Thursday, January 31, 2013

#244 praise and wish

We host many events on campus and provide evaluation forms at the conclusion of each of them.  Instead of doing elaborate questionnaires or asking about specifics using a Likert rating scale, we have found a more simple model to be more effective. 

We ask:

1.  What is a praise that you have about today's visit?
2.  What is a wish that you have about today's visit  (I wish you would have...)

Through those two simple questions, we garner a host of useful suggestions and have a good gauge of what visitors are enjoying as well as what needs to be tweaked.

I use the same questions to evaluate my staff retreats, workshops and just about any event I conduct.  Maybe the same two questions will engender some good feedback for you, too.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#243 serendipity

Did you know that February is the International Expect Success Month?  And Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month.  And Youth Leadership Month.  And National Cherry Month.  And Learn Italian Month.  And...

Each month -- each day actually -- carries a list of designations.  Some are more meaningful, but all are out there for your viewing pleasure.  Most of them may be silly, but you can use this levity to your favor.  Adding serendipity to the workplace (or family dinner, classroom or organizational meeting) can go a long way in improving morale and beating the winter blues.

For example, one of my staff members brought in an assortment of flavored popcorn to a meeting on National Popcorn Day (January 19 ).  All the men in the office could go out to lunch on Man Day (February 11).  You could encourage everyone to do only one thing at a time on Single-Tasking Day (February 21).  Colleagues could all call each other only by their middle name on Middle Name Pride Day (March 9).  Or everyone could get into the spirit on Act Happy Day (March 19).  Or enjoy a childhood favorite by blowing bubbles on National Bubble Week (March 20-26).  You get the idea.

To get more ideas, look on-line or see if your library has a copy of Chase's Calendar of Events.  When I was working in student activities, it was my favorite resource to add some serendipity to an otherwise dull day on campus.  It can go a long way in adding some fun to your workplace too.  

There is nothing like unexpected silliness to get a smile, even from the curmudgeons.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

#242 grunt work

As part of our major scholarship competition over the weekend, we lined the entranceway with a "red carpet" to make our scholars feel like VIPs when they arrived.  It made a wonderful first impression and was a great idea.  But we secured the carpet with industrial strength double sided tape -- which we learned too late was a big mistake.

I came in to work yesterday armed with Goo Gone and set about to remove the tape residue.  An hour later, three of us were still working on the task.  It was ugly.

But the silver lining in all of it was how many people stopped to offer unsolicited help.  I did not ask a single person to join in my efforts, but as people arrived for work they were curious as to what was going on.  Many people -- in facilities, in other offices, some who work for me and some who don't -- offered to pitch in for a bit or to suggest other remedies to speed up the process.

I doubt any of them would have felt compelled to contribute if I was not actively engaged myself.  It surely gave a new meaning to "scrubbing floors" -- my blog #134 was more hypothetical on that topic -- but it reiterated how important it is to play an active role rather than to stand by and supervise.

The next time you find your staff or someone else facing grunt work, you can turn the groans into grins by offering to toil beside them.  

-- beth triplett

Monday, January 28, 2013

#241 for fun

I recently was at a reception with a member of our board of trustees who was excusing himself to leave early because he had ukulele lessons!  

He described how his wife purchased him the Hawaiian instrument years ago, and he wasn't even sure if it was a real instrument or just a prop.  Now he finally found someone who can give him lessons.  As unlikely as it seems, three people in our small town are actually taking ukulele lessons at this time.  They meet in the home of a man whose home has a sign: "Hippies use the side door."  

"I hate going to lessons," he said.  "But once I'm there, I have so much fun!"

How many of us put off doing something purely for enjoyment because we don't want to invest the energy in learning how to do it well.  We want to be masters of things, and forget that learning any new skill is a slow and often frustrating process.  We weren't a wizard accountant the first time we saw a spreadsheet; we didn't know how to design a brochure the first time we opened a graphics program and we didn't know how to wire a house the first time we saw a blueprint.  

Instead of investing all your energy in making yourself better at work, why not make some time to learn something just for the fun of it too.  

-- beth triplett

Sunday, January 27, 2013

#240 disincentives

For the fifth time since the Forever Stamps were introduced in 2007, postage rates have increased.  Today rates on a first class letter increased to 46 cents each and postcards are now 33 cents.  The Post Office claims that the decrease in mail volume necessitates the increase.  

