Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

The name of the first month, January, comes from the Roman god Janus who has two faces, one that looks back, and one that looks ahead. A perfect name for the month when we turn the page and start a new year.

Looking back at 2011, one of the highlights for me was the opportunity to contribute to several global articles on Organization Development, including this interview.

As an OD practitioner, I've often said that the place to be is in the midst of change. "Change is where the action is," so to speak.

Over my career span, that is often exactly where I have found myself. Change is a crucible of learning. It can get hot in there. But if you can take it, it will strengthen you.

At last night's New Year's Eve party, a friend showed up who had changed: he had lost 40 pounds. We were all impressed by his achievement. How did he do it? Discipline. He had set a goal for himself. He resolved to achieve it. And he persisted, without slipping back to his old ways.

It got me thinking about conversion and the Greek term metanoia which means "changing one's mind." I think that is part of the formula for making real change.

Looking ahead to 2012, let me quote a tweet I saw today from my friend Don Blohowiak:

~ "Change in New Year: Commit to *learning* & results. Anticipate setbacks. Identify who can help. Enlist their support. Start. Persist!"

Well said, Don. Here's to change. Now is the time to think about the changes you want to pursue this year. As Don says, commit to your goal. Resolve to improve. Go for it!

Happy new year! May the promise of 2012 bring you health, prosperity, and peace.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday January 1, 2012

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fight VUCA Stress in 2012

At a Christmas party this week, I took an informal poll on the question "At your workplace, what would really help you and your fellow workers most in 2012?" I heard these answers:

- hire more staff
- shorten meetings
- communicate and listen more
- be more appreciative, flexible, and considerate
- provide more training

As I keep my finger on the pulse of my diverse clients here in New Jersey, I notice that stress has been pretty high in the workplace. My prediction for 2012 is that stress will continue to stay at a heightened level.

Why? According to recent news reports on the U.S. economy, hiring will be slow in 2012, and many employers are planning further headcount cuts. Workloads, however, are likely to keep going up. "Doing more with less" will continue.

This is the main driver of workplace stress! When you combine workloads, pressure, and time shortages, with uncertainty and chaos, much of it due to organizational change, watch out: stress will increase. As decades of stress research has taught us, the more stress, the greater the negative effects.

Should managers care? In short, Yes. Stress takes a big toll on employee engagement, on performance, and on health. In today's whitewater working environment, managers need to develop leadership capabilities for resilience in themselves and others.

What can managers do? In military schools, leaders are taught about VUCA, an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. VUCA environments, like many of today's hyper-stressed workplaces, demand much of those in leadership roles.

With VUCA as a framework, here are four more elements that I believe are key in today's workplaces:

Volatile - The more things change, the more the volatility that people have to deal with. As Holmes and Rahe taught us decades ago, change means stress. The more change, the more stress, the greater the danger. Managers and their teams need to toughen their change readiness capability to withstand such volatility.

Uncertain - In uncertain environments, predictability drops, and surprises rise. In such a climate, planning, organizing, and adaptability take on a critical importance for managers and their teams.

Complex - You know you are dealing with complexity when confusion and chaos become the norm. Many of the problems that teams face in today's organizations are truly complex. This means there are no obvious "low hanging fruit" solutions that they can quickly implement. Instead, managers and their teams need to learn new ways to think critically and creatively to solve the dilemmas they face.

Ambiguous - In the midst of chaos, a team needs the mental ability to maintain their "line of sight" toward their objective. Having a clear and compelling sense of purpose ('Where can I do the most good for the business right now?') helps to laser focus on the most pressing priorities.

If you are a Manager right now, consider the above as a checklist for 2012. What do you resolve to work on to help your team cope with the stress in your organization?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday December 29, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

The True Meaning of Christmas

As the Catholic son of a Jewish mother, I've always had a mixture of feelings about Christmas. On one hand, it's definitely my favorite time of the year. On the other hand, I am saddened that so many find no joy in its celebration.

