Monday, August 31, 2015

#1186 mitten

A colleague of mine recently brought in a collection of beloved children's books to share with another co-worker.  It was wisely suggested that I intercept The Mitten before the exchange was completed.

The Mitten, as retold by Jim Aylesworth, is a delightful tale of a young boy who loses a red mitten while out sledding.  A squirrel comes upon it, and, because his "toes are as cold as ice," decides to make the mitten his bed.  Soon a rabbit appears on the scene, also with frozen toes, and the squirrel squeezes together to make room for two.  Next a cold fox arrives, and soon they have stretched and wiggled enough to make room for all three to be warm inside the mitten. Just as they are getting comfortable, a bear begs to be allowed inside the mitten, and they squish together to accommodate all four.  Finally a little mouse asks for space to warm his frozen toes, and they acquiesce. Only as the mouse climbs in, the mitten explodes and all are left without a cozy place to warm their toes.

I think The Mitten is an apt metaphor for the stress we can absorb in life.  It is not really a problem to make accommodations for small stressors (a squirrel, rabbit and fox).  We can also make enough adjustments in our life to persist after a major stress (the bear). But often it is the smaller stressors -- the one more thing -- that causes the eruption.  Our tolerance, like the mitten, can only go so far before it bursts.

Think about the mitten the next time you take on another obligation or withhold another aggravation.  After you make the squirrel, rabbit, fox and bear cozy, will there be any more room to handle the inevitable mouse when he comes along?

-- beth triplett

The Mitten, retold by Jim Aylesworth, Scholastic Press, 2009
Thanks to Amy for sharing

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#1185 pesky

The first thing I do when I get a magazine in the mail is throw out those annoying inserts that beckon me to subscribe.  Why do subscribers get hounded to subscribe?

Maybe they are meant to inspire gift subscriptions; if so, then target the message that way.  Maybe they are put in all the magazines; if so, then find a way to do two press runs and leave them out of subscribers' issues.

As someone who sends a fair amount of direct mail through work, I know that all of these reply mechanisms are tracked, and I can't believe that they are worth the price of the paper they are printed on. In this era of analytics, publishers should evaluate this practice on effectiveness, environmental consciousness and cost savings.  I'd bet the inserts would lose the trifecta.

Maybe the idea peeves me because it is another example of treating everyone the same, even when you have ready accessible data to distinguish frequent customers from non.  What does your organization do that is the equivalent of pesky little advertising flyers?  Instead of appreciating your best users are you annoying them with one of your practices? Have you evaluated what works or do you just keep doing things because that is how you have always done them?

Take a moment to identify what is your insert and throw it away just as fast as I toss what falls out of my magazine.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 29, 2015

#1184 never forget

Last night I went to the "9/11 Never Forget" mobile exhibit that is in town for a week.  I was in Manhattan just a few months after the terror attack and saw the site while it was still a mountain of mangled steel.  This exhibit triggered all that emotion again.

I have seen artifacts before and even signed one of the recovered beams that was used in the new construction, but two key things made this exhibit different.  First, they played the 911 recordings which allowed you to hear the escalating scope of the emergency.  Secondly, the exhibit was staffed by volunteer retired New York City Fire Fighters.  These men were actually involved in the rescue efforts and lost colleagues in the line of duty.  They brought a human dimension to the disaster that pictures and pieces of burnt steel can not.

This exhibit was relatively small and limited because it was encased in a trailer, but there were still lessons to be learned from it.  When trying to convey your message, utilize story instead of facts; pictures instead of words; and engage multiple senses.  The exhibit had pictures and quotes from survivors, rescuers, heroes, bystanders and those who lost loved ones.  A collage of front page media covers showed the magnitude of the attack and the outrage at it.  It was all simple but potent.

Think about how you can tell your story in multiple dimensions.  You don't need a large space to convey giant emotions.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 28, 2015

#1183 delight

For the most part, I really don't like surprises, but there is one category of exception: when I receive an unexpected message of appreciation.

There is something powerful about a nod from someone else that says "you did good."

