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Data Builds Understanding; Stories Build Commitment

Once Upon A Time

Last week I raised the question (and answered it) “Why are there so many bad meetings?” This week I focus more on the positive:  what good meetings feel like, and how some organizations are working to not only enhance meeting experiences but also to make meetings more effective and meaningful.

Recently a friend told me about how one clothing company has developed a culture of storytelling that dramatically affects the way its meetings work.

According to Mary, a director of workplace strategy at that company, its meetings are filled with storytelling, and the presentations are heavily image-based, with a minimum of words on the individual slides. So instead of boring bullet points and slides filled to overflowing with data, the presentations feel more like personal stories, with heroes and villains, crises and victories, and lots of emotional content. Presenters seek to influence and inspire through images, stories, and feelings rather than through “hard data.” Read more

Leadership: It All Depends – but on What?

direction confusionWhen someone asks you what leadership style or approach is most effective, the only legitimate answer is, “It depends.” But the next question has to be “Depends on what?”

And that question has probably driven more research and PhD dissertations than any other issue in the field of management.

So I’m going to attempt to answer it here in less than 750 words, based on both my personal experience and a landmark study conducted almost 50 years ago by Ken Blanchard (yes, that Ken Blanchard) and Paul Hersey.

Their research, and the “Situational Leadership” model they developed was first published in 1977 in a book called Management of Organizational Behavior (now in its 9th edition, with Dewey Johnson as a third author).

I believe the Hersey-Blanchard model of leadership remains incredibly powerful and relevant today, but I haven’t seen many references to it recently, so I want to refresh your understanding of it (and mine too, for that matter). Read more

Building a Meeting Mindset

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People in a MeetingIn case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed just a bit over the last twenty years. The nature of work itself has changed too. Yet too many managers still believe their employees just came from the farm to the city and need to be told what to do as they take their place on the assembly line.

We’re using 19th century industrial-age management practices in a 21st-century age of networked knowledge.

As a result, millions of people are unhappy at work, organizations are operating well below their potential, leaders are frustrated, and almost everyone feels stressed out. In spite of the moderate uptick in the economy no one I know believes things are working they way they should be.

At one level the problem is simple: the world has changed in several fundamental ways, but the way most organizations operate has not. There is a terrible misalignment between the work and the workforce, on the one hand, and our leadership principles and practices, on the other.

As a case in point, in North America alone there are over 11 million corporate meetings held every day – every day! – but I have yet to find anyone who is just dying for their next meeting to start. Read more

We Need a Declaration of Interdependence

Source: Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

Here in the United States we’ve just completed our annual celebration of the signing of The Declaration of Independence – on July 4th, 1776, the day our founders declared themselves an independent country. We then fought a long, bloody, and bitter war to separate ourselves from Great Britain.

Yet today the United Kingdom and the United States are mutually supportive allies with many close personal and institutional connections.

In spite of that awful war the two countries obviously have common cultural traditions, common ancestors, common values, and strikingly similar – though not identical – laws and governance structures. Our leaders today understand that we also have common interests, and that, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

In short, the United States may have declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, but in reality the two countries remain deeply interdependent. And the same is true for our relationships with many other countries.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that every relationship, at every level, includes strains of both independence and interdependence. Read more

What’s This Meeting For, Anyway?

ManagersThere are something like 11 million corporate meetings held every day in the United States alone. Yet most of us would rather be somewhere else.

But if your meetings are well-planned they can be highly productive, fun to be part of, and even personally satisfying.

The first step in creating a memorable meeting is to be very clear about why you are calling the meeting. Read more

Can’t Think Straight? Take a Hike!

cube farm4My colleague and good friend Diane Coles Levine is fond of saying “It’s a lot easier to think outside the box when you’re not in one.” That’s her way of pointing out that cube farms are not the best environment for creativity and collaboration.

