Saturday, June 30, 2012

#29 Indianapolis

One of my favorite goal setting tools is the map of Indiana.  I learned in my college marketing distribution class that more major roads lead to Indianapolis than any other major city in the country.  If you pull out (or in today's vernacular pull up on-line) a map of Indiana, you'll see Indianapolis smack dab in the middle of the state.  And thick roads lead to it by going north, south, east or west.

Often when organizations set goals, the leaders either consciously or unconsciously think that it means that everyone must be going in the same direction to attain the goal.  They roll out the strategic plan and expect followers to get in formation and march toward the target.

The visual of Indianapolis shows what is counter-intuitive but actually true -- that people can go in all directions to meet the goal.  Everyone can reach the destination in different ways -- coming from a different direction, using different means of transport; some going faster (interstates) while others take the more scenic (2-lane) routes.  

The Indiana map makes the job of the leader crystal clear:  define "Indianapolis" for your organization.  It also allays some of the fears of the followers.  Leaders are not aiming for rote conformity.  Some level of individualism can live.  There is an element of choice in the process.  Just as long as there is ultimate clarity of where the organization is headed.  

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 29, 2012

#28 the invisible

I recently passed a car that had a box of tissues in the back window area.  This was a common practice of my grandparents -- and something I never understood.  If you need a tissue while driving, you need to be able to reach it.  The tissues ride around back there forever because they are never used.  But I am sure no one ever questioned the practice.

The same kind of logic carries over into the workplace.  Why are certain practices or policies in place?  Because they always have been.  We recently converted to a new phone system.  This caused people to pay attention to the phone for the first time in years. Suddenly people started thinking about something that had become a habit.  "Why do we have a phone here?  Why do we lock up the phone at night even though you need a code to use it?  Why do we need individual passwords in an office when we just turn around and post them on a sheet anyway?"  

Also this week I was in a different area of the building and came upon a bulletin board in the hallway.  This board had information that was a minimum of six years old.  When we asked the person whose office was directly across from it if we could update it, he said that he "hadn't noticed" that it was old until we pointed it out.  

I think everyone benefits when you look at the world and try to really see it.  Make it your goal today to help something invisible be seen.  Only then can you intentionally decide to continue it because it has merit instead of just longevity.  

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 28, 2012

#27 anything

My brother-in-law once told my sister that she could have anything she wanted.  Anything, just not everything.  It was a profound statement.

It rang in my head yesterday as I was participating in the cabinet retreat for our university.  As we looked ahead to the opportunities and challenges of the coming year – and future strategic plan goals – it was reinforced that we have more dreams than resources; more additions than discontinuations.  It is difficult to balance genuine operational needs with strategic initiatives; to juggle enhancements while maintaining price controls and to attend to today while paving the way to create tomorrow.

In a situation where there are more needs than dollars – and who isn’t there – it is essential to prioritize and focus on the any-one-thing that will be a difference maker instead of ineffectively trying to do everything.  Say no to something to give yourself a chance at making an impact at anything.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

#26 true grit

For a few athletes, competing in the Olympics is a goal that has consumed most of their lives since childhood.  These talented men and women have spent countless hours preparing and training in the hopes that they will represent their nation on this world-wide stage.

In just over a month, the London Olympics will begin and, by design, we do not yet know who will be members of the United States team.  The U.S. track, swimming and gymnastics trials are occurring now and the final results of these qualifying events determine those who go forward.

It is hard for me to imagine being so close to something so big – while being simultaneously so close to watching the Games on television.  For their whole lives, those select few who do well in the next week will be known as “Olympians”.  Those who stumble will be known as “great athletes when they were younger”.

I hope that after the physical pain and mental heartache wears off for those not chosen that they can take pride and satisfaction for having given their all, even if it did not result in a medal.  These men and women have a dedication, talent and grit that we could only hope to emulate. 

Do your work as if you are trying out for the Olympics.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t make the team or win the medal – how you do your work in the “trials” is where true character shines.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#25 it's worth the extra effort

Sunday was the first day this season that a local farmer sold sweet corn.  The only advertising that he needed to do was to put a handwritten note on a chalkboard by his table that said “Corn available Sunday at 9am.”  Two wagon-fulls sold out in less than an hour.

This farmer is revered because he only sells “picked-today” sweet corn at his stands.  As an Iowa transplant, I needed to be taught that this matters (as the corn has sugar which creates different tastes and textures as it ages).  “Picked-today” truly is better.  So the farmer gets a crew out very early, picks the corn, drives it to the stand and sells it – every single day all season.  It takes extra effort to do this instead of shipping it off weekly to a grocer and letting the store handle logistics. 