This can take many forms:
> a student writes a note of thanks for a scholarship he received
> an employee addresses a note to me as "#1 boss"
> a faculty member says "I know you have worked hard to bring in the class"
> a former employee sends an email about what she learns from this blog
> a friend acknowledges what our friendship has meant to her
> a colleague hosts a dinner of thanks in his home

There are times when a message of appreciation is almost routine, but it is in the moments when you receive it unexpectedly that it truly delights.

Think of how good it felt the last time you had that inner sense that "hey, someone actually did notice," then take a moment to provide the feeling to someone who deserves to hear it from you.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#1182 black hole

On Tuesday morning, I emailed my veterinarian's office with a question about my dog. I found it much easier to type out a few sentences about an on-going issue rather than to explain it from scratch to their receptionist, so I was happy to use the email they list on their materials.

As soon as I sent it, I received an auto-reply:  "We have received your email and will respond if appropriate during our regular business hours of XX."  Great.

On Wednesday afternoon, I still had not heard back so I called them.  Literally, the receptionist said: "We're not the best at checking email."  What?  Even if you aren't, shouldn't the first words out of your mouth be "I'm sorry."

I adore my vet. The office: not so much.  If I didn't love, love, love my vet, the office would have annoyed me into finding a new provider long ago.

Never underestimate the power held by the person who answers your phone.  Your brand is delivered by them every single time they pick up the line.  Are the words coming across the line tarnishing or polishing your image?

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#1181 adaptive

In a great book Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, they describe the difference between Adaptive Change and Technical Change.

If people have the know-how and procedures to solve a problem -- a case where there is an answer, it is a technical problem.

Contrast that with situations where there are questions, not answers: challenges that require experiments, new discoveries and adjustments from many parts of the organization.  Heifetz and Linsky call these adaptive changes.

At the beginning of adaptive change, there is no guarantee that the new situation will be any better than the current condition.  People must change attitudes, values and behaviors and internalize the change -- a high risk thing to do with an uncertain payoff.  

What people see in an adaptive change setting is loss.  People don't resist change, per se, they resist loss.

If you frame your situation in this manner, it goes a long way in helping you know how you should address it.  It is a very different environment when you are focusing on finding an answer vs. trying to raise the questions, but success only comes if you put your effort on the right end of the equation.

Think about the change that you are trying to make.  Is it a technical issue or an adaptive one?  Are you trying to find an answer or invent one?  Framing the change you seek in the right context will help you distinguish how you can mobilize those you are leading to achieve the results you want.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard Business Review Press, 2002

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#1180 something

Over the weekend, I watched the movie Draft Day again. I think I was in the mood to do so after the harried week of last minute registrations, financial aid negotiations, scavenger hunts for transcripts and the general frenzy of The-Week-Before-Classes-Begin.  It reminded me of the frenetic nature of the actual Draft Day where no one knows how things will end up until the day has ended.

In one scene, Cleveland GM Sonny Weaver (played by Kevin Costner) is talking to his scouts about a potential top pick. They claim to have vetted the player well and found no faults.  "Everyone has a 'something'," said Sonny.  "We need to find out what that 'something' is and determine if it matters."

The same is true anytime you are making a choice, whether it be hiring a candidate, selecting someone for a committee assignment, voting for a politician, admitting a student or choosing a quarterback in the NFL draft.  Everyone has 'something'.

Your role is to determine what is a deal breaker for you and hold to it.  Only you know where you can compromise and where you must hold firm.  

It also pays to be aware of your own personal 'something.'  What is a liability for you?  Can you overcome it, compensate for it or avoid needing it on a regular basis?

Even the great ones come with quirks and flaws.  What makes them great is that they are aware of their 'something' and turn it into an advantage.  You can do the same.

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 24, 2015

#1179 color

While I was out shopping over the weekend, I came upon a display of coloring books -- for adults.  I thought it was a gimmick at the craft store, but then I found them at two other places.  Apparently this is the new "hot item."

I can see where these would catch on.  There has always been something simultaneously relaxing and rewarding about coloring -- you can see the progress as you fill in each space.  It allows for creative expression -- especially the adult versions that have no standards or expectations of what it "should" look like.

