself according to certain basic principles.” We know that they ended bankrupt, morally and financially. Being intentional about connecting culture and action comes down to what you permit, and what you promote. The action of promoting the jerk who gets great results by running over others is a culture killer. The inaction of addressing the leader who is disrespectful to women is a culture killer. No noun excuses- we have to be willing to let go of that person, close that place, and remove that thing if we are serious about the culture we are building. Hold up a culture mirror and say does this person, decision, policy, practice, etc, reflect who we want to be? We do a good job with promoting our culture on internal and external media.  We need to ask would we hashtag what we permit.

Commit Completely.  Thinking about culture change is like preparing for a marathon. It is a daunting. You can’t see the end. We know that we won’t all get to the same mile markers at the same time. Yes. So just do it. Make a run at changing your culture by committing completely and honestly. Acknowledge that it’s hard work and requires us all to think and act differently. Discuss that letting go of the known for the unknown is scary. Reward those that start, those that stumble but continue, and everyone who gets on the course. Culture killers are the people that nod along in the meeting and go back to their desk and work and act the same old way. The executive offices that are on a locked floor when you just announced an open door policy. The flex time policy that is actually inflexible for most peoples’ jobs. To win at culture and marathons you can’t be a spectator – it’s daily drills, long roads, and bumps and bruises that take you to there.

Culture differentiates companies. Everyone knows Just Do It and knows what is means. It resonates because it is focused on personal, intentional action,  Culture work is all about the verbs- it is what people say, do, think, feelPeople, places, and things matter — but getting caught up in a noun mindset can’t spark change. Instead go do culture by making it personal, being intentional, and committing completely.

Being a Change Conductor

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When leading a change, we tend to focus on the change management skills and experiences needed – the what. But I would contend that how a leader conducts change  is the most critical element for success. A traditional code of conduct outlines expectations on how to act in alignment with the organization’s values and culture. So what code should a leader follow to conduct organizational change? Changes have stages and change leaders need to conduct themselves differently at different times. At first as a train conductor, then as an orchestra conductor, and finally as an energy conductor.

All Aboard: Conducting the Change Train. The first step of change is creating awareness of our need to change. This often requires the leader to be out in front, looking down the tracks at the external and internal business factors that can help or hinder our success. The leader also needs to engage others to create movement. At this phases of change, thinking about change as a train conductor makes sense. A train conductor is responsible for directing the train’s movement. For coupling or uncoupling cars that are needed at different parts of the journey. He or she also ensures that any cargo is assesses, reviewed, and consciously taken on or off the train.  Planning and execution are critical parts of change, and leaders should engage the energy of the early adopters.

Moving in Harmony: Conducting the Change Symphony.  A common, often fatal flaw, of a change initiative is failing to pivot on how the change is conducted. Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were iconic change conductors. But they were so busy driving the train they forgot to ensure the organization was moving in time with them. In the Senn Delany change model they talk about  unfreezing to create change. We all have patterns, habits, and beliefs frozen in our minds. For true change to happen all leaders need to unfreeze and  bring their perspectives and experiences together to create a new organizational rhythm. Once the change has movement, it is critical for the leaders to shift to helping people know how to change and giving them the ability to change. This is when the change leader needs become a symphony conductor.  This type of conductor focuses on interpretation of the work and real-time communication of those interpretations. He or she is accountable for looking at the entire score, rather just individual parts. The conductor is ultimately responsible for having knowledge of every instrument and demonstrating how to get the best out of each part when working together.

Be Electric: Conducting Energy.

Both the train conductor and symphony conductor have a unique role standing in front of the change.  As we move to the implementation and reinforcement stage of change, the change leader now needs to act as an energy conductor – helping to carry the change current and spark energy across the organization. Andy Hargrove say change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain. That is because we need to ensure we have a complete circuit across the organization to move and maintain energy. In science, a conductor is a material which permits a flow of energy.  A substance’s  conductivity depends on how easily electrons can move through it. Most materials are neither good conductors, nor good insulators. They don’t readily conduct, but if enough energy is supplied, the electrons will move. It’s important to realize that we all have different energy currents and not all of us readily move.  It’s also true that with enough energy we can be spurred into motion. It’s critical for the change leader to remember that resistance and heat also impact conductivity — and to strike the right balance between enough and too much energy so that we don’t cause an explosion.

