Friday, August 31, 2012

#91 a sound brand

It's rare that I am "wow-ed" during a service experience, but I was yesterday.  For the last six years I have been impressed with my Bose SoundDock, so when I broke it last weekend, I knew I would replace it.

From the moment I dialed the number at Bose, the tone was different than most calls.  A man with a radio-quality voice welcomed me and said "to continue our tradition of service excellence, this call may be monitored."  There was no wait.  The phone tree had two choices and then a very helpful man answered.

Long story as to why, but unfortunately I was one of those complicated callers.  I had to change the order.  I changed my email address twice.  I changed credit cards.  I changed colors.  I changed the shipping address.  And never once did he get annoyed.  "Not a problem, Miss" was his favorite line.

Bose sent me a pre-paid UPS label to ship my broken dock back to them, and as soon as the tracking number hits the system that it is en route, a brand new one (at the same price as a repair) will be sent to me.  How many service enterprises have that level of trust?

Yesterday, they did continue their tradition of service excellence and made me wonder what my organization could learn from the experience.   There was no delay.  There was no informal language like "ok"; the manners were as impeccable as the service.  They seemed happy to try and please me even when I requested multiple changes and had complications outside of the norm.  

My experience exemplified the Bose brand of delivering their "acclaimed performance" -- in product and service.  If someone called your organization, would they leave feeling the same way?

-- beth triplett

(Call for yourself:  888-581-2073)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

#90 Hannah

One year ago today, I lost my beloved 14-year old golden retriever, Hannah.  The old girl had challenges walking for about a decade; she finally lost the good fight and was unable to stand.  I loved her deeply.

Four days later, I adopted a new golden retriever puppy, Abigail.  Many were shocked at this rapid turn of events.  When I returned to work after Labor Day and shared the news, the most common thing I heard was :"You did WHAT?!".  I received sympathy messages from family and friends far away at the same time I was receiving new puppy toys from friends nearby.

Despite some of the disapproving comments and general amazement, I know that what I did was exactly right for me.  I have had a golden retriever in my house for all but about a week in the last 25 years.  I needed a new dog to fill the hole in my heart left by Hannah.  

So many of the decisions that we make in life are unclear.  There are often pros and cons, timing issues, risks and challenges.  When you are fortunate enough to KNOW that doing something is right for you, I'm all for going ahead and doing it.  What others think about your choice doesn't matter if it doesn't hurt them and it makes your heart happy.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#89 green apples

An international recruitment counselor was talking with me about the challenge of recruiting students from Asia to study at small, private colleges in the U.S. Midwest.  "Selling your school overseas is like selling Granny Smith apples," he said.  "At first, people had one picture in their mind about what an apple looked/tasted like, and had to be convinced to give a green apple a try.  It is like that with U.S. higher education; people think of big, well-known schools on the coasts and they need to be convinced to try something else."

Seth Godin writes about tribes and niches and embracing the "weirdness" in people.  It works both ways.  In addition to enticing clients to try a Granny Smith, organizations must be willing to seek out and welcome the clients that are outside of the norm as well.  Is your client base and market message too focused on the Red Delicious type of customer when you may be well served to expand into smaller markets beyond that?  Maybe there is a tighter fit with a smaller group of people and you should work instead to pair them with your organization.  

Instead of aiming to bring home the whole bushel at once, an apple a day may build a loyal following for you.

-- beth triplett

(analogy by Carl Herrin)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#88 substitutions

In this era of truth-in-labeling, is it really right that movie theatres are allowed to ask "Do you want BUTTER on that popcorn?".  Shouldn't they have to say "Would you like us to soak your popcorn in a mixture of artery-gagging oil and butter flavoring?".  

Does the CHEESE on your nachos really have any dairy element to it?  I am not sure that it is a by-product of a cow when the top two ingredients are whey and canola oil.  

