Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Workin' for the man

You run your own business: you sweep the floors, dust the countertops, organize the merchandise, greet customers, up-sell features, design new services, market your wares, and so much more to basically do what ever you have to do to make your company successful.

What tasks go away if you say, simply work for a business?

I dare propose this: “none”

In every business, every employee is a salesman.

In every business, every employee coddles its customers. Selling and coddling are supported by the tasks (assigned to you defined by your given role), supporting your colleagues to do the same, and yes, even housekeeping.

We’re all in business to stay in business.

What motivates you to do the extra steps and to step outside of your role to ensure an amazing customer experience?






Mutual support

Leadership by example


I imagine your employees are motivated similarly.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's not my job

A month ago Thanksgiving, I talked about being thankful to your colleagues. As the week of Christmas has arrived, I am thinking about what and how you give in your organization.

What are you giving back to your organization?

Ideally, your teams are made up of diverse skills and viewpoints complimenting each other on how they interact and what they bring to the table. Your teams are confident enough to counter view points for creative discussion leading to creative solutions.

We all have our role. We all have our job.

Having our role also means that there are roles that don’t belong to us; tasks and responsibilities that don’t fall under our umbrella – tasks left to others.. jobs that aren't ours.

Do you ever do things that aren’t directly assigned to you? Of course we all have to mindful of our immediate and long-term responsibilities to ensure our work is getting done without being overworked ourselves, but I’d like to explore what happens when we give of ourselves fully at work.

Let’s starting with making a list of things that we could give:

  • Pick up any trash you come across that’s the size of a dime or larger on the floor

  • Help a colleague pick up something that accidentally spilled

  • Walk a strong pace to get to your destination quicker – to finish quicker

  • Smile and greet every person you encounter in your office

  • Listen respectfully to every person you interact with in your office
  • Help someone do their job if you have idle time

  • Research and brainstorm on products, services, or just plain ideas that will help your company to do more.

  • Contribute in discussion at meetings

  • Prepare for meetings you’ll attend

  • Finish your work when you’ve committed to finishing it

  • Continuously think of ways you can do your job better

  • Continuously think of ways your company can service its clients better

  • Choose to share the positive verses complaining or dwelling on the past

  • Support the team decision and make it successful even if you disagree with the method (within moral limits obviously)

  • Go the extra step, put on the finishing touches, and do a little more proudly to delight your clients (or the colleague you’re delivering to)

  • Be proud of what you deliver

  • Understand the ‘why’ of decisions so you can support them fully

Wouldn’t you like someone who did all these things to work for you?

What more would you add to this list?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Sometimes it’s easier to just do something yourself than to worry if the thing got done at all or was done right.

These are two advantages to doing something yourself.

What about the advantages of delegating to those who report to you?

  • Empowerment of the person you delegated to

  • Input from another person on (doing this thing) that may offer a different perspective

  • Respect and improved relationship of the person you delegated to

  • Stronger and more diverse skilled team members

  • Future peace of mind for when you really need to rely on someone else

  • More time for you to do all your other things

When was the last time you delegated?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To be or not to be transparent?

I vol- unteered with a great nonprofit for over three years. They help people get into safe affordable decent housing where they can have the confidence of knowing it’s as permanent as they need it to be. It’s amazing how providing stability in someone’s life can turn their whole world upside down yet right side up.

Like many nonprofits (and commercial ventures), they have been struggling to raise funds.

As a volunteer, I was always surprised to learn that they struggled for donations because I knew their programming was so strong.

As a volunteer, I was always surprised to run into people who had grave misconceptions about the program and its benefits.

As a volunteer however, I could never find out exactly how the program was funded. No one could or would answer me directly about where the money went and how much was actually needed.

The goals were not clear.

I found it difficult to help them, often guessing at what they might need. My fellow volunteers shared the same concern with me. We’d guess as best we knew and do the best we could. I would find in conversation with potential donors that they also had the same questions as I did but with many misconceptions about the program as well.

What if this was a commercial venture?

What would you do if this was your commercial venture?

