Things that appear to be the same, may not be exactly the same

So, I followed the 12 easy steps I outlined for myself after watching the ‘4 easy steps’ and the ’15 second process’ outlined by the man in the soothing sing song calming voice. And it almost worked. Thinking I would be smart (almost always backfires on me) I found an envelope of keys that I’ve used previously and found two keys that looked exactly alike. I re-keyed the lock to fit the new key. Then for extra measure I tried it with the second (I thought) identical key and now I locked the lock. Apparently the keys looked alike but were not exactly alike.

Defeated, not being able to re-key this lock after hours of time investment, I call my very talented, eager-to-help upstairs tenant. Turns out in his career of many paths, he worked at Menards at one time. Menards sent the Associates to a class on re-keying locks. I had an expert right upstairs but instead decided to try myself. He pointed out that the keys were not the same and also now my lock was ruined.

He suggested I go and buy a new lock. He pointed out that as good and as convenient that the Kwikset locks are, they are only good for 100 turns. It had been over a year since I changed the locks, it was probably passed it’s lifespan. Neither of my videos or any of my research pointed out this fact, although it felt true.

I asked if I should proactively change the lock that works and I was advised ‘no’. That doesn’t feel right, but it’s advice I get a lot. I prefer when things work and believe it or not, I really like efficiency. I’m dreading when I get the phone call that the ‘lock doesn’t work’ but now that I know it’s only good for 100 turns and the lock is passed it’s lifespan, I’ll just wait for the call.

When I get the call, I won’t assume that the process I followed here will be the ‘right’ process. It will likely be a year or so into the future when I get the call. Who knows what solutions will be available then?

I am sad though that all the locks passed their 100-turn lifespan will sit in a landfill.

Should We Post Weekly? Bi-Weekly?

The blog The Dots, and the process of connecting the dots, is not a forced activity. Concepts we hope may inspire thought and dialogue or influence positive work behaviors are also posted in our Podcast, our YouTube Channel, LinkedIn Articles and in our NLAChicago Report.  We post based on where the audience may best receive the information considering the content and by listening to audience preferences. This flexibility has worked for us. As the world changes, we’ll no doubt likely change again.  When I’m greeted with a demand for communication or to meet a deadline with no teeth, I sometimes reply with:

“the creative process is nurtured and not demanded.”

That comment is often met with a bit of perplexed contemplation.  It makes an impact though. It gives me some space to continue working on a project versus writing a report that demonstrates I’m working on a project. It also  helps me to protect the creatives and engineers doing the work. Such is The power of words.

It’s a true statement. The creative process is nurtured.  Most of the work world today is trying to innovate and problem solve. Measurements of success that worked in an Industrial Age aren’t the most effective any longer.

To further define ‘nurture’ I lifted and paraphrased from dictionary.com are:

‘to foster’

 ‘to feed and protect’

‘to support and encourage’

‘to raise up’

So why so deadline driven when working with idea development? Is the deadline real? ie we will get funding if we develop something by this date, is it customer driven ie we will lose a customer if we don’t do this activity and this date.

If the deadline is real, I have a couple of suggestions: meet it . . . or . . . push back. Pushing back is an option when your relationships are strong and a partnership exists. If you need to convince an investor that progress is being made, have them observe the progress vs stopping progress to report.

Daily, weekly or impromptu huddles are more productive than perfectly formatted, polished reports delivered on time, which may or may not be read.

Consider hiring a meeting scribe, and important role that is often overlooked. Someone to capture ideas and nuances is a critical success factor. This is a great job for a college intern, an apprentice or even a contract writer.

Demonstrate to your investors that progress is being made and great things will be achieved. Create a partnership of trust by communicating regularly and fluidly. If your relationship with your client or prospect is strong (if you want a competitive advantage it should be) keep demonstrating progress along the way, show milestones, allow them to be part of the problem-solving process. Demonstrate accountability and transparency on all levels.

You’ll have a great story to tell around how you’ve achieved success (or what you learned when you missed the mark) highlighting the challenges, roadblocks, and lessons learned. You’ll have a strong foundation for future success, sound relationships bonded through positively solving challenges, learning from each other, holding each other up, removing barriers and depending upon each other letting the best idea,  guided by the companies vision and edited by its values, win.

