Thursday, July 31, 2008

Using power to drive change.

The Fifth P involves how change leaders use power to drive the change they want.

When you aspire to be a change leader, there’s no such thing as a trivial act. Leadership is essentially a task of persuasion where every choice makes a speech. The only real power you have is your example. One of the primary tasks of the change leader is to always demonstrate the preferred way of doing things. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

Good leaders liberate the leader in others. They’re decision shapers rather than decision makers. They see their job as being very enthusiastic about the progress that’s been made while at the same time being eternally disappointed with the rate of progress. They know the desire to be liked is an unaffordable luxury because being a leader means knowing when it makes sense to take people over the top. No one will love you if you fail because you asked too little of them. However, effective change leaders seldom use their position power to force their will on others because they understand that force, the ultimate resource, maintains itself by being used sparingly.

Recognize that there are always people who can’t make the change. If they’re loyal, long-term, high-performing employees, they deserve other options. They shouldn’t be permitted to block the change effort, but they’ve earned the consideration of finding new roles, acquiring new skills, or receiving emotional support as they transition to new opportunities elsewhere. Not everyone who resists changing is to be won over. Some people are to be defeated. If the only way to change a person is - to change a person, act quickly. Take Machiavelli’s advice and don’t stand around with a dagger in your hand.

Study the impact the proposed change is likely to have on the people involved, including the losses they’ll suffer. Explore ways to emphasize the gains without denying the downside. Provide lots and lots of information. Acknowledge that people’s concerns are legitimate. Reassure them that their needs will be considered, but don’t make false promises. Provide as much security as possible. Provide people with the opportunity to influence the process of change and a mechanism for negotiating its impact

Talking about the anxiety that change brings makes people nervous, so it’s a solution that often seems worse than the problem. However, such talk is the key to dealing with anxiety. Once these self-doubts are surfaced, much of their power disappears as people discover they’re not alone in their fears. When they can talk it out, they don’t have to act it out. Resistance is an emotional process and using logic won’t talk people out of how they’re feeling. However, feelings pass and change when they can be expressed directly and authentically.

If you’ve ever tried talking to horses, you know that horses don't care about the words you use, only about your intent and presence. People are very similar.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More tips on implementation.

Discussing issues in black or white terms does little to clarify these issues. If you can only deal with yolks or whites, it’s pretty hard to make a decent omelet. For example, it’s a mistake to believe that nothing can be changed unless everything can be changed.

Provide formal training “as needed“ during the implementation phase, rather than trying to get it over with all at once in the beginning. Skills and concepts can be acquired more effectively when there’s some previous context in which to assess their usefulness. Design the training around specific, identified needs rather than using existing packaged programs. The training focus should be developmental rather than remedial, as people tend to embrace the former while resisting the latter.

Don’t over-structure the details of implementation as doing so limits opportunities for initiative and learning by those involved. It also incorrectly presupposes that every detail can be planned in advance.

The normal human reaction when faced with changing is to go from Contentment –> to Fear & Denial –> to Confusion –> to Renewal –> then back to Contentment again. We all fear that uncomfortable place “between trapezes” when we’re in transit from the old to the new. If you can take away the fear, change becomes an opportunity.

Start by working with the 15% of employees who usually support changing if it’s well thought out. Marginalize the 15% who will always resist changing under any circumstances. Think of yourself as competing for the allegiance of the other 70% until you reach a critical mass. Then, many of the resisters frequently decide to leave on their own accord since no one is paying attention to them any more.

In general, people don’t resist change so much as they resist being changed. Try to reframe, “I don’t want to change,” into “It won’t work for me because…”

Tomorrow, we'll examine the final P, using Power to drive the change initiative.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The process of implementing change.

Now it's time to look at the fourth P - Process.

All the effort and energy expended in developing and introducing strategies for change is to no avail if the results aren’t implemented effectively. UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, discovered that, “It’s not your focus on activity or time spent on activity that counts. Rather, it’s your focus on results that makes the difference.” Experience suggests the following cautions:

Steer by having measurable goals and track them regularly to demonstrate your success in moving towards the vision you want to create as well as measuring how far you’ve come from the past. Set 30-day action agendas and hold people accountable for their part of the change in monthly one-to-one meetings.

Talk about the change initiative in terms of the outcomes you want instead of the process you’re using. For example, talk about “The Reducing Overhead by 25% in 2008” initiative. That way, every time you or others in the firm mention it, it’s a reminder of what you’re trying to achieve. Evaluate progress from the start and don’t be afraid to introduce corrections if change elements aren’t working out as planned. Avoid publicizing only problems and failures. Provide constant high-visibility feedback on what’s going right. Create special events to publicly celebrate specific milestones and achievements. As the bumper sticker says, bark less; wag more.