I have also noticed the rapidly increasing cost of greeting cards.  Someone just sent me a card and it cost $3.99.  An ordinary birthday card is over $3.00 in most cases, so with tax and stamps it is now pushing five bucks to send well wishes.  No wonder people are opting for Twitter or Facebook or email or other more economical methods of spreading the love.

It seems that the Post Office and Hallmark and others in the "snail mail" business are caught in a vicious spiral.  The more volume goes down, the more rates need to go up to justify the staffing levels and overhead  -- yet the more the cost increases the more free alternatives become appealing.  

I am a Platinum member of the Hallmark frequent buyer program (and would have similar status if the P.O. awarded it for individual mailers).  Yet even I am hesitating before I send greetings as frequently as I have in the past.

Is there a failure loop in your organization?  Can you view things differently to incentivize instead of penalize the people and behaviors you wish to promote? Think about your cost structure and how you can manage it to reward your best clients.  Just plan on it costing you more if you send your love by mail!

-- beth triplett

Saturday, January 26, 2013

#239 prevention

I heard an interesting trick to try and thwart some of the germs that are floating around.  A colleague suggested that he was practicing the use of a "public hand" and a "private hand".  

> He consciously chose to use his right hand to touch door handles, faucets, elevator buttons and other public items.

> Then he preserved his left hand for the times he had to wipe his eye or brush something off his face.  The theory is that this hand would have at least a few less germs to infect him.

It's not foolproof to be sure, and our subconscious motions may be more prevalent than we realize, but it is a step.  Sometimes we don't need lofty plans or intricate theories to at least make efforts in the right direction.  We do something, and hope that things are better than they were without it.  

The public hand/private hand practice may be fool hearty -- or it may be the edge to keep you healthy for one more day.  Doesn't that possibility make it worth a try?

-- beth triplett

Friday, January 25, 2013

#238 in perpetuity

The Iowa Lottery estimated jackpot is currently $110 million.  While most who play the Powerball game won't see any winnings, let alone a change in lifestyle, someone(s) will hit on the numbers and be permanently altered by the prize.

While I will never be burdened with wondering what to do with such largess, I do have interactions with donors who have the capacity to name a building on our campus.   I always wonder what building I would want my name on if I had the opportunity to do so.  Would I lean towards a student center in honor of the part of campus that gave me my confidence and career beginnings?  Would I opt for the arts since the talent of those students I have often admired with longing?  Or would I donate in favor of a community center, museum, recreational facility or another option?

Take a moment to think about this question.  If you could have your name on a building, what building would you want that to be?  And if you had the capacity to name a building in honor of another, who would be the recipient of your generosity?  Even if we can't put our name on a check or their name on an entranceway, is there another way to show our support and gratitude?  Time is often as valuable as money; share some of yours to honor the causes or the people who mean the most.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, January 24, 2013

#237 glucose

The New York Times* reported on several studies where the time of day in which a decision was made impacted the outcome of the decision.  For example, the parole board granted parole 70% of the time to prisoners whose hearing was in the morning, while only 10% of the time in afternoon hearings.  Studies showed that as the day goes on and we make more decisions, we suffer from "decision fatigue" and lose willpower as the day progresses.  To replenish the energy, the body needs glucose (sugar).

I learned this from a member of our strategic planning committee who sent me the article when it became apparent that the only viable option for our meetings was Friday afternoon.   Partially in jest, but with a dash of scientific truth, she suggested that I bring treats for our meeting so that members were alert enough to make the best decisions for the university.

Now, each week, we add "glucose assignment" to our agenda and rotate bringing treats to each meeting.  Does it help us make more strategic decisions?  I am not sure.  But I am confident that it increases the morale of the group gathered at the last juncture before the weekend.  If you have a late afternoon meeting scheduled, perhaps instead of tempting fate you tempt participants with a little goodie or two.

-- beth triplett

*Do you suffer from decision fatigue? by John Tierney.  New York Times.  August 17, 2011.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

#236 a special touch

One of our gift officers recently received a donation from someone who is blind.  As he went to write the thank you note, it occurred to him that the donor would be unable to read it.  Rather than send it anyway and rely on someone else to translate his thanks, he had a better idea.  Soon he was in contact with a local organization that works with the visually impaired and he was able to utilize their equipment to send a thank you note in Braille.

