Leadership and the Legacy You Leave Behind


I just read Wally Bock’s article on Leadership and Legacy. It got me thinking about my past managers and their leadership styles. In Bock’s article, he quotes his father who told him “you’re alive as long as they tell stories about you.” Ideally, those are good stories.

My first boss, Paul Hefner, was vice president of marketing at Western Bancorp, a holding company for 24 banks in the 11 western states.  I joined the newly formed 3-person marketing department at the holding company after I graduated from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

He introduced me to PERT Charts. Despite my recent graduate degree in international management, I had not yet created a PERT or a GANTT Chart. At this job, I could not submit any project proposal without doing a PERT Chart. These charts often grew into complicated flowcharts of boxes with connecting lines. I called them octopus charts. By the time I had drawn all the task boxes and connecting lines between them, the drawing looked very much like an octopus with tentacles. It also had several go/no go milestones at various intersections along the way (see the example below from Toggl.com). complicated PERT chartAlong with this PERT chart, I had to submit a very detailed task list. It listed every activity, the date it was due, and who else needed to be involved. It was time-consuming to create because back then we didn’t have computers. It was all drawn out by hand. The task list was done first on paper and then typed up by the typing pool. Yes, we had a department of 30 typists who did all the typing on electric typewriters! Do you remember those days?

If you’ve every done a task list like this, you know what I’m talking about. You start listing the big tasks which then stimulate your thinking about the smaller ones that have to be done before the big one is accomplished. Consequently, you have to start the list over to put all tasks in priority order. Thank God we have computers now!

I didn’t know it at the time, but Paul had introduced me to strategic project planning. I think of him every time I need to put a project together. I may not do the complicated PERT chart now, but I do list out every task, due date, and resource needed in Excel. Fortunately, it’s easy to re-order them as priorities change. Paul taught me to think through every possible angle and priority before launching a project. He then gave me the opportunity to bring it to fruition if it looked feasible. That helped hone my project management and cross collaboration skills. I needed to communicate with other departments to complete the tasks.

Mike Stansbury, CEO of National Decision Systems based in Encinitas, CA, was another leader I admired. I joined that company when it had just 75 people and was growing at 30% a year. What an exciting time to work in a highly entrepreneurial, fast-moving organization! Mike was what you call a “walk around leader”. He had an open-door policy –  anyone at any level could drop by and ask a question or make a suggestion. Almost daily he also walked through every department of the 5-story building to visit with employees. We each had opportunities to propose new ideas and take on new challenges if they seemed to have merit.

In my prior work with the banking organization, I had produced many sales and marketing conferences. So my boss tapped me to produce the first client conference for National Decision Systems. One day as I was writing a recap of the event, Mike dropped into a chair in my office to ask me how I thought it went. I was surprised and a bit nervous to have the CEO in my office. I gave him my impression of what went well and where I felt we could improve. By contrast, he commended me on the clients’ feedback, adding that the company actually generated new sales as a result. Before that, I had not considered sales as a metric. My focus had been on the event itself and all the behind-the-scenes details that the attendees never knew about. Even though I wasn’t directly responsible for revenue generation, I was a valued member of the team contributing to the organization’s success.  Mike had created a culture of open communication and collaboration across departments. I thrived in that environment.

In my estimation, these two were great leaders. I was fortunate to learn from them as I honed my own leadership skills. They helped shape my values and leadership style as I progressed in my career. I continue to learn and adapt which I believe are critical components to creating a culture of curiosity, learning, open communication, and collaboration.

New Trends Affecting How We Shop and Work

Change. We’ve all experienced a tremendous amount in the past year and a half thanks to the pandemic. New trends in how we shop and work have taken hold and may become the “new normal”, especially since the pandemic is still not over. The Delta variant to #COVID-19 as well as other variants, continue to spread across the globe altering how we live and work.

