Sunday, June 30, 2013

#394 smile

I sent an email message to our copywriter last week and got an out-of-office message that read:  "I am in Las Vegas until July X.  If I don't return your call after that time, you can assume that I hit the jackpot and am a millionaire."  It made me smile...

...and it reminded me of her message for last year's vacation: "I am in Denver until XX date. If I don't return your message after that time, you can assume I was eaten by a bear."

Why do the rest of us have to take ourselves so seriously?  Oftentimes we think that professional levity is an oxymoron.  I think it should be a goal.  

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 29, 2013

#393 waste

A friend had a Best Buy reward certificate that was near the expiration date, so he decided to use it on line to purchase an iTunes card.  Unlike transactions at the iTunes store where all business is done electronically, Best Buy sent the card in the mail.

The $15 gift card came in a padded envelope, with a printed/personalized invoice and one little piece of promotional material.  Instead of being instantaneous, it took a week to complete.  And then my friend took one look at the card, punched the number into the iTunes store for credit, and threw the card and whole package away.  

I have ranted about gift cards before*, but now in addition to just environmental waste, think about the time and money that could have been saved if Best Buy had chosen another process to use for gift card fulfillment.

Do you have a similar practice in your organization -- something that could be modified to save time and money (not to mention make your customers happier)?  Do you have manual transactions that could be put on-line?  Or two stages of the process that could be combined into one?  Or steps that could be eliminated without negative impact?  

Look at your organization through the eyes of your customer and see if you can make your rewards actually rewarding.

-- beth triplett and Brian Gardner

*see #190, December 8, 2012

Friday, June 28, 2013

#392 thumbs up

I recently had a tour of newly developed space that was being utilized for commercial and non-profit use.  Someone asked if a particular company was going to open a facility in this district.  "Their board wants to have a thumbprint, not a footprint" was the answer.

What a great way to consider the options.  You don't need to think of moves or major projects in terms of an all-or-nothing proposition.  You can have a branch office, an express version of your service, or a kiosk-like storefront.  

Testing the waters is a prudent strategy and one that may preserve options for you down the road.  Think of making just a thumbprint next time you are asked for your time or resources in support of a new venture.  It's a way to signal that you give the project a "thumbs up" without over committing on the unknown.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 27, 2013

#391 wish list

There was an article in the latest Harvard Business Review reporting the results of a study that aimed to describe the ideal organization.  Authors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones spent three years asking executives what characteristics the best company on earth to work for would possess. 

They arrived at a list of six:
> You can be yourself.
> You're told what's really going on.
> Your strengths are magnified.
> The company stands for something meaningful.
> Your daily work is rewarding.
> Stupid rules don't exist.

This list didn't seem lofty or unreachable, and it seemed like most organizations could make strides toward infusing these elements into their culture and routines.  

Think about your own situation.  How would you rate your organization on each of these characteristics?  If you are a supervisor, what do you think you do best and where do you need to devote more attention?  Would your employees agree? 

You don't need three years for an elaborate study, but it would be worth the time to gather some feedback on where you stand in these areas.  Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work.  It's worth some time on reflection and redirection to try and make it the best we can be.  

-- beth triplett

* "Creating the Best Workplace on Earth", Harvard Business Review, May 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#390 one more

I am a big fan of the Solitaire game that is on my phone.  I can complete a round in under three minutes, and it has provided numerous moments of mindless fun while waiting in line or for appointments.  Somehow I get lost in it and the time seems to go by much faster.

I have noticed that often there are times when I feel completely stuck, then I discover one more move, and it triggers a whole series of additional moves.  Frequently, it makes the difference between winning a round and losing it.

I wonder if there are moments like that at work when I am ready to give up, but if I looked a little harder I could find that next step which leads to a solution.  

As Kenny Rogers said: "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."  You also have to know when to avoid the temptation to fold 'em too fast and re-deal.  Take a second look at your problem and see if you can't find the one more move you can make.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

#389 experiments

For my birthday, my colleague and his brother-the-chef created a wonderful watermelon cheesecake especially for me.  It was an original recipe and a labor of love that was delicious.