Our gift officer took an extra step to provide a thank you that was personalized for the donor.  He utilized community resources and partnered with them to get the task accomplished.  He made something simple become memorable.  

How can you replicate this pattern with something happening in your organization?  Is there something ordinary you can do in an extraordinary way?  Is there someone who can help you?  Or is there something that warrants a little extra TLC and you have the capacity to provide it?  

A small difference can be profound.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

#235 Stan the Man

This weekend, baseball lost one of its greatest legends with the passing of Stan Musial.  I had the privilege of seeing Stan the Man in person at several St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day and World Series festivities, and I can attest that the man was revered in his adopted hometown.  

For those of you not indoctrinated into "Cardinals Nation", Mr. Musial played for the Cardinals for his entire 22-year baseball career.  He was on the All-Star teams 24 times (there were two games/year for a few seasons).  When he retired in 1963, he held 55 major league records.  But beyond his baseball legacy, Stan the Man spent the 50 years since his retirement as a model citizen.

Stan's passing is a loss of one of the remaining reminders of what major league sports used to represent.  No more do players stay with the same franchise for their entire career.  Barely do they manage to go through their tenure without scandal or disgrace.  Stan Musial was an exception, and exceptional.  He was someone that little kids should look up to and want to be like when they grow up.

It is not likely that any of us will have even one, like Stan's two, statues erected in our honor outside of our former place of employment.  But we can work and play as if that were possible.  Try to give the effort and enthusiasm to your day that Stan Musial gave to his effort on and off the field.  And then repeat for all 92 of your years.

-- beth triplett

Monday, January 21, 2013

#234 dreams

I have been intrigued by the American Family Insurance advertising campaign with the tagline "Your dream is out there.  Go get it.  We'll protect it."  It has always caught my attention because usually insurance is there for when the dreams are shattered or catastrophe happens -- most insurance companies don't seem to be in the business of fostering dreams.  But AmFam has taken the dream theme seriously, including offering a "Dream Camp" and a whole website with dream stories and interactive exercises to help you find yours.

One of the sections is entitled "Why Dreams?"  (I guess I wasn't the only one wondering how they landed on this!)  Their answer:  'We believe in the power of dreams.  At their very core, dreams help define us, empower us, and make us happy.  Dreams compel us to improve ourselves and our communities.  Dreams make the world a better place."  

Today this nation commemorates the birth date of one of our country's greatest dreamers -- Martin Luther King, Jr.  His words from August 28, 1963 still ring true today:  "And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."

In the midst of fiscal cliffs, political bickering, schoolroom shootings, superstorms and drought, I hope that we can all reflect on MLK's dream and re-envision ourselves as a cohesive community.  Today pause to commit to your role in shaping our future.  "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

-- beth triplett

Sunday, January 20, 2013

#233 lessons from a coyote

Even though I am a VP, I still have a rather large stuffed Wile E. Coyote in my office.  He serves as a reminder to me about several important lessons:

> Persistence.  Even though Wile has been unsuccessful in his pursuit of the road runner, he continues to persist in his quest.

> Creativity.  Wile is not trying the same method of capture over and over and over -- he continually alters his methods and tries new ways to catch the bird.

> Focus.  Wile is focused on one thing.  His efforts are not scattered trying to catch anything that comes his way -- he cares about the road runner and is focused on capturing it.

I have faith that someday Wile will win.  Until then, he serves as a mascot to remind me of three important elements of the chase.  What symbol can you use as a visual reminder of the traits you need to exhibit in the pursuit of your reward?

-- beth triplett

Saturday, January 19, 2013

#232 loyalty

It is 2013 and I am still using many of the same products that I started using as a teenager: Noxzema, Johnson's baby powder and baby oil, and witch hazel.  There have been thousands of beauty products developed since I started their use, but I remain loyal to a handful of brands.  

I have been exposed to millions of dollars of advertising and product placement trying to lure me away from these traditional products, but I am satisfied with their performance and price and feel no need to experiment.  Best doesn't have to be new.  Expensive and fancy don't mean better.  

It's OK to stick with something over the long term if it's working for you.