I am not sure what adults would use as their medium -- certainly the spaces are far too small for crayons.  They just call out for Sharpies, but I was surprised that the pages are printed back to back and would make bleed through an issue.  Maybe colored pencils will make a comeback too?

I was mostly disappointed to see that the pages are tightly bound, and there are no perforations.  Are adults beyond tearing theirs out and posting them on the refrigerator to enjoy both the artwork and the compliments that follow?  I don't think so!  

The next time you need to de-stress or slow down the hectic pace of life, consider picking up a coloring book.  In this high tech world, a little low tech relaxation may be just what is needed to help you color your world happy.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#1178 erase

For most of my life, the only color duct tape came in was gray.  Even though the product has created a whole cottage industry of products and uses, all the innovations were still in one steely color.

A few years ago, duct tape options exploded and it is now available in every pattern you can imagine.  Hello Kitty, rainbow, camouflage, Superman, butterflies, neon, zebra...the list goes on and on.

But this season, duct tape has gone a step further and created tape that functions as either a chalkboard or as a whiteboard.  I imagine there are good uses for this product, both for functional labeling and for purely decor.  

But is it really necessary?  Couldn't you just pull off the piece of tape and replace it with a new one instead of erasing it?  And how many times do you really re-label a container?  Especially a container that was labeled in chalk or dry erase marker that would easily wipe off.

Some days, I think manufacturers invent new products just to have something new rather than to fulfill a real need.  This is one of those times.  Before you bring your next idea to fruition, ask yourself if it really adds value -- or whether it just adds.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 22, 2015

#1177 chalk it up

The local Red Robin recently remodeled its interior.  I was surprised to see that instead of adding more televisions and high tech devices, they actually went more old school.  The prevalent decor: chalk.

Inside the lobby is a floor to ceiling chalkboard where guests can doodle while they wait.  The heading:  "Starving Artist?  Draw, erase, repeat"  Nice pun on the "starving" part!

Instead of placemats or coloring sheets for the kids, they receive individual chalkboards where they can draw their favorite ingredients onto the hamburger. 

Both features were far more fun than the standard decor and tied in nicely to their brand.

You don't need to be fancy to make an impression and to tell your story.  The next time you are changing up your environment, think beyond the technology and gadgets.  Chalk it up to nostalgia, but maybe Red Robin is drawing on the right emotions for success.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 21, 2015

#1176 invincible

Yesterday was new student move-in day on our campus.  It is one of my favorite days of the year, not only because students and the energy they bring have returned, but because it is a day filled with so much promise and hope. 

I was reminded of the current Kelly Clarkson hit "Invincible".  For the longest time, I thought she was singing invisible.  And it occurred to me yesterday that most of the new students fall into one category or the other.  Some feel that they are kings or queens in a new land and the world is theirs to conquer.  At the moment, there are no worries about grades or money or success; they are invincible.  Others are scared to death, afraid that they won't make friends or ever fit in; they feel invisible.

There are only a few distinct letters in the two words, but a chasm of difference.

I think the choice for new students at the moment is a paraphrase to the famous Henry Ford quote: "Whether you think you're invincible or invisible, you're right."

Which will you be today?
-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#1175 peaches

As I have recently been training a new staff member, I have been trying to strike a balance between the pragmatic and the contextual topics that we cover.  It is important for her to know the nuts and bolts of the job, but equally as important for her to understand the "why" behind the way we currently do things and the larger purpose of our work.

For a new employee, it is a hard balance to achieve.  There is so much to be learned seemingly simultaneously and the work still needs to be done while learning.  I think the same is true after the initial learning curve, and many people let the developmental side slip away in favor of the urgent.

I am reminded of the Peach Tree Analogy created by Dee Groberg.  If you think of the "peaches" as the results you want to achieve or the projects you need to do, and pay attention only to them, your tree will eventually die.

You must also pay attention to the trunk which is the "means".  The trunk is tangible intervention that you can see:  training, meetings, infrastructure, etc.  You need to tend to the trunk, yet you can't have sustained success with the trunk alone.

