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Posts Tagged ‘organizational development’

The expert who won't consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

The expert who won’t consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

Who doesn’t love to be the expert? You get to draw on all your experience to make sure mistakes you’ve seen don’t get repeated. You get to recommend best practices that you’ve known to work before.

A good expert can help an organization avoid a lot of mistakes.

An expert can also help an organization avoid valuable new learning that could lead to better, more innovative solutions.

An expert might have blind spots that prevent ideas better suited to current circumstances than a previous best practice.

So wear your hat of an expert high and proud—high enough to still see and hear other ideas. Secure enough to consider them before you decide they aren’t a new best practice.

Before you pass your judgment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s different about this organization right now that might require an innovative solution?
  2. What is the context that a colleague might be using to frame a new idea, and what can I learn from that point-of view?
  3. Is the problem we’re trying to solve different than the best practice I would recommend?

Keep an open mind, respect the ideas of others, promote a learning organization, and instead of an expert’s hat, you might find that it’s the mantle of a leader that you’re now wearing.

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Here’s a short video offering two simple lessons for nurturing innovation and transforming a corporate culture. Try it. You might like it.

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Recently, we were invited to present our branding capabilities to a team of marketing/branding executives at a prospective client. Even before we got through introductions, it was easy to see how little they understood—not just about their brand—but what it takes to even be a brand.

To be completely fair in this tale, we were invited to present our capabilities at the request of someone who was leaving the organization’s marketing department. We had no opportunity for direct communications with this group before the meeting other than to hear that they wanted a capabilities presentation. As such, the branding services we were “selling” might not have been a good match with the services they wanted to buy.

The Meeting

After keeping us waiting for 20 minutes, we began the meeting with introductions. Each member of our team provided a brief and enthusiastic description of his or her background; they merely told us their names. After further deliberate probing we were able to coax from each of them their job titles and how long they had been with the organization. Nothing else. This early sign of non-engagement was reinforced when the top executive furtively checked her phone for emails throughout the presentation.

We presented our perspective as strategic partners on brand strategy and our approach to establishing and maintaining a consistent look, voice and actions of a brand; they were interested in our ability as vendors to follow graphic standards and work on tight budgets. Fair enough. This is why it would have been helpful if they were available to give us some input before our meeting.

And that sets up my point.

Previously in this blog, I’ve talked about the disconnect many organizations have between their Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose, and their Brand. Check out the values of this organization:

Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect, Excellence

Note how the first letters of each value spells out I CARE. Well this executive team acted like it couldn’t care less about our meeting.

So the question is, if the organization/brand has values of compassion and respect, does that just apply to its customers? Shouldn’t it also apply to employees, strategic partners and even potential vendors? Think about the person who is exceedingly compassionate and respectful to people with whom s/he does business, but treats the waiter like dirt: is that person authentically compassionate and respectful? And if you don’t hold yourself accountable for living the organization’s values, where is the integrity in that? Or the excellence?

Most marketing and branding departments own their responsibility to manage the brand look and message to “customers.” But how many think to own the responsibility of acting the brand values to all stakeholders—internal and external? Even vendors? I once heard that it takes 10 positive comments to counter one negative comment. Imagine how many negative comments are generated in the community when a vendor is treated poorly? (Note: The purpose of this post is not to call out a particular organization; rather, to use the experience as a learning moment for me and my readers. I do, however, admit to feeling differently about this organization and its leadership than I did before the meeting.)

So, after all my ranting, what is the true cost of behaving badly in a meeting? Is it a marketing and branding team’s responsibility to set the example for how a brand should act? Or is this too much to ask, and is it enough to just manage the brand’s look and message?

What do you think?

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How does curiosity get piqued? What is the value of being curious? And, most importantly, what can you do to become more curious?

Wondering why I ask these questions? It’s because I’ve noticed a paradox in my work facilitating innovation and change leadership: Professionals who are considered experts, are naturally evaluated by what they already know. The prevailing thought is, “Experts get paid a lot of money to know, so it might look bad for them to question their own knowledge.” Perhaps they consider questions the sign of a novice; or worse yet, something over which children obsess. Expertise and knowledge, then, can be a barrier to curiosity; yet, curiosity is what built the knowledge and expertise in the first place.

