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I’m Your Leader. No, I’m Not Perfect!

A friend recently shared a situation with me that he had observed that started me thinking about the process of leading others. Despite others’ perceptions or expectations leaders are people too. They stumble sometimes, even behave poorly. As we journey through the process of becoming better leaders, we must also learn how to handle those times when we blunder. 

The event was a process discovery workshop. Initially everyone is participating and sharing experiences. The workshop is going well until one of the senior managers behaves poorly by making a sarcastic remark about a subordinate’s suggestion. This effectively ended the creative sharing that had been occurring. The group broke for lunch. Sometime during lunch the manager must have realized what he’d done. When the afternoon session began the senior manager apologized to the subordinate and encouraged him to speak out. The results: a process was creatively optimized with the potential for a good ROI, a manager took a few more steps in his leadership process, and the other participants learned more about collaboration and its benefits. 

My grandfather had a saying, “pretty is as pretty does.” Nowadays he would probably be branded as sexist for a remark like that. However, his admonition has stayed with me through good times, and not so good ones. You’re probably asking, “Where is she going with this? What does it have to do with process or leadership?”

How do you behave when no one is looking? 

My grandfather believed the “who” that appeared when a person was alone, or with one other individual, was the “real you.” He held a standard of behavior that was very demanding. In addition, there were times, certainly while growing up when I truly didn’t want to feel the pressure of behaving well and in a civilized manner. Sometimes I rose to the occasion and he was very proud of my efforts. Other times, much like the senior manager in the process discovery workshop, I failed miserably. Then my grandfather would let me know in crystal clear tones how disappointed he was with my poor behavior.

As a leader, I strive daily to be the best “leader me” that I can be. Still, I’m human and imperfect. I can be uncentered, hypercritical, tense, unfocused, and, in general, a pain in the behind. Usually it’s after the fact when I realize that my behavior wasn’t “pretty” (to use my grandfather’s term). Then it’s time to do what I may to make reparations.

The first order of business is getting sleep. More often than not, my poor behavior has occurred on a day following a sleep deprived evening! What medical researchers say about getting enough rest is very true. 

The next task is to review the event for lessons I need to learn, essentially asking the questions, “How did I get in my own way? What must I do differently?”

My next task is re-acknowledging the importance of listening. Part of acknowledgment is understanding that the individual on the receiving end of my poor behavior may have observations and comments as well. Further, I undoubtedly didn’t listen well during the conversation or situation that went awry. Now I must exercise diligence to ensure that I listen in the next discussion.

After getting rest and spending some introspective time on my behavior, I then reflect on how I want to express regret for what I said or did.

Finally I meet with the person I’ve wronged to make amends if I can.

I’m glad to report that, most of the time, this process works. Every now and then, it doesn’t, which simply provides more opportunities for learning, right?

Leaders are people with strengths and weaknesses as well as excellent and poor behavior. Despite the expectation of a higher standard, we don’t always rise to it. When that happens, “I’m sorry…” needs to be your opening statement at the next conversation.

Criticism is Easy; Real Solutions are a Challenge!

I read an article today about a man who is homeless, and has been homeless for some time. It seems that he experimenting with ideas to rectify his homelessness and create income for himself. He's hit upon a fairly interesting idea to raise the awareness of homelessness and get people thinking about what homelessness means and how it might be solved. 

The article also discusses the reactions of other individuals working with homeless people and who are also attempting to address homelessness. The article uses quotations from two representatives of nonprofits who work on homelessness — one local and the other a national organization. 