It’s Always the Process that is Broken, not the People that are at Fault

I went through the 6 Sigma immersion process at GE in the 90s under the Jack Welch regime. We were taught,  ‘when you are looking at systems and analyzing for defects and inefficiencies; always look for the gaps in the processes. Do not seek ways to blame the people in the process. This thought struck me deeply. I find one of the reasons we have process gaps and systems breakdowns is we are too quick to blame people – people on every level. The people who do the work, the people who design the systems and infrastructure, the leaders in charge. We blame the users for being unable to use the system. When you blame the people they tend to be less than transparent, they tend to try to present the best information available and minimize any potential flaws. In short, people who feel it is not safe to expose potential challenges will not expose them.

I try to use the mantra of ‘it’s always the process, it’s never the people’ when engaging in a new project. This philosophy has gotten me invited in to tough projects that need a successful outcome. Ensuring people that I know they are very bright, work hard and do the best they can with the systems and processes they have creates a deeper dialogue. Because I am authentic, it creates trust.

Do I get frustrated with people? Sure. Who doesn’t?

Here’s a recent example. I hired a Virtual Assistant (VA) to help with several administrative tasks. Keeping track of my appointments and schedule changes can be daunting. To have someone help me stay on top of this is such a big relief. I have 2 to 3 appointments a week – but they are critically important. I’m meeting with executives and influencers. I’m  building relationships, I’m building trust.  I cannot drop the ball.

The process steps include:

  1. Alicia makes a connection and convinces someone to meet with her.
  2. ideally the meeting is face to face
  3. if the meeting is not face to face it is a virtual video meeting (Skype, GoTo Meeting) or a phone call
  4. There are time zones to be aware of
  5. People may have to change times which will create juggling. The most ideal situation is to keep the original time and venue
  6. Alicia sends an email containing suggested times and a suggested venue to initiate a meeting.
  7. The VA is cc’d in the email.
  8. The recipient is notified the VA is being cc’d and it is explained that the VA will help secure the meeting and send a meeting invite relieving us both of the responsibility to do so.
  9. The recipient replies to the email, selects a time and venue.
  10. The VA sends a meeting invite within 24 hours.

Those are the steps – but it wasn’t happening. The process breakdown happened at step 10. A couple of days had gone by. I was trying to secure a meeting with an important contact. Steps 1- 9 occurred but step 10 remained stagnant. I noticed it once.

I sent an email to the VA cc’ing her supervisor ‘hey was this meeting planner ever sent?’ The planner was sent immediately after prompting. The meeting was secured. I was frustrated but let it go. Things happen.

A week later, it happened again. Now I’m frustrated. What am I paying for? Why is this happening? If I have to follow up on the meeting this eliminates my need for assistance. I flourish under the infrastructure of sound processes. If I can count on my VA to execute, I am freed up to secure more meetings and work on many other things.

After the second occurrence I was prepared to have a harsh conversation with the VA. Then I remembered ‘it’s always the process, never the people.’ Where could the breakdown be in the process? The VA appears to want to do a good job, and appears eager to help. Most of the time, tasks are executed really well. What’s going on here?

Getting grounded, releasing my frustration, I explain the situation to the supervisor. The supervisor looks into the situation and uncovers the email is not being checked daily. With a frequency of 2 to 3 meetings a week, it is understandable that the email is not being checked daily. There is often no meeting activity. After understanding that it is critical to do so, a process of checking emails daily is implemented.

Remember: it’s always the process that is broken, never the people. Doing so will engage your employees and colleagues.  It will create a culture of looking for solutions vs. looking for ways to assign blame. It will create a culture of transparency, agility and trust.

Now I want to go fix that bridge . . .

Purple

 purple-rippleListen or read the text below . ..

It’s surreal to believe that prior November 9, 2016  the biggest controversy discussed in my life was how I could be happy for the Cubs win as a native south-side Chicagoan. 

Then it happened. And the world erupted. Or maybe not. The domestic and international markets fluctuated but didn’t crash.