It is less convenient for people to make a special trip to the stand to buy the corn.  It costs the same as in the grocery.  And on Sunday, people had to wait an hour in line to buy it!  At 8:15, I was person #43 in line.  By 8:30, there were 93 others.  At 9am when they arrived with the corn, the line weaved around the whole perimeter of the parking lot. 

Why did we wait?  Because it was worth the extra effort to get this corn. 

What are you doing in your organization that adds the kind of value that your customers find worth the extra effort to obtain?

-- beth triplett

Monday, June 25, 2012

#24 Frank Wills

Ever heard of Frank Wills?  Probably not.  But Frank’s diligence in doing his job 40 years ago started a chain of events that influenced our nation.

Frank was a security guard at the Watergate office building and was the one who saw a taped latch during the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters.  He is the one who called the police, which summoned a reporter, which lead to…well, you know the rest.

What if Frank hadn’t been conscientious?  What if he hadn’t noticed the tape, or decided in his mind that it was a little thing that didn’t matter? 

I am more and more convinced that there are no big things.  Everything is a collection of little dots that are strung together to have consequences.  Pay attention to the dots; they matter.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#23 implications

Too often leaders make decisions that have more consequences for those that must implement them than they do for the leaders themselves.

An example of this just occurred when one client was using a facility during the week and another user wanted it for the weekend.  Technically the space was free, so the scheduling manager booked it for the second group.  Problem was that the first client had an extensive set-up – which meant that it had to be taken down on Friday and then reassembled on Monday.  Several staff members were involved in tearing down after a rigorous day of work, and then needed to come in over the weekend in order to be ready Monday morning.  In all, several hours of time were required for the switch-over.

Not only was the scheduler not involved in any of the extra labor, he actually benefited from the two bookings.  Because he generated extra revenue, it is likely that given the opportunity, he would make the same decision again. 

As a leader you need to consider more than the financial bottom line, and take into account the human costs of your actions.  The only way to know those implications is to actively seek feedback and be present to see them for yourself.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#22 obsolescence

When I look at my “bucket list”, the last thing that is on it is something that has been there since college – writing a book.  And when I visualize this goal, what comes to mind is a bound bundle of parchment with ink and a cover – something very tactile and wonderful.

I read in the paper today that for the first time, revenue from the sale of e-books exceeded revenue from hardcover sales.  This is sad news for someone like me.  My aspiration does not include something that resembles a Word document more than papyrus.  I am not sure that if I ever published an e-book that it would “count” in my mind as fulfilling my list.

The article made me realize that the world could pass me by while I am dreaming about it.  By the time I am ready with a book, the notion of print books could be obsolete.  I wonder how many times this has happened to others?  Was someone developing a great new VCR player when the world switched to DVDs?  Who was on the cusp of designing a great new keypunch card when everyone switched to digital?  Are there plans for a much improved flashcube that never were implemented?

Perfection is over-rated.   Get a draft of your dreams out there while it still counts.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 22, 2012

#21 house rules

Seeing all the coverage of Queen Elizabeth's 60th Jubilee got me in the mood to watch The King's Speech movie again.  It is one of my favorites and full of so many lessons.

A scene that particularly resonated with me during this viewing was when the eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is firm about the conditions under which he will treat the Duke of York/King George VI (Colin Firth).  "My castle, my rules," he says without apology.

I hope that if you asked my staff they would say that I ascribe to the same philosophy of setting and articulating clear expectations.  The rules of my castle include:  Don't waste my time.  Never utter the words "that's not my job".  Don't even think about breaching confidentiality.  Give me time to ponder before you need a decision.  Be specific about what you need. 

Everyone has their own little castle, even if you are not the boss.  Inside your head you can control your actions and set down immutable rules for your own domain.  It's a lot easier to live by the rules and have others do the same around you when you are clear about what is truly important to you. 

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 21, 2012

#20 don't stop

I recently took a beginning drawing class at the local art center.  My pencil has always wanted to flow across the page, so I decided to see if it could form pictures instead of just words.  I was not very good at it!

Our teacher said that in art, you are only as good as where you stop (whether that be age three, high school, college, retirement, etc.)

Don't stop just because you're not good at it -- yet.  As Picasso said, "I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I many learn how to do it."  

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#19 thunder

My puppy was outside when a loud clap of thunder echoed from the sky.  She shot like a bullet across the yard and raced into the house faster than I have ever seen her run.  Of course, I recognized it as thunder and knew it was harmless so I ambled my way inside.