It's fascinating that not one of these individuals lauded him for being creative or working to find a solution for his own homelessness as well as raising awareness of the issue. No one offered to work with him to make the program he wants to start better organized or more efficient or more encompassing. Instead people criticized. They thought he was taking too much money for himself and putting putting too little money into homelessness, i.e., giving additional support to shelters or food banks.
Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he thinks Momany's intentions are in the right place, but he doesn't think it's right to charge $2,000 or for Momany to pay himself such a big fee.
There was another complaint that he is taking precious resources from the very people who need the already scarce resources — temporary shelters, recycled clothing, and donated food. 
MJ Kiser, program director at Compass Housing Alliance in Seattle, said Momany's tour would use up much-needed resources like housing and food, and that his $2,000 fee "could help a homeless family for two months or provide meals for all [220] of the folks in Compass shelters one night."
Despite his good intention of raising awareness about homelessness Mr. Momany is shamefully trying to profit from it according to Kiser and Stoops.
If the experience is really about giving people an inside look at homelessness, then it shouldn't be about turning a profit, Stoops said.
The $1,500 per participant that Mr. Momany retains isn't the large sum that Stoops and Kiser think it is. Out of those retained funds, Mr. Momany is required to pay federal and state taxes, Medicare and Social Security assessments, business liability insurance, as well as a host of other fees that are due to the City of Seattle and King County as well as any other agency that wants a piece of Mr. Momany's efforts.

Mr. Momany is to be congratulated for his creativity and persistence toward finding a workable business idea. I'm dismayed that, rather than helping this man either build his idea in a sustainable way or find gainful employment that would make use of his abilities, there is only debate and criticism. 

What Is The Leadership Journey Anyway?

Introduction

This is a different kind of post for the Process Connections blog. Normally the discussions here are about process and process-related issues. Yet, I'm beginning to believe that becoming a leader and the act of leading people is also a process. So, this post is also about process, the process of growing into leadership.

Some of us learn the leadership lessons early and quickly. Others of us take a more measured approach. How the journey toward leadership takes place is really irrelevant. What is important is that we take the journey toward leadership honestly, courageously, and transparently.

After all, what is a leader, but someone who shows the way to others?

I was reminded of this fact very recently when my husband came to me with a letter he had written for distribution to his co-workers.

By way of background, it’s probably useful to know a couple of things about my husband Dan, and me. At first glance, I appear as the dominant half of our relationship. Dan is quiet in groups and with folks he doesn't know well. He is uncomfortable in large groups or crowds of people. In 1-on-1 situations and when he is comfortable, Dan has a droll and quick-witted sense of humor. Also he is an innately curious person, which ensures that conversations with him are always lively.

In public, business-related activities Dan is quite content to function as the unobtrusive, supportive spouse. In private, he holds me accountable for all of my actions, both personal and professional.  

While my leadership journey has been in the context of entrepreneurship, startups, and leading organizations, his journey has been in a different arena. Still, the leadership qualities that he displays are significant for anyone who aspires to leading others.

Dan’s letter (Dan is coming out!)

Well, I chose this subject line to describe what is going on with me because I see several parallel themes of being gay and what I discovered about myself in the last few months. No, I am not gay, I just have cancer.  I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in May.  This means that the tumor is large, has spread to lymph nodes, and to other organs.  Colon cancer is the third most common cancer and in my case, the fight against it will likely continue for the near future.

So, what does this have to do with being gay?

The parallels of these two conditions have to do with choice and stigma.

This isn’t a choice.

When I lived in the Bay Area for eighteen years I had the opportunity to meet with, work with, worship with, and become friends with a sizable community of people with a difference.  Every gay person that I have talked with did not choose that for him/herself – it’s just who they are.  I did not choose to be challenged with this disease but I have rapidly come to the realization that this is something that I will face for the rest of my life.  So, with that in mind, I have been searching for ways to create the new normal for me. This includes the disease, as well as the chemotherapy.  In many ways, the treatment is more difficult than my current symptoms.  You may find me wearing gloves due to nerve damage caused by some of the drugs or taking an elevator to go up only one level.  Turns out that the initial reason I sought medical advice was that walking up the stairs in the morning was something I was able to do at a brisk pace but recently I have become winded and dizzy.

Stigma?

