Friday, October 28, 2005

Some Over-50 Reality

In any job search campaign, you need a strategy. A great input to strategy development, is the wisdom of others. And a great way to seek and obtain such wisdom is through networking.

This morning, at a local coffee shop, I met with a networking contact, a guy I had worked with years ago. He is a few years my senior and is also looking for work.

After catching up on the years that have flown by since we last worked together, we got down to business . . . and some harsh realities.

He said:

"Terry, It's a buyer's market. If they want 38 things, and you have 36 of them, they can afford to keep looking until they find someone with all 38.

"There are three, no four things that you will find working against you. They are:

"1. Your age. You are Fifty now and, with your bald head, you look older than your age.

"2. Your gender. You are a male in a female dominated field. And, combined with the first point, you are not some "hot" young guy that a female VP is going to look at and think "I want him on my team."

"3. Your pigmentation. You are a White Guy so that won't help you at all.

"4. Your resume. In the past ten years, you have worked for four different companies. On average, that's a bit over 2 years per employer. If the hiring manager is looking for evidence of stability, you are in trouble."

He then laid out the ingredients in the job search campaign strategy including:
- having a goal that identifies what you are looking for
- knowing what organizational level you are after
- knowing what salary range you seek
- knowing where geographically you want to work and if you are willing to relocate

With all of that decided, he said, "Go for it."

He asked me how much longer I plan to work and said, "You will only want to work at one, maybe two, more jobs before you retire. So be careful when job offers start to come your way. You don't want to accept a job with a company that is going to go belly up in two years."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Elephant and the Blind Men

This is one of my favorite stories. Don't remember where I got it, but I have used this one for years in my practice. This story has tremendous application to understanding and improving communication in organizations.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

One day, three blind men were walking along a road, begging for alms. They had been blind from birth. That day, they encountered for the first time an elephant. With great excitement, they approached the large beast. The first blind man touched the tip of the elephant's tail and said, "Ah, an elephant is a small fuzzy animal." The second man touched the broad rough side of the elephant and said. "An elephant is a big, flat animal, like a wall." Holding the elephant's trunk, the third said, "An elephant is long and round, like a big snake."

Later that day, while they sat under a large tree, discussing the marvels of the day, the talk returned to the encounter with the elephant. Each recounted his contact with the beast and described what he thought an elephant was like. As each blind man heard the other's description, they became confused, then agitated, and finally enraged. Arguing violently, they yelled at each other, "You are wrong, my brother. Completely wrong."

Is there a familiar ring to this? Do we OD practitioners ever run into such dysfunctional communication behavior in client organizations?

How do we help our clients to communicate more effectively, particularly in situations where there is strong disagreement and distinctly differing points of view?

Here are several ideas.

- Get all the needed folks in the room so that the total system is represented

- Ask questions of fact. Gathering up the pieces of information.

- Ask "What do you mean?" and "How do you know?"

- Seek root causes

- Encourage effective communication behavior

- Ask each party to paraphrase what the others are saying

- Seek every person's share of the wisdom so that a sustainable outcome can be reached

- Seek areas of agreement

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

OD and KM - Perfect Together

A little alphabet soup again, eh?

This time the topic is knowledge management. At Jack Vinson's blog, he has an entry about how KM and OD (organization development) can and should work together.

I agree. But in actual practice, I think the reality is often quite different, where the OD folks and the KM folks are in different rooms . . . actually different realms.

Last year (in February of 2004), I had the opportunity to hear a talk by Stephan Kudyba, founder of Null Sigma Inc and professor at NJIT (and author of Data Mining and Business Intelligence: A Guide to Productivity, Information Technology, Corporate Productivity and the New Economy).

Kudyba takes a strategic view of both KM and OD and says that both should be involved in the pursuit of productivity gains and innovation. Here are a couple of excerpts from his thinking.

On KM, Kudyba is clear on the strategic nature of the endeavor:

"A knowledge-management initiative is a strategic plan that seeks to develop and utilize the existing assets of knowledge and experience of individuals within an organization in order to enhance a business process. It attempts to make employee knowledge and experience more accessible and available to those that require it in a timely manner."

With regard to OD, Kudyba sees a direct linkage:

"Organizations are increasingly realizing that one of the most important resources, perhaps the most important, is the people that make it tick. Each employee has a set of skills and talents that needs to be appropriately allocated within a firm's operations. Additionally, with proper training, guidance and collaboration, employee skills can be enhanced to better suit the continuously evolving corporate structure."

The challenge for OD practitioners is to find ways to partner with the IT specialists who so often sit in the KM driver's seat. Goodness knows, the OD folks are needed when it comes to KM projects.
Peeling the Onion

A metaphor that I like, that I have used quite a bit in my practice over the years, is "peeling the onion."

In Organization Development work, peeling the onion means looking deeper. Not accepting a problem definition at face value. Peeling the onion is a search for underlying causes.

Peeling the onion is a learning process. A discovery process. It involves gently peeling layers of data, layers of interpretation, layers of emotion, layers of meaning. Asking "Why?" and "What do you mean?" and "What else?" persistently.

Peeling the onion also means discovering things about yourself. It means being honest with yourself and going deeper.

When I have peeled the onion of my Self, I can reach greater self-awareness. Greater self-acceptance. And greater personal effectiveness.
Don’t Know? Facilitate!

For many years now, one of the chief things that I have done for my clients is to facilitate. But what is that exactly?

A facilitator, one who facilitates, is someone who smoothes the way for others, making an easy path to follow.

Often the facilitator knows little or nothing of the subject matter that the client is dealing with. And that’s OK. Actually, it’s great. Because the facilitator would only get distracted by it.