What have we learned from 2020?

photo of exercise balls and dumb bells

One of the new trends people learned is how to search and shop online. That trend is now a permanent way of buying goods and services. People who never explored online shopping, except for perhaps Amazon, learned to shop online for just about anything from groceries, to home gym equipment, and easy, relaxed clothing. While many people are eager to get back to shopping in person, they have higher expectations of the retailers. We do still want to touch and feel the products we buy. That’s an advantage a physical location provides, However, the experience has to be a good one or we’ll go elsewhere. Consumers now expect the same products to be available both online and in physical stores. According to research by the Marketing Insider Group, “options and immediate availability will be key.” So will proper safety procedures. We now expect to see hand sanitizer stations around the stores and will look for canisters of sanitizer wipes to clean the carts. Until pandemic threats are reduced dramatically, consumers will be wary and watching to see how well in-store personnel follow safety procedures.

Some Businesses Thrived

Another new trend we found was that businesses that pivoted and were creative in delivering products and services during periods of shutdown actually thrived. Consumers still needed to shop for groceries and craved getting food prepared by their favorite restaurants. The difference was they were ordering online or via phone and picking it up to go. A new Acronym developed called BOPUS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store). A local mead producer in our area created “date night experiences”. They teamed up with other local businesses to provide an experience that included appetizers, locally made bread, wine or mead, and flowers. Another local restaurant chef chose 2020 to launch one of her dreams. She now offers chef-prepared meals that she ships nationwide. Just pop it in the oven to warm it up, and presto, you have a 5-star meal prepared by a well-known chef.

Consumer Loyalty is gone.

A change in consumer loyalty is a third trend we’ve seen. Whereas pre-pandemic consumers tended to shop their favorite brands, during the pandemic, they started exploring other options. Across all generations, people explored and shopped at least five new brands online. According to Raydiant’s State of Consumer Behavior 2021, 25% of consumers reported they switched brands more frequently during the pandemic than before. Thanks to increased conveniences like faster delivery and more choice, consumers found better options when searching online. That behavior will probably be permanent.

Home is Where Everything Happens

Another new trend the Marketing Insider Group found is that the “home is now the hub of where all things happen”. We purchased gym equipment to stay active and physically fit at home. We bought comfortable, relaxed athletic clothing for work and play. Those who began working from home, and still do, equipped their home offices the necessary technology. Zoom meetings became a daily staple for all of us. That meant we needed webcams and headsets attached to our computers. I recall at one point early in 2020 when it was impossible to find webcams. Now, while we may be going out a bit more, and work may be more of a hybrid situation, more of us still plan to work from home. 

The new trend towards more remote work will continue as the pandemic eases and the world tries to find a new normal. This trend may be balanced with hybrid work situations where staff come into the office one or two days a week and work from home the rest of the time. Others will simply work from home on a permanent basis depending on their work situation. This certainly appeals to many younger workers who value work flexibility based on project deadlines rather than an 8 to 5 work routine. 

Worker Shortage is an Ongong Challenge

The big challenge that may carry over into 2022 is finding enough workers. In 2020, many older workers chose retirement, and other employment-age people either prefer only to work remotely or have moved away. A few restaurants in our area have to close one or two days during the week or several hours each day because they can’t cover the shifts. Others are offering steep signing bonuses and creative incentives to attract workers. The workforce shortage is happening across all industries and in all areas.

Employers will have to get creative to re-design how work is done and new ways to still serve customers well with fewer employees. A new trend caused by this worker shortage is the hiring of more gig and contract workers to fill the void. Other businesses are incorporating more flexibility in work hours, projects and cross-training. These may present challenges for HR departments as they evaluate performance management processes and benefit options (see 9Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19). It may no longer be effective to have a one size fits all performance review system. 

Employees Care About Branding and Reputation

A June 25, 2021 blog by Glassdoor states that branding and reputation are important for employees and job seekers. The blog states that 86% said they research company reviews and ratings when deciding where to apply for a job.

The article also states a new trend indicating that three factors are most important for employee satisfaction: a compelling company mission, promoting transparent and empathic leaders, and building clear career opportunities.

