Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#152 trick or treat

It's only due to tradition that kids will say "trick or treat" at your door tonight; what they really mean is "I'm here for my treat".  The distribution of treats is nearly 100% guaranteed from every home that has their light on.

Don't you wish that your service was as reliable?  That every time a customer came to your door, they were guaranteed to receive a "treat" instead of a "trick", and that you could throw in the equivalent of a full-sized bar to really get a "wow" response. 

What can you do to make your customer experience as fool-proof as the children will experience tonight?  Use Halloween as your image -- even though your customers are everything from princesses to pirates, you greet them all with smiles and treats.  You wouldn't think of giving that witch a growl and a prune -- even though she is asking for something for free.

Every time your customers initiate a transaction, they are essentially saying "trick or treat".  Take steps to ensure that what lands in their bag is as reliable as you will be tonight.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

#151 reflection

Yesterday's blog entry referenced life skills, including the ability to know who you are.  When we began talking about how a student (person) could develop this attribute, it led to a discussion about being reflective.  It reminded me of a quote from educator Susan Komives: 
The ability to calmly reflect may be one of the most underdeveloped of professional sills.  Reflection helps us work smarter; reflection helps bring our values into our actions; reflection brings our private self into our professional self; reflection helps us gain perspective on our priorities.

I don't think we spend nearly enough time to ponder about what we have learned from our life experiences.  We evaluate our projects at work or the return rate of our portfolios, but it is rare when we try to take stock of ourselves.

Instead, try to carve out some time to hit pause on the day-to-day of life in order to reflect about who you are and what you're up to.  Start a blog (it forces you to see events differently and consider what they mean for you). Use the employee evaluation process as an opportunity to reflect on what you have learned and where you need to grow, not just assessing the work that you have done. Grab a cozy blanket and cup of tea and curl up in a chair to ponder the question for awhile. 

It's good to look back every once and awhile and see how much smarter you have become!

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 29, 2012

#150 life skills

I recently participated in a discussion where a group of people was charged with articulating the desired life skills of a college graduate.  As you can imagine, we filled pages with the typical "critical thinking, communication skills, ability to problem solve" attributes.

What struck me was when someone added to the list "the ability to know who you are, not just what you know -- and the courage to present that and be yourself in an interview."  I think the person was absolutely correct and we don't place enough value on being comfortable in your own skin. 

There were other interesting entries to the discussion:
> ability to commit to long-term friendships
> capacity to intentionally call forth the gifts in others
> flexibility to approach the problems that life throws at you
> ability to move and make yourself at home in a new community

Think about the life skills that you wish younger adults would learn.  What would be on your list?

Then commit today to finding a way to model them and/or mentor someone directly.  Those well beyond the college age have learned some of the lessons of life.  Make one thing that you have learned is the importance of teaching, and passing your wisdom forward.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 28, 2012

#149 kind truth

Someone asked me for advice on how to politely decline a request to be a job reference for someone who hadn't performed up to par.  I suggested that she be honest and say "I don't think I would be the best reference for you."

The person asking took my advice one step further and delivered not only that line, but also a few words of explanation as to why.  She received a very positive response back from the person, who maturely acknowledged that her performance had not lived up to her potential.  My friend believes that a mentoring opportunity may result from this.

It reminded me of a quote that I have had on my desk literally for my entire career.  Entitled Guidelines for Working With Students, one of the points is "Be honest with yourself and others.  It does no good to tell students what you think they want to hear."  I have kept David Ambler's advice visible for all these years because I think you can substitute "people" for "students" and have a mantra for how to treat everyone. 

We often fail to have the sincere conversations that can truly help people grow.  Instead, we should treat the honest delivery of feedback as a gift that can help others reflect on the impact of their experience.  Our silence or evasive white lies may seem kinder, but in the end it robs the other person from the ability to grow.

Delivering the respectful truth -- one that can actually be heard -- is a skill worth cultivating.

-- beth triplett

Thanks to Chris for this inspiration

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#148 a penny

I use an exercise where I ask participants to draw (from memory) what is on the front and back side of a penny.  It is amazingly hard for most people to do.  They don't remember where the wording is located, which way Lincoln is facing or what image is on the back.  (Try it before peeking!)

It is a quick way to capture the attention of people who are attending something that is "mandatory" or on a topic which they believe they are experts (or at least not in need of more training).  It illustrates that just because you think you know something, you may not.  It also illustrates how easy it is to take something for granted.  