Treat mistakes as opportunities for learning, not as experiences to punish or ignore. Make it easy for people to report what’s going wrong and never, ever shoot the messenger. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Failure is an essential element in learning because it motivates people to ask relevant questions. Deal with emerging problems and issues promptly. Don’t allow dissatisfaction and frustration to reign unchecked. Some frustration is helpful as a prelude to learning, but it can easily be overdone. Make sure the learning loop gets closed while experiences are still fresh in people’s minds.

Consciously ask questions to teach people what you want them to pay attention to. When Dave Packard was leading H-P, he wanted to foster the spirit of innovation throughout the firm. So every time he visited the various locations, he went around asking employees, “What are you working on that’s new?”

More tomorrow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Assessing readiness for change.

If you're sensing resistance to change, use the following “readiness” equation as a diagnostic tool to find out what’s causing it.

This equation states that to make progress in introducing change,

(A x B x C) / D must be > R where:

A = Dissatisfaction with the status quo.

When people are satisfied with the way things are, they don't feel any need to change.

B = A shared vision of the future.

Even though people may not like their current situation and feel the need to change, they’re not likely to move on until they know there's a better place to go to.

C = Knowledge of some practical first steps.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo and knowledge about a better place to go to isn’t enough if you don’t know how to begin to move there.

D = The total economic and psychological costs involved.

For people to move on, the benefits to be gained must be greater than the costs involved. The costs have both economic and psychological dimensions, and the latter are often the most significant of the two.

R = The degree of resistance to the change.

All of these (dissatisfaction, vision, know-how, and the perception of positive benefits) have to be present to some degree in order for a change initiative to be successfully introduced.

It's easy to get people's attention; what's important is getting their interest.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Introduction to poetry, a poem by Billy Collins.

Cecil Day-Lewis (father of the actor Daniel Day-Lewis) was an Irish-born poet, as well as Poet Laureate for Britain between 1968 to 1972, and, under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake, a mystery writer. He once commented on his calling as follows:
"Why is it that nowadays, when poetry brings in little prestige and less money, people are still found who devote their lives to the apparently unrewarding occupation of making poems? Is the poet a quaint anachronism in the modern world - a pathetic shadow of the primitive bard who, unable for some reason to take active part in the life of his tribe, won himself an honorable place in the community by singing of the exploits of hunters and warriors? Certainly a poem is still a cry from solitude, an attempt the poet has made to break out of individual isolation and set down his experience in such a way that it can be shared by his fellow beings. And he still uses the power of incantation, of rhyme, rhythm and repetition, which the primitive bard employed to bind the social group together in a common emotion. But, while he is writing a poem, he is not aware of a need to communicate. He has two conscious motives: to create an object in words, and to explore reality and make sense of his own experience.
He wishes his object to be both self-contained and elegant - elegant in the sense that a mathematician will call an equation 'elegant.' The poem must stand up after the poet has got out from underneath it; it must apply beyond the individual experience out of which it arose and carry meaning beyond the poet's own time and social environment."

Here is one of my favorite poems about poetry:

Introduction To Poetry.

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

We'll get back to making change on Monday. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Plan to get as many people as possible involved.

Accept that different people move at different speeds. Just as the Eskimo’s word for snow has more than twenty meanings, changing means different things to different people, especially in today’s multi-generational firm. While Matures, born before the mid 1940s, value hierarchy, Baby Boomers, born between 1946 to 1964, crave consensus. Generation Xrs, born in the 1960s and 1970s, demand flexibility and choice. Gen Y folks, born between 1981 and 1995, need structure. These members of the Internet Generation have higher expectations than any generation before them. In addition, they’re so well connected that if an employer doesn’t meet those expectations, they’ll let thousands of their cohorts know with one click of the mouse. You need to design different ways to reach and involve each of these groups.

If the change moves too quickly, many employees will likely be left behind. As a result, they’ll be unsure about the purpose and detail of what’s likely to be implemented and won’t be able to frame appropriate questions to express their concerns.

If you get too far out in front, other people become a crowd chasing you rather than a group of followers.

Create a support group that you can check with from time to time to make sure you’re on track and still connected to your key constituencies.

There's an old saying that people support what they help create. The price of getting their commitment to changing involves working on their issues as well as the company's agenda. I believe this is so important, I even wrote a little poem about it:

I’ve always thought it rather strange
that those who plead and plan for change
do seldom contact or involve
the people upon whose resolve
success and failure rides and falls.
Without their help, the process stalls.

So try to contact everyone,
(yes, this takes time and isn’t fun)
but if you don’t, they’ll mourn and wail,
and in the end, you’ll likely fail.

My working theory is quite brief:
“Involve 'em, or you’ll come to grief.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Maintaining the velocity of the change process.

Now let's consider the 3rd P - Pace – How to maintain and sustain the velocity of the change process.

