Sunday, July 31, 2016

#1521 once

I have written several dots about the need to repurpose content and encouraged readers to use material over and over. It seems that this applies in the information technology area as well.

A colleague described the OHIO method that they use as a guiding principle in their database design: Only Handle Information Once. 

If you enter a name once, it should be able to be retrieved in all the other ways that the information is desired. A content update in one area should automatically refresh the material in all the pages on the website. A database should track fields across users rather than requiring multiple entries.

I think the OHIO principles apply in settings beyond technology infrastructure. It has been a long-held belief that you can best manage the paper beast by only handling mail once before deciding to act, file or recycle. Reading emails could follow the same process. Taking notes allows you have ready-made documentation rather than having to look facts up again. Instantly entering comments into a database allows automatic sharing of notes rather than having clients repeat the same information in the future.

Think about OHIO the next time you find yourself touching information twice. It's a long drive across the Buckeye State and you don't want to do it over and over again.

-- beth triplett

Thanks to Coby and Mike.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

#1520 harried

I recently was at a restaurant with a large group of people. We had reservations for 20, which the restaurant gladly accepted, but seemingly gave no further thought to the implications of that decision.

As a result, one waitress not only serviced our entire party, but was responsible for many other tables as well. We waited an hour to order, had food sitting out on trays waiting to be placed on the table (thus it was cold when it was delivered), salads were missed, and in short, our two and a half hour meal was not a stellar experience.

And at the same time, we could have asked no more of the waitress herself. She was in perpetual motion, hurrying between our table and others, serving food, taking orders and tending to requests. There was not much more one individual could have done; it was the restaurant ownership that dropped the ball, not her.

Think about whether you have structures that even occasionally put your employees in impossible situations. Do you put your employees in predicaments like this waitress without additional support at "crunch times?" Have you failed to coordinate what sales promises with what production can deliver? Do you put your reputation on the line by providing sub-par service just to save a little in wages?

The waitress is the face of the restaurant, but no matter how pleasant her smile and how accommodating she tried to be, the overall experience was a bad one. Your front line can only compensate for so much. Their earnest efforts to do the impossible don't make good service possible. Don't expect otherwise.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 29, 2016

#1519 two

Yesterday I wrote about social listening, a strategy for intentionally being aware of social media exchanges and trends with the intent of appropriately mentioning a brand in the conversation.

One of the biggest insights for me was that the major products that use this have not one but two different teams of people involved in the on-going process. One team is exclusively focused on the listening aspect: they follow high traffic spikes and ascertain the influencers who are driving the conversation. But when they discover something relevant, they pass it along to the response team to craft a message to post. 

I would not have considered that two teams were used in the process, but it makes total sense. The listening team needs to be analytical and technologically savvy, creating algorithms and ascertaining when traffic is noteworthy for its volume or content. The response team members are the communicators: the witty, politically astute word mavens who can drop just the right spin into the conversation. It is rare that the two divergent skill sets are found in the same person, thus the two teams.

Think about the tasks that you ask your employees to perform. Have you thought of the skills required, rather than just the functions that are required? Would you be better off splitting the duties differently to allow strengths to shine in diverse staff members? Do you have one team when you may be better with two? 

Listen to the advice of the professional social listeners and delineate responsibilities in ways that match tasks with talents. I think you'll "Like" the result.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, July 28, 2016

#1518 popcorn

At a recent meeting I attended, we heard a presentation regarding strategies for "social listening." This entails a strategic and deliberate process to follow social media posts on targeted topics, and then to intentionally connect a brand to the conversations. It was a fascinating concept and the speaker opened our eyes to a whole world of possibilities of how the process could benefit our organization. Everyone was excited!

I likened the board's reaction to a popcorn popper where a new kernel had just popped. Yes, it was exciting. Yes, social listening is a good thing and could benefit us. It may be the exact right thing to pursue. 

