Saturday, August 31, 2013

#456 on parade

In 1999, the City of Chicago created a buzz when it hosted the Cow Parade public art exhibit.  Fiberglass sculptures of cows were painted in various themes and placed all around town, and after several months on display, the 300 works of art were auctioned off to generate revenue.  It was the first such exhibit in the United States and generated millions in tourism and for charity.

Since then, it seems like every city or cause has created a fiberglass statue of its own.  Anchorage had wild salmon; Buffalo, of course, had its mascot; Pensacola paraded pelicans, Bennington, VT had Moose and Cleveland had guitars in honor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Locally, we currently have turtles on exhibit to promote (and raise funds for) a new turtle exhibit at the aquarium.

If your organization had the opportunity to create a fiberglass sculpture, what icon would it represent?  For schools or sports teams, it is easy to say "the mascot", but think a little deeper.  What symbol represents your public image and what you'd like to be known for? Maybe there is an opportunity to add a three-dimensional aspect to your storytelling.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 30, 2013

#455 princess grapes

I was at the grocery store this week and picked up a bag of green grapes.  Much to my surprise, these were Disney Princess Grapes, complete with the Disney logo and picture of a princess outside her castle!  What?!

I wondered: Is the newest celebrity spokesperson a Disney princess?  Did the grower need to pay Disney to endorse their product so they would sell more grapes or did Disney seek out grapes as a wholesome product to associate with?  Is this the only way to get real-life little princesses to eat their fruits instead of candy?

Then I saw on the back:  Disney Magic of Healthy Living*.  Disney is "partnering with parents to inspire kids to lead healthier lifestyles".  The Magic of Healthy Living is a company-wide initiative in collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama and will "associate Disney brands and characters with a more nutritionally balanced range of foods."  

Examples of their initiatives include healthy lifestyle themes in Disney programming, healthier food options in Disney parks, and a "growing portfolio of better for you Disney-branded foods at grocery retailers."

Once I understood it, the Disney/healthy living connection makes sense.  What partnership could make sense for your organization?  Think of how you can use your reputation, clout and brand to advance a cause that is near and dear to you.

-- beth triplett


Thursday, August 29, 2013

#454 do over

During the past few weeks, we discovered a couple of small mistakes in our office.  A Shutterfly book with a caption that doesn't correspond to a picture.  A  batch of routine letters that were barely smudged during printing.  An order of note cards that came in with an ink color that is a few shades off from the official tone.

All these scenarios introduce the need for a judgment call:  do we save the time/money and "let it go" or do we utilize scarce resources to redo something that would probably be insignificant to most people?  And where do you draw the line: fixing things that are seen by an external audience?  Paying extra attention to items directly related to your branding? Leaving alone mistakes that do not alter the substance of the message?  Putting environmental interests above reprinting for perfection?

I guess as a general rule of thumb, if I catch a mistake, I take steps to correct it.  Reprint the book rather than have a year of visitors wonder what else we are sloppy about.  Use the note cards as scrap paper rather than let the brand standards become muddled.  

It is inevitable that mistakes will happen that you never see so you can't correct.  With that in mind, when you have the opportunity to do it right, fix the ones you catch.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#453 the dream of many

It would be hard to miss the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  Magazines and news stories are full of reminiscence about the historic oratory and the state of race relations in the country today.  Certainly the speech was significant and a half century is an appropriate milestone to engender reflection and assessment of how things have changed.

But as with anything, no matter how powerful and wonderful the speech may have been, it was still one event in a long series of events that changed the course of history.  It is at times like these that pundits fixate on MLK's speech and its impact, but forget the decade of events that led up to the event and made possible the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  

Reverend King would likely not have been able to eloquently articulate his dream to 250,000 people on the National Mall had it not been for Rosa Parks in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956, school integration at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 or the sit-ins at the Woolworth's counter in Greensboro in 1960.  Each of these events played a part in drawing attention to the cause and empowering people to stand up for it.