According to a Gartner report, other key areas employees and job seekers check include the following:

1) how well employers treated their employees both during and post-pandemic, 2) how openly and frequently management communicated with employees, and
3) whether or not executives shared in the financial impacts of the pandemic versus the broader employee base.

Key Takeaways

Clearly, the world of work has changed and employers need to adjust. Key takeaways from these new trends are:

  • Consumers have higher expectations and want the same products available online as well as in-store
  • Customer service is important and consumers will stop buying based on one bad experience
  • An online presence is more important now than ever before
  • Flexible work environments that include hybrid work are important for workers as well as employer transparency and reputations
  • Employers need to reinvent workflows and introduce cross training
  • HR departments need to reevaluate payroll, benefits, and performance management systems

Email Marketing Tips to Manage Your Emails

To professional email marketing people the tips I’m about to share will seem, well, “duh, who doesn’t know that?”

Email marketing tipsI find many clients who aren’t very techy tend to make some simple mistakes when creating and managing their email marketing systems. If you send a lot of emails, managing your sent emails, drafts and templates can be a challenge depending on the email marketing system you use.

One client has several different email templates used by both the owner and other volunteers. While I’ve trained the owner on the best practices when sending out emails and organizing his templates, I see the same mistakes cropping up when I go in to create his monthly newsletter.

Tip 1: Make a template and copy it. Don’t send it.

Yes, simple concept, but easy to forget. Create a template to use for all your emails related to that particular subject. Then save it as a template. If you send it, you won’t have a template to use the next time. Copying and updating a sent email will work the first time around, but after several iterations, links get corrupted, as well as formatting.

So, create your templates first and save them with names that include the message: COPY FIRST. DON’T SEND. This will serve as a reminder to yourself … provided you notice the template name and the message it implies.

Tip 2: Create a numbering system to easily track your templates

One particular client has several email templates for different purposes. You may as well. In Constant Contact, it’s difficult to find the templates if you have a lot and you have sent many emails to your clients. Constant Contact’s search function is not very useful since you can only search alphabetically forwards and backwards or by type. It’s not possible to search by date sent, and when multiple people use the account, getting everyone to use the same naming structure is challenging. Consequently, searching for a particular sent email can be time consuming.

At least for your templates you can set up a system that’s organized using numbers for each one such as 01-name of template, 02-name of template. You can also use A-name of template, B-name of template, etc. Just don’t accidentally include spaces before the numbers and letters or before or after the dashes or in the template names on some but not all, since email systems, Constant Contact in particular, count those as part of the name. That will throw your organization out of whack.

Examples: 01-name of template vs. 01- nameoftemplate or 01 – name of template.

Consistency is the key when naming your templates in order to ensure they get organized properly. It is also key when creating your emails and sending them out. Unfortunately, it’s just too easy to copy that last email you sent out and update it instead of using a template.

But what if the last email had some information in it you want to share again which is not in the original template?

Select the html code for that article or snippet and copy and paste it into your template.

Yep. If you created an article in one of your recent emails that you want to keep using – such as an event promotion – and it’s not in the original email template, copy the html code and paste it into the template. Then save the template. If you don’t know how to do that, contact me, and I’ll show you.

Vocational Training Teaches Entrepreneurship

If Congressional Bill H.R. 610 is about dismantling the public school system, vocational training is an answer to ensure all youth get an equal education. It may not be focused on reading, writing and ‘rithmatic exclusively, but this movement is teaching youths real world skills to build a future for themselves.

Across the U.S., a growing movement is educating kids in the principles of entrepreneurship – what it takes to create, start, and grow a business. The world of work has changed … everyone needs to have an entrepreneurial mentality regardless of whether they create and lead their own company or they work for someone else. Vocational training fills this need. According to Victor Hwang, VP of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, “The school system has long taught for industrial jobs: how to find a job, how to fill a job. But the jobs of the new economy are ones where you have to be entrepreneurial.”