In my last paragraph I used the term ‘people with a difference’ to describe gay people.  That reference was intentional to point out how we, as individuals, can subtly and unconsciously segregate ourselves from others.  I spoke with my manager and the VP of HR the day that I was diagnosed and talked about not wanting to be known as “the guy with cancer” in the hope of avoiding this stigmatization.

So why come out now?

For some of us the push becomes a shove and we can’t hide it. In my case, my hair is falling out and I won’t be looking like the guy that I used to be!  So instead of being “outed” by others, I am stepping forward to let you know.  This is my attempt to stop the gossip and hearsay about “What is going on with Dan?”  No, I’m not looking for another job or ditching work.  Yes, a lot of tests and procedures were performed. I spend one day every two weeks at the Wesley Long Cancer Center to get my dose of toxins. My attitude is that it is sort of like going to a day spa.  I sit in a nice reclining chair with a TV, WIFI, and a staff to cater to my needs as they infuse me.  So, you will be seeing a new me.  Since I am losing my hair, I plan be a bit of a flame and so you may observe some silly stuff with my appearance before I begin sporting a chrome dome.

What do I expect?

I expect respect and common sense.  My ability to perform my work hasn’t been compromised, however, my immune system has been.  Therefore, please exercise common hygiene practices around me, including staying home if you feel sick.  I will likely encounter challenging days.

Dan's new hair color

However, I will strive to accomplish a full day’s work.  If you think that I am not pulling my weight, please talk to me, and not behind my back. 

Finally, there are no “good cancers.” There are no “take backs” in terms of “I should have done this or that.” We need to face this head on. I believe that all of us here at work will be stronger if we face this together and don’t indulge in any pity parties.

Conclusion

As I read Dan’s letter to his co-workers, I was in awe of his honesty, courage, and transparency while addressing what is a very sensitive issue for him and our family. On a more personal level, I was reminded once more why I married this man and continue to admire the person that he is and has become.

Showing others the way — leading — isn't easy at times. It's difficult and it frequently involves being vulnerable to those around you. When you are transparent in your actions, you are indeed vulnerable! The flip side is that you also open yourself up so that others may make the choice to accompany you on your journey toward better leadership. The risk is definitely worth the reward, don't you think?

Are You a Woman or Are You a Wimp?

I sent a tweet this week from an article about women, leadership, and success (You can find it here). There was a particular statement in the lower half of the article that resonated with me.

What is really going on, as peer reviewed studies continually find, is that high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success - and specifically the behaviors that created that success - violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave. 

Over the course of my career numerous folks, both female and male, have asked me if I ever felt discrimination in the workplace. My response then was, as it now is, “No, not really.” However, that wasn’t the right question. The more accurate question was: As a woman for whom achievement is important, have you encountered challenges personally or professionally?

My response to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” Further it would be great to be able to say that most of the hurdles were placed by men who were “put off” by my unfeminine traits, au contraire! There have been just as many women who were offended by my focus and determination to succeed.

Before I recount a very few of the incredible statements that have been made over the years, let me share some facts. I am married, and have been for thirty years, with four children — two girls and two boys. I have been in the workforce since I was fourteen, nearly forty years. Despite my drive and efforts in building five organizations — three consulting companies and two software companies — my greatest achievements are not what I’ve accomplished in business. They are the relationships that I have with my spouse, my children, and their spouses and friends.

So on with the comments…

“I understand that you run a business and it takes a lot of drive to do that, but could you please leave that behavior at work and not bring it in to your personal life?” A well intentioned girlfriend said this as a way to help me understand why I had so few dating opportunities.

“Who could have guessed that I would be sitting here talking with my best friend’s little sister about silver prices and the commodities market.” Believe me when I tell you, this guy thought he was complimenting me!

“Little lady, you may wear the pants at home, but here in this office you will do exactly as I say!”  This was in response to my suggestion regarding a change to an accounting policy.

“You’ll never amount to anything more than being a technical writer!” This was in response to my announcement that we were going to need a course correction in our software development effort.

