Being in a Thanksgiving Reality Show: The Uber Leadership Development Experience

turkey

My family was filmed last weekend for a reality show depicting how American families celebrate Thanksgiving. Since the show was produced by a German pop up museum, I am referring to our experience as the “Uber” leadership development experience. For you non-Germanic folks, Uber means “being a superlative example of its kind or class”.

The reality show was similar to being a leadership development consultant in many ways: The show required a great deal of planning. And, even though we followed a rough storyline, in the end, there were some surprises! For example, the turkey was still frozen with a chance of blowing up in the deep fryer oil. We also revealed during the family sit down interview that our only consistent Thanksgiving tradition was wearing turkey and pilgrim costumes. The director’s eyes lit up! She had flown all the way from Berlin seeking this kind of unexpected drama.

Sound familiar? Pulling together a group of leaders and helping them be more effective and efficient does not just magically happen. Just as the reality show director created an environment where our family was show cased, as leadership consultants we design an experience for leaders which leads them down a path of self-insight. Here are three areas of programming we grapple with during all of our leadership interventions:

1/ Requires Staging [Lots of Effort to Setup]

The reality show director met with our family a week before the filming to outline the goal of the reality show and learn more about us. She also spent most of the morning of the shooting figuring out the best places to film and having her crew set up the equipment.

Similarly, as consultants we first learn what our leaders are trying to accomplish and acquire knowledge about them as people. In addition to a leadership assessment, I typically have a one-on-one conversation with each member of the leadership team to learn about their unique leadership styles, temperament and goals. I am then in a position to determine the best formats for helping the leadership team reach their objectives.

2/ Follows a Story Line [Even Though is Supposedly 100% Spontaneous]

The reality show director outlined how the day would play out before she ever started filming. She crafted a rough story line based on her interview with us. Our segment began with us reminiscing as a family about past Thanksgivings, leading us to prepare for our celebration and culminating in our Thanksgiving dinner. No one knew what would happen during these steps, however, we all knew the schedule of events.

As consultants, we follow a similar discipline as we craft an experience for the leaders. We cannot simply tell these leaders to be better. No, we introduce methods which allow the leaders to realize for themselves how they can work together better. Our interventions feel like a spontaneous experience for the leaders. They feel like they are pulling brilliant leadership insights out of thin air. Little do they know that we are the reality show directors. We planned out a story line which helped create an environment of self-insight.

3/ Did NOT Go as Planned [The Unexpected Happened]

As referenced above, the reality show director could not have predicted that the turkey would be frozen. This required her to come up with an alternative plan. On the spot, she declared that we would head to the grocery story to purchase a thawed turkey. Luckily, our nearby grocer was accommodating as our family paraded through the isles with a film crew in tow.

Similarly, not one of our leadership gigs has ever gone as planned. The reality show involves filming situations where what transpires cannot be predicted. Similarly, we are working with humans and cannot predict what they will bring to our interventions or how they will react in the moment. I have had the power completely shut down requiring us to relocate. Leaders have attempted their own awkward interventions with peers who do not welcome their “helping hand”. And, perhaps the most challenging, I have led full day sessions where we only had decaf coffee!

Where the Magic Happens!

Through all these challenges we persevere. In fact, it can be the unexpected that results in leadership teams experiencing their biggest break throughs. When they forget that the cameras are turned on and they have real conversations with each other, things start to happen. Some of those conversations can be loud and uncomfortable, sounding more like a reality show family in a heated argument. However, that is when leadership teams get real and the magic happens.

At the end of a long day filming our reality show had a similar sort of magic happen. After all the setup, being interviewed per our story line and a few glasses of wine thrown in, we donned our turkey and pilgrim outfits. We forget that the cameras were rolling. And we danced around the Thanksgiving table with pure unfettered joy!

The Backstory of the Goethe Pop Up Museum in Minneapolis

A German pop up museum in downtown Minneapolis created the reality show about how American families celebrate Thanksgiving.  The series will be posted at their website.

https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/en/sta/gpm.html

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

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A Creative Method For Developing Innovative Solutions: Magic Tool Box

toolbox

It can be helpful to use analogies to inspire new ideas.  I have leveraged a brainstorming tool for years called the Magic Tool Box.  In this exercise one uses a box full of tools as a metaphor for solving the problem at hand.  The objective is to spur new thinking.

