Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clearly state desired outcome, then let people make it happen

Itay Talgam, in a Ted talk on leadership, shares short clips of various famous orchestral conductors. In one clip, he presents a very controlling conductor and he tells us that this conductor received a letter signed by all 700+ members of the orchestra that said, “you’re a great conductor. We don’t want to work with you. Please retire.”

Why? When we work under so much control, we can’t develop our own stories. And happiness at work (whether in an orchestra or in an office) "does not come from only (the leader's) own story. The joy comes from enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time."

Talgam tells of another conductor who says, "the worst damage I can do to my orchestra is give them clear instructions because that would prevent the ensemble, the listening to each other.”

How do leaders give clear instructions, but not so clear that they stifle their employees' development and commitment?

By ensuring the outcome he desires is clear, that his employees are trained and skilled enough to reach that outcome, and then by trusting and celebrating the way those employees choose to get there. At the very end of Talgam's talk, he presents a conductor who makes none of the typical conductor movements with his hands. He merely watches his orchestra play, his broad smile evidencing his pure enjoyment of their playing.

Talgam tells us, "do without doing."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How much do retailers know about us?

In this case, Target knew a high school girl was pregant before her father knew:

"About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

'My daughter got this in the mail!' he said. 'She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?'

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. 'I had a talk with my daughter,' he said. 'It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.'"

itemprop="articleBody">I'm not sure what's most concerning: that we're all so predictable, that we get into habits that are so ingrained that we are completely unaware of them, that new habits (and generally ones that aren't great for us) are very easy for us to form when we start them as a result of a marketing outreach, or that retailers -- and everyone else-- knows more about us than we seem to know about ourselves!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Turn on your email at specific times of the day; then turn off

Have you found lately that you might be working intently on something when you hear that little ding or see the number change on your email icon that lets you know there's a new message and suddenly you cannot concentrate?

According to Charles Duhigg in a NY Times article, as soon as we get a signal that we have a new message, "the brain starts anticipating the neurological “pleasure” (even if we don’t recognize it as such) that clicking on the e-mail and reading it provides. That expectation, if unsatisfied, can build until you find yourself moved to distraction by the thought of an e-mail sitting there unread — even if you know, rationally, it’s most likely not important."

You'll save yourself a great deal of time, used up in the mental distraction as well as the physical distraction of clicking away from your work and onto the email, by turning off your email when working on something important. In your day-to-day schedule planning, I strongly recommend turning on your email during specific times, turning it off for a specified length of time, then turning it back on. For example, turn on the email in the morning and deal with important items. Then turn it off for 45 minutes while you focus on other work. Take a break from that work for 15 minutes by walking around for 5 or 10 and checking your email for 5 or 10 minutes. Then repeat. You'll find yourself to be far more productive during those 45 minute stretches.

As Duhigg goes on to say, "once you remove the cue by disabling . . . the chiming of your (email), the craving is never triggered, and you’ll find, over time, that you’re able to work productively for long stretches without checking your in-box."

before you send that email . . .

Email Overload
Created by: Online IT Degree

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Formal hierarchy is a declining construct"

-- Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The new college graduates in managerial positions with whom I've met recently are interested in shared leadership, concensus-building, and cultures that support employee development. They use terms such as "human potential", "shared meaning", and "social good." And they're not smirking when they use them.

In my earliest experiences in management, I worked for companies that would have thought these terms laughable. We expected managers to stay overnight Saturday so that we could save money on their airfare -- even though these managers would have to fly out later Sunday to get to their destination in time for a Monday morning meeting -- leaving them only a few hours on Sunday with their families. We expected everyone to work a minimum of 10 hours each day; anything less would have been seen as weak and uncommitted. Anyone gutsy enough to make a decision that unfortunately went wrong would be roundly criticized in front of his peers.

