Category Archives: Teams

Not the Creative Type? How Then Will You keep Up?

Oh no, not me; I’m not really the creative type.

I meet people who say they aren’t that sort of person – you know the “creative type,” and I get concerned for them. As I look around, I see that our economy favors people and businesses who see problems in new ways and who find novel ways to solve them. Who knew that people needed Recharge clothing to reduce fatigue and soreness after a workout?

Personally, I just feel bad for the “not creative type” people. Where is the fun in that? I want to tell them “Take that wool off your eyes and go knit a sweater!” We are all the creative type! It’s in our design, and our lives prove it out. We make up games, stories, rules, policies, computer programs, laws, and on and on.

According to a 2015 Accenture Survey, 96% of executives believe that innovation drives their company’s success. In that same year, Forbes magazine published a list of the world’s most innovative companies simply because innovation is such as powerful driver of business success.

Imagine for now that you are one of those executives, that you are serious about innovation and that you expect it from everyone in your company. What would you do to encourage innovation in your company?  You could start by investing in your only creative resource – people.

Hire the Right People

Though we are all creative, some people are more naturally disposed to it than others.  Two qualities in particular are consistently linked with highly creativity: intelligence and the personality trait “openness to experience.” So smarter and more open people tend to be more creative than others.

The implication is clear: hire smart, “open” people. That begs the question, “How can I reliably identify these people.” For that you would be wise to find a trained psychologist to help you find an appropriate test and a robust personality instrument.  Even then, your lawyer is likely to counsel you against any form of intelligence tests since they are highly controversial and a bit tricky for most employers. That leaves you to focus on openness to experience (OE).

People high in OE are intellectually curious, prefer novelty, and seek adventure and variety. This trait, which as has also been called “intellect,” is readily assessed using personality measures, like the NEO-IR, and through well-structured behavioral interviews. So, it’s relatively easy to hire people based on OE. As a smart executive however, you know innovation doesn’t stem from just a few special people: everyone needs to bring their creativity to the table. Inciting change one new hire at a time just won’t work. It’s a good thing that everyone can learn skills that amplify their natural talent, and that’s where training comes in.

Training

While we can’t fully explain intelligence or personality, we can observe pieces of them. Intelligence is observed in cognitive strategies that people use, and personality is observed in their patterns of behavior.  Since psychologist have studied both intensively, we know that strategies known as “inhibiting,” “shifting” and “switching” enhance new idea generation, and that high OE people are prone to play, explore, experiment, and eschew conventional ideas. Those same strategies and behaviors can be transferred to others through training built into the innovation process. That’s why I am partnering with Ken Kinard, my WorkWise podcast cohost, to bring Creativity Labs programs to the world of business.

Our Creativity Labs Workshops teach teams strategies and tools that boost personal and team creativity. We rely heavily on experiential group learning techniques that promote personal experimentation, discovery, and feedback all of which stimulate novel ideas for improving your business.

For example we:

  • teach practical strategies for exploring ideas, including the disparaged arts of dialogue and debate over controversial ideas. Proficiency in this form of communication enables honest, fruitful discussions, promotes trust, and results in more novel ideas.
  • equip participants with feedback skills and guide them through creative team challenges, because teams have more creative power than individuals.
  • apply “The Thinking Box” which is a useful and fun tool that deconstruct and recombine ideas in new ways. What’s more, it is an analytic tool that fits nicely into corporate culture, and that gives people the comfort to introduce this idea-building tool to others.
  • Practice using several reflection tools that help people to employ updating to open their minds and refresh their beliefs and assumptions.

If you are that executive, then you know that the social environment is changing rapidly and that your company must adapt to it. The business climate so demands continual learning, creativity, innovation, and collaboration that they can no longer be relegated to the moldy pile of “best practices.” Instead, they must be exalted as values and become part of company culture.

Today, there is a lot less room for people and companies who limit innovation with faulty perceptions about creativity. Tomorrow, there will be still less room. That reality has led me to make some changes in my business over the last year.