Did I vote for Trump? Nope. Was I crazy about voting for Hillary? Nope. Did I believe the system was functioning optimally? Nope. I voted for what I thought would influence the best change, however I understood from experience that the change would be minimal and slow.  I understood there would be gains but probably even more painful losses as evidenced in the implementation of Obamacare. Now while I don’t have to worry about a pre-existing condition I can barely afford the premiums and the deductibles of plan that won’t cover much. I get the pain. I get the anger.

President-elect Trump listened deeply and reacted in a way that mobilized many.  We have to respect that. If we were smart we’d learn from it versus continuing to debate it.

This was most recently evidenced by the well-meaning letter the cast of Hamilton read to Vice President- elect Pence. The intention of the letter may have been good but reading the letter to the Vice President- elect in front of the audience was in poor taste.

What if the cast of Hamilton used my favorite soft skill, ‘manners‘? What if they welcomed Vice President- elect to the performance? What if they thanked him for his presence in front of the audience? What if they diplomatically suggested this might be the beginning of a healing dialogue and perhaps some much needed change? Would Vice-president elect Pence have been open to a continued dialogue?

“When they go low, we go high.” Not this time. As artists and communicators the cast of Hamilton did not best use their enviable gifts to influence and persuade. Like President-elect Trump artists’ voices have power. Artists have the opportunity to influence change.

The ship has sailed. This is the new administration.

  • If we don’t like the people in the offices we can at least respect the offices they hold.
  • If we don’t understand the political process, we should challenge ourselves to understand it.
  • If we do understand the process and we think it’s broken, we should challenge ourselves to fix it.
  • If the process is working but does not reflect our country’s values, we should work to change it.

I understand red and blue make purple.

Let’s work toward purple.

 

 

This is What I Thought I Sounded Like . . .

Listen to Are we still DOING this?? to hear an excerpt of my Key Note Speech at a Conference for Chicago Tech Chicago last week. I said something like this and got most of the points in. My practice tape sounds more smooth. We’ll see what the real talk sounds like when @ChickTechChi posts it! I was kind of in the zone, fingers crossed that I captured all the key points!!

 

The World of Possibilities . . .

The World of Possibilities . . .

The Power of Mutual Respect

Unlock the Power of Potential with Mutual Respect

Click to Listen if you’d prefer not to read

I had a client meeting this week. The President of a middle market software firm called me to explore some possibilities of how we might look for a technological solution to solve a current challenge in the business.

Although we exchanged four phone calls, one email and had one live conversation, when I arrived for the meeting he was not in the building. He was called away to a client site.

The intention of the meeting was that he would invite several members of his team to have an exploratory dialogue about what the perceived challenges are and what the potential solutions might be. Unfortunately this was all in his head and had not been communicated to anyone else directly.

When I arrived, the Marketing Manager, who knew me from previous work was surprised to see me. I explained the situation and she said, “The President has talked about this for a while on different occasions. I know he has a vision around it.” We both agreed we didn’t know exactly what he was thinking but this was now becoming a priority. There’s tremendous power in this kind of mutual respect. We were able to advance with no clear direction. There was no anger about not knowing of the initiative. There was no disappointment of not being included in a potential meeting. There was no griping about the President following through on something before all agreed it was the right time. This mutual trust and respect was mobilizing.

Because I know the President pretty well, I knew he’d be very remorseful he forgot to reschedule our meeting in his haste to service a client. I trusted that he would be ok with me sharing our phone conversations with his Marketing Manager. She had a little time so  I shared what I thought the intention was and she shared what her previous experiences were of this potential opportunity. We agreed that we would explore ideas and just talk with no agenda of where the conversation might lead. We knew that there would be a follow up meeting after the President had time to inform the team that he was taking a first step in exploring some possibilities. We agreed, that our dialogue would further that mission.

Later that afternoon I received a sheepish, apologetic call from the President. We talked about how many demands we all face today and how we’re inundated with so much information it’s hard to keep up. He was thrilled we made good use of the time by have an initial dialogue. He and his Marketing Manager teased each other about their complimentary strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll be out next week to meet and explore possible solutions with a greater team to have a richer dialogue.

I can’t wait to work this company again. There’s nothing we can’t create together.