But before rushing off and crafting a social listening plan, it is important to remember that there are many other kernels that could be popped. Especially in the technology area, it is easy to get excited about the new app/system/software/hardware that you see, without putting it into context as to what objectives it is designed to meet or what need you are trying to address. 

Whether it is in technology or any other new initiative, think about the other kernels in the popper before you rush out and implement something new. Just because it is good, doesn't mean it is right for you right now.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#1517 included

On a recent tour of a new residence hall, the tour guide pointed out that laundry was "free" to the students. Others quickly amended his statement to acknowledge that laundry wasn't really without cost, rather it was part of the overall residence hall charge.

Then when we were in the hotel, some members of our party were commenting on how they loved the "free" happy hour amenity with hot hors d'oeuvres and adult beverages. This, in addition to the "free" hot breakfast, popcorn and snacks. In reality, these services do not come without having the user pay, it's just that funds are not provided on a transactional basis.

The same is true at Southwest, where "bags fly free." Yes they do, provided that they are accompanied by a fare-paying passenger. And free wi-fi, parking or notepads and pens at a meeting are also only free in the moment. Free shipping is certainly accounted for in the price of the item (or Prime membership).

When we stop to think about it, we rationally know that "free" really means "included" in the cost, instead of a separate charge. But we don't often stop to ponder. People like the notion of "free." They like it a lot. 

Think of how you can take advantage of this mental sleight of hand. What you can bundle together and offer under one blanket charge so you can offer something for free to your customers? Can you promote a service as "free" that you are offering anyway? Is there a way to eliminate a series of smaller charges in favor of one comprehensive one?

Try to directly charge nothing for something and delight your customers as they herald you for giving them something for nothing.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#1516 dropped connection

I was surprised to hear a commercial for Sprint from Paul, the "can you hear me now?" former spokesperson for Verizon. Apparently he has switched his allegiance and is now touting cell service for his previous competitor.

Paul, an actor, is nevertheless a powerful spokesperson for Sprint. He had established himself as an iconic figure and his "can you hear me now?" became pervasive in pop culture and went way beyond his ads. So when he says: "there is only a 1% difference in coverage, can you hear that?" it has more credibility than if anyone else was saying it.

I wonder what evolved (de-volved?) in Paul's relationship with Verizon that not only caused him to leave, but to actively promote their rival. I have written before that organizations would be wise to consider how they treat former employees as well as how they pay attention to current ones. Apparently Verizon didn't get my memo!

For those who are enlightened, how you say goodbye to staff and the communication you have with them afterward can go a long way in your public relations efforts. Current employees are your organization's ambassadors, and former staff can be too, if treated with respect and good will in the transition process. Departures may not always be the employee's choice, but the employer always has an option of how to treat people during the separation.

Think about Paul the next time you are saying farewell to an employee. After all the money spent in branding him with Verizon, it seems like a bad connection that allowed him to wind up hawking phone plans for Sprint. Take the high road to keep from dropping the call with your former staff.

-- beth triplett

Monday, July 25, 2016

#1515 sharpen

Thought leader Dan Pink recently shared a post in which he described his favorite pencil. It does not have an eraser, so I am sure it would not make my list, but it started me thinking about writing implements in a way I had not done before.

There is something for everyone, even when just considering pencils and not the many other choices that abound for hand-written communication. CW Pencil Enterprise is an entire store dedicated to selling just pencils and their accessories. And who knew that an elite pencil sharpener could cost over $500? I could buy boxes and boxes of my trusty Ticonderogas for that price and just toss them when the tip was dull!

I am not a connoisseur of pencils, so what I know about them, and what I want to know about them, is very limited. But for others, choosing the right one is an art. To start, the Pencil Enterprise's blog shares a handy chart of what all those letters on pencils mean. From there, you can learn more about the graphite/clay composition of the lead, the wood, the width and so on. 

All this reminded me of the concept that experts notice nuances whereas non-experts only can observe broad characteristics. Show me an enrollment report, and undoubtedly I will have 20 questions whereas you might have none. Show me a pencil and I might ask if it is a #2, but otherwise I would have no further inquires for the Pencil Enterprise staff. 