The same rules apply don’t they? Frankly, I can hear the gears over-heating in your head:

  • Communicate a clear message to the team on what needs to be accomplished!

  • Get everyone unified around a real and tangible long term goal.

What else would you add to this list?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Minus One

I threw a big party recently and had a sizable committee to help me execute the event as well as a few new and good friends to help me during the night of. I am very grateful for all their support as without each of them, the event would have been different.

Different bad? Different good?

Each friend brought their own unique ideas, bubbling personalities, and quirky humor. I tentatively assigned tasks to each based on their requests or for what I thought they might enjoy and be good at.

Of course like anything, things change, and new challenges arise requiring fast flexibility and initiation by each of us.

One of the women approached me after the party and started to almost apologize as she thought her presence wasn’t really needed that night. “I feel like I didn’t do very much, you really didn’t need me,” she said.

Au contraire!

Without her, I would have been nervous that I was one person short. Without her, I wouldn’t have had anyone to help the others when it became obvious that more hands were needed for the auction support.

While a party is a very different animal than a production line, producing a product and executing a seamless evening is quite similar mechanically.


Work flow and balance are equally important in both circumstances. Persons should be assigned tasks that keep each similarly and equally busy but along with flexibility to increase output –or temporarily lend a hand to someone else, without the process being interrupted.

In this design, there are many positive outcomes:

  • 1) each person is not working at their maximum, thus energy is conserved,
  • 2) should a customer request extra pieces, a slight speeding of the line is possible, and
  • 3) should someone be absent, each person can absorb a little bit extra work to maintain balance and output.


My humble friend from the party forgot one thing about the importance of her presence.

By ‘showing up’, she was demonstrating her support to me that couldn’t be illustrated in any other way.

At work, we also demonstrate our commitment to the company and our colleagues by ‘showing up’. Sure, they could sustain themselves here and there without us, but by consistently showing up and doing what we commit to do; we honor our fellow workers and bring about better morale.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are you giving thanks in your head?

Some managers have a policy of shaking hands and saying thanks when they hand out checks to their employees. It’s humbling to be on the receiving end of this. I worked for a company where all managers were required to do this. I knew this, but still felt genuinely thanked by most managers.

There was one manager who quite obviously felt corny saying 'thank you' when distributing checks, perhaps knowing that I knew he was required to do this, thus not feeling genuine.

Frankly, his cynical nature was off-putting. I felt less than thanked. It was worse than had nothing been said at all.

In the world and in your workplace, we are a community filled with a mixed bag of nuts. We’re all different people in how we think, perceive, and make decisions. Sometimes it’s hard to get over differences especially when someone who is so different from you seems to make your life difficult.

How could you make that better?

How could you communicate what you need to help this other person work with you better? (and visa versa by the way!)

Since this is the week of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share with you an exercise. Starting with your work colleagues and possibly including the extended family you’ll be rubbing shoulders with Thursday (and perhaps the extended family you’re avoiding Thursday!), then finishing with your immediate family, think about each person individually and consider three characteristics about them that you are grateful for.

Do they seem as bad as before?

This can only make seeing them next more bearable.. and perhaps take your relationships to whole new efficiencies.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In defense of negativity

There’s good reason to not feel so positive these days.

Events, attitudes, and circumstances can throw us for a loop. We react based on fear, experience, upbringing, our values, understanding, and openness to change. We can react negatively in spite of our age and all the self help books we’ve read.

"We have good reason. Negativity is akin to grieving."

Why not be a sourpuss? You can share with the world your anger by wearing a frown on your face, ignoring people you work with, being snappy with answers to questions, being incredibly aloof, only giving out small tidbits of information but not all the information your coworkers need to do their jobs well…

What else can you think of?

Perhaps you could also rally resentment against a manger by quietly questioning their whereabouts when absent from the office. This is especially effective when you know the manager is at a legitimate meeting, but no one else does. You could undermine the manager’s leadership when they have delegated something by going to that person and asking any series of questions such as: “why doesn’t he do it?” or, “Does he even know how this is supposed to work?” or better, “that’s not appropriate.”