-- beth triplett

Friday, January 18, 2013

#231 early

The act of creating capacity in others requires involving them when things are in the listening stage vs. when they are in the telling stage.  If you have a new program or idea and it is fully formed before you share it, you end up telling the potential partner about the program.  But if you share things when they are new ideas or still a drafty concept, then you are open to listening what they have to say about how they can shape its formation.  

I like to involve large groups of people when we host a consultant on campus -- then they can hear the ideas directly, understand their context and have input into how they are ultimately shaped -- vs. just being told afterwards that X change needs to occur.  

Involve others early in the process.  You may be amazed at how much better they make you and your ideas look!

-- beth triplett

Thursday, January 17, 2013

#230 privacy

I inadvertently learned of a friend's medical condition through a lapse in someone else's judgment and their loose lips.  An emergency responder, in a spirit of caring I am sure, told about a call he had made to assist my friend.  He is clearly mandated to follow the HIPAA regulations prohibiting such disclosure, but shared nonetheless.

Now I know about this situation. I can ignore it, but I still know it. Nothing I do or don't do will change the fact that the story has been shared.

I am reminded of a maxim I learned in a graduate communication course:  "You can't un-ring a bell."  The lesson was an admonishment to watch carefully what you did communicate, because as much as you try to "take something back", refute it with other information or apologize for sharing it, it is still out there regardless.  You may overlay a different message to negate what was shared, but once something is communicated it has been communicated for all time.

Think twice before you share information -- good intentions don't override the right for private things to remain private.  

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

#229 depth

When we previewed a new technology module, people were excited and many were eager to purchase it.  Others felt like they needed to compare the software to other products that were out there to ensure that this was the best product to meet our needs.

This layer of decision making involved depth -- doing research to compare one choice with another.  It is a necessary and valuable function, but it is only part of the equation.

I also advocate for decision making that utilizes breadth.  So not only did we need to weigh one software system against another, we also need to evaluate whether any software purchase was the best use of our capital funds.  Should we buy software, put on a new roof, replace furniture, repair a sun deck or equip a department with iPads?  All these choices are competing for the same dollar.

Don't limit your decision making to comparing one vs. another.  Be sure to ask if you're even asking the right question or whether it should be one vs. what else.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

#228 Q2

One of Stephen Covey's most profound concepts was his articulation of the time management matrix -- he divided into four quadrants along urgent/not urgent and important/not important.  In Quadrant 2 (Q2) were things that were important but not urgent -- like working on relationships, planning, exercise -- things that you should be working on but don't have a deadline so often you aren't working on them.  He advocated spending more of our time there and less time in Q1 (the urgent but not important -- like responding to the email "ding" each time it goes off).

I think many of our school systems and even colleges do a disservice to students by being so structured.  Students become driven by assignments that have rules and deadlines and accustomed to only doing things when they have to.  Many schools don't teach students how to do important things that only have a self-imposed deadline.  

How can we make independent study -- and preparation for it -- become a required part of the curriculum?  It would be a true life lesson if students left the educational enterprise having mastered Q2 skills.  Think how far we all we would go if we truly spent our time on the important instead of just the urgent.

-- beth triplett

Monday, January 14, 2013

#227 Harley

I spent yesterday traveling to attend the wake of my sister-in-law's father.  I have known him for over 20 years and he felt like a part of the family to me too.

My brother was asked how they were doing. "You can't cry for 24 hours straight," he said.  "So you cry some; then you tell stories; then you laugh some; then someone else comes over and you start crying all over again."  

We all react in our own way and express our emotions at different times and in different ways.  At a funeral or as part of organizational life, acknowledge the range of emotions and let people move through the full spectrum of them.  Harley would have wanted you to laugh too.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, January 13, 2013

#226 extreme

As I was driving home the other night, I saw a line of cars along a normally empty frontage road.  It caught my attention as I wondered why 20 cars were in line for the stoplight when normally there are none.  The answer:  an extreme body shaping class was just letting out.

For decades, boot camps were reserved for military recruits and seen as less than desirable.  Now, ordinary men and women by the hundreds are paying large sums of money to sign on voluntarily.  It used to be that a videotape of Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda got the job done, but now many have come to need G.I. Jane to shed the pounds.  

When did it become fashionable to require extreme measures to do normal weight loss and toning?  Is going to a regular gym no longer enough?  Did the neighborhood gym become over populated with overweight, casual patrons and the "serious" gym rats had to find a new venue?