A job of the leader is to help those around you see those fine distinctions and know more questions to consider. Share your expertise in areas where you have it, and ask experts in other areas to sharpen your knowledge about points you can't even fathom.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#1514 equipped

I have a friend who carries an unusual wallet. It's like a little case with buttons labeled for each of his credit cards. Press a button and the card pops out. It is a novelty to watch.

And as a result, people ask him about his wallet when they see him use it. It is only available online through ACM Wallet, making it a bit more difficult to remember than saying "go to Target" or "I got it at Best Buy."

So what did the fine folks at ACM do to counteract this? They included a little card with the wallet that could be shared. So now when someone asks, they can be handed all the information necessary to get a fancy wallet of their own!

It's one thing to have Frequently Asked Questions on your website or to prepare your employees to serve clients well. What a great idea to go beyond that and prepare your customers to serve your future customers well too.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, July 23, 2016

#1513 transient

'Tis the season for county fairs, popping up everywhere throughout the nation. While I enjoy the food and the animals, what really impresses me is the logistics.

Most fairs take place in an area that is little more than a building or two and a field. For much of the year, the fairgrounds are vacant except for the occasional wedding or event, yet when it is Fair Week, the field becomes a miniature city. The entire fair gets assembled, disassembled and moved within a day or two.

Food and beverage for thousands (of people and animals) appears on site. Production needs are met and dozens of entertainers perform. Health care and veterinary services are provided. An entire carnival is set up and secured. Electrical power, trash pick up, security, restroom facilities, water, ice, lights -- it all is in place at full strength for one week per year.

Many people feel overwhelmed when they have to move offices or relocate their household. But the county fair reminds me that moving is a mindset. The transient nature of the business has carnies, vendors, showmen and breeders moving from one county to the next all throughout the summer. 

Think about the fair the next time a move is in your future, and earn yourself a blue ribbon for migrating with fair-like gusto. You can take solace that in the end, you won't have to do it all over again after the weekend.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 22, 2016

#1512 simultaneous

I recently was in St. Louis, and after hundreds of times seeing it, I am still awe-struck by the Gateway Arch. Not only is it a magnificent piece of architecture and civil engineering, but I also think it is a powerful metaphor of how to function as a supervisor.

In my office, I have a picture of the unfinished Arch, just as they are installing the last piece. It is a visual reminder that the two sides were built simultaneously, all the way to the top, before they could be joined.

On an individual level, I think of building my employees like the Arch, taking care to address their performance on one side and their professional development on the other. I do not believe that you can ignore either and still get the result that you desire.

Organizationally, I am reminded of work from the Santa Fe Center for Emergent Strategies that encourages simultaneous cultivation of entrepreneurial processes and instrumental processes. It is the ying and yang of long term and short term, infrastructure and innovation, or operations and strategy. You must have both or neither is strong.

Think about how you can use the Arch as a metaphor for the work ahead of you. Putting in that last piece was a marvel in itself, and it serves as a reminder that you need to pay equal attention to both sides for the fit to be right.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#1511 just say no

A key concept in strategic planning is not only determining what goals to pursue, but also identifying what you should not implement. There are always more good ideas than are feasible, and a true strategy involves prioritization and choices.

Author Michael Bungay Stanier put it this way: "Strategy is all about saying no to the stuff you want to say yes to." Think about that one for a minute. Saying yes to certain good options and no to other good options is easier said than done.

I think the ability to make such decisions has roots in the level of self-discipline we have cultivated in our personal lives. If we are able to set our own boundaries and say no to things we want, then we grow that muscle to flex in our organizational lives.

"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should," said Rabbi Stephanie Alexander. Her examples include spending, eating unhealthy foods, going as fast as your car's speedometer says you can or instantaneously responding to the message alert on your phone. If we always respond to temptation on small issues, we won't have the discipline when we really need it for tougher choices.

