Monday, October 31, 2016

leadership dot #1613: boo humbug

My sister sent me a Halloween card in which she wrote: "May all the trick-or-treaters pass you by -- ha ha!" If only.

I think that trick-or-treating is a tradition whose time has passed. It is a vestige of an older, safer, simpler time:
> when neighbors knew each other and those who came knocking; 
> when little kids were the ones going door to door; 
> when people put sweat equity into their costumes instead of paying outrageous prices for commercial versions; 
> when parents could trust that it was only candy being distributed and not something bad;
> when sugar was seen as a treat instead of a health hazard, and
> when not every tenth kid had a food allergy.

I am not sure it was ever prudent to open your door to strangers at night, and my hesitation grows with each passing year. I often find reasons to be gone, but even then, I fear that I may return home to signs of a trick-or-treater's displeasure.

Each year, Halloween grows in prominence. There are homes with elaborate outdoor decorations, stores full of costumes, magazines with recipes for intricate treats and aisles of treasures to be distributed. I am not suggesting any of those go away, rather that they be relegated to private parties for those who choose to hold them.

Let's celebrate Halloween the way other holidays are celebrated: with friends and families gathered in your home -- rather than with strangers on the streets in the dark.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 30, 2016

leadership dot #1612: scan and go

First it was the express lane, then came the self-serve checkout, followed by Apple Pay and other convenient ways to check out. Now the quest to speed up purchasing has gone another step further.

Sam's Club has introduced a new Scan & Go mobile app that allows customers to scan items on their phone as they shop and pay directly from the app. No waiting in lines at all. The clerk at the door will verify purchases on your e-receipt, but otherwise you are handling the whole transaction.

I wonder what impact this will have on purchasing. 

On one hand, it may make people buy less as they can see totals right when they put something in the cart. There has been more than one occasion when I was surprised by how things added up at the checkout, and that would be alleviated with instant accounting for items.

Or perhaps it will entice people to buy more as they come to Sam's because of the convenience; tossing items in the cart and scanning them without thought as if using a scan gun for a gift registry.

What I do know is that if it works, we'll be seeing apps for every store. 

How is your organization utilizing the power of the phone? With all your customers carrying around a computer, the expectations keep rising that you'll find ways for them to use it. 

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 29, 2016

leadership dot #1611: pretending

I purchased a beverage and I lamented that it was served in a standard plastic cup. "Another item in the landfill," I thought to myself.

Later, I purchased another beverage, this time at a new coffeehouse. I was delighted to see that they used "GreenStripe Eco Products" for their drinks. I inwardly applauded their commitment to provide environmentally friendly products.

When I came home and went to recycle the cups, I learned that appearances could be deceiving. The first cup was a "5" and did recycle in our area, but the "Eco Product" cup was a "7" -- meaning that not only is not recyclable in most areas, but it is of mixed origin. In other words, it's not friendly at all.

It's easy to give a product or brand a name that has appeal, but much harder to deliver a brand promise that has integrity. And pretending to be environmentally friendly is worse than not trying.

Take a look at the alignment between what your organization appears to value, and what it really does. Which cup are you?

-- beth triplett

Friday, October 28, 2016

leadership dot #1610: reminisce

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has been celebrated in Mexico for centuries. The holiday is an occasion to gather in celebration and remembrance of loved ones who have died. As I understand it, many people believe that the gates of heaven open on October 31, allowing the deceased to reunite with family on November 2.

As with every holiday, traditions and rituals accompany it. Those who partake often create elaborate altars (ofrendas) in tribute to those who have passed, and fill them with special food and colorful flowers. Elaborate sugar skulls are decorated for the festivities and have become one of the iconic images for the holiday.

Dia de los Muertos has always been celebrated outside of Mexico by those with Mexican heritage, but this year the holiday has taken on a new life of its own in the United States. One website called it "America's Newest Holiday" and decorations have appeared for sale at many retailers.