From my sister, I also received a package of Watermelon Oreos.  (Do you see a theme here?)  When I was growing up, Oreos came in one style only, but, like with everything else, the brand extension has exploded and now there are many version:  watermelon, Neapolitan, Berry Burst ice cream, sherbet, colored versions for holidays, golden, mega, double stuff, etc.  Instead of a mainstream brand, Oreos have practically become a niche product with each variation appealing to a limited crowd.

What was interesting to me is how willing, even eager, my staff was to sample the two new products.  The chefs themselves hadn't even tasted the cheesecake, but I think everyone wanted to have a try.  When I passed the cookies around today, even those that weren't crazy about watermelon took one "just to see."

I am sure no one else even noticed this, but it made me feel good to know that my staff was willing experimenters.  It was a symbol to me that they are comfortable "trying" things -- not just cheesecake and cookies, but I believe that mentality and mindset translate over to processes and tactics.  We have been very successful this year, and I attribute part of that to the environment where we embrace change -- even if it is Oreo flavors.

How do you introduce small new experiments into your organization?  Bring in new food (example:  we had the holiday flavored Twizzlers last week and spice-coated nuts).  Rearrange the offices or even location of computers/things on the desk.  Share new apps for your technology.  Spread the word about a new restaurant.  Try new flavors in the Keurig.  There are more options than Oreo flavors.

Once again, it's an example that the little things that really do add up to make a difference.

-- beth triplett

Monday, June 24, 2013

#388 clamping & cradling

At a staff meeting last week, we spent some time brainstorming how to promote the new lacrosse program that we are adding to our athletics offerings.  I had given this assignment in advance, since I suspected that people knew very little about the sport and would just stare at me in the meeting if I did not give proper warning.

And do their homework they did.  We had people share links of videos of how the game is played; they had terminology dictionaries so we could "talk lacrosse", and they researched on line (of course!) I talked to a colleague who coaches club lacrosse; others referred to their high school where it was played; others investigated the local club sport and still others related lessons we learned when we added bowling as a collegiate sport that could apply to promoting lacrosse.

We came up with a pretty decent list to get us started, and, as it is with most cases, once our minds got focused on the topic, other things keep popping up that we can add to it.

Don't shy away from working on projects or topics about which you have absolutely no idea how to contribute.  Often the best perspective is one that comes from the outside and can add new connections to the mix.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 23, 2013

#387 vessels

In the book Falling Upward, author Richard Rohr contends that you spend the first half of your life building your vessel, and the second half of your life filling it up.  He was referring to spirituality, but I think it applies to many aspects of living.

It can apply to your work in your organization too.  You spend the first months or even years building the infrastructure, policies and staffing that are necessary to implement the vision in the second phase.  

It is a good metaphor to keep in mind whenever you start something new.  The enthusiasm about filling up the vessel may keep you going, but it's the building part that will get you there.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 22, 2013

#386 Kelly Girl

In my days of temporary office work -- before, during and just after college -- I could run a mean IBM Selectric typewriter, making it sing with flawless corrections, lined up "just so" with the little plastic tab.  Corrections were important in the pre-computer era where an imperfect change would mean retyping the whole page, so someone like me who could professionally correct had a very valuable talent.  I was good with the Selectric, so much so that it gave me comfort to know that if college didn't pan out, I would always have a career to fall back on as a secretary.

My, how things have changed.  My secretary -- oops, administrative professional -- may as well have a degree in computer programming.  Different assistants have been able to do things with Excel, Access,  Power Point, Jing and programs I have never heard of.  I find my secretarial skills about as obsolete as the revered Selectric -- good for the times, but irrelevant for today.

Do you have a skill that is like that -- it had value at one time, but is a non-factor today? Making professional typewriter corrections.  Running the ditto machine.  Utilizing a dictaphone machine.  Taking down shorthand.  Threading the microfiche machine.  Running an adding machine.  Filing in cabinets.  And those are just a few things in the office.  Think of all the obsolete skills in the greater workplace and at home.