As one person stands up and passionately shares the story of their dream, remember that it evolved from many before him and requires many more to execute it.  When you acknowledge milestones or celebrate successes in your organization's history, take care to put the event in perspective.  You can honor the one in front of the microphone for oratory genius, while simultaneously remembering that dozens or hundreds of others -- many no longer at the institution or ever acknowledged for their role -- conspired to make the big event possible.  

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#452 overboard

When I visited the National Czech Museum* a few weeks ago, one of the interactive displays for children had a simple suitcase and a mock bedroom.  Visitors were asked to imagine that they were leaving their home forever and could only take one suitcase to hold all their belongings.  They were prompted to consider: "What would you bring?  Would you bring things that are practical and valuable, or personal and sentimental?  WIll you bring something you can sell, something you might need, or something that is special?"

How times have changed.  Now students just moving onto a college campus take all of the above.  Vans and SUVs are loaded to the ceilings.  Students come in multiple cars or with trailers.  And most of it involves items other than clothes!

In selected cities, Target is hosting after hours rallies specifically for college students.  They ran an online campaign, showing a decorated dorm room at Bullseye University where students were able to point and click on the items they wanted.  Target is putting glass enclosed rooms on five campuses to showcase their college dorm products.  Students now come to college with enough accessories to outfit a small apartment.

College is expensive enough without the unnecessary pressure to "decorate" a dorm room with anything beyond posters stuck to the wall with sticky putty.  Encourage your students to learn their first lesson in college by ignoring the peer pressure to be a mini-Martha Stewart.  Think about what could fit into a steamer trunk and suitcase and leave the rest at home.

-- beth triplett

*See Blogs #444 & 445

Target's Online Video Campaign to Turn College Kids into Lifelong Paying Customers  by Brad Tuttle

Monday, August 26, 2013

#451 career dreams

Today is the first day of school for our students and, undoubtedly, for many others across the land.  While college students may be dreading the return to studying and exams, the most eager students out there are those who are just beginning Kindergarten.  

There was a supplement in our newspaper featuring profiles of the "future graduating class of 2026", and each child responded to the prompt: "When I grow up, I wanna be a..."  (Given the informality of the question, it is no surprise that there were no English teachers in the group!)

Some students today have ambitious goals with answers ranging from a paleontologist, an app maker and the President, a dancer and a doctor, to a dentist.  Others have more modest career goals:  a deer hunter, a lifeguard, a dish washer at the restaurant and a cement truck driver.  They also have fantasy professions in mind: tooth fairy and Minnie Mouse, a mermaid, and a Ninja.  

I think if you would have asked me when I was five, I think I would have answered "a teacher."  Think about your answer to the question, "When I grow up, I want to be a..."  No matter where you are in life, it's never too late to take a step in that direction.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Telegraph Herald insert, August 17, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#450 gold crown service

Since I ranted about poor service yesterday, today I will give equal time to the good service I received this week.  I went into our Hallmark store to get a card for my niece who is starting Kindergarten.  Typically, Hallmark has cards for everything, and I was confident that I would find the perfect message wishing her well as she embarked on this great new adventure.  I was wrong.

I asked the clerk for help and she scoured the store in an attempt to meet my need.  She came up with a "starting school" card that I planned to purchase, but she could tell that I was not thrilled with it.  "Of course we want you to buy your cards here," she said in almost a whisper, "But I was at Target the other day and they have a whole display of the Kindergarten cards like what you are looking for."

I thought the only one to refer people to their competitors was Santa in the Miracle on 34th Street.  Especially when she had a satisfactory substitute, it was generous to try and make me happy instead of just satisfied.

It turns out that I did not have time to go to Target that day, so I purchased her original selection.  But instead of feeling regret about its generic message, I was glad to give this woman my business.

What is your goal when dealing with customers?  Are your staff members just completing transactions or are they aiming to delight and serve -- even if it means sending people elsewhere?  If you think about the long term relationship instead of the momentary sale, the gold crown service at Hallmark will be the true winner.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 24, 2013

#449 a heel

When I was on vacation, I found a really cute pair of shoes at the Naturalizer outlet.  They did not have my size, but they cheerfully offered to order them for me and ship them for free.  I was delighted.