Groberg advocates paying attention to the roots as well, likening them to the source of alignment.  The "roots" are philosophy, vision, values, character, culture that need to align in order for the trunk to thrive and for the peaches to be plentiful.  His analogy maintains that water is trust and that it must have a continuous flow throughout the whole tree for the fruit to blossom.

It's a simple analogy, but a good barometer for staff to follow.  Everyone must pay attention to all the parts of the tree in order to be truly successful.  You need to spend the time getting to know colleagues and mission as much as you need to dedicate time to improving the process.  You need to avoid the drought that comes with a lack of trust and damages everything.  

Tending to the whole tree, instead of focusing only on the fruit, will make life more peachy in the long run. 

-- beth triplett


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#1174 identity

A former supervisor of mine served on a panel regarding presidential transitions.  The portion that he covered: transitioning out.  

"Do not have your identity inextricably linked to your position or to the institution," he wisely said.  "It is really important to have an identity separate to that."

Keith Lovin was in the presidential role when he made his comments, but I think they apply to everyone.  If you are only what your job is, it makes it harder to have a balanced life.  It also makes it more difficult to have a rational view of how you are doing and to know when it is time to leave if so much of you is wrapped up in your job.

No matter what your position, I think it is good advice to cultivate a rich life outside of it.  Have hobbies or volunteer roles that expose you to a different set of people and pleasures beyond your work life.  Remember that you are wonderful even when your job isn't going so well, and that you are fallible even when the work is clicking along smoothly.

Your position can be a major portion of how you see yourself and how you spend your time.  Just don't let it be the only view you have when you look in the mirror.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#1173 spouse

I live near U.S. Grant's home and finally made a point to visit the landmark.  I did not learn that much new about the General, but I did learn about his wife.

Julia Grant was the first presidential spouse to be called the First Lady.  She played an active role in Ulysses' presidency: reading his mail, attending Senate hearings and meeting with presidential staff.  Julia was the first spouse to have her own press secretary (this was 1868!) and to send out releases for her own causes, including women's suffrage. She also was the first to write her own memoir.

The statue of Julia Grant is one of only three former First Ladies memorialized in statues. Less than 5% of the statues in the country depict any woman (a fact Jed Bartlett learned the hard way in an episode of the West Wing.)

In 1868, women were incredibly strong, but it was not common to share that strength publicly.  Julia carved out a role for herself and helped shape her husband's presidency and the path of the country.

What role can you create for yourself today?

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 17, 2015

#1172 A to Z

I recently did a training for a group of student leaders where I used the Alphabet Exercise.  I gave pairs a sheet of paper with each letter of the alphabet followed by a blank line printed on it.

Their assignment was to leave the room and find, in order, the letter "A", then the letter "B", and so on in any place they could.  There was a token prize for the most creative location a letter was found, but the main point of the exercise was to have them become more conscious about what was around them.  All the letters had to be visible without manipulating anything, so, in theory, they had walked by all these things but just hadn't noticed.

The hardest part of the exercise was determining a winner.  They had letters from an artist's signature on a painting; the letter in the middle of the football field of a competitor -- and a selfie to prove they really had gone there in the allotted 20 minutes; words from serial number plaques on machinery; someone crawled under a car to see the Y in Goodyear on the backside of a tire; buttons on a washing machine; and even a garden hose laid out in the shape of a J.

We later used the exercise to make a point that things are happening all around us -- including what Dan and Chip Heath call "bright spots" in their book Switch, and that it behoves us to notice more closely than we usually do.

Think about playing the "alphabet exercise" the next time you are walking about.  My experience is that first you'll notice the obvious ones: on a street sign or license plate, but eventually you'll see not only the make of the car, but then the dealer sticker; not just the name on the mailbox, but the brand and US Post Office notifications; flags and home decor, etc.  

Raising consciousness is as easy as A, B, C, but the lessons from the mental gymnastics can serve you well past Z.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#1171 closed

I recently saw this sign hanging in a restaurant:

Closed Sundays
Because I am too old to work 7 days a week!