This article by Tom Foster, Editor-at-large, Inc.com, “Inside the Schools That Want to Create the Next Mark Zuckerberg–Starting at Age 5“, gives me hope for future generations. Across the U.S. kids are learning how to make and sell their own products. From handmade dog treats to gluten free baked goods and even security software, kids are learning skills to stimulate innovative thinking and hopefully ensure the next Mark Zuckerberg.

vocational training teaches real world skillsSchools over the years dismantled their vocational training programs. When I went to high school, we had classes like Home Economics and Shop where we learned how to cook and sew or how to repair cars and build things. Those programs disappeared as schools tightened budgets to focus on reading, writing, science, and math. While important educational programs, these exclusively left-brain-focused classes didn’t work for students who predominantly learned by physically “doing” something. They needed to make something to learn the concepts of math or science. Classes in shop and home economics did that.

Vocational training programs are making a come back

Now we’re seeing a resurgence of these vocational training programs, not in schools, but funded by the private sector and non-profit organizations. The traditional education program in the US doesn’t fit everyone. Some students just don’t want to get a business degree. Some know they want to work with their hands. And there is nothing wrong with that. Asian cultures have educated their youth this way from birth. Young children are tested at an early age to determine which path they should take. Then their entire education is focused on that path.

On the other hand, we’ve tried to fit all students into the same box in the effort to provide equal educational opportunities to all. And it isn’t working. Our educational system has not evolved fast enough to meet the demands of the new types of work that technological innovation is creating. Witness the outcry of companies like Google, Intel, and Qualcomm who say they can’t hire qualified people educated in the US. They need to import talent from other countries.

Compared to in-classroom courses, “vocational education aims to prepare students for their futures by focusing on the industries that interest them,” according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Institute blog. The article continues to say, “Vocational education is more like college in the sense that students are expected to be autonomous. This helps to prepare students for the future by encouraging them to manage their own time and take care of themselves. Those who graduate from vocational school may be more prepared to assimilate into the “real world” than those coming out of high school.”

Vocational training, like exposure to arts and science through field study trips, helps to bring classroom learning into the real world. Many of us, whether young or old, learn best by doing.

Vocational training programs teach self awareness, responsibility, time management, as well as specific skills like wood working or animal husbandry or cooking or car maintenance. Math, reading and writing are wrapped up in the learning process as students apply their physical as well as mental faculties to the learning.

They prepare students for the new world of work.

Rapid Growth Causes Overwhelm

Rapid growth causes overwhelm, especially for small business owners who haven’t taken the time to plan in advance. They set up their business and start the marketing without any road map for growth. Then as new business opportunities come their way, they step up to meet that demand, until one day they realize they have no time for anything else. They are overwhelmed and putting out fires.Stress and overwhelm caused by rapid growth

I’ve been meeting with a business owner who suffers from rapid growth and no plan to manage that growth. He wants my help with the company’s social media marketing. But the owner keeps missing meetings. He’s constantly putting out fires that get in the way of finalizing an agreement with me. His company has grown so fast, he is trying to serve his customers, take on new jobs, and cover all the bases ….without any office staff.

The business has grown beyond the point where the owner can handle all the back office work – accounting, payroll, taxes, hiring and training – as well as work in the business. Until he gets organized and hires one or more people to run the business operations, he likely isn’t ready for my marketing help.

He has established offices in several locations across the US and is in the process of training staff to manage the local work at those locations. Simultaneously the business regularly gets new projects to take on since it has successfully become the exclusive resource recommended by several realtors in the business owner’s headquarters location. Without staff, he has to serve those customers.

Meanwhile, he also handles back office paperwork and staff training, in addition to marketing and local community involvement. He’s understandably overwhelmed and things are falling through the cracks.

Does this sound familiar? Is your business suffering from rapid growth?

Marketing is not the issue here. Getting yourself organized and hiring at least one other person to handle the back office stuff is the key. If this resonates with you, it’s time to take a step back and analyze what’s happening in your business and the steps you need to take to rectify the situation. This is lesson 101 in Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth.

Step One – decide what you really want from the business. First, write down the broad goals you want for the business. Then, begin working backward to today following the next steps. Look back at where you started and where you are today. Have you achieved the initial outcomes you set for yourself? Perhaps it’s time to set new outcomes, or a new target to reach for a year down the road.