Perhaps you will choose to add a new dimension to your end-of-October celebrations and incorporate Dia de los Muertos traditions into your family. But whether or not you make altars, candy skulls or special loaves of bread, I hope you use the occasion to reminisce about those who have gone before you. Take some time to tell stories about what made them special to you and how they impacted your life. 

Let the day of the dead bring meaning and reflection to your living.

-- beth triplett

For Dia de los Muertos resources and instructions on making altars (ofrendas), click here.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Thursday, October 27, 2016

leadership dot #1609: nebulous

I just received a text from my cell phone company notifying me that I was almost out of data for the month. 

Data is one of those life mysteries that is important to regulate and measure, but is impossibly difficult for the average person to regulate and measure. What caused my data to be higher than usual this month? Perhaps it is the "smart travel study" app that was likely running the whole time I was in the car for six hours? Maybe it was the extra podcasts I listened to while going on longer walks with the dogs? Or something else entirely. I really don't know what caused it, making it guesswork to try and change my actions.

Electricity is the same way. A few months ago, my electric bill was significantly higher than the previous year. I racked my brain trying to figure out why. What had I done differently? The answer turned out not to be my behavior, but my leaking air conditioner coil that was working extra hard in attempt to provide cool without coolant. I didn't guess that, so didn't (initially) fix it, leaving me with two giant bills before the A/C died and I discovered the cause of excessive energy use.

Food, exercise and calories are also nebulous when trying to truly measure impact. Yes, the donuts have more calories than the apple, but it is difficult to know what really makes the difference in weight loss or gain. If you go for a run does it mitigate eating a piece of pie? Or if you had to choose between the evening glass of wine or dessert is there a better choice? Is the salad really a low calorie option?

There are so many new gizmos and apps that attempt to quantify aspects of life. But the text about data usage, my electricity bill and the bathroom scale all communicate about the past. By the time you get to that point, the damage is done. 

I want new ways to link data to immediate choices. An app that says: "If you download this movie, it will take this many bytes of your data plan." A thermostat that says: "If you turn the A/C down 3 degrees, next month's electric bill will cost you $X more" or a control panel that shows before you print what it will cost in electricity/ink/paper. Or a fork or fitness app that can tell you: "if you eat this, you'll have to exercise for X minutes to maintain your weight."

Instead of using more power to learn what you did, try to invest your energy in systems to track what can make a difference in your present.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

leadership dot #1608: equal access

Today brings one more lesson from the One Iowa workshop I referenced yesterday.

The facilitator, Keenan Crow, noted that addressing discrimination or oppression is not about making everything the same for everyone. Instead, the goal is to provide equal access for all. 

He used this illustration to demonstrate the difference:

Think about an eye doctor.  

If we treated everyone the same way, everyone would receive the same prescription and same glasses. While this would work for some, it would not work for most.

Instead, we should strive to provide equal access -- meaning making it possible for everyone to see an eye doctor. It is better to offer access to the service than to find one solution to address individual needs.

Think about what your organization is trying to do be inclusive and to avoid discrimination. If your emphasis is not on equal access, you run the risk of leaving out one group when you provide special rights to others.

-- beth triplett

Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

leadership dot #1607: George W

I recently attended a workshop about concepts underlying LGBT identities. Representatives from One Iowa used this simple yet powerful exercise to help people understand how cultural context influences our perceptions of identity and reactions to others.

Keenan Crow said that George W was his favorite president, and asked us to picture in our head what he wore to his presidential inauguration. [You can do that now.] Most said things like a tie, suit, flag lapel pin, coat, etc.

Then he showed the picture below.  [Scroll down]

George W stood for George Washington, not George W. Bush as most people assumed. And on George Washington's inauguration, he wore a powered wig, ruffled shirt, high heeled shoes and tights. If someone wore that today, inferences would be made about their identity or sexual orientation, but in the culture of the time what Washington wore was perfectly acceptable. Both men, at the same function, being inaugurated to the same office -- all the same parameters except for time -- and that made all the difference.