Profound lessons don't need to be lofty.  This one is worth far more than its face value!

-- beth triplett

Friday, October 26, 2012

#147 a margin

When I took driver's ed, the teacher advocated that we "leave a margin" -- keeping space between us and the car ahead to buy us some reaction time should something out of the ordinary happen.  As the theory goes, if we followed too closely we were more apt to be involved in an accident if someone had to brake suddenly or if an unforeseen obstacle occurred.

I think that the mantra applies to time management as well.  I find myself always trying to "leave a margin" so that I am not rushing or doing tasks at the very last minute.  The taxes aren't being postmarked at midnight; the license doesn't need to be renewed today or face penalties, and I'm not paying for overnight delivery so I get the gift on time.  In fact, there is little that I have to do in a crisis state -- which allows me time to actually think about things; to do things when I am alert enough to do them and usually do them better than if I was attempting a harried effort to finish something.

I know that people develop a personal comfort level with their margins.  Some people have such large margins that I wonder if they will ever take action on anything.  But when I am with people who leave little margin in their personal scheduling, I feel the same tension as when I am riding with someone who, in my opinion, is driving too close.  

Try to manage your affairs so that you leave yourself some margin to handle the curves life throws at you.  With time, as with driving, you're less likely to crash if you do.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, October 25, 2012

#146 self-awareness

I once read that a sign of incompetence is the inability to recognize your own incompetence.  People who can see that they are lagging or struggling in an area inherently have the capacity to acknowledge the situation, which is often the first step in rectifying it.

I wonder if it is true on the other end of the spectrum --
if you don't believe the hype about you, will you continually work harder to improve so the hype may come true?

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

#145 a majority

An old Chicago joke was "vote early; vote often."  I don't advocate the "vote often" component, but "vote early" seems to be a prevalent theme this year.  A few days ago, I received a form in the mail encouraging me to "vote early" by sending in the pre-populated postcard to get my absentee ballot mailed to me.  Yesterday, we had a satellite voting center on campus and there was a steady stream of people who came to cast their presidential ballot two weeks early.  What happened to voting on Election Day?

I surmise that it is like everything else: that people want to do things 24/7 and do what they want to do when they want to do it.  While I will admit that I was tempted by the convenience of walking across the street and voting without waiting, I opted to hold out until November 6.  There is so little that we do as a whole these days; it seemed sad to me to add "vote together" to the list.

We no longer have a communal experience by going to events as a town, or even watching the hit show on network television.  We don't all share the experience of hearing the same news or shopping in the same downtown stores.  Yet it is this fragmented society that needs to come together to elect one president -- even though we don't have a collective majority on much else that we do.  

No matter whether you vote by mail, or at a satellite or wait for an hour in November, I hope that you exercise your right to cast a ballot.  It is something that we have in common that we should never take for granted.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

#144 overwrite

I walked into my grocery store and my brain instantly knew that it was remodeled.  It was much more open through the front areas so I tried to picture how it had previously looked.  I couldn't do it.  In an instant, my brain had overwritten what it was like "before".

I think it works this way with most people and remodels -- the new lighting at work that was so startling on the first day is now a non-factor.  The new paint at home that made the room look so different is now just part of the background.  And the same is true with civil engineering -- one of the reasons I am so fascinated with it -- that road or bridge seems like the most natural thing to be there.  Even if we witness the construction process, after the first few days we don't even pay attention to how different the new traffic pattern is.

It takes less time than you think for the new to become old; for things to stop being noticed and to become part of the routine.  Two sides to this coin:

> You can take advantage of the brain's capacity to overwrite things.  Think about what you want to rewrite in your life -- a habit?  a brand element?  the way your office looks?  It doesn't take long to replace a concept in your head.
> But because the brain has great capacity to overwrite things, you need to continually keep feeding in the messages that you want to stick or it will be replaced with something else new.

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 22, 2012

#143 ruby slippers

One of my favorite analogies is that of wearing the Ruby Slippers.  Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who always had the ability to do what she wanted but did not realize it, many employees today are empowered to do amazing things but they don't act on it.  People often become tentative; hesitating to take action because they haven't explicitly been given permission to do something.  I try to teach my staff (and others) that they are "wearing the ruby slippers" and are able to do much more on their own than they are doing.