Step Two – once you set that new target, identify the critical goals you need to achieve in order to reach the new target and how you are going to measure your progress toward those goals. These should include staffing and delegation, financial goals, community involvement, perhaps even head office relocation. Perhaps it’s time to move into a larger space that also affords you storage space for all the business materials you use.

Step Three – look again at your current situation and how stressed you are. What is and isn’t working right now? Analyze your own strengths and weaknesses as a business owner. What do you enjoy most about running the business? What do you enjoy the least? What do you do well and what tasks do you not do well? These will help you begin to see areas where you can delegate once you find and hire the right people to take on these tasks. This will add to the payroll. However, if you don’t do this, you may find your company retracting rather than growing. You have reached the point where you either choose to grow or you lose ground. Companies can’t remain static they must continually adapt and change. There is always someone else ready to move into your territory and take over. You need to get yourself organized and learn to delegate to staff and/or outside contractors so you can spend most of your time working ON your business rather than IN it.

Step Four – Look at the new outcome(s) you want to achieve a year or more down the road. Look at the goals you set in order to achieve those outcomes. Then take a look at your current situation and what is and isn’t working. You should see some areas which become the key strategies to focus on in order to keep growing in an organized fashion and reach the new outcomes. They may include:

Staffing/training:  Hiring a COO take over the operational details of running the business, and coordinating the operations at the various locations.

Financial:  Outsourcing your financial management, bookkeeping and tax management tasks so you can focus on doing what you enjoy and do best.

Marketing: Outsourcing your marketing and social media efforts to keep your business top of mind and maintain customer satisfaction.

New offices: Relocating out of the small office or even home office may now be necessary, especially as you contemplate hiring a COO, a bookkeeper or CFO, and/or marketing staff.

Rapid growth can be managed with planning.

Planning frees you up to manage your business. You need to spend your time focused on the long range outcomes for the business, maintaining community connections, and ensuring your staff  is delivering the quality service you demand for your customers.

Your job is now to provide the checks and balances to ensure everyone is doing the right kind of work towards achieving those targets you set. In fact, keep in mind that the primary job of leaders is planning and managing change. Some of your tasks will include:

  • Holding periodic meetings to get updates from everyone on what is working well and what isn’t, and make joint decisions about resolutions to any problems or challenges that arise.
  • Keeping people accountable for doing work that ties directly to the critical goals you’ve set in order to achieve those future outcomes.
  • Monitoring external factors and changes in the marketplace, the economy and your industry that could affect your company’s progress towards achieving its future outcomes.

The result is that you’ll be better organized, happier, and less stressed. Things will stop falling through the cracks. You’ll be able to make and keep commitments. Your customers will be more satisfied. Your staff will more satisfied and goal-oriented. You’ll have a team that is pulling together in the same direction, instead of trying to do things on their own without direction, and delivering less than excellent service. You’ll have a much better chance of actually achieving those new future outcomes for your business. It won’t be without its own challenges. Things will occur that may derail your progress, but if you revert back to these steps and stay focused on the key strategies and goals, you’ll get yourself back on track quickly.

Reflections for the New Year

Earlier this morning I was doing some inner reflections for the New Year on this 3rd day of January. In the process, I read the lines of a song which I have posted on my office wall. They were sent out by a friend to all her friends as a reminder that life is short. She died over a year ago.

Tim McGRaw singing Live Like You Were Dying

The song is “Live Like You Were Dying” sung by Tim McGraw. It was written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols. The lyrics came to them as they chatted about a friend’s doctor visit when he received news about a “thing appearing on his x-ray”. That led to a conversation about one of their uncles who had leukemia but was currently in remission. We all know someone who is dealing with or has died from a serious life-threatening disease. This song makes you think, “what if it happens to me”? The singer’s response is….

“I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying,
And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dying.”