The next time you are tempted to jump to conclusions or make inferences about a person or an idea, remember George W. You need to first understand the context before you can understand anything at all.

-- beth triplett

Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

Monday, October 24, 2016

leadership dots #1606: fly the W

I am cheering for the Cubs to win the World Series. And it's not because they haven't won a Series in 108 years. It's not because many of my friends and my whole family are life long Cubs fans (as was I until I moved to St. Louis.) It's not because I have anything against the Indians.

I am rooting for the Cubs because I love it when the non-sexy, behind the scenes grunt work of building an infrastructure and crafting a culture pays off in a big way. And that is what has happened with this organization.

After assembling his cabinet, General Manager Theo Epstein started with a 4-day meeting of 150 scouts, coaches and minor league staff. He knew that he had to build the organization from the ground up and impart his vision of what the Cubs of the future could be. That was four years ago.

Since then the club has addressed almost every aspect of the organization. They added 77 new positions (but still have the smallest front office in baseball.) They invested $6 million in technology so they could modernize operations and rely more on statistical measures. They built new facilities for the farm team, for scouting in the Dominican Republic and for offices in Chicago. They spent $750 million to upgrade the neighborhood around Wrigley and make substantial improvements to the park itself. The Cubs renegotiated broadcasting contracts and worked with the Disney Institute to improve customer service. 

Oh, and they acquired a manager and made player trades that favored a new infusion 
of energy and those who wanted to play in the culture they were trying to create. They modeled in the minors the culture they wanted in the Big Show, that of "playing loose and with confidence." 

The Cubs honestly communicated the long term plan with their fans to align expectations. The owners acknowledged that the team would become worse before they became better. They were right.

But now, here they are. Seeing the results of a half-decade of systematic effort. Reaping the benefits that come from an aligned culture, supportive infrastructure and methodical progress toward a larger goal. 

Yes, I am cheering for the Cubs -- and for all other organizations who do the work off the field to enjoy success on it. Learn from them so your organization can fly its own W flag too.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 23, 2016

leadership dot #1605: clarity

The implementation of EMV chip readers was supposed to have occurred by October, 2015, but as anyone who has been in a retail establishment lately knows, the transition is still in progress.

Most outlets now have the machinery, but a maddening number of them still work only with the "swipe" function rather than the chip. From just looking at the machine, there is no way for the customer to know whether to insert the chip or to swipe, which I am sure results in undue frustration for people on both sides of the counter.

I was recently at a convenience store that provided a perfect solution to the dilemma. They inserted a blank gift card into the chip mechanism and wrote "no chip." Problem solved. Everyone can know with clarity what to do with their credit card in that machine.

I am not sure why the manufacturer did not provide a similar feature, perhaps more eloquently stated and professionally done. All chip readers could have come with an insert that said "Chip feature in progress," or something similar instead of having people fumble through for the months that installation was in progress.

If your organization is continually asked the same question or sees its customers hesitate about what to do (eg: which door to enter, where to find the restrooms, what something costs, etc.), spell it out for them. Even if it is a simple sign written with a Sharpie, eliminating the little annoyances goes a long way in the overall customer experience.

-- beth triplett

See Dot #1329, chips, January 21, 2016 for more on this topic

Saturday, October 22, 2016

leadership dot #1604: recombobulation

A friend sent me this photo from the Milwaukee airport. It's the space just outside the TSA checkpoint and is identified as the "Recombobulation Area." 

It's an appropriate word, since after you pass through security you often feel like you need to put yourself back together. Shoes, jewelry, pockets and luggage are all disrupted and disheveled and you need to take a few moments to get yourself back into the condition you were when you first entered the line.

While Milwaukee literally labeled a space for recombobulation, I think that similar zones are needed in far more locations. Maybe malls could have one at Christmas? Or it could be a special room in a home where parents could go after a children's play date or party. Offices could have them for employees to use after divisive meetings or stressful deadlines. They would be useful for visitors in hospitals or for anyone who has to visit an emergency room.

