Hi I’m Flexadaptmilling. How are you?

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Every year new words are added to our lexicon- either formally added to the dictionary or adapted as part of our slang. I am searching for the word that describes the state we are currently in. Something that combines our new flexibility requirements given the corona virus. The adaptability demanded in the light of our social justice uprising. The treadmill reality of 22 weeks of working from home. So in the spirt of Frindle (a children’s book by Andrew Clements where they invent the word Frindle) I introduce to you the concept Flexadaptmilling with its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

Flexibility: Bend and break. There have been some pretty amazing changes to our workplaces that without the corona virus wouldn’t have happened- or at least wouldn’t have happened at this pace. Suddenly every job can work from home. No one needs a flexible job arrangement to allow them to pick up kids, bring meals to parents, or to create a personal swing shift working schedule. I have had  3x the number of homemade dinners with my family than we’d have in normal times. Bending our assumptions has been healthy for our culture. But it also has it’s challenges. Zoom is a great tool. But it limits your ability to read the room and really see people, which impacts our discussions and can deter some voices. There are days when my steps are in the 100s – a far cry from 10,000 steps as I spend hours sitting in front of my computer in my small office. As an intense iterator it is hard virtually white board without glitches or delays. My takeaway is bend my thinking and take breaks for my body. Without a commute I have no excuse not to get up early and workout. Taking a Zoom call outside is a good idea. Blocking off a lunch hour to have no meetings and change my scenery is good for my mental health.

Adaptability: Thinking and rethinking. I am invigorated and sometimes exhausted by the new level of energy and interest in racial justice and DEI at work these days. The fire has been burning for years but now we have community, leadership, and student interest in taking action. I am inspired by my son and his friends and their social activism. I am proud of my organization for our commitment to health equity and equity for associates. I am thrilled that instead of asking (begging) to integrate DEI into leadership curriculum as I’ve had to do in the past I now have complete support and a heightened expectation for delivery. Opening our minds and hearts can only make us stronger. It is also tiring. There is a wave of white guilt  motivating action at a pace and speed that may not be sustainable. There is a pent up demand that is overflowing from associates. We want to work quickly, ensure sustainability, and be inclusive which, like the program management triangle, can be hard to balance. My take away is to use what I know and seek what I don’t. The “I” in DEI is for inclusion – we need the commitment and collaboration from every function to examine, question, and rethink our systems and structures. No one person or plan can undo hundreds of years of systemic racism. Tried and true tools like aligning to the organizational strategy, creating clear execution plans and timelines, and measuring progress are critical in this work. The “D” and “E” mean we must check assumptions, push against biases, and ensure we don’t settle for tried and true decisions but instead engage and reflect our full community.

Treadmilling: New ways of moving. As we prepare to go back to another semester of distance learning, continue our prolonged work from home, and manage social distancing there are time when our days feel like a rinse and repeat. What’s been exciting to see how technology really can personalize learning.  I’m inspired by my educator friends and how they are shaping their craft in this new world. I have loved pop up Zoom calls with friends and family from across the world that never happened before.  Then there are times when our social limits are tiring. As an extreme extrovert it does not fill my bucket to be home 100% of the time. I have a sophomore and college freshman who both want to be safe, be social, and be active in their sports. At my worst I pout over feeling like Bill Murray in Ground Hogs Day. My takeaway is control the controllables and enjoy the ride.  @Janice Payton told me having children would be the best IDP I ever had. She was right. Our current environment is my new IDP.  I have to remember I can only control what I can. Instead of resisting or fretting, do what I can and let go of the rest. Setting daily goals both personally and professionally has been a big help to see that it may be a different ride at a different pace but there can still be progress.