When one of my staff members left for another position, he made me a pair of ruby slippers by covering a pair of little girl's shoes in red glitter.  Now, every time I touch them, bits of glitter fall off and leave a mark behind.  I think it is appropriate that they do -- you can't put on the ruby slippers without leaving a lasting legacy, both metaphorically and in reality.

I believe that everyone has access to the power of the ruby slippers. Most people are more empowered than they take advantage of or even acknowledge.  As a citizen, employee, colleague, mentor, relative or friend -- everyone has the power to make an impact and leave bits of their glitter on those with whom they come in contact.  Start clicking your shoes today!

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 21, 2012

#142 Princeton-Plainsboro

Strive to work at places that are like teaching hospitals --

where you not only practice, but you also teach and build capacity in others -- 

so eventually the head resident runs the ER.

Not only will you flourish with the personal development that comes from being a teacher, you'll also reap additional rewards from working with students in addition to colleagues.

It has nothing to do with the "hospital" part of my statement and everything to do with an environment where learning and growing others is the norm.  Try to work there!

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 20, 2012

#141 sweetest

Today is Sweetest Day.  A "Hallmark holiday" to be sure, but try to use today to capture the sentiment and do something sweet for someone.

> Show up to babysit your nieces and nephews, without being asked.  Give mom & dad a bonus few hours of freedom.
> Take a puppy to visit a nursing home or one of your dog-loving friends.
> Rake the leaves of your neighbor.
> Make your sweetheart's favorite meal for dinner tonight.
> Carve a pumpkin and leave it on someone's porch.
> Pick up the check for someone having breakfast in a diner.  (Someone actually did this for us last weekend and it was a thrill!)
> Volunteer to wash your mom's car.
> Make a batch of cookies and bring a plate to someone who has helped you out.
> Help a friend sew their child's Halloween costume.
> Show up with a leash and offer to take the neighborhood pooch for walk.

There are hundreds of things you can do today to be sweet to someone.  Pick one and make someone's day.

-- beth triplett

Friday, October 19, 2012

#140 written

Yesterday's blog advocated for sharing the cultural rules or insights about yourself if you are the supervisor.  In that spirit, I will continue this line of thinking by sharing some examples about me to help you frame what should be on your list.

Written BY me:
> I really, really do not like waste…and that includes especially a waste of time.  Be prompt and prepared for your meetings with me.
> I much prefer things in writing.  Give me a proposal in writing to think about.  Send me an email outlining your thoughts. 
> ...but things don't need to be lofty or formal.  A bulleted list.  A handwritten outline.  An email with a "heads up".  Simplicity and conciseness are appreciated.
> Never promise more than you can perform.  If you can't do something, or can't do it by the date needed, please don't tell me that you will.
> The corollary is true too.  If you need me to do something by a certain time, please let me know.  I rely on you to let me know what you need to be successful.
> I expect your thoughtful, active participation in staff meetings.  You are invited because you are a talented person, not just because of your position.  Use the opportunity to share your insights.

Written ABOUT me:
> I'm not surprised you didn't get a good read on her :) We tease her that she's extremely hard to read!  That said, she will tell you what she is thinking without hesitation, so you're rarely left wondering what's going through her head.
> She believes that nothing is sacred... meaning that just because we've always done something a certain way, it's encouraged to ask why or offer a new solution.
> She's not huge on complimenting, especially in person. But she will always recognize your efforts with others, never taking credit for something she didn't do. She sends a lot of cards :)
 > She doesn't seem interested in having power... she is much more interested in empowering others to do good things. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's totally true with her.
 > She is extremely organized, and always follows through. I have NEVER met someone who follows up like she does. If she asks you to do something, she will hold you accountable to do it. If she agrees to do something, you are guaranteed it gets done.
 > She makes decisions... sometimes too quickly, which can be frustrating when it's not the decision you want. However, you can make your case and she will listen. There have been many occasions when I have made a case and she's changed her mind having heard my thoughts.

Notice a difference in tone?  I was very fortunate to have been given access to list #2 (your employees may not want to share the truth!!!), so if an unvarnished list is not an option for you, just create your own.  Don't make people new-to-you play a guessing game.  Happy writing!

