ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Art Makes More Than Dollars and Sense

A few years ago Carolyn Schuk, wrote in the Santa Clara Weekly, a powerful argument in favor of the economic value of having an arts community. I concur.

I also want to remind us of the emotional and psychological value of arts. It is through the arts that we see the vision of what could be. Arts inspire. Arts provide role-models of excellence. Arts bring us powerfully emotional connections to ourselves, our values, and our dreams.

We need the arts – both the performing arts and the visual arts. BUT, as Carolyn so wisely points out – in order for them to be financially successful as well as emotionally powerful, there needs to be a “there – there.”

Having a location around which many arts organizations, restaurants, art galleries, pedestrian friendly areas and shopping all come together is what makes for an economically thriving – and community enriching success.

Times Square in New York City. The Town Square in almost any city USA  or Europe. When I was in Athens, Greece, thousands of celebrants came to cheer at the success of one of their sports teams. They all came to the center of Athens, to Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) which was the square below the hotel in which I was staying. Looking out the window, I could see the excitement growing. Everyone knew where the action was going to be – everyone knew where to come to share their joy. Although not an art center, think Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It was and is the “there – there.”

One of the main problems facing retail business in downtown San Jose is that the city failed to create a center square. Instead, they broke up the main downtown streets by light rail and cars. This makes everything spread out and thus difficult to walk around – one almost needs to drive from event to event and the few restaurants are somewhat stretched around. In contrast, Santana Row got it right, much to the chagrin of many in planning in San Jose.

What does Santa Clara have? Franklin Mall? Valley Fair? The grounds around the City government buildings?

I agree with Carolyn. We need to develop an arts entertainment center – a “there – there.” 

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is Delegating Worth the Effort?

In almost all classes on management training as well as those about time management, we are taught the importance of delegating. Indeed, it’s something I harp on over and over again in my workshops, training, and MBA graduate classes.

Yet, some weeks are harder than others. It has made me think that sometimes doing it my self is faster and easier. Ever have that feeling?  I bet you have!

Let me share with you some of what I have recently had to deal with. They include work, home, and some volunteer work.


My Administrative Assistant

My administrative assistant is a lovely young woman with a great personality. She is always pleasant and willing to do any assigned task. Yet, over and over again I find that she pretends to know things she doesn’t know. Too, she is not nearly as careful as I need her to be. The latest in a series of frustrations for me:
  • Filing in the wrong files
  • Filing not even in file folders, but loose in the drawer
  • Making a list of what’s in the file drawer – which does not need to be done.
  • Mixing up documents to be filed with my basket of work to do – and I think she filed some documents requiring work on my part that I may never find again.
  • Leaving half finished work lying about – for me to put away.
  • Not writing down – or remembering instructions about how to complete a very important document, which needed to be done perfectly – thereby ruining 40 pages of work which had to be redone – because she didn’t save the prior draft.
Who’s at fault here? Probably ME. I teach a funnel theory of management, and yet I made the assumption that she was smarter, neater, and more careful than I am finding her to be.
  • I need to micro-manage more. 
  • I need to be slower and provide her with much more detailed information. 
  • I need to give her only one thing to do at a time, rather than a whole day’s worth of projects.
  • I need to point out (gently of course) things she left lying about, and ask her to put them away before she leaves. 
Of course, all of these require me to pay attention rather than being focused exclusively on what I’m doing.

My Computer (IT) expert

We are in the process of migrating my programs and files from my old computer to a new one – and the new one is not compatible with much of what the old one is attached to. So almost daily I hear these woeful stories of how this won’t work and that won’t work and how hard it is to do this, that or the other thing.

I want to scream. “Go away.” “Just do it.” “Leave me to do the work I need to do.”

I’m also told that I need to buy a new this that or the other thing – at hundreds of dollars of expense. 

Now, being a woman, where would I rather spend my money? On purchasing computer equipment or clothing and jewelry? You guessed it.

So, is it his fault for telling me all this, or my fault? Probably ME
  • I need to realize that his thinking style (he’s an IT guy) is vastly different from mine. I’m a soft-skill expert with a background in Psychology.
  • I need to realize that he thinks it is helpful and useful to share these details with me, whereas they seem like minute and uninteresting pieces of information to me.
  • He needs social time and recognition and these pronouncements are his way of trying to obtain both from me.
So, what do I need to do?  Remember that people are different and because of the differences in thinking styles, I, as a manager, need patience and tolerance.

Volunteer Work

OK, maybe I expect too much of others. I am doing volunteer work at a facility with Alzheimer’s patients. I have a lot of materials I use with them that are meant to be exclusively for my project with them – which is to help them watercolor (which by the way is a lovely things to do with them). Each time I go to the cupboard where my materials are kept, I find others have been there and messed things up.