We are masters of euphemisms when it allows us to rationalize behavior that we do not really want to avoid.  Do we do the same kind of double-speak when working with our customers or clients?  Is your "reconditioned" product really just "used"?  Are we charging "processing fees" instead of admitting that it is just an extra way to generate revenue without raising the main price point?  Are we calling something a "sale" when the final rate was the pre-planned selling amount?  Do we call staff "service representatives" and allow them to act as if they have no need to actually provide help to the caller?

I understand that asking a movie patron if they want "oil" on their popcorn is much less appealing and that literalism isn't a practical way of functioning.  Just be conscious of your euphemistic substitutions so that your credibility doesn't wiggle with your words.

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 27, 2012

#87 meeting of the minds

Due to a series of lucky coincidences, three of my former professional association colleagues and I were able to have brunch together yesterday.  What ensued was a 2-hour stimulating conversation about student affairs and higher education today.  It was delightful to share the depth of understanding that comes from decades of work with college students and to test observations against experiences from the four vantage points we have with the academy.

Some thoughts that surfaced:
-- In our wonderful parent orientations on campus, where staff is warm and welcoming as they share phone numbers and contact information -- are we unintentionally enabling the parents to handle their student problems instead of allowing the students to do so directly?
-- The consequence of increased experiential learning is that it places even more demands on student time -- and makes it more difficult for student life staff to gather their leaders for training throughout the year.
-- There is a trend that shifted the standard language from student activities to student involvement now to student engagement, paralleling the term used by academic research in the area.  It also connotes a more comprehensive view of the ways students are experiencing learning on college campuses.
-- There is a real challenge with male student involvement in organizations.  Fewer men are going to college; many of those who are have athletic pursuits which limit their time for other activities and others do not want to make the commitment that a serious leadership position requires.  This has consequences both on campus and in their lives/community afterwards.
-- The focus of our work needs to remain centered on WHY we are doing it.  One said it best when he said that "learning matters most".  If your program or department can't demonstrate that it is contributing to student learning, then it needs to change or be eliminated.
-- Part of higher education's challenge is that it does not articulate the WHY in compelling ways.  Institutions talk about enrollment and graduation, but don't specify in easily understandable and measurable terms WHY the institution exists.  So the de facto goal becomes "graduation" with too little attention paid to whether the student has the life and career skills necessary for success after they leave.  Advising becomes an exercise in accruing 128 credits, rather than an exploration of what a student wants to achieve in life and how a myriad of college experiences can be assembled to help towards that end.

Those of you who are not in higher education may not understand the details of the bullets above, but the specifics of our conversation are not really the point.  My biggest takeaway from today's conversation was that my professional life is lacking a way to have deep, thought-provoking conversations with those who know what I am talking about and can add to the conversation.  Serendipity brought the four of us together, but I need to be more intentional about creating opportunities to share and reflect.  Anyone up for a think tank gathering?

-- beth triplett

(With thanks to the minds of Ken Brill, Tracy Knofla and Michael Miller)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#86 care by example

One of our service offices had a temporary table set up this week to handle the opening-of-school rush.  The person working had made a handwritten sign, on a piece of notebook paper, with the loose leaf "fringe" still attached.

Another employee walked up to the table and removed the sign, replacing it with a typed version.  "We're better than that," he said as he crumpled the original paper. 

I did not witness any of the above, but it made such an impression on someone who did that he retold the story to me and, no doubt, to others.  Little things do matter.  First impressions do count. 

Kudos to the employee who acted to improve the situation, instead of just complaining about it.  Rather than just shaking our head, let's follow the example to take that extra few moments to make something a bit better in our organization. 

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 25, 2012

#85 the high bar

In a training I led today for student employee supervisors, I advocated for setting expectations and holding students accountable to them.  Someone asked if we couldn't create a university-wide standard instead so that she wouldn't have to listen to students complain why her requirements were higher on her syllabus or in her work positions.  I think that she was missing the point.

If there were broad standards, they would very likely be much lower than the standards I set now.  Personally, I don't need a policy as a cop-out not to own up to the fact that my bar is high; I am proud that it is.  I have greater expectations than (most) other areas because the best employees actually want high standards.  They are willing to put a lot of themselves into the game, because they know they will get more out of it. 