It is even sometimes hard to say no to bad choices, but it becomes even more difficult to say no to good things. Try to strengthen your "no muscle" this week by setting some boundaries for yourself. Then say no to things, even if they are desirable, that don't meet your criteria. I predict you'll enjoy the power that comes when there is a clear demarcation between what is your priority and what isn't.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#1510 leverage your effort

It is an enlightening exercise when consider the ratio of return on all activities where you contribute your resources. 

With savings, you can put it in the piggy bank and have a one-to-one ratio ($1 in will equal $1 out), or in a savings account which will provide you a bit higher return -- or you can invest it in stocks which should earn you a much higher ratio in the long run. With investing, the activities of others are rewarding you.

With your job, you can get paid for each hour or salaried equivalent -- or you can become an entrepreneur or business owner and earn income from sales and the work of your employees, thus benefitting from work you are not directly doing. Your one hour of work as an owner could equate to much more than one hour of return in ultimate pay.

With fitness work outs, you can go for walks or do aerobics to gain direct benefit, but with strength training the ratio is higher. Resistance training boosts your metabolism and can actually help burn calories after your workout. Again, you are benefitting beyond direct one-to-one input: 30 minutes of aerobics burns calories for 30 minutes, but 30 minutes burns calories for more than 30 minutes.

I don't know anyone who feels like they have too much time on their hands. To make the most of what you do have, consider what activities you invest in. Do you put your effort where there is a one-to-one ratio and you earn all the benefits yourself, or can you leverage synergy by participating in practices where others are working for your gain?

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#1509 stealth

When most companies do something new to their product, they blare the trumpets and shout it from the rooftops. How many times have you seen some thing say "NEW," but upon closer inspection find that there really isn't a fundamental difference there?

Kraft took the opposite approach with its iconic Macaroni and Cheese. The company changed the ingredients on its signature product, yet did not market the fact. They removed all the artificial ingredients and dyes without fanfare and sold 50 million boxes more before they publicly acknowledged it. What a gutsy decision.

Someone in marketing at Kraft realized that the mind is a powerful tool. If your brain thought the Macaroni and Cheese was not only different, but missing something, I would all but guarantee that it would not taste the same. Maybe it wouldn't be bad, but it wouldn't be unchanged. Why risk a drop in sales or a public relations nightmare like New Coke when the new ingredients actually involved making the product more natural?

Now that most of the repeat consumers have had a chance to try the revised product, it seems Kraft believes it is safe to proclaim the new ingredients in hopes of attracting a few new customers who would like the no-artificial aspect of the dinner. So now Kraft has new box labeling and even point of purchase displays -- six months later.

I would have liked to have been in the room when invariably discussions were held about whether to proclaim the change or remain silent. I think people face that dilemma in many ways. Do you tell all the employees that you have received a windfall, or keep quiet so that people keep pushing toward the goal? What about warning people about a very slim chance of a problem? If you change the ventilation system, should you tell people or does the mere fact of knowing it is different prompt false concerns? Do you tell your partner you swapped out coconut oil for vegetable oil in your recipe?

There are many scenarios where transparency and prompt communication are warranted. I would venture to say that in most situations you are better off with that tactic. But as Kraft has shown, if the change is a positive one, you may consider a stealth implementation to gain validity before you get a contrived mental vilification.

-- beth triplett

Source: Did you even notice your Kraft Mac & Cheese has no artificial ingredients? by Jason Best, March 8, 2016, on

Thanks to Amy for sharing!

Monday, July 18, 2016

#1508 prescription for success

I was talking to someone whose daughter is going to "Mayo" to hopefully find a diagnosis to her vexing medical issue. By Mayo, she meant The Mayo Clinic, one of America's top hospitals, but specifically the gold standard in treatment and diagnosis. 

As I researched to see what made Mayo different than other hospitals, and why they seemed to be able to find the root cause of ailments that elude everyone else, I learned that they attribute their success to their "multi-specialty integration." 