I leveraged this brainstorming exercise with a group of journalists who were stationed at locations around the world.  They explored using a Swiss Army knife that was magical and could capture interview content, as well as still images and video.  It spurred the journalists to come up with approaches whereby they would capture more than just print copy as a result of their interviews.  This was before the iPhone was used to capture photos and video.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that I am Al Gore and claiming that I invented the Internet!  I am simply pointing out that this exercise allowed the journalists to imagine doing innovative work via tools that were not even invented at the time.  Generating this kind of out of the box thinking is the greatest value of this exercise.

Below are the steps to facilitate this exercise:

  • The facilitator provides a focus statement or problem related to the area being brainstormed.
    • The problem statement is related to the area being brainstormed. For example, our challenge may be that due to a new technology system our team members are drifting apart and not collaborating.
    • The magic tools in the tool box can be items such as: Magic drill, saw, hammer, duct tape, screw driver, tape measure, glue, etc.
  • Think of uses for a wide variety of “magic tools”
    • This is where you ask the group to use their imagination. For example, ask yourself: If we had a magic hammer, what would we use it to do?
    • Come up with ways we can use the magic tool to resolve the problem that has been articulated.
    • For example, one could leverage the magic tool box to address the problem of a team being stuck in silos and not working well together. One could use duct tape to wrap it around all the team members in order to bring everyone together again.
  • Explore the results for inspiration
    • We have fantasy solutions from step two that would not work in the real world. However, these make believe ideas may lead to insights that are practical.
    • Look at the responses and explore what kind of feelings and images are arising. Look for actions and goals that make sense and could be applied in the real world.
    • For example, while it is not practical to use duct tape to wrangle everyone into a more cohesive group, an initiative or event to bring people together may be a practical solution.

This exercise can clearly help our organizations think in new ways.  Spurring this kind of creative thinking is a true contribution that we can bring to the table.

Adapted from Alexander Hiam, Manager’s Pocket Guide to Creativity, 1998

light bulb

True Organizational Culture Change: “Everyone Talks Different”

culturechange

The #culturechange that Sandra Johnson engineered at a challenging City Government division is the most astounding cultural turn around that I have ever witnessed. An informal City leader who missed 50% of the meetings due to an illness came back and said, “I don’t know what happened but all I can say is everyone talks different.” It is a pleasure to post this amazing turn around #organizationalculture case study:

The Client: City Government

The client was a City Government Division with 25 union employees. Over 50% of the staff had been with the City for 10 years or more. The division manager had been with the division for over 25 years.

The Situation:

The division had some of the highest number of grievances in the City. The assistant manager had been hired into the position over other more senior staff and there was an active movement against her. The culture of the division included at times yelling, name calling and all around staff of unhappy campers.

The division scores on the #EmployeeEngagement survey were some of the lowest in the City.

I was brought in to help improve the organizational culture with the goal of improving overall employee engagement and reduce the number of grievances.

The Solution:

The #leadership agreed to a 9-month program meeting once a month for two hours with the entire staff. In between the monthly meetings, the manager and assistant manager agreed to bi-weekly coaching. Management also supported intermittent small group discussions with staff members who volunteered to work on issues, brainstorm and propose solutions.

The Results:

During the program, one of the informal leaders did not attend the monthly meetings as they were held on her normal day-off. The second informal leader missed about 50% of the meetings due to a medical leave. The other two informal leaders ironically were both up for a promotion against each other and the assistant manager, who was a key champion in the initiative, interviewed and ultimately selected the one who agreed to and was willing to support the organizational change.

At the end of the 9-month program:

  • Over 50% of the staff were actively involved in small group “think tanks” and volunteering to take on projects to promote the new culture
  • The informal leader who was promoted transformed from a resistor who previously sat “outside the circle with her arms folded” to a champion of the change, taking on additional responsibilities
  • The manager humbly announced to the team that he was “amazed at the amount of talented people and exceptional ideas he had on his team that he didn’t realize.”
  • The assistant manager embraced the movement and took over the leadership role of ensuring the continued success of the program.
  • Weekly staff meetings became led by staff members with everyone contributing to the agenda opening up two-way communication.

The feedback from this effort clearly suggests a true cultural transformation!

Facilitator: Sandra Johnson, MA RCC, Strategic Corporate Solutions

http://www.strategiccorporatesolutions.com

sandra@strategiccorporatesolutions.com

This blog does not express the views of my employer

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No more Drivel! Give us the Practical and Useful.

drivel

There is no substitute for business advice which is practical and useful. Yes, I am talking about suggestions which actually work. … As in make things better in the real world! Drivel, on the other hand, is defined as “silly nonsense”. Unfortunately there is a lot of these unhelpful opinions flying around our field of organizational development.