To begin with, it's better to have a slow start than a false one. Changing larger organizations is like raising elephants. The gestation period is long and slow no matter what you do. However, the most important question isn’t how much time it will take to get the change you need, but how much time have you got? If you know the answer to this question, you can adjust the pace of the change process accordingly.

Plan to provide sufficient time for the transition. People need time to mourn the old as well as to embrace the new. These are two different processes and since they don’t take place at the same time, the overall journey takes longer than either one would separately.

Where possible, introduce change on a small prototype scale first, with the understanding that it will be expanded throughout the firm eventually. The intent is not to see if it works but rather to learn how to make it work. Sites for prototypes should provide the best opportunities for learning, rather than presenting the greatest challenge to the concepts involved.

Try out new ideas in new places and situations, such as when starting up a new business unit. A new unit has fewer bad habits to unlearn and can be designed to incorporate more effective processes. You can also hire or appoint people who are supportive of the ideas you‘re introducing. When replacing people who leave, retire or are promoted, look to hire those who possess the personal philosophy and capabilities called for by the change initiative. It’s also a good idea to build new ideas into an existing program with a prior history of success in adopting and implementing change.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lining up support for change.

You can start a change initiative from the middle of an organization but eventually you need to go to the top of the house and pick up visible support there. If you don’t have a top-level mandate, you’re not going to be able to significantly change practices outside of your own area or modify company-wide policies that drive behavior, such as compensation. The powers-that-be will likely leave you alone to do your thing as long as you’re successful. However, if you have a bad streak, or if you leave, the changes you supported are likely to get nibbled to death by the naysayers waiting in the wings.

Create new forums to foster dialog about changing.
Don’t try to shoehorn new messages into existing communication channels. Using these channels to deliver two concepts at the same time will minimize the impact of your message. To build common ground, remind people of your shared history together and revisit the key events and milestones that led up to the present day, Engage people in talking about how they’ve successfully handled change in the past.

Check that enough of your colleagues have the skills and the desire to move with you at this time.
The political question often involves their perception of the person who 'brings' the change. Success involves getting support for yourself as an instrument of change. It helps if you know the answers to these questions:

What power do you personally have to make change?

If you don’t have it, how can you get it?

Who will you need on your side in order to be successful?

Do you need them to initiate, support, or allow the change to happen?

Where are they today - for your agenda, opposing it, or in a neutral stance?

How will you move from where they are today to where you need them to be?

Value the past and the present.
Part of the art of managing change successfully is not dishonoring the past, but honoring the parts of the past that are relevant to the new vision of the future. Sometimes change doesn’t bring a totally new world but involves old things happening to new people. Check with long-term employees who can remember what happened to similar initiatives in the past. Use their expertise to know what to emphasize and what to avoid. As an Irish proverb says, “A new broom sweeps clean, but the old brush knows the corners.”

Keep the focus as positive as possible.
Talk about what you want to achieve rather than what you want to avoid. Engage people’s hopes, not their fears. Get people thinking about what they want more of rather than getting them fixated on their current problems. Introduce no-blame change, building on what the firm did that made it successful in the past. Find what still works and spread these positive processes and practices to all segments of the business.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Explaining why the change is important.

It’s difficult to get people to embrace change by threatening them with bad news about the dreadful things that may happen if they don’t change. Bad news seldom energizes people and invariably triggers denial and avoidance. People are more likely to be stirred into action by the possibility of being in a much, much better place than where they’re at today. A positive message presents time, change, and the future as a friend, not as an enemy. Usually, however, people need some of both to get them started. You have to push them with the prospect of pain as well as pulling them with the benefits that can come from creating a better future.

People often try to avoid change by claiming, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Instead of accepting this, challenge them with the mantra, “If it’s not broken, prove it.”

And, if you find it’s really broken, don’t fix it or replace it. Create something new and more appropriate instead.

Continuously work to mobilize energy for the change. The dilemma in getting employees excited about changing is that, over time, most businesses don’t noticeably change for the worse; they simply fail to change for the better. Keep communicating the need for change, clarifying the reasons why it’s necessary at this time. Reinforce the benefits to individuals, the positive outcomes expected for the firm, and how these two are connected. Neutralizing resistance and building support requires a never-ending commitment to insistence and persistence. If you’re clear-minded about what you want to achieve, you can open people’s mind by narrowing their thinking.

Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Communication is a lot like recognition - you can’t do too much of it. Remember that communication is a two-way process. Create experiences where people can discover for themselves much of what you already know. When people tell you what you would have told them, then you can be sure they’ve got the message.

Work with, not against, the power in the firm. Revolutionaries get shot, apostles get crucified - neither make attractive role models. Start by finding some like-minded friends in high places. If you start a change process from the center of power, a lot of the problems related to time go away. Most people accept change if it’s sanctioned, it’s simple, and it's swift.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Expectations, a poem by Kay Ryan.

