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.

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 . . .

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.

 

 

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 . . .

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.”

How do you identify the Root Cause? Part 2

 

Start by Asking Questions . . . and then listen deeply to the answers.

 

“The greatest challenge with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”   — George Bernard Shaw, Playwright

 

To begin to assess whether or not the movie Concussion did not receive an Oscar nomination due to racism I would ask the following questions to attempt to identify the root cause:

  • Does the Academy see all the films they will vote on? If not, why not?
  • Is the Academy qualified to vote on the films they watch from a technical aspect?
  • Was the topic of exposing some ugly history in football too painful? Many people are passionate about football. They may have played the game themselves or have children that played. They may have children or family members playing football right now. Would seeing this film require people to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths? What are the Academy’s ties to the NFL?
  • Concussion was filmed while those involved are still living. Do members of the Academy have relationships with professionals that were involved?
  • I learned Mike Webster was Philadelphia’s favorite son. Do those that knew Mike Webster and his family during this painful time now feel remorse? Would it be easier to bury this topic and move on?
  • The movie was rated PG-13. Do ratings matter? Would the movie have been more attended with a rating of R? Would more sex or violence attract a broader audience?
  • PG 13 allows children over 13. Are children asking to see this type of movie? Does the commercial success of a movie affect Academy votes?
  • The movie was released in November. Does the timing of the release of a movie affect the Academy’s vote? Will the Academy remember movies they saw in the early part of the year? Will they be required to watch them again to have a fresh or new memory? Does anyone monitor how many times the Academy watches a film? Are their ratings and votes evaluated? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Are Americans uncomfortable with a foreigner challenging something as sacred as the sanctity of American football? Do the immigration issues we face today play a part in the way Americans view Dr. Omalu?
  • Will changing the racial and gender diversity of the Academy solve for the problem? What criteria will be used to evaluate movies and performances with a new more diverse Academy? Will the new Academy be required to see the films? How will they evaluate films where they no little about the topic or they are uncomfortable with the subject matter?

 

These questions would lead to more questions, ultimately creating a new foundation based on all the voices involved For those of a technical bent, an Ishikawa chart can help:

 

 

root cause

 

Right now, the pain of the conversations is influencing the Academy to solve for symptoms to quiet the angry voices and to put some quick band aids on uncomfortable truths.

Will the new, more diverse make up of the Academy solve for the problem or will it put a new face on deeply rooted issues?

 

 

 

Have you identified the Root Cause of the problem? Part 1

Where there’s a challenge, especially a heated challenge, fraught with emotion and maybe even outrage, we can be quick question markto solve the problem by solving to a symptom of the problem — not the root cause. When we solve for symptoms the challenge is temporarily relieved however the imbedded challenges will likely grow and fester over time.

The most recent example I’m seeing of the situation being referred to as the “White Out” of the Academy Award nominations. The outstanding movie Concussion (excellent movie go – go see it) somehow incredibly did not receive one nomination.

How could this happen? The lead character was played flawlessly by Will Smith, Mr. Smith mastered a Nigerian accent and captured the essence of Dr. Omalu while not mimicking him. Alec Baldwin follows with a compelling supporting performance making you believe he’s Dr. Julian Bailes, Louisiana native struggling with the ethics of his past behavior and the challenges he’s facing today. I’m sure every man in the theater was watching and aching for the beautiful GuGu Mbatha-Raw envying her love and support – isn’t this every man who wants to marry’s dream? To find a woman like this? Who doesn’t want to work for a man with the integrity Albert Brooks displays as Dr. Cyril Wecht? I was immersed in this film – end to end. I was transformed. I forgot they were actors. I learned and grew, I don’t know much about football so I was broadened by learning about the ugly underbelly of this revered sport.

I went to see this movie Christmas Week. I walked into a local downtown Chicago theater with the intention of seeing this movie. The topic appealed to me and I admire Will Smith. The young man that sold me a ticket said “I hear this movie is really good, we have lots of seats left. It’s the only movie that has seats available (unusual at Christmas time) Star Wars is sold out for 3 weeks.”

We’re living in painful time in America with difficult conversations occurring around race relations. I especially feel it and am aware of it in Chicago. Tensions are high.

The solution to the White Out has been to change the face of the academy to better reflect the diversity of actors and the United States. Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith will boycott the Academy Awards. Others will boycott in support. The Academy, motivated by fear of confrontation and likely remorse, is making some quick and sweeping changes to the structure of the Academy.

If the Academy were to hire me to analyze this problem – I’d start by asking questions. I’d want to look at this challenge from top, the bottom and the middle. I’d want to talk to people who were passionate about the problem. I’d want to hear their views. I’d want to hear from those who were apathetic. I’d want to learn. After I assessed the challenge (not sure at this point if the solution is to change the racial and gender dynamic of the Academy), I’d make a recommendation. Check tomorrow’s post to find out what questions I’d ask . . .

How Do Sound Processes Save Money?

Over the weekend I bought a Hampton Bay Ceiling Fan Light Kit from Home Depot. The colors of the finishes in the bedroom where the ceiling fan is located are all some sort of antique brass. The metal finish colors intentionally don’t match in the room. I didn’t want to spend life hours searching for the exact shade of antique brass so I decided to go with an eclectic look that would hopefully, thoughtfully coordinate.Hampton Bay 2-Light Ceiling Fan Light Kit

My previous experience when buying products with finishes is there will be a hand-drawn check mark in black marker, checking off the box that indicated whether the finish color was () white () antique brass () polished brass () black or () satin nickel.

I saw the colors listed on the box but no black check mark. “Uh oh”, I thought, “which color will it be?” I opened the box. From past experience purchasing products with the hand drawn check black marker checkmark, the color marked on the box and the color inside did not match requiring a drive back to Home Depot.

I found that all the finishes were included. This took a few seconds to comprehend, it was so odd and different from my previous experiences. Not quite believing it I looked back at the box to see which finish was indicated to be in the box. I confirmed they all were included. Wow, this solution gives me lots of options. I can change the color if and when I choose to. If the antique brass color is not quite right, I can make an in-the-moment decision to choose another finish. There’s minimal risk my finish will not be included in the box, saving me time and minimizing frustration.

Here’s my guess on how this process improvement occurred:

  • someone listened to the customers who complained they didn’t like the finishes, or they were wasting time exchanging mismatched boxes, or the finish they wanted wasn’t available. Someone listened.
  • Someone listened to Home Depot, the distribution channel, that was receiving complaints and other feedback. Someone listened.
  • Someone measured:
    • the time and cost it took to physically mark the box with a black marker
    • the savings of minimizing the labor to mark the box and the expense of procuring the markers
    • the cost of having product taking up shelf space because the finish color was not the desired color
    • the cost of re-stocking when the finish color was not right
    • the cost of dissatisfied customers
    • the cost of monitoring which trends in light kit finishes would sell
    • the cost of damaging relationships with distributors

Someone calculated the cost of:

  • including four finishes in each box

Someone asked if the cost if the increased cost of including four finishes was justified in hard dollar cost savings, minimized consumer complaints, maximized consumer satisfaction, strengthened the relationship with the distribution channels and would be the manifestation of the brand they want to be known for.

My guess is that including all four finishes does accomplish all those things. However, Hampton Bay can’t stop now, they need to keep asking . . . and listening.