When Dr. Mayo opened his office in 1864, doctors worked alone. The concept of a group practice was unheard of, but he invited others doctors and scientists to work along with him. Mayo has leveraged multi-specialty integration from the beginning and found that it is this system of teamwork that has set them apart in the medical world. 

At Mayo, teamwork receives more than lip service; it permeates almost every aspect of the multi-billion dollar corporation. The buildings were designed with collaboration in mind. Mayo pioneered the first integrated medical record system. Physicians are paid a fixed salary that is not linked to volume or services rendered. The Mayo School of Continuous Professional Development encourages on-going learning and innovations. An unhurried examination where "the needs of the patient come first" allows for probing questions and listening.

The Mayo model is working in health care, and may serve as a prescription for how to impact your culture too. You would be well to emulate the Mayo Clinic Model of Care and Mayo Clinic Values as a prescription for organizational success.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, July 17, 2016

#1507 revival

When I first started working, one of my indispensable tools was my Day-timer, a 5x7 binder that was filled with calendar pages, spaces for notes, and host of reference charts. I switched from the Day-timer standard to a similar system by Franklin Covey, but both involved quarterly refills, a special hole punch and a plethora supplemental forms to allegedly make me more effective in my time management.

Eventually, the sheer bulk of these products caused many to give way to other methods of calendaring and note taking, and, of course, electronic tools and apps replaced even most paper systems. Binder systems seem to have gone the way of the fax machine; they're still around, but not as essential as they once were.

So I was surprised when I saw a binder-based calendar system on sale at Target. Then I saw a whole display at Michaels. And then again at Staples. Apparently binders are coming back!

In addition to their functionality, the systems are being marketed as the mecca of choice. You can pick your binder color. Add a special tassel or charm. Decide on your preference for inserts. Embellish with special stickers or even color your own cover. Purchase a matching pen and a special holder to carry it. And on it goes. As I wrote about yesterday, this seems to be the era of personalization, and companies got the idea that people can spend a lot more on customizing their paper/binder products than they can on an electronic app. 

Pay attention to see if binders make their way into your office or classroom and ask yourself what implications this has. What can you put in binder format that you currently only offer via an app? It may be worth it to take a page out of an old-time playbook and insert yourself into this emerging trend.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, July 16, 2016

#1506 mine

I have an angel knickknack from when I was a child that is stamped with "June" for my birth month. I am sure at the time this was a novelty, something that was "personalized" and thus more attractive as a keepsake.

Over the years, technology made it much easier to add variety to items. The options expanded to include a wide spectrum of names embossed on items (e.g. keychains, ornaments, pens), then it became easier to put names on everything through computers and home printing. Most people are no longer impressed when they see products with names or the ability to include personal information, such as on mugs or pictures on cake icing.

But I will admit I paused when I saw the latest evolution of customization: personalized fabric. Now a baby's blanket can have their name woven into the material, or kids can have clothes made of cloth bearing their moniker. I wonder when it will stop or whether we will get to the point where everything has an individual element to it.

All this personalization isn't inherently bad, but I think it has unintended consequences. Joey isn't going to want to use that blanket because it says Lucas. He'll want his own, and probably other things of his own too. Goodwill will have a harder time getting someone to buy it since it is no longer generic. All the personalization requires additional energy to make and ship, increasing the environmental impact.

The less the commonality, the "more" that results. Think about the the broad picture before you opt for the narrow one.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 15, 2016

#1505 side hustle

I thought I was going to be able to "babysit" a 10-week old puppy last weekend, and I can't tell you how excited I was about the prospect of doing that. I shared the possibility with my sister, who would have been another willing volunteer. 

She suggested creating a puppy-sitting service, sort of a Puppy Airbnb. I would be perfect; I don't have the space or desire to host strangers in my home, but their dogs...well, that is a different story. If they are young enough, my home is theirs. Fido could stay with me while their owners are in a hotel or with non-dog-loving relatives. There are all sorts of situations I could envision where this would be a good thing for everyone. Golden puppies could even stay for free!