Here is what I mean by curiosity being at the root of knowledge and expertise, as well as the driver of innovation and change leadership:

1. Curiosity drives active learning.

As a way to illustrate the potential power of curiosity on our proclivity to learn, I can imagine this difference between a naturally curious person—or active learner—and myself in my usual reactive learner mode:

ME: I touch a hot stove and I learn to never do that again. It hurts!

NATURALLY CURIOUS PERSON: Learns the same thing I did when touching a hot stove, but then asks, what makes the stove hot? How do people feel pain from heat? How does the skin heal itself? What are the common factors that make people touch hot stoves? And on and on! These questions could lead to learning about physics, medicine, psychology, risk management—curiosity naturally opens up new avenues to knowledge. Because of curiosity, maybe someone will invent a stove top that cooks food without being hot to the touch. Maybe we’ll get an instant burn-healing ointment—or some sort of smart-alarm that senses when a cook gets too close to the burner.

Active learning drives innovation.

The point is, innovation, itself, is a learning exercise. In other words, innovation doesn’t come from knowing, it comes from asking. There’s a risk to this when you have to ask, “Have I been defining the right goal? Have I been solving the right problem? Do I understand the nuance of context? Are there motivations I haven’t yet considered? All of these are hard questions for an expert to ask. Still, you must be curious and open to exploring all the uncharted paths on which your questions take you—even if (and here’s your second risk) you have no assurance it will lead you to the promise land of innovation. Albert Einstein is a great endorsement for following curiosity’s many paths. When asked about his work process, he said, “How do I work? I grope.”

Curiosity drives engagement (which drives change).

Here’s something else I’ve noticed: When I’m naturally curious, I  become naturally more engaged. Sometimes it’s a desire to fill gaps in my knowledge. Other times, my curiosity is piqued by a problem to be solved…something to figure out. So now, if I’m not feeling engaged in something that I know I should be, I try to become curious. What is the one question I can ask that will invest me in a meeting, in a task, in a conversation? How can I use my curiosity to engage in and lead change?

This all leads me back to one of my initial questions: What can you do to become more curious? I know I could do better, so I’m just asking…

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One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Linus leaning against a fence. Linus asks Charlie Brown a theological question: When you go to heaven are you graded on a percentage or a curve? Charlie, without hesitation replies, “On a curve, naturally.”  When Linus asks, how he can be so sure, Charlie responds, “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

That exchange provokes thought on many levels, not the least of which is the topic I’d like to explore today: Balancing Advocacy (communicating one’s perspective) with Inquiry (asking questions and listening to others).

Of course, Linus was the deep thinker in the neighborhood. As an Inquirer, he got there by asking questions…seeking the truth. Charlie Brown, the Advocate, was often the buffoon; outsmarted by his dog; as manager, never a winning baseball game; and, always falling for Lucy’s fake sincerity when she pulled the football away just when Charlie was about to kick it.

Inquiry seems to have the edge in this comic strip.

Now let’s look in the corporate world. Here, it’s often those who have the greatest conviction in their set of assumptions who win. Advocacy rules over inquiry because at the end of the day, decisions must be made and action taken based on available information. Analysis paralysis does not move a company forward.

So where is the balance to be found? Where’s the line between think and over-think? And where is the time to do either? How can the Advocates be sure they hear from the Inquirers—and not just get their way because others are insecure or afraid of being wrong? Or because they fear uncovering a different, less pleasant truth? Or, perhaps because they’re apathetic?

A Playing Field for Advocacy and Inquiry

Innovation is one arena where Advocacy and Inquiry must play well together. In order to be innovative, one has to question everything. All assumptions are suspect, everything must be seen through fresh eyes. Wild ideas, experimentation and mistakes are catalysts for breakthrough solutions. But in the end, innovation requires change. Someone has to sell the new idea—be its Advocate—to those who might still be in Inquiry mode. And even more importantly, to those in the Off mode.

I love this quote by Fredrich Jacobi, who says, “We must try harder to understand than to explain.” A great endorsement for the clarifiers among us.

On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

The Inquirer in me will continue to search for the balance. The Advocate in me tells me to get back to work.

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Have you ever tried to sell yourself or sell an idea with a logic that seems so obvious to you, yet for some unknown reason, it doesn’t sink in with others? Like the time you had that perfect pitch to a prospect who was less than generous in providing feedback? Too often our presentations and marketing materials focus on what we believe are our strengths or the strength of the idea. We cite statistics and stories for support. Yet these presentations miss the mark because they fail to consider what the prospects might need to hear before they can even listen to what we’re selling.