One could make a new employee whom they resent perhaps for not being a part of their hiring decision, feel incredibly unwelcome through several vibrant ways:
  • the silent treatment,
  • withholding information, and
  • pointing out faults superficial, made-up, or exaggerated to fellow colleagues.

"Negativity Tip: This last is best executed in small huddled groups where upon the new person coming across you in the hallway or break-room, you immediately stop talking and remain silent until the person passes."

Denying critical elements a new person needs to do their work is also an excellent negativity tool to wield. Examples of this could be falsifying customer deadlines, conveniently forgetting each week to make an extra copy of the office key for the new employee, or forgetting to convey important messages.

This type of anger transfer is especially useful in spreading negativity as the new person has nothing to do with why you are angry, hurt, or unappreciated. The effectiveness of this negativity is wonderful because the poor sap never sees it coming and will be completely blindsided by the treatment.

But why go to all that bother?

Wouldn’t all this bad behavior only drain energy from you? What good could come of it? If you find that you’re not able to accept new direction or effect change in your workplace positively through collaborative healthy means, perhaps a job change is better for everyone, especially you.

The difficulty in negative behavior is that it rubs off. Like it or not, we tend to learn and mirror patterns we witness in others. Negativity is best tackled quickly.

Luckily, good leaders know this too. Good leaders know how to ignore petty negative passive outbursts and when to step in. They understand that learning the root of the anger will help bring resolution quicker moving everyone forward. Establishing trust and creating an environment where a negative employee can open up and start to describe what is wrong in a one on one environment can lead to mutual understanding and positive change in how you work together. Long term everyone benefits, even if this employee chooses to leave the company.

How have you tamed a bad seed?

What tools do you use to help your teammates shine?

Originally posted by me on the L2L blog, November 6th, 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easier to edit

It’s always easier to critique an idea than to actually come up with the idea itself.

Oh sure, the idea itself seems easy enough once thought up. Once thought up.

Take for example the written word. There’s a blog I follow on leadership that I really enjoy. Each post is thoughtfully written, humorous, and has a great familiar tone that’s easy to read. This blog has an editor.

How do I know this you might ask?

How would I know that it really isn’t a happenstance of similarly extraordinary gifted contributing author’s? Basically, it’s because I am one of those gifted (ahem) contributing authors. This editor takes great content and turns it into very personal advice. I love his voice and return day after day to read.

Depending on your personality, it can be difficult being edited.

Think of one of your latest meetings. Was there any idea that was floated out to the group?

Was it shot down?

Was it changed?

Did someone alter the original thought and make it better?

I’ve been in some meetings where most everyone was afraid to speak up. Perhaps we were intimidated by the leader. Perhaps the corporate environment was not open to new ideas.

Perhaps we each were afraid of being edited.

What I love most about working in collaborative teams is the amazing results that are achieved. We each offer up various solutions and together we ‘edit’ those ideas to create something remarkable.

Original thought is hard. Editing is easy, but such an important step to achieving excellence.

Go forth.. get edited.

Photograph from The Independent on a feature discussing Joseph Hallinan’s interesting book, Why We Make Mistakes

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lions, tigers, and bears..

Actually, more like: lions, beavers, and golden retrievers.

At my previous company I would periodically take those little self-evaluation tests to figure out my general personally type. This was typically done during a team off-site and the results would be anticipated.

Of course Larry is a “Retriever”.

Sure enough, the test results showed that Mary is a strong driver but with a tall yellow bar too.

For myself, I was always a driver but like reading horoscopes, I saw a little of myself in each description of the lion, otter, golden retriever, and beaver.

Sometimes we’d have to wear these little personality name tags in the office and when we’d tire of this display; we’d hang them in our office for people to see. Supposedly this would help others work with us better.

How exactly am I supposed to give a Retriever information?

How do I more effectively ask a Beaver to do something?

Wouldn’t it be easier if I just knew what to get from others to do my work more effectively?