How about you? Are you ready to get started on building a culture marked by creativity and innovation? If you are, we are ready to help you now. If not, we’ll be ready to help you later when you are ready.

Running Into Angry Arms

Have you noticed that the presidential race is fueled by anger?Screaming people

Tuesday was primary election day in Maryland, and I voted for a losing candidate. He isn’t angry about the right things for enough people. People of all stripes feel that their rights are being violated and declare, “it’s ‘s not fair!”

It’s difficult to be angry about the same things as everyone else because people are mostly angry with others who are angry with them.

Frustration, anger, and bitterness know no bounds.  We all carry and nourish them everywhere we go—home, work, and to the ballpark, and it is easy to see the havoc they wreak.

Somehow we have deluded ourselves into believing that politicians are responsible for and capable of making life fair and for ensuring that our “rights” are never violated.  So, we “run” to politicians who share our brand of anger, huddle with like-minded malcontents for affirmation, and harden ourselves against “them,” whoever “them” are.  We run into angry arms for justice.  To me, that is inane.

The unyielding insistence on being treated “fairly” is foolish.  We ourselves don’t always treat others fairly and cry out for understanding when we don’t.  So, really, we don’t always want fairness. We don’t want our just desserts once we realize what they are.

The “fairness economy” is a losing system; it feeds self-centeredness, bitterness, and resentment. Humans have a penchant for distorting reality and esteeming themselves more highly than we ought to. Psychologists even have names for our distortions, e.g., self-serving bias, self-enhancement bias, self-confirming bias, and the ultimate attribution error.  When others don’t treat us in accordance with our rosy self-portraits, it feels demeaning, and our anger is aroused. Then a battle ensues.

What if we didn’t make “getting our due” the supreme rule in life? What if we pursued a more noble cause in our businesses?

The apostle Paul commended people to live in the “servant economy” when he wrote:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Can patriotic American capitalists make this a guiding principle instead of “getting my due”?  Would that be contradictory? I think not.

  • When salesmen count their customers more significant than themselves, the customer is helped, sales are made, and loyalty is won.
  • When leaders consider their staff’s needs above theirs, people are treated with dignity and appreciation; they grow; they take risks and support their leader and his/her goals.
  • When team members look out for their boss, the team tackles problems, overcomes challenges, and meets their goals.
  • When colleagues look out for each other, trust is built, people learn, and the work climate is positive and productive.

If we would esteem others more highly than ourselves at work, we would take a giant step away from anger and towards reconciliation.  “If” is a big word though. There is a reason why people turn to politicians for justice.  It’s easier to toss the burden on someone else rather than to carry it personally.

I want to live in the servant economy.  How about you?  Which economy do you want to live in – fairness, servant, or another?

 

Grow Wisdom, Organically

Succession planning is a perennial concern in the ranks of executives, and rightly so. The wave of boomers retiring was slowed by the seven-year downturn, but we have now emerged from the great recession. Though many people have not fully recovered, the reprieve can’t last forever.

Succession Planning = Growing Wisdom

The purpose of succession planning is to nurture wisdom so future leaders, at all levels, will be competent to make good decisions. Now that information is ubiquitous (and overwhelming), knowledge is not THE differentiator for effective decision-making that it once was. Today, we need wise people who define problems cogently, work collaboratively, and find creative solutions.

That begs the question, how do we “grow” wise, creative, collaborative people? Is there a program for that?

Yes. There are many, but none can replace the “real thing.”

Organic Growth

Formal programs are often poor institutional replacements for organic relationships and processes. Sure, mentoring programs, annual nine-box reviews, and competency-based training programs are beneficial. In fact, I make my living helping clients with these very programs, but they are only supplements to the natural and organic dynamics of teams.  Supplements do very little when the soil itself is depleted.

Wisdom is learned most effectively from organic processes like:

  • Experience Solving Problems – including successes and failures,
  • Story Telling – hearing tales of yore from the elders,
  • Imagining – dreaming up ideas for what might work,
  • Reflection – personally and in teams, and
  • it is increased exponentially from feedback.