-- beth triplett

With deep gratitude to Tricia

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#139 unwritten

The head of our transitions program tells the story to incoming students about a little league team she coached.  She knew when accepting the role that the boys were new to the game, so she taught them fundamentals about hitting and catching.  In one of the first games, a boy was a base runner on second and the fielder dropped the ball near him.  The runner was unaware of the rules, so he politely reached over and handed the second baseman the ball.  Of course, the runner was called out.  The teacher/coach uses this as an illustration as to why a transitions course is necessary -- to teach incoming freshmen about the unwritten rules that govern how a college operates.

Unfortunately, there is no course and there is often little attention paid to the transitions that employees experience when entering a new workplace or when reporting to a new supervisor.  Recently there was an article in our professional journal entitled "What if the unwritten rules were published?".  Wouldn't that be nice for everyone?  No more guessing about what is important and what is taboo.  No more reprimands for doing something that was outside a particular person's preferences.  No more wondering about expectations and reactions.

I would propose that the unspoken rules do not need to remain that way.  It is in everyone's best interest if training includes the "inside scoop" about the boss's and culture's preferred way of operating.  Over the years, I developed a list of "things you will likely know about me in a year, but I'm telling you now" to give to new employees when appropriate.  A more accurate listing was developed when a prospective employee asked a current employee about me -- and later she was kind enough to share what she had written.  It is often through these third party assessments that the truth is truly told.

Everyone has their expectations, pet peeves and quirks.  Instead of pretending to be the model supervisor or colleague, fess up to your new hires about what your "unwritten rules" are.  Far better for them to be aware of them in advance than to have consequences for not knowing.

(I will share some examples tomorrow.)

-- beth triplett

Story from Rachel Daack

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#138 paper bags

At my all-staff retreat earlier this week, we did an exercise designed to help people share "what makes you be you".  In advance, participants were asked to secretly bring two items that represented things that were important to them, but weren’t totally obvious to others that they were theirs. The items had to fit into a regular brown lunch bag.  (Example: don’t include a picture of your dog; do include a dog biscuit to represent your dog.)

Bags were collected in advance and then anonymously distributed as people came into the retreat. We went one-by-one with someone opening a bag, trying to guess who brought the items and then hearing from the actual owner as to why the items were chosen.

It isn't as easy as it sounds to narrow it down to two things to put into the bag.  But rest assured that all the items generated rich stories and fostered connections -- among people that had never met and among those who had known each other for years. 

On the surface, everyone looks alike.  To potential customers, to new employees or to strangers at a cocktail party, everyone looks like the same brown paper bag.  Your job is to not only describe the items that are in the bag to distinguish yourself/your organization from the others, but also to articulate the stories and meaning behind "what makes you be you." 

Think about what you would include in your bag for yourself or for a group you represent.  What two things are different than what is in your peer's or competitor's bag?  How do you share the story about them?  Don't be content being a generic member of the masses -- appearing the same as everyone else.  Open your bag and articulate what is inside.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#137 the boss

"A good friend will listen to us without judgment, accept the intensity of our feelings, respect our pain, and express concern.  A really good friend will, in addition, help us to see our situation in a new way."   -- Mark I. Rosen

The above quote was from the community civility project that I have mentioned.  As we commemorate Boss's Day today, I would suggest that the word "boss" could be substituted for the word "friend" and the sentiment would still hold.  

Good supervisors help people see the world with new eyes, and often apply constructive criticism in an effort to make the employee better than they were.  Really good supervisors help people become better than they thought they could be. 

I have had a host of bosses in my career and I have learned from all of them.  Granted, I have learned from some what not to do, but on the whole these men and women have made me a stronger professional due to their questioning, prodding, supporting and dreaming.  

I take my role as supervisor as the most sacred of all of my responsibilities.  My #1 job is to create capacity within my staff; to make them better thinkers and better "doers", and, if I am really lucky, to have a tad bit of influence on them as people.  

Whether you are the boss or just have a boss, use today to recommit to investing the time it takes to have the conversations alluded to in the opening quote -- ones that lead to deep understanding and improvement of both the situation and the person.

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 15, 2012

#136 set the table

One of my skill sets involves the ability to simplify a complex issue and make it understandable to a group.  This has spawned a whole new lexicon (see #130), but it does facilitate conversations and meetings when people can actually grasp the nuances of a topic.

As an example, at one meeting the marketing staff was debating over a logo usage policy and trying to determine when and where each of our university identities could be used.  We have the official university seal, the primary graphic identifier, the athletics logo and the mascot.  The academic affairs department wanted to have shirts embroidered with the seal or and the security staff requested patches with the athletics logo.  What was acceptable?