This week, we have a new poet laureate, Kay Ryan, who was born 62 years ago in San Jose. She joins a distinguished roster of poets laureates, including Robert Frost, Louise Bogan, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell and, more recently, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maxine Kumin, Robert Pinsky and Billy Collins.
Ryan went to UCLA, earned a bachelor's and a master's degree there, and moved to Marin County in 1971, becoming a poet somewhat reluctantly. She remembers, "I so didn’t want to be a poet. I came from sort of a self-contained people who didn’t believe in public exposure, and public investigation of the heart was rather repugnant to me. But in the end I couldn’t resist. It was in a strange way taking over my mind. My mind was on its own finding things and rhyming things. I was getting diseased ... when I was 30, I realized I wasn't going to avoid being this poet thing."

I think this little poem speaks well to our past winter here in San Diego.


We expect rain

to animate this

creek: these rocks

to harbor gurgles,

these pebbles to

creep downstream

a little, those leaves

to circle in the

eddy, the stains

and gloss of wet.

The bed is ready

but no rain yet.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why change?

Pathbreaking firms today aim to outperform their competitors in the following areas:

Environmental Clarity.
They see the competitive environment early and clearly. They look for elements that are missing and for patterns that can connect what’s already there in new ways.

They respond very quickly to what their customer’s need and want. They incorporate new technologies and new ideas into their products and services faster than the competition.

Flexibility and Agility.
They’re able to adapt simultaneously to many different business pressures and developments.

They continually generate new ideas and combine existing business elements, both
inside and outside the firm, to create new sources of value.

Quality and Consistency.
They produce products and services that unfailingly exceed their customer’s expectations.

To consistently excel in these areas, employees’ actions need to be informed by a clear vision of the firm’s purpose, priorities, operating philosophy and guiding principles. Similarly, vendors, contractors and business partners also need to share a common understanding of the future the firm is working to create.

An effective vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future that’s better in some important ways than which currently exists. The leader’s role is to create this unity of direction by orchestrating a process of reflection, collaboration and joint discovery. Leaders learn what to change by looking out. They learn how to change by looking in.

Vision is a dangerous concept in a political context. Leaders have to declare their views publicly if they want others to support them and doing so paints a big bulls-eye on their back. Vision creates high visibility, high expectations and high accountability, which sets up opportunities for a career win - or a career loss. So, change leaders need plenty of air cover. If those above you aren’t suited up for the game, you need to be sure that at least they won’t blow the play dead.

Many companies approach change like the old man who lived in a house that had a leaky roof. Whenever it rained, he was very motivated to fix the roof but he couldn’t do anything about it because it was raining. However, once the weather improved, fixing the roof was no longer a priority.

Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.

Are any of these statements (from Sydney Finkelstein’s book, Why Smart Executives Fail) an accurate depiction of how your company looks at its world? If so, be warned the risk of failure is high.

1. We've always used the same approach to how we do business - it‘s worked in the past, and it’ll continue to work in the future.

2. We’re too committed to our current plan to change direction at this time.

3. We have our customers figured out. We've known what they want for years.

4. There's one powerful champion driving our current strategy; the rest of the company just follows their lead.

5. We organize and run all our business units in the same way. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

It's wise today to recall the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who said, “Was is Beakannst ist nicht erkannt” (That which is familiar is not known).

Next, we'll learn more about the second P, Pressure.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The five stages of effective change initiatives.

As I mentioned yesterday, it helps to follow The Five Ps. The five stages of an effective change initiative are:

(1) Purpose – specifying the kind of change that’s needed.

(2) Pressure – explaining why it’s important to change at this time.

(3) Pace – maintaining the velocity of the change process.

(4) Process – taking steps to implement the change effectively.

(5) Power – driving the change effort.

Let's look at each of these in turn.

(1) Purpose - Specifying The Kind Of Change That’s Needed.

In a fast changing world, the biggest threat is not from changing business conditions (such as outsourcing, mergers, consolidation of suppliers, new technologies, new competitors) but from your hesitation to actively respond to them. In a world of ceaseless change, sooner is better than perfect, certainty is suspect, and risk is inevitable. Path breaking companies aren’t afraid to experiment. They’re willing to try and if necessary fail so they can learn faster than the competition.

Here are three useful ways to think about change. However, remember that it’s important to work on all three of these at the same time:

Change you can figure out.
Not everything about the future is a mystery. Some things are still predictable. But if you can figure out what to do next, it’s likely that your competitors can too. So doing the obvious won’t give you a competitive advantage for very long.