This disconnect in understanding occurs in organizations too.  Leaders who have the advantage of knowledge have the context to ascertain which loud noises signal trouble and which are part of the background.  Those without the information are often frightened or confused by something that doesn't truly warrant fear.  They take actions that are unnecessary and raise emotions without cause.

It is your job as a leader to "give the weather forecast" and teach what the changing clouds mean.  Help those around you understand what is going on out there so they can react appropriately to the signals.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#18 plan B

Last week a telecommunications cable was accidentally cut and a multi-county area was without phone or internet for a few hours.  Stores were crippled as credit card processing could not occur, businesses that rely on the internet were forced to shut down and lots of minor annoyances happened.

Today a gas line was pierced on our campus -- right in the middle of a new student writing assessment test and parent orientation.  Everyone had to evacuate and there were lots of fire engines as a precaution, but the worst thing that happened was that the student essays were lost in cyberspace during the disruption.

Remember when the retail economy functioned with cash?  When students wrote essays on legal pads with pens and a bound dictionary?  When people and organizations weren't paralyzed by even a brief interruption in technology? 

Don't forget that there was some good in the good old days and incorporate some low-tech flexibility into your contingency planning.

-- beth triplett

Monday, June 18, 2012

#17 of course

There is a local Italian restaurant that is known for its dripping-in-butter garlic bread.  I am sure I am not the only one who goes there for the bread (even though their entrees are also yummy).

When the waitress came to take our order, she said, "Of course you want the bread.  What else may I get you?"

What is your "of course" -- the signature that makes your organization special?  The quality that you personally always add to the mix?  Your distinctiveness may have less calories than the garlic bread, but hopefully it's as memorable.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 17, 2012

#16 park place

Think of the foresight that was required for the country to preserve space for parks.  In 1791, L'Enfant created a park as the central axis of the District's core.  Now known as the National Mall, it spans nearly two miles and hosts 24 million visitors a year.

Similar things happened in all the nation's major cities.  Central Park in New York is 2.5 miles long, bordering some of the most valuable real estate in the country.  Chicago's Grant Park is 319 acres of mostly lakefront property that developers would die for.  

The land preserved for national parks is even more staggering.  Yellowstone alone is over 2 million acres (3,472 square miles) -- larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.  And it is only one of 58 National Parks.

Most of the space that is preserved would be impossible to buy today -- even if you had vast amounts of money.  Once businesses/homes/organizations/roads/infrastructure are located there, they become entrenched.  

By not developing these spaces, they have become priceless.  The forethought of early planners permanently created a different experience for our country.  Would Martin Luther King have had the same dream if he delivered his speech in FedEx Field?  

Think about what you could set aside and leave sacred -- not for yourself, but for generations to come.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 16, 2012

#15 everything will be OK

After a recent orientation program for the parents of new college freshmen, a former counselor came up to me.  "I was nodding my head the whole time during your presentation," she said.  "I used to tell my incoming parents the exact same things; only now I'm the mom and I have to live it.  It's a lot harder to believe that everything will be OK."

The view is different from the other side of the table.  If you can't live your advice firsthand, learn from those who have.  Be sure what you're preaching makes sense in practice.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 15, 2012

#14 five minutes

As I walk around people's offices here, I am struck by the number of people who have handwritten notes that I have sent them still hanging up on their bulletin boards.  Something that took me five minutes to do apparently had a much greater impact.

Each morning, I mail my mom a postcard as a way to bring a smile to her via long distance.  It too takes about five minutes to write, yet she comments about how much she loves them every time I talk to her.

I carry notecards and postcards and write them while waiting.  If you get in the habit of capitalizing on all the time you spend waiting you would be amazed at how many five minute increments you have.

Every day has 1440 minutes.  Use five of yours to make someone's day.  Every day.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 14, 2012

#13 what are you famous for?

We recently interviewed a candidate that has a famous sibling.  Of course I know famous people have brothers and sisters, but it got me wondering what it would be like if one of my siblings had fame or fortune.  Then I began daydreaming about what if I was to be the famous one and they could be the one with a well-known sibling.  None of it is likely!

My thoughts drifted further to wonder what I was famous for within my family.  Maybe I wasn't a movie star, but I had to be a VIP at something.  My answer came from a Love Letter one of my sisters wrote to each of us for Christmas several years ago.  It has since become one of my most treasured items.  The list of things she loves about me includes that I am a master packer, that send mail often, that I am a great gift-wrapper and that I am her organizational idol. 