I can tell in a variety of ways – things have been re-arranged. Paintbrushes have not been cleaned, nor placed in their proper receptacle. Papers have been shuffled about.
When I ask the staff, they tell me that no one has been in the cabinet so “I don’t know” must have made the mess. 

Since this is not my facility, I have little or no control about the matter. I cannot ask that the cabinet be locked because others use it for other reasons. I cannot demand that the materials be kept the way I want them, because not only am I a volunteer, but they pay for the materials.

So, I have to live with it. I have to change my expectations and not be so critical about neatness, carefulness, etc. Again, whose fault is the problem, you guessed it, probably ME.

Our expectations of how things should be done, or should look, or be kept are what frame our emotional responses to how we find things. Changing our expectations will change our reactions. So, what do I have to do?
  • I need to understand that this is an open cabinet and like it or not others use it.
  • I need to recognize that we are working with materials that are replaceable – these are not priceless works of art.
  • I need to lighten up and go with the flow.
So often we react to things from an unreasonable set of expectations, and by revising those expectations, our reactions will become more benign.


My Handyman

I am not handy. Nor am I a willing gardener. I found the perfect man to do all of these little tasks for me. He comes to my home twice a month or so, takes care of my patio, and anything I need fixing in the house. He’s wonderful and can do anything I ask of him.

So, you may ask, what’s the problem here? Do you just like to complain?

The problem is silly and simple. He uses my tools and sometimes doesn’t put them back in the proper place. When I need a screwdriver I have to search for it since it might be out on the patio, or might be in the garage on the table, but it belongs in a particular drawer in the toolbox.

So, whose problem is it? Yup, mine again!
  • I need to ask him to be more careful and to replace things where they belong.
  • I need to lighten up and not get frustrated over the little things.
Delegating, delegating, delegating. In this case, I can’t even do some of these things myself – so I need to learn to be grateful to those who can do what I can’t do easily.

How does this relate to those who work for you in your organization?

My Housekeeper

My housekeeper has cleaned for me for many years – possibly even over ten years. She is reliable, honest, decent, and totally trustworthy. She also over-reacts to small things. For example, if she accidentally chips or breaks something absolutely of little or no value, she apologizes as though it were a priceless piece of crystal.

But, when she cleans, she moves things. Not only does she move all the knickknacks to the back of the table or chest on which I’d neatly arranged them, she moves things from right to left when she cleans. When I go to find something, it is not in the place in which I left it for my convenience or aesthetic sense. It drives me nuts.

Sometimes I laughingly and lightly point this out to her – and she laughs in return, but never changes her behavior. So, whose problem is it? Probably ME.
  • I need to tell her that this matters to me by being direct and congruent.
  • I need to stop giving her mixed messages by joking and being light about it.
  • I need to show her where I want things placed.
  • I need to remind her when they are re-arranged.
Unfortunately, I’m rarely home when she cleans, and leaving a note around just does not convey the right attitude.

Other women with whom I speak don’t have housekeepers because of similar frustrations.  BUT, I believe in delegating. As frustrating as this is – and believe me it is – I’d rather spend the ten or fifteen minutes re-arranging things to my satisfaction that have to spend the three or more hours cleaning the house.

How do all of these apply to you as a manager?

It’s so easy to blame the other person for what we perceive as shortcomings. Yet, we as managers need to take more responsibility for:
  • How we communicate what we want from our staff
  • Who we hire to do a particular task and how we train them
  • Learning how they learn and understand and coaching them accordingly
  • How we hold people accountable, not just at the beginning, but during the life of their working for us.
  • Our own over-reactions “don’t sweat the small stuff” as they say.
I conclude by reminding us all – you and me – that if you don’t delegate and you do it all yourself, you will never have the time to do the more exciting, interesting, and creative elements of your job. The more you can delegate, the freer your time to grow professionally yourself.

So, in answer to my own question: Yes, delegate, but do it wisely.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

New Ways to Do Old Stuff

What do you do to encourage new and creative ideas in your workplace?
  • Are your policies and procedures so tightly wound (a nicer phrase than rigid) that there is no room for improvement?
  • Do you have managers who stifle good ideas because they think a different idea will make them look bad?
  • Do you hope that the good ideas will “bubble up” or do you have a process in place that enables them to come up the chain of command seamlessly?
Whether you call it continuous improvement, thinking outside the box, shifting the paradigm, creativity, innovation, or even working more efficiently and effectively, there needs to be a way to make this possible in your organization.

When we do workshops with clients, we create opportunities for people to freely talk about their ideas:
  • First by developing relationship, then trust, then opportunity.
  • Ideas are captured, evaluated, and given to the correct decision makers for approval or change.
  • Experimental – trial – pilot projects – are created when necessary and tools for measurement are developed.
The most effective and reasonable tools from “quality” and “six sigma” are utilized to measure and accept the best of the best new ideas.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Leadership in the 21st Century: What Makes it Different?