Here is how I described it:

> The seal is like china, and it should only be used for formal occasions.
> The primary identity is like Corelle dinnerware and should be used everyday and for most things.
> The athletics logo is for athletics.
> The mascot is for athletics and for other informal uses.  It is analogous to a paper plate.

So, should the shirts have a logo?  No.  Shirts are not formal use.
Should the security patches feature the athletics insignia.  No.  It is for athletics.

The point I am trying to make has nothing to do with our logo policy, but the use of the metaphors to describe it.  Not everything has to be lofty.  If you are able to frame complicated things in everyday language, you'll increase understanding and decrease the need for further clarifications down the road.  

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 14, 2012

#135 stamp of approval

Wouldn't you like to serve on the committee to pick the designs on the next postage stamp?  I am not a collector, but I do enjoy seeing the selection of topics that are chosen for this distinctive form of commemoration.  This year's series includes major league baseball all stars, more Pixar characters, the War of 1812, weather vanes, O. Henry, bonsai trees, and US Merchant Marine ships. It is quite the diverse selection!

Someone once made the comment to me that they must be close to running out of things to feature.  I doubt that will ever happen; even my quick brainstorming would lead me to believe that the list is almost endless:  vice presidents, national parks, pies, ice cream treats, education, holidays, television shows, books, album covers, road signs, church steeples, fonts, post offices, red hats...the list could go on and on.

The postage stamp is a unique way for countries to show their culture and give recognition to  people who have mattered to the nation.  If your organization issued its own postage stamp, what would be on it?  What are the icons or who are the legends that have shaped who you are today?  It may be a good exercise for you to consider, then find ways to feature them in a way that is more prominent than a 1 inch x 1 inch square.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 13, 2012

#134 scrubbing floors

I once did a reference call where the supervisor described many wonderful traits of the person.  It became one of the most helpful reference calls I ever made when she concluded with this assessment:

"If you are the kind of place where everyone scrubs the floors, he won't scrub with you.  He will tell you how to scrub; he will assemble the people to do the scrubbing; he will report how the scrubbing was done; he will be kind and not point out where someone missed a spot -- but he won't scrub with you."

I genuinely appreciated the candor, and mostly the insightful understanding of the climate and culture under which this person could succeed.  I work at a place where the expectation is that you "scrub the floors"; there is little hierarchy, no pretentiousness, and even the president is involved in hauling tables or directing the lines if that's what it takes.  I may have hired this person based upon the first part of our call, but her closing comments were what I really needed to hear.

When you are seeking out new staff, never underestimate the importance of fit with the culture as well as ability to perform the tasks of the position.  If you are going to want this person to "scrub floors", hold out for that trait. In the end, they will never be truly successful without it.

-- beth triplett

Thanks to A. Durante

Friday, October 12, 2012

#133 the works

As part of a package I purchased through a silent auction, I received two coupons for a Papa Johns one-topping pizza.  When I ordered my last one, I upgraded to "the works" at a cost of $5.  I was a happy customer.

Last night, when I attempted to do the same thing with my second coupon, I was told that I couldn't do that, even though I explained that someone had honored my request before.  Still no.  Need I say that it was the worst pizza I have eaten?  My expectations from Papa Johns equal "the works" and I was missing about eight toppings on what I was stuck with.

It makes me wonder why some manager (and yes, the order-taker checked) would be so short-sighted as to say no when saying yes would have a) created a satisfied client, b) who was willing to pay the differential and c) who had previously forgotten how good "the works" was and may be likely to order again at full price.  What good came of saying no?

I was quick to jump on Papa Johns, but I am always second guessing our own service delivery.  It is so, so easy to say no and I fear that sometimes I and my own staff may do it in spite of good intentions.  When we say no to people who want to visit or be advised at times that are outside of our scheduled availability, are they comparing us to my pizza experience?  When families want to process transactions on line that need to be done manually are they seeing that as a "no"?  When internal clients want to do something on a modified timeline or with different project parameters do we accommodate them or refer them to "the policy"?  When departments want extra support or resources from us that bend the boundaries, do they get a refusal?