Maybe I need a new tag for "business ideas" as I seem to be having several of them lately. Boat sharingnew kinds of drive throughs, and now this. Author Chris Guillebeau believes that everyone should have a "side hustle" that brings them additional revenue apart from their regular employment. Maybe this is it for me?

Whether you are developing a part-time business or working in a traditional job, ideas are the easy part. It's turning them into something meaningful where the grunt work needs to happen. But the best way to get a great idea is to get lots of ideas. So I'll keep coming up with business prospects and maybe one will inspire me to buckle down and make it happen.

What idea do you have out there that is worth your effort to turn it into a reality? It doesn't have to be something that you can monetize, but it does need to be something worthy of your time and what you will give up to focus on it. I can watch your puppy while you're working!

-- beth triplett

Thursday, July 14, 2016

#1504 little loves

When I am supervising staff or working with others, one of the things I listen for most is their personal preferences for things (approximately) under $5. And then I write them down so I remember them. Later, this information becomes a treasure trove for "the perfect something" to enhance a note of recognition or to express appreciation for a job well done.

My list has quite the variance. I know that a certain person likes Three Musketeers, while another loves salt water taffy, and yet another can't get enough of Sour Patch Kids. Some on my list would most appreciate a peppermint latte, while others would like a Pez dispenser, a Flair marker, a stress ball, cupcake sprinkles, a holiday tie, alligator office clips, Inkjoy pens or an orange Dreamsicle. I know who likes diet Coke and who prefers diet Pepsi, who likes unicorns and who has a thing for owls. I even know that someone likes pink Starburst (only) and that someone else likes just the dark chocolate Frango mints.

If it's a low cost item, I take note when someone comments that they would like something. In the past, that has been a certain color earrings they couldn't find, something from the Smart Women collection, a first-of-the-season caramel apple or a scarf in spirit colors. There is often a lag between the comment and the perfect moment to present it, but that can make an even greater impact.

While it's important to learn about your colleague's family and big things in their life, there is great untapped potential that comes from learning about the little things too. Recognition has so much more power when the token is specific and meaningful to the recipient. Listen and pay attention to the little loves, and you will get much more bang from your buck or two.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#1503 one-way

Last night, I took advantage of the "public comment" opportunity in front of our city council for the first time. I was quite dismayed at the absence of recycling or any environmental efforts at our city-wide festival and decided to complain to someone who could do something about it. I asked the council to direct the staff to either take on the responsibility as a city or to seek a volunteer to oversee recycling efforts; in any case to do something besides fill the Dumpster. 

The prescribed council procedure is to listen to comments, but not to respond. They take their mandate literally. No non-verbals. No communication in any way that they even heard what I had to say. I knew they couldn't reply, but to talk to an invisible wall was unnerving.

I think that if you are going to be relegated to one-way communication, it makes more sense to use a one-sided communication vehicle like a letter or social media post. In person should mean an exchange, even if it is to ask questions without being compelled to provide answers. A "thanks, we'll get back to you" or "we appreciate you sharing your concerns" would have been a good start. 

Look at your communication channels from the perspective of the user. Does your format align with your expectations and theirs for what kind of exchange will occur? Do you encourage comments and do so in a responsive manner? Have you done all you can to acknowledge the time and interest invested in commenting, even if you don't agree with what was said?

I'm afraid my future city activism is going to be relegated to the pen, not the podium. Using recycled paper, of course.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#1502 open

Yesterday I wrote about the overuse of "collaboration" and the growing trend toward open work spaces in the corporate environment. One company that is embracing the shared work environment in a substantial way is Principal Financial. The $284 million renovation of their Des Moines building will eliminate offices in favor of "coves" to provide open and mobile work spaces for employees.

As someone who is fascinated with organizational cultures, I wish I had a crystal ball to see what will happen at Principal and others who embrace this no-office design. I would expect that there will be greater small group gatherings, more informal discussions and more frequent cross-pollination than would occur with walls. Perhaps great new insights will result when people are able to easily work with others who have different roles and perspectives.