I find that it’s better when I don't know enough about the subject matter to try to solve my clients' problems. So instead what I do is facilitate their solving of their own problems. My operating assumption is that they know all that they need to know and that they just need some help finding their way to the “aha” . . . and then expressing it.

Does a facilitator know stuff? Sometimes, as a facilitator, I feel empty. Like I am content-free. But that's not really true.

The "body of knowledge" that a facilitator brings to his or her work includes what some call "group process:" understanding groups, how they work, the Task and Relationship dimensions of groups, the problems that groups often experience, and ways to help groups achieve their objectives.
You Cannot NOT Communicate…

Whatever an organization's chief reason for being, all organizations communicate.

Internally, the levels, members and groups communicate with one another, and the organization communicates externally with other organizations in its environment.

Whether intended or not, this communication is constant because "You cannot NOT communicate."

There are a host of implications for Organization Development practitioners, including helping leaders in organizations to:

- understand the importance of communication

- become more intentional about communicating

- recognize mixed messages they may be sending

- become more aware of the effects of stifling the free flow of information in the organization

- utilize communication to enhance organizational performance

By the way, I stay away from the term "communications," preferring instead the term communication (singular).

(Why do people add s's to words when there is no need? I can't tell you how many have called me Terry Seamons.)

For me, communication in organizations is far from an ill-defined construct. I see it as behavioral, day in and day out. It can be improved, if the client wants to.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Creating a Culture of . . .

I was recently reading some blog posts about creating a culture of collaboration.

As with any change in an organization’s culture, this demands some strategic thinking; for example:

Vision: What do we mean by “a culture of collaboration”? What would it look like? How would we behave? How would it differ from the way we do things now?

WIIFU: Why would we want such a culture? What would it do for us? for our customers?

Commitment: What will it take for us to transition to this culture of collaboration? What commitment? What steps? What timetable? What resources? What changes? What cost?

By the way, WIIFU means "What's In It For Us?"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Back to the Garden

As I gaze out my window this morning in rainy central New Jersey, I notice how green it is, despite it being October already. Instead of leaves falling, there are tomatoes ripening in my garden. After the hot summer we had, where the grass turned brown and crunchy, it's nice to see green.

Coincidentally, a blog entry by Don Blohowiak got me started toward a new paradigm for managing human resources in organizations, one based on a different set of values and principles than the one typically found. Let's call it the Gardener's model.

Typically in organizations, when we have problems with the lettuce, er I mean the employee, we attack the problem, i.e. the person.

Seldom do we consider the soil, the sunlight, the watering, whether other pests are in the garden, etc.

The Gardener’s Model of managing human resources would be a systems model. It would say that to get a good crop (i.e., a well-functioning workforce), you need to tend carefully to the whole gardening process.

This includes:

- Selecting seeds carefully (employee selection)

- Enriching the soil (e.g., workplace relationships, training)

- Ensuring sunlight & proper watering (e.g., organizational communications, employee engagement, wellness, etc.)

- Weeding & Getting rid of pests (e.g., courageous HR and supervisory management, safety, etc.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Waiting for Beauty...

No matter how dark the night, there is always a dawn.
No matter how dark the clouds, there is always hope.
No matter how savage the storm, there is always Spring.

Think beyond the moment...and wait for beauty to emerge.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

80% of Success...

There's a line in a Woody Allen movie that says, "80% of success is showing up."

Years ago, I was impressed by that line. So much so, that over the years I would repeat it, trying to be helpful to others, particularly in job search conversations.

Now I realize that it's not really totally true.

At Mass this morning, my pastor Fr. Doug gave a homily on the Gospel about the ill-dressed wedding guest (Matthew 22:1-14) who was thrown out of the banquet hall. The problem with the guest, according to Fr. Doug, was not showing up. It was that the guest had not dressed appropriately for the feast.

Fr. Doug explained that the guest, in not dressing properly, had dishonored the king (God) who was throwing the wedding party (the Kingdom) for his son (Jesus).

Opening up the metaphor in Matthew's Gospel, Fr. Doug encouraged us to connect this symbolic parable to our own lives today. Where in our lives do we simply "show up?" Expecting to be handed champagne? When, if we were more self-aware and honest, we would recognize that we had not properly prepared ourselves for the feast?

Yes, you do need to show up, to be there.

But you also need to be ready. If you show up unprepared, you won't be able to recognize opportunity should it appear, let alone take advantage of it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On the Market...Again

I "got the package" today. Yeah, it's a little upsetting to be terminated, but actually I am a veteran. I figure this is my eighth time getting downsized in the past 25 years.

On the plus side, I'm free! Free to explore opportunity and choose once again. It's a little scary, yes, but I've got the resilience. I know how to bounce.

If anybody reading this hears of any leads for an OD Guy with experience in

- workplace learning
- leadership development
- organizational performance
- facilitation
- training
- culture
- coaching
- and change

...let me know, OK?


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Isolating the Effects of Training?

Some of my esteemed colleagues in the field of Training & Employee Development are very concerned about measurement and ROI. Very important things, I'll admit.

While reading a thread (at ROInet) about isolating the effects of training from other factors that might influence performance, a mischievous thought came to me.

Playfully considering the words "isolating the effects of training," it occurs to me that there is an implied metaphor lurking underneath, that of contagion containment. Like quarantining a flu outbreak to isolate its reach.

What if we practitioners in T & D (or HRD or OD) did just the opposite? What if we did not isolate the effects of training? What if we looked to spread the effects of training? By design.

For example, if we found ways to help our salespeople to be more effective, why wouldn't we think about applying our success to say customer service? to operations? to R & D?

Just a thought.