I recently spoke to about 120 college students – the leaders of tomorrow. My topic was “Leadership in the 21st Century”. I tried to give them a sense of how times have changed and what they needed to consider as they moved forward in their careers. I want to share some of my talk’s highlights with you.

Today, we are leading and managing in a global economy: In the past, we worked with people who lived near us, went to the same schools and houses of worship, and shared the same culture. It was relatively easy to understand the people with whom we interacted. If we hadn’t known them personally before, we probably knew their siblings. People from all parts of the world are now working side by side. They come from different cultures and speak different languages.

Their beliefs and values differ, as do the ways they’ve been managed. Thus, we need to learn new styles of management. We also are now a workplace of men and women, whereas in the past, genders largely operated separately. So our challenge today is to work with, and lead and manage, people who are different from us.

Today, the way we interact with others at work is changing, too: In the past, we communicated with people face-to-face. They were members of the same team, located in the same room. If they worked in other departments, we could walk from where we were to where they were and see them in person. This gave us valuable information and enabled us to develop positive working relationships.

Yesterday, we could “manage by walking around”, actually seeing and talking with the people we managed. Today, people work from home, or are located across the country or in other parts of the world.

Yet we are expected to work with them in teams, and to manage and lead them effectively. So we use e-mail, social media, Skype, and other technical tools. The advantage to this, of course, is that we can communicate with people all over the world without getting on planes. The disadvantage is that under these circumstances, it is much more difficult to create positive workplace relationships, to build trust, understanding, and rapport.

Today, technology and how we use it change almost minute by minute: I may be showing my age here, but I grew up before desktop computers even existed. I acquired my first while finishing my doctoral dissertation. It was a large computer that ran on a DOS operating system and performed mainly word processing. But over the years we’ve gone from desktops to laptops to minis to tablets. Soon we will just have chips implanted in our bodies. Phones have evolved, too, from dial-ups plugged into the wall to push-button, to cordless, and to cell phones that are getting smaller and smaller and becoming capable of doing more and more.

This is exciting, but it’s also chaotic. Too frequently, we must learn new ways of working. Instead of increasing our efficiency, these innovations often reduce it during the training phase. Then, once we’ve learned how to use a new software program or technical tool, something new comes along and we’re forced to adapt again.

Today, businesses creating products that cause such “disruptions” are considered exciting: Why? Because the technologies they offer are so different and imaginative they change the way we work, think, and interact. My Nook is a good example. I can now purchase and upload hundreds of books onto a small tablet that allows me to increase and decrease the font size to suit my comfort. I’ve considered donating some books in my personal collection to a public library – a thought I wouldn’t have entertained even a year ago. Businesses getting funded today are primarily those that create disruptive technologies.

But what is happening to stable and continuing ideas, services, and products? I fear our quest for newness often leads us to adopting fads – especially in my field of consulting. Most of us don’t offer anything new, exciting, different, or disruptive. We provide clear, concise, practical solutions to workplace problems. How boring to those wanting the newest fad!

Today, we are leading and managing an educated workforce: Few jobs (especially here in California) involve simple task accomplishment. Thus, managers must hire well, paying attention during interviews to how candidates answer questions, because that’s a clue to their intelligence (as well as that of the interviewers, I hasten to add). Moreover, we need to be sure there’s a company-culture (as differentiated from a country-culture) fit, because we rely on people to work in teams. In addition, we must manage today’s educated employees differently. Whips and bullying won’t work. A “funnel theory” of management is at play where you start with tight control, and as you get to know the employees and they get to know you, you may loosen control.

Also today, we must delegate and share the decision-making process. For many people this isn’t easy, and it’s especially difficult for leaders who started and nurtured their company themselves. It’s hard to let go and let others do it their way, which may differ from yours. Because of the complicated nature of work these days, the annual performance appraisal is worthless (although in my opinion it always has been).

Employees require frequent feedback; that is, they need to know in a timely manner that they are hitting the dartboard. Because of the aforementioned complex work, and the place in which we are doing it (home, office, another country), creating standards of accountability, and managing for them, are more difficult.

Today, creating and managing a positive emotional environment are harder too: Time and again, studies have shown that the emotional relationship people have with their teammates and supervisors plays a huge role in whether they stay or change jobs even during a recession. Yes, there will always be people who remain in a horrible job because they desperately need the money but, generally speaking, people stay where they feel good. Many organizations are developing software and Internet-related technologies that their employees may or may not see as helping humanity.

If you work for a hospital, a pharmaceutical company, or an outfit that’s developing better and safer ways to deliver food, you probably feel good about what you’re doing. But as a whole, it’s becoming more difficult for people to feel the job they perform is important. One development that’s enabling both organizations and their employees to feel better about themselves is companies’ growing awareness of their responsibility to the community.