Change is both a noun and a verb. It is the act of becoming different, and the action of becoming different. We tend to focus on change nouns  -plans, projects, and timelines. But the verb – our action- is the only way to actually conduct change.  Change leaders need to conduct change – and themselves -differently at different times during the change process. Successful change leaders know how to think and act like train conductors, orchestra conductors, and energy conductors.

 

 

We the People In Order to Form a More Perfect Meeting….

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It was so nice to have time off during the 4th of July holiday to rest, relax, and refresh. It is a wonderful time to give thanks for our many opportunities and freedoms. It is also, frankly, nice to go for a few days without a meeting. Each day, workers in the United States attend about 11 million meetings.  Managers spend 33% of their time in meetings and senior managers spend 50% of their time in meetings, according to the Muse. Yet over 67% of meetings are seen as unproductive. Meetings are of the people, and by the people, so let’s make them for the people.  Let’s create a Meeting Bill of Rights based on the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of petition.

Freedom of Assembly. We believe in the right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend our collective or shared ideas. I think this is what meetings are actually supposed to do, but we aren’t doing it effectively.  92% of people admit to multi-tasking during a meeting, which causes the follow-up meeting to be scheduled because we didn’t make the required decisions. So let’s assemble more effectively. I encourage you to look at the meetings you are in, and ask yourself, “Do I really need to be at this meeting?” Perhaps this could be a developmental/exposure opportunity for someone else on your team. Allowing the person who actually owns the work to be in the meeting, talking about their work, is a great way to drive engagement – and efficiency. We can also assemble differently. Consider more short, frequent, and informal “standup” meetings. 10-minute daily stand ups allow associates to quickly share what they worked on the day before, what’s on their plate today, and quickly course correct if needed.

Freedom of Speech. We believe that we cannot abridge the freedom of speech. This does not, however, mean that we cannot abridge what we speak about. This starts with reviewing what you want to spend time talking about. What items actually need to be discussed? If it is something that can be read and understood in an email, take it offline and save time. What updates are important to the team? What should they know and do after the update? Making those things clear is critical to a good meeting. A new approach taken by our executive team is including Let’s Debate time in meetings. This is dedicated time to wrestle with a topic we are not aligned on. To be effective, it can’t be the last 5 minutes of the meeting, and the norms have to be clear that everyone is expected to speak in the meeting and walk out supporting the decision. Creating time and permission for healthy debate is the best kind of meeting and encourages free speech in all forums.

Freedom of Petition. We believe in the right for a redress of grievances.  This right allows for the petition of grievances without fear of retaliation for speaking up.  Let’s create a meeting militia to help manage the top three meeting grievances.  #1 – Meetings lack of focus. Agendas are such a simple but critical step in holding an effective meeting.  Agendas should be sent out in advance with any materials that will be discussed in the meeting. This allows for all learning styles to participate and helps the meeting owner have more productive conversations and move to quicker decisions. #2 – Meetings are too long. Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The same is true of meetings. Cut every meeting on your calendar by 50% – either in length or in frequency then ask the team what impact that has had. #3 Meeting preparation is too complex. People spend 10% of their time preparing for meetings. We need to move to a place where we are more focused on the content than the cosmetics of the presentation and allow people to spend their time doing, discussing, and debating.

I have set a goal to “only” be in 20 hours of meetings a week. When I say that to my kids, they think that is crazy. When I say that to my co-workers they think that’s unlikely. But I believe it is necessary. More than $37 billion is spent on unproductive meetings.  We the people – and stockholders – deserve better than that. Let’s work together to create a more perfect meeting, based on a Bill of Rights, ensuring the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of petition.