Kudos to this person for acknowledging their limits.  

Know the kind of life that you want to lead and establish the parameters so that you can live it.  You don't have to be old to take Sundays off!

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#1170 wait

Last week as I was heading out to dinner, I got stuck at a train crossing.  For. a. very. long. time.

After 15 minutes of watching the train go by, the end mercifully came.  And then the train passed through the intersection, and stopped.  Just short of clearing the gate.  AHHH!

I became even more acutely aware of the decision I had been wrestling with the whole time the train went by: wait longer or turn around.  The 15 minutes I had wasted was a 'sunk cost'; something that I could not recover regardless of my choice.  In business classes they teach you to ignore sunk costs, but it is painful to do. 

I made the decision on the facts that waiting it out would probably be faster than going around.  I knew when I chose the option that there was a possibility that this extremely long train may actually back up and switch tracks, thus doubling the time I needed to wait, but I opted to stay.  As luck would have it, the train did go forward and I was able to pass.

When you have to make a decision that involves sunk costs, acknowledge them, but do what the business folks tell you to do and ignore them. Do what you would do in the first place, and don't be swayed by what has happened since.  Wait it out at the crossing.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 14, 2015

#1169 a long distance

I had a conversation recently with some parents of young children.  They were debating when or if to give their offspring a personal cell phone.  When was the time right?

This led us into a discussion about 'back in the day' when we were young.  Of course there were no cell phones, but instead pay phones were prevalent.  They were at every establishment: the mall, movie theaters, skating rinks, etc., and it was easy to have a dime in your pocket and call your parents when you were ready.  Or, more likely, you had a pre-arranged pick-up time and ready or not, you were ready.  Such is not the case today.

The last time I saw a functioning pay phone was when I was at the MLKing National Historic Site in Atlanta.  It was so startling to me that I took a picture of it.  It was like seeing a typewriter on someone's desk instead of a computer.  

Then last week, I saw a form for the Post Office that said "long distance charges may apply."  Are there still long distance charges?  Never do I hesitate to call someone to avoid charges.  (Note that both relics were associated with the government!)  Maybe I could use a long-distance phone card at the pay phone when I made my call??

Few things have evolved more explicitly than the telephone.  Cell phones have become an essential item for a majority of people, so much so that parents are considering options for 10 year olds who may need them (as they are left home alone with no landline).

How has your organization responded to this changing technology?  Have you acknowledged that younger and younger customers are using phones everyday?  This may cause you to embrace texting or to stand out with hand-written notes instead, but take a conscious moment to consider the implications of adolescents with a computer in their pocket.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#1168 bread crumbs

Think of the telltale signs you leave for strangers that give them clues about who you are.

The maid in your hotel room knows your gender, likely if you are traveling for business or pleasure, whether you are neat or sloppy and what you like to read.  You could create quite a profile from such information.

The person who looks into your car can tell from your car seats how many young children you have, whether you are tidy or a pack rat, or maybe even your political affiliation and alma mater from the stickers on your back window.

Someone who sees you in a restaurant can learn about you by how you order (do you take a long time to decide or ask for substitutions), what you order (are you health conscious or not so much) and how you leave your space when you depart (plates stacked or strewn).

All around you, people are seeing the clues you leave and forming impressions of you, even if you never meet face to face.  Don't think you are ever invisible!

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#1167 20/20

I recently purchased new glasses at a specialty optical shop so that Rhonda-the-Expert could pick out my frames for me.  She came highly recommended, and I have purchased (and liked) the first pair she chose for me the last three times I needed them.

While I was waiting for Rhonda, I decided to do an experiment and see what frames I would pick if I was doing it on my own.  Of the 20 or so pair Rhonda had me try on, not one resembled what I would have chosen for myself -- yet another confirmation of why I go to her in the first place.

Rhonda looks at a person and instantly sees things I don't see: the spacing of the eyes, the height of the bridge, the coloring of the skin and the shape of the face.  She knows which lenses look best with that combination, and her suggestions truly do look good.  Thus, even though glasses are a significant expense and they are something that I will have on almost every waking hour for the next two plus years, I was in the store less than a half hour.  I have literally taken more time to buy a greeting card than to buy new frames.  