We all go to work wanting to do a good job. Everyone there, like everyone you might notice in your neighborhood, at church, or in the grocery store, is a mixed bag of nuts. We’re all different. We all have our own idiosyncrasies. We all have our own perceptions based on our upbringing. Some even have their own agendas.

How can we work together better?

While understanding your colleagues and knowing them personally always benefits, one doesn’t always have the opportunity to understand how someone works.

  • You could be new on a team.
  • Your team could be located at several locations.
  • Understanding someone else’s personality type might not be your gift.

There are many reasons why knowing yourself better is the key to getting information presented to you as you need to do your job more effectively verses leaving it to someone else's interpretation. Things like:

  • What questions should you ask to fill in the gaps in your mind?
  • How should you lay out your work for your brain to process quicker?
  • When should you slow down to let others catch up?

Just as in personal relationships, understanding your very own unique way of processing information, will make you more effective in all you do.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

to be continued

I've been taking a few months break for the summer, but am working on a new post currently. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Securing your legacy

What’s your exit strategy?



Are you talkin’ to me??”

If you are about to jump ship or you're plotting to move your career elsewhere in the next 3 to 5 years, then I’m talking to you. Here is a serious question that you should be consistently considering:

How will your leadership be regarded after you have left this job and hit the high road?

In considering your leadership legacy and beginning to work on an exit strategy, you need to be concerned with three things: your ideas, your initiatives, and your people.

I’m sure you’ve had some great ideas and maybe even implemented several of them, but will they persist after you’ve gone? Will your initiatives and the people on your team shine when you are not there to mentor them anymore? What is your legacy going to be once you are no longer there? Next are three things to think about in building that better legacy.

Every leader has the responsibility to come up with creative problem solving ideas that are supposed to keep things running smoothly, trim expenses, and generate income. Some positions require a lot more ideas than others. Some workplace environments are more conducive to change, while others are more reluctant to the concept of implementing “new & improved” ideas. As a leader, your ideas matter. Let’s take a look at the ones you have already created. Are these ideas sticking around after you’re not pushing them anymore?

Are these ideas dependent upon you or did you build them with longevity and a legacy in mind? A great leadership legacy has tried and true ideas that stand the test of time.

Structuring change so that a smooth implementation is engineered with collaboration and buy-in from all quarters involved is key to a successful roll-out. Just like with any strong structure that is built to last, it is also foundational to the long term success of your project after you’ve moved on that its implementation was embraced. Perhaps you wrote the product launch procedure, you developed the new marketing communication program, or you’ve created the strategy for increased client sales.

How are you rolling it out to the team and to the company such that it is effectively communicated and designed for all involved? Who else was involved in it’s development?

How much are you involved day to day and what happens when you go on vacation? A great leadership legacy is built with plans that roll out smoothly so that foundations are built with strength and durability.

It’s inevitable that some on your team will require more hand holding than others. What about those whose goal is to take over your job? Are you afraid of that occurrence and are trying to thwart their efforts? Or are you grooming them for the future with confidence and poise? If you have in mind securing a great leadership legacy, you will be asking yourself compelling questions that allow you the freedom to leave gracefully.

Ask yourself: “How am I helping the right person achieve eventual success in my current position?” And.. “Who is next in line to take over my position and responsibilities when I have moved on?

Preparing your team through training and mentoring in addition to providing critical information is key to setting them up for success when you’re gone. I’ve found that allowing those working for you to spin and toil on their own problems a little while and allowing them to come up with their own solutions helps them grow more quickly than if I had stepped in to intervene immediately. Similarly I try to bring in others on big initiatives to help them learn the process of development.

Some of us truly are indispensable and control information critical for our position. How are you making this available and easy to understand for the one who follows you?

The mark of a great leader is the legacy one leaves behind.

How your company survives and recovers from your absence is a tribute to your leadership.

Are you setting up your company for success in the long term? What is your exit strategy?

Will the company remain strong and not falter upon your departure?

Article originally published by me on the Linked 2 Leadership blog, June25, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Starting a new gig

A list. A 9 point action list.