 

Be a Yogi with Flexible Hours

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As a working mom I both love and hate summer. As a Minnesotan we survive winter by waiting for those hot steamy days and eating outside on patios. Then we survive summer by trying to navigate the chaos of having kids at home who need rides to games and activities while we are at work. What can we do as companies, leaders, and employees to stretch our thinking about flexibility over the summer and develop a muscle we can use all year? Blue Cross Blue Shield is piloting a summer hours program to help us test both our culture and our leadership muscle. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

Creating connection. The origin is a Sanskrit word Yog meaning union. Yoga practices are designed to unite the body, mind, and energy to create a state of calmness. So before jumping on the mat, so to speak, we need to create connection. The most critical connections to test are, do your employees have clear goals and objectives and have you both agreed on how they will be measured. It is surprising how often we lead through assumption vs alignment. This is the perfect time to reconnect with your employees and do a mid year check in. We are halfway through the calendar year. This is the perfect time to spend 30 minutes with each employee and ask them what is their biggest accomplishment to date, what are their remaining milestones,  where do they need help and what are they most proud of. It is then key for you to share your feedback on their performance, their deliverables, and your priorities for the back half of the year.  It’s hard to be flexible if you don’t start on sure-footing- so help you and your team drive results by understanding what is expected. We recognize our summer flex program will give us the chance -and need- to improve this leadership muscle, which will make us stronger throughout the year.

Sequencing movement. Kriya yoga is based on the concepts of “to do,” “to act,” and “to react.” This method focuses on recharging the body with oxygen to enhance the mind. All yoga programs are made of a series of movements or flows that are practiced in a sequence. One of the criticisms we hear about work place flexibility is that it creates chaos. But if we take a systematic approach we can avoid that risk. Every team has workplace norms- the question is are they explicit and are they the ones you want. Pull your team together and ask what is working about the way you are working together.  Making sure you understand the current state before making a change is important.  Discuss your expectations around communication, response time, what should be on a shared drive, etc…, so that if anyone is out for any reason the team can do, act, and react appropriately.  Creating these norms will help our teams be more nimble and improve our efficiency year round.

Center on trust.  Anyone who has tried yoga knows it requires a lot of trust. Trust in your breath. In your balance. In your body. You have to let go and and just be to really get the most out of your practice.  Trust is tricky- and trickier still at work. When someone asks for flexible hours, many managers start with why not, what won’t work, or what’s too hard. Starting with trust means being honest. Yes Bill I have seen your work and it is great- I have every confidence you can deliver those results from anywhere. No Maria, I am concerned about your work and until I see improvements in X and Y, I don’t have confidence you will achieve the goals we have set. Both of these answers can help build trust.  A great Stephen Covey quote is, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate, or at best cooperate. It is trust that turns a group of people into a team.”  Trust is always what makes someone a leader. You may prefer to know Bill is at his desk everyday or can be available every Friday afternoon, but if Bill’s performance is strong, trust Bill to get the job done Bill’s way.  In the research paper, Trust In Leadership Affects Employee Retention, by Jennifer Miller, it cites Spherion research on trust.  Employers ranked  employees’ level of trust in senior leadership as one of the top four indicators of employee engagement.  Unfortunately her research also found that 82% of employees don’t trust their boss. So what’s more important? Seeing Bill in his cube or seeing yourself earning his trust? We want trust to be the centerpiece of our culture so this pilot is helping us practice giving and showing trust in a meaningful way.

Launching our summer hours project has required a lot of flexibility.  We’ve worked with our operations teams. We’ve worked with communications. We’ve adjusted the timing. It may not be perfect, but we will learn. I am excited to be part of testing and pushing our norms. As an employee, I appreciate being trusted to manage my time and my schedule. As a Minnesota Mom, I am grateful that I can see my son’s soccer game this Friday. We will  see where our leadership and culture needs some stretching. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

 

Update IDPs to Integrate Deliverables and Passions

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Development planning should always start with needs of the business. It is also key to look at the employees’ current skills and future interests.  We also know creating  a written plan is proven to increase the likelihood of acting on the plan. But this skeletal approach to development planning lacks the heart and soul of developing the full person.  I believe it’s time to update our concept of individual development plans (IDPs). Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives.