I am comfortable letting another guide (ok, all but determine) my choice for something so costly and visible, but I don't always seek out help on other things.  Others really do have expertise in certain areas, and we might save time and have better results if we trusted them. 

Experts can help you not only look good while you see, but can help you see solutions clearly as well.  Partner with someone next time you want 20/20 clarity on your choice.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

#1166 white papers

One of the most effective tools that I have used in trying to align differing visions is what I loosely call a white paper.  I don't mean the term as it is usually used (a formal, official report on a specific topic), rather various parties writing a 1-2 page description of "what it would look like" if things were to be different.

It is easy to say: "I wish there was more collaboration", but it's another thing all together to describe how the organization would function if that were the case.  People can complain that: "I wish our programs were different", but it is much harder to put on one page what the environment would be like if changes were made.  People can say: "I wish there were more things going on here", but until they can describe what 'more' looks like, a common vision will be illusive.

It's important to note that I said "describe" rather than list.  You're not seeking a list of activities, rather you are asking the writer to paint a picture of how things would be if their vision was realized.

By asking participants to do a paper, it forces them not only to think, but, more importantly to clarify what they really mean.  Papers can be shared as a conversation-starter -- it brings the differing visions to life, often helps others understand or see the benefits from a change and allows people to find points of agreement instead of just variances.

Do you have something you'd like to see changed or a new way for your organization to "be"?  Try describing it in a page and see if it doesn't help you gain clarity.  A fuzzy vision is hard to see, and even harder to bring to life.

-- beth triplett

Monday, August 10, 2015

#1165 sounds good

Yesterday I had lunch at a marina that houses boats off the Mississippi River.  They have about 125 slips, and all appeared to be full.

During our lunch, I saw a total of four boats coming or going.  It was a gorgeous weekend day, and I wonder if people don't use their boats on an 80 degree Sunday in August, when do they use them?  It seemed like conditions were ideal for a little ride on the river, but apparently owning a boat is better in theory than in actual practice.

The same is true with a swimming pool.  My neighbors have a beautiful pool and deck which they used regularly the first summer they got it, but I think I have seen them in there once this season.  In Iowa, the season for swimming is short, so again, if a sunny Sunday in August isn't a pool day, when is?

I think the allure of things is often better than the actual ownership of them.  Having an exercise machine sounds great -- no more driving to the gym -- until you learn that it wasn't the driving part that you were procrastinating about.  Installing a bar and pool table seems like a wonderful idea, but it is only used a handful of times each year.  The same could be said for home theatres or wine cellars or basketball hoops or a host of other amenities that have more hypothetical appeal than actual usage.

If the marina is any indication, you should use caution before letting your recreational whims take sail.  Trying may be better than buying if it is not part of your routine already.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, August 9, 2015

#1164 frenzy

I was out shopping yesterday and the lines at Kohl's were longer than at Christmas.  Every register was open and there were 20+ people in line at both banks of registers, all waiting with cart loads of purchases. 

What was causing this retail frenzy?  The annual back-to-school Tax Free Holiday.  For two days each year, the state waives sales tax on clothing and school supplies.  Judging by people's behavior, you would think they were giving things away free.

In reality, it is a 7% discount.

If they had advertised it as "Sale: 7% off", I doubt anyone would have showed up, let alone gone out of their way or waited 40 minutes in line to make purchases.  But somehow, "tax free" sounds like a great deal, and since it is only for two days a year, the urgency increases.

Think about the marketing elements of Tax Free Weekend the next time you need to label something.  Just a few little words can make a big difference in what motivates behavior.  

-- beth triplett

Saturday, August 8, 2015

#1163 one month

All week long we hosted open houses for prospective students and at each of them I was the "opening act."  One of the questions I asked each group was: "if you could go anywhere for a month without worrying about the cost, where would you go?"

