Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thanks, Don!

Hey, I just noticed that my blog is now listed on Don Blohowiak's blogroll, too. Many thanks!
Thanks, Dick!

Consultant and author Dick Richards has added my blog to his blogroll at Come Gather Round. I am honored.
Shaping the Course of My Life

On some level, I think we all recognize that our parents play a key part in shaping us and the course our lives will take. When you become a parent yourself, you realize that your hand leaves a lasting mark on the lives of your children.

I'm reading a book called Is Your Genius At Work? by Dick Richards. In one of the exercises, number 23 on family history, Dick suggests that you take a look at the messages you got from your parents. He asks: Do the messages that I received suggest an "assignment" of some sort, that I have been carrying out in my life choices? This exercise has really moved me.

I was raised in a bustling, large, multi-generational household. There were six kids, and my grandparents lived upstairs. Today, I'm blessed with a loving wife and two great teenage sons.

Reflecting on my early years, there were several messages that I received when I was a kid including:

- become a pharmacist (that was my mom's most cherished hope for me)

- become a priest (I can remember telling my parents that they would come to live with me at the rectory)

- become a professor (as a kid, my nickname was "the little professor")

Well, I never did become a pharmacist or a priest. With regard to the latter, however, I have been on a spiritual quest my whole life.

As for the third, I guess I have come closest to becoming "the professor." For more than 25 years, in a succession of roles, I have been a teacher, trainer, writer, communicator, facilitator, blogger, and coach.

Is there a common thread, or an undercurrent, in these messages that I heard as a child? Each one, pharmacist, priest and professor, is a person that helps other people, providing a benefit or a service that promotes the well-being and development of others.

I am reminded of the poem by Gibran:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer's hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Finding My Genius

Consultant Don Blohowiak has an interview with Dick Richards, author of Is Your Genius At Work?, available as a podcast.

Just finished listening to it. Great podcast! Thanks for the early Christmas gift, Don.

Coincidentally, when the podcast ended, the iTunes player on my laptop went directly into "Touch Me" by the Doors.

"Can't you see that I am not afraid.
What was that promise that you made?"

Not sure what the connection is, or even what the Doors meant in this song, but it has always been a favorite.
Thanks, Anu!

There's a blogger in the UK who has added my blog to the blogroll on HR and Communication blogs. It's quite a list of bloggers to rub elbows with including Gautam Ghosh, Regina Miller, and Don Blohowiak.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Giving Thanks

Here in the U.S., we celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, a national holiday that expresses a notion from way back in our history as a nation, an acknowledgment that we Americans are indeed fortunate and blessed. In today's world of war, hatred, greed, misery, and poverty, it is a message that all people need, and one that is sorely in need of revitalization.

The courageous people who boarded ships and fled religious oppression in the Old World, and the indigenous people they met in the New World, both recognized that there is more to this life than what our eyes perceive, that there is a higher power that created us and gave us everything in the world, and that we are the stewards of those gifts, responsible for their wise use and accountable for our actions.

So I want to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all that I have received, especially for my loving wife and sons, for my friends and family, for my health, for this great country in which I live, for its freedoms, and for what it aspires to be in the world.

I am thankful for the many people I have met in my journey thus far, who have taught me, shaped me, fed me, healed me, and supported me. We don't go through this life alone, though there are times when we feel lonely.

We are at our best when we are connected to others, when we are in community, when we are in touch with the hearts and souls of others.

My mother used to say, "Life is what you make it." I'm thankful for her wisdom and I have tried to live by those words. To me, she was an archetypal American mother. She taught me some essentially American values, in particular self-empowerment and self-determination.

The great leader Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I'm thankful for this wisdom as it has helped form me, particularly as a parent, and as a facilitator.

For these and all the blessings I have received, I gratefully say, Thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Finding Creatives

The topic of creativity is one of my passions. What is creativity? Can it be developed? Who is creative?

I had an interesting experience the other day. As you may know, I was downsized and am now job hunting full time. A large part of the job hunt is networking.

At a networking meeting here in central New Jersey, a big group (close to thirty job hunters) assembled in a warm multipurpose room at a peaceful church for a Saturday morning session. We sat in a big circle and the facilitators opened by asking us to introduce ourselves.