Student employees need to learn the life skill that different jobs (even on campus) have different expectations.  If they want to find a place that lets them sit there and do nothing, let them do it.  I want the students who want to work hard, learn lots and have a meaningful experience that will aid in their career and personal development.  I want the grapevine to carry the message that working in my office isn't easy, but it is where you want to be if you can.

Never apologize for high expectations.  If you embrace "harder", people who want to clear the high bar will gravitate towards you. 

I am reminded of the following quote:
When David Livingstone's work in Africa became known, a missionary society wrote to him and asked, "Have you found a good road to where you are?"  If he had, the letter indicated the society was prepared to send some men to help with his work.  Livingstone's answer was clear and to the point.  "If you have men who will come only over a good road, I don't need your help.  I want men who will come if there is no road."

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 24, 2012

#84 grab a pencil

My very favorite part of USA Today is the little "QuickCross" puzzle.  For those of you unfamiliar with the joy-inducing pencil game, it is a simple four by four matrix -- like a crossword puzzle only four words across with four letters that form four words down with four letters.  Quick is the operative word in solving it.

On many occasions, I think that I do not know the answers, but end up solving it anyway.  That is because once you get a few words filled it, you have a very high proportion of other words filled in and it becomes either obvious or much easier to guess.  As an example, I didn't know __ __ __ __ "wolf's tooth", but I knew it was "fang" when the grid showed " __ A N G".

For me, QuickCross is much less intimidating than a crossword puzzle where you have to know the answer.  This quiz encourages me to take risks and guess at some things.  

The little mind game is a symbol of the power of integration.  All four words across count in all four words down.  I can arrive at a complete puzzle by virtue of completing all the words in one direction, even when I don't know the clues in the other direction at all.  Through this synergy, it allows for a much higher level of success.  

I would hold up QuickCross as a metaphor of what you should strive for in your organization.  Challenges your thinking.  Encourages controlled risk.  Helps you be better than you think you are.  Integrated.  Creates synergies.  And even fun.  Not bad for 16 little letters.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 23, 2012

#83 harmony

Today was move-in day for our new freshmen -- my second favorite work day of the year (first is graduation).  It is like being at a wedding -- so much hope and optimism on the part of the main player -- so many tears by everyone; downright weeping by moms, and dads unsuccessfully trying to be stoic on this momentous occasion.  Cameras abounded, as this truly is a significant event in everyone's lives.  

I have never left higher ed since the day I moved in to college more than three decades ago.  I love the cycle of the year and how annual events such as move-in generate an automatic boost of energy and infusion of renewal into the culture.  I started out working on the student affairs side of the enterprise before I switched to the enrollment side of the house.  Instead of move-in being the beginning of the year, in my world, it signifies the ending of another recruiting cycle.  My official job with these students is finished; they have moved in and now I need to move on -- we already started months ago to recruit the next crop of smiling faces that will grace our campus.  

Except for the few occasions where I long to be a more central player surrounded by the spirit and enthusiasm of students, I am so comfortable with my switch to the enrollment arena.  Admissions to me is like my bamboo plant -- it grows in a glass vase and you know when it needs water and when it is full.  It is tangible, measurable and outcomes are clear.  Student Life reminds me of my other plants -- you need a lot more intuition and time to know if you are successful.  You guess on when a plant needs water and you estimate how much -- but you don't know.  While usually you are right and the plants grow and don't die, your impact is much less certain.

I think every job has elements of certainty and intuition.  Every organization moves in cycles with its own rhythm (eg: CPAs in April or retailers in December).  The trick is to find a fit with an organization that is in sync with your temperament and talents and then to bask in those moments when all are in alignment -- like for me today.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#82 priorities

Many years ago, a colleague of mine was hired to enhance the utilization of technology among staff -- serving as an interpreter between the technical side of the organization and the front-line users.  She was inundated with requests by the staff to do numerous projects -- far more than one person could reasonably handle.  