And I wonder -- at what cost. The lack of ownership of a personal space -- even the three sides of a cubicle, I suspect will diminish the feeling of attachment some employees have with their employer. A transient work space makes people feel, well, more transient, and I would predict not as connected to the organization. The inability to display any personal artifacts reduces the visual cues of shared experiences colleagues may have with each other. (For example, someone who did not know me could instantly tell I was a dog lover by walking into my cube; now they would need to explicitly ask since space is no longer designated for a single person.)

I also am curious about the impact of open and fluid work environments for the introverts in the bunch. Some people need a bit of privacy, stability and structure, and I wonder if their effectiveness will diminish with the modern floor plans. Principal says that employees no longer will be "tethered" to their desks, but that tether can be a cord of security for some temperaments.

We have gone from the open group of typists, to offices, to cubicles and now to "collaborative" design. I suspect that the open floor plans are the fad of the day (or decade), and, like with everything else, will evolve again and reformulate into something new in the next round of renovations. In the meantime, organizations who deploy them and employees who work within them need to be intentional about fostering connections amongst colleagues and engendering connections to the company. 

Removing walls does not automatically remove all the barriers to communication or collaboration. It will take more than a renovation to create a culture where employees of all types feel at home.

-- beth triplett

Open space office at the Foundling child welfare nonprofit in New York City. No walls, so they added these small rooms for privacy. Tripled their capacity for employees in the same space, even CEO has no walls in office. (from Amy Franck Meyer)

Monday, July 11, 2016

#1501 collaboration

There was an article in the newspaper that described the changing layouts of offices to allow for greater collaboration amongst employees. I cringed, as I think "collaboration" has become one of the most overused buzzwords today, and few people really stop to consider what it means.

I always refer back to a document that I have been referencing for over two decades that describes the differences between cooperation, coordination and collaboration. The Amherst Wilder Foundation seeks to fund projects that are true collaborations, and to help potential grant recipients they compiled this brilliant chart that outlines how essential elements are different under the three conditions. In one page, the Foundation describes the variation in: vision and relationships; structure, responsibilities and communication; authority and accountability; and resources and rewards as well as how they manifest themselves in the three environments. 

I think that if you read it, you will find that most things people currently describe as collaborations are truly cooperation or coordination. Working together is very different than creating a shared mission, pooling resources or dispersing control. Yet striving for genuine collaboration is needed more than ever, as it creates the synergy that is the only thing likely to create solutions for some of the greatest problems we face as a society.

The next time you want to pat yourself on the back for collaborating with a colleague, reference this guide before you do. The bar for true collaboration is high, but the rewards for reaching it warrant much more than new collaborative furniture.

-- beth triplett

Collaboration marks the office of the future, by Steve Brown in the Dallas Morning News, reprinted the Telegraph Herald, July 3, 2016, p. 7D.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

#1500 MD

I am taken aback when I realize that it would now take three full reams of paper to print out these dots. How did it get to be 1500? You know the answer: one sentence at a time, that formed a dot, repeated daily for 49 months, which brings us to today.

A friend was recently asked to write a few blog entries for his institution, and asked me for some advice on how to go about the task. When I thought about it, my process involves these steps:

1. Being aware of what is around me (reading, paying attention, observing)

2. Then turning that observation into an idea

3. Adding a lesson or making a point in conjunction with that idea

4. Writing the dot

5. Adding enhancements: tags, photos, links

My advice included two more steps that I should do, but don't always:

6. Sharing the blog via social media

7. Repurposing content in as many ways as possible.

Thinking about the process I use for something that is so ingrained in my routine helped me to see portions that are easier or harder for me. I often have ideas without lessons (eg: it's dot #1500 -- how do I turn that into something meaningful), but once I get the thought formulated, writing it is the quickest portion. So rather than sitting down to write, it makes more sense for me to first think about linking lessons with the ideas I have.