Integrating Work and Life: One of my least favorite questions is “What is your aspiration?” I will never forget when I was asked that question by our company president. I remember that my very first thought was, ‘I want to be a good mom.’ Then I thought, ‘Can I say that? No that won’t be acceptable. I better say I want my boss’s job.’ What was intended to be an engaging conversation became disheartening. It is perfectly reasonable for the president to expect a work related answer. It is also perfectly human to have multiple, sometimes competing, priorities that would be more insightful to discuss. What if we replaced “What are your career goals in the next 3-5 years?” with “What personal and professional milestones would you like to celebrate in 5 years?” Imagine how powerful it would be to have that insight and how rewarding it would be for employees to know you want to invest in their full life success. This new question also opens a discussion about  transferable skills and on the job learning. It may be hard for your finance manager to get exposure to online consumer behavior at work but easy to tap into through her gig job. It also opens up on the job learning to include volunteer jobs as well as our day job.

Deliverables vs. Door Signs: What if I had answered, “You know the first thing that popped into my mind is I want to be a great mom- which makes me really proud. I also want to continue to grow my career here and am particularly excited about integrating innovation and engagement in our HR practice.” It still doesn’t answer what I want the door sign on my office to read, but it tells you what deliverables excite me, which frankly is a lot more valuable. In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) we talk about needing change agility and adaptability but focus development on climbing an org chart. We know that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet – which makes “the ability to gain new knowledge more valuable than the knowledge itself.” Identifying experiences that expand learning agility, organizational relationships, and problem solving skills provides both a richer and more realistic approach to employee development.

Passion vs. Plans: “Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace.” This is the opening sentence of the Workforce article “Focus on Employee Passion Not Employee Engagement.” The article goes on to say that according to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20 percent of people say they are truly passionate about their work. Their research found that passion is impacted by 12 organizational factors, job factors, and relationship factors. Instead of asking our employees to write up a development plan, what if we started by asking them to assess how well we are stoking their passion? Through a discussion about topics such as perceived autonomy, goal clarity, and connectedness with their leader we can get to the heart of what is impacting their passion and work together to refuel it. If I had been brave enough to share my true aspiration, and the leader had said he would love to hear more about my kids and my ideas about connecting engagement and innovation, it would have been a home run conversation.

Development planning is, and must be, a business exercise. Understanding the skills we need in the future and helping our team develop them is critical. Most development planning practices successfully outline what steps are needed. Unfortunately, most of those same plans are out of step with what employees want for their development. Asking questions like, “Here are the top organizational priorities. I am interested in knowing how you want to help us deliver them,” creates insights, excitement, and a sense of belonging. Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives. This will make them more valuable – and actionable- for our organizations and our employees.

 

 

 

 

Real Leaders Focus on Learning and Listening

 

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Our current approach to training managers isn’t working. That is not a newsflash but some of the statistics in a recent study on corporate training are stark. 33% of employees who attended corporate trainings say that uninspiring content is the biggest barrier to learning.  Only 38% of managers believe that their learning programs meet the needs of the learner. Worse yet, only 12% of learners implement what they learn from training on the jobs. I am passionate about leadership development and an advocate for creative thinking about how we can do it more effectively. I also think we need to think outside the training box. If we believe that 70% of development happens on the job as the 70/20/10 suggests, then managers should develop 70% of their leadership development through everyday interactions. Pairing practical conversation tools with basic training on hiring, development, and corrective action can greatly improve leaders’ development…and their results.

Hiring: Interview and Engage. There are some important fundamentals about interviewing that it is important for leaders to know- legal requirements, your particular T/A process, and the ins and outs of an interview guide. But the game changer is engaging the interviewee. Help your managers focus on creating rapport with small talk, listen and linger on tidbits they pick up during the interview process, and talk about why this role and your company would be a great fit for the candidate. The mechanics of interviewing matter, but in today’s competitive labor market, conversations that build genuine connection will close the deal.

Development: Make planning personal. Most of us have some kind of talent review/succession planning process. Training leaders on the rating system, the process and preparation, and the company norms about sharing results are key. But what will actually move the dial on building our bench is open dialogue. If managers ask their high potentials questions like, “In this calendar year what contribution do you want to be known for making?” “What kind of leader do you want to be? How does your role today help or hinder your ability to achieve that?” “Five years from now what does an amazing career look like for you? A mediocre one?” This kind of dialogue will open rich doors and help move development planning from a check the box exercise to a plan truly designed around the individual.