Change you can’t anticipate.
If you can’t plan with certainty, you’d better be very flexible and fast on your feet. Today, it’s the survival of the fastest, not the fittest. Studies show companies that respond to customer demands twice as fast as the industry average grow five times faster and can charge twenty percent more. Flexibility and speed depend on how you’re organized, so having the right skills, structures, processes and partnerships gives a company significant advantages over others in the marketplace.

Successful organizations in the future will be simple, smart, speedy and strategic. They’ll concentrate on developing knowledge, talent, foresight, innovation, speed, mobility, agility and collaboration. To enhance their adaptability, they’ll move from tall complex organizations built around simple boxes to simpler flatter organizations build around more complex boxes.

Change you can initiate.
If you can introduce products and services that are useful, unique and difficult to replicate, this will give you a sustainable competitive advantage. Quick moving firms don’t simply respond to events after they’ve happened. They lead their customers, markets, employees and suppliers to new and better places that no one thought possible before. That’s how Mazda created the Miata and how Holiday Inn introduced Embassy Suites. Winners work to invent, not just to predict the future.

More on how to guide these kind of change initiatives tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts about leading change.

“The search for stability and security - in the law and everywhere else - is misguided. The fact is that security can only be achieved through constant change, through discarding old ideas that have outlived their usefulness and adapting others to current facts.” – Justice William O. Douglas.

Doing business today reminds me of a passage in one of Schubert’s piano sonatas marked, “As fast as possible,” which is followed a few bars later with the admonition, “Faster.” In such a dynamic world, change is normal, stability is an exception and the biggest threats come from unexpected places. Avoiding change is like holding your breath – if you’re really good at it, it’ll kill you.

As firms become successful, they usually become committed to their current ways of operating. However, as Mark Twain noted, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll just get run over if you sit there.” The firms that built the best sailing ships in the world didn’t learn to build steamships. The people who manufactured horse buggies didn’t learn to build automobiles. When companies don’t reshape their businesses in response to changing circumstances with new products, structures and services, it’s only a matter of time until some one else does it for them. And in today’s marketplace, it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later.

In this next series of blog entries, I aim to give some practical tips about leading change gleaned from over thirty years working side-by-side with business executives introducing and implementing change in a wide variety of industries.

People who failed at leading change didn’t plan to fail. Mostly, they just failed to plan properly. As a leader, you need to have a plan for what you want to happen and how you want it to happen, even if you don’t have all the details sorted out. Luck is to be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. Planning is all about getting prepared so you can have access to the power of your intentions.

I've found that following the Five Ps is a good way to start.

More on that tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Working in the movies.

My daughter is a VP with Legendary Pictures and is in New York for tonight's premier of the new Batman movie which Legendary co-financed with Warner Brothers. So I thought it would be interesting to see what some people in the movie business think about the business of making movies.

I don't really like the combination of two-and-a-half-years of total solitude, a year of frenzied production warfare and however many months of being in the feeding pen of the editing room. That's like you're … veal being fattened for the slaughter, immobile in a chair, eating and worrying.
Whit Stillman, Director.

You spend your life training to be an actor, observing people's characteristics so that you can design characters around what you've seen. But as a movie actor, once you've become known, you're observed all the time so you don't get the chance to observe anymore. You still get a taste of life but it's not quite the same and there's something to be said for a more anonymous life.
Clint Eastwood, Actor and Director.

I call it ‘automatic pilot.’ It takes over and does for you what you can’t do yourself. Performers have to have it. Almost everybody has it to some degree. It’s a relative of acting.
Marlon Brando, Actor.

Preproduction is so important. When you cast the actors, you've done much of the work. Now, you may need to guide them a little, take it up or down, have them go faster or slower, but the casting process is crucial.
Robert Wise, Director.

I don't storyboard anything. I go on a set and, unless a scene requires a lot of props, I won't even tell the crew what I'm going to shoot first. I know what the set-up is and which actors are required. But I have to see what occurs and like to shoot in sequence if possible. It makes for a lot of editing but I like to go on a journey with the actors. I also love working on ensemble movies like Nashville, Short Cuts and Gosford Park. Having multiple narratives makes my job a lot easier: if something doesn't work, it means I can cut away to something else. I also like the audience to use their necks to take in everything happening in the frame. I'd hate to do something where there were just two close-up faces to look at.
Robert Altman, Director.

When you are trying to direct, they will tell you there are a lot of rules. Of course these rules are important, but in reality the way to tell a story is the way you would tell it to your friends in a cafe. And if you have a talent as a narrator, you will tell this story well. Otherwise all the technique in the world will never help you.
Federico Fellini, Director.

I have a motto: Be wrong as fast as you can. Which allows me to know that I’m just going to make a lot of mistakes, that it’s expected. It’s part of the process. But as long as I do it really fast I’m buying time on the back end to solve whatever I do wrong. So I rely on four years. I’ve never gotten anything right in under two years.
Andrew Stanton, Director and Screenwriter.