“It isn’t enough that you want to run this organization. You want to take over others as well!” This was in response to having worked with a leadership team for a non-profit association and helping take the organization from a cash negative to a significantly cash positive position.

So that you have a sense of time about these remarks, the first one happened in the early 80’s. The last one was shared with me around 2007.

By the way, these comments aren’t the worst that have been said to me or other women who set themselves on the path to excellence.

So the really vital question is: How, in the face of all that hostility, does anyone keep going and achieve success?

I can only share the approach that I have used and that has worked for me.

Believe in yourself

It is essential to know in the very deepest part of your being that whatever it is you are doing is right for you. Now, I’m not talking about extreme or “off the wall” behavior. I’m referring to your vision for your life and believing with every molecule in your body that it is right for you and it’s the direction to take.

Can belief in yourself be shaken? Absolutely it can, which is why you have friends and mentors who also believe in you and can help you evaluate during those critical moments when your faith in yourself is broken.

People who believe in you

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have encountered really supportive people, both personally and professionally. My stepmother is among the first of those. With all of the really terrible, and funny, stories about stepmothers, mine is a remarkable woman. Further, she was my initial mentor on the path toward excellence. Her attitude was that success means you keep moving toward your target. The only way to fail was to give up. Yes, there were times when I felt like giving up. I wanted desperately to give up.

She would say to me, “Are you a girl/woman or a wimp?!?!?” Well, needless to say, I wasn’t a wimp. So, after those heart to heart conversations, I would put my “big girl” armor back on and persevere. You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, to know that occasionally I say the same thing to my daughters.

When I was starting my first business, there was an attorney who worked with me. It has occurred to me more than once that I could fill a book with all of things that I learned from him. Perhaps the most important was that people talk. That’s pretty simple, right?

His approach to that challenge was a bit more complex. Yes, people talk and what they think about you is none of your business. Penfield was very old fashioned and yet, he understood branding in a way that few people do.

“People are always going to talk. It doesn’t matter what they say just as long as they keep talking,” he would tell me.

It’s impossible for me to count the number times he said those words. Pen firmly believed that people could say whatever they liked, but it was my responsibility to pay attention and take charge of the dialogue.

It’s also important to have a friend who, in addition to believing in you, won’t let you dissemble — who keeps you accountable and graciously holds the mirror to reflect you back to you. If you have a person like that in your life, you are fortunate beyond description. I know that I am.

Success is a journey, not an endpoint

This last essential component is not to be taken lightly. All of us, and I include myself on this, get caught up in the “success is an end” thinking, as opposed to it actually being the journey. How many times have you, or someone you know, said, “If I can just get here (where ever or whatever ‘here’ is), then I will have succeeded.” I’ve said that, only to remember an hour or so later that “here” isn’t the point! “Here” is an accomplishment — a milestone — along the way.

The point is my vision — of the “who” (not the “what”) that I’m striving to be.

The point is that all of us have a unique journey that involves becoming a “who,” and not a “what.” Irrespective of being male or female, it’s that internal drive, or hunger if you will, to work at becoming a better human being. That is my vision!

Is anyone perfect in that pursuit? Far from it, we’re all human beings.

If I am living an active life, I’m making mistakes. Still, my drive and determination to succeed are just the means I use to move toward my vision. I am constantly reminding myself that my “achievements” are way stations on my journey.

Maybe it will be another thirty to forty years before women can exhibit leadership traits and not experience a social backlash. I truly hope that this isn’t the case.

Whether the situation with achievement oriented women and society changes or not, I’m going to continue believing in my vision of the “who” that I want to be. Further, I’m going to encourage my daughters and their daughters to do the same by asking them the important question that was asked of me, “Are you a woman or are you wimp?”

Do You Really Care About Sustaining Change?

