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 . . .

Who Can I Tell?

 

Alicia Dale Cubs Trophy1

As a native Chicago South Sider,  I have so few people to share my photo with of me and the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series Trophy. Some of you will know what being a South Sider means immediately and many of you won’t get it at all. A wonderful thing happened in Chicago.  Isn’t all of Chicago celebrating and sharing in the success? Depends. Depends on where you live and where you’re from.

Growing up on the South Side makes you by birth a White Sox fan and immediately puts you at odds with the North Side. There are a few isolated South Siders willing to eschew all and root for the Cubs. The few I know are very happy about the win and I’ve shared my photo individually with them on my phone.

There is such a big South Side/North Side divide that I joke even when I moved downtown I couldn’t get north of Madison Street, the 0 (zero) street that divides Chicago. I went on to say that I would’ve had to get special dispensation from Mayor Daley, the ultimate Chicago South Sider. Getting it, long-time Chicagoans laugh.

Known as a brave one, I’m not brave enough to post my photo on Facebook where the event will mostly be met with radio silence, a thumbs up from the long suffering South Side Chicago Cubs fans and glee from those out of the state and out of the country that have no idea this divide exists, celebrating the joy of this extraordinary  win.

When the Cleveland Indians captured the lead, when the rain delay started, I thought “there really is a curse”. Resigned, I fell asleep.

Then the magic happened, the most unlikely player Jason Heyward, used the opportunity of the rain to meet with the team,  a time usually used to check self-phones or evaluate individual behavior or just wait. Heyward used that time in his own words ‘to remind the team who they are’.

Listening to  Anthony Rizzo’s, a cancer survivor, vulnerable, emotion-filled rally speech, I note the diversity of the team and had the realization that none of these men are native Chicagoans. They are not part of the divide. Rizzo acknowledges all who contributed – a real team and pays special homage to David Russo, oldest player soon to retire. I admire the diversity and inclusion.

Chicago’s most famous and loveable Cub fun, Bill Murray, gave his extra ticket to a random fan, a female. The diversity, vulnerability and inclusion is admirable all around.

The commitment to the South Side/North Side intolerance and divide resonates all around me as we currently argue gender, political and societal issues. Hard to believe, these divides are even deeper.  I deliberately chose the word argue and not debate. In a debate an effort is made to understand the opposing side, to listen to persuade, to come to a new, more informed conclusion.

With the Cubs win, I do not deny my South Side heritage when I focus on the inspiration and not the divide. I am enriched by the ability to embrace a new perspective and be vulnerable to what could be.

 I hope to take this 108 year-old lesson into dialogues around gender, societal and political issues. Join me.  Something wonderful is on the other side.

 

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

What do you think about Millennials?

 

This sometimes leading question can create a heated debate and lots of negative observations about this generation. Some of the things I’ve heard is “they’re spoiled, they are entitled, they have no work ethic, they need constant positive acknowledgement.” Those comments make me smile. Close your eyes and think about it. What generation couldn’t say that about the one that succeeds them? I guess these complaints mean that those that fall into Generation X and Baby Boomers are now officially old. BIG SMILE. The question is also U.S. Centric. Young people that fall into this age group are very different globally and, of course, stereotypes are never all-encompassing and are almost never fact-based.

When putting a team together especially in a situation where timeframes are tight, demands are high and failure is not an option, assembling the right team is a critical success factor. Some of the team members are at the company we’re working with already, some might be on our staff, some might be offshore and some may need to be recruited for a specific assignment. There will likely be several vendors. This complex, matrixed team will no doubt be very diverse consisting of several cultures, personal expectations, age groups and physical abilities. How do you align them to draw the best performance from each one individually, convince them to work as a team, while they are all so inherently different?

Communication is a high impact, low effort, low cost way to align the team. Unfortunately many of us are guilty of assuming that communication has taken place. We all speak, we all write, we understand what we mean. What’s wrong with everyone else? Why can’t they understand? Could it be because they’re young, they’re old, they’re not from here, or we don’t understand their education?team puzzle

When building a diverse team we’ll ask:

  • What can we count on you for?
  • Will you always be on time and prepared? Will you ask questions? Will you challenge in a way that doesn’t sabotage progress but thoughtfully facilitates progress? Are you respectful to those around you?
  • What will you contribute?
  • How do you handle conflict? What will you do when your opinion is not adhered to?
  • How do you handle ambiguity?
  • What do you do when you don’t know something?
  • How do you handle failure?

The answers to those questions are more important than the demographics people fall into.

“There is nothing either good or bad,

but thinking makes it so”, William Shakespeare

There are a lot of qualities about Millenials in the United States that I really appreciate. I like how they are living in really great neighborhoods with a lot of amenities vs. saddling themselves with mortgages they’ll likely never pay off. I like how young parents are willing to leave their children with family or trusted friends so they can continue to travel and learn and explore. They know what it’s like to be raised by a village. I’m inspired by the way they navigate complex relationships. They’ve either been raised in families of divorce and remarriage or are close to people who have. I am intrigued by the way they manage love relationships. A young couple I met was asked if they were serious, they’re reply was “we haven’t put a label on it”. Wow, this stretches my thinking! I admire the way they communicate openly. I am delighted with the creation of the new Holiday “Friendsgiving”

I must admit, I like the way Millenials are forging change. Don’t we all want flexibility? When was the last time someone appreciated you? When was the last time you heard ‘good job’? Do you think you can squeeze in a bike ride today or lunch at a really cool restaurant? If you can, do it.

And if no one has told you today . . . “Good job. I’m glad you’re here.”