But who has time for story-telling, imagination, and reflection? Todays’ technology-infused marketplace requires pragmatism and fast action. Without continual learning, however, action solves yesterday’s problems, and people quickly grow obsolete.

Sustainable success requires business processes designed for action and learning.

Co-Generation

What if your work methods were co-generational? What if work processes could create and distribute both “product” and wisdom? It is not only possible; it is a reality for many companies. Here are six ways to make it your reality:

1. Design Jobs for Teams
Many jobs provide liberal amounts of autonomy, which, not coincidentally, is highly prized by Gen Xers. There is much to be said about the motivational power of autonomy, but it can also hinder the learning that comes from diversity. The power of autonomy is the amount of input and control released to people. Instead of releasing control to individuals, release control to teams. Then, require them to make decisions together. For example, you could make the team unit rather than the individual responsible and accountable for sales, delivery, and service. To ensure it sticks, reward performance based on both individual and team results.

2. Multi-level Working Teams
With all the talk about diversity, I don’t iStock_000024087384Smallhear much discussion of experience as an important facet of diversity. If you want “junior” people to learn, they have to be in on the action where they get experience and can rub elbows with the experts. Novices learn by exchanging ideas with more experienced people while they work – not by being told what to do or by watching from afar.

3. Player Coaches
First-line supervisors are commonly working supervisors. It is less common for mid and senior-level leaders to sit down and think-through problems with staff. While often rusty in technical matters, experienced leaders have perspective, problem-solving approaches, and social awareness. In other words, they have wisdom, and it’s their responsibility to share it. Leaders can be player coaches by joining teams as working members, conducting round-table discussions, participating in training program, and teaching leadership courses.

4. Safe Team Meetings
Meetings are like liver. Hardly anyone likes them, but they contain essential minerals. Just like liver, if you don’t prepare well and tend to the climate, meetings leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Meetings should be a safe place for communicating and solving work problems. Take team meetings seriously: meet regularly, prepare, bring problems to the forefront, enforce the ground rules, and listen.

5. Dialogue without Decision
This is a serious discussion of issues with the intent to explore and understand that is separate from decision-making and action planning. For many people, the urge to decide and act is compelling; anything else feels like a waste of time. Engaging in Dialogue without Decision is a deliberate business process that recognizes learning, knowledge, and wisdom as valuable inputs and outputs of work. When you conduct Dialogue without Decision Meetings, you help establish learning, listening, and critical thinking as core company values.

6. Post-mortem Sessions
Debriefs, post-action reviews and post-mortem sessions are “common” among best-in-class companies. But their value depends largely upon how you conduct them. To get maximum learning from these sessions, focus the conversation on “what we noticed” and “how we interpreted it” rather than “what we did.” This will uncover and test the veracity of your guiding theories. The learning that results will improve the speed and quality of future decisions.

Go Organic

Succession Planning will remain a perennial concern as long as executives rely on programs like knowledge management systems, succession planning, and leadership training as their main developmental tools. Leaders will find they get better results using co-generational work processes, which derive learning from the work experience and from social interactions that encourage story-telling, imagining, and reflection. You may believe that you can’t afford such fanciful whims, but that is just your imagination.

Millennials Are Bums, So What?

144618-20140729If you are paying attention, or even if you aren’t, you’ve probably heard the workplace chatter about the millennial generation. They are:

  • lazy
  • incompetent
  • glued to their “phones,” and
  • need constant stroking.

So what?

Remember Who You Were?

If you are a Baby Boomer – a hippie, turned me generation, turned soccer mom, your generation ushered in free-love, drugs, the broken family, and Wall Street excess. You also integrated the workforce – giving women and minorities a step on the corporate ladder. If you are a Gen X – a latchkey kid, turned MTV fan, turned slacker, turned free agent, your generation gave the word “cynical” a whole new face, established the grunge culture, and wore the mullet. You also introduced work-life balance, turned our focus to business results rather than time and tenure, and renewed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit. Who you were isn’t who you turned out to be. In fact, you were never fully who others thought you were. So let’s give our successors a break. What do you say? Maybe they aren’t exactly like us – nor are they entirely who people say they are. Instead, let’s have a productive conversation about engaging them in the important work of our organizations. After all, that’s exactly what we all want.