To remain relevant, you need to be on a trajectory of continual learning.  Don't rely on your present skills to serve you in the future.  They may become as desirable as the once-coveted Selectric.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 21, 2013

#385 solstice

Today is the first day of summer -- my favorite season! To many, it feels "late" that summer is just now arriving. For weeks, people have been lamenting the fact that it isn't as warm as they expected it to be.  I think the seasons all came "early" for a few years and now everyone thinks the nice weather and good fruit should be here by the first of June instead of near the end of it.

Regardless of when it arrives, I welcome summer with open arms.  I love the bask-in-the-sun kind of days; the watermelon and the festivals.  I love getting in a hot car and just soaking in the warmth.  I love the fresh fruits, picked-today sweet corn, ice cream, eating outside and just about everything about this season.

The best part to me though is having daylight for almost all of my waking hours.  It is great to have sunshine by the time the alarm goes off (even at 5am) and to be able to walk in the evenings before dark. I wish the whole year was like this.

Today is as good as it comes in the "daylight" department.  It is the longest day of the year for light.  After today, each day loses an incremental few moments of daylight until December 21 when the cycle reverses.  But don't let that thought depress you on this unofficial holiday!

Someone made the observation today that younger people don't like the outdoors. She commented that they seem to be more comfortable inside in front of their technology with climate-controlled weather.  

Don't be like that -- especially today. Eat a meal on the patio. Attend a Little League game. Go to an outdoor concert. Outsmart the ants and have a picnic. Jump in a fountain or pool. Lay in the hammock and read a novel.  Whatever your pleasure, take advantage of the light and do something fun to properly welcome summer.  

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 20, 2013

#384 specificity

There is currently a lot of hype and promotion surrounding the new Man of Steel (Superman) movie.  Every time I see the iconic "S" logo, I have to smile.  It is my personal belief that S does not stand for Superman, but rather super power comes when S stands for specificity.

Specificity is the golden elixir of getting things done.  If you frame a decision, strategy or question in a specific way, it is immensely more likely to be answered than if something is left nebulous or vague.

Think of the difference between saying:
> "Let's get together" vs. "How about dinner Tuesday night at 6pm at Panera?"
> "We need more help" vs.  "Here is a proposal to hire a XX position at XX salary to do XX"
> "Call some prospective students" vs. "Tonight call this list of students who have not yet done X in the admissions process"
> "Meeting adjourned" vs. "For the next meeting, you do X and I'll do Y and we'll meet again next week at the same time"
> "Please go to the store and get something for dinner" vs. "Can you stop at the market and buy 1# of beef and 4 ears of corn?"
> "Can you help if you have time?" vs. "Would it be possible for you to edit this report by the end of the day today?"

A lack of specificity impedes action by leaving the call to question open.  If there is no specific action requested, it is easy to bypass a decision.  Time is spent in followup or translation and much more time is wasted while the process remains in limbo.

If you remember that the "S" stands for specificity, you won't need a leotard or cape to possess super powers.  

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

#383 mobile

Before last Friday, I had never heard of the Scratch bakery.  If you read Monday's blog (#381), you know that I devoured their cupcake over the weekend and was wowed.  Imagine my surprise yesterday when I found out that their cakery-on-wheels was in my town for the day! 

Word spread like wildfire across my blog readers on campus!  I know that several people made a trip out to where the truck was parked and came home with a coveted dozen.  This was nothing more than a van with fancy painting rigged up to hold racks and racks of cupcake trays. They sold cupcakes out of the side panel, rang up sales on an adapted iPhone and delighted a long line of customers.  

The trend to operate a small business out of a van or truck gives a whole new meaning to mobile commerce.  Our town has a food truck, cleverly named "Beauty and the Beef", that travels to sites around town selling gourmet beef sandwiches during the lunch hour.  Other businesses have taken to the streets as well.