How the game, at least in modern Hollywood, is played … what’s mine is mine, the thinking goes, and what’s yours might be mine too.
David Carr, Columnist and Biographer.

You have to be self-reliant and strong to survive in this town. Otherwise, you will be destroyed.
Joan Crawford, Actress.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why I am not a painter, a poem by Frank O'Hara.

My wife is a painter (see and I love (and sometimes write) poetry. So I like Frank O'Hara's poem because it brings the two together. It also reflects the complicated and unexpected nature of the creative process. I've been thinking about this recently because I believe that managers will need to be much more creative, like artists, as the business environment becomes faster, more turbulent and less predictable. I'll write more about this next week.

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
'Sit down and have a drink.' I look
up. 'You have sardines in it.'
'Yes, it needed something there.'
'Oh.' I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. 'Where's the sardines?'
All that's left is just
letters, 'It was too much,' Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is

and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it Oranges. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called Sardines.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The 20 most annoying habits at work.

We all have annoying habits but in the close environment of a typical workplace, people should at least try to be more considerate of their fellow employees. Here are the Top 20 most commonly mentioned office complaints based on a recent New York Times survey:

Being interrupted with personal stories and small talk by coworkers about their lives, their children, their families, their hobbies, etc.

Using speaker phones in an open or cubicle office space where others are trying to work.

Talking on cell phones in public places, such as toilets, as though they're in a closed phone booth.

Talking repeatedly and unnecessarily in a foreign language while conducting business calls or personal / phone conversations.

Radios playing too loud.

Eating while talking on the phone, also during conference calls or while speaking at meetings.

Slurping coffee, eating noisily with mouth open, etc.

Making chewing gum noises such as popping, cracking, blowing bubbles.

Fidgeting, incessant pen-clicking and pen-twirling.

Leg shaking, twitching, and moving during staff meetings which usually shakes the whole table.

Cooking smelly foods in the community microwave – fish, burritos, onions. garlic. etc.

Leaving messes in the staff room.

Leaving dishes/cups/silverware in the sink day after day.

Raiding the employees’ refrigerator and eating someone else's food.

Using up the last supplies and then failing to order replacements.

Jamming the copy machine and then leaving it for the next person to take care of.

Personal body odor or its opposite, the use of excessive perfume.

People who come to work when they’re sick and contagious.

People who constantly use their Blackberries at meetings and during conversations with coworkers.

People who leave voice mails or e-mails with the message "Call me...", without providing any context whatsoever.

Let me know if I've missed your own pet peeve.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Marshall Goldsmith, in his excellent new book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, introduces the idea of coaching using feedforward as opposed to providing feedback. Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” This tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. As Goldsmith observes, we can change the future while we're powerless to change the past.
Athletes are often trained using feedforward techniques. For example, basketball players are taught to see the ball going in the hoop and to imagine the perfect shot. By giving people ideas about how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

Anyone can apply this concept to their own situation at work in the following manner:

• Pick one behavior that you'd like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in your life.

• Describe this behavior to selected direct reports and peers. This is done in one-on-one dialogs. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”

• Ask for feedforward — for two suggestions for the future that they believe might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior. Participants aren't allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They're only allowed to give ideas for the future.

• Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Don't comment on the suggestions in any way. Don't critique them or even make positive judgmental statements such as, “That’s a good idea.”

• Thank the other person for their suggestions.

• Keep repeating the process at regular intervals (weekly, monthly) until the people involved agree that the behavior has been changed.

The intent of this post is not to imply that you should never give direct feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ways to reduce stress.

The following strategies have been shown to help when you're not coping well with the stress in your life.

• Early recognition.
Everyone has a "stress container." Once this container gets full and overflows, you start to notice symptoms of distress. The trick is to recognize when your container is getting full and to have a consistent way to pour it out so you always keep some energy in reserve.

• Monitoring systems.
People experiencing stress are usually the last to notice the signs. Give your spouse, children, friends, peers and fellow employees permission to tell you when they see the signs. Normally, if you get angry and defensive, they won't tell you directly. So give them permission to tell you the truth.

• Exercise.
While exercise can help your overall health and longevity, and assist you with weight-loss goals, physical exercise has many stress management benefits as well. Working out and getting more physical activity in your life can help you relieve tension and manage stress with increased endorphins, social support, improved immunity and other positive benefits of exercise. Not only will you be more relaxed and happy, you’ll be healthier as well.

• Progressive muscle relaxation.
By tensing and relaxing all the muscle groups in your body, you can relieve tension and feel much more relaxed in minutes with no special training or equipment. Start by tensing all the muscles in your face, holding a tight grimace for ten seconds, then completely relaxing for another ten seconds. Repeat this with your neck, followed by your shoulders, etc. You can do this anywhere, and as you practice, you'll find you can relax more quickly and easily, reducing tension as soon as it starts!