In her wisdom, she developed a list of how she prioritized incoming work.  I believe it applies in many settings far beyond her job:

> Work with the needy and the willing
> Work on what has the biggest impact to the organization (follow the money!)
> Teach (more than do)
> Throw people a bone (do something for the needy, even if it isn't everything)
> Don't spend time on blue sky (be  pragmatic)
> Keep people informed
> Train the trainer (so others can make progress without you)

Think about her tips for how you not only prioritize your work, but how you communicate with others about what you are doing (or not able to do) for them. 

-- beth triplett (with thanks to Cheryl Chase)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#81 clay

One more thought on the interviewing topic -- about that old standby set of questions "What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?".  

Often the weaknesses question is couched in euphemistic wording that uses other language "where would you need development? or " in what area would you require the most assistance?" or  "where do you think this job would challenge you?".  Many times the candidate truly doesn't know the answer to this position until they are in the job and the answers you get to this question are vague and meaningless.  Nobody is going to tell you in an interview that they are really bad at something.

My favorite set of questions relates to the flip side -- asking about strengths:
> What are you best at?  (my #1 favorite question to ask in interviews -- you learn amazing things about personal characteristics and traits)
> What aspect of your job do you do better/differently than others who have your job?
> What do you like best about yourself?
> What skill do you have that is underutilized in your present position?

It is through this line of questioning that I often learn about the person vs. some canned response given in any interview for any job.  I look to hire clay -- people who can be molded into being great in a variety of positions.  To get this adaptability, look for people who don't know everything, but do know about themselves in reflective, meaningful ways.

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 20, 2012

#80 Q and A

With my impending staff searches, I dug out my file of interview questions and stumbled upon some of my reflections for when you are the interviewee.  Perhaps these thoughts will help you if you find yourself on the "seeker" side of the interview table:

> Focus on the future, even though interviewers mostly ask about your past.  Have ideas and examples of what you would/could do for them vs. only recounting what you have done.  Create ways to talk about what you know about them and what you would do about it.
> Have a mental triangle of three key points (with several examples) that you want the hiring manager to remember about you when you leave.  Rotate between those three points as often as possible to drive them home and provide consistent messages between groups.
> A wise communications leader once told me that in media interviews, you don't have to answer the question that is asked; you can redirect with an answer to a different question.  The same advice applies for interviews.  
> Acknowledge and address any shortcomings head-on.  Proactively give them solutions to reassure them that you can overcome your limitations vs. hoping that they won't notice.
> Be the seller vs. being the buyer.  You are not the buyer until an offer is made; only then do the roles reverse.
> Do homework and research beyond the obvious and then share something about a need/solution that the other candidates are unlikely to have mentioned.
> Make note of first impressions and alignment with pre-interview expectations and post-hiring reality.  There is a golden opportunity to make astute and helpful observations in your early days of hiring based upon a side of the organization that only "new eyes" can see.
> Thank you notes DO matter.
> Don't be too discriminating on the front end and limit your search too tightly.  Cast a wide net and discriminate on the back end after you have learned what the position/organization is truly like.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 19, 2012

#79 the long road

For the past week or so, the same three people have been hiking along a main road.  Every day going to work I see them; backpacks loaded, two walking sticks between them, going in a seemingly endless loop.  Contrary to popular myth, Iowa is quite hilly (at least in the East long the Mississippi) and their journey is neither short or easy.  

Their presence is a recent phenomenon, so I speculate that they are in training for a more arduous hike elsewhere.  There is really no other way to prepare for an extended hike than by, well, hiking.  You can simulate it, or strengthen muscles in a gym or on a treadmill, but it is not the same benefit as walking hilly roads all day.

Are there hills that you should be walking instead of taking the easy way out?  A superintendent visiting all the schools in person instead of sending a video message to open the school year.  A handwritten note to all those who helped you with a major project instead of a pre-printed thank you.  Running your own reports and really looking at the raw data for nuances instead of just reviewing the summary.  Shortcuts aren't always the best route to take.

