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Archive for January, 2011

Rich Hill, a fine organizational development consultant from Gabriel Consulting Group in Geneva, Illinois, introduced me to the concept of attitudes in the workplace. He would ask where we stood on the hierarchy of being a Generator, a Good Soldier, Grudgingly Compliant, Actively Resistant or Resigned. The Generators are proactive, leading the direction of the company. The Good Soldiers are participative and help get things done. The Grudgingly Compliant are slow to adapt, the actively Resistant are disruptive and the resigned just go through the motions.

This hierarchy can be a helpful tool for those who honestly assess their attitudes at work and can identify a higher role to which they aspire.

I’ve also discovered a counter-intuitive insight. When looking for those who can make the most significant contributions to an organization, a surprisingly strong candidate is often the Actively Resistant. By being actively resistant, at least there is the passion and emotion of a Generator. The challenge for the leader, then, is to listen to the Actively Resistant, consider their objections and use them to strengthen the organization. When I lead teams through planning, I encourage them to invite the naysayers, because they can make the plan stronger with their different perspectives and provide the passion to generate new thinking.

What insights do you get from this hierarchy of attitudes?

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Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton wrote about the Knowing-Doing Gap 11 years ago. Invaluable concept for explaining why the business world is full of companies with great ideas, yet they never get their plans implemented.

So what drives implementation? And what enables us to leap the Gap after Knowing-Doing—that between Doing and Being—when Doing becomes an unconscious skill and part of the organization’s DNA.

I’ve identified five drivers in helping my clients leap those gaps—perhaps none earth-shattering, but each plan-shattering if not honored.

  1. Get the Right People at the Table. If you want a plan to be implemented, make sure that those who must implement are part of the planning process. There’s no quicker way to kill a plan than to hand it to someone to implement who has had no input or buy-in to the plan.
  2. Prioritize and Mobilize. Assign Champions and Sponsors for the initiatives and provide them with the appropriate resources for implementation. Choose a short list of doable tasks for early wins and momentum.
  3. Report Progress. Report regularly using the metrics agreed upon in the plan. Provide a reporting structure that reaches the right people the appropriate number of times in a variety of ways to keep them engaged in the plan. Make sure to celebrate success.
  4. Continuous Improvement. Within the governance structure, also include a time and place for problem solving to help get people unstuck. Remember, even the best plan is organic—circumstances change, often growing more complex—so continuous improvement is a critical step.
  5. The Communications Loop. One of the biggest threats to implementation is a lack of communication. Motivation to implement in anonymity or a vacuum can be weak at best. By keeping all stakeholders informed and engaged, you treat the plan with the importance it requires. Good communications techniques can give energy and momentum to motivate plan implementation.

Done consistently, these five implementation drivers eventually becomes, “the way we do it around here.” From Knowing to Doing To Being.

What other strategies do you have for driving implementation?

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If you live or work in an urban area with tall buildings and cold winter months, you probably couldn’t miss the relatively recent phenomenon of signs on the sidewalk that say, Caution Falling Ice. Sound advice at the face of it, but upon further review, not a very effective piece of communications.

Inherent in good persuasive communications are three elements summarized as follows:

What. So what. Now what.

Like many signs (Stop and Exit for example) Caution Falling Ice is clear about the “what” of the message—there just might be ice falling from the buildings. The “so what” of the message is understood intuitively—you certainly don’t want to get hit. But unlike Stop and Exit, Caution Falling Ice does not provide a good “now what.” What are we suppose to do? Look up for falling ice? First of all, we probably wouldn’t see it till too late. Secondly, without watching where we were going, we would run into a pole or some other poor sap looking up. Cross the street, you suggest? The same signs are over there. Walk in the middle of the street? Obviously that won’t work. Taken seriously, these signs create unintended and disastrous consequences.

I’m sure the building owner must see this as liability protection, though if the only alternative is to find the Northwest Passage to your destination, it hardly seems like fair warning.

Perhaps there are better ways to solve the liability problem. Designate a safe path…build an overhang to catch falling ice…install heaters to prevent ice from falling…or something better. But short of that, don’t tell me to be cautious of falling ice. I’d rather take the chance of not knowing what hit me.

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I recently received an email from the International Center for Studies in Creativity reminding students of the one-year anniversary of the passing of Dr. Mary Murdock. She was the professor for my first class in the science of creativity and change leadership. She taught me many things that stick with me today; yet, in one quick moment, she said one thing that framed perfectly a most productive approach to tackling any challenge. She said, “There are two kinds of problems: those that can be solved and those that don’t matter.”

