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Designing Your Organization’s Future

It starts with a conversation.

Last Saturday’s cartoon pages here in the United States contained a hidden gem of wisdom. In a simple three-panel cartoon (“Zits” by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman) two teen-aged boys confronted a pithy reality about humanity’s journey through time:

Zits April 18, 2015

Copyright Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Jeremy: “Do you think about your future, Pierce?”

Pierce: “I try…but technically every second my future becomes my past.”

Jeremy: “So it’s almost like you have no future.”

Pierce: “That’s what the guidance counselor keeps saying.”

(to see the entire original, go to http://zitscomics.com/comics/april-18-2015/)

As the television sports announcer Jim McKay once said of a star athlete, “His whole future lies ahead of him.” And of course, that’s true for all of us; one of our strongest, and most common, yearnings is to know what lies ahead. What’s around the corner? What’s over the horizon?

Those are interesting questions for us as individuals, but they are essential for organizations. Read more

Living Room Conversations

LRC_logo

(htttp://www.livingroomconversations.org)

Several years ago my good friend Joan Blades co-founded a national nonprofit group called Living Room Conversations, or LRC, with the explicit goal of improving the level and quality of social discourse around public policy issues.

Joan, like many Americans across the political spectrum, is deeply concerned about the apparent inability (and unwillingness) of people with differing political views to talk to each other – and more importantly, to listen to each other. We all know how “broken” the US Congress is; its national approval ratings have never been lower.

But Living Room Conversations isn’t trying to reform Congress (except through grass roots public pressure); it is a movement aimed at bringing “ordinary” people holding different basic views together in their own living rooms to explore issues such as voting rights, prison reform, immigration, tax policies, health care, the Middle East, and other major issues that seem to divide us from our neighbors – and yet are fundamentally important to our collective futures on this planet.

In contrast, my professional focus is on conversations at work, and how they affect organizational performance and the workplace experience for individuals and teams. Read more

Conversations That Connect

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Early in my business career I was fortunate to work for a wise, experienced senior executive who was masterful at leading conversations that mattered. As a newly-minted MBA graduate I was at the bottom of the totem pole in a family-managed business.

My boss had been hired to upgrade the company’s management practices, employee benefit programs, and overall productivity. He tasked me with building ties to the leaders of several business units and engaging with them in conversations about the company’s future.

I was significantly younger than almost all of those business unit leaders. That was actually a good thing, because I clearly posed no threats to them, and as a newcomer to the industry it was easy to present myself as someone who wanted to learn the business (which was certainly true). Read more

Goodbye 2014; On to 2015!

Top Ten List

image: www.sdfcs.org

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season. No matter which holiday you celebrate, this is a time to slow down, relish time with family and friends, reflect on the past year, and think ahead to the new year.

In that spirit, I want to share with you my “Top Ten” newsletters/blog posts for 2014, based roughly on which of them you opened most often.

You’ll see quickly that my recent focus on corporate conversations dominates this list, but it also includes several other important observations about the future of work.

So, here goes, from the top down:

1. Mindsets are More Important than Skillsets

There are hundreds of books about how to conduct meetings, yet most corporate meetings are dull, unproductive time wasters. What’s going on? Why don’t leaders do what they know how to do? I suggested here that the attitudes and mindsets of team leaders are far more important than meeting management skillsets. Read more

Put the Why Before the What

animated-wreath-bellsFirst of all, best wishes for this holiday season – and for every day of the rest of your life. December is a time for slowing down, spending time with your family and friends, and appreciating the blessings of being alive in this exciting time.

Please take some time this week to reflect on the year that is ending, and do some serious thinking about the incredible opportunities that lie ahead in 2015.

Here are a few questions that might help with your reflections:

  • Why are you focused on what you are focused on?
  • What are you most proud of that you accomplished this year?
  • What opportunities did you let slip away?
  • What do you want to stop doing next year?
  • What do you want to start doing?
  • Deep down, what do you care about? Why?

But please don’t fall into the trap of making overly ambitious new year’s resolutions; if they are difficult to achieve, or presume a sudden change of habits, or require new skills that you haven’t mastered yet, the chances are you won’t accomplish your goals, and you’ll end up beating up on yourself.

Focus less on the What and more on the Why. Read more

Why are Good Conversations So Elusive?

Ask Me About My BookIt happened again. I was at a National Speakers Association Northern California Chapter event on Saturday, proudly wearing my button that reads “Ask Me About My Book” (a gift from Cathy Fyock, my writing coach).

Several people did ask (thank you!), and I responded something like this:

Thanks for asking. The working title of the book is Changing the Corporate Conversation. I want to improve the quality of meetings and all kinds of conversations at work. I’m convinced the workforce as a whole is wasting millions of hours of time attending mundane, non-productive meetings of all kinds. My goal is to enable people to design and lead innovative, productive meetings that leverage the talent inherent in every organization.

How did that premise strike people? Read more

Make Your Meetings More Meaningful

BizMeeting 000018482966XSmallHow often have you walked into a corporate meeting wondering why you were there? Or walked out angrily after wasting an hour getting absolutely nothing done?

As a good friend said recently, “Meetings are the bane of our existence.” And if you want to generate universal consensus, just make a comment about how horrible most meetings are.

What’s going on? In my experience there are two major shortcomings in the way most meetings are handled. And I’ve developed a four-question checklist to help me and my clients turn meetings into productive, energizing experiences.

Read more

You Wouldn’t Understand…

ConfusionLR2

Peter Drucker liked to tell a story about a senior military officer who asked a junior technician a question about a complex new fighter plane. After trying for several minutes to explain how the plane’s sophisticated guidance system worked, the technician finally threw his up hands and said, “Oh, forget it, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

That certainly sounds like insubordination; did the technician think the general was stupid? No, Drucker believed the technician was just telling the truth; the knowledge required to fly the plane was indeed far too complex for the general to understand.

And that is the nature of work and management in just about every knowledge-intensive business today.

Read more

To See a Corporate Culture, Listen to its Conversations

What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?” (Albert Einstein)

I’ve become convinced that the “water” in which organizations swim is the conversations that take place every day, in meetings, in hallways, in the executive suite, on phone calls, in email exchanges, and in marketing materials and contract negotiations.

Read more