The bar keeps getting higher and higher to keep ourselves stimulated and motivated.  If the extreme body shaping works for you, I wish you great success.  And if "just" walking the dog is your exercise of choice, I hope you can take extreme satisfaction in that as well.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, January 12, 2013

#225 one-to-one

Due to a recent staff departure, I have three new direct reports.  As we were meeting to discuss items to be addressed in the interim, I raised the question of one-on-one meetings.  They had not regularly done this in the past, but I assured them that they would while they were being supervised by me.

I am a firm believer in regular, one-on-one meetings.  I have no doubt that without them I would still be kept abreast of most things that were happening.  Email or "doorway conversations" -- where people pop in your office and let you know about a problem or ask a question -- serve to keep me in the loop for most of what is going on.

But in one-on-one meetings I have the opportunity to chat about what isn't going on -- what the long term needs are, what should be on the radar screen and what is important but not urgent.  I use my one-on-one time to do development of my staff and to really engage in planning conversations.

If you don't have regular times for your direct employees on your calendar, I would encourage you to add them.  You would be surprised at what you learn when you actually sit down and have thoughtful conversations instead of just hearing bullets of what is going on.

-- beth triplett

Friday, January 11, 2013

#224 improvised lessons

We recently did an improvisation exercise in one of my staff meetings.  We attempted to tell the story of the Wizard of Oz by having each person tell one section of the story.  The concept revolved around using the terms "yes, and" -- so you would tell one part of the story, stop and pass it along, and the next person would say "yes, and XYZ happened", until the story ended with the last person.

Some lessons from this exercise:
> We did OK in getting the general idea of the movie.  If you didn't know the story at all, you would have a good sense of the plot and major characters.  We left out many of the details, including the Yellow Brick Road and (intentionally) the (creepy) flying monkeys, but the main point was made.

> Utilizing the concept of "yes, and" allowed the story to progress in a short period of time. Rather than refuting the facts, admonishing what the previous person left out or spending time on debate, by accepting the story as it was allowed for creativity and forward movement.

> While the exercise was designed to showcase the improv concept and the use of the "yes, and" technique, it also served to illustrate the different styles of people and management that are in a group.  Some were quite content that we captured the "gist" of the story and were even pleased with the unintentional embellishments to the original plot.  Others were uncomfortable about the inaccuracies and missing details; they would have opted for accuracy over creative license.  

Conducting your own improvisational story telling may be a good creativity exercise for your next meeting. Yes, and you may learn something about preferred styles as well.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, January 10, 2013

#223 alignment

A very helpful exercise to conduct with direct report staff is what I term as an alignment questionnaire.  I ask staff to complete four questions and use their answers in future conversations to gain alignment of our priorities, expectations and style.  Later I refer what evolves from our conversations for use in the evaluation process. 

The questions are as follows:

1.  How do you conceptually see your job and your role in this organization?  One way to frame this is to pretend you are presenting this to the board to explain your unit.  Another way to look at it is to acknowledge that if you could be cloned, you could keep both of "you" busy in this job.  Since there is only one of you, what parts are most important?  This can be shared through a model, story, statement, etc. -- anything to help me understand your philosophy about how you define your work. (in writing, one page maximum)

2.  A maximum of five, specific priorities for the next year.  These can be your priorities or priorities for your office, but absolutely no more than five specific items.

3.  Part of my role as your supervisor is to help you facilitate change and help you to be successful.  What do you want me to know in this respect:
-- What ideas are in the incubation stage?
-- What is your key strength as a unit/department?
-- What needs do you have (now and in the future)?
-- What challenges/barriers do you face?
-- What do you need from me?
-- What seeds do you want me to plant to support you/your work?

4.  What advice would you give me to help me be an effective supervisor for you?

Many productive conversations have been stimulated by these questions, the first one in particular.  I can recall several situations where the employee had one idea of what the job was (eg: individual ombudsperson/problem solving role) and I had another (eg: systemic changes and data sharing).  Our conversations led to alignment and employee success going forward.