--- beth triplett

Saturday, August 18, 2012

#78 VIPs

Time magazine recently published a special edition featuring who editors had determined to be the 100 Most Influential People.  It featured the usual suspects like Gandhi, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, Hitler and Steve Jobs.

I was reminded of an exercise I once was given, entitled the Very Important People Quiz.  We were to complete this page:
> Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
> Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
> Name the last five winners of the Miss America Contest.
> Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
> Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

After much moaning, groaning and blank stares (this was in the pre-smart-phone-era), we were asked to turn the page over and answer these questions:
> List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
> Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
> Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
> Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
> Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
> Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.

Of course, the second part of the exercise was much easier to do.  Both of these things got me thinking about who the most influential people were in my life and what they had in common.  My answer is that they saw something in me that I didn't see myself, told me about my gift and pushed me to attain more. 

Take some time today to actually tell someone about the great things you see in them.  Too often we know that someone is a rising/shining star and just assume they know it too.  Specifically articulate your insights to the person and help them develop the confidence to use their talent to its fullest.  Maybe someday you'll be lucky enough to end up on the back side of the VIP quiz!

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 17, 2012

#77 a free lunch

The old saying goes "there's no such thing as a free lunch".  But apparently there is such a thing as a free blog.  (Not that I am complaining!)

I post this for free on my free Gmail account and you receive it for free via email.  Without ads.  Who is paying for this?  Somehow Google has figured out an economic model that allows them to offer a free service that their customers value.

What equivalent of a free blog can your organization offer?  Can you provide facilities, resources or expertise that earn you either goodwill or future clients?  Do you have capacity in some of your infrastructure that you can share without burden?  Can you lend your name in support of a worthy venture?

Take a lesson from Google and share something that delights people -- without charging them for it.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 16, 2012

#76 re-election

Sometimes I feel like I am missing out on things because I am currently not living in a big city, but today President and Mrs. Obama came to our little town!  They would have been welcome almost any place in the world, but they chose Dubuque, Iowa for a visit.  

I was fortunate enough to obtain a ticket, so played hooky from work to see the Obamas in person.  People from both parties commented on how efficient the operation was run.  No lines for security.  Clearly marked venue.  And most surprising to me, the President's bus arrived at 12:24 for a 12:25 scheduled speech.  I was out of my office only two hours and yet was able to hear THE President and the First Lady each speak only 200 feet from where I was standing.  It was thrilling!

Of course, much of the President's message centered around his bid for re-election.  I will leave the political aspect out of it, but it got me thinking about our whole process for filling the position.  Imagine if a university, company or any large organization had a mandated turnover of their top leader every four years.  Yet here is one of the most complex, sensitive and far-reaching organizations on the planet and just such a thing happens.  The President spends a year (at least) learning the job, a year or so doing the job, and then the next year trying to get re-elected to another term.  It is amazing to me that we are still functioning at all with that amount of transition in the top spot.  And in most cases, there isn't a tumultuous impact on the average citizen's life with a change in governmental leadership--offices still function, services still operate, national parks still open and the social security checks still are delivered.  Would our organizations fare so well?

Think about if you had to "campaign" to keep your job next year.  Would you be re-elected?  Do you have the evidence that you have done what you promised to do in the interview?  Is it even a realistic expectation that you could have solved the big problems in a mere three years?  I fear that a frequent re-affirmation of employment would have organizational leaders focusing on short-term results instead of tackling the long-term or strategic elements that can really have significant consequences.  

There is a line by fictional President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the film The American President where he says "I was so busy trying to keep my job that I forgot to do my job."  If you have the privilege of re-appointment without re-campaigning, take advantage of the ability to think long-term and make your work matter.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#75 transitions

In the last four working days, I have had four staff members give notice of their pending departure.  Whew.  While I wish all of them well in their new roles, one can't help but be affected by the announcements from those with whom we work so closely.  