• Deep breathing.
Deep breathing is an easy stress reliever that has numerous benefits for the body. It brings more oxygen to the blood, which ‘wakes up’ the brain, relaxes the muscles and quiets the mind. Breathing exercises are especially helpful because you can do them anywhere, and they work quickly so you can de-stress in a flash.

• Meditation.
More than 1,300 scientific studies have documented the benefits of meditation. Meditation builds on deep breathing and takes it a step further. To meditate, put yourself in a place of relaxation and listen for that "still point within yourself." Slow down your thoughts so you can have feelings in between your thoughts. The mental focus on nothingness keeps your mind from working overtime and increasing your stress level. Significant neurochemical changes happen during meditation and trigger the relaxation response including the release of certain hormones that promote health.

• Relationships.
Feeling connected to other people plays a major role in reducing stress. Isolation from others increases stress.

• Sex.
You probably already know that sex is a great tension reliever, but have you officially thought of it as a stress-relieving practice? Perhaps you should. The physical benefits of sex are numerous, and most of them work very well toward relieving stress. Sadly, many people have less sex when their stress levels are high. Learn how to avoid this.

• Music and the arts.
Listen to music, read a book or watch the sun set. The right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body and calm your mind. Music that works for me includes Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Enya's A Day Without Rain and Yanni's It's My Time. Having multiple-sense imagery causes immediate neurochemical changes that enhance the relaxation response.

Ben Franklin summed it up well. In times of stress, the three best things to have are an old dog, an old wife and ready money.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Managing stress.

All stress isn't the same. Positive stress - "eustress" - is energizing, motivating and can be fun. It's healthy and allows us to be more productive. Eustress adds spice to life.

Negative stress - chronic, unrelenting stress - depletes our reserves. When little stresses build up over time and never get resolved, they can become a big problem. These cause depletion of the system, eventual disease, including heart disease, and other dysfunctions.

"If people weren't stressed, they wouldn't do any work today," says Dr. Jerry Kornfeld, an expert on this topic. "It's how you cope with your stress that counts. If you don't cope with your stress, you get 'distress.' That's the enemy. That's what causes disease."

To check if your current stress level is dangerous, Dr. Kornfeld recommends the following simple self-test:

1 Would you describe your health as anything less than good?

2 Do you have high blood pressure?

3 Do you have skin rashes?

4 Do you have anxiety?

5 Are you often angry?

6 Would the people around you say you're not coping well?

The more you answer "yes" to these questions, the more distress you're feeling.

Worst Stress Scenarios.

The worst kind of stress leads to anger, hostility or the feeling of being in a constant rush because of time. Of more than 1,000 attorneys studied in a recent survey, those who fit this profile were three- to five-times more likely to have a heart attack. Those who were in the category of most hostile or most angry had the greatest chance of dying within the next five years. The study was also conducted with physicians. It found that doctors in the most stressed category had five times the risk of dying compared to those in the least stressed category.

Being Type A, in and of itself, isn't necessarily associated with a greater risk of heart attack. But being in the "hostile and angry" subset correlates with "high risk." So do regular intervals of "polyphasic" behavior - the kind of multi-tasking behavior that correlates to being in a chronic time crunch.

Tomorrow we'll review some ways to reduce stress.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Consolation, a poem by Billy Collins.

To celebrate the Fourth of July, I'm sharing a poem by the current U.S. Poet Laureate, William James "Billy" Collins. Collins says his poetry would have not developed in the direction it did, for better or worse, were it not for the spell that was cast over him as a boy by Warner Bros. cartoons. The freedom in cartoons to transcend the laws of basic physics, to hop around in time and space, and to skip from one dimension to another has long been a crucial aspect of imaginative poetry.

Given the price of gas these days and the number of people staying close to home for the Independence Day holiday weekend, the following poem seems very appropriate!


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes of famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Coaching to improve employee performance.

The next step after conducting a performance review is coaching - to enhance employee capability and to improve awareness and self-confidence. It compliments and reinforces traditional performance improvement programs by adding important interpersonal factors to the focus on tools, techniques and work processes. Effective coaching is built around participative interaction with an emphasis on measuring quantifiable results. Most employees want to know: "How am I doing? How do you/the company feel about me? How do you feel about the role I’m playing? How am I progressing in my career at the company?"
People live for that feedback. Good coaches are 'non-threatening artists of encouragement.’

The following questions can be used to guide an employee coaching session:

What's on your mind?
* How are things going?
* What are you currently working on?
* What are some of the highlights of your week/month you want us to talk about?
* What would you like to focus on today?

What have you tried since we last talked?
* What worked? What didn't work?
* What stands out in your mind about the (meeting, assignment, interaction, interview...)?
* What’s worked best for you in similar situations the past?
* What have you seen others do that might work for you in this situation?
* How would you want to behave if that situation happened again?
* What can you imagine yourself doing differently next time?