I have some friends starting new opportunities soon and it got me thinking about how their company will survive their leaving. It got me thinking about how to gracefully leave an organization and even how to successfully leave a position within an organization. I did a quick search to find some do-s and don’t-s, but it really goes deeper than this. I decided to write this post. I’ll expand more next week, but for now, a list:

  1. Be transparent. Ensure that your boss and your team understand what it takes to do your job.

  1. Record justification. For every project and initiative, there is strong justification for decisions made throughout its development. What are they? Filling in others and recording for future reference will ensure that others understand ‘the why’ of decisions. This will make it easier for the team to support and to carry plans forward when you’re not involved anymore. Your project could be a fundraising strategy with a particular company, a manufacturing process, or a specific product design. Ask me about the life of a thin-wall plastic product I designed and why recording was so important.

  1. Train your team. Consider how well your team does their individual jobs. Conduct formal in-house training that will make them perform even better. You have a lot to share from your years of experience. Not sure where to start? Work with a consultant who can customize and develop training with you.

  1. Define your strategy. It’s probably a good one so why not share it? This will enable your boss and your team to do two things: a. carry it forward in your absence, and b. improve upon it.

  1. Perform a thorough review of your role. Define what you do and what your replacement should expect as their duties. Identify gaps in your position and the organization to help drive improvement after you’ve moved on. This is not a criticizing letter, but a bulleted list.

This organization’s future success can also be yours.

  1. List assets to your position and how they help or hinder you. Do you really need three computers? That blackberry? Better managing database software? You might also have several marketing pieces, prototypes, or other inventory you control. Passing this list on to your team and replacement will help them save money and continue critical customer support.

  1. Develop a schedule for implementation. We all have ongoing projects and it’s likely you’re leaving in the middle of one. Finish what you can and put in the works details that will ‘run’ during your departure. The idea is to allow for seamless transfer to your replacement. This is not the time to let your customer or donor down. Successful transfer can only reflect well on both of you.

  1. Open your books. Reorganize if necessary. You may hold sensitive and critical information for the operation of your company. Ensure this information is gathered in one place, is easy to interpret, as well as easily found. What kind of information you ask? Things like:

    1. current customer lists – contact names, products they buy from you, products they buy from competitors, what they like to order for lunch, how they take their coffee, where they spend their holidays. Information should include special strategies with them and details from your last meetings.
    2. Show budget information including when you spent money, when your group was reimbursed. Provide details on how you plan for your department/company.
    3. If you work for a nonprofit, be sure to include volunteer information (and not just names!), donor schedules, cashflow timing, donor in the works information and the like.
    4. For your projects, clean up your to-do action lists and ensure those responsible understand they get no slack during the leadership transition.

  1. Communicate. Everyone will miss you whether they like you or not. Close the loop gracefully informing all in appropriate positive ways whom their future contact will be. For customers, work hard to introduce personally your new replacement. For suppliers, work hard to introduce your new replacement. For colleagues, work hard to introduce your new replacement. These face to face meetings show a strong level of professionalism and can only bode well for your future and that of your ‘old’ organization.

What would you add to this list if it was your boss leaving?

What would you add to this list if one of your teammates was leaving?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Training in quality


There used to be a notion back in my early days of manufacturing that you could inspect quality into your parts. There was always an inspector or two at each line and if a problem got through to a customer, there was added a third. It seems crazy now of course, though this practice is still used quite often.

So we’ve learned over the years that you can’t inspect quality into parts. This begs the next question:

Can you train in quality?

This is sort of a trick question.

While you certainly can't inspect quality into your products, training your team to take proactive steps towards planning for better quality will result in high quality for the long term of your business.

Higher quality = happy customers = future business.

So, can you train in quality? Actually, yes
WE can. Empowering and educating your team to design quality into your products and processes will avoid big issues down the road.

Understanding how the product will be used, abused, and manufactured will provide decision points where careful analysis and action will be required to ensure quality. Many would call this: Advanced Product Quality Planning.

Of course, we’re still human, right? Problems still arise in even the tightest run ships. Luckily disciplined problem solving is also trainable.

Can quality be trained into your parts?