It turns out that these shoes were not only cute, but comfortable.  And as a bonus, they come in a whole spectrum of colors.  I decided that I wanted another pair, so I called up the outlet to see if they had them in my size.  They did!  Then I asked that they be shipped to me (at my expense), but was told no; they did not take phone orders. If they did not have my size, they couldn't take a phone order either, but would then be willing to order it and ship it to me for free if I came in the store in person.  Really?  In 2013?

I explained that I lived several hours away, but they were unbudging.  My dear sister happened to be near the outlet over the weekend, so I pleaded with her to drag her two small children into the outlet-mall-back-to-school-madness to buy these stupid shoes. I am grateful that she did, but I am sure that the cute and comfortable shoes will now have a tinge of annoyance instead of glee embedded in the insoles.

I wonder whether this was an uninformed clerk that imposed this policy or whether it is corporate policy to operate with wanton disregard of service.  You may want to have a stealth customer test out some of your rules and see if you are doing something that is so unknowingly aggravating to your client base.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 23, 2013

#448 lemons into lemonade

The Iowa State Fair is a BIG deal in the state, and there is nothing more iconic from the fair than the Butter Cow.  The life size cow, made entirely from 600# of butter, has been a tradition since 1911.  Each year the sculpture rotates breeds of cow and is crafted into a thematic display, ranging from Harry Potter, John Wayne, Green Eggs and Ham and, most recently, the Lincoln Highway.

It seems not everyone loves the Butter Cow as this year vandals hit on the fairgrounds after closing, broke into the Agriculture Building.  An animal rights group sprayed "Freedom for All" on the window of the display and doused the cow in red paint.  The Fair staff was able to clean up the mess and return the cow to its original condition before the exhibit opened the next day.

Fair officials had a choice on how to respond:  they could make a big deal out of the vandalism or they could capitalize on it.  They chose the latter.  Instead of loud rebuttals of what the criminals did or getting embroiled in an animal rights debate, the Fair staff took a more light-hearted route.  Almost immediately after the event, the Fair began selling t-shirts that read:  Butter Cow Security/Serve and Protect.  Proceeds will go to the Blue Ribbon Foundation to support future fairs.  

Selling Butter Cow Security t-shirts next week, month or year would not make sense at all.  It is the timeliness of this product that is its genius.  Just as with the Oreo Tweet of "you can still dunk in the dark" during the Super Bowl blackout, timing is often everything.

You can't prepare for situations like this, but if life does deal your organization a misfortune,  capitalize on the opportunity to turn fortunes in your favor by a quick and apropos response.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#447 changed

Today is freshman move-in day on campus, my second favorite day of the work year after commencement.  This is the time of hope and promise -- where students come with their future before them, ready to conquer the world.  I wrote in a previous blog that IBM wanted "forward thinking world changers"; most freshmen believe they would qualify for the job, if not now, certainly after four years.

I liken this day to the colored cups that we are handing out as part of our "swag" for the year.  When empty, the cups appear to be a translucent white -- nothing special.  But when cold water is added to one version of them, the cup appears to turn the water yellow.  Liquid added to an identical-looking cup turns the water blue.

And so it goes with freshmen.  They, like the water, are actually unchanged at the moment, but put in a new environment both appear to take on new characteristics and qualities.  Somehow they seem "better" or at least "different" in an instant.  

Here is to all the college freshmen -- wherever you enroll -- wishing that your dreams and hopes are realized. 

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#446 dog days

On the last day that the city pool was open for the season, they allowed dogs to revel in the water before it was drained.  For $5/dog, your pooch could have two hours of revelry -- and my two Goldens were among the 100 canines who were lucky enough to partake.  They had a blast!

