Friday, October 31, 2014

#882 be

An ad for the seasonal Halloween party store asked: "Who you gonna be?".  While they were referring to costumes, I think it is a question that you could ask yourself every day.

The choices of occupations are almost limitless, but who you choose to be is even more open to you.

Are you going to be the innovator who comes up with a new idea for your team?

Could you be the peacemaker who works to build bridges between disparate parties?

Or maybe you will be the worker-bee who handles the logistics to make plans become a reality?

Today do you choose to be the futurist who challenges assumptions and the status quo?

Are you the one who will be the comforter of the sad and downtrodden?

Perhaps you will be the one who adds that extra touch to help something become special?

Or can you be the one to be the dot-connector and make linkages between new thoughts?

I am reminded of a quote by Mayim Bialik: “It’s powerful to shut everything down and just BE. We are, after all, human BEings and not human DOings, right?”

Take some time to reflect on the question of who you are going to be -- not just for today, but for the lifetime to come.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#881 necessity

Tomorrow is the big day, so many people will be scrambling tonight to put together a Halloween costume for a party or trick-or-treating.  Some have put great time and effort into costumes for themselves or their children.  I am sure that the Elsa and Anna costumes from Frozen are sold out!

But if you find yourself facing October 31 with no costume to be had, there are many options still available to you.  In fact, some of the more creative costumes cost the least and happen at the last minute.

Some suggestions for you:

> Cover yourself in small boxes of cereal and add a knife or noose = serial killer

 > Cut out a map, put the states on a string and wrap it around you = America On-Line (remember them?)

> Wear a slip = Freudian slip

> Wear an apron and carry an iron = Iron Chef

> Cut out a Pi symbol and put on an orange shirt = pumpkin pie

> Tape a $1 bill to each of your ears = Buccaneer (buck an ear)

> Put the words "Go Ceiling!" on a shirt and carry pom poms = ceiling fan

You get the idea.  Look at objects around you and see them in a new light.  Challenge yourself to utilize clothes and props that you already have rather than spending money on a one-time use costume.

Exercises such as this will sharpen your skills -- not just for Halloween, but for problems and situations to come.  

It's a treat when you have creativity in your bag of tricks. 

-- beth triplett

Some ideas from Real Simple, October 2011

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#880 fabric

Today is a casual day at work -- one of those serendipitous days when the staff association sponsors a "tailgate" potluck lunch and everyone can wear football jerseys and jeans.

My guess is that people will be more productive than usual.  While I wear suits most days and most wear professional business attire, there is an inherent energy that comes from casual wear.  

I know for myself that when I am more comfortable, I spend less energy on carrying myself, worrying about clothes, etc.  I do some of my best writing in a raggy sweatshirt and sweatpants (at home, of course!)

The irony is that there is also an inherent energy that comes from being very dressed up -- a shot of adrenaline comes with that special new outfit or "board meeting attire".  I become more attentive and carry myself differently, as do others when they are wearing their best.

Mixing up the dress code for a day is an easy way to infuse some momentum into your workplace.  Encouraging casual attire around a theme or incentivizing dressing up for an occasion can help staff to feel differently and approach their work from a fresh perspective.  Even a new "uniform" shirt can change the feel of the environment for a short while.

Be intentional about the fabric you are weaving in your culture.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#879 midnight

You have probably heard about the importance of writing down goals and making them specific.  It is good advice.  

I recently read an article by Dr. Phil that took the goal-setting process one step further.  "The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline," he wrote.  "The deadline you've created fosters a sense of urgency or purpose, which in turn will serve as an important motivator, and prevent inertia or procrastination."

How often have you thought about doing something "someday?"  You may even have a written bucket list, but unless there is a timeline for accomplishing those dreams they will remain nebulous and likely undone.

At work, be skeptical of those who share plans, but without a timeline attached.  It makes for an easy way to weasel out of accountability or to provide excuses.  

A deadline is different than a timeline.  A deadline implies that the task will be finished by the set date, whereas a timeline is a suggested path for implementation.  

The publisher of the daily paper doesn't dream about getting today's edition out on time; she has a deadline to do so.  Think of yourself as your publisher and set a firm deadline to get your dream out the door.  

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 27, 2014

#878 fit

Last week I watched the movie Draft Day with Kevin Costner.  I did not pick the movie, and must admit I was not too excited about seeing it, but am very glad that I did.

Draft Day is about the NFL Draft; more specifically about Costner's character as the GM of the Cleveland Browns and his picks for the draft.  The movie showcases the dilemma facing Sonny Weaver (Costner) -- does he pick a superstar who has some character questions or a less-talented player who is full of heart?  