What complex sequence do you frequently follow? Take a moment today to break it down into steps to see where your strengths and challenges fall. Instead of one day a time, take it one small piece at a time, and repeat, over and over again.

Onward to #2000!

-- beth triplett

Saturday, July 9, 2016

#1499 what'd you think?

Continuing on yesterday's topic about the hiring process, I will share another tool that may be helpful at the other end of the hiring spectrum: interview evaluation forms. If your candidate meets with many people during the course of the selection process, you need to develop a way to gather feedback about the person. To do so, I use this form.

This form offers five important components:

1. The evaluator's name. If they want to be anonymous, in my view, their comments can remain invisible too. If the evaluator doesn't own up to what they are saying, I don't read it.

2. Strengths: It is helpful to hear people articulate the positive aspects of the candidate vs. just what is wrong with them. Even candidates the evaluator may not like have strengths, and if they can't list any then I question whether they are providing a fair evaluation.

3. Weaknesses: The reverse is true here. If the evaluator only sees glowing aspects, I wonder if they are star-struck instead of objective. And if there are legitimate weaknesses listed, they form a strong basis for reference check questions as well as for initial professional development should the person be hired.

4. Additional comments: I like an open-ended opportunity for the evaluator to make observations or raise questions that may not fit neatly into the other two categories.

5. Ranking: I believe it is important for the hiring manager to know how colleagues and others feel about the candidate. If several mark: "Definitely Do Not Want," the supervisor needs to be prepared to deal with office tensions if that candidate is chosen. 

Hiring staff is one of the most important roles of the supervisor. Use this form or something similar to ensure that you get valuable feedback from those involved in the selection process as well as to help you hit the ground running to address training needs and concerns your new hire may bring.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 8, 2016

#1498 sorting hat

If you ever serve on a search committee or are involved in hiring candidates, here is a process that I suspect will make your work easier than it is right now.

> When resumes come in, number them in a visible way. The numbers mean nothing, but serve as a quick way for committee members to a) discuss candidates [It is far easier to say: "I like #14" than it is to say: "I like Natalia Obertini Noguera"] and b) know whether they have reviewed all of the resumes ["#76 just came in, did you get that?" vs. "have you seen Schockemaliger?"]

> Instruct all committee members to independently review the resumes and place the number of each candidate into one of three categories: HIGH (I think we should explore further), MEDIUM (I could consider them) or LOW (I am ready to send a rejection letter now). Members can make notes about their candidates as they wish, but the goal is to get all the numbers placed in one of the three categories. (You can use this handy form.)

> When the committee meets to review candidates, the facilitator has the stack of resumes (or list of numbers if resumes aren't printed) in numerical order. The facilitator begins with "#1" and committee members go around the room and indicate into what category they placed that person. All numbers are called out in order and resumes are sorted (without any discussion) until all three piles have been made. If anyone gives the person a HIGH, they immediately go into the HIGH pile. If everyone categorizes the candidate as a LOW, they are in the LOW pile and are out of consideration. A MEDIUM pile is for everyone else. 

You could do the above sorting in advance, but I think it lends credibility and insight to the process to do it with everyone together. You quickly can learn nuances of the person's rankings (e.g. if someone gives lots of HIGHS you know they are less meaningful than the person who only had two), and people feel less angst ruling people out when they see that others feel the same way.

> After the candidates have been sorted, discussion begins about each of the HIGH resumes (only). If this yields a robust enough pool for the interviewing or screening process to begin, discussion ends there. If not, discussion can continue to the MEDIUM pile. The LOW pile is set aside and no discussion is necessary.

I can say with certainty that this method facilitates the screening process and allows for everyone to have a say on their top people. We have hired many candidates that only one person marked as a HIGH, but because of the automatic inclusion into the discussion pile, the committee member was able to make their case and move the candidate forward.

The next time you are involved with selection, give these techniques a try. I'll bet your days of fumbling around with names and digging or scrolling through piles of resumes to find someone are over. It's not as good as the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, but darn close!

-- beth triplett