For today, try to deliver "the works" to those who ask you.  There really is a difference between that and the compromise of the one-topping.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, October 11, 2012

#132 ubiquitous

Yesterday's nugget  (see blog #108) for our staff meeting was a demonstration of the spectacular 80" flat screen in our new technology center.  Our tech guy used a program that allowed the screen to turn into a plain white board, or have a calendar or graph outlines as background that he could "write" on, or project the computer image onto the screen and have the ability to write over that or do any number of amazing things.  The picture was crystal clear; the sound was theatre quality; you could print in color directly from the board -- and we were all wide-eyed thinking about the possibilities of using this new space...

once we actually got started seeing the demonstration.  The first 10 minutes were spent watching the tech guy try to show how his wireless worked from his iPad to project on the screen (it never did) or to do several other things that he was unable to actually show us.

Later in the day, I was in another meeting where the wireless would not connect to the computer.  We called audio visual support who suggested that we reboot the computer "because the same thing happened with that machine earlier."  After an additional ten minutes wasted of fiddling around and trying multiple things, someone had the great idea of unhooking the Ethernet cord from the fancy new phone and hooking it into the computer -- and then it worked.  The meeting began as if this was the natural order of events.  

Why do people have such a high tolerance (or is it expectation) that technology may not perform as planned?  On one hand, if I was a teacher, I would be enamored with the new equipment as a curriculum enhancement.  But could I depend on it?  The professional tech support people were involved in both of my examples, and they were unable to assist in a timely manner.  For every presentation or lesson plan, do we really need to spend the time and resources having a Plan B ready?  

Young people seem to have built-in expectations that using technology is a problem-solving experiment.  If one thing doesn't work, it is intuitively natural for them to try something else and continue with options until it is functional.  I think they are satisfied with the process as long as it works in the end.  Younger and younger people expect to have ubiquitous technology; thus older and older people need to become adept at its use.  

Having a reliable technological infrastructure is going to become (is already?) as essential as a consistent electrical system.  When you flip the switch or turn on a lamp, you never expect to tinker to achieve functionality.  You don't hear excuses about the grid being overloaded or the switch not being compatible with the lamp you are trying to power.  You expect mindless operation of electricity everywhere.  As a citizenry, as well as in our organizations, we need to invest in achieving pervasive technological performance in the same way.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

#131 the foot

I wrote my master's thesis on conflict and its resolution.  My premise was that there are three main sources of conflict:  role ambiguity, interdependence and scarce resources.  

While it was a study of student organizations, the key principles are applicable for most organizations (and relationships) today:
"Role conflict becomes an organizational problem when two or more people interpret or perceive the same situation differently and their interpretation results from different sets of concepts, values and attitudes; or when they attach different sets of expectations to a given role."*

More specifically in my professional experience, conflict grows when it is unclear as to who has the ultimate authority to make a decision.  Without a clear distinction of who can "put their foot down", disagreeing parties continue the debate and frustration mounts as the issue festers.  The marketing staff wants one design, but the client prefers another.  They go back and forth; who has the foot to end the debate?  One staff member wants to use vendor A while another parallel staff member prefers B.  Who ultimately makes the call?  One director wants the facilities area to work on project 1 while another director believes project 2 is more important.  Who decides?  The boss is going out of town and says the remaining staff should work together if something comes up.  Usually collegiality will prevail, but who has the foot to make a decision if push does come to shove?

So much of organizational life today is interdependent -- and most of the time that is great. But outlining a clear ultimate decision maker in the beginning can save much angst down the road.  In my five years in my current job, I have only had to "use the foot" once in a conflict between my departments where the directors couldn't work things out.  At that point I had to weigh whether I should choose a decision I favored or support who I thought had the ultimate responsibility to make the call (not the same thing).  I made a choice and we all got back to work.  Things are not so clean or clear in interdepartmental conflicts where no one is sure who really does decide.  Many hours of productivity are lost and morale can degenerate quickly when "moving on" is not an option because the problem lingers.  

At the start of your next project, try to be clear as to who holds the trump card -- and then work incredibly hard in such a way so that no one has to play it.

-- beth triplett

* J.D. Lawson, L.J. Griffin, and F.D. Donant:  Leadership is Everybody's Business, 1976, p. 193.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

#130 in your own words

We are preparing to have an all-staff meeting as a way to acclimate the many new staff that I have hired this summer.  As part of this event, I created a list of terminology that new people will want to know in order to follow the conversation.  When I first had this idea, I thought it would include a dozen or so terms.  Then I asked some of my staff for contributions and had to cut it off at 48!  