Whether you do it formally or informally, I recommend that you spend the time aligning philosophy with your direct report staff.  The stars will shine more brightly if you do.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

#222 evolution

The Secret Service was not established until 1865 -- nearly a century after the country was founded.  Initially, its primary purpose was not protection, but instead it developed out of a need to reduce counterfeit money.  At the time, money was printed individually by the nation's 1600 state banks, and it was estimated that one-third of the nation's currency was counterfeit.  Even though printing was antiquated compared to today, there was such variety that many people did not know what money was supposed to look like!

What started as a component of the Division of the Treasury evolved into presidential protection duties and eventually became a portion of the Department of Justice where it is housed today.

How many areas are in your organization that are like that?  Departments start out with one purpose and instead of being eliminated, somehow morph into doing an entirely different task.  The new job may be legitimate and necessary, but are the same skills required for both?  Would you expect a top notch counterfeit investigator to be the same type of person who would take a bullet for the president?  Is your best teller the one who can lead the computerized division that oversees ATMs?  Would Socrates and his questioning model of teaching been a star in an on-line module?

Before you allow/force/cajole people into acquiring wholesale new responsibilities, stop and think of whether or not you would be better stopping one and starting another.  Sometimes evolution is not the best way.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

#221 power

Car-buying is probably #1 on the things-I-hate-to-do list, so I am quite happy tooling around town in my 2005 vehicle.  It is in great shape, well-maintained and has served me well for 107,000 miles. 

Friday night as I pulled into the gas station, the red battery light went on.  "Drat!" I thought, "guess it is time to deal with getting the battery checked."  I mentally added that to the to-do list for Saturday and proceeded to drive home.  Within one mile, my headlights started fading on and off and by the second mile I virtually had no electrical power remaining.  No lights, speedometer, signals, heat, radio -- zip.  Fortunately, I was only two miles from home and was able to drive there in this condition (even though I couldn't power open the garage door when I got there!)

What happened?  How did I go from driving with no troubles to dead in the span of ten minutes?  I dutifully did my 100,000 mile check-up -- this shouldn't be happening to me!

My car probably has more computing power in it than the first rocket, yet it failed to measure the right things.  Instead of a your-battery-is-dead light, what I really needed was a your-alternator-is-dying light -- ideally to go on last week when I was at my Acura dealer in Illinois anyway. 

If we measured everything, we would be lost in a sea of data so deep that we would have no time to do anything except read reports.  But in your organization, as well as in your car, you need to find ways to keep tabs on the critical elements that keep things functioning.  A great battery, clean interior, full tank of gas and new tires mean nothing if the alternator burns out.  We often pay attention to the obvious -- what's lurking below the surface that could cut the power to your ambitions?

-- beth triplett

Monday, January 7, 2013

#220 we

When we work in a multi-layered organization, we understand the differences and specialties of the various areas.  Department A is very distinct from Department B and we know that.

What we forget is that people from outside the organization don't know that.  They see the organization as a whole, and expect you to act like the whole instead of acting like just a piece of it.

One of my favorite saying for encapsulating this thought is "We ARE They."  Anna Parkman used this to encourage people to take ownership of the problem rather than passing the blame elsewhere.  If people have problems with an area other than ours, it is easy to say "They messed up" rather than saying "WE messed up" and trying to solve the issue.  It is easier to blame someone else for extra procedures, rules and regulations rather than seeing the organization as a whole and accepting ownership for the bureaucracy.

Try to banish "they" from your vocabulary when working in customer service.  WE need to be the ones to fix the issue, first in the short term and then from the more systemic view.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, January 6, 2013

#219 10-4 big buddy

Think of how the world of over-the-road truckers has changed.  It used to be country 8-tracks and CB radios.  Now there are GPS systems, iPhones with FaceTime, podcasts and a host of other gadgets that have altered the fraternity of hardship on the frontier.

Have other things gotten harder as well?  The rising cost of fuel.  The dangers of other drivers texting while behind the wheel (or the temptation to text themselves).  The traffic and weather.

Each occupation has its own sets of tools and tolls.  Assess your organization to see if you are keeping up with the pluses and minimizing the minuses that impact how your staff can do its work.  Roger that?

-- beth triplett

Saturday, January 5, 2013

#218 the bottom

A consultant friend occasionally does long-term assignments that result in staff changes (aka firings).  It always improves the organization to have the low-performers or toxic personalities out of the system.  

Yet I am reminded of a mantra that he and I shared in when doing some work together:  someone is always at the bottom.  