At its best, management tips and techniques have allowed me to face numerous organizational challenges and provided a clear, successful solution. When one is in the middle of a structure, process or people challenge it can be difficult get to above the chaos and envision a path forward. Yes, management thinkers really can be your best friends.

However, this is not always the case. I have observed that management thinking tends to fall into three buckets:

Bucket 1: Interesting, But Not Practical: Much of the academic work around management offers up clever concepts around leading others that have limited practical application. These are the types of management ideas that are fascinating to think about. However, you are left asking yourself “What would I do with this idea as I stand before my team Monday morning?”

From my experience, leadership styles provide an example of a theory without apparent application. Leadership styles essentially categorize types of leaders as being dictatorial, authoritarian, consultative or participative. Great! So let’s assume that you want your style of leadership to be more participative.   What actions do you take and what do you tell your team in order to create a participative environment?

These management theories often answer the “What” without ever addressing the “How”. In other words, this work often times offers conceptual statements about what is means to be a manager without providing advice on how to be a manager.   The theory is interesting, but, is not going to help you be a better manager.

Bucket 2: Practical, But Not Useful: The academic management thinking in this bucket offers you some practical ideas for how to manage your team. However, when you carry out these ideas in your organization you find that they are met with confusion and poor results. These are the types of ideas where you are left saying “Well, it looked good on paper!”

An example of practical but not useful management thinking is the business reengineering craze that many organizations adopted a decade ago. Reengineering called for reinventing the way work was done via the redesign of business processes and workflows. However, this practical approach resulted in negative consequences in the end.   Too often the effort resulted in corporate down sizing without better results. It did not take employees long to realize that it is was not in their best interest to volunteer for a reengineering effort! [Tony Carter, 1999, https://www.amazon.com/Aftermath-Reengineering-Downsizing-Corporate-Performance/dp/0789007207]

It is easy to identify the management theories in this bucket. This is because when you introduce these ideas they are oftentimes met with confusion and skepticism by your team. They clearly do not resonate with the employees who do the actual work. When you roll out these ideas many of your employees ignore your advice since they suspect it will fail. Those employees who do infuse this approach into their work get poor results. These ideas are quickly abandoned.

Bucket 3: Practical and Useful:   As is the case in so many areas of life, we have lots of opinions but very little wisdom.   Once we have shed the management ideas in buckets 1 and 2, we are left with a few practical and useful management ideas. The good news for you is that there is now less to learn since we are down to a handful of management approaches.

The practical approaches and tools in this bucket are made up of organizational interventions that can transform human behavior on a regular basis. They simply address complex aspects of work including structure, processes and people practices.

Below are some examples of practical and useful management thinking that I have benefitted from over the years:

  • Structure: Jay Galbraith’s emphasis on leveraging design principles in the creation of organizational structure helps ensure that the design accomplishes the desired outcomes. The principles are statements about what the design should provide.  These principles guide the design process, provide criteria for making trade off decisions and keep all parties focused on creating the same outcome.  This organizational design methodology has allowed me to take a dozen independent marketing groups within a Fortune 100 company and align them for quick response to customer demands and other unexpected challenges. [http://www.jaygalbraith.com]
  • Processes: Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act [PCDA] continuous improvement circle has provided the framework for managing improvement projects.  The method helps employees stay focused on data collection and analysis driving them towards identifying and solving root cause.  Outcomes of leveraging this method include savings millions of dollars, along with better quality products and services.  [http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/project-planning-tools/overview/pdca-cycle.html]
  • People: ‘Start/Stop/Continue’ is a straight-forward group exercise that any manager can easily introduce. The approach can help groups move from strategy to execution and lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency. As the name suggests, the goal is to get employees to brainstorm programs, activities and processes that should be started, stopped and continued.  I have had employees report back that this simple exercise has been transformative in terms of helping them improve and align their work. [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/SKS-process.htm]There is a huge volume of management thinking to wade through before finding advice which is practical and useful. Mission accomplished if this blog helps raise awareness on the importance of crafting management thought which helps practitioners in the real world.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

Am I On Track With My Professional Purpose? [“Start With Why”]

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”—-Mark Twain

Mark Twain offers up the profound idea that our primary mission in life is discovering why we are here. Once we have a driving reason for getting up each and every morning our life simply becomes wonderful! While we can all agree that finding our professional purpose in life is a good thing, the difficult part is figuring out how.