As I talk with colleagues and clients, lately there seems to be a constant refrain. From colleagues the refrain comes in the form of a complaint, "I don't know why this client engaged me to help them with this change effort. Management won't complete the activities necessary to make it successful." From clients, the refrain is more of a derisive statement. "I don't see the point in using a change management consultant. It's a waste of moeny and time. We've tried change management programs before and they don't really work. If people don't get behind our new way of doing business, they can work somewhere else."

Now, I understand that some organizations have spent enormous amounts of money on managing change within their businesses without much to show for it. At times, the consultant or consulting team has been responsible for the poor showing. For some efforts, the responsibiity for the failed change effort rests squarely on the shoulders of the organization's management.

While the first issue — hiring a consulting team that is a poor fit — can be a serious impediment to a successful change effort, it's the second cause — senior managements' lack of engagement and follow through — that I want to discuss in this post.

The components for a successful change effort include:
  • Leadership
  • Stories
  • Performance
  • Compensation
  • Peer pressure
The two most critical components in my opinion are leadership behavior and compensation, better described as realignment of incentives. Without these two components a change effort will lose traction and become unsustainable. The "why" of this eventuality is simple. Subordinates mirror senior managers' behavior. If a CEO behaves poorly to his team, those managers will, in turn, behave poorly to their reports, and so on down the line. Secondly, people are motivated by incentives. If a manager is rewarded for good people skills, she will be motivated not only to continue using those skills, but perhaps will seek ways to improve them.

Surprisingly, I learned this in a visceral way by observing parental behavior and seeing the same behavior mirrored in their offspring. Years ago, when my children were small, there was a family in our neighborhood whose children were approximately the same age as mine. I commented once to Mollie how well behaved her children, Ben and Caitlin, were. She told me a very interesting story.

A couple of years earlier Mollie overheard Ben and Caty playing when Ben, who was 2.5 years older, said, "Just shut up, Caty!" Mollie was shocked by Ben's words and tone of voice. Then she realized that he had learned that response from listening to conversations between her husband, Hal, and her. Mollie hadn't been aware that Ben was listening so closely.

Mollie decided immediately that she wanted to change Ben's behavior and the dynamic within her family. Her first step was a chat during "date night" with Hal. After a very and intense discussion, Mollie and Hal agreed that there were certain words and phrases that would no longer be used in their home. Together they also decided upon substitute phrases that were acceptable, such as:

          "Please hush for a moment." instead of "Shut up!"
          "I disagree." instead of "That's stupid!"
          "Yes, and..." instead of "OK, but..."


The next task was for Mollie and Hal to sit down together with Ben and Caty to discuss the "new rules" and the reasoning behind them. Mollie planned the family meeting for a Saturday after soccer practice and before dinner. She wanted to be certain that enough time was available for their family discussion. Also, if there was any drama, Mollie wanted to able to get closure without ruining mealtime.

They had "the conversation" in the family den. At six, Caty hadn't fully internalized the words and behaviors that Molly wanted to extinguish. However, Ben was defensive and Mollie's concern about drama during their meeting was fully realized. Both Mollie and Hal reassured Ben that he wasn't being singled out and these rules applied to everyone in the family. No one in their family was going to speak unkindly to other family members or their friends.

As I recall, my comment to Mollie at this point in her story was something like, "OK, so you and Hal changed the rules, but I'm betting that life didn't change overnight, did it?"


No, it didn't. Mollie set up two jars on the kitchen counter — one for penalties and the other for rewards. I thought that her approach was quite clever. Mollie stuffed the penalty jar with small pieces of paper that had simple, but onerous tasks, written on them. Every time someone exhibited the "old" behavior or made an unacceptable remark, that person was required to take a piece of paper from the jar and complete the task within the next 3 days.

The reward jar also had pieces of paper in it, but they contained a pleasurable activity on each small paper piece. These fun activities had the same completion window.

For several months, the Smith's house sparkled. Mollie and Hal knew that their responsibility was to model the "new behavior" so that Ben and Caty would understand that their parents were serious. Still, they slipped occasionally. Each time Mollie or Hal slipped, they took a paper slip from the penalty jar and completed the task by the deadline. They also celebrated the adoption of their new behaviors by taking paper slips from the rewards jar.