Then I checked my email and saw a news article about someone I personally knew when I lived in San Diego. Bill Trumpfheller, the CEO of Nuffer, Smith Tucker, one of the top PR agencies in town, died of a heart attack over the weekend – at the age of 53! OMG!!

Some of the words from this song now seem especially pertinent as I continued my reflections for the new year; not just with what’s happening in the world, but even more so after reading about Bill’s death. It makes me realize how important it is to think positive thoughts, be generous at heart, eat healthily, and just live our lives to the fullest. We need to enjoy our families and friends because we never know when something can happen as it did to Bill. I’m still in shock as I write these words. He was only 53, 12 years younger than me. Yes, I’ll be eligible for Medicare this year. That in itself is a life adjustment.

I can hear the song in my head since it’s a popular country tune played frequently on Pandora and country music stations (it was the 2004 Grammy winner for best country song). It makes me think about how important it is to tell those we care about that we love them. And it’s also important that we forgive ourselves first, and then forgive others for any wrongs they may have done to us, whether intentional or not.

Forgiveness is important.

Forgiveness is a big one … especially forgiving yourself, not just for any actions you did or didn’t take, but for what you think about yourself. It’s important to focus on your talents, your accomplishments, your own uniqueness, not on your short comings. We all have areas where we can improve. But we also have talents that are uniquely ours. Those are where we need to focus our attention.

I frequently say the words as I go through my reflections and affirmations, but I know it’s important to also feel them. If we don’t feel them, how can we cement the reality in our subconscious? It’s part of training our brains to start believing. Over time as we repeat the words, our brains finally decide we actually mean what we’re saying, and we start to believe.

Affirmations work the same way as these positive reflections, at least for me. When I have pain in my body or I can’t sleep, I repeat certain affirmations. Then I’ll also ask my body to cooperate and let me sleep until a certain time. The next time I wake up, it’s usually within a few minutes of that time. And I find I slept deeply, even dreamed, and I wake up relaxed and rested. Amazing!

Perhaps starting a new year causes these kinds of reflections. I don’t know. But when I think about where I am in my life now and the things I still want to accomplish, the words from the song seem like good ones to keep in mind.

So I’m not making the traditional New Year’s resolutions. The blogosphere will be filled with advice about making and keeping resolutions. And most of the time, we don’t keep them anyway. We get distracted by life and work, and forget what we promised ourselves. Good intentions and all that. J

I’ve resolved instead to keep this song stanza top of mind and to “live like I was dying”. I’ve created a 2017 Vision Board that hangs on my wall so I can see it every day. These are pictures that reflect what I want to accomplish this year, knowing they may not all come to fruition, but at least I’ll have them as goals to shoot for.

Having a Vision Board is important.

There is something magical that happens when you write down your goals, add images, and put them up in a visible spot where you can see them every day. Read the words daily. Reflect on the pictures. These actions cement the goals in your subconscious so you naturally take the actions necessary to achieve them.

Circumstances may crop up that prevent you from accomplishing all your goals, but when you look back at the end of the year, you’ll see you’ve accomplished at least a few. That has worked for me anyway.

What’s worked for you?

What if everyone gets an A?

What if everyone gets an A? Is it possible? What if every member of Congress and the new president and vice president were given an A? That means they start with a clean slate and have already earned the highest grade the public gives them.

The caveat: Within the first two weeks of taking office, each of them must write a public letter to the American people, published in the New York Times or the Washington Post, explaining what they did to deserve this grade. The letter must be dated a year from the date they took office and start with the words, “Dear American people, I got my A because….” It must be written in great detail. Each person must tell the story of what happened to them over the course of that year and what they did to achieve this grade.

In writing these letters, they must place themselves in the future and look back, reporting on all their accomplishments on behalf of the American people. They must include the milestones they attained during that year as if the accomplishments had already happened. Everything must be written in the past tense. The words “I hope”, “I intend”, “I plan” or “I will” must not appear. They should instead use: “I led”, I implemented”, “I influenced”, “I organized”, “I coordinated”, “I created’, etc.