I have written previously about my belief  that knowledge workers don’t just need a workspace, they need many places (“De Uno, Plures – From One, Many”). Work today isn’t monolithic or monotonous, and we need workplaces that offer variety and choice that matches what we do day by day or hour by hour.

And as I pointed out last week (“You Make It, You Own It”), when individuals make choices about where and when to get their work done they “own” those choices and are generally more committed to their work, more productive, and more engaged with their employer.

About five years ago I was part of an international research project team that was seeking to define the attributes of an effective workplace. Our Swedish lead researcher asked each of us on the project team to take a photograph of our favorite part of our own office and then to post it on the project website. Read more

Why are Meaningful Conversations So Rare?

conversationsEven though most of us know intuitively what a good conversation feels like and how it unfolds, the vast majority of conversations at work are okay at best, and the rest of them range between boring, inconsequential, depressing, and demeaning.

In spite of what most of us know, most meetings and far too many of the less-formal conversations at work just don’t generate excitement, or learning, or even clarity. And that’s being kind:  I’m not even considering the meetings that waste time and generate anger, frustration, and patently wrong decisions. And worst of all is how few conversations tap into the “hidden talent” that everyone carries around with them every day in the form of experiences, insights, ideas, and intentions.

But the barriers that get in our way are actually very basic, and very understandable. Read more

What Makes a Conversation Memorable and Meaningful?

Cafe Conversation 23178999SmallI recently put that basic question to several friends and professional colleagues: What in their experience characterizes a good conversation (that simple question generated some incredibly meaningful conversations all by itself).

Chris Hood, a senior director with CBRE, thought a moment and described it this way:

When you have a good conversation you know it. There is something almost magical about one idea building on another, or one link following another. The succession of ideas just flows.

I attended a workshop several years ago that was focused on improving conversations between managers and employees. The primary emphasis was on authenticity – where both parties were saying what they really mean, as opposed to just saying what they were supposed to say.

There are all sorts of personal skills involved too – empathy, interest in the other person, nonverbal behaviors, being engaged, being clear.

And then there is nature of the conversation itself. What is its purpose? What do you want to happen afterwards?”

A well-developed conversation is something that actually has to be thought about, and structured. It’s not just something that happens. It needs to be thought about in advance.

Read more

Knowledge is not a “Thing”

Classic wall clockEarly in my career I worked for a large Midwestern textbook publishing firm. I have never forgotten a conversation with one editor, a brilliant, well-educated woman, who told me in tears that she had just been docked a full week’s vacation.

My friend was supposed to be at her desk and at work every morning at 9:00 AM; her supervisor had been tracking her arrivals and had secretly documented that over the past twelve months she had accumulated almost 40 hours of tardiness (10 minutes one day, 5 minutes another, and so on).

It apparently made no difference that she almost never joined the parade out the door at precisely 5 PM; in fact, she regularly worked an hour or two beyond 5 PM to meet her deadlines. And she often took work home at night.

That might have been an appropriate disciplinary action if my friend had been working on an assembly line somewhere and was being paid by the hour. But she was a former secondary school teacher with a Masters degree who was being paid a decent salary to collaborate with a college professor on a high school math book. Read more

Back to Basics: Organizations are as Unique as Individuals

In 1928 the Belgian artist René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe (the kind you fill with tobacco). The painting, called “The Treachery of Images,” now resides in the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Under the image of the pipe are the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” French for “This is not a pipe.” In other words, although the painting is very realistic, it is not the real thing; it’s just a representation.

In similar fashion, this is not an organization:

org chartActually it’s not even an image of an organization; it depicts only two components of organizational reality: the division of work into specialty areas, and a hierarchy or power structure.

Of course, actual organizations are far, far more complex than the charts we typically rely on to depict power and authority relationships. In fact, those images tell us almost nothing about how an organization actually operates; they provide no information whatsoever about the processes, procedures, operating principles, or values and culture that are part of every organization and guide the way its members create products or services. Read more