2017 Year-End Reflection

During this time of frantic year-end promotions, rather than riding the wave of promotion and joining in, my thought is it’s time to pause and reflect. I even saw one post from an executive coach that said ‘next year starts now.’ No it doesn’t, next year starts next year. Now is now. I’m pretty sure about that.

If you have a chance, take time to consider the questions listed below. Think about them for yourself, your business, your team, your organization, your family, your friendships, your state in life. You might enjoy the exercise.

THE YEAR PAST

  • What went Well?
  • How did you grow this past year?
  • What were your peak moments, and why?
  • What’s not working?

Wrap up your year by giving it a theme “2017 was the year of _______________”

THE YEAR AHEAD

  • What do you want more of?
  • What action steps will you take?
  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • Who will you connect more with?
  • What’s your mantra (or word) for 2018?

 

Choosing a Word or a phrase to guide your year can be a great way to stay grounded. I learned this tactic from an executive I worked with a few years ago. I’ve found the process to be so powerful I do it each year. I shared the idea with friends who’ve enjoyed it. Each year we’ll discuss what our new word will be and reflect on the previous year’s word.

This year my word is Open. I chose the word pretty quickly without realizing how powerful it is. It’s a great theme, ‘open to ideas, open to failure, open to possibilities, open to being wrong, open to different revenue streams, open to partnerships,  open to conversations, open to connecting. . . Open.

I hope you enjoy every minute of this year as you plan to embark upon the next.

 

photo credit: Tephramiriam Communications, Printers Row, Chicago, IL 2017

 

 

 

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 . . .

Soft Skills: Communication . . . and Manners

soft-skills-communication-and-manners

As I interviewed my control group of ten in preparation for the Chick Tech Conference, the women (consisting of mechanical engineers, process engineers, computer engineers, program managers, a scientist and a medical doctor) they said they would like help with the Soft Skills.

I think one of the reasons people with scientific and engineering minds do not spend a lot of time investing in the soft skills is because there is not a current widely accepted measurement of them. Measurements are being developed. A google search on measuring trust, reputation, social impact will reveal good work that is evolving here.

I may hire a college intern next summer to write a white paper on this topic as it’s a topic that interests me and I’d like to share more on it.

In the meantime, here’s the excerpt I shared at the Chick Tech Conference

When you don’t know, ASK . . .

question mark

I’ve been in so many situations I know nothing about. Working in several different industries I’ve had to ‘get smart, fast.’ How do I do it? By asking questions . . . and more importantly listening to the answers. Since I wasn’t really sure what would be valued at the Chick Tech Conference, I put together a control group of 10 women and I asked them what they would like to hear at a conference like this.

Then I listened.

Listening is something that you can never do deeply enough. Words are only a small portion of communication. So many factors go into the message. When I listen to a client, I start with secondary research. I read everything I can, starting with the website.

When I have a face to face meeting, I don’t report what I learned, I listen more. I ask open-ended questions (who, what when, where, why, tell me more . . . ) If I find a discrepancy between the secondary data and the conversation I’m having, I’ll listen more.

Several things might be going on . . . they might be creating something new and it hasn’t yet been documented. Or the person I’m speaking with has a more narrow view. I may have a broader vision of the topic based on my research. The person I’m speaking to may have a specialized view if they are a technician working in a specific role. I listen to them and I learn more.

 

prism

When I’m listening I often think of it as holding a prism up to the light. Each time I turn the prism a new brilliant color or luminous image will be revealed. Listen deeply to your audience as you gather requirements, create new technology, discover scientific solutions, build a new business or bring a product to market. Listen . . .

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 . . .

Education vs. Learning

I recently took a course in renewable energy at NYU. As I signed up for the course I received 20 or so emails containing different promotional announcements. After the first email which provided the details of the course, I did not open the remaining 19 or so messages. This is unfortunate for me as one of the emails contained the syllabus that listed the pre-reading for the course. I received that email the day before directly from the instructor. I spent the entire day consuming hundreds of pages of data. This oversight was my error, I just didn’t have the time to filter through the emails to determine which ones were relevant to me and which emails contained information that I might want to review at some time.

It was also announced in one of the unread emails that NYU would be changing their certification course program, eliminating certifications now calling the courses Career Advancement Courses. I loved it. After one or two courses I would have enough information and connections in the any given field to pursue my interest in that field. If I want to or if it’s necessary I can pursue an advanced degree in this discipline. As is true with any change, many students did not value the certification and many were disappointed that the certifications was being eliminated.

Gift vintage certificate / diploma / award border template in vector

I congratulate NYU for taking this bold move. If a university the caliber of NYU has the courage to make such a decision, others will follow. That’s impressive leadership. NYU made this decision by evaluating the data of students that took their courses. They learned most took one or two courses but did not complete the certification. Non-certification courses are also less expensive and more accessible to a wider audience. The goal of the courses is career advancement, so they decided to call the classes what they are: career advancement courses.

As I work on large, complex transformations business architects assess the resources of: People, Processes, Technology and Information. (PPTI) When evaluating the resources of the People we have today and the talent we need to implement a transformation, education and certifications can become a barrier. The current staff, while functioning adequately, may not have the required education. If they are not functioning sufficiently and need to develop new skills quickly the time it takes to earn a certification or advanced degree is just not agile enough for the goals of the project or to remain competitive. The available talent pool may not have the required formal education but might have transferable skills.

When we do find the talent that meets all criteria they may not want to do the tedious work that is necessary as it may be vastly different to the reward and experiences they had in academia. Compensation may not be available to adequately counterbalance the investment the student has made in their education. While the candidates may have the education required, they may not have the skill further delaying progress.

There is a gap.

Victor Saad created his own solution to the large investment in education and the lack of guaranteed employment as result of the education in the Leap Year Project. This is not an accredited program yet but I hope one day it will be. Mr. Saad is sharing his process with the creation of the Experience Institute.

Why do we now rely so much on education and certifications? My view is it is the path of least resistance. When hundreds maybe thousands of resumes are received for a position it’s easy to electronically cull the universe and make it more manageable by dismissing any resume that does not have the required education. It also, on the surface, relieves the responsibility of hiring managers and leaders of critically assessing talent and being accountable for their results.

What talent are we not considering by relying on education alone? Those over the age of 50 that have had long-term careers? Those that have worked in non-competing industries in similar functions? Veterans that have skill, discipline and leadership skills that are needed but don’t easily translate? Those educated outside of the country that have the skill but their education is not accepted in the US?

It would require time, leadership, communication skills and critical thinking to evaluate the current and potential resources of People.

Some will argue with me that there are laws that prohibit them from considering other talent and they cannot incur the legal risk. This is sometimes true but not always true. My opinion is we do not allocate enough time to hire talent. Once we do hire, we are reluctant to have uncomfortable conversations and invest in those we recruited so diligently.

If we recognize the accurate amount of time it takes to recruit and to develop people as well as having the courage to have uncomfortable conversations; we will readily identify we are surrounded by a pool of potential talent.