I love the term “Corona coaster” to describe the ups and downs of our current reality. In discussions with friends we were struggling to describe both the emotions and actions we are taking everyday. It’s not just being flexible. It’s being flexible while we adapt our systems, structures, and thinking. It’s feeling like we’re on a treadmill and not making motion but then looking down and being impressed with our miles. My description of this concept is Flexadaptmilling and I am working on embracing its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

 

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HR- Let’s Own and Use Our Privilege

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We are all collectively mourning, reflecting, and contemplating how to  respond to the heartless murder of George Floyd and the heartbreaking damages to cities like my beautiful Twin Cities. Many organizations are turning to HR to create recommendations and action plans. A tall order given the years of systemic racism in our country.  Challenging to do during a pandemic.  And an impossible task if our function doesn’t recognize our privilege. It’s time for HR to own our privilege and use our privilege to make real change.

The Privilege Institute defines privilege as unearned benefits that accrue to particular groups based on their location within a social hierarchy. Privileges are often invisible to those who have them and are based on power. So HR peeps let’s be honest.  Our place in our organization’s social hierarchy gives us unique access to data, to creating policies, to employment decisions, and to organizational decisions. We didn’t earn this- it is a privilege of our role. We have or are perceived to have the power to influence who is hired, promoted, or terminated. So yes we have a role of privilege. We are also compensated by, what W. E. B. Du Bois called in his book Black Reconstruction in America,  additional , unearned “psychological wages.” In Du Bois’ book he talks about white laborers who received these psychological wages including “public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks… (which) had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them.”  I am not white but I  am in HR, and I am given deference and access to all corners of our organization. Our leaders who “police” our organizations know the role of influence I have which effects how I am personally treated. I don’t have to work as hard as others to earn that access and as a result I start with greater political capital to invest.

Once we are conscious of our privilege it is our responsibility to use it for good.  Brandon Sheffield of the San Francisco Weekly outlines steps we can take to use privilege for good. Here are few important actions we in HR need to take.

  • Listen and Trust.  Ask people what they need. What do they see in our practices that is missing?  What needs to be done differently?  Be open to new ideas and let go of assumptions of what we have to do. It’s easy to feel like you already know what the issues and solutions are. Trust that our associates have valuable wisdom to make our organization stronger. 
  • Words Matter.  It’s (LONG since) time to put away the HR speak. Use real words and emotions. A man was murdered. Systemic racism allowed that to happen. Find authentic words and credible speakers– even if that’s not those at the top. Be vulnerable and empathic. Let this be the start of an ongoing dialogue about race and inclusion, not just a guilt-assuaging memo.
  • Accept When You are Wrong and Learn From it. We make mistakes. We have good ideas that sometime have unintended consequences. Own it publicly.
  • Use Your Voice. In HR we hear lots of things. We are also in lots of meetings where we need to bring the voice of others. In our recent executive talent review meeting I questioned when we used the word “unconfident” to describe a woman. It might be true or it might be an unconscious bias about style… let’s cause the debate.
  • Be the Change. Systems and structures work doesn’t sound sexy, but it is the backbone of our function and needs to be strong. Take the time to inventory the  work, including but not limited to hiring practices, hiring sources, compensation equity, promotion and turnover rates for diverse and non-diverse talent. Then create action plans and accountability to address gaps.

I believe it is a privilege to be in HR. I love the work I do. I am passionate about advancing people and the business to achieve our Mission. I also recognize my role confers unearned privilege upon me and it is my responsibility, now more than ever, to own my privilege and use my privilege to make real change.

COV19 Tips: Be Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable

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This has been a crazy week. I think everyone’s work and home life has been infected with COV 19 planning and discussions. This is when it is hardest to be a leader – when things are unsettled, uncertain, and constantly shifting. It is also when our teams need us most. We need to balance business continuity, customer delivery, and employee needs on a daily if not hourly basis. In times like this I always go back to one of my favorite change mantras: move your energy out of what you can’t control and focus on what you can control and influence. And while this week has been long, hard, and frustrating there is still a lot we can control. Here are 19 tips to help us focus on being Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable to help your team navigate the COV crisis.