What are you thinking of doing next?
* What steps do you need to take to be successful at what you’re working on?
* How do you plan to accomplish this?
* What would need to happen first?
* What else has to happen around you to make this work?

What obstacles might you encounter?
* What’s the biggest challenge you’re likely to face?
* What excuses might you make that could hold you back?
* What might prevent your efforts from being successful?
* How do you plan to overcome these obstacles?

How will you get the support you need?
* Who do you need to support you?
* How do you plan to get that support?
* What will the benefit be to you and to others if you accomplish this?
* What will the cost be if you don't?
* How will you see yourself differently if you do this?
* How will you feel differently about yourself?
* How will you work with others to keep this level of interaction (or whatever else fits here) alive and thriving?

Successful coaching depends on mutual commitment, enthusiastic engagement, regular meetings (which are scheduled separately from other business events), a focus on action planning, and regular accountability for results.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Avoiding pitfalls in performance reviews.

A common consequence of being uncomfortable with conflict or confrontation is that managers and supervisors avoid giving performance reviews to their direct reports. Or if they do, they give mostly favorable ratings in order to avoid any unpleasantness. Here are some typical pitfalls and thoughts about how to avoid them.

- Poorly prepared review.
Make sure the written and verbal review discussion is well prepared, well thought out and well structured. Gather and organize your notes so you have all the necessary information at your fingertips.

- Not enough time for the meeting.
Allow enough time for free and full discussion. Schedule ample time for the meeting (60 - 90 minutes - remember, you don't have to use all of it). Meet in a private office with the door closed and avoid interruptions (forward your phone, put a note on the door, tell others that you're not to be disturbed).

- Talking too fast or too much.
Don’t do all the talking. Encourage response and questions. Get the employee talking about their own perceptions of their strengths and development needs. Don't be afraid of silence and allow enough time for the employee to process and understand what you're saying.

- Using absolutes (never, always, etc).
Choose your words carefully. Use description and specific examples rather than positive or negative evaluative comments. Avoid broad, general statements that are unsubstantiated.

- No examples.
List any performance deficiencies or specific areas of improvement needed and note specific examples (e.g. missed deadlines). Prepare for the discussion in advance so you know what you're going to say

- Getting emotional or sidetracked.
Try to present information in a positive, proactive way where the employee feels there's something they can do about it. Tell the truth. Don’t waffle, or be tentative about the discussion or information. Anticipate potential reactions to your statements in advance so you'll be prepared with a proper response.

- Not listening (or interrupting).
Listen more than you talk. Focus on understanding the employee’s comments. Avoid interrupting.

- No eye-contact.
When you make good eye-contact it signals you care, you’re engaged and you’re sure of yourself.

- Inauthentic praise.
Be sure to make a list of special accomplishments and demonstrated strengths with specific examples of the employee’s contributions.

- Unjustified ratings.
Make the ratings fair and honest. Avoid the tendency to inflate ratings to avoid conflict.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How to have confrontational conversations.

Confront means “to be with someone, to meet face to face.” It doesn’t necessarily mean fighting with another person. It means getting on the same side of the table and investigating the issue together.
Confrontation is simply a search for the truth. The first step is to own your piece of the truth and then open up to other truths.

To prepare for a confrontational conversation with someone:

• Get clear on what you want, why you want it, and who you want it from.

• Clarify what's happened, how you felt about it, and what's at stake.

• Consider how an objective third party might view the situation.

• Examine your contribution to the problem that you're bringing to the table.

• Examine your feelings about the confrontation. How long has it been building up and how long have you been postponing it?

• Write your opening statement, refine it and read it out loud. Hear the words coming out of your mouth. Keep working on it until you get it exactly right. Give specific examples, but not too many or you'll bog the other person down in needless detail.

During the conversation:

• Make your opening statement and define reality the way you see it. State the issue in the first person in abbreviated form: “This is what I saw happen, this is how I felt about it, this is what's at stake for me, and this is what I want to resolve in this conversation.”

• Ask the other person to give their version of reality. Let them know you may ask a lot of probing questions. Make sure they know that you fully understand and acknowledge their position and interests.

• Identify what each of you learned during the conversation so far. Ask questions like, “Where are we now? What's needed for resolution? What was left unsaid that needs saying? Have we moved off our original positions? What's our new understanding? Given this, how can we move forward from here? What might get in our way? How will we get past that? ”

• Make a new agreement and set up a way to hold each other accountable for making it work. Ask, "When should I follow up with you?"

The key to successful confrontation is asking questions rather than trying to build your case. Ask only questions after you've made your opening statement. Don’t go back to building your case no matter what the other person says. That will only put them on the defensive and send the message that your mind is closed rather than open.