Throughout the week we received a variety of answers, with the most popular being Italy or Australia.  We heard many other traditional responses: Europe, Spain, Rome, the Bahamas or Jamaica.  A few outliers thought really big: the Moon and then even Mars.  A couple of others stayed in the States: Nashville or Texas.

But the one who made the biggest impression on me was a dad who said: "I would go no further than my living room.  I travel all the time for work and my best vacation would be staying right at home."

His comment reminded me that we need to understand where people are coming from.  It may seem wonderful for some to travel far (or very, very far!), but others would be more comfortable traveling less.  What is great for one person may not resonate so well with another. 

Before you assume that one-size-fits-all, even for a hypothetical icebreaker question, remember that nothing does.  Go into a new situation looking to embrace the differences and you'll be more attuned to learning what others are really like.

-- beth triplett

Friday, August 7, 2015

#1162 manufacture sizzle

A friend and I were discussing the flow of work after the first few years in the job. Initially, there will likely be some low hanging fruit, and people think the results are amazing.  But the more into the position someone gets, the less 'sexy' the work becomes.  The focus shifts from the easier projects to the really hard, but important, work.  

The most essential projects are often behind-the-scenes, grinding work that does not produce great sound bites or make for splashy reports.  The trick is in managing expectations, especially after others have become accustomed to the splash that came in the earlier months.

My friend described it by likening the expectations to those of an addict; those higher in the organization must be continually fed (good news, new projects, etc.) or they become grumpy and, worse, they start micromanaging in the weeds.  If process work is something that needs to be done to move the organization forward, but is too operational to delight, it becomes incumbent on the leader to manufacture enough sizzle in order to keep the 'addict' happy -- and to provide the space needed for staff to continue their work on the infrastructure needs.

If you spend your time only on the easy-to-complete or showy projects, you'll likely short-cut much of the foundational work.  Don't adopt a Wall Street mentality and look at only the next quarter.  Find ways to grind away at the long term projects, even if they don't have short term results, and craft other ways to create some sizzle while you focus on the real meaty work too.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, August 6, 2015

#1161 overlap

It is natural for people to wish for their surroundings to be "bigger and better", but I don't believe that is always a positive thing.

My four siblings and I grew up in a two bedroom apartment, and I think the unavoidable sharing of space through childhood has made our relationships and bonds even stronger today.  If we would have all had our own rooms, we wouldn't have benefited from that "forced togetherness" that close quarters bring.

I have seen teams of staff members become more cohesive and connected when their work areas were in close proximity.  Right now our admissions counselors all have desks in a small area lovingly known as "Cubeland", but I believe they work together better than if they all had their own private office suites.  They may wish for doors and privacy, but I know from experience that there is a trade off with them.

In another example, our city council just moved into a beautiful new municipal campus.  The meeting room is a definite upgrade from the previous facility, but requires the use of a microphone for council meetings.  This will change the dynamics of meetings in unplanned for ways, and is one of the downsides of having more space.

While being cramped is never good, there is a fine line between positive closeness and too much space.  Aiming for an environment where ideas literally bounce off of each other, where others can hear your conversations and interject, and where you only have to tell your stories once to reach multiple people -- well, I think there is a lot of good that comes from that.  Watch what you wish for regarding your environment.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

#1160 a thousand words

My brother-in-law told my sister: "Please, no more words in the house."  He did not mean for her to cease speaking, rather to refrain from purchasing any more plaques.  You know the ones: with lists of words, infographics or just cute sayings -- they seem to have proliferated stores across the land.

I wonder if they have become so prevalent because so much of our communication exchange is fleeting and done through virtual means.  We don't have that greeting card to hang on the refrigerator or the letter from a friend to treasure, so do we turn instead to fabric or word as a way to give some longevity to our messages?  Or have graphic programs become so advanced that everyone thinks they are a designer?

My sister believes that this decade will be remembered by words.  Years from now when people are hosting a retro party, they'll dust off the wooden plaques to use as decorations. I wonder what impressions they will draw from that!

Maybe you don't need a complete ban on the popular icons, but think twice before you hang so many messages that the meaning of any of them are lost.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words don't paint a memorable picture.

-- beth triplett