Once you acknowledge that, excuses for not solving a problem go away.

So I use this quote when I facilitate teams through strategic planning as a signal not to shy away from a challenge, no matter how insurmountable it seems or how long it has been around—particularly if it’s solution is necessary to achieving your goals. More than once this has helped us identify and tame a rogue elephant in the room.

Please share the wise words of one of your teachers. I believe it’s a wonderful way to spread the legacy of our very best educators.

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I saw a proposed vision for a Health System the other day that got me to thinking: Why aren’t corporate missions, visions and values more in tune with the brand and brand experience? Is it because missions, visions and values are crafted behind closed doors in the boardroom, while the brand is the domain of the marketing department?

Perhaps marketers understand that customers don’t care about an uninspiring mission or vision, so why connect them to the brand? And who tells the employees that when they practice organizational values in serving the mission that they’re actually defining the brand experience for the customer? Who is connecting the dots?

The proposed vision I saw was this. Locally based…exceptional healthcare.

Now I do admire it for its simplicity. And I understand that a lot of conversation, I’m sure rich with emotion, went into that statement. But frankly, it tastes a bit Vanilla to me. What health system wouldn’t say that? I’m not inspired.

So I ask, shouldn’t a vision be aspirational to make the brand inspirational? Wouldn’t employees and patients alike respond to a brand with a vision of making their area the healthiest in the country by 2020. And how might that drive the brand experience? Sure, it would require the organization to be creative in its metrics. But we know, what gets measured gets done.

I think mission, vision and values should be more than informational. They should be transformational. And they should drive the brand experience.

Now that inspires me.

Where have you seen a disconnection between mission/vision/values and the brand? What do you think the barriers are to integration? I’d love to hear from you.

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My father had a great sense of humor, so it’s something I’ve always valued and to which I aspire. When I sit in meetings, I’m often the guy throwing out funny, silly or sometimes stupid quips. This is my way of introducing play into my work. It keeps me engaged in the conversation. Mostly, it keeps the meetings light; on a few occasions, I imagine it may annoy some.

A funny thing happened once I began facilitating teams through planning and innovation workshops. I noticed several people around the table who would throw out ideas that made everyone laugh. It added energy to the session and a certain competitiveness for the next laugh. Ideas came quicker. The session became fun, not work. And one more big surprise: there was almost always a good idea amidst the laughter—if someone stopped to think about it.

For example, a team was trying to come up with ways to pay for a new initiative it had developed. Ideas came rapid fire:  cut other parts of the budget…shop for low-cost providers…increase prices to cover the costs…hold an event to raise the funds. Then someone said, “Get someone else to pay for it.” Well, the room erupted in laughter. Then someone said, “What if we went to our partners, who want to get in front of the same people we reach, and told them we could market their company even beyond the value of what they pay us?” You can imagine where the conversation went from there.

Blair Miller, a Chicago creativity guru, once told me that it’s easier to tame a wild idea than to give energy to a boring one. He’s right. Ideas that evoke emotion are ones that move people. Laughter signals an idea that has that energy. Stop to mine the ideas that make you laugh for the gold contained within.

Anyone with a similar story?

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For most of us, it’s easier to find what’s wrong with an idea than it is to find something good about it. On some levels, it’s the way our brains are wired. It’s also a quick way to show off our “expertise.” We all know experts who sit in meetings and shoot down every idea as if it were a clay pigeon. I call this the smartest-person-in-the-room syndrome. However, three powerful treasures await those who make the extra effort to first say what they like about an idea.

1. It shows respect for your colleagues and honors their thinking, making negative feedback easier to hear and increasing their respect for you.

2. It forces you to get out of your own mental framework and consider another perspective, which will forever expand your thinking.

3. It often leads to different and better ideas, as well as a culture that enables creativity and innovation.

I know the benefits of first finding what’s right about an idea from personal experience. As an advertising creative director, I always thought it was my job to come up with “the idea,” so it was easy to tell colleagues what was wrong with their ideas. Once I changed my feedback to what I liked about an idea before I killed it, I found it was usually easy to fix what I thought was wrong in the first place. My colleague’s fragile idea lived, it was improved, and often better than my idea.

Ultimately, without the smartest person in the room, the creative output of the team improved significantly.

Do you have any smartest person in the room war stories?

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