Two things that came to mind during this event:
> My dogs had never been in a body of water before, yet they instantaneously began swimming like champs.  I walked out with them, and as soon as their feet couldn't touch anymore they began to dog paddle with great agility.  Are there some things that you know how to do, and could do, if given the opportunity?  I can come up with an idea on the spot for just about anything.  Others have an intuitive knack for figuring out technology.  I know people who are natural hostesses. Try to find ways to link your instinctive talents with organizational needs.

> What a great idea to host dogs on the last day of the season.  The dogs loved it, the owners had fun and overall it was like a big party.  The entrance fee covered costs and made it a win/win for everyone.  Is there something that your organization could do once/year or on occasion that isn't practical to offer all of the time?  Loan out your building or lawn for an annual special event.  Provide supplies to celebrate a certain holiday.  Host a neighborhood block party.  Volunteer for a service project.  Once a year might be enough to be memorable and valued.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#445 moving mountains

I went on a road trip Saturday in order to see the pin exhibit I wrote about yesterday, but along with that a different story was brought to life.  Madeline Albright's pins are on display at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library -- a new facility that was moved and renovated following a major flood.

In 2008, river waters crested over their banks and put 8 feet of water in the museum's first floor.  Fearing similar damage in the future if they rebuilt on the same site, the museum opted instead to physically move the undamaged outer structure and place it on an 11 feet higher foundation, 480 yards away from the original.  The cost to move 1500 tons: approximately $700,000*.

It reminded me of my vacation last summer when I was at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It too moved, about a mile inland from its original location due to a diminishing coastline.  Who would think to move a lighthouse instead of rebuilding it, but as with the museum, for economic and historical reasons it made sense.

Think about these two structures the next time you face what seems like an insurmountable obstacle.  People are moving buildings.  Surely you can find a way to get around what is challenging you.

-- beth triplett

Sources:  NCSML statistics from Wikipedia; Hatteras from a sign at the site

Monday, August 19, 2013

#444 pin point

Long before the founders of Pintrest were even born, Madeleine Albright was fashioning her own version of "pin it" -- only with jeweled brooches to wear on her attire.  Once she became secretary of state, the wearing of a pin had become her signature.  

Albright noticed that foreign diplomats paid attention to her jewels, so she started intentionally wearing pins that symbolized something she wished to communicate. Examples:  a dove with its nose pointed down after Americans were shot down near Cuba; a dove during peace negotiations, a serpent after Saddam Hussein called her one, a giant bug to protest the "bugging" that was discovered in the State Department and a wasp when she needed to deliver a stinging message.

At the time, George Bush's "read my lips" saying was quite popular, so Albright modified it to "read my pins" and encouraged the press corps and diplomats to do so.  Her catch phrase is now the title of her book and a traveling exhibit, extending her messages far beyond the moment she wore them.

Over the weekend, I went to see the exhibit*.  It contains a mix of costume jewelry, the finest jewels and even a homemade pin from her daughter when she was five years old.  Nearly 200 pins were accompanied by a story of when she wore them and the message she was trying to convey. It was a time capsule of U.S. history by looking at the contents of her jewelry box.  

Albright was very intentional about using her pins -- something that she already had and cherished -- to send a message.  What is it about you that could be used to convey subtle meanings and a deliberate symbol?  Is it what you write with -- or on?  Is it something that you wear or how you wear it?  For example, are you a watch aficionado to symbolize how much you value time and promptness?  Do you write with a large signature to be seen like John Hancock?

If you are intentional, you can communicate powerful messages through subtle symbols.  Take a lesson from Madeline Albright and find a way to underscore your point without words.

-- beth triplett

*at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids

Sunday, August 18, 2013

#443 neighbors

For several blocks in one area of town, all of the houses have large cement planters in their front yard.  It is a historical district, so I suspect that these containers have held flowers for generations.  They live on today, filled with blossoms in every house that has one.  The arrangements are all different, but still are unified by the planters themselves.

It is a simple step, but I believe one that distinguishes it as a neighborhood instead of a collection of houses next to each other.