Whenever there are staff exits, it creates a swirl of emotions:  sadness, or even anger, mixed with the hope that their new position will create joy for them.  Often people who are staying feel overwhelmed as they consider all the knowledge they must quickly absorb in order to prepare for the double duty that inevitably lies ahead.  And all this happens at precisely the time that the extra tasks of searching/interviewing/hiring/training suddenly appear on the to-do list.

At times like this, I try to heed the great advice from author William Bridges in his book Managing Transitions.  Bridges says that change is external, but transition is internal.  Change happens at once (the person leaves), but transition happens over time and in three stages.  The first stage of transition is the ending and it is appropriate to grieve for what is lost -- camaraderie, assistance, knowledge, humor, familiarity with how things work.  Secondly comes the interval stage -- where things are in limbo.  There may be an interim period without a replacement, but even when the new hire begins there is still a stage where everyone is figuring things out and waiting for the new person's work and temperament to fit into the culture.  Only after time can the third stage of beginnings actually occur and people share in the comfort of knowing how things work.  

The same cycle of transition that my remaining staff will go through as their colleagues depart begins now for another group on our campus.  Today is campus move-in for our new athletes.  Our freshmen experience the change of being in college today, but will continue their transition for weeks to come; often secretly grieving for home and life as a revered senior, then stumbling through the process of figuring out social norms and college expectations, before finally (hopefully) falling in love with college and wondering where the years went.  Mixed in between the bravado and sure hopes for a conference championship is a natural cycle of ending, sadness, insecurity, unfamiliarity and doubt.

At times of transition, hopefully it will help to remember that it is a natural part of the process to also be a little sad about what has transpired.  Pause for a moment and grieve as part of your transition, even as you undoubtedly will rejoice in beginnings when they come too.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

#74 precautions

I spent most of the weekend cleaning out my childhood home now that my mom has moved to a care facility.  There is so much that I could write about, but the one item that struck me is mothballs.

Do mothballs even exist anymore?  Apparently the cloth-eating buggers were prevalent in my mom's world -- or at least it was high on her list to prevent them.  I found boxes of (now absorbed) mothballs.  Mothball hangers.  Bars of soap designed to ward off the insects. Even special mothball-treated wax paper to line boxes.  Almost every box I opened had some preventative measure taken to ensure that the contents would be preserved.

I feel like mothballs are like one of those diseases that used to inflict everyone, but in today's world is eradicated.  I do not think of moths; have not taken preventative measures against them, and yet seem to be free of their destruction. 

In your organization, are you spending time/energy/resources on precautions that are no longer necessary?  Are you keeping manual copies when there is an electronic backup? Creating barriers to accessing information instead of making it freely available?  Just because someone always put mothballs in the box doesn't mean that you still need to.

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 13, 2012

#73 step two

We just finished a week of open houses for prospective students.  During one of the lunches, I sat with a prospective student and her father, and the conversation inevitably turned to the lack of rain.  Iowa is experiencing a serious drought, so weather is the topic du jour. This dad raises cattle so the impact of drought hits him sooner than it does me.  He spoke of how he has had to feed the herd hay for several months already, when he usually doesn't start inside feeding until October.  He shared that a friend, who usually sells hay for $30, turned down an offer of $200 because he didn't think it was enough.  It was a grim picture.

Then some of us speculated that the cost of beef was really going to rise.  We were surprised when he said "next year it will, but first it will get cheaper."  Huh?  The reason is that he expects many farmers to off-load their cattle early, before they have to continue indoor feeding all winter at the high hay prices, and thus supply will first increase (and thus prices will decrease) before the reverse happens.

Without intending to do so, our lunch conversation turned into a real world example of system thinking.  Wise is the leader who doesn't stop at the first conclusion, but thinks further ahead to the implications of that decision on the next one.  If you only pay attention to the initial cheap beef, you fail to plan for the expense/scarcity that is to come.  You'll be much better off if you take that extra time to think one step beyond your next action.

-- beth triplett

p.s.  If you need an exercise to see system thinking in action, Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline has a great one in his beer game simulation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

#72 taming the beast

Last week, I presented a professional development program following a meeting of the group.  During the break, I overheard a participant asking another what they did with all the paperwork that was generated from the meeting.  She gave him the following advice:  "when I leave the meeting, I leave with two piles; one to recycle and one to keep."  