USA Today reported* that entrepreneurs are using a mobile vehicle in increasing numbers -- for hair stylists, florists, clothing stores, handbag vendors and school supplies.  These businesspeople rely on social media (like Scratch did) for inexpensive promotion and the mobile unit as a way to reduce overhead costs.  Customers like the convenience of having the store/service come to them.

What aspect of your organization could go mobile?  A financial aid advisor or admissions office on wheels?  A design truck that comes to you with all the trimmings a home builder must choose?  A miniature pet store that you could enter with your pooch instead of getting them all riled up in a big box store?  A pediatrician or children's dentist that could operate out of a van with a playland theme and do business in the park?  A government services van that would go to the senior citizens or veterans homes instead of making the customers navigate traffic to get there?

The possibilities are endless.  Next time your organization considers going mobile, don't limit your thinking to the e-commerce functions.  Perhaps your real opportunities lie on wheels.

-- beth triplett

*Entrepreneurs keep on truckin' by Hadley Malcom, USA Today, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#382 stretch

An article in the paper over the weekend said that two of the most desirable traits of employees are flexibility and adaptability.  As a result, author Diane Stafford labeled them as "rubber band qualifications."

The rubber band qualifications of my staff have been tested over the last four days while we have been doing new student registrations.  We had a great game plan and everyone had their assignments, but what we end up actually doing during the day can look quite different from what was expected. 

Students don't show up for their appointment.  One student left early -- just walked out -- leaving her crying mom behind.  Several have changed days or majors, reeking havoc with the advising appointments.  Others have brought along more guests or less guests, again throwing the best laid plans out the window.

And people here have just rolled with it nicely.  Everyone jumps in to do what is needed, when it is needed.  The chef cooks more food or less.  The dean juggles the faculty assignments for registration.  We Skype appointments with the international students via iPad when the computer doesn't work.  Staff members escort families to see financial aid, coaches, health services or the bookstore as the need arises.  It all works out well.

Starting with the hiring process we look for employees who want to work for the betterment of the entire university, not just do a narrow job.  We preach that during training, retreats and on numerous occasions throughout the year.  

A real rubber band, if it isn't stretched and used with regularity, will dry out and be useless.  The same is true for rubber band qualifications.  Look for flexibility and adaptability in the hiring process, and then be sure to create opportunities for staff to frequently "stretch" their skills.

-- beth triplett

"Bosses want 'rubber band' workers" by Diane Stafford for the Kansas City Star in the Telegraph Herald 6-16-13

Monday, June 17, 2013

#381 yum

Over the weekend, I made a little day trip out of town to attend an arts festival.  When a colleague heard I was going, his immediate comment was: "Visit the Scratch bakery.  There will be a line out the door, but you'll thank me on Monday."  

A line out the door?  How many businesses have a line out the door these days?  We did not get to the bakery until mid-afternoon, and there wasn't a line out the door, but there certainly was a line.  It was interesting that this wasn't a grumbly "why is the line so long" kind of line, but customers were more giddy with anticipation, as if we were waiting in line for coveted concert tickets.

We purchased two of the Lemon Love delicacies (a June special), and after we devoured them, we totally understood what the fuss was about.  My friend went back in line and purchased a to-go box of Dulche de Leche, Blue Prince, another Lemon Love and O Happy Day (very appropriately named!).  I am surprised they made it home.

Everyone we saw walking downtown was carrying a Scratch bakery box.  Mind you, these tasty treats aren't cheap, but that didn't seem to have any impact on business.  I am sure that they aren't low calorie/organic/good for you either, but that seemed irrelevant as well.

Scratch temptations are small enough to be affordable and, although sinful, one is not enough to increase your waist size.  I think Scratch has found the right amount of decadence to be palatable to the average customer -- who can eat one and feel treated without too much financial or health guilt.

How can your organization take a lesson from Scratch?  What can you provide that is in limited supply, but of the finest quality -- and in limited amounts so the average customer can partake in your brand of luxury without changing their lifestyle?  There is definitely a sweet spot out there (no pun intended), and this little bakery seems to have found it.