Thus, they’re allowing – indeed encouraging – employees to give time as well as money to community service. Walks for organizations like the Red Cross and heart, diabetes, and cancer associations have become company activities. Allowing employees this avenue of service improves the bottom line – rather than reducing it – by enhancing the company’s image, increasing employees’ motivation and productivity, and advancing team development.

Today, we work primarily in teams, leading to increased conflict: When you work autonomously, or even as part of a group on an assembly line, your job is clearly defined and separate from the person next to you. So there’s little need for compatibility and understanding. However, the complex work we do these days requires teamwork, or at least frequent interaction with others. But since people are different, getting along is complicated. Team facilitators often make “storming” the first step in the team development process.

The term means disagreeing and allowing conflict to arise. Disagreements are natural and should be permitted. But all too often people are forced to quell their opinions in the interest of getting along. It is important to allow disagreement because dangerously bad decisions may be made if people are unwilling to speak up when they disagree. Team members from all cultures and parts of the world, no matter their gender or age, not only must learn to understand one another, but develop a common working culture while remaining creative and unique. Not easy!

Today, we tend to reject older people, failing to realize they have wisdom to offer:  especially here in Silicon Valley, we are so youth-oriented we assume that those over thirty have nothing new to provide. Yesterday, we revered the wisdom of our elders, both here and more obviously in many other cultures. When you looked at the upper echelon of a corporation, you saw many gray hairs. I’m hoping tomorrow will bring recognition that we older folk have a great deal to offer. There’s reason to hope. I recently heard the twenty-something CEO of a successful “green” software firm mention that her team recognized the importance of employing executives with leadership and managerial history. She called this having “adult supervision”.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Second Acts and the Less Traveled Road

If you are anything like me, your career has changed more than once now that you fall into the category the younger folk are calling “Adult Supervision.” As I look back on the many years I’ve been part of the workforce, I’m amazed at all the things I’ve done and learned. Today, as a writer, educator and consultant I find that the breadth and depth of my experience has somehow magically all come together in the service of my clients.

How about you? Have you chosen to change careers – or has a horrible economy made the choice for you? What are you considering? 

Some people I know are turning former hobbies into careers. Others are learning new skills and surprising themselves about the new competencies they are acquiring. Some are consciously taking “The Road Less Traveled.”

Let me tell you the story of a woman who took that road. Dr. Naomi Brill was a Professor of Sociology when she was forced to retire. Long a nature lover she started traveling back roads and writing about her observations. She submitted some of her musings to the local newspaper and they loved them and offered her a regular column. Soon thereafter, a syndicate noticed her writing, contacted her and syndicated her work. In the last years of her life (I’m sorry to say she is no longer among the living) Naomi purchased a comfortable motor home and traveled around the country observing, enjoying and writing about the flora and fauna she discovered. Her “road less traveled” gave her many years of pleasure, although the opportunity came about so unexpectedly.

My friend Carolyn Houston, a former IBM Engineer, decided to learn how to do taxes after retirement, and worked as a tax advisor during tax season. Other times of the year she was free to travel, which she enjoys doing. This year she retired for good, and is busily spending her time hiking, traveling, and visiting relatives. Knowing her as I do, I’m sure she will soon find another part-time career.

Several people I know have chosen to purchase franchises and are now owning and working in retail establishments. Some are enjoying the interaction with people and others wish they hadn’t taken that particular road. In some cases, finding the right employees has freed the franchise owners to only drop in occasionally. That, however, seems to be the exception. Mostly, once you purchase a franchise, you find it necessary to be hands-on-owner-manager.

On the other hand, a friend of mine purchased over a dozen sites of the same franchise and has professional management at each site. He and his family enjoy the luxury of the high life, and he oversees his various businesses mostly by phone and e-mail, only occasionally dropping in at one of the restaurants to make sure all is going as described to him by that management.

My neighbor recently opened his own professional tax office and another friend who had been down-sized has created a bookkeeping service. When Bernie Silver and his wife retired, they moved to Sedona where she pursued her art career and his now managing an artists’ studio. Bernie is finally writing the novel he always wanted to write.

I have close friends – from my High School days – who retired and moved to Boca Raton, Florida. For the first year of his retirement, Sandy chose to do absolutely nothing. He’d earned the rest. He’d worked so hard in the cutthroat New York business world for many years. During the year of nothing he did occasionally play golf – but not seriously. Now, he and his wife travel all over the world.

Why I am I telling you all this? To share with you that life isn’t over yet – and even if “they’ve done it to you” as many people think, you have choices. You might not have found the right one for you yet, but with a little searching and a lot of exploring, you too can find your “road less traveled.”