Yesterday, I came across a blog post by communications consultant Shel Israel, called "A Jew's View of Christmas," a bittersweet remembrance of growing up as a Jew and watching the Christians around him enjoying Christmas.

This is the comment I left on his blog.

For me, the meaning of Christmas comes down to one word: Gift. In the Gospel story, gift is a central image and idea:

~ The Incarnation is God coming into the world as a gift of love and transformation.

~ The baby is an unexpected gift to Mary and Joseph.

~ And the Magi bring extraordinary gifts to the Holy Family.

So the best way to keep Christmas? Here are five ways:

G - Give the gift of yourself to others

I - Inspire others with peace and joy

F - Find the star in your life that leads you

T - Take the Spirit of Christmas with you wherever you go

S - Say thanks often for all the gifts you have been given

As a kid, I remember a TV commercial that said, “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levi’s Rye Bread.” I think the same goes for Christmas. You don’t have to be Christian to like Christmas.

As the song lyric says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

My wish to all is Joy to the world. And let me echo Shel Israel's closing wish: "Happy holidays, and may the New Year bring all of us closer to peace on Earth.”


Enjoy the season. Give your gifts. Be the blessing.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday December 20, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Positive Demolition

"You know how I handle stress?" the workshop participant answered. "I use positive demolition."

The speaker was a participant in a recent stress management class. He was one of a group of very busy technical managers with lots to do in the demanding and fast-paced environment of a global pharmachem company.

Positive Demolition, I echoed. "What's that?"

He said: "Sometimes, what eases my stress the best is the opportunity to destroy something. Like busting down a wall so I can expand a room in my house. When I bust down a wall, I feel great. I take all my frustrations out on that wall."

The other participants were enjoying this. They were each up against a lot of stress at work. Overloaded, overstretched, dumped on.

"I feel a lot better afterwards," he said.

Listening to their discussion, I could tell that the wall was substituting for something (or someone) else that they wished they could pummel into dust.

Here are several ideas for how you can implement the principle of Positive Demolition...and reduce your stress:

Break - Take a break. Step away. Go for a walk. Change your scene.

Relax - Learn to relax. Try the three step approach: 1) Sit in a comfy chair 2) Breathing normally 3) With pleasant thoughts.

Exercise - Some form of physical exercise is highly recommended for building your body's resilience against stress.

Analyze - What triggers your stress? Is it your boss? your customer? Identify your triggers and avoid them if possible.

Keep Busy - Don't sit and stew in your own angry juices. Channel your energy into something positive such as your work, a project, or a relationship.

So go ahead. Try some Positive Demolition. Break things up, knock things down, take things apart. You may be glad you did.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday December 18, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Teaching of Suffering

You've heard the old expression "If you want an omelette, you have to break some eggs."

Came across this quote the other day:

~ There is no oil without squeezing the olives; no wine without pressing the grapes; no fragrance without crushing the flower.

I don't know who wrote it or where it's from. But I like it.

As a believer in synchronicity, I'm wondering what the message is for me. My mom had a saying: "It's a sign."

At the moment, here's the message I'm coming up with.

Sometimes, to obtain the sweetest things in life, you have to suffer first. Perhaps a great deal of suffering. Maybe even to death.

Khalil Gibran wrote: "Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls . . . seared with scars."

There are many who are suffering. The 14 million unemployed Americans, and their families, who live each day in ever-increasing desperation. The family of a slain police officer. The grieving widower who lost his wife.

Recently, in working with some of my clients, we have been discussing the topic of coping with adversity in the workplace. An Operations manager, who is a veteran, said that he is teaching his team to "Adapt and Overcome," a principle he learned as a soldier.