Just firing people and moving select people out is never the long-term answer.  Even when the deadwood is gone, someone else automatically assumes the lowest rung. 

Supervisors need to pay attention to getting the full potential from all of their staff -- coaching the weaker performers into achieving closer to capacity; allowing their stars to thrive in an intrinsically rewarding way.  

There are clearly people who are detrimental to the organization and whose performance or attitude warrants a departure.  Just don't rely on that as your sole strategy or it will be a continuous revolving door.

-- beth triplett

Friday, January 4, 2013

#217 educational lessons

When I saw my sister over the holidays, she lamented that she was "behind" in selecting a kindergarten for my niece -- it was a decision that she had to make in three weeks and "hadn't gone to any open houses or done any research at all!"  In her area, hotels host fairs of kindergarten options for parents to peruse like a college fair, just 13 years earlier.

When I went to kindergarten, I am fairly certain that I had no option at all.  I would suspect that we got a letter in the mail telling my parents that I was assigned to the "Morning Kindergarten" or "Afternoon Kindergarten" and that's all the differences there were.  No agonizing over charter schools, public or private or any number of academies that boast different teaching methods and outcomes.  You got what you got and that was it.

I do not doubt that different learning environments are more suited to different personalities and learning styles.  But one of the things I learned in my no-choice education was that you made the best of what you had.  Kindergarten literally means children's garden and there we learned that some of our "crops" were more fertile than others.  You learned when you were the smartest kid in the subject and you learned when you needed to rely on classmates for help.  You learned that sometimes life thrust circumstances upon you and you could deal with them.  

There isn't a perfect kindergarten out there any more than there is the perfect college, job, spouse or life.  I hope that where ever my niece ends up that she learns that having choice is a wonderful thing, and learning to make the best of whatever choice we make is an even more valuable life lesson.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, January 3, 2013

#216 singular or plural

One more thought from the Civil War series --

Writer Shelby Foote commented that before the Civil War, people everywhere referred to the United States as a plural, and thus used the grammatically correct "are".  The united states are engaged in a discourse....

It actually took the war to unite the country, and after the altercation ended the nomenclature changed to how we know it in present day.  It became singular; the United States is.  The United States is one of the greatest countries on earth.

How do you refer to your organization and its many components?  Is it singular in mission and language or are there fragments that portray you as a set of parts?  Even if your parts are united in name, they aren't truly united until it becomes an "is".

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

#215 reconciliation

I spent several evenings during my holiday break watching the 1989 Civil War series that Ken Burns directed for PBS.  I chose it from the library since I am still moved by the Lincoln movie I saw earlier in December.  Up until that time, I had been to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield and walked the stairs of his monument in Washington, DC, but I had not really studied much about the man.  Now I am having a hard time figuring out why not.  

When Barack Obama ran for his second term, I wondered why anyone would want the job.  Yet Obama has it easy compared to what Lincoln faced upon his re-election -- a country in a fourth year of a Civil War, succession of 11 of 36 states and mounting casualties.  But Lincoln won re-election with 55% of the vote.  Maybe it was because people could see his passion for preserving the Union and his ability to embrace the members of the Confederacy after the conflict ended.

One his more famous quotes comes from the closing of the First Inaugural Address:
"We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory ... will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

As we begin the new year, I encourage you to invoke the better angels of your nature to reconcile with someone with whom you have a strained relationship.  Offer the olive branch, invite someone to coffee, extend an opportunity to partner with a department that has been challenging to work with, or do something that draws upon your similarities rather than differences.  The Union doesn't depend upon it, but the angel within you will be glad.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

#214 baby steps

Different circumstances change the perspective on how you feel about things.

One mile is easy in the sunshine, but the way home is a long journey in ice or heavy snow.

One day at work is easy unless political tensions are high and the thought of fighting the continuous battles for the long term seems daunting.

Losing one pound is manageable, but the thought of losing one times 20 pounds feels inconceivable.

Alcoholics Anonymous promotes taking the sobriety challenge one day at a time.  It is a good mantra for anyone setting new year's resolutions about anything.  Chip away at the goal by starting.  Take baby steps.  Focus on the now to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

The long view is important and it always helps to have the end in mind before starting a journey.  It also helps to focus first on the first step of that effort so that the impossible seems more within reach.

-- beth triplett