 

 

 

 

How Being a Strong Team Member Builds Leadership Skills

In 2003, I volunteered to work in a Catholic orphanage in Peru. Our team of motivated volunteers were eager to help. We were the second group of organized volunteers from the USA to go to the mission. The organization of the grass roots effort was somewhat messy but extremely enthusiastic and well-intended. The Priest there asked for donations to plant a tree. The volunteer group was appalled, we knew best, people needed medicine and clothes. We wanted our money to make a difference. We’d flown over here to help. We didn’t always have access to Padre Miguel. He was busy overseeing medical facilities, orphanages, job training efforts and putting out fires. People in poverty have issues with drugs, sickness, broken families and crime.

When I finally got a few minutes with him, I asked, “Padre Miguel, why do you want us to plant a tree when there’s so much need here?” He replied, “the children here in Pachacutec have never seen a tree. There’s no nature here. I want them to have the experience of seeing something green.pachacutec

I realized from this experience that by embracing your role and executing in the best way you know how you are serving the vision and the mission. I realized that leaders don’t always have the luxury to explain to every person why each request is made. When I am in a support role today, I do the best I can with what I am asked to do realizing that the solid execution of my work is an integral part of the whole.

If, over time, that trust is broken, we each have the capacity to decide whether or not we want to continue. If you decide that your work is meaningless, please make the decision to find an organization that will value your contribution where you are aligned with the vision and the mission.13 years later after my trip, I can see that Coprodeli is flourishing and growing. The organization has evolved greatly from where it was when I was there

  • Perhaps the money we provided to plant a tree provided hope and inspiration to carry on?tree-oak
  • Perhaps the feedback we provided as the second group of volunteers in a grass-roots effort helped to create more structure?
  • Perhaps the optimism and dedication of volunteers gave the families hope?
  • Perhaps by contributing where we didn’t understand how we were helping, we somehow helped move the organization forward?

I believe the work we performed did help.  It’s evidenced in the growth, the expansion and the enhanced infrastructure of the organization we visited so long ago.

 

Leadership

I gained a deeper understanding of Leadership while working on an assignment at a financial services company that serves the military and members of the military community. Like many people I thought Leadership means that the person in the corner office does the right thing for the benefit of the organization’s mission and for all, while giving clear direction. I thought Leadership meant that Leader had personal integrity and could be trusted. I learned the military professes we are all Leaders. We demonstrate our Leadership every day in our actions, our decisions, and our interactions. In today’s competitive, ambiguous, fluid and transparent world personal Leadership skills are increasingly important.

 

As a consultant, there are times, when I’m asked to weigh in, in confidence, on the behaviors of those I work with. I take the responsibility seriously and give my answers thoughtfully and carefully. I know that my answers have the power to help the person we are discussing succeed or can sometimes even influence their exit. I personally believe that every person comes to work every day to give the greatest contribution that they can. If, for some reason, they are not doing the right things, they have not been given the proper direction or support. They may be working with broken processes. When I’m giving tough love to clients I’ll tell them “you get what you build”. If your employees are cynical and not contributing to their best ability –” you built that.” If your employees are motivated, engaged, and contribute beyond your expectations, “you built that too.” If you want different behaviors, you must conduct some critical self-assessment and ask yourself what you and your organization can do differently.

 

A manager brought me in his office to ask about one of the employees I was assigned to work with. The employee did not acknowledge my emails, if he showed up for meetings he showed up late. He was often un-prepared and un-informed although this employee was pleasant, knowledgeable and well-liked.

 

Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

 

“Alicia, what do you think of John? Is he pulling his weight on this project?” (I hear the subtext here, the manager is not asking an exploring question, he’s leading me to validate his opinion the employee is not pulling his weight)
My response, “John is very bright, he has a lot to contribute, I do, however, think he can work on his leadership skills.”
The manager leans forward, not expecting this answer. “John’s not the leader on the project.”
I reply, “True, however he’s an important team member. Emails are often not consistently answered in a timely manner, if at all. He does not regularly attend meetings. If he’s absent from meetings, he does not send a delegate or ask for meeting notes. His input is critical. We won’t be successful without him. By raising the bar on this behavior, we will run a more efficient project and manage resources more effectively.”

 

The manager leans back in his chair with a new awareness and is now armed with information to better help his team member achieve greater success, through improved leadership skills.

 

We are all leaders. We demonstrate it every day in all we do.