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Bringing the WOW Factor to Everything You Do

I worked with an organization which puts on an incredible yearly event organized by a committee – which are members from and serving a group of non-profits. The purpose of this annual event is to showcase and support over 200 local non-profit associations. In addition to booths, they have races and other events and hundreds – yes hundreds of people participate.

At their request I spoke to the group some days before one of their events and tried to inspire them to bring “WOW” to their booths and their promotional literature and explanations. Here are some excerpts from my talk – which by the way was highly interactive.

I asked:
  • What is WOW?
  • What is the purpose of this organization?
  • What makes an experience memorable?
  • How do you create WOW?
  • What are some of the factors that take something from ordinary to extraordinary?
  • Can we go above and beyond?
Of course the answer was to create an experience that was unique, quality, with great attention to details and without skimping. The better the quality the more the WOW.
Events need to appeal to all five senses, they have to be unique and show your brand in its best light. It has to be special enough so that people go away talking about it and telling others they must be sure to attend next time.

Mediocre doesn’t excite. Mediocre cuts corners and “saves money” at the expense of losing new money. Mediocre picks cheap caterers because they are cheap. Mediocre says let’s not create a mess – whereas excellence says, let’s have a clean-up committee so that we can clean up the debris from balloons and other theme-related items.

Mediocre says: “let’s do the minimum we can get away with.” WOW says: “let’s make every aspect of this special and excellent.”

Wouldn’t you rather attend events that are filled with WOW?

WOW - Customer Service at its Best

During my travels recently to Dubai and Africa, everyone we met – but especially in Africa – whether in the hotel, the stores, or on Safari exuded the very best in customer service. Each person we encountered was gracious and pleasant, anxious to please. They were not phony, not condescending, but truly willing to be of service.

We tipped – A LOT!

Our guides were highly educated and well trained. Their goal was to provide us the most interesting experience we could achieve during the time we were in their care. They each went out of their way to find the right locations to show us the animals we wanted to see. For me it was always the lions. My niece, Gabrielle fell in love with the hippos.

In the dining halls, everyone catered to the specific needs or allergies of the guests. Learning about them, they remembered them meal after meal – never failing, for example, to create gluten free dishes for my niece.

Our agents at the airports made sure all the details were well handled and we got on the right planes (lots of little ones) at the right time.

Not only was it what they did – it was how they did it. It felt to me, always aware of and probably too critical of customer service – that this came naturally to them. They were proud of their jobs and pleased to please.

Compare that to how often we experience serving staff with attitudes that make us think they think they are doing us a favor.

Let’s bring back customer service – internal and external – at its best. Let’s really try to do our best.

WOW – excellence – again.  My perpetual theme.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Saving Money While Increasing Productivity

When I look over the shoulders (metaphorically speaking) of the employees of my clients, I often see them doing unnecessary work and making things harder for themselves.

They hire someone to do a series of tasks, assuming that person will find the most effective and efficient manner in which to complete these tasks. All too often the process used is far too cumbersome for the task at hand.

In part it is because no one taught them the simplest most effective system to do their tasks – instead in the misuse of the concept of empowerment they were told to figure it out themselves. In my opinion that is management abrogating responsibility.

Another reason is because people invent these elaborate systems to prevent embezzlement or fraud – often the solution is far more costly than the real risk involved. Yes, we need checks and balances – but sometimes we go way too far. It’s a challenge for me to help these people realize that some of what they are doing isn’t worthwhile.

Work Smarter

Many of us in both our public and private lives are looking for ways to save money. For some, it means cutting out spending on things we want. These people talk about “tightening the belt.” But I find that people waste money doing work or using things that are unnecessary. By just working smarter they can save lots of money.

In some cases processes are redundant and time and money are wasted. Ask yourself these questions: 
  • Are you double tracking simple tasks that are already tracked in business applications?
  • Are you spending too many dollars to protect against the possibility of a one in a thousand problem?
  • Do you have more than one department working on the same tasks, not knowing what the other is doing?
  • Are you making it difficult for people to communicate with each other when they need to check in with each other frequently?
  • Are you providing your staff with bits and pieces of the information they need rather than giving them the whole information?
  • Do you have endless unnecessary meetings? Could some of these be eliminated? Shortened? Less people needed to attend?

We Don’t All Know All the Answers

Sometimes getting outside expertise to work WITH your team enables everyone to look at things differently and to find more effective and less-costly solutions to solving problems.

I don’t do my own taxes – because to do so would require extensive new learning annually for just me. It doesn’t pay. On the other hand, my accountant learns all the new laws because he or she is applying them to hundreds of cases.

I don’t service my own car. I don’t know how. I don’t want to know how. I use people I trust who are reliable and ethical.  They do a far better job than I ever could, even if I learned how.

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Although styles differ, there are basically only a few primary goals in negotiation: Win/win, win/lose or lose/lose.