The movie does a good job of portraying many of the pressures the GM faces in making his choice.  The owner, fans, other players and coaches all weigh in with passionately held opinions.  There are pros and cons on both sides, exacerbated by the fact that the superstar's statistics are factual while the other guy's traits are intangibles based on gut feelings.  There is no easy answer.

Think about how you assemble your team.  Whether through hiring, volunteer recruitment, inheriting of a work group or through some other fashion, as a leader you may be faced with the choice of deciding between heart or talent.  

For Weaver, he went for fit "no matter what", a choice with which I heartily agree.  It may not be easy to sidestep pedigree and sparkle, but character and passion are almost always better indicators of a champion.  It's something to keep in mind on your next "draft day."

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#877 the standard

Last night I watched All the President's Men as a personal tribute to Ben Bradlee who died last week.  Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal.  Nixon's resignation occurred just a few years before I entered college as a journalism major, so we talked a lot in class about the Post's coverage and the implications for our profession.  

Bernstein and Woodward showed great tenacity in pursuing leads and finding the story, but none of it would have been published if it weren't for the courage of Ben Bradlee.  He had two young reporters, lots of anonymous sources and implications of crimes in the highest levels of government.  It was gutsy of him to give the stories the green light.  

At the time, it would have been so much easier for him to bury the story.  No other media outlet was reporting on it.  The White House press secretary was belittling him by name.  Even people in his own newsroom were skeptical.

But Bradlee took the heat and allowed Bernstein and Woodward to press on.  His willingness to "stand by our boys" changed the course of history.  

When Bradlee retired in 1991, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said "the editor's standards would endure for ages hence."  Try to do your job in such a way that the same could be said about you when you pass the mantle.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#876 don't meddle

We recently brought in a facilitator for a retreat with our board of trustees.  He shared with them best practices for a board, one of which was to remember that the board should be diligent about crossing the line into managerial responsibilities.

His guideline for appropriate board actions: "Noses in, fingers out!"

Translated this means that the board has the authority to bring any issue to the agenda, but needs to delegate the operational aspects of an issue.

It's a good mantra for boards of all kinds, and even some words of wisdom for supervisors once a project has been assigned.

Keep up the interest without meddling and everyone will be better (and happier!) for it.

-- beth triplett

Thanks to Zeddie Bowen 

Friday, October 24, 2014

#875 pink is the new gray

It used to be that the older, most experienced employees were the sages -- the ones with wisdom that you turned to for advice and insight.

But with the world moving at such a fast pace, and technology infusing almost every aspect of our work, I wonder if the young ones aren't the ones to turn to for more insight and knowledge about how the world operates.

In a meeting with a seasoned vice president or consultant, should people listen to the voice of experience or is the voice of inexperience speaking louder?  Or maybe it's just that the younger messenger is utilizing a different channel to share her words of wisdom?

Elder used to equal wiser.  Today digital dominates and the sage may have pink hair instead of gray.

Be open to insight and ideas no matter which end of the table they emit from.

-- beth triplett


Thursday, October 23, 2014

#874 packaging

I wonder...

if the meat from a chicken is called chicken

and the meat from a lamb is called lamb

and fish is called fish...

why isn't the meat from a cow called cow

or the meat from a pig called pig?

Would there be more vegetarians or vegans if food was named what it is in reality vs. a euphemism that removes the animal one more step away from the plate.  Instead, what we buy in the supermarket is "hamburger" or "steak" and it is easy to forget about its true origin.

Are there elements in your work that have a label which glosses over the reality?  Is remedial education really a failed education?  Is domestic violence really brutal assault?  Or sustainability efforts really pollution prevention?  

Sometimes the reality can change if the label changes.  Think carefully about what you call things.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#873 macro and micro

The director of our social work department came to talk to the admissions staff to refresh their understanding of the degree since we have recently added a masters program.  As part of her description, she emphasized that social work involves a macro level as well as a micro level of understanding.

Translated, this means that graduates are able to provide direct service to individuals, but they are also able to understand the systems and advocate at a policy level to create broad change.  (e.g.: Social workers may help an individual transition out of incarceration, but also need to know how the housing system and corrections work in order to do so.)

I think other positions should have a macro and micro component, but too often people focus only on one end of the spectrum.  Teachers pay attention to pupils, but not the educational system.  People in government attempt to create new policy without understanding of the impact on individuals.  Doctors treat the patient but do not participate in health care reform.  

Think about the macro and micro dimensions of your work.  Where do you specialize?  What could you do to broaden your spectrum of understanding and involvement?  As you think about your personal development plan and the topics on your meeting agendas, try to alternate attention between the macro and micro to truly influence the work in your field.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#872 open door

What is one of the hardest things for me to do at work?  Close my door and say: "No, I can't see you now, I need to get my work done."