It doesn't  have to be lofty for you to be known for something.  You may not be on television or be a sports hero, but being good at a few things and being loved by your family makes you a rockstar anyway.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#12 with a little help from our friends

While we were sitting outside at a meeting, a hawk flew into the tree next to our table.  It was an impressive bird -- with a proud, majestic stance as it sat on the limb and surveyed the scene.  Suddenly a group of blue jays surrounded the hawk and began diving into him, pecking at him and trying to roust him from the tree.  These three birds together weren't the size of the hawk, yet they kept at it with diligence.

Turns out that there was a blue jay nest nearby and these little birds were doing what it took to protect their territory.  Eventually they succeeded in shooing off the hawk, who totally disrupted my meeting as he flew overhead with the noisy jays trailing him to ensure his departure. 

Sometimes we feel as small as the blue jay and our problems look as big as the hawk.  But if they are important enough to address, we need to find a few friends or colleagues to peck away at the problem and achieve the seemingly impossible goal.  No need to tackle everything alone.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#11 white space

I recently listened to a colleague vent about her frustrations with another office -- even though it was about some enhancements the office had just made!  The angst came not from the improvements, but rather from the fact that she wasn't told about them; thus couldn't do her job accurately.  Not only was it ironic that the frustrations were about a positive thing, but when pushed she agreed that the office and its staff did "their" work well -- no question about it.

The challenge comes in defining what "their" work is.  In today's interconnected world, and in a workplace that relies on great customer service, "their" work is really everyone's work.  Their work is no longer just doing their own tasks, but communicating, coordinating and creating synergies.

A helpful way to conceptualize this difference is to think of an organizational chart.  There are boxes, but there is also the "white space*" between the boxes  (*Geary Rummler and Alan Brache coined this term in their book Improving Performance). Truly great work pays attention to the interplay that occurs in the connections between the boxes, not just within the boxes themselves.  If you're only doing good things in your own area, you're playing small.  Using the whole organizational chart that surrounds you is what makes a real impact. 

If you're a manager, one of your most important tasks is to help your employees see that their work extends beyond their task-specific borders.  It's like that classic psychology experiment where looking at the diagram one way allows you to see an old woman, and the other way frames a young woman.  If you don't help your employees see both, they will operate from a world view that misses half of the picture.  Operating in the white space used to be optional, but today it is the essential distinction between effective and ineffective performance -- for organizations and individuals.

-- beth triplett

Monday, June 11, 2012

#10 there's always another side to the story

In a river town like Dubuque, everything in a several block vicinity of the river is inundated each summer with a coating of fishflies (mayflies).  These insects hatch as a population all at the same time, so for a few days each summer they literally cover every surface then die, and must be shoveled/swept away.  The hatching of the fishflies is a scourge to all who must deal with them.

At an event last week, the speaker commented that his biologist son informed him that the more hatches of fishflies, the better the quality of the water.  There really is an up-side to the widely perceived down-side of these insects!

And so it goes with much of life.  If you look hard enough or learn more, there usually is a positive side as well as the negative.  It is worth digging to find it.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 10, 2012

#9 the choice is yours

For so many things in life there is a choice to be made between spending time and spending money.

You can cut your own grass (time) or hire a lawn service (money).
Clean your own bathrooms or hire a maid.
Trim your dog's nails or go to a groomer.
Cook your own meals or grab take out.
Hunt for clothing bargains or engage a personal shopper.
Paint your own nails or get a manicure.

The list goes on and on at work too.
Analyze numbers yourself or outsource to a consultant.
Create in-house development programs or hire a trainer.
Invest in teaching young talent or hire experience.
Do your own taxes or work with an accountant.
Place ads yourself or engage an agency.

Don't let habit make the choice for you.  Know what is more valuable to you in each situation -- your time or your money -- and then invest from there.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 9, 2012

#8 Kitty Hawk trifecta

One final thought from Kitty Hawk...

The time between the Wright Brothers' initial flight and the first person to fly in space was a mere 58 years.  (December 3,1903 to April 12, 1961)   You never know how your initial idea today could grow into something else tomorrow. 

The merchandise at the Wright Brothers National Memorial touts the first flight as "12 seconds that changed the world".   Don't sell your "12 second" foundation short.  If it is important work, it could become the start of something big.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 8, 2012

#7 persistence

More on the Wright Brothers (can you tell where I went for my summer vacation?)...

Their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 lasted 12 seconds as Orville flew 120 feet.  The second flight, piloted by Wilbur, was also 12 seconds.  Orville was then again in the air for 15 seconds on the third flight.  How easy it would have been to give up -- or at least quit for the day.

But they gave their flying experiment another go.  Flight #4 lasted for a full 59 seconds and The Flyer travelled 852 feet.  Instead of celebrating success, they were confronted with a plane that was irreparably damaged at the end of the flight. Their flying season was over, and they needed to make the long journey back to Dayton rather than attempt flight #5.