-- beth triplett


Sunday, June 16, 2013

#380 a name

I recently met someone who was in the process of legally changing their first name.  Most people never have that opportunity so it got me wondering what name I would choose for myself if I had that option.  It would certainly not be my given name, rather it would be a name that was the same as what I was actually called.  (Given the choice, I think my favorite would be nickname/abbreviation-free Hannah -- even spelled the same forwards and back.)

But instead of pondering the name that you would choose for yourself, take a minute to consider the name you would make for yourself.  When people think of you, what characteristics come to mind?  In what niche do you excel?  Have you made a reputation for traits that you admire?

You may be able to legally change your name, but it's a lot harder to change what that name stands for to other people.  

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 15, 2013

#379 success

People think I have success because I have power (by virtue of my position).
I think I have power because I have success.

I believe that people can lead and create achievements from wherever they are in an organization.  It is a misnomer to think that people get things done just because they have a title, and it is equally misleading to think that a title is necessary for action.

People acquire credibility by achieving goals that help the organization succeed.  Having small wins builds trust that leads to bigger opportunities and thus more meaningful wins.  The cycle keeps going.

Focus on the ways you can succeed instead of the position you think you need to make a difference.  Power is earned, not granted.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 14, 2013

#378 tangible

I wrote yesterday about my friends who were in town.  As if their visit alone wasn't enough, they brought me a present -- one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.  They took the first 365 entries of this blog, had a student designer format them and make them beautiful, and then they printed it into a spiral bound book!  It even has a QR code on the back to allow you to access the more recent entries.  It is AWESOME.

Somehow seeing all these entries in one place makes it seem much more tangible and substantial than "just" writing a blog every day.  It feels like when I hit publish it goes off into cyberspace and is gone, rather than accumulated.  But the printed version has that sense of permanence and tactile wonder.

I know that the electronic world is where it's at for messaging, branding and the like.  But just as a handwritten note has a different level of meaning, so does holding something in print.  

How can you give your clients a tangible element of who you are?  What can you provide that can last more than a fleeting moment on a Twitter feed or Facebook post?  What portion of your messaging is worthy of being printed and shared?

Instantaneous has its place, but so does longevity.  I am so glad that I was the lucky recipient of the legacy in print.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 13, 2013

#377 grasshoppers

I spent a whirlwind 18 hours with two friends from St. Louis who were in town for a brief visit.  It was wonderful!  

Brian is a former student, turned former employee and now colleague.  When he first started working for me, we called him Grasshopper, as in Master Po telling his student: "Patience, young Grasshopper" in the Kung Fu movies.  He always wanted to learn more, do more and make things better.  Sometimes he needed to be coached in the fine art of political timing!

Yesterday he was here with his own Grasshopper, another former student who is now working at her alma mater as a professional.  Both of them together are impressive young professionals who have vision, energy, passion and a deep commitment to students.  I wish mightily that they were working with me again.

I take great pride in Brian's accomplishments -- most notably that he has passed on the mentoring he received to others.  The teaching of others is one of the great joys of my work.  To see him providing opportunities to someone else makes me feel more satisfaction than anything else he does.  

Trust me when I say that any time you give in a mentoring relationship will come back to you ten fold.  Look around and see who is in your family, organization or community that can benefit from a little extra coaching.  Perhaps a new college graduate has just started in your organization and could use some tips about professionalism and norms.  Maybe you have an eager member at your church who would like to learn something from you.  Or maybe you have a nephew who could be taken under your wing.  Find yourself a Grasshopper today and, if all goes well, you can watch them blossom into mentors themselves.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

#376 follow up

How many times have you gone to a meeting or retreat where brainstorming was part of the agenda?  If you're lucky, lots of good ideas were generated and someone wrote them down.  They may have even distributed the list after the meeting, but unfortunately, too many times it stops there.