Ben and Caty were encouraged to help keep Mom and Dad "on their toes" regarding the new behaviors. It almost became a game of sorts with the Smith family, sending the erring family member to the penalty jar for lapsing into old behavior and celebrating when new behavior resulted in a visit to the reward jar.

After roughly a year the Smith family retired both jars as they were no longer needed. The new behaviors and words were fully internalized. It's been roughly a decade since Mollie told me her story. Today both Ben and Caty are college students and really wonderful people. They have solid people skills. I'm certain that they will go far.

Senior management in organizations that want or need to change would do well to follow Mollie's example. Why? It works! Let's review how Mollie achieved her desired result.
  1. Identified the specific behavior (words) that was creating a negative family dynamic and that she wanted to extinguish.
  2. Met with her management peer (Hal) to discuss the change. They reached an agreement about how the new family dynamic would appear in the future.
  3. Called an "all hands" meeting at a non-stressful time in a neutral venue with sufficient time to address the specifics of the change, the rationale, the concerns about changing to new behavior, and the potential emotional responses.
  4. Established a system of rewards and penalties that applied equally to everyone and used it consistently to change everyone's behavior.
Senior managers can use the same approach and tools that Mollie used. By following her steps they can drive an effective change effort in their organization. The most important aspects of Mollie's approach were modeling the behavior she wanted for Ben and Caty and using incentives to motivate them to adopt the new behavior. These are the two components that senior managers forget most often. Without them, change efforts cannot be sustained.

Do Your Homework!

This is an unusual post for this blog. The discussion is framed in terms of searching for a good work fit between you and a potential employer. However, the process of market research is applicable in a variety of situations.

The suggestions mentioned in this YouTube video are pretty good. Yet it seems that many folks don't understand how to take those suggestions and really make them valuable.

The video mentions checking out employee review sites. Yes, definitely visit web sites like thevault.com, payscale.com, and glassdoor.com. It’s a terrific idea. You are investing over 2,000 hours of your time each year to your job and the organization that employs you. It makes sense to find out if the company is a good investment for you, right?

The question is: What do you do with this information? How do you evaluate what you find there? Are there other web sites, places to look, or things that you can do to build a better understanding of an organization?
 
Believe it or not, the marketing folks at FMTSI use these same web sites to research prospects and clients. Why do they bother? It is standard practice in the company to have the best possible appreciation for a prospect’s or client’s environment before engaging in a conversation.
Here are some thoughts about how you might approach researching companies and organizations.

Each of these sites is useful for gaining an overall appreciation for your targeted organization. In addition to general information, Hoover’s provides a short list of competitors. BusinessWeek includes relevant news and names of key executives along with its company overviews. InsideView’s free subscription plan also provides recent annual revenues and number of employees in its company listings. Jigsaw provides a brief description of the organization along with some details regarding.
If you have a preferences regarding organization size or location, Hoover’s, Businessweek, and InsideView, can help with uncovering that information. If you want to know if the organization has multiple locations, Jigsaw can provide insight into where various employees work. If you want to know about the kinds of job titles in the organization, Jigsaw includes that information as well.

  • When checking employee review sites, such as thevault.com and others, ask yourself the following questions. How many of the comments are positive? How many are negative? Is there more of one type than the other? How might you validate your perceptions?
  • If the company is publicly traded, take a look at the most recent 10K filed with the SEC. Compare that data with the company's annual report. If you don't understand financial statements, find a friend with an accounting and/or investment background and ask her/him to walk you through these documents and help you understand them better.
  • Invest in a paid subscription with LinkedIn and review the company and its employees, current and past. Why? LinkedIn provides a wealth of information for anyone willing to wade through it.
How is the company described on LinkedIn? Look for consistency among the company's web site, employee review sites, LinkedIn, its annual report, and 10K. Inconsistency could indicate a change of direction or could be a "red flag." Do you have any connections with company employees? Maybe you don’t have any direct connections, but second and third degree connections might help you find the information necessary for making a decision.