We all get discombobulated at points in time. Even though there likely isn't an official space for you to decompress, I urge you to create one of your own. Take a moment to breathe and to gather your composure before you continue on to the next gate.

-- beth triplett

Thanks Demetria!

Friday, October 21, 2016

leadership dot #1603: storytelling

Yesterday I presented a workshop for the Iowa School Public Relations Association. My session title: An orange, a crayon and a paper bag -- Storytelling in 2016.

The premise of the session was that, in today's world where choice abounds -- even for K-12 students -- and state funding is limited, it is vital to for school districts to demonstrate value. And value comes from creating distinctiveness. I used the three items in the title as the basis for exercises to help participants gain practice in creating distinctions. 

You may find them helpful as your organization strives to claim its role in a crowded field or aims to set itself apart from others to gain funding, membership or other benefits. I have written about these items separately, but think about them as a trio that can flex your creative muscle to master the difference between describing and telling a story.

The Orange exercise, the Crayons exercise and the Paper bags exercise can be found at these links.

Another exercise that is helpful in stimulating thought on distinctions is the matching exercise. While it may seem counter intuitive that finding commonalities leads to articulating differences, it does when you go beyond the obvious.

I used flash cards of simple pictures (like what is available in teacher's stores) and asked the group to find what matched. As an example: It was easy to see that a fox matched the owl as both are animals, but harder to notice that the fox also matched the airplane as both have tails and noses. The owl also matched the airplane because both fly. 

The storyteller's job is to see new ways of connecting ideas, and today, everyone is a storyteller. Practice creating distinctions among seemingly ordinary or similar items to help you vividly communicate your organization's value.

-- beth triplett

Dot #608: orange, January 30, 2014
Dot #427: colors, August 2, 2013
Dot #138: paper bags, October 17, 2012

Thursday, October 20, 2016

leadership dot #1602: overhead

Yesterday I wrote about overhead projectors, and today I will share thoughts on a different kind of overhead -- specifically the one that non-profits use to categorize their administrative costs.

I recently participated in a webinar with industry professionals who are leading an effort to redefine the perception of overhead expenditures being automatically viewed as negative. These leaders maintain that by placing a disproportionate emphasis on the overhead radio (the % that goes to administrative salaries and office costs), non-profits are hesitant to invest in the infrastructure that could help them more effectively achieve their mission.  

The premise of the webinar was twofold: 1) that not all non-profits should be judged by the same metric -- as international networks have a very different cost structure than do research organizations than do advocacy groups, etc. and 2) that no single metric should be used to evaluate an entire organization. 

While the dilemmas may be clear, the answers to them are not. This was the first of a 3-part webinar series to discuss the matter and to help guide a conversation about how organizations should measure their impact, manage toward results and demonstrate the effectiveness of overhead expenditures. 

There was even talk of creating a new name to label overhead (examples: core funds, vessel funds, operational costs, a new word -- caust -- that combines cause and cost, or the tongue-in-cheek variant of "things-we-need-in-order-to-do-our-job-of-helping-people-damnit"), believing that overhead has such an ingrained negative connotation that it cannot be overcome.

Whether you are a member of an organization or a personal donor, the debate around overhead should matter to you. How do you measure whether your dollars make a difference in achieving the mission? How can you compare one organization vs. another, especially when they address similar causes (eg: breast cancer)? What does it cost to do good?

The struggle that non-profits are having relating to overhead has relevance to any group attempting to share data and meaning in a two-dimensional way. It is an ongoing tension between complexity and simplicity in the quest to communicate meaning. Pay attention to the overhead conversation to learn how your organization can find that balance in its messaging.

-- beth triplett

To learn more, download GuideStar's white paper: Six Tips for Busting the Overhead Myth

Information from GuideStar Webinar "How Much Does it Cost to Do Good? Conversations on Nonprofit Overhead, Part One; October 11, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

leadership dot #1601: low tech

I have been preparing for a workshop that I am facilitating and have come to the realization that I miss the trusty overhead projector.