Be Infectious with CARE through:

(1) Your words. Your words have a megaphone in times of stress. So what you say and how you say it matters a lot. It’s ok to be stressed -it’s not ok to take it out on your team.

(2) Your flexibility. With school and daycare options in flux for families, how can you be flexible with work hours, deadlines, and/or assignments? Working from home does mean working -and people will work harder and more effectively if you help them with options.

(3) Your kindness.  The wise words of Maya Angelou were never more true than at times like this: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  Let people know that you care about them as people not just associates.

(4) Your trust. Your team may all be working offsite, even offline. How will you manage their productivity? By assuming they are all doing the right thing and treating them as such. Giving and showing trust pays dividends and builds loyalty.

(5) Your time. The most strategic leaders spend 80% their time on and with people. Now that people can’t grab you in the hallway for a quick question or drop in to show you their project, can you have online office hours?  Can you extend your 1:1s to allow time for those extra questions and high touch time?

(6) Your selfcare. We all know the airplane tip put on your own oxygen mask first. This is hard stuff. Be sure you are getting the sleep, exercise, nutrition and balance you need to be there to support your team.

OBSERVE the Health of Your Team By:

Listening. We all handle stress differently. You can hear what’s on their minds by what your team asks. You can learn more by asking them follow up questions.  You can help lighten the worry burden just by listening.

Checking non verbals. It’s a lot harder to pick up on non verbals online. Yet if you tune in you can observe the pauses, the eyebrow raises, the wide eyes. Again stop and check in – help them to articulate those non verbals into words and recommendations.

Seeing Waste. One of the few upsides of this current climate is we have to be focused. What are we not going to do — and is there are reason we ever did it? What can you delegate or delete to help you be focused on that’s really important?

Doubling Recognition. Who on your team is stepping up without being asked? Who took the step of learning a new technology tool to make a remote meeting smoother? Every day you are out of the office, make sure the team know you see their actions and appreciate them.

Being Openminded.  Most associates today want more flexibility. What can you learn from a required work from home that could become how we work? What meetings/projects worked when you delegated them? Allow this to be a pilot for you and your team to reimagine how you work effectively together.

Checking Attitudes. COV19 is dangerous if you have cancer- and I mean a cancer on the team. What you permit you promote, so don’t permit negativity or a lack of engagement.

Let COV19 Make You VULERABLE to 

Honesty. Things are changing at in every sphere quickly, and often in an uncoordinated way.  Being honest about what you know now and hope to know soon is healthy for you and your team.

Fear. What happens if we lose a customer account? What if our suppliers can’t meet our deadlines? These are reasonable fears- and sharing them with your team allows them to help you think of new ideas and responses.

Imperfection. It is unlikely everything will go smoothly over the next few weeks. Embrace it. Talk about it with your team. Show that you can pivot, learn, and ask for their help in doing so.

Failing. A ball will drop. It’s just going to happen with this much change. So name it when it happens. Own it. Talk about what you learned and ask what the team would recommend you do differently next time.

New Perspectives. Challenge yourself to use fresh eyes in this new way of working to ask what’s going well? What needs more focus? Where should you spend more of your attention? Invite feedback from customers, stakeholders and teams to help widen your perspective.

Development. What one thing can you commit to learning while you are working at home. Is it being more focused in 1:1s?  Is it being present during meetings? Is it taking 15 minutes a day to read/listen to a new blog/Ted Talk/audiobook?

Your shadow. How you show up now matters. A lot. Leverage your strengthens to cast light on the team.  Reflect on your blind spots and focus on them. Challenge yourself on your development areas and ask the team to help hold you accountable.

COV19 is a respiratory illness. To combat the mental and emotional challenges your business are facing you need to breathe deeply. We need our teams to feel closely connected during social distancing. And we cant afford to quarantine leadership. Let’s all double down on caring, observing, and vulnerability as antibodies we want to spread regularly.