Look at recent departures on the LinkedIn company page. Who left recently? Where did they go? Is there a pattern to the departures? Also, the people who have left the firm could provide validation for questions or perceptions you develop from your research.

Finally, if the organization is local to you, find a discreet place where you can observe people going to and leaving the office. Do they look eager to get to work or eager to leave? Are they filing out of the building in silence or are various groups having conversations as they exit?

While doing all of this research may seem an undue amount of work, remember that you’re looking for a good fit. You’ll spend more than 2,000 hours each year working with colleagues to further the organization’s mission and goals. I’m betting that you don’t want to waste your time.

If you conduct a thorough survey of your targeted organization, i.e. do your homework, you can develop a decent "picture" of it and whether or not working there would be a good investment of your time.

A Case for Flexibility Over Resistance

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago and sent it to a colleague for review. While he was reviewing and commenting, I happened upon a book that is broadening my notions about flexibility. The book is Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina.  In fact, I sent a tweet asking if anyone had read the book and wanted to discuss it.

So what has changed? I’m more puzzled about the lack of flexibility in our general population than I was before reading this book! Medina talks about Richard Potts’ notion of Variability Selection Theory, which attempts to describe why our ancestors favored flexibility and intelligence. Stop for a moment! 

Our ancestors favored flexibility and intelligence. Why? Those traits meant survival! 

Now granted most of us work and live in environments that are reasonably benign, i.e. our physical survival isn't at stake. However, if you think about the shifts in thinking, the surges in innovation, and the differences in workplaces happening in nearly every place on the globe, might our ability to be flexible and adaptable still be an important survival trait? Medina claims that history and neuroscience strongly suggest that our brains evolved in such a way as to favor adaptability and handle unstable environments. 

… a great deal of the brain is hard-wired not to be hard-wired.
Like a beautiful, rigorously trained ballerina, we are hard-wired
to be flexible.1
 

Reading further into Medina’s discussion on the evolving human brain, two questions circle repeatedly in my mind. “What happened to us? How did so many people become allergic to change?”

Have you ever noticed how some folks in your workplace simply dislike change of any kind? It doesn't matter if the change is a switch in office cubicles or a major organizational initiative — they have something unpleasant to say about the "new way" because it isn't as good as the "old way." 

Organizational development experts maintain that there are always people who are constantly resisting change. Further, efforts to manage that resistance are not without challenges. However, I am beginning to consider the wisdom of responding indirectly to resistance, rather than a “head-on tackle” approach. In fact, why talk about resistance at all? Perhaps the organizational conversation should be focussed on flexibility.

The chances of success could be far greater if we offer the benefits of flexibility to counter the force of resistance. Whether it's in a work situation or a change in your personal environment, resistance makes life harder. I'm beginning to think that the opposite of resistance is flexibility. Everyone, including me, can use more flexibility in her/his approach to living.

How much easier is it to resolve a disagreement if you are flexible? How much better will a negotiation conclude if all parties are flexible? How much easier is change, of any sort, addressed if you are flexible? 

I'm not talking about a simple "rolling over" and accepting anything that comes your way. This is about actively listening to a new proposition, thinking critically about how it might or might not work with a current situation, and exploring options.

A willingness to be flexible opens a world of possibilities for how you can approach, not only your work, but also your life.


  1. Medina, John (2010-07-06). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (p. 61). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Business Process and More! (eBook)

I've had the amazing privilege over these last several months of working with some truly wonderful and passionate folks. All of them are contributors to the spring edition of an eBook — Business Process and More!

It's been a great experience and I've learned lots from each of them.

There will be another post soon now that I am finished with the ebook.

Culture versus Strategy

Is it really an “either or” situation? Is corporate culture more important than strategy? Or is it the opposite?