Yes, PowerPoint or other electronic presentation software is more crisp, easier to share, allows for much much consistency and ease of preparing slides, but it also has a significant downside. Electronic presentations lock you in to a pre-determined order and make it hard to skip slides, rearrange them or add in additional components. 

All of these things tend to happen in my workshops, and it used to be easy to grab a different overhead and place it on the screen to make a point that came up during discussion. I could capitalize on the learning moment instead of flipping through slides, or worse, looking on a flash drive to find a different document to bring up and discuss. 

It was decidedly low-tech, but also seamless, and allowed me to have my repertoire of standard visuals at-the-ready. 

Now, I need to know the order, graphics and points I want to make in advance -- all before knowing the audience or where the conversation will lead. From a facilitator perspective, it is not nearly as powerful, so I counteract this by foregoing PowerPoint all together and relying on handouts, props and stories to make my point when I present before small groups.

Is there an aspect of high tech in your world that actually impedes your ability to do something that you would prefer to do another way? Do electronic books add anxiety to your "beach reads" because you worry about theft or sand with the reader? Does the availability of recorded television lessen the excitement and community built when watching an important event live? Maybe the ease of microwaving supplants your desire to prepare a home cooked meal?

Technology is amazing and wonderful -- and, not always the perfect solution. Intentionally use technology as a tool when appropriate, and opt for other means when it is not.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

leadership dot #1600: checks and balances

I volunteer for our arts council which employs one half-time staff member. Every time our office manager is out of the office, is coming in late or is leaving early she sends the officers an email telling us the times during regular office hours that she will not be there.

At first, this seemed like a frivolous thing to do, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it is a simple way to avert any suspicion or problems. I do not question her integrity at all, in part because of these emails that shows she honors her time commitments to us.

When you have a good employee, it is easy to give them a large amount of freedom and access. When you have an employee that takes advantage of latitude or that you suspect of doing undesirable deeds, it becomes clear that they need to be reigned in.

The problem comes in when you have a good employee -- or someone to whom you gave a great deal of autonomy -- who then starts having problems. It becomes very difficult to pull back on access or privileges without a confrontation or making a bad situation worse.

Having policies in place from the beginning that are designed to prevent suspicion or problems before they are needed is most appropriate. Good employees will have no trouble following them and it may avert trouble with others. You certainly don't want to go overboard and monitor every little thing, but setting the expectations early and making it clear which deviations should be noted is a helpful way to have clear boundaries. 

There are checks and balances on many processes and procedures in office life. If you make those expectations part of the natural routine, it will make life much smoother than having to institute them in an undesirable situation. 

-- beth triplett

Monday, October 17, 2016

leadership dot #1599: trash

You wouldn't normally think that a trip to a landfill could make for an educational and fascinating experience, but last week it did. The Metropolitan Area Solid Waste organization held an open house, and I, as the environmental nerd that I am, attended.

I was attracted to the event because of their slogan: "When we throw things away, where is away?" Where is away, I wondered, but soon found out.

"Away" is an 800 acre park that has been collecting, compacting and burying trash since 1976. And while there is no recycling done on site, they also run a host of services to keep things out of the landfill. Bicycles are repaired and sent to a rescue mission. Lawn mowers and snow blowers are used by area schools in small engine classes. Yard waste and food scraps are composted and turned into storm management materials.

Even with these efforts, each day 370 tons of trash comes to the landfill from the two counties that it serves! The trash goes into a 300 acre pit, lined with 11 different layers to protect the surrounding groundwater and make the greatest use of the space. Even with this attention to the environment, the landfill produces methane gas and leachate water that must be treated and discharged, as the waste produces additional waste of its own.

The tour took us via trolley out to the landfill itself, and it was a great visual reminder of the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling products. When we throw things away, it gives us the false notion that they disappear, when in reality we need to store the trash for decades.

What can you do to keep even a few items out of the landfill: Buy fewer items. Take unwanted goods to a resale shop. Buy large sizes instead of many individual-serving sizes. Eat less fast food. Use a Nalgene bottle instead of buying bottled water. Repair appliances instead of replacing them. Invest in quality to extend the life of your goods. Use both sides of the paper before recycling it. The list of actions is as vast as the landfill is. 