 

Setting Goals for your 2020 Vision

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It’s January 27th , so according to the New York Post article, most New Year’s resolutions died two weeks ago. That’s right. Strava, a social media network for athletes, analyzed 31.5 million online resolutions, and January 12th is the date when most resolutions drop off. This same article states that just 8% of people achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the year. Given these gloomy statistics, how can you ensure a clear vision for your team in 2020? The key, according to Forbes magazine’s article, Does Your Goal Setting Have 2020 Vision, is focusing on inspiration. This year try a new process to goal setting. Instead of a full day offsite on goal cascades, look for passion, see what matters, and observe what gives you energy.

To Do vs. Can’t Wait to Do: Too often, goal setting is a left-brained exercise. It is the list of items we’ve already committed to on our to do list, that we roll up into elegant phrases on a PowerPoint. But just like a resolution, what is the shelf life of the work I have to do vs. tapping into how I can impact our overall strategy? For example, at Blue Cross Blue Shield, our mission is to Inspire Change, Transform Care, and Improve Health for the people we serve.  Instead of a functional focus on our to do list, what if you asked your team if we were to be recognized on stage for helping to move the mission forward this year, what would we hear? Who would be there? What would they say? By building a vision of success as the starting point, you shift the discussion and thinking beyond block and tackle tasks and tap into what motivates and inspires your team. Once you have a shared aspiration, you can shift to a discussion around what you should do more of or less of in order to achieve this aspiration. That helps us identify areas of focus and actions for the upcoming year.
More Meaning than Meetings: A great concept in the Forbes article is, we don’t become creative because we’re inspired; we become inspired when we tap into new, intrinsically interesting and valuable things. At some point your team will have to leave that safe haven you created in your goal setting session and enter back into the daily world of work. But this year you want to help them work differently. Challenge your team to have at least 10% of their time “On the work” instead of spending all their time “in the work.” This means allowing space and time to stay focused on the stage you’ve created and keeping your creativity fueled by reading articles, attending classes, meeting with others,
and/or making room for interesting and valuable things in your workday. Allowing space in our busy day to keep our eye on the horizon is key to keeping our goals alive.

Making vs Taking Energy:  It requires energy to fuel our vision, and tapping into our passion creates energy instead of sapping energy. For example , we can all be committed to the goal of putting the customer first, and we can achieve it by leveraging the team’s various skills and passions. Let Mary redesign the website and have Bill populate it with data. Chris would be best at collecting customer data and Sue most interested in finding themes. The more we can leverage our collective strengths the more passion and creativity we will get in our results. When people do have tasks/projects that aren’t aligned to their passion, ask them to bring that vision to the work. For example, I don’t love merit planning. But I am passionate about equity and investing in talent. So making this more about the people than the numbers helps give me energy to pursue this task and brings a different perspective to this project.

Project plans and tracking tools have their time and place. As we know, a goal without a plan is only a dream. But dreams can die under the weight of process and practicality. The key in 2020 is for you to create an inspirational vision to meet with your team and look for passion, see what matters, and observe what give you energy.

 

 

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The Gift of Presence

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It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year- and arguably twice the fun at our house with two holidays and two kids birthdays in the span of 16 days. Our home is alight with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations. I have three school and work gatherings with friends this week, and like many of you, I will be taking time off to spend time with friends and family.  As I was listening to some holiday music this weekend, I realized there were some good coaching tips embedded in Christmas carols. Here are my takeaways from Do You Hear What I Hear, The Little Drummer Boy, and Silent Night which sparked my commitment to give the gift of presence throughout the year.

What do you hear? The very essence of coaching is to shift from a place of telling to the place of listening. We know this is the right thing to do, but we also know that it is so much faster to just tell someone the answer or to do it ourselves. But if we give the gift of being present, we can step back and see that the only way to grow our team is to empower them, and that our role as a coach is to ask insightful questions to guide their self discovery.  Presence also asks us to assume positive intent. What is it that this employee heard, saw, or knows that led them to make that decision? By remaining curious we build trust with others and gain a more well rounded view of a situation. Allowing the time to pause and ask questions is a gift with lasting impact.