What can you do to unify your work unit, organization or block?  How can you insert an element of cooperation into something you do so that it gives you an identity and point of pride?  I have said it before: cooperating on something universal and simple makes it easier to work together on the hard stuff.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 17, 2013

#442 defense

When I took driver's ed many moons ago, I still remember our teacher's adage to watch out for cars that were banged up or appeared to have been in an accident.  He believed that more often than not it was a sign that the owner was not driving with a defensive posture.  "Many accidents can be avoided if the driver is alert enough to play defense," he said.

Undoubtedly the parent who posted the sign in the picture above was trying to help the other drivers be a little bit more careful when driving around this vehicle.  

Being proactive is important, but another component of the work we all must do is more reactive.  Part of driving -- and part of working in an organization -- is playing defense.  We need to take the wheel and be alert for what others are doing in the area.

Part of your role in offense is helping others to play better defense around you. Utility trucks put cones out when they are parked.  Companies use "caution" signs when the floor may be wet.  Cups come with warnings about the temperature of beverages.  What can you do to help those around you be aware of a situation and prevent problems before they occur

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 16, 2013

#441 weekend to do list

At work, I am structured and disciplined.  I have a to-do list, a calendar full of appointments, goals and priorities, and I accomplish a good mix of short-term urgent items mixed with some longer-term strategic planning.

But often when I think about the weekend, I look at my calendar and if there are no engagements listed, I feel like I have nothing to do.  As a result, I am tempted to spend my 48 hours engaging in leisure activities and short-term tasks instead of maximizing the use of my time. 

To be sure, rest and relaxation are vitally important, but overall I would be better off if I applied some of that work-related discipline to a bit more of my time off.  Beyond the to-do list full of the "stuff of life" errands that are required to run a household, the weekend hours are prime to be used for what Stephen Covey calls Quadrant 2 activities -- important but not urgent.  Examples: weekends are a great time for exercise, walking the dogs and general health improvements.  Personal development could be enhanced by reading or writing more than I sometimes do.  It could be a time for financial strategizing, relationship building, technology experimentation or personal branding.  On the weekend, I should spend a bit more time thinking about my future the way I think about my organization's during the week.

For me, it starts with what I put on the list.  If it only says "buy shampoo and clean bathrooms", I know I will accomplish that much and cross everything off, but it will give me a false sense of accomplishment.  

This weekend, try to make an hour or two productive in the long term sense vs. just busy with short term needs or desires.  It may not be as much fun to review your retirement portfolio as it is to take a nap, but in the end, it probably is a good use of that hour.  Weekends don't really need to be the end of your best thinking.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 15, 2013

#440 fissures

Recently hydraulic fracturing -- commonly called fracking -- has been in the news.  In simplest terms, fracking involves injecting water and sand at very high pressure into minor faults in the earth, which in turn creates fissures underground that provide space for natural gas to flow (and be captured for use).  

It struck me that organizations have parallels to the fracking process.  Often things are done that create pressure which lead to fissures in the organizational culture.  Comments are allowed to fester and disputes go unresolved until they explode.  Decisions to leave someone(s) out of the discussion due to expediency can be done with the best of intentions, but can have ripple effects that create cracks in the climate and trust.  Stressful situations such as mergers, layoffs or rapid growth can create pressurized environments that cause the culture to crack. Once the cracks are made and fissures are created, the negative energy and rumors have space to flow.  

The pros and cons to hydraulic fracking can be debated, but having an active organizational underground is rarely a good thing.  How can you take steps to release the pressures before they cause cracks in your values and customs?

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#439 language

The Lumina Foundation -- a major non-profit whose mission is to increase the number of Americans with college degrees -- recently offered a challenge to anyone who can "fix" the College Scorecard.  The Scorecard is a database intended to allow prospective students the opportunity to compare schools in an equitable manner, but unfortunately the tool has more critics than fans.

So instead of joining the chorus of complainers, Lumina issued a crowdsourcing call saying "solvers wanted" to "reinvent the user experience of the College Scorecard."  Isn't that much more positive than asking for volunteers for a task force or soliciting suggestions?  There is even an incentive of $10,000 to "become a solver".