Millennials are GemsGem stone

Do you believe that you are a gemstone? What about everyone around you – do you believe that they are also gems? No matter what generation you belong to, you are a brilliant jewel. You were formed and cut by mighty forces: the events and pressures of your era – war, prosperity, depression, family structure, layoffs, technological booms, terrorism, etc. A gem is a precious stone no matter when, where, or how it was created. All rubies share the same essential characteristics. The same is true of people. Generations tend to be driven by a common set of values and needs. Chief among them are:

♦ Autonomy/Choice ♦ Learning/Growth ♦ Challenge
♦ Meaningful Work ♦ Relationships ♦ Accomplishment

These drivers are like the facets of a gem: they reflect the light brilliantly or dully depending on where the light hits the stone. Each generation tends to value some work conditions more than other generations and will shine brightly when the light hits their best facets. Millennials tend to place a relatively higher value on relationships, personal growth, and meaningful work than their predecessors. As a result, they sparkle brightly when they:

  • work socially – on cohesive teams that are focused on important work
  • have the freedom to work wherever they choose
  • have access to leaders so they can engage, learn, and get feedback
  • see real opportunity to grow and progress.

So What?

So what if they need more feedback than their predecessors? That’s how people learn. The dearth of feedback from leaders is the main reason why employees and results stagnate. If prior generations sought and gave less of it, perhaps it was because they were less savvy learners and more fearful about looking stupid than their younger counterparts. So what if Millennials think it is crazy to be tied to a cubicle to get work done or to put in face time just to appear committed? It’s crazy! People are more productive when they have the freedom to complete work in a way that suits them. Besides, they have been working from “wherever” their whole lives. So what if Millennials want to see a future for themselves and refuse to put the company in the driver seat of their careers? They learned well from their parents who, through layoffs and pay freezes, discovered that you can’t tie your future to the company. Instead, you have to make it yourself.

So, what is the Gen X or Boomer manager to do? In this light, the answer is apparent. Shine the light on what makes Millennials sparkle brilliantly. This generation will comprise 50% of the workforce in six short years (2020) and you will need to know how to work with them – as your employee, or as your boss.

Sparkling Light

As it turns out, the practices you need to help Millennials shine work well for your whole team:

  • Invite them into conversations about business challenges, and give honest feedback on their ideas about those challenges.
  • Build automated and personal feedback loops into work processes so they always know how well they are doing.
  • Learn the language of mentoring.
  • Restructure work processes to make them more team-oriented. Include experienced people on the team as role models for the less experienced folks.
  • Call a meeting to talk with your team about a flexible work schedule. Explain that you want to give them all the flexibility they want, as long as all of your business needs continue to be met. Then, define your business needs as team, and ask them to come up with scheduling guidelines or a team schedule.
  • Invite them to offer technology solutions for making the work environment more flexible and efficient.

Any jeweler will tell you to shine the light on a gem’s best facets. The same is true for people. Shine the light on what makes them sparkle rather than what makes you sparkle.

If I Can’t Be Divergent, I’ll be Candor

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Last weekend I went to see Divergent, a movie based on a trilogy written by Veronica Roth.  Most of us read the series and were eager to be disappointed because, well, the movie is never as good as the book.

Our seats hadn’t yet warmed when the conversation began.

Jennifer: Which faction would you be?

Me: Who me, why I’d be Divergent of course.

Gail: No, you can’t be Divergent. You have to belong to one of the factions.

Me: Then I would be Candor.

All: Ahhhh yeah, of course. What else?!

I am candid person; I know that healthy and productive relationships depend upon it. And right now, I am feeling the love.  A few days ago I reunited with a client over lunch. When the conversation turned to my ponderings about my brand, she gave me some welcome and flattering feedback.