Of course the best of them is to create a win/win situation. If both parties are satisfied with the results of their negotiation they will work positively to meet the agreed to terms. They will also be able to have continued relationships with each other. This of course requires an attitude of goodwill and cooperation. The parties to the negotiation must be willing to really listen to and respect the needs and concerns of the other parties. They must play fair.

In win/lose negotiation, one of the parties uses their position of power to intimidate and bully the other party. There is no courtesy – indeed they are often condescending, accusing and intimidating. They gloat over their positions of power.

In a lose/lose situation neither party gets what they want and need because one or both sides are intransigent. They stick to their guns no matter what the other group is trying to say. It is more important to them not to give ground than it is to negotiate a winning conclusion.

So what are some of the techniques that enable you to reach a win/win agreement?

In the following two examples, the strategies differed. Among them are the ability to step into the other parties shoes and really understand what he or she is saying they need – and why. Another strategy is to help them by making suggestions as to what they can do to meet your needs. In the first example below, I figured out what I could do to help the other person give me what I wanted. Make it easy for them. In the second, long time loyalty and relationship enabled me to negotiate more effectively.

Let me give you one example each of these methods:

In salary negotiations the applicant and the hiring manager eventually get to sit down to talk terms. Each has a range that they are comfortable with – and each hides that basic information from the other. They haggle back and forth and eventually it is important for the applicant to find a way to increase the offer.  In a role-play the other day, I was playing the applicant. The hiring manager offered me an amount that was at the top of her available range. I continued to be positive, to explain that I really wanted the job and liked the company, and wondered what else she could possibly do. She finally offered me a $5,000.00 signing bonus. I thanked and asked if it were possible to make that annual.  She agreed, thus I had increased my salary by $5,000.00 a year – now well into my desirable range. I did it by giving her a way to give me what I wanted.  In other words, you have to make it easy for the other side.

Of course that’s not the only way to create a win/win situation.  Let me give you another example.

When negotiating for a car a few years ago, I knew my limit. I told the salesman that I would buy the car (which I loved – and had already ooohed and ahhheed about) my bottom line and stuck to it. It was five thousand dollars less than they were asking. I knew they wanted to sell the car (it was used) and so stuck to my limit. The salesman played the usual games of going back and forth from “the back room” each time lowering his offer by $500.00. I stood firm, but polite. Guess what!  I walked out with the car at my bottom line price. Now, I wasn’t asking for anything outrageously lower than reasonable, but it was lower than they wanted.  I knew what was reasonable – and had a prior good relationship with the dealer. The reason they eventually yielded was because the owner of the dealership came in just as we were going back and forth and I said “Hi – tell your team to be good to me.” He did. They did.  Relationship trumped money. I still deal with them and the next time I buy a car, it will probably be from them.

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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Be the Best You Can Be

At a meeting of a professional women’s organization recently, I spoke with and counseled six different women, all consultants owning their own businesses. Each of these women expressed a desire to grow her business and to develop herself professionally. Yet, each failed to take the positive and powerful steps that would enable them to get where they wanted to go. 

Among the self-created obstacles they manifested or shared with me:
  • Not investing in their business equipment and supplies.
  • Doing everything themselves rather than delegating.
  • Not having support personnel to call on.
  • Not investing in professional marketing materials.
  • Not dressing as though they were successful.
  • Speaking in a quiet and self-effacing manner.
  • Not volunteering to chair, rather only offering “to help”.
Did you know that even today, many women sell themselves short and continue the self-defeating behaviors that kept their mothers’ in support roles, rather than leadership roles. It is still safer for us to be “helpers” or “committee members” rather than taking on the decision making and public persona of the leadership role.

Why do we do this? – Because we don’t want to look pushy, or bossy, or appear to be too strong or competitive. In other words, because it’s not “lady-like” to stand up and stand out.

When I mentioned this trait to a male CEO at lunch the other day, he responded believing this was no longer true, that women were as strong and dynamic in the workplace as their male counter-parts. He mentioned knowing 20 dynamite women executives. He’s right. He’s also wrong. For every 100 dynamite male executives he can point to, there is only one female. We are getting there – but we haven’t all arrived yet. It is wonderful to see the role-models that do exist – these incredible women who reassure us that we can be the best we can be.

One of the ways we manifest our self-defeating behavior is our lack of trust in our ability to be financially successful. We fail to invest in our own businesses or professional practices. Ask yourself how much money you invested in setting up your business. Compare this to others you know in similar professions. Typically, men will borrow whatever money they need to set themselves up, and women will start out on a shoestring, working out of the garage or second-bedroom.

How many other self-defeating behaviors can you identify that stand in your way of being the best you can be?  