As we each took turns, there were finance people, IT people, marketing people, scientific people...the whole spectrum of business life.

Then a balding middle-aged fellow (not me ;)), a graphic arts guy, stood up and said, "Hi. I guess I'm the only creative in the room this morning."

Well, to the speaker's surprise, the rest of the room erupted in a friendly uproar. The other attendees called out "Whaddaya mean we aren't creative?"

The speaker blushed and said that he had mis-spoken and that we had misunderstood him.

To me it was a moment of insight that said, Don't be fooled by appearances or job titles or even by career paths. There are creatives in all walks of life.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is my favorite time of year. Always has been. Since I was a kid. Thanksgiving. Christmas. I love it.

Yet, for the past 25 years or so, there has been a dark cloud that comes around at this time of year as well. Performance Reviews. It's one of my "buttons" and it's hard to resist weighing in.

As "Mr. Performance Review" in several of my corporate gigs, I have had the opportunity to deal with this process up close, for many years.

There are two chief flaws in the way performance review is typically executed.

One is the linkage between performance and pay. While an organization should insist on people performing, the annual determination of who performed better is subjective at best. At worst, it is a flawed exercise in how to distribute a finite bucket of merit money that leaves folks feeling like they weren't adequately recognized or rewarded.

The other is the weak focus (or lack of focus altogether) on development.

If I had a magic wand, I'd wave the whole thing away and replace it with something that I believe would be quite different:

1. Spot Cash Awards that a manager (or team in a self-managing environment) would have available throughout the rolling year to give to employees "on the spot" when some exemplary performance is delivered. Criteria would need to be developed based on the job (e.g. sales) and the results expected (e.g. quota). All employees would be eligible. In non-sales jobs, the design of this program would take some thinkin'

There would no longer be an annual review of performance. Instead, everyone (except employees on a PIP) would receive a raise based on the company having a good year, and anyone who received spot awards during the year would be in the running for an annual recognition prize such as a trip to the Caribbean. In a given year, there could be many winners.

2. Annual Development Planning for all employees in the organization would replace the annual focus on performance appraisal. In this new world, the year would start with development goal setting aligned with the business plans. During the year, managers would be development coaches, working with their folks to learn and acquire new skills, knowledges, and capabilities. At year end, manager and employee would review the year with the accent on development.

In the appraisal paradigm, the end-of-year question is "How did you do?" While it is a legitimate question to ask, it takes you back to report cards and grammar school. It's de-grade-ing.

In the development paradigm, the end-of-year meeting would be a conversation between an employee and his or her coach. The questions would be different:

- How did you play?

- How did your game improve? How did you grow?

- What did you learn?

- As your coach, how did I help you? hinder you?

- In what ways are we, as an organization, smarter than before? a better team than before?

Accountability for performance does not go away; it is still important. Accountability for development ascends to a new level of focus and importance, on a par with performance.

What a different year-end this would be: a salary raise, maybe a trip to the Bahamas, and a conversation with my coach.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

My Previous Life

Ever wonder if you lived before? There is a website called The Big View that has a Past Life Diagnosis tool where you can find out about one of your past lives. You plug in your birthday and it gives you a report.

Here's what the site told me:

~ I don't know how you feel about it, but you were male in your last earthly incarnation.

~ You were born somewhere in the territory of modern North India around the year 900.
Your profession was that of a writer, dramatist or organizer of rituals.

~ Your brief psychological profile in your past life: You had the mind of a scientist, always seeking new explanations. Your environment often misunderstood you, but respected your knowledge.

~ The lesson that your last past life brought to your present incarnation: Your lesson is to study, to practice and to use the wisdom that lies within the psychological sciences and in ancient manuscripts. With strong faith and hard work you will reach your real destiny in your present life.

Hmmm . . . interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Adaptability

There is a new species at large on the corporate landscape these days. This hardy and resilient lifeform has arisen in response to the downsizing, rightsizing, reengineering, consolidating, outsourcing, and offshoring that has been all the rage in C-level boardrooms. Called “transitionists,” a term borrowed from extreme snow-boarding (I kid you not), this creature is extraordinarily adept at performing the transitions (i.e., tricky maneuvers) required in managing change.

The transitionists have a sunny disposition and are quite elastic, making them very hard to kill. Where did this robust thing come from? For an answer, let’s revisit the theory of Natural Selection.

For Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution of the species, the essential key to his concept of “survival of the fittest” was adaptability. In his theory, since all living things struggle unceasingly to survive, an organism’s survival response to changes in its environment makes all the difference.

Darwin reasoned that, over the course of millennia, plants and animals live and die in ever-changing environmental conditions. As an environment changes, say from warm to cold, the plants and animals that can best adapt are more likely to survive and persist into future generations.

This natural ability of living things to adjust and reconfigure as surrounding conditions change is the sine qua non of being a transitionist . . . and a useful concept in human organizations today. In fact, change management expert William Bridges has taught us about transitions, the inner journey we make when changes occur that affect us.

In Fast Company (Issue 53, December 2001), author Paul C. Judge wrote: “In times of crisis, companies tend to fall back on their habitual patterns of behavior.” Unfortunately, what worked in the past may be of no survival value in the new environment.

So what can we learn from transitionists about adaptability that we can apply in change management? Here are three concepts worth considering.

Prepare to adapt – Psychological adaptability is a leadership competency. The military, for example, defines it as the ability to recognize and assess changes in an environment. It’s an alertness to change that leads to awareness. And, once aware, the adaptable person takes logical action to determine what has changed and what has not. Based on this size-up of the environment, the adaptable person has a decision to make.

Decide to adapt – Because people have “free will,” we have the ability to choose a course of action, including the choice that says, “I refuse to change.” Trouble is, however, that that choice is not the adaptive one. The adaptable person, on the other hand, will decide to do things differently based on her assessment of the changes in the environment.

Keep on adapting – Adapting to change is not a one-time event. In fact, we do it throughout our entire lifetime, though we usually don’t recognize it. We keep on adapting every time we learn some thing new. Every time we try something new. Every time we expose ourselves to a new place, a new person, a new idea. In a word, the adapting person is continuously learning.

In today’s tumultuous business world, we need to be transitionists, that is resilient adepts skilled at the extreme sport of managing change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Democracy at Work?

In one of my favorite movies, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, there is a humorous exchange between a bewildered King Arthur and an annoying peasant:

Peasant: Now who does he think he is?
King Arthur: I am your king.
Peasant: Well, I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for king!
Peasant: Well, how'd you become king then?

This scene came to mind today after an exchange with Gautam Ghosh about Ricardo Semler's experiment in Brazil with workplace democracy.

Semler's achievement does sound remarkable...revolutionary even.

But the reason I have my doubts about implementing workplace democracy is simple. In most companies, the real organizational structure is a power hierarchy populated by superiors and subordinates.

Although the manifesto at ChangeThis is well written and compelling, the predominant corporate culture is not a democracy. Quite the opposite, it is more like a medieval fiefdom of lords and serfs. The serfs work the land at the leave of the lords. At any moment, the lords can dismiss one, a few, or all of the serfs.

Most of the folks running corporations are far from the enlightened view of Ricardo Semler. They may be Boomers or post-Boomers, but they were raised in command-and-control cultures. It is all that they know. Like King Arthur.

What they fail to realize is many side-effects that are produced, including the erosion of employee loyalty.

Sad but true, I'm afraid.

Friday, November 11, 2005

My Value Proposition

My dream: To have a business of my own centered around helping other people. To be my own boss in a consulting gig where I help people to figure stuff out, to learn, to discover, to improve themselves and their organizations.

My offering: Coaching to Build Successful Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

Over the years, I have discovered what I am best at, and what brings me the most joy. It boils down to the essence of the core value proposition that I bring to the party.

1. Creative Envisioning of Possibilities

I love to help others think "What if...?" and "What else...?" and "Why not...?" As a facilitator, I can help others share wisdom, explore alternatives.

2. Empathetic Facilitating, Listening & Synthesizing to Enable Learning

I love to help others to grow and expand their thinking and their capabilities. As a facilitator, I can design and conduct learning experiences that help others reach a new level.

3. Enthusiastic Communicating and Implementing

I love seeing a new idea brought to birth and taught how to walk, then run. As a facilitator, I can help others to launch something new and guide it toward success.

Can a business be built on this?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Truth and Wisdom

Truth and Wisdom in OD

Practitioners in the field of Organization Development (OD) are guided by a set of core values; for example, consider this code of ethics from the Organization Development Institute.