It reminded me of an ad that IBM ran when they were recruiting employees for their new service center here:  "Now Hiring: Forward Thinking World Changers."  I was ready to quit my job and sign up.

How can you employ similar language and symbolism in your organization?  The next time you convene a group, instead of calling people "members" or "appointees", could you refer to them as "solvers"?  Could you ask for volunteers of people who want to be a "solver" -- which sounds much more positive and action oriented than many other names?  Is there a way you can reward "forward thinking world changers" who come up with solutions and innovations outside a formal committee?

Language does matter.  Try to choose words that set the tone and sentiment of your message from the onset.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#438 innocent or guilty

I was surprised to learn how much information is easily accessible on-line regarding arrest records.  The jail roster is also a click away -- listing all those who spent the night incarcerated during the past three months.  On a free website, I can see the last 50 arrests made in our city -- a scanned version of the whole arrest report including height, weight, etc.; driver's license number, thumbprint, birth date, address and charges.  Even if knowing who is arrested is in the public interest, knowing all these details seems like TMI or identity theft waiting to happen.  Does the casual web surfer really need to have access to all this -- and before the arrestee has a hearing in court?

There is a disclaimer on both saying that this is "a list of arrests, not convictions, and all arrestees are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in a court of law," but having all that information available on a public arrest record website doesn't really seem to foster guiltlessness.

Even if innocence is proven in court, the arrest record and mugshot tend to live online forever.  Now the FBI is involved in cases regarding extortion -- from people who are charging extravagant fees to remove the mugshots of those whose cases were dismissed or expunged*.  The court has proven them innocent, but guilt on the Internet lives on.

While the arrest records and mugshots are public records, they are only the first chapter of a story.  If you're involved in any of this as an employer, sometimes it's helpful to learn of the arrest, but also learn how the "book" ends rather than just how it begins.  Innocent until proven guilty is one of the tenets of our country; don't let easy access dictate otherwise. 

-- beth triplett

*Source:  Mugshot sites attempt to extort, Editorial in the Telegraph Herald, August 7, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

#437 holy grail

After a week of college fairs and hosting prospective students, it got me thinking about what I would be looking for if I had a child heading off to a university.  My answer:  watch how students interact with faculty and staff.

If students are engaged with individual members of the faculty or staff and it is evident that they are truly known as a person, I'd say it's fairly likely that the same will be true of your child.  If students are kept in the background and spoken about instead of included in the conversation, I'd say that is a sign that the climate is more hierarchical and students aren't at the top of it.

Going to college is really the first step into the "real world."  There students will learn not only knowledge in the classroom, but how to work as part of a team, how to be a professional, how to take risks and how to fail.  Doing so in an environment where they can be supported and challenged by full-time faculty or staff mentors is -- for me -- the most valuable aspect of an in-person collegiate experience.  

To be sure, you'll want a place that has your field of study, "feels right" and is affordable, but you'll maximize your investment if you attend a place where the employees -- from president, to endowed chair, to office assistant to dining services workers -- are actively involved in contributing to your success.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 11, 2013

#436 everything

If you read Jim Collins' masterpiece Good to Great*, you know that Walgreens has a hedgehog concept (mission/vision) to be the most convenient drug store in the world.  As a result, all of their stores are on the corner (for easy access), they have highly sophisticated and integrated pharmacy technology (so all stores are linked), and they offer a host of high-margin products (photo, Hallmark) that customers are willing to pay premium prices for because of the convenience.  The model seems to be working well for them.

Walgreens fascinates me not because of that, but because of the plethora of products this average size store holds.  In Walgreen's advertising flyer this week they featured cottage cheese, pet beds, coffee makers, boxer briefs, and irons!  You would expect a wide variety in a big discount store like Target, but not at the corner drug store.  

At first glance, it could seem that Walgreens' product mix has no rhyme or reason, but at its core all these items are something that you may need to pick up conveniently: cottage cheese ran out, got a new puppy, coffeemaker or iron died, or luggage was lost so you need new skivvies.  If you need something now, Walgreens probably has it.  It seems like they have everything!  Walgreens hasn't strayed from their hedgehog; they have perfected it.