The Art of Possibility - everyone gets an AThis is an exercise Boston Philharmonic Symphony Conductor Benjamin Zander describes in the book he co-authored with his wife, Rosamond Stone Zander, called The Art of Possibility. At the start of each semester of music instruction, he tells his students to write him a letter as described above, dated for a year hence. The results he describes are amazing and inspiring.

It appears that once we place ourselves in the future and write out what we have accomplished as though it already happened, we actually take the steps in the present to make that happen.

Our brains have already been wired to make it so. If everyone gets an A at the start, we subconsciously do the work to make it a reality.

Backwards to the Future

This is similar to an exercise we do with our clients when facilitating a strategic plan. We start by having them put themselves 1-to-3 years in the future and imagine what has already transpired in their business. What accomplishments they’ve made, how the organization has grown and changed, and what others are saying about their success. This becomes the vision for the future they want to create.

Next, we have them step into that same future time frame and consider the external changes that might have occurred by then. They look at how the world will have changed around them which includes changes in population, the competition, the ecological environment, political and regulatory changes, technology and innovation, their industry, and their customers. Again, they look at these as though they have already occurred at the end of that 1-to-3-year period, identifying future opportunities and threats that present themselves. Then they work backwards to set milestones to achieve and identify specific actions to take that will produce those future results.

These are powerful exercises which get our clients rooted in the future. They help them see possibilities they might not otherwise see if they began with a SWOT analysis and started solving today’s issues. Much like Zander’s students in The Art of Possibility, our clients start their planning by tricking their brains into assuming the future has already happened. This makes it possible for them to identify the specific steps they need to take to ensure those future possibilities actually take place. It also gets the entire team on the same page, focused on the same goals.

Granting an A can be a healing exercise – something this country needs after such a divisive election process. It creates a vision of partnership, teamwork and relatedness. If everyone gets an A, then everyone is equal in all ways.  It means we’ve all done our best; we’ve all behaved as the best persons we can be. According to Zander, the act of giving an A creates a sense of partnership.

Of course, every government leader must understand and embrace this process which is a huge culture change to their jobs. But it could happen!

So what if everyone gets an A? What if we gave every elected official an A the day they took office?

What if?

Thinking differently produces new possibilities

Looking for inspiration recently, I turned to one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility. Opening it up I came to a story about thinking differently. It was written by a health system’s Vice President who attended a presentation one of the authors, Boston Philharmonic Symphony Conductor Benjamin Zander, made to his company.

Art of PossibilityThe audience was told to reflect on someone no longer in their lives while Zander played Chopin. The Vice President thought about his father’s inability to tell him he loved him all the time he was growing up. This caused him to distance himself from his father as an adult. But during reflection he remembered a special moment when his father showed him his love, even though he couldn’t say it. Suddenly, his world changed.

The final paragraph in the letter he wrote points to the importance of thinking differently:
We keep looking so hard in life for the ‘specific message’, and yet we are blinded to the fact that the message is all around us and within us all the time. We just have to stop demanding that it be on OUR terms or conditions, and instead open ourselves to the possibility that what we seek may be in front of us all the time.

Be open to new possibilities

This made me recall a time early in my banking career when I put in a bid to my boss and his boss to create a brand new department with me as department manager. I had seen the need for a department that provided “creative services” to the executives since I was being asked to do those things already. This involved writing out flip chart presentations (yes, this was before PCs and PowerPoint), editing speeches, creating posters for executive presentations, and planning and producing marketing and operations conferences.

A few days earlier I had called my mother for advice on how to structure my proposal and presentation. She was my business adviser and mentor early in my career having had lots of experience working her way up the corporate ladder. At the time, she and several other high level executive women had formed their own consulting firm to help women gain the management skills to excel in a corporate environment run predominantly by men. Much of what they were teaching these women had to do with thinking differently about themselves, their work, and their career goals.

So armed with her advice, I wrote up my presentation and made the pitch as she had suggested. I remember being disappointed after my presentation because I didn’t get exactly what I proposed. I said as much to my boss. His response was, “Jeri, why are you so disappointed? You won! It may not be exactly how you proposed it, but you got the department and the new responsibility. Congratulations!”