"Telling the truth," for example, is an important core value embraced by OD professionals. Telling the truth about Yourself (i.e., truth in advertizing). Telling the truth to your Client (i.e., telling it like it is; no sugar-coating; no collusion to delude).

Some years ago, I worked for an OD Director who was very much a truth teller. If a client's idea was an "ugly baby," we had to find some way of telling him or her. If the client was the CEO, it was difficult. If the CEO was "an emperor with no clothes on," we had an acute truth telling dilemma.

This core value around "tellng the truth" is related to, but distinct from, I believe, another core value of OD. If OD folk believe that it's their job to "help the client organization to learn and improve so that we leave it more capable and better off than it was at the beginning," then we OD practitioners must not only tell truth, we must also seek wisdom.

A favorite guide in this area is Sharing Wisdom by Sr. Mary Benet McKinney, a book now unfortunately out of print, but summarized at this website.

While Sr. Mary is writing about developing effective parish-based councils, I believe that her model has broad application wherever an organization's leadership is endeavoring to discern the "right" path or course of action to take.

This discernment process, of getting to the "right" point, involves sharing wisdom (SW). SW is based upon several underlying beliefs including one that says that the people in the organization already possess the wisdom to discern the "right" path. Trouble is, no one individual has it all (though some may think that they do).

What is needed is respectful facilitation that seeks out everyone's "piece of the wisdom" and puts all the pieces on the table, even if there is conflict and disagreement.

All the wisdom is needed, all the wisdom is honored.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Vision Thing

A few years ago, in business and in politics, there was a lot of discussion on leadership vision. Someone coined the phrase "the vision thing" to sum up the importance of having and communicating a vision.

This is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, Solomon understood this. In Proverbs 29:18, he said: Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Whether you are a leader of others, or a leader of Self, vision starts with the man or woman in the mirror.

~ Who are You?

~ What do you stand for?

~ Where have you been and where are you going?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Job Search Update

As of today, my job search is officially one month old. The question everyone is asking me is: How is it going?

First, some metrics. With three interviews in process, and my resume submitted to several more potential employers, I'd say it's going well.

I am networking like crazy, reaching out to friends, business associates, former colleagues, and strangers. I am using the outplacement service for help sharpening my resume. I am using new online networking tools like LinkedIn.

With extra time available, I am doing things I did not have room for in my schedule such as exercising and getting a full physical exam.

Perhaps most important of all, I am staying upbeat. Attitude is everything. And I learned that a job hunter, like a salesperson, has to be positive.

What helps me maintain an optimistic outlook? First, because I am a veteran job hunter, I know how to do it. And I know I will land at some point.

Second, I know who I am and what I have to offer. I know I am good at what I do and, despite being "handed my hat" by my former employer, I still have all my skills. I am still intact.

Third, I have a great support system, starting with my wife and sons, who are behind me, rooting for me every day. Beyond that inner circle, there is a wide circle of friends and associates who have stepped up to offer their help and support.

Fourth, I believe in a job hunting principle that says, When you give, you will receive. So whenever I can give another job hunter a helping hand, I do so freely, trusting that each helpful deed, no matter how small, is a deposit in an account that will grow and pay dividends sometime in the future.

Last, I have my faith which says that I am not walking alone.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Meetings With Remarkable Men

I know that was the title of a book by the extraordinary mystic George Gurdjieff. But it fits this series of entries about my job search. It feels right . . . to me.

Today, at a diner with the sign EAT, I met with a guy I worked with years ago, and had not seen in over 5 years. He decided to become a consultant in his field, and has been building his business for several years.

I asked him to share his wisdom about going the consulting route vs going back into a corporate role. Here's how he put it:

"Why would you go back into a place that does not value creativity or independent thinking? A place that isn't interested in innovation? A soul-deadening place? A place where the spark of intelligence is quickly extinguished?"

His advice to me: Look into Yourself. Decide what You are about, What You want. And set a Goal.

Before pursuing the consulting path, be sure it's OK with your Family too. They need to support it. And You need to support them.

Start to build a client list, one client at a time.

At the same time, take care of the bills by ensuring a steady income stream from a regular job.

Truly, a meeting with a remarkable man.