Brainstorming is a great activity that does allow groups to feed off of each other and come up with more/better/more creative ideas than if someone developed a list solo.  But for this technique to be effective, it's all about the follow up.

After the meeting, the chair should type up the list and distribute it.  With it should either be explicit decisions as to which ideas will move forward and who is responsible for them, or there should be a specific time for those decisions to be made.  (To facilitate further discussions, it helps to number all the items so you can say: "I like #4" or "It seems like #5 and 8 could be combined.")  

The ultimate intent of brainstorming is better action, not just a pretty list.  As the chair or facilitator of a group that engages in that exercise, it's up to YOU to ensure that the doing follows.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#375 writing right

I was surprised to learn that cursive handwriting is not part of the Iowa Core Curriculum.  Students in grade school today do not have to learn how to write "long hand" - they need to know how to print upper and lower case letters, but cursive writing is optional.  

I think of the hours and hours that we spent with the specially ruled paper, practicing that we had the upper loops high enough (but not too high), the capital "I" shaped like a little boat and so on.  We crafted our signatures and developed a penmanship style that was our own.  I fear that long hand will be a lost art.

I'm sure it is no surprise that in place of cursive, students begin computer instruction in kindergarten and by third grade they use word processing software for much of their work.  I didn't even have a typing class until junior year in high school.

Before long, cursive will be akin to calligraphy, used only for special events and formal invitations.  Recognize that it gives you an opportunity to really stand out among all the digitized mail to send handwritten notes or to address an envelope in cursive.  I wonder if today's children will even be able to read it!

-- beth triplett

source:  TH, April 29, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

#374 help line

I spent about a half hour on Friday talking on the phone with someone I have never met before.  A mutual colleague of ours thought I could offer some advice to this person, and I was more than happy to do so.  We talked about retention of students in higher education; how to transition a career path from student life to enrollment/admissions, and how to finish a dissertation.  I hopefully offered a few nuggets of advice, immediately sent her a packet of additional resources and went on my way.  

Last week I wrote about another colleague who called for advice on how to deal with an issue he was having.  As I said then, I love getting these types of calls.  It never occurred to me before someone commented about that blog entry, but I get these kind of requests a lot.  People have joked that I am "dial-a-trainer" -- need an icebreaker?  Call beth.  Need an training exercise for something?  She's your gal.  Need leadership coaching on how to deal with a sticky situation?  Give her a call.  

I have people in my Rolodex (yes, and in my electronic contacts file) that are my "go-to" people for certain situations.  I know people who "know a guy" for about any local need you may have.  I have resources for public relations, technology problems, social media and fix-it issues.  Apparently I'm the one people call with training or coaching questions.

What are you "the guy" for?  What kind of questions do friends send your way?  Think about what has been designated as your area of expertise -- and whether it is what you want to be known for.  Can you take a step today to foster this reputation -- or start to change it?

-- beth triplett

Sunday, June 9, 2013

#373 100%

Somewhere I once read that it is easier to do things 100% of the time than 98% of the time.  How true that is.  If I had any opportunity where it was "ok" not to blog, I probably would have written only a third of these.  I think the 100% rule applies for lots of things -- really to any of the commitments you make.  Once it is ok to have an excuse, the reasons not to do something come easily.

What is out there that you commit to do and are willing to do it 100% of the time?  Maybe it is doing physical therapy exercises twice a day, writing in a journal once a day, turning in your expense reports every week or even balancing your checkbook once a month.  Whatever it is, give it 100% -- not any less -- and you'll find you actually keep more those promises.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, June 8, 2013

#372 obvious

I eat Chobani Greek yogurt for breakfast every morning.  The grocery store that I most frequently use had it on sale one day and featured it in a big display on an "end cap" cooler.  I tried it and have been hooked ever since.

I also have been frustrated ever since, because frequently I go into this store and they don't have it at all.  I shop at another store in the same chain, and they have it all the time, right there next to the regular yogurts, but "my" store seems to only carry it when it's on sale and featured at the end of the aisle.