Her solution works well in the short term.  The problem comes in when the "one to keep" pile keeps growing over the course of a year or two.  My answer:  keep things where you are the source.  

I have all the backup documents and drafts from committees I chair or projects I develop.  I have hardly anything other than the final policy or version of anything else.  Copies of committee minutes, even board minutes, can be obtained from the original source if needed.  Drafts, reports, proposals, budgets, agendas and status updates can all be retrieved elsewhere if the situation warrants.  (And I can count on one hand the number of times that happened!)  

We seem to be a long way from the Utopian paperless society.  Until then, try to manage what you create and recycle the rest.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 11, 2012

#71 shall we dance?

Our city park district partners with the local independent movie theatre to show children's movies in the park during several evenings each summer.  Even though I am a childless adult, I have been to many of them!  

This partnership is a win-win-win collaboration.  The theatre sees it as good for their business -- it provides great exposure and gets people hooked on their "best-popcorn-in-town" popcorn (that really does taste better than others).  The city is thrilled to have family-friendly events that utilize the parks.  And I see it as a positive because they serve free movie-theatre popcorn at a free movie -- who wouldn't love that?!

Not all partnerships live happily ever after like in the movies.  True collaboration involves thinking together, not just cooperating and "playing nice in the sandbox".  To really work long term, there needs to be mutual understanding of the goals, and reciprocal benefit to BOTH parties, not just positives for one.  Often times we dream up organizations with whom we can partner because of something we can gain vs. something we can give.  

The same thing happens with intra-organizational collaborations; we want to work with another department but lament that they are less interested in working with us.  Could it be that you have failed to produce (or to articulate) a true benefit to them from doing so?

Think about your next partnership like a waltz;  you and your partner need to be dancing to the same music and both be enjoying yourselves, not tripping over each other's feet.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 10, 2012

#70 ordinary

I was doing a load of laundry and when I went to put the clothes in the dryer, the floor was wet.  Puddle wet, not a flood, but it still involved a hour of clean-up time and planted doubt about what would happen with the next load.

It made me think of one of those needlepoint pillows I saw when I was a kid that said "Thank God for Everything Ordinary."  At the time, I thought it was a ludicrous suggestion and couldn't understand the good to be found in the mundane, routine or uneventful.  Ordinary equalled boring!

But now, on more than one non-ordinary occasion such as a washer leaking, I reflect on how much ordinary we take for granted and how oftentimes ordinary is good.

I know we live in a world that mandates change and continuous improvement, but take a moment to show appreciation to those in your organization who make ordinary happen.   The receptionist who answers the phones.  The accountants who pay the bills and process your paychecks.  The data entry staff who input the orders.  The technology staff who keep the network up and running.  If your infrastructure core runs like "ordinary" on most days, you have a lot to be thankful for.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 9, 2012

#69 sound advice

I am always reflecting on my supervisory style and its effectiveness, so I was talking to a friend the other day about the delicate nature of being a supervisor.  The tone of an entire department can be set by one individual, making it an almost daunting responsibility to do it well.  I wondered what "well" looked liked.

My friend made an insightful comment that he has learned more about what not to do from supervisors. "When you have a good supervisor, you don't pay attention to it, but when you have a bad supervisor you are really aware of how negative traits impact people," he said.  I asked him what behaviors made a good supervisor and he had two thoughts to share:

> People will be willing to bend over backwards for you if they think you care about them.  Don't always be about the business side; also be about the people side.  Work through people, not just through management policies.
> Be willing to change your mind.

Seems to me like the key ingredient in both nuggets is the willingness to listen -- and really hear what people are saying.  

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#68 input

Our university is undergoing accreditation next year so committees are in the process of gathering documents and preparing reports.  As part of this, I was asked to provide minutes and plans from my annual all-staff gatherings.  I don't have any.