In short, many of us present ourselves and our ideas by talking about what’s important to us rather than what’s motivating to our prospects. We miss the important step of considering the context for our message, before crafting the content of the message.

The following is an approach for 1) exploring context, and 2) focusing content for your message.

Exploring Message Context

What’s happening? Begin by looking at your own assumptions, perspectives or attitudes that influence your presentation, and how they might be similar or different than those of your prospect?

Why is it happening? What market forces, personality traits and other issues might be affecting those assumptions, perspectives or attitudes, and therefore influence the decision to act?

What do we want to happen? What is the goal of the communication? And if different, what is the ultimate long-term goal of the relationship? What are the obstacles that might get in the way of achieving the goal?

Use the insights from this exploration to frame your content. Two examples:

  • If  your prospect has engaged the organization in a customer relationship initiative and you’re trying to sell sustainability, your prospect might not want his employees to lose focus with another initiative. You might frame your proposal as a way to enhance customer relationships. Or you might wait until after the customer relationship initiative is well seeded before attempting to sell in a sustainability initiative.
  • If, after thinking about your prospect’s personality, you decide she is an implementer who is not much interested in hearing about the planning process, you might want to begin by talking about goals, deliverables, metrics and schedules before talking about your process for finding and leveraging the insights that drive your work.

Focusing Message Content

Once we know the context of the message, we can better focus the content of the message. The trick here is to avoid the mistake of focusing only on the What of the message, and failing to connect the So What and Now What. Below is the distinction we make between What, So What and Now What.

a) What you want the prospects to know.

There are a variety of tools to help you arrive at a pinpoint focus on what you want to communicate. For example, if you’re selling the services or products of your organization you might use a concept in Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great and explain, what you do better than any other organization on the planet, If it’s an idea you’re selling, write the newspaper headline that explains it. Then elaborate; but remember, the object is to engage your prospect in the What, not to demonstrate your encyclopedic knowledge of the topic.

b) So What it means to your prospects and why they should care

It’s always good to list the traditional benefits that you believe the prospect might hope for or even expect. Then explore what benefit you might deliver that the prospect doesn’t even know is needed until it’s offered. This is meeting the unknown, unmet need (we call it the gift) and if you meet all known needs plus a compelling unknown, unmet need, then you have successfully differentiated your organization or idea from all others.

c) Now What I want you to do about it

While this seems obvious, many times we forget to “ask for the order.” We are so focused on presenting ourselves that we forget to tell the prospects what we want them to do.

So this is what I’d like you to do. Try exploring context for your next presentation. Connect your What to the So What and Now What. Share this post with others. Then give me feedback. Let me know what helps you…what confuses you…how we might improve this communication model.

Oh, and let me know if you come up with any new ideas for “what’s in it for you.”

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How many times have you adjourned one of your meetings or presentations wondering, what did they think? Did they get it? Do they still have questions? Are they with me?

In my last post, I discussed the forming, storming, norming and performing phases of group dynamics, with the promise of discussing the final phase of adjourning, in this post.

I have attended many meetings and presentations where “Questions/Next Steps” is the last slide before adjourning. I suppose this is helpful for the clarifiers and implementers among us, but it doesn’t always lead to a good understanding of the group’s mood or commitment to taking the next steps. If you want to know what stuck and where a group might be stuck, I’ve found a more direct approach to be useful.

On my agendas, I often carve out significant time for adjourning to ask group members to share their answers to two or three specific questions. I choose from the following options:

  • What did you like?
  • What did you learn?
  • What concerns do you still have? (And put them in a form of a “How to…?”problem to solve.)
  • What do you personally commit to the effort?
  • What action will you take in the next 24 hours?
  • What part of the meeting gave you the most energy?
  • What possibilities do you see coming out of this meeting?

If you don’t know the group well, it takes confidence to ask some of these questions. It might catch the group a bit off guard since they aren’t used to sharing “what they liked” about a presentation. But I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from these questions, and how many times I’ve seen everyone leave feeling more positive and upbeat about the time we spent together.

I’m sure there are more good questions to ask, and I would love to hear some suggestions from you.

But first, what did you like about this post? What did you learn? And what concerns do you still have? (Put in the form of a “How to…?” problem to solve.)

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