Thinking differently creates new possibilitiesSimilar to the epiphany the VP had in the book, I too, gained a new perspective. I realized I needed to change my thinking. I did get the new opportunity and the promotion even though it didn’t look exactly as I had proposed and I didn’t get the title I wanted. But I was given a budget to manage and permission to hire two people. It was my first job directly managing my own staff, instead of the shared management responsibility of the department secretary whom I supervised with several other colleagues. The department head had his own private secretary. And now I was the only other person in the department with my own staff. Boy did that irk some of my co-workers!

The message I finally internalized was to recognize the win, and start thinking differently.  New possibilities emerge as a result.

You might be surprised at what you discover!

Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

Top Chef Yields Innovative Ideas

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovative ideas come from unrelated areas. Chefs stretch their creative thinking to invent unusual and flavorful dishes. Consumer Trend Canvas stimulates innovative solutions.

Top Chef yields innovative ideas

As I watched a recent TV episode of Top Chef, I thought about how two chefs in particular stretched themselves pairing unusual ingredients from Asian and European cooking to make innovative and flavorful seafood dishes of lobster, clams, and oysters. It made me wonder how we might apply similar concepts to generate innovative ideas with our work with clients.

During this particular competition, the four remaining chefs had to be innovative in their use of ingredients, spices, textures, and flavors when preparing a main dish for four executive chef judges. Of the four contestants, one was eliminated, and the other three went into the final round in Mexico.

Each time the chefs competed, they were given one or more ingredients that must be the featured item in the dishes they prepare. They usually had less than an hour to decide what ingredients and spices to add, how to cook the main protein, and what sauce if any to include. This time also included plating the entrée and then presenting it to the judges.

This particular episode made me think…what can we do to help our clients think more creatively and stretch themselves in their problem-solving? Do the same planning models and tools work for this purpose or can those be adapted to help our clients dig deeper into the issues that are the heart of their challenges? Is there a tool to help them develop innovative ideas to solve critical issues?

Using Trend Canvas to Generate Innovative Ideas

We had the opportunity to test this in a planning project with a large spiritual organization. On the first day of planning, we introduced the Consumer Trend Canvas from Trendwatching.com. Breaking the group into teams of four or five, we had each team use the Consumer Trend Canvas to analyze a critical issue and come up with some innovative solutions.

The beauty of the Consumer Trend Canvas is that it forces you to look outside the organization at what’s driving the changes that affect that particular issue. It also has you look at the basic consumer needs tied to that issue, and the emerging consumer expectations. After reviewing those three areas, you begin to think more creatively about how to address those changes as they apply to the issue you’re tackling. This creates interesting possibilities – innovative ideas – that might not have bubbled to the surface without using the Consumer Trend Canvas.

For this organization, one of the issues was member retention. They were no longer relevant, and consequently, they weren’t attracting younger members or retaining current, aging members. The average age of members was over 70! Without attracting new, younger members, the organization would eventually cease to exist.

We had each team chart their issue, three key challenges, and one to three innovative solutions on a flip chart. Then they shared their solutions with the entire group. This gave the group a list of innovative ideas to pursue further in order to resolve their top critical issues.

We had them prioritize the ideas down to one key idea for each issue. Then we included those ideas as action items under the strategies they came up with on the second day of the planning retreat. This resulted in a manageable list of action steps to pursue to move the organization forward towards its desired outcomes.

Doing this early in the planning session helped them to start thinking creatively as they continued through the rest of the weekend’s planning exercises. It forced them to look outside the organization at global trends that were impacting them now or could do so in the future.

The group successfully completed all the elements of a strategic plan during the two-day retreat. They have written the plan and are now in the process of executing it. In May, we’ll review their progress to see what they have accomplished in their first year of implementation.

What are you doing to be more innovative in your planning and problem resolution? Have you discovered new tools to help you think more creatively and uncover the deeper gold beneath the surface?