Corrective Action: Process and people both matter. Few people relish writing someone up. Giving difficult feedback is – well difficult. We need leaders to understand the process, the paperwork, and our policies. But most importantly we need leaders to understand their people. Corrective action is the perfect time for real talk. Managers who say things like, “Neither of us wants to have this discussion, but it’s important that we talk through this issue.” or “This was a lot to take in. Let’s meet again tomorrow to be sure you are clear on next steps.” make this process more positive and personal. Arming managers with real talk tips can greatly improve the efficacy of the discussion and ensure we respect people throughout the process.

Training is important, but if we allow our managers to practice having conversations and encouraging them to focus on both training and talking, I am 100% confident we can improve our results and our manager’s leadership skills.

 

Spring Your Goals Forward

 

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Looking outside my Minnesota window today, it does not look like spring has arrived. Yet here we are- snow and all. We are officially a quarter into 2019. So how can we spring into action and make sure our annual goals stay on track? There are a number of good tips and lessons from spring that can help our goals blossom.

Many a genius has been slow of growth. Oaks that flourish for a thousand years do not spring up into beauty like a reed. George Henry Lewes
Big things take time. Sometimes our goals will take time to mature. The key is making sure we give it the time and nourishment required to flower. We are working on cultural transformation at my organization. It won’t be fast, and if we do it right, it won’t always be flashy. But over time, people should see it growing and see how the branches of this initiative are connected, as well as the benefits it can provide them. We want to be sure we grow deep roots so we are taking time to be thoughtful and intentional every step of the way.

Spring: a lovely reminder of how beautiful change can truly be. Unknown
Almost all of our goals involve creating some kind of change. Usually when we start  working on a change initiative our first instincts are often to think about how we manage the change: analyzing the cost, mitigating risks, and creating lots of project plans. But do we ever ask ourselves what will be more beautiful after this change? How can we help people see a sunny future? What will they need to bloom? We are also working on redesigning our customer service model. Our goals for this project will be  SMART, and our work will have milestones and measures. But success will be increasing both our customer and employee engagement by being thoughtful about how each will flourish in the future model.

All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today. Unknown

Sometimes the hardest thing about a goal is just getting started. How in the world can we ____? Who has time to ___? But more often than not, we have the elements we need to succeed right in front of us, we just need to spend some time both fertilizing and weeding. The most powerful thing we can do when goal planning is to pause. Step back and be on the work, not in the work. What are we trying to solve? What will success look like? Why does this matter? If we can answer these questions, then we want to dig in and nourish them. We also want to look at weeding. What do we need to stop doing? Do differently? Do later? We need to create space for this new goal to grow, so we will have to be sure other less important but perhaps more embedded things don’t crowd our goal out. We are also looking at our team structure, our team focus, and our team’s priorities. We are planting some new ideas and weeding some old practices out. Not every one of them may grow, but we know that we are excited to watch these new ideas bloom.

In the spring we spring the clock forward – and often wake up surprised that the year is already a quarter over. But spring also is the season of new beginnings and the perfect time for new ideas and goals to blossom. So take heart and take some lessons from Mother Nature to help you keep your goals growing.

Are We In Tune with the Employee Experience?

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What are your first thoughts when you see this picture? Grandma’s living room? Nice antique? What the heck is that? Those are the same reactions some of our candidates and employees have when they see some of our talent practices. Many companies have designed systems and structures that worked years ago- but lack the flexibility and personalization employees are expecting today.  Our current groove may be familiar but are we hearing its effectiveness?  Let’s relook and listen to our recruiting, orientation, and development approaches and create a new employee experience.

High Fidelity Recruiting. Music lovers look for high fidelity- quality reproduction of sound with little distortion. Candidates are also looking for high fidelity – an actual candidate experience that sounds/feels like the quality of the company brand. As a recent job seeker, I can attest that there are a lot of opportunities in this first employee experience point.  No one ATS system is perfect- but many are a candidate’s pain point.  What information do you really need about someone up front? What can a candidate populate in 5-7 minutes? Banks advertise that you can be pre-approved for a loan in that amount of time- so why can’t candidates be approved by us?  I’m not sure which is worse- distortion or silence. There are number of roles I applied for where I never received any communication about my application. Conversely, there were opportunities where I was not the right candidate, but I was able to help refer some folks to them. It’s all in the experience- and the quality of that experience will definitely be played back and projected to others.