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Managing for Creativity

When I met with 50 C-level executives to learn about how they managed creativity I spent between two and five hours with each of them having them answer an extensive open-ended interview questionnaire I’d designed. They thanked me for the opportunity to discuss the issues and said that just by the process of interacting with me about the topic they’d learned much and were going to implement some changes in their organizations.

For purposes of the research I created operational definitions of innovation, creativity, and the creative environment. Briefly – creativity is the process, innovation is the product and the creative environment allows for the freedom to experiment and play. The actual definitions in the questionnaire are more detailed.

My respondents wanted creativity everywhere in their organizations – although they certainly didn’t want people to necessarily make process improvement changes without going through a clearing process. 

On the other hand, rarely was there a process in place that allowed for process improvement or other creative suggestions to come forth. The reward and recognition systems in most of these companies were based on quantity of output and didn’t allow for experimentation or new ideas.

Managers and HR personnel were blamed for stifling creativity throughout the organization. However, as has been pointed out to me during the Reason Weekend presentation of this topic (thanks to my friend Carolyn Gannon) managers are working under constraints to meet their production assignments and are thereby forced to keep their workers working as previously assigned.

Although Carolyn is correct, in addition to the constraints placed on managers and therefore on the people they manage – there is also fear of change, of allowing someone to color outside the lines, of the talented newcomer taking their job, etc. 

Two examples from my research:  
  • A new President was brought out to run the west coast branch of an international insurance call center. Among his staff were about 50 telephone operators, responsible for customer service and responding to customer queries. This President decided that there needed to be changes to make working conditions better, improve morale and increase customer satisfaction. He set up a “Suggestion Box” and asked his management team to review the suggestions and bring him the good ones. Over a period of several months, no “good ones” were ever brought to his attention. When he questioned his managers he was told that none of the ones reviewed were worthwhile. He didn’t believe it was possible to not receive any good ideas and so asked to see all suggestions that had come in – and personally reviewed them and all further new suggestions. There were many wonderful ones that he implemented – and for which he rewarded the person making the suggestion.
  • A General Manager of a division of a huge semiconductor company told me that he and his team could not trust their Human Resource Department to bring them good candidates.  After much frustration the GM demanded that all resumes be brought to him. HR sorted the resumes, giving the GM those they thought most worthy on top. Over time he discovered that the better candidates were on the bottom of the pile – and from that time forward, he and his management team always reviewed the resumes from the bottom up. HR was sorting by the strictest definition in the job descriptions.

I’ve many other examples of the stifling of creativity – rather than encouraging it. Some of this comes about, as Dilbert so clearly teaches us, by living in cubes. Other problems arise because of the misappropriation of time, funds, and rewards. 

We need to establish a climate of creativity – an environment in which there is room for experimentation and new ideas to emerge, be talked about and tested.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Building Trust in Distant Teams

In the past we developed teams by putting people together and letting them spend time learning about each other before we charged them with completing assignments. In spite of all our best efforts, some teams were more successful than others.  

In order to be honest and forthcoming with others, a level of trust must exist. The less we trust, the more guarded and self-protective we become. That’s one of many reasons it’s a challenge to work effectively in teams. The challenge increases tremendously when the people involved haven’t been given the opportunity to get to know each other personally.

Today’s workplace consists of people working on projects who have never met each other face to face. Indeed many of them live in other countries. Those that might live close to their corporate headquarters often work from their homes, “telecommuting” and are rarely available for face to face meetings.

Trust is not easy to develop in the best of circumstances – when working with distant teams the problems increase tremendously. In addition, the team is frequently being led by a Project Manager – who has a dotted line relationship to the others and thus very little authoritative leverage. The Project Manager can only manage through persuasion and negotiation – two methods requiring a high level of trust.

Professor Larry Leifer at Stanford University discovered that when he had students working in teams from different locations members complained that they were doing more work than other teammates. When camcorders were placed in their cubicles so that they could see each other at work, the complaints diminished considerably. Apparently, the very act of seeing someone situated at their keyboard increased the belief that they were working hard.

We know that visual clues are critically important. In addition to Dr. Leifer’s research, there is a vast body of psychological research that has to do with how people perceive others based entirely on looks.

The more contact we have with another human being (assuming that they are basically trustworthy) the easier it is to trust them. One could even hypothesize that at some unconscious level, our sense of smell plays a part in what has to be seen as primarily an emotionally (psychologically) based decision.
Sound – or voice quality – is less effective than visual clues. When we know someone only due to our telephone interaction with them, we develop less personal or positive feelings than when we actually sit across the table from them.

We also have the variable of “low-context” and “high-context” cultures. Low context cultures are those in which business is conducted without developing personal relationships. This is akin to our decision to buy something from a discount or big box store. High context cultures are those in which relationships are developed long before the business discussions commence. You might relate this to your decision to work with a consultant, or a decorator, or even shopping regularly in a small private boutique store.