What stands out to me is how well you ‘speak truth to power.’ You have the ability to speak the truth in a way that people can hear it. Not everybody can do that, and I really admire you for that.

It was music to my ears and warm fuzzies for my heart, but just how valuable is this kind of Candor? According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, it’s brought in about 10.3 billion in the box office from its fourteen films – from Toy Story to the current smash hit Frozen. In an interview with Fast Company, Catmull previews his book Creativity Inc. and attributes much of Pixar’s success to the candor practiced by their “Brain Trust” in quarterly meetings.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Dysfunction has its costs: it cuts off communication, impairs decision-making, stifles creativity, kills productivity, and annoys customers. Let me say that again: it really annoys customers.

That’s why I press my clients to say what needs to be said – in healthy, productive ways.

So, I am proud to be from Candor. How about you? What is your faction and are you proud of it?

FACTIONS[1]

p.s.
I still truly believe I am Divergent.  I wouldn’t be Candor if I didn’t tell you that.

 

 

 

 

The Zombie Chronicles

Zombies are all the rage these days. They are all over the movies, TV, and video games. This macabre fascination disturbs me, but at last I think I have uncovered the source of this unholy preoccupation.  Could it be that the battles acted out on the screen provide people some hope for overcoming the zombies growing within?  I’ve met many people who are losing this battle–and I have seen organizations unwittingly drive their employees into the zombie zone.

I have never had a client who actually instructed their employees to wander aimlessly around the office, respond listlessly, and turn out lackluster work products.  I have, however, worked with several who encouraged it, and one or two who seemed to have designed their organizations to make armies of zombie clones.

So, for the benefit of those who want to transform their zealous employees into zombies, and for those who want to revive the zealots buried inside their zombies, I’ve come up with a few of the best ways to foster the transformation.  In this post, I will share how you can turn your zealous employees into zombies.  Next time, I will let you know how to revive Zombies to their natural God given state – zealousness.

Part 1: From Zealots to Zombies

 

Let Tyrant Bosses Roam Freely

When I visit underperforming organizations, I frequently encounter a tyrant boss.  Tyrants often:

  • Pressure their employees to meet high, vague and poorly understood performance standards.
  • Behave as though their ideas are superior and that others “don’t quite get it.”
  • Use their power to punish people who don’t bow to them.

These managers press people to perform but are dumb-stricken when asked to define their standard or to show employees how to achieve the desired results themselves.  These things, they believe, are self-evident to competent people.

Block Progress

It’s depressing to work without seeing any progress. Imagine giving a broom to a custodian in the Sahara desert and then ordering up a sandstorm.  Now transfer that idea to your workplace. If you are having a hard time imagining how to do it, let me share a few techniques I have seen:

  • Change your priorities on a regular basis.
  • Make everything a top priority.
  • Talk about improving, but don’t invest the time and resources.
  • Set goals that can’t be met.
  • Make yourself unavailable to answer questions.

Make Work Seem Completely Meaningless

Require people to do things that have no apparent importance to them. For example, make them enter codes into a computer but don’t let them know what the code means, how it’s used, or how it will impact the bottom line.

If you can convey that their brains are unnecessary, you will do even better in your quest to turn zealous employees into zombies by saying things like:

  • You’re not paid to think.
  • That is above your pay grade.
  • It’s technical.

Give them the Silent Treatment

Never go out of your way to let someone know what you think about them. If you do, they might get the impression that you care!  If you show interest in a person’s work, they may start believing the two of you are somehow connected in accomplishing something important.  Besides, if you give feedback, they would certainly be able to accomplish something, and that violates the “no progress rule.”

So that’s it! If you follow this advice, you will have your own personal tribe of zombies. You will know that you have arrived when you hear them groan these things like:

  • I just work here.
  • The only reason I work is for the paycheck.
  • I just do what I am told to do.
  • It doesn’t matter what we do; nothing changes.