Posts

If Something is Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Wrong

What? WaLet's do something wrong handwritten designit a minute! Is that a typo? Am I encouraging you to do good things badly?

No, it’s not a typo. And I am definitely not calling for making mistakes on purpose.

Let me explain. I’ve just returned from the annual Winter Conference of the National Speakers Association, of which I am a proud member.

I spent the last three days with about 300 other professional speakers in Austin, Texas. The entire conference was devoted to learning, growth, innovation, reinvention, and change (and we managed to Keep Austin Weird – that wasn’t hard for us to accomplish). Special kudos to conference c0-chairs Gary Rifkin, CSP, Cavett Award, and Christie Ward, CSP. It was an incredible program. Read more

Three Simple Rules for Leading Constructive Change

Concept of leadership.

The best definition I’ve ever heard of effective leadership goes something like this:

A good leader doesn’t make people do what he (or she) wants; a good leader makes others want what the leader wants.

In other words, leadership is about engaging people’s hearts even more than their minds. If your staff shares your vision of what’s possible, understands why what’s possible is desirable, and shares your desire to make that vision come alive, they’ll do what they need to do to make it happen. Show them the future, share your passion about the journey, and get out of their way (but stay close by in case they need coaching or advice).

That all sounds good. But in my experience that’s only the beginning. Read more

Making Distributed Meetings Matter

Distributed MeetingOn the eve of IFMA’s annual World Workplace conference, which I am attending this week in Denver, it seems appropriate to think for a moment about meetings that don’t take place in a “place.” I’m thinking of course of meetings where everyone is somewhere else – what most of us call “distributed” meetings.

One distributed meeting practice I hold very dear is this [New Rule]: Do not schedule a “mixed meeting” unless there is absolutely no alternative.

A mixed meeting is one that includes two or more people in the same place plus one or more others calling in from somewhere else.

I’ve almost never seen a mixed meeting go well; some organizations actively prohibit them – if anyone is participating remotely, everyone calls in, even when some participants are located close together. Read more

Honor Labor Day by Redefining Work and Leadership

Labor Day signLabor Day in the United States honors the American labor movement and the contributions to our economic and social well-being made by millions of American workers. It has also become a marker of the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Most of us are now moving past vacations and casual work hours to a more serious and focused time at work. [continue reading...]

Designing the Future: The Role of Deliberate Diversity

Cornell_logo2-1s7ocw0I’ve just returned from a Cornell University class reunion that reminded me of several very important principles that have guided most of my work and my life since I was an undergraduate there fifty years ago.

Today I want to share one of many important insights that emerged out of three days of lectures, conversations, meals, and other on-campus experiences that are better left unmentioned. I have a deep and renewed appreciation that I am who I am today because of my seven years as a Cornell undergraduate and graduate student.

Cornell University is an unusual – and remarkably diverse – institution.

Cornell was founded in 1865 (shortly after the end of the Civil War) when Ezra Cornell created the campus by donating his farmland on the hills above Ithaca, New York, and bringing to life his vision of “an institution where any person could find instruction in any study.” Read more

The Way We Were: Why the Future of Work Will Be So Different

Future Exit Sign 000018627375XSmallWe have just celebrated Memorial Day weekend in the United States. It has been an opportunity to reflect on our good fortune as a country, but more importantly to give thanks for the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives to protect us in way too many wars.

But this time of pausing and reflecting also got me thinking about how the working environments where most of us spend most of our waking hours have changed over the past twenty years – and will change even more going forward.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when our families sat down in front of the big box in our living rooms that brought us the 6 o’clock evening news. We shared that experience with our neighbors near and far; most of the country absorbed that information at the same time, and from one or the other of the three major networks that brought us all the television news and entertainment.

And most of us had one telephone somewhere in the front hall or living room; but we only used it for short, functional conversations with our neighbors and nearby relatives (calls were billed by the minute, after all). Once a year we might call a distant grandparent for a short “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holidays” message; long distance calls were prohibitively expensive and the sound was often tinny and full of static.

In short, we didn’t have much choice in how we got our information or stayed in touch with out-of-town family and friends. Our world was relatively limited.

And the way we worked was very similar. Read more

You Make It, You Own It

English_Bay_Vancouver_BCLast week I participated in IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2015 Canada conference in Vancouver. I enjoyed seeing many old friends and making new ones. But more importantly I enjoyed having my brain cells stimulated by so many interesting stories of new workplace designs and workforce programs.

If there was one underlying idea that linked many of those stories together for me, it was the power of choice. Almost every story we heard about workplace innovation mentioned increased variety within the workplace, and/or between alternative workplaces. And more variety clearly means more choice for the people using those workplaces. Read more

“Five thousand people are a whole lot smarter than five”

LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. 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

Driving Strategic Conversations

Eisenhower on planning

(photo: FEMA Mgt. Institute)

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
(Dwight Eisenhower)

All too often as executive teams attempt to develop visions of the future and define strategic plans for growth and profitability, they descend into arguments focused on differing predictions about the economy, or technology, or the workforce.

Or they become distracted by “bright shiny objects” like powerful new technologies (driverless cars, voice recognition, holographic distributed meetings – you know what I mean) that may be fascinating but usually have little to do with their own business.

Like so many other areas of organizational leadership, developing new kinds of conversations and new forms of inquiry about the future are critical components of organizational leadership.

Historically, strategic planning was all about focusing an organization’s attention on a particular marketplace and ensuring that it had the operational capabilities to compete effectively in that market segment. And today most strategic plans continue to make explicit assumptions about future trends, estimated probabilities, and include educated guesses about what’s going to happen.

However, in today’s highly volatile and unpredictable world, assuming any kind of predictability in the marketplace can be fatal. Traditional strategic planning is worse than useless when dealing with the uncertainties of today’s economy. Indeed, I believe that traditional thinking about the future, as if it were actually singular, and knowable, is downright dangerous. Read more