So much of our time and routine meetings are focused on output -- creating the strategies, executing the plans, orchestrating logistics, etc. that I like to spend my semi-annual time together focused on input.  We had a common reading this year* (which became optional instead of mandated -- see blog #31!) and discussed what it meant for us and ways we could apply it.  We focused on the possibilities instead of the details and spent time on the inputting of ideas to play out in our work throughout the semester.  We have notes from our groups and from our flip charts, but nothing formal or fancy to share with the accreditors.

What I want to share with them is a comment from one of my support staff members, who said that her favorite part was when we reviewed what we discussed last year and gave multiple examples of how we had made changes because of it.  Clearly, there are expectations that the input will be put into action and evidence of our work together will permeate the individual work we do throughout the year.  

Despite the pressures to do so, try not to focus all of your time on output.  I hope that you create structures in your work to allow time for input, such things as: reading an article every day at lunch, starting your morning with an on-line newsletter, reading a non-fiction book each month, attending one conference per year -- and keeping your all-staff time sacred for big picture thinking instead of the details, even if there are no formal reports to show for it.

-- beth triplett

* 2011 Poke the Box; 2012 We Are All Weird  -- both by Seth Godin

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#67 the other side of the coin

I have two new staff members starting work this week.  Several people here have been busy planning training for them -- lots of meetings, readings and things to do to help the new employees to learn their job and get acclimated to our culture.  To be sure, learning what is serves a critical purpose and is vital to success in the position.  When you're new, you clamor to learn everything there is to know as soon as you can.

Harder to learn, but perhaps more valuable, is learning what isn't.  Sometimes it is a struggle for people at all stages to think beyond what is on the page to what should be there.  They proof a document and point out that a comma is missing, but fail to note that a paragraph to set the context or to explain something important is absent.  They learn every detail of the process, but don't stop to question why it is that way in the first place.  People become experts at what exists, but forget to be strategic about what should be happening.  

Whether you are brand new or a seasoned veteran, the real difference makers are the ones who ask "what isn't" in addition to mastering "what is".

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 6, 2012

#66 pragmatism

As I was walking through the parking lot this weekend, I came upon a man who was sitting on the open tailgate of his car with two huge yellow labs beside him.  Of course I had to stop and greet them all.  I saw that the inside of the tailgate was lined with two thick pet mattresses.  When I remarked that this was quite the comfortable set up for the pooches, he told me that this was the "Dogmobile".  "My wife wanted the grey interior," he said, "but I told her that we were getting the tan one."  He then proceeded to rub his hand along the carpet and came away with a huge glob of lab hair that matched the inside.

Through his pragmatism, this man relieved himself from the worry of dog transport.  Instead of stressing on a daily basis over something that was inevitable, he made accommodations and happily went forward.  

It reminded me of a friend who was stressing over the way her dissertation "should be" done.  I told her that it was like wearing a white pantsuit -- you can, but if you do, you often spend too much time worrying about getting something on it.  I suggested she metaphorically change into grungy shorts and a t-shirt and worry about getting it done vs. wasting time worrying about how she was doing so.

Are there situations in your life where you should let go of the ideal?  Where do you need to create your own version of the Dogmobile to allow you to enjoy more of life?  There are some things that just aren't worth the stress!

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 5, 2012

#65 try it on

A colleague was pondering whether or not to go on a job interview.  She wasn't sure whether she wanted to leave or whether this was the position she should pursue.  My advice:  "try on the dress."

I recalled to her the countless times that I had seen beautiful clothing in stores that looked great on the model, but not so well on me.  Had I left the store without trying them on, I would have that waft of regret or lingering wonder.  But once I stood in front of the mirror, I was quite content in leaving the clothes on the rack.

I believe that sometimes the best thing to do is to go a little further to try something out.  Go on the interview.  Demo that product.  Attend that workshop.  Talk to that banker.  Accept that blind date.  Babysit that puppy.  

You'll know with far more certainty whether or not it fits than you ever would have known by just speculating about it.

-- beth triplett