Several years ago I made a perpetual calendar for my family of sayings that we use -- 365 things that we have said over and over so many times that they have concrete meaning for us even if outsiders have no idea what we are talking about.  I also received a gift from former colleagues who created the "beth triplett dictionary" full of words and phrases that I used.  

So I shouldn't have been surprised when number entries that staff suggested that are things that say.  I guess it's like a toddler parroting her parents; the mom and dad don't realize they say things until someone repeats it back to them.  

Three examples:

> "Noted" -- This has long been a staple phrase of mine, used when I want to acknowledge that I heard the person but we can't discuss/I can't act on it right now.  Translated, it means "I've got it; let's move on."

> "Put it in a bubble" -- My conversations and meetings, and as is often the case with this blog, often connect two seemingly disparate topics together.  I use the "put it in a bubble" phrase to have people hold one thought separately while I explain the other before coming back to it and (hopefully) showing how it connects.

> "Stuck in the mud" -- meaning that if someone else or a project isn't making much forward progress, you should move on and focus your time and attention on something else that will produce results.  As Kenny Rogers' Gambler song preaches: "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em".  Walk away when someone isn't willing or able after you have made your pitch.

Every "tribe" has its own language and ways of conveying meaning.  Take the time to help the new members of your group feel as if they belong by teaching them the colloquialisms and the inherent philosophies you are conveying with your own phrases.  Language is a powerful connector; don't exclude someone by using insider words.

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 8, 2012

#129 discovery

When I was in school, I was taught that Columbus discovered America.  You may remember the rhyme: "In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...".  Apparently that "fact" is now disputed, but not to the extent that the second Monday in October has been rescinded as a federal holiday!  So I think about Columbus and his journey today.

Whether he was first or not, he was a navigator and explorer.  The conditions under which he travelled are incomprehensible by modern times.  And to think that he set out with such false and incomplete information; he had estimated that the distance from Europe to Asia was only one-fourth of what it actually was.  It reminds me of Lewis and Clark who set out for the Pacific Ocean thinking that their trip would be entirely by water -- they did not know that the Rocky Mountains existed.  Yet both persevered and completed their journey despite the overwhelming odds.

I was in Seville, Spain several years ago and saw the spot where Christopher Columbus docked after returning from his trip to points West.  It was a simple spot devoid of any fanfare.  Sites with far, far less historical significance in America are commercialized and surrounded with souvenirs and visitor centers, but the Columbus site in Seville has nothing more than a simple plaque.  I couldn't find as much as a postcard about it.

Your cubicle or studio or simple desk at home may be as unpretentious as Columbus' port and your journey as unknown.  But hopefully you are also able to be a navigator and explorer -- to travel uncharted territory in your work and find new understandings that are not yet discovered.  Whether Columbus was first or not, today I hope that you celebrate and renew your commitment to persistence -- to the perseverance it takes to keep trudging forward when the path ahead is far harder and longer than anticipated and the rewards so uncertain.  

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#128 memories

Because I don't remember much that I don't make a note of, I am always in awe of those with a fantastic memory.  Two examples come to mind:

One is Carlos, a high school student who is a waiter at my favorite Mexican restaurant.  My friend and I always order the same thing, albeit with quirks and special requests.  Carlos  knows our order the moment we walk in and has drinks waiting before we sit down.  He remembers every last detail, down to the steak knife to cut the quesadilla, without so much as a word.  I hope that Carlos won't spend his life waiting tables because I am confident that memory such as his would take him far in an academic setting, but for now, it makes for a truly pleasant dining experience. 

When I think of an amazing memory, I also think of Andy, an ex-admissions staffer, now development officer.  The same gifts that allowed him to develop relationships with prospective students are helping him to make friends with donors.  By remembering the little details and showing people that he truly has distinguished them as an individual, he sets himself apart from those appealing for other worthy causes.  He listens to what donors are passionate about and matches it with what he heard on campus about the institution's needs.  He has a long and prosperous career ahead of him in the advancement field.

I have a terrible memory, and so have devised my own systems as a way to remember details.  (Let's just say that it involves putting everything in writing!).  What traits are true gifts for you and how can you match them with aspects of your career?  And conversely, in what ways can you compensate for your shortcomings?  We all can't have the memory of Carlos and Andy, but we are all great at something.  Find your greatness and let it shine.

-- beth triplett