If I am in the office and not in meetings, I try to be available for my staff, other colleagues or students who want my attention.  Most are very good about popping in only with work questions or when they need clarification -- it's not social hour -- so I feel even more compelled to give them my complete focus and respond.

My tone sets the expectation for others on our staff -- it makes it acceptable to interrupt and undesirable to close the door to do projects. We all find ourselves coming in a bit early or staying a bit late to do the requisite paperwork or tend to other matters.  

I wonder what behavior creates the best kind of climate overall.  Would it be better if I set firmer boundaries and cranked out all my work during normal business hours so my staff would do the same or does the collegiality outweigh the extra time that is put in?  

Throughout my career, I have chosen the latter and will continue to do so.  An open door policy only works if there is someone on the other side of the threshold who is ready, willing and able to engage in shared problem solving and idea generation.  If you work with the door closed, you are keeping out your strongest assets and missing the synergy that comes from a collegial office environment.  

The "interruptions" from your colleagues aren't keeping you from your work; they are your work.  Embrace them and the open communication flow that they foster.

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 20, 2014

#871 ratio

Organizations are encouraged to do strategic or multi-year planning, yet the dynamics that occur during that cycle are often challenging for those charged with implementation.  There is a lot of energy and excitement during the development of the plan.  When the final product is adopted, there is palpable hope and enthusiasm around the vision, and confidence runs high.  

Then after a year or two into the plan, the momentum slows.  Those involved in implementation are often very busy doing less-than-glamorous work to put the plan's initiatives in place.  If the goals are strategic, it means a cultural shift and very different ways of doing things (or not doing things) -- all of which takes time to infuse into the organization's fabric.  Often steps are taken outside of the public eye, which makes it harder to illustrate that things are happening.  The gap between the initial energetic selling of the plan and the slogging reality of implementing it dampens enthusiasm.

I was recently talking with a colleague about the work of our respective organizations, both of which are in the middle of a strategic plan.  We were commenting on the challenge in spending time hunkered down to be sure the plan is implemented, yet addressing leadership's need to continuously have something new to share with the public.

We labeled this phenomenon the "sizzle ratio" -- ensuring that the non-sexy grunt work involved in implementation of a plan does not overlook the need to have nuggets of news and energy boosts to keep the plan alive.  To keep things moving forward, you need to make soundbites out of small steps and tout progress in any form, instead of waiting for completion.  

Don't forget to add the right amount of sizzle to the next project you're cooking up!
-- beth triplett


Sunday, October 19, 2014

#870 spears

One more thought from the Arts and Humanities Month Celebration I referenced in yesterday's blog:

Arts advocate Mary Luehrsen spoke about how the work that is being done now is "the tip of the spear" -- meaning that it has impact to get through to educators, legislators, funders and people of influence.  She acknowledged that it did not always feel like progress was being made, but believes things are now happening that allows the message about the importance of arts education to be heard.

Luehrsen attributes much of this to a "leveraged service model" where all parties need to contribute something to a partnership.  For example, instead of offering free arts to a school with nothing in return, the school agreed to put an arts education plan in place.  It is a way to create synergies and gain both understanding and ownership of the issues.  

"Collaborations are hard, but essential," she said.  "Collaboration is the way forward."

By coming together to promote shared principles, organizations can become the "tip of the spear" and make far more progress than they could make alone.  Who is out there that has a similar belief as your organization?  Make plans to partner with them to sharpen your spear in the advocacy battle.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 18, 2014

#869 speaking up

Last night I attended a program as part of the Arts and Humanities Month Celebration.  Two people spoke about advocacy for the arts and arts education; topics a bit outside of my normal orbit, so it was interesting to hear them speak with passion about the work that is to be done in these areas.

Tracey Rush, director of the Northeast Iowa School of Music, reminded the audience that we have two hands.  "Use one hand to pat yourself and others on the back," she said, encouraging people to celebrate the success that they have had.  "Use the other to keep fighting."  

Mary Luehrsen, the director of the International Association of Music Merchandisers spoke about the need to articulate a clear message and stop giving the arts away to schools for free.  She believes that arts educators and non-profits can be their own worst enemy when they introduce arts into schools, but don't believe that they can charge the schools for it.  "We devalue our own work," she said.  Luehrsen believes that advocacy is an on-going process -- that "if you're not on the bus, you're under it", and sharing the message needs to be continuous.

What cause is out there that could benefit from your voice?  Maybe it's not arts education, but surely there is a non-profit in whose mission you believe.  In addition to writing your donation check this year, write a letter to your legislator in support of the organization's work.  Share your voice as well as your funds.  In this day of giving by text, advocacy is even more of a treasure.

-- beth triplett

Friday, October 17, 2014

#868 talking trash

At Homecoming last weekend, I was watching an alumni basketball game.  Several former players who had chosen not to play were watching with me from the sidelines.