Or so I thought.  The other day I happened to be in the organic/health food section, and there it was!  Apparently the store regularly carries it, but just in a different location.  When it's on sale, they carry it in the special case on the end to handle the volume and accommodate non-regular customers who wouldn't think to look in the organic section.  At other times, it's still available, but not where I ever considered looking for it.

I'm afraid that every organization does something similar -- it makes perfect sense to them, but not to the customer.  Take advantage of any opportunity that you can to get feedback from your actual clients/users and new employees who have a fresh perspective.  The obvious may only be so to you.

-- beth triplett

Friday, June 7, 2013

#371 tension

I am getting ready to conduct a series of parent orientation sessions in conjunction with our freshmen registration program.  One of the items on the agenda is talking about transitions -- and how they are not always easy.

To help illustrate this concept, I use a metaphor from author Peter Senge.  He takes a rubber band and holds one end of the band on his thumb, and then pulls the band up with his other thumb to stretch the rubber.  One end represents "current reality" and the top end signifies "future vision."  The further the vision is away from the reality, the more tension in (the middle of) the band.  

As freshmen come to campus, their vision is much loftier than reality, and much tension ensues.  As things progress, reality and dreams become more aligned -- either the future view is modified to be more realistic or the current state of affairs changes as students grow.  

I help parents understand that tension is a natural part of the transition process, and reaffirm that they really are not paying us to send their student home without having been changed.  With this exercise we are reframing the situation that tension is to be expected, and that it means something is right, not wrong.  

Think about this simple analogy as you enter into a change effort or transition process.  It helps everyone when additional energy is not wasted fighting tension that naturally occurs.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, June 6, 2013

#370 the answer

I was involved in a meeting this week to plan the strategy for a public relations response to a negative report that is due out next week.  This doesn't affect just our school; all the Iowa privates agreed not to submit information to the requesting organization because their motives and methods appear to be unscrupulous.  Nonetheless, we will be "graded" even in the absence of data, and we were meeting to coordinate a response to the inevitable media request.

I was reminded of wise PR counsel from a former staff member: "Remember, they will write what you answer, not what the question was."  In other words, say what you want reported, regardless of what the question is.  Know what your message is in advance and get that out there one way or the other.

It is great advice for an interview too.  Another friend told me to have three key points that I wanted to make in an interview and to think of them as a triangle.  I could reference one point in one question, then another point on a later question, the third point at another opportunity and then begin again with different examples that reinforce point one.  If you follow this same methodology with the various groups with whom you meet, you will have everyone hearing the same thing, regardless of the variance in questions.  

So the next time you're in the hot seat -- on camera or not -- prepare in your mind the three points you want to make and stick to them.  Make it about what you say, not about what you're asked.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

#369 ownership

A colleague called me today asking for a "teaching moment" whereby I could give him some advice.  I love those kind of phone calls!

He is wanting to tackle a process in his organization that crosses departments -- meaning that everyone has a piece, but no one owns the process.  Translated, this means that everyone does their own thing and no one (up until now) has bothered to consider the whole process from a client perspective or to be intentional about how it occurs.  He was asking how he could affect change without becoming the "do-er" or permanent owner of the whole thing.

My answer: "sorry."  As much as he would like to dream up the solution and hand it off, it isn't a realistic option.  He is asking people who have done things the same way for literally decades to make a change.  They don't want to; don't need to; don't see the purpose for doing so, and are certainly not going to volunteer to own a new process.  His best hope is to focus, over and over and over, on the "why" behind the changes he is proposing; take responsibility for doing the new work himself this year, and hope that those involved will see the improvement.  Next year it will be easier to delegate something that people have actually seen (and hopefully understand.)

After I shared my thoughts, he laughed and said "I knew that is what you were going to say. I knew that I had to do the work; I was just hoping there was another answer."  

Those with the vision often have to assume the workload in order to see the new ideas implemented.  It is hard for people who are entrenched in a process to even fathom how it could be different, so you must show them instead of just telling them. 