For example, unearthing why we lead, why we do organizational development or why we do any chosen profession is not as easy as opening up a fortune cookie. Rooting out our core professional purpose takes a great deal of lived experience and self-reflection.

In fact, #SimonSinek [www.StartWithWhy.com/WhyU] has created a cottage industry around the importance of finding what he calls your “Start With Why” statement in order to answer the question: Why you do what you do in your professional life?

Sinek and other have convinced us that is it valuable to know our why statement. However, how do we know if we are on the path to “why” enlightenment? Without cues to help guide us towards finding our professional purpose, the task can become daunting.

As a result, I offer up a few key signs that you are digging deep enough to figure out your professional purpose:

  • You are energized, excited by the statement

When I read my “why” statement I actually get emotional at times.   I cannot imagine doing any other type of work since helping others succeed via organizational development is just so darn rewarding.

“To provide employees with voice for more productivity and fulfillment. “

You believe that the world would be a significantly better place if your why statement became true. Your purpose is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It excites you to know that you get to work on this amazing mission all day and positively impact those around you.

  • Your why statement will not change fundamentally

You cannot envision your why statement ever changing – you are that committed to it. Your ideal job would be spending all your time making your why statement come true.

For many of us doing mission driven work such as organization development is a calling. I find myself describing my work to improve organizations in a manner similar to how clergy describe being called to their religious positions. The work is such a perfect fit with my need to help others via organization that I forget that choice is even an option. This profession is a win-win so why not continue forever!

  • You can relate to the words in your “why” statement, they are real to you

You can cite examples where you have “lived” the statement. You have carried out your purpose in your personal and professional life. I have held many organization development positions, however, a common thread across these gigs is that I always help employees be more efficient and happier in their roles.

In addition, I have helped give “voice” to my son who initially had a medical issue which made speech a difficult task. The irony is that not only did he recover from this childhood challenge, he went on to excel in speech, winning the state speech tournament in high school. I have clearly literally lived this why statement!

If you answered no to the above cues, then you simply have more work in front of you. Dedicate time to reflect on your professional experiences in order to figure out what is gratifying and energizing about your work. Then, your path becomes one of amplifying this message to those you are partnering with.

The content reflected in this blog does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

 

A Productivity Win Via An Electronic Bike

rsz-daimler-smart-ebike-3

No more long exhausting automobile commutes!  Yesterday I purchased an electronic bicycle that I am using to travel to and from work.  My automobile commute involved heading far north and south of my final destination, while the bike path runs directly as the crow flies from my home to my office.  As an organizational development consultant, I view this effective and efficient method of getting to work as a personal and professional process improvement.  I am avoiding all the “non-value add” time spent in my car!

Anyone who has a long commute can attest to how much it impacts ones life.  After starting my day by spending almost an hour in my car crawling along the highway, I am less than enthusiastic knowing that I will be ending my work day spending even more time inching my way back home.  I am clearly not alone in this sentiment.  Tens and thousands of others are experiencing similar commutes which have become even longer in the Twin Cities given the recent launch of tunnel and exit construction. In fact, the Star Tribune noted my e bike solution as a creative way to avoid traffic jams [http://strib.mn/2udEHyj]

An electronic bike! You may be asking: Why don’t you just jump on your regular bike and pedal the 20 miles each way?

The simple answer is that I am not an exercise junky who wants to bike that far day after day.  I have been known to bike 40 miles on a nice summer weekend day.  Granted, most of these trips are part of bike brewery tours with neighbors where biking is not the main attraction!

You get the idea.

  • I am not one of these spandex clad bikers who you only get a glimpse of as they whip past you on the trails.
  • I am also not keen on having to rent locker space at my office gym in order to shower each morning.
  • However, the other option of sweating like a pig while manually biking to work and then heading directly to meetings would not be appreciated by my co-workers!

The pedal assist electronic bikes like I purchased have an electronic motor to assist the rider.  Th e motor kicks in while I am pedaling.  As a result, I am still getting plenty of exercise.  The key benefit here is that my commute goes from a daunting trek to being very doable.  I still get exercise, am refreshed by the outdoors and, on top of all that, cut my commuter time by a third!

Why write about e-bikes in an Organizational Development blog?  The answer is simple.  Personal productivity solutions can have a significant positive impact on our entire lives. As an organizational development consultant I spend most of my professional life building high performance workplaces for more productivity, fulfillment and connection.  Helping leaders and employees get more work done and be happier in the process makes a big difference and is gratifying.