One of their former teammates was on the court and he missed a shot.  My two companions started trash talking to him:  "Why did you touch the ball?" they yelled.  "You couldn't throw a beach ball into the ocean.  That's why they made you a post player!"  

And on it went.  Lots of missed shots.  Lots of jibes.  Lots of laughter.

I took the ribbing as a visible sign of their camaraderie.  These teammates had obviously been through a lot together, not only in their college days, but in the many years since.  They were able to give each other grief out of love, not spite.

How can you take steps to develop this level of trust with your "teammates", even if there is no game involved?  How can you cultivate a level of enjoyment and brotherhood with those with whom you work?

Start today, and talk to your office mate about something non-work related.  Try to share some humor and levity in addition to reports and assignments.  Laugh a little together.  

In twenty years, there may not be a reunion of former employees, but your goal should be to create the kind of relationship now that would let you savor a similar kind of ribbing if there were.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#867 generous

I had a conversation with someone who had been in the Peace Corps in South America.  He shared many lessons that he learned and memories that he brought home with him from the experience.

The nugget that struck him the most:  "Peace Corps taught me how to be generous.  Americans are not generous; they do not know how to take gifts."  

It seemed like an unusual juxtaposition that not knowing how to take gifts translated to not being generous, but he explained that the concepts of generosity and gratitude are closely linked.  For you to be able to acknowledge generosity in others, you have to be able to express gratitude for it. 

Think about the gifts you have given.  For them to truly be received, whether it is giving of a compliment or of a material possession, the receiver needs to experience gratitude for you to feel generous.  From people who have next to nothing, but give it to you, the generosity is sometimes overwhelming.  His point was that Americans tend to say "oh no, you shouldn't have" instead of "deepest thanks; I am honored."  

The next time someone is generous toward you -- with possessions, time, praise, etc. -- work hard to express gratitude so that the generosity can warm their heart as well as yours.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#866 the pen

One of my mentors once offered these words of wisdom: "If you really care about something, volunteer to be the secretary."

When he said it, I was baffled as to how fulfilling that role could make such a significant difference.  But as time went on, I got it, and believe that he was absolutely correct.

The one who takes the notes at a meeting defines the parameters as to what was discussed and interprets what was decided.  They have permission in a meeting to ask for clarification (ostensibly to get it correct for the minutes, but often to gain the clarity that was lacking.) The person who writes the proposal shapes the direction of what is included and often frames the outcomes that result.  The secretary is the one who takes minutes in a way that assigns actions and next steps.  This person takes the time to schedule the next meeting, write out the agenda, and have materials ready so decisions can result.  The secretary can move something forward through prompt updating of drafts, or allow it to stall through the reverse.  

Often the job of taking notes at a meeting is given to the person who drew the last straw.  If you really want to make the meeting matter, raise your hand to be the recorder.  The pen really is mightier than the sword.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#865 notice

Some food for thought for today, courtesy of R. D. Lang:

The range of what we think and do is limited
by what we fail to notice.

And because we fail to notice

that we fail to notice
there is little we can do to change

until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.

This reminds me of the exercise where people concentrate on counting the players who pass the basketball.  If you haven't done this before, you should stop now and try it (1:21):

Often we are so focused on one thing that we fail to notice other important information around us.  This is why consultants are often helpful; they are not subject to the same "selective attention" that overtakes us.  I am spending the day with our consultant and I know before going in that he will see something that I did not.  

You don't need to have a consultant to benefit from a new perspective.  Ask questions of those outside of your group.  Run your product by a group of users instead of producers.  Hang out with people who are not in your office, and preferably not even in your industry.

It's easy to miss a gorilla if you're paying attention to something else.  Try today to notice things you haven't really seen before and see how the new information shapes your thinking.

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 13, 2014

#864 a path

I spent a portion of my weekend writing the follow-up report from a consulting visit I did last week.  When I go to a new campus, a large portion of what I try to achieve is seeing the situation with fresh eyes.  Sometimes people who are involved in the day-to-day operations take things they are (or aren't!) doing for granted, and someone from the outside  can notice things far more effectively.

But the other benefit I try to provide is synthesizing what is needed and prioritizing action steps to help frame the short term work.

I am reminded of one more quote by St. Francis:
Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Without intentionally trying to do so, my consultant report is structured in that format.  I highlight key observations and recommendations that should become a priority.  I then give other suggestions for consideration, which, if enacted, will result in a cumulatively significant result.

When the problem is big, we get so overwhelmed that we don't know where to begin.  Follow St. Francis' advice and just do what you know has to be done and what is realistic to achieve.  Little will lead to lofty; you don't have to start there.

-- beth triplett