Most Asian cultures and France are considered “high-context” cultures. The development of relationship precedes the desire to do business, or even to doing a good job. This adds another dimension to the problems of building trust between people here in the states and their counter-parts in Asia or other parts of the world.

Given these problems, here are some tips to developing trust in distant teams:
  • Allow members of the team to take the time to get to know each other on a somewhat personal level.
  • Have in-house discussions, at all locations, about what is proper to ask and discuss and what crosses the line into intrusive or inappropriate.
  • Share pictures – not only of the staff, but also of their families. Most people are family oriented and grow to like (and trust) each other when they start to see pictures of their children and to hear stories about them.
  • Send your managers to the locations of their team members whenever possible. Although this is an expense, the potential value in developing trust, respect, and therefore greater levels of understanding and productivity is immeasurable.
  • Teach cultural diversity. Let the people in the various locations around the world learn as much as possible about the behaviors, customs, and expectations of those in other areas with whom they work.
  • If you have telecommuters who can be brought into the office once or twice a month, be sure to have as many face to face meetings as possible with them.
  • Use video-conferences and video-cams where feasible.
In other words, break some of the old rules that demand full focus on work related conversations only. Getting to know each other adds to the ability to work together well. 

Take the time and create the structure that enables people to develop relationships that lead to trust – which leads to cooperation, understanding, and higher productivity and creativity.

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Thursday, June 02, 2016

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

There is often conflict in the workplace. Sometimes it is merely miscommunication; other times there are stylistic or value differences that rub different people the wrong way. My experience with management is that most often they don’t really know how to deal effectively with conflict and so either ignores it, hoping it will go away, or they try to play Solomon (Judge and Jury) to resolve it themselves with limited information.

The process of gathering information is often contaminated by the belief that the person accused of wrongdoing is guilty and the bias is in favor of gathering only that information which would support a finding of guilt. This happens all too often. It is so easy to believe the person issuing the first complaint. Evidence that would disprove the allegations is often described in investigative reports as “denies” or “lies”.

I’ve seen people lose their jobs primarily due to a “rush to judgment” accompanied by a biased investigation. Perceptions differ. What is reported to you might not be exactly what happened. It is only by creating a totally neutral process that you can sometimes find out the facts. Conducting these investigations takes skill and often an outsider to the process.

Too, if the allegations are of silly, teasing, or fairly mild behavior or misunderstandings, instead of conducting an investigation you might consider having expert mediation – bringing the parties together to work out their differences. Quite often, with the proper help, a simple explanation and apology is all that’s needed.

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How Not To Hire

Today's hiring policies are designed to be "fair" and "culturally blind." Thus decisions are made that seek to treat every candidate exactly the same.  While the desire to be even-handed is a good one, the end result if too rigidly applied runs the risk of hiring incorrectly because the real information is never acquired.

Some government agencies apply this concept so strictly - by asking the exact same questions to each candidate - never probing and never varying. In this way, they never delve and only get the expected - canned - answers. So, they are defeating the process they are trying to achieve.

For example, when consulting to one of our Silicon Valley cities, I observed the interview process for potential new employees. There was a panel of interviewers. Each was given a specific question to ask every one of the candidates interviewed. There was to be no deviation allowed. Not even additional questions - including not being able to ask for clarification or more information.

The result - a false sense of fairness. Candidates were graded based on their responses and of course that were better rehearsed got higher marks. This came about because most if not all the questions were pretty standard and pretty obvious. Because of the limited nature of this process, very little beyond what was on the resumes was learned.

That's how not to hire.

A good interviewer will delve deeply into answers, seeking for example additional information, clarification, and anything else that will enable her to really get to know the professional strengths and weaknesses of a particular candidate.

When I interviewed for high level positions, I usually took as much as a whole day with the candidate. I interviewed, I observed and quite often I administered a battery of tests. That's because the decision to hire someone at the C level in an organization is critically important and a wrong decision can not only cost the company thousands of dollars, but can reverberate down the chain of command and cause inestimable harm within the company.

Now clearly you can't spend that much time with candidates for supervisory or below positions because the risk is less. On the other hand, there is risk - remember "one bad apple can spoil the bunch." But, instead of having a bunch of people each spend a few minutes, you might seriously consider having far fewer people spend more time delving more deeply.

Not only do you want to measure skills and learn about experience, you also want to learn if the personality, character and values are compatible with those of your department and company.

I've noticed that sometimes when the interview process is either a large panel of people or a chain of individual interviews, the person that gets the job is the most mediocre - he or she is the one that everyone could agree on - not the best qualified.

So, I caution you to realize that interviewing is a skill and will take among other qualities the ability to walk in the other person's shoes - to empathize - to listen - to observe and to get out of your own prejudices at the same time.

Good Luck!

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