Fortunately for us, the brothers were full of persistence and didn't let their first brief efforts or the fact that they only had one day of flying dissuade them from continuing their work.  Don't let yourself give up too easily or let early setbacks end your experiments -- even if it took a lot out of you to conduct them.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 7, 2012

#6 know what you need

In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright ventured to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina from Dayton because the slender strip on the Outer Banks had the two things they needed for their fledgling flying experiments:  sand (presumably for a softer landing if things didn't go well) and wind (to increase the chances that the sand would not be as necessary!).  The setting was perfect for their attempts to take to the air.

What kind of environment do you need for your efforts, organization or dreams to be successful?  Can you create it within your confines, or do you need to do the equivalent of traveling from Dayton to Kitty Hawk to attain success?  In 1903 that was no small feat to do, but obviously worth the trek.  Don't limit yourself by your surroundings. 

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#5 my style of change

Many people think that change is a big, lofty thing.

On my first day in my current job, someone complained about the sound bouncing around in the conference room.  I got up, walked in the hallway, brought one of those standard issue ficus trees into the conference room and instantly made the acoustics better.

If 100 people move/plant a tree, or even if one person does it 100 times, you have a whole new forest.

That's the kind of change I can get my arms around.  And so can you!

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#4 purple clover

When I was a kid, I had a rabbit named Fluffernutter (peanut butter colored top, white bottom -- like the sandwich with marshmallow fluff). 

I thought of Fluffernutter last night when I came upon an empty lot full of purple clover.  That rabbit L-O-V-E-D purple clover.  Even though it has been a couple of decades since I fed it to him, I still can't walk past it without thinking of the pure joy that it brought.  For whatever reason, purple clover was the favorite, much more than white clover or treats or grass.

Your challenge as a supervisor is to learn the equivalent of purple clover for your staff.  In my world, I can best thank/praise someone with a new pen; for another it is with a Pez dispenser; yet someone else will feel most loved with a certain kind of candy or even cereal.  The small tokens of appreciation go further than the infrequent monetary raises because in addition to saying "thank you", they also communicate "I know you."  There is no better way to inspire.

-- beth triplett

Monday, June 4, 2012

#3 a new beginning

A couple of decades ago when I was finishing college, I cut out a quote from a coach who was asked about his new job.  Regrettably I don't remember who gave these words of wisdom, but what he said stuck with me:  "the first thing you do is panic, then you get to work."

New beginnings are scary things.  You don't know where the restroom is or how the phone works or what the culture is like.  You likely don't even know what is expected of you, let alone where the land mines are.

What you do know is how to listen; how to see themes emerge from what you hear, then how to develop action steps from there.  You got your job not because you know the answers, but because you know the questions.  Start by listening.

[Amended to attribute quote to Michigan State basketball coach Jud Heathcote, who started at MSU in 1976]

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 3, 2012

#2 don't let the ants ruin your picnic

I came home last night to what looked like a brown magazine blowing in my driveway.  In reality, it was a colony of ants -- a billion of them by conservative estimate -- all feverishly working together toward some unknown common purpose.  I was creeped out and I promptly set about extinguishing them all.

I had seen ants around,  but did not pay attention to them.  I didn't even act on the ant hill I found when weeding.  After all, ants are harmless little things and not worthy of action.

But any little thing can turn into a big thing if there are enough of them.  Organizational cultures are taken down not by elephants, but ants.  Leaders do not meet their demise because of one big thing, rather it is more likely to be a series of small actions that add up to  a problem.  Enough little things start to accumulate and it feels like the earth is moving, even if it's not.  

Pay attention to the small comments, the seemingly insignificant decisions, the shift in policy, the unanswered questions, the shutting of doors and wiggle words that appear in conversations -- they are sure signs that the ants are mobilizing to crash your picnic.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 2, 2012

#1 a gift to you

#1 a gift to you

One of my closest colleagues recently took another position outside of our organization.  I struggled mightily about what to give him as a "going away" momento and could come up with nothing that seemed appropriate or significant enough.  So instead I decided to start the blog he had been hounding me about -- a way to continue to share the little observations that I normally shared in person.

Ironically the song that is now playing on my random playlist is Elton John's Your Song: "my gift is my song and this one is for you".  I have absolutely zero song writing abilities, but I do have observations on life.  Little thoughts (dots or pearls) that I think can be strung together to make our actions more intentional and synergistic.  Hopefully my reflections will spark some thoughts for you and help make your work and organizations stronger.  

My gift is my mind, and this one is for you.

-- beth triplett