If everyone took action to keep one thing out of the landfill every day, think of the amazing difference it could make. Make today the day you start to do your part.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, October 16, 2016

leadership dot #1598: tweeze

You can buy a pair of tweezers for less than $5, or you can buy a pair of Tweezerman tweezers for three times that. Empirically, I don't understand the difference, but when I use them, I can certainly tell.

Tweezerman implements also come with a lifetime guarantee for free sharpening. I never thought of tweezers as something that needed to be sharpened, but when mine stopped having a firm grip, I thought I would try it. I sent the implement off to them, and a week later it was returned in a nice little sleeve with a note. And what do you know, sharpened tweezers do work better!

I don't think that anyone buys a Tweezerman because of the free sharpening, but it is still a nice bonus to add. I feel good about it and their product works better, so ultimately I feel good about the company. A win-win for everyone.

What additional service can you add to enhance the performance of your product or the use of your organization's service? It likely won't cost you much to perform, but you could sharpen your relationship with your customers in the process.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, October 15, 2016

leadership dot #1597: teal pumpkins

As you are out running errands this weekend, shopping for Halloween treats may be on your mind. Instead of your usual purchase of bags of candy, this year consider giving out a non-food treat and hanging a teal pumpkin sticker on your door.

Through its Teal Pumpkin Project, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization is attempting to promote the availability of alternative treats for children who experience food allergies. By placing a teal pumpkin or sticker on your porch, it is an indication that you are supporting their efforts and have non-food treats available.

Examples of treats could be decorated pencils, light sticks, miniature toys, shaped erasers, coins or temporary tattoos. The goal of the project is to promote inclusion for children who are unable to eat nuts, sugar, wheat or other treat ingredients.

Over 15 million Americans experience some sort of food allergy, and awareness has heightened in all types of venues about the dangers present in trigger foods. Now in its third year, the movement is gaining national sponsors and increased exposure. 

It is no surprise that the project was inspired by a mom whose child experienced allergies, but it is more unexpected that it has taken this long for a coordinated effort to begin given the number of children impacted. 

So whether you hand out all non-food items or just have a supply on hand for your special visitors, this Halloween make an effort to give treats that all your trick-or-treaters can enjoy.

-- beth triplett

Friday, October 14, 2016

leadership dot #1596: maybe

There was an article in our local paper featuring an interview with several exchange students who are studying at area high schools. The students were asked for impressions about their experiences in the States, including their thoughts on the upcoming election.

One astute student said that he noticed how candidate statements went to the extremes. "There's no such thing as 'maybe' in the promises here", said Akshaj Shah from India.

It reminded me of the book Getting to Maybe, a decade-old Canadian manifesto about how to stimulate social innovation. I have always loved the premise of the book and the spirit of compromise that is embodied in the title. 

As authors Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton describe: 

"Maybe" so accurately describes our fundamental relationship to the world. It is a relationship in which time is one of the critical dimensions -- a relationship to what is ahead, a relationship that is constantly unfolding...

"Maybe" comes with no guarantees, only a chance. But "maybe" has always been the best odds the world has offered to those who set out to alter its find a new land across the sea, to end slavery, to enable women to vote, to walk on the moon, to bring down the Berlin Wall. 

"Maybe" is not a cautious word. It is a defiant claim of possibility in face of a status quo we are unwilling to accept.

Certainly our legislators and legislators-to-be would be well advised to incorporate more use of "maybe" in their language and behaviors. But they are not the only ones. Where can you infuse "maybe" into your thinking? Maybe it will help you embrace new possibilities in your world.

-- beth triplett

Source: Exchange students learn about language, school, Big Macs by Allie Hinga in the Telegraph Herald, October 11, 2016, p. 1A

Getting to Maybe: How the world is changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Q. Patton, Vintage Canada, 2006