Drop the Needle Orientation. I remember having records and a record player. I remember being careful to get the needle in the groove just so, so I didn’t scratch the album. One of the main downsides to records was that you couldn’t easily replay a song and it was nearly impossible to re-listen to one part of a song. Let’s equate that to most companies’ approach to orientation. A room of fresh, eager faces arrive on their first day, excited to get in their groove and to listen to the key parts of the “record” that are important to them. But most orientation programs are designed to rotate through all the tracks, with only pre-programmed pauses, and at one RPM. Imagine instead walking into a session that revolved around you. “We are so glad you are hear. Here is how your role connects to our mission and purpose. Here are all the things we have information on today. Self rotate to the different topics at your own speed to cover what you want, when you want.” This could be facilitated with technology and by shortening the generic group orientation and having the manager/peer/mentor spend more time with individual employees. Moving to a more employee-centric approach would help move the needle on effective orientations.

Sound system development.  Personalizing development is a hot topic. It is one of  Deloitte’s top HR trends from 2018 and challenges us to move from a career focus to an experience focus. Many employers think about careers the way that record companies thought about music. We have a prepackaged record for you with a set number of tracks  that play sequentially. But today’s employee lives in an Itunes world where he/she can select just the tracks they like and can build their own soundtrack.  It makes sound business sense for us to move away from static tracks and to identify the critical dynamic skills and experiences that employees will need to be successful. We should then build development systems around helping employees see and select the experiences that align to their interests and aspirations.

Today’s employees want to know that they matter. They look for purpose in their work and personalization in their employee experience. Vinyl may be back in vogue, but a turntable approach to employee processes is way out of date. If we want to build the workforce of the future, then let’s rebuild our recruiting, orientation, and development practices to align with our brand and employees expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Thanks

 

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Forrest Gump said “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” I agree and as a chocolate lover would add that chocolate – and life – is best when it is surprising, shared, and savored.

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes. Boy was I surprised when the Abra/Caliber merger was announced. That was not a sweet treat.- It was more like biting into a gooey coconut center – unexpected and unwanted. But so was the G&K acquisition, and that brought me so many good friends, experiences, and ultimately brought me to Abra. So instead of despairing the goo, get curious. I had the chance to learn about a new organization and be part of the org design and culture work as part of the integration. I got to meet some great leaders at the the new organization and am getting to watch many talented people move on with “new co.” Sometimes there is more inside than first meets the eye.

Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give. – Norman Macewan.  I tell everyone the Twin Cities is the best HR community anywhere. Full stop. People here are so generous, sharing their time, their network, and their ideas to help when you are in transition. I am do deeply grateful to the many people who have met with me and supported me over my career, especially through my two recent layoffs. I am also so lucky to have developed some treasured friendships through these networking meetings. As I have been applying for roles I have been swapping and sharing roles with peers in similar roles looking for similar opportunities. There is always enough to go around and it’s sweeter when we share.

Savor the journey. I just read this Blog by Susan Wright about chocolate as a metaphor for life. She poses the powerful question “When was the last time you actually savored the moment, relished in it, and/or accepted the moment as is?” The honest answer for me is rarely. I always have good intentions and always have a long list of to-dos and too often that to do list wins out. But this time I have been conscious of trying to be present and patient and giving myself permission to get back on track. The last time I was laid off the journey had a lot of twists and turns – and some fantastic family time over the summer. This time I am so fortunate that a great opportunity has come up right away, and I have a new destination on my path. So now my goal is to savor being new and staying curious about learning a new organization.

“Make a list of important things to do today. At the top of your list put “eat chocolate.” Now, you’ll get at least one thing done today” – Gina Hayes. I’d suggest that while you indulge in your sweet treat take a moment to be open to potential surprises, to new friends to share with, and to savor each day.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

The Problem With Our Problem Solving

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We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.