Numerous people have written blogs and articles about this topic over the recent months, including me. “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” was the title of my presentation at Oracle’s OpenWorld conference in October 2011, as well as a webinar topic for my employer in January 2012.

However, Peter Drucker originally made this statement and discussed organizational culture’s ability to impact strategy in the context of discouraging leaders and managers from making radical changes to their corporate culture or implementing strategies that were inconsistent with their existing culture.

Jack Welch said after his experience with GE’s acquisition of Kidder Peabody, “Culture matters!”

In 2003 a group of researchers at Harvard Business School completed a ten year study examining management practices at 160 organizations. They found that culture can enhance or prove detrimental to corporate performance. Organizations with strong performance-oriented cultures witnessed far better financials growth.

We know that strategy matters as well. Companies with good strategies prosper. Those without good strategies perform poorly or, at worst, close their doors.

Bob Frisch in his article “Culture Vs. Strategy is a False Choice” mentions several companies with winning strategies and corporate cultures — Southwest Airlines and Zappos. He also includes companies that are known as strong performers without superior corporate cultures — McDonald’s and Walmart.

However, what about having a strong corporate culture as part of your business strategy? During a recent Twitter conversation Fred Cuellar (@fredcuellar) suggested this to me in one of his tweets. “My money is on culture as a strategy! Environment regulates behavior!”

Leslie Bradshaw, President, COO, and Co-founder for JESS3 said it best in her video for 30 Second MBA as she describes the importance of culture for her organization.
“…[C]ulture is actually the fiber that brings us all together so that we can execute against the strategy once we have it.”
Fred and Leslie are on the right track and it’s similar to an approach that was used by Ken Olsen in building DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation). The company’s strong innovation culture helped propel it to stellar heights during the 60’s, 70’s, and part of the 80’s.

It was also the same culture that, when the technology arena changed, prevented the organization from adopting a successful strategy that would allow it to compete effectively in the new technology marketplace.

DEC’s strong corporate culture “ate” every new idea, proposal, and strategy that didn’t fit its existing paradigm. The result: DEC went into a downward spiral and was acquired by Compaq, which was acquired by Hewlett Packard.

The relationship between corporate culture and strategy goes further and deeper than most corporate leaders imagine. Not only that, but in volatile markets, the connectedness between these two can be fraught with complications.

If your organization is an incumbent in an industry that has a disruptive newcomer, adaptability becomes paramount. Yet, strong corporate cultures are typically less adaptable. To use Edgar Schein’s analogy, strong corporate cultures possess antibodies that protect them from “foreign” ideas or proposals.  Therefore, it is critical that leaders heed Drucker’s warning and remember the lesson of DEC as they attempt to change a corporate culture so that it can function harmoniously with a new strategy.

Culture and strategy must fit and work together to move an organization’s performance forward.  Without harmony between culture and strategy, the organization suffers and, eventually, dies.

Business Culture — It Matters More Than You Suspect!



Much of my thoughts and conversations over the last year have centered around  organizational culture. More and more it's apparent that business culture affects us and our work efforts in ways that we barely discern consciously.

I've worked on business process, business intelligence (data warehousing), ERP transactional system, and CRM transactional system efforts over the last two decades. Most of those efforts included projects designed for "user adoption," "training and acceptance," "change management," or "organizational transformation." Irrespective of the term(s) used, it all came down to getting employees to embrace the new direction for the organization and get on board with whatever new technology that was selected to enable and support the new "order of the day."

Some of these efforts were amazingly successful and others failed miserably. One of the key components of the success or failure involved how senior management addressed and led their coworkers through the organizational change to the new reality.

During each presentation about this topic, at least one person, and sometimes several, have asked the question, "What if I'm not part of the leadership, how can I have an impact on my organization's culture?"

This is a really tough question without simple answers and it's the issue I plan to spend this year pondering and discussing with colleagues.

In the meantime, I continue to speak and write about business process and organizational culture. If you are interested, the venues are listed below.