These new graduates are creating a whole new world. I can't wait to work for them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the environment you create can influence your employees' IQ

I keep hearing people say that IQ is static and that EQ can change. I disagree: there is plenty of evidence that both can change. And, organizational leaders may influence their employees' IQs by the way they evaluate them:

"A group of participants suffered an average IQ drop of 17.4 points during an experiment in which they were ranked by their intelligence scores, suggesting that simply being ranked can profoundly diminish some people's ability to express their cognitive ability, says a team led by Read Montague of Virginia Tech." -- The Daily Stat, Harvard Business Review February 1, 2012

Do you rank your employees against each other? You might find being ranked motivating, but many people become stressed by these rankings -- and while some stress is good, this kind of stress limits the mind's ability to access information held in memory (psych.nyu.edu/phelpslab/papers/04_CON_V14.pdf ) and make good decisions (http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v10/n6/box/nrn2648_BX1.html).

I know you didn't devise a ranking system so that you could lessen your employees' ability to do well; you did it thinking a little healthy competition will generate the good stress -- the kind that gets everyone hussling a bit more. Can you share some other tools you can use to facilitate/develop your employees' innate motivation without preventing them from utilizing their greatest potential?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Coach whenever you can; Direct when your employee needs direction

Last year I wrote two posts on "Tiger Management", a play on the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". I've been reminded how important it is for some managers and leaders to give themselves permission to be Tigers when necessary by several leaders with whom I've met recently.

Each relayed a story of how they had tried to coach an employee toward learning a new skill. Yet, in each scenario, they were working with employees who were simply too green to figure anything out on their own. Coaching works when the coach has some basic skills upon which to build! Without those, the coach has to first direct the coachee, perhaps step by step, toward acquiring the skills.

Know where your employees are and meet them there. Be the manager they need rather than the manager you want to be.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gain clarity on your goals

Are you trying to get greater clarity on your goals or your organization's strengths? Do you want to communicate those goals more clearly to your team or your strengths more clearly to your clients?

The Thiagi Group has developed a list of "Concept Analysis Questions" that my friend Gayle Carney, founder of cctsbaltimore.org, found useful. It helps the user see where he has enabled scope creep, such that he is no longer focused like a laser on his goal but instead his focus has spread to seemingly related, but not useful, activities. I recommend going through the questions with your team, or at least a partner, so that you have others with whom to brainstorm.

Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

it's harder to be succinct

Several students were thrilled when they heard papers will be 600 words, rather than the 3-pages I used to assign.

I cautioned them to rethink their enthusiasm: it is much harder to be succinct than to be verbose. In a 3-page paper, a student has plenty of space to babble on. In 600 words, he has to get all the critical points articulated, delineate his action plan and persuade his reader of its utility and urgency.

Good luck!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can you watch the Superbowl enthusiastically but not so much that something breaks?

I caught a commercial a couple of weeks ago where the dad gets frustrated with an intermittant cable signal and slams his coffee table. His toddler daughter imitates him. Then, the story follows the daughter as she grows up pushing everyone around, getting kicked out of school, taking up with a guy with too many facial rings and having a baby. The commercial closes with dad holding his leather-clad grandbaby and looking dismayed. The announcer tells us that if we don't want our grandsons wearing dog collars, we'd best switch from cable to whatever they're selling (sorry, missed that part!).

I thought that was humorously absurd in the way that most commercials are, until my kids came home from school that evening with reports on their friends' reactions to the Ravens' loss. One friend threw the remote control at the television, breaking the remote. Another friend pounded a hole in the wall with his fist, and a third friend threw, and broke, a glass.


I spend the majority of my time working with organizations to help their employees deal with conflict productively and self-regulate their emotions so that they can manage their employees respectfully and focus productively on their work. I can only assume that in 15 years I'll have lots of business: 14 year olds who cannot self-regulate become adults who scream at employees, say things they regret in the heat of the moment, and are unable to focus in meetings.

What will you teach your children by your reaction to the Superbowl this Sunday? They're watching us all the time . . .