So dream on, my dear friend, and then roll up your sleeves and get to it.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

#368 waiting game

I have written before* about the work William Bridges did about the three stages of transitions (ending, interval, beginning).  He believes that the interval stage -- the limbo stage -- is where creativity and innovation can occur because things are in flux; the old is over but the new isn't fully established yet.  

I am a big fan of Bridges, but I am not a fan of being in limbo.  In fact, for me, limbo is the hardest part of a transition.  I can deal with bad news, but I hate the stage of limbo when I feel like I can't make any plans or decisions because I don't know the ultimate path I am on.  

Some examples of limbo:
> You have applied for a job in another city:  are you moving or staying put?
> One of your staff members has applied for another job: will you have a vacancy or should you assign them to a new committee?
> Waiting for test results: do you have cancer or not?
> Made an offer on a house:  accepted or not?
> Layoffs are coming:  are you going to be fired or not?
> Relationship is rocky: are you going to work it out or get divorced?
> Behind on payments: is the creditor going to negotiate or are you evicted?
> An elderly parent is not doing well: is he going to make it through or not?
> Contractor is doing an estimate:  are you remodeling or building?
You're "late": are you pregnant or not?
> Restructuring is going to occur:  are you getting new responsibilities or should you begin a new project?
> Things are going well with your beau:  do you wait to buy a new place in case he pops the question?

There are many conditions -- both good and bad -- that put your planning state into limbo.   One temptation during this time is to spend a great deal of time speculating on the outcome.  Another strategy is to rush ahead on decisions just to get out of limbo (eg: getting a divorce instead of counseling because it is quicker.)

As much as I hate it, I have to admit that Bridges is right about the limbo stage.  Many possibilities can occur when the outcome is up in the air.  If you can't bring yourself to savor the interval state, at least acknowledge it for what it is -- a waiting period.  Take a deep breath and focus your energy on what you can impact instead of fretting about all that you can't.

-- beth triplett

* Blog #75 August 15, 2012

Monday, June 3, 2013

#367 stepping up

One last observation from my time in Arkansas: Little Rock Central High School.  If you're a student of civil rights, you may recall that this was the site of the "Little Rock Nine" -- nine African American students who were the first to attempt to integrate into a white public school.  Things did not go well as they attempted to challenge the outlawing of segregation: the governor called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering and mobs ensued.  After three weeks, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and brought in over 10,000 U.S. Army soldiers to escort the students into the school. The Guard remained all year to keep order.

As you can imagine, Governor Faubus was not pleased that "his" troops were federalized and that integration occurred.  To prohibit it from continuing, he promoted an act that allowed him to close all four of Little Rock's public high schools for the 1958-1959 school year!  Over 3,600 high school students had no avenue for public education in the city.

Stop and think for a minute about what kind of tension must have been present for a U.S. city -- a state capitol no less -- to close all the high schools for an entire year.  The emotions were so high and the stakes so prominent: governor vs. president -- all covered on the new medium of television -- that it was hard for either to compromise.

With the formal political factions so polarized, a group of 58 (white) women came together to work to reopen the schools.  Known as the Women's Emergency Committee (WEC) this cadre of volunteers advocated to renew teacher and administrator contracts during the closure (so qualified faculty would remain when the schools reopened); they published a report on the economic impact of the closure, and worked with parents of teenagers to accept desegregation.  Eventually they were successful and the schools reopened the following year.

The WEC was a way to have smaller, less public conversations and appeal to people's sense of reason.  Maybe we need a WEC today to help Congress and political parties find a middle ground.  Maybe your organization needs their own version of WEC to help advocate for change and serve as a "translator" between leadership and those who must live with the implications.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded the Little Rock Nine the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.  They certainly were deserving for the unimaginable courage that must have been required.  Let's also give a moment of applause for those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make lasting change possible.  You don't have to be on the front lines to be a difference-maker; sometimes heroics happen in volunteer gatherings in living rooms too.

-- beth triplett