Bring Your Gifts. When we are present, we are not judging, just observing. We notice what people bring and can do, and we invite them to be their authentic selves. Too often we fall into the thinking trap that we need fine gifts that are fit for this meeting/leader/training/ (aka King) so only people who meet our definition of “fine” are invited.  What if instead of assuming we know what is needed, we asked our audience what they wanted? If we embrace diversity and stay curious think about what possibilities might unfold. Unwrapping everyone’s unique gifts leads to new discoveries and strengthens teams.

Celebrate the Silence. Finding white space in our minds and in our schedules is one of the hardest things to do. But learning to silence our minds so we can think, not just do, is an amazing gift. As leaders, we should spend more of our time on how to improve, advance, and align the work than being heads down doing the work. The recent post on the Seven Top Leadership Skills for 2020  includes skills such as humility, 360 thinking, being reflective, inspiring, and intellectual versatility. Each of these skills can only happen when we calm our mind, and focus on the important but not urgent work of leadership. This also means taking care of ourselves so we can bring our best selves to work. Prioritizing sleep, exercise, and eating habits should be more that a resolution – it is a gift to bring to ourselves and our team in the new year.

Janice Maeditere said, “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” Wise words that we can reflect on all year. When we open our hearts and minds we can give the gift of presence. We can do this by asking questions, staying curious, and creating space for thinking. So give yourself permission to be more present in 2020 – it is a gift that will keep on giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect is Out of Focus

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I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and found my head bobbing uncontrollably while reading this Fast Company article  on perfection.  We spend a lot of time at work, at home, and online focused on an image of ourselves, one that is picture perfect. Yet let’s be honest – many of us have had the I Don’t Know How She Does It moment where we forgot about the treats for our kid’s school event because we were on a business trip. It’s all part of this crazy thing called life. So why do we make ourselves crazy making life look perfect?  Let’s picture a shift from perfection to a focus on imagination, inspiration, and ideation.

“Logic will take you from A to Z. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein. Think about a key project you have at work. I am guessing you have created a project plan, researched best practices, and analyzed competitor/industry information. This information can take you down a safe, relatively predictable path and will likely make you look good. But what if success means more than that? Imagine zooming out and meeting with someone who can push you to see this from different view point. Or spending a least one meeting storyboarding your project from the end user’s point of view. Yes it takes longer. Yes you can’t control the outcome if you expand your approach. But while logic is helpful to set guardrails for us, the path will be limited unless we bring imagination into view.

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish. It’s about what you inspire others to do.” – Anonymous. We spend a lot of time worrying about how what we do makes us look. Will that project be seen favorably? Does this role put me on the fast track? Let’s adjust our focus from posturing to passion. The best leaders step out of the limelight and coach their team from the sidelines. They build individuals’ confidence and competence by asking questions, lending support, and expecting the team to have a point of view. This does add complexity. It does change team dynamics. It also unleashes all the awesome potential of your team and opens the lens of possibility.

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling. When we are under stress and overworked we tend to turn into the Little Red Hen and think the best solution is to “do it myself.” We delude ourselves into believing that our unique perspective is critical or that our past experience gives us some special optics. As a result, we are overworked and micromanage the details instead of focusing on the big picture. As a leader our role is to open the aperture and expand the light we let in. Brainstorming is a great way to do this. It breaks down assumptions and brings diverse ideas to the table. When teams co-create it creates trust and engagement. And no surprise when we ask the people closes to the work what might work, it changes the depth of field and our focus.

Let’s let go of the illusion of perfection and embrace the crazy and unpredictable moments in our lives. Let’s share our mistakes and learnings gained by focusing on imagination, inspiration, and ideation. Together can shift our narrow focus from picture to a broader and more personalized picture of success.

 

Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

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Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.

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….

new york statue of liberty usa monument
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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.