However, I am only impacting folks lives 9 to 5.  If these workers are burned out from arduous commutes each day, the impact of organizational interventions is dampened.  In addition, as a productivity practitioner my effectiveness is also impacted as I join my peers on this long commuting march.

We are clearly impacted by our total environment on and off work.  I am more effective, efficient, and healthier as a result of my e-bike. That is a win – personally and professionally.

Note: The content of this blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

If Mayors Ruled the World!

mayorruledworld

If Mayors Ruled the World [http://bit.ly/1kq50ah] it would be a better place!  This premise of a recently released book is becoming increasingly true as each day passes.  As gridlock and a circus-like atmosphere permeates Washington, with many State governments not far behind, the important work being carried out at the City level chugs on!

During my two years of leadership and organizational development work at the City of Minneapolis, I witnessed first-hand smart, hard-working employees make this City run.  A small subset of these efforts hit the papers.  Rather, most of the stories we read about in the media concern highly visible construction projects, the latest neighborhood fracas and interesting tidbits a council person muttered at the last committee hearing.

However, these topics are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the practical work the City carries out that positively impacts citizens each and every day.  I am talking about the folks who ensure that the water that comes out of your tap tastes good, the roads you take to work are quality, the building where you work is safe, the restaurant where you have lunch is a healthy environment, the park where you take your kids is enjoyable…   You get the idea.

The combined impact of each and every service provided by our City, which we too often take for granted, is significant.  Here are additional wins from a rush of other recent books about Cities:

  • A Country of Cities: Ninety percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 86% of our jobs are generated in metropolitan areas. And, by the way, these metropolitan areas comprise 3% of the land in the U.S. [Chakrabarti, 2013, http://amzn.to/2rTZDKT%5D
  • Green Metropolis: Cities are poster children of sustainability since density linked to infrastructure consistently lowers carbon footprints per person. This allows for the creation of walkable neighborhoods which builds community connections. [David Owen,2010, http://amzn.to/2r2GPrw%5D
  • Triumph of the City: People with a powerful skill ready to tackle the problems of the day tend to migrate toward and settle in cities. Cities such as Minneapolis and Boston have capitalized on great schools and a highly educated workforce.   [Edward Glaeser, 2012, http://amzn.to/2t1WBUu ]

The authors of these books praising Cities all make the similar point that City’s offer us solutions to the big problems of our day.  These author admittedly down play the challenges in many major cities around public education, equity and inclusion and maintaining quality of life at reasonable price points.  However, even on these fronts, Cities are diving in and making progress.

As a result of doing organizational development at the City of Minneapolis, I had a front row seat to the work cited in these books.  At a leadership level, the City Coordinator function brings an outstanding level of strategic expertise.   Regulatory Services, Planning, Property Services, Fire, Communications and Public Works leaders are paving new ground (In the case of the latter, literally!).  To name just a few of the amazing leaders.

Combine all this with Human Resources leadership with a compelling vision for building Talent Management of the future.  This capability allowed me to deliver one of the most innovative Leadership courses in the country hands-down – public or private sector.  This six month program involves emerging leaders from across City Departments exploring how to increase skills and collaborate more.  The program also involves bringing in some of the most experienced leaders from the Twin Cities in government, nonprofit and the corporate sectors.  They deliver practical, real-world advice that hits the mark.

Equally impressive I worked with young up and coming leaders doing incredibly innovative work with their teams.  A few examples of the many:

  • Imani Jaafar is partnering with various City departments on Civil Rights Office efforts which are practical and get to the heart of challenges.
  • Kim Keller’s Regulatory Services internal services group is finding new ways to move quickly from strategy to execution.
  • Patrick Hanlon’s Environmental Health staff dedicate 20% of their time to cutting edge projects which have had sizable impacts. [Take that Google!]

These are the types of innovative leaders that every organization in the world is trying to attract and retain.  Ramping up the level of leadership is the key to making great public organizations even better as pointed out in Transforming Public Leadership:

“Leaders possess the ability to structure conversations that create a sense of collaboration and a feeling of mutual support by their ability to communicate openly about what may be achieved in the future and what can be achieved through each individual’s purposeful actions so that those involved believe in themselves.” [Christine Gibbs Springer, 2007, http://amzn.to/2sRUnHP%5D

In the end, these local City efforts perhaps do not have the scope that national and state-wide initiatives make.  However, given the latest news coming out of Washington, perhaps local public servants making a difference in our daily life is the real news!

Note: This blog does not express the views of my employer.