Think about your organization.  How can you remain loyal and true to your mission, but expand your offerings beyond what your competitors would expect?  Going back to Simon Sinek's WHY, WHAT, HOW hierarchy (see #433), if you stay focused on the "why", a world of possibilities opens up for the "what".

-- beth triplett

*if you haven't read it, I would recommend it as the most influential book I have read

Saturday, August 10, 2013

#435 uniform look

All during Iowa Private College Week (see #434), I would get up, put on the same official polo shirt and a pair of khakis.  It was the one thing about the week that was easy.

We all wore the same polo to make it easy to identify the employees who could help our guests.  Normally we expend a lot of time, money and energy developing a wardrobe and deciding what to wear in the morning.  Is it worth it?  

Before you automatically add choice or variety to your process, ask yourself if the complexity increases the value of what you are doing.  Does the theme of the annual event need to be different every year or can you re-use the decorations?  Does the process have to change every time you alter a little step?  Do you need to vary the timing of events or does a little regularity allow you to execute with less flaws?

Variety is the spice of life, but a little routine adds a consistency to the mix too.  If you're going to mix it up, be sure you're intentional about the purpose of doing so.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 9, 2013

#434 cooperative competition

Every day this week, our campus has hosted prospective students and their families as part of Iowa Private College Week -- an event where each private college in Iowa hosts 10 open houses in 5 days (morning and afternoon each day) to allow students an opportunity to "check out" multiple campuses in a condensed time period.  

This annual event is a delicate balance of cooperation and competition, as schools recruit many of the same students, but it brings visitors to campus who may not otherwise make the journey so everyone plays along. The pressure is on to make the visit to campus a) authentic and b) memorable as we suspect all of the schools blur together after doing too many visits back to back.  It is a great way for students to compare the feel of one place vs. another though, and so they come in droves.

College fairs are another way that universities cooperatively compete.  The Taste of ___ events are this type of an event for the restaurant owners.  Job fairs allow job seekers to consider similar companies and their benefit packages in side-by-side comparisons. Car shows require cooperation from the auto makers to draw in prospective car buyers.  

What can your organization do in cooperation, yet still in competition, with others in your same industry?  There is power in numbers -- the number of you that play well together is often proportionate to the number of prospective buyers that will reward your efforts to do so. 

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#433 party lines

Yesterday there was a USA Snapshot infogram on the front page of USA Today depicting the number of bills that Congress has passed into law.  The most: 84th Congress (1955-56) that passed 1,028 bills.  The least: 112th Congress (2011-12) with 238 passages.  The current 113th Congress is on path to break the record with only 15 bills passed so far this session.

Think of what chaos would ensue if the different departments in your organization acted like the petulant members of our Congress.  The business office wouldn't cooperate with those who need to purchase.  The marketing side would refuse to promote programs that didn't fit with their own agenda, even if it benefited the organization as a whole.  The grounds staff would only maintain the one section of the building that was sympathetic to their beliefs.  Those who were to deliver the services would spend all their time pointing fingers at the others instead of working out a compromise.

Surely there are more than 15 things that members of Congress can agree on if they remain focused on the goal of advancing the welfare of the country.  I am reminded of the pyramid from Simon Sinek in Start with Why:  first figure out WHY you are doing something, then pay attention to the WHAT that needs to be done to achieve it before ultimately dealing with the details of HOW to get it done.  

The representative government that was once a model for the world has lost its focus.  They have become like kids in a sandbox that spend so much time fighting over the toy that it breaks in the process and neither has anything to show for it.  

Take a close look in the mirror.  Are you acting like members of Congress and fighting for individual needs more than the whole?  Are you genuinely willing to make compromises and "reach across the aisle" in your organization?  If you're honest with yourself, are you offering solutions or reciting obstacles?  Focus on the WHY and the big picture becomes a lot clearer -- and is worth the sacrifices you need to make to achieve it.