At the Marines Blog, the author writes about how "Adapt and Overcome" helps returning soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress as they struggle back into civilian life:

"(My song) 'Lucky One' is the story of a service member dealing with the effects of PTSD and combat stress after losing three close friends in an IED blast. When he returns home, his mind continually relives the moment while those around him say how lucky he was to have survived. In this case, he doesn’t feel like the lucky one as he deals with the effects of combat stress and finds himself on the verge of an irreversible decision. I know service members and friends who struggle with these issues. With “Lucky One” I hope to tell a story that lets service members know, that even though they may feel alone, there are others struggling with the stress and concerns of combat and military life and it’s okay to seek help. It’s sometimes easy to recognize service members with physical scars but much more difficult to see the scars that hide deep inside of those suffering..."

Suffering is the lesson and we are the students. If we pass the test and are successful, it is because we adapted, we overcame the trial.

Helen Keller wrote: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Charles Dickens wrote: "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape."

Like bread broken and shared. It doesn't nourish until we tear it apart and eat it.

~ There is no oil without squeezing the olives; no wine without pressing the grapes; no fragrance without crushing the flower.

No sweetness without suffering.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday December 12, 2011

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The "No" Principle

Bronnie Ware is an Australian songwriter, author, blogger and creative soul. She recently released a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, wherein she shares the sad thoughts of people she met in palliative care:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bronnie Ware writes: "When you are on your deathbed, what is (on) your mind? How wonderful to be able to let go and smile . . . Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."

She is right. Life is a choice.

The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset once wrote, "Living is the constant process of deciding what we are going to do."

And every Yes is accompanied by a No. Like the yin and yang principle in Buddhist thought, whenever you have one, you also have the other.

For many of us, especially those in the corporate world, saying No has become forbidden. Against the corporate culture, so to speak:

- "We are customer focused. We don't say No here."
- "Saying No is too negative. It would upset people."
- "Saying No a lot makes others wonder what you are doing. They may suspect you are a slacker, lazy."
- "If you say No, it looks like you are not a team player."

So what happens when the answer No is banished? In a word, burnout. I worked for a great boss (and a sweet guy) years ago. I'll call him H. Very smart, very experienced, very considerate. But he could not say No. As a result, he and his team became overwhelmed with work, all of it Top Priority. We just didn't have the resources to do it all. We lost our edge, drowned in the work, and ended up with a fiasco on our hands that blemished all of us.

While you don't want to come off like Dr. No, saying No all the time to every request, you have got to say No sometimes. It's vital to your effectiveness, your happiness, and to your success in life.

Here are four approaches to saying No:

- Refuse - Turn the request down by giving a solid reason, such as "I can't do that because we do not have the resources available."

- Refer - Point the requestor to another source of help, for example: "I can't help you with that, but I think Charlie can. Let me call him and ask."

- Reschedule - When you tell the requestor that now is not a good time, suggest a better time and schedule it.

- Recommend - After hearing and understanding the request, suggest an alternate route to a solution, for example: "I can't do that for you. Have you considered bringing in contract help?"

Re-read those five regrets above. Do you sense, in-between-the-lines, the failure to say No? Life is a choice. Every choice is a Yes, and a No. We all need to cultivate the presence of the "No" Principle in our lives, so that when we reach the end, we can look back and smile with contentment on a life well lived.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday December 8, 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Real Change

Many have wondered what the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about. This morning, while listening (and butting into) my son Kevin's podcast recording session, "Stuck Between Stations," the topic turned to the economy and society.

Kevin and his co-host Peter Tumulty, and their guest Patrick Healy, agreed that Occupy Wall Street is a social movement that is saying "Enough is enough."

The protesters don't have specific demands because the issue is not specific. Instead, the issue is the need for fundamental change. Radical change. Real change.

Filmmaker Ian MacKenzie has made a great little video about what Occupy Wall Street means. He believes that there is a shift in consciousness going on right now. I hope he is right.

There are millions mired in misery right now, just inches away from foreclosure, homelessness, and hitting rock bottom.

It is time for real change.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday December 3, 2011