-- beth triplett

Source:  USA Today USA Snapshots Do-little Congress?  August 7, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#432 to share or not to share

It is hard to know the appropriate balance between transparency and prudence.  If there is a project "in the works", there are times when it is best not to disclose anything, lest a premature announcement could negatively impact the outcome.  Other times it is best to widely share that something is under consideration so that people may contribute input and actually aid in the project's completion.  

Of course the spectrum of sharing depending upon the information and the intimacy with whom that knowledge is shared, but it is still not clear cut.  

Do you share with your boss that someone is being difficult to work with or wait until the situation persists?  Do you put your strategic plan on line for all to see or keep it as a confidential document?  Do you confide with others that you are approaching a donor for a gift?  Or how about letting your boss know that you are applying for another job?  Or telling business acquaintances that you are looking to relocate your firm?  

Each of these situations -- and millions more -- call for a delicate judgment call.  Some days you have to be like Goldilocks and determine when the timing is "too soon", "too early" or "just right".  It is one of the most challenging things for new employees and supervisors to align, but "too soon" almost always wins over having someone important being surprised.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

#431 lending to learn

While the traditional library began with its book collection, over the years most have expanded to accommodate the changing methods of communication.  Typical libraries now loan DVDs, audiobooks, newspapers, CDs and other multi-media, but for some cities, the role of the today's library is expanding beyond sharing informational resources and artistic materials.

In Grosse Point, Michigan, the library loans out tools.  Other libraries loan musical instruments, video cameras and multi-media equipment, telescopes, energy meters and even fishing poles.  In the San Francisco area, one library started a Home Resources Collection to provide tools for rebuilding after a firestorm.  

For the libraries that have "unusual collections" they have redefined their mission to "have jointly held resources available to the community."  Other libraries have expanded their offerings into tools and instruments as a way to "offer residents a chance to learn -- just not necessarily with a book."

Think of the possibilities of what could be shared throughout the community.  Training tools for puppies.  Equipment for scrapbooking or crafts.  Hiking supplies and binoculars.  Skis.  Kitchen gadgets and specialty pans for cooking experimentation.  The list could go on and on.  

I doubt Andrew Carnegie could have conceived a library lending out tools, but I suspect he would have embraced the idea of helping people continue to learn.   How can your organization take a lesson from these modern libraries and remain true to your mission while expanding the implementation of it to meet the times?  Think outside the shelf to see if there aren't opportunities out there for you too.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Need some tools?  Libraries lending more than books.  By Mike Householder for the AP, in the Telegraph Herald August 4, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

#430 authentic

If I asked you where the Running of the Bulls occurred, many of you could answer Pamplona, Spain.  I doubt that Richmond, VA or Atlanta would be on the tip of your tongue, but starting next year both answers would be correct.

The two U.S. cities are going to begin their own version of the traditional Spanish event -- only on a drag racing strip in VA and a horse park in GA instead of through the city.  Now when you boast that you "ran with the bulls" -- it may be the authentic running or it may be a modified extreme sport in the States.

I see parallels to the proliferation of college sweatshirts; it used to be that you had to attend   Harvard or Notre Dame or Duke -- or at least visit the campus -- to have (or want) one of their shirts, but now you can get a jersey of your favorite team without leaving your armchair or taking a class.  Ditto for paraphernalia from Disney World or I (heart) NY or any souvenir-type momento that you can name.

We have lost something in the mass marketing and replication of unique aspects of our culture.  I think we should run the bulls on the streets of Pamplona, see Mickey in Orlando and let only the people with some connection to the Blue Devils wear the logo-emblazoned shirts.

What are you doing in your organization that is genuinely, authentically "you"?  Can you make some aspect of your experience exclusive and special for those who truly have experienced it?  There is a reason they don't sell green jackets in the pro shop at Augusta.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Running of Bull coming to U.S. by Jeff Martin and Michael Felberbaum for AP in Telegraph Herald August 4, 2013