Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life Skill: Know How to Order What You Want from the Life Menu

I believe in making my own choices.
Choice = freedom

When we let other people make decisions for us we give up responsibility. If we give up being "able to respond" we leave ourselves in a position not to act, but to blame, complain or criticize if things don't go in our favour. But the choice was always there. We simply chose not to respond but to let someone else respond for us.

Of course there are always things in life that we did not choose. Unexpected things that weren't listed on the menu. I didn't choose this boss who just transferred into my department, I didn't choose to get laid off work, I didn't choose to get into that fender bender. All true. In these cases, it's how you choose to respond that makes the difference. 

"Waiter, this wasn't what I ordered! ...was it?!"

 This is actually a pepper fly, a fly made of pepper to season your soup!
A funny idea made by Taiwanese designers balance wu and chin yang in 2009.
See more pics at Design Boom's page.

Then there are also situations where we are not the sole choice maker. Let's say we have a lovely significant other who we want to share our life with. Or maybe we are part of a really great team at work that we want to keep working with. Maybe we are planning a family reunion this summer and there are lots of cooks in that kitchen...

How in the world do we make sure everyone gets some choice? How do we ensure that everyone's needs are met? How do we ensure that one person doesn't make all the choices for everyone else? (I mean seriously, a family reunion...?! If your family is anything like the families I know well, SOMEbody is sure to get their panties in a knot about SOMEthing!)

Well folks, it's all about negotiating boundaries and working together to find a middle ground while respecting other people's boundaries. (Yep, again.)

(Well that SOUNDS fine, but you don't know my Aunt Marg...!)

Yep, it's a tall order folks! This means I better understand what my needs are (for the event AND for working together to plan the event), I better be clear about these preferences when I'm talking to you and I better know what I'm willing to compromise on.

I'd like a soy, no foam, extra-pump, medium hot, grande chai tea latte... What would you like?

Question: Are we crazy or strong?

As the saying goes, change happens when the fear of the status quo becomes greater than the fear of change itself. As humans, we put ourselves through incredibly difficult situations. But we persist until fear becomes too great and we decide that change is better. It makes me wonder:

Where is the line between coping with a situation and becoming resilient because of a situation?
When are we pushing on despite difficulties and when are we rising to meet challenges?
Is there a difference between holding strong and growing strong?

I am confused. And concerned. Concerned for the well being of people who choose to take on seemingly insurmountable challenges.

What might be my breaking point is not another person's breaking point. While friends of mine might be interested in training for and running The Death Race (a 125 km marathon through the Rocky Mountains of Canada) I wouldn't last more than 10 kms. Why would anyone be crazy enough to push themselves to the brink of breakdown in a marathon like that?!

Does that make me a weak person or a wise person? Are they a strong person or a crazy person?

My grandfather made the choice to live a better life when he immigrated his family to Canada in 1958. But sometimes I wonder if it was actually a better life for my grandmother who suffered bi-polar depression living and coping in Edmonton so far away from her parents. Who knows.

Then there's the parent on the ferry the other day who let his 5 year old daughter scream, cry and carry on with a wicked temper tantrum in public without reacting. I wonder if this parent is rising to the challenge of raising his child by employeing a technique he's heard of or if he is simply coping. Who knows.

As I write this, I am thinking about family and friends who are faced with life altering challenges. While I feel for them I also want to shake them out of their routine like the 3 spirits in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol did. I want to get them to their breaking point before something even more drastic happens in their lives. I worry about them. I know that there are friends and family out there who have wanted in the past (and maybe even now) to give my head a shake and get me to wake up and smell the coffee too. Who knows.

Such is life.

Change doesn't happen until the status quo becomes more scary than the change itself. We will never know what another person's breaking point is. I can only be sure of my own breaking point and my own boundaries. And even then, my own boundaries are re-negotiated each time I encounter new experiences and new people enter my life. I make new choices and choose my behaviours and actions anew every day. It's tough work being a human. Changing all the time, negotiating boundaries all the time... Sheesh! (No wonder those tequila shots went down so easy last weekend... har har)

So I guess my question is:
Am I coping and holding strong because I'm afraid of change or am I thriving, growing strong and becoming less afraid?

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Wise Words

"It's so easy when I want to - but so much more difficult when I have to." Unknown

"We have 2 ears and 1 mouth in order to listen twice as much as we speak." Unknown

"Do what you've always done and you'll get what you've always got." Unknown

"No need to be great to start, instead just start to be great." Unknown

"Regrets over yesterday and fear of tomorrow rob us of today!" Anon

"We were not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through." Peter De Vries (American Novelist)

And from Henry Ford:
"I think that much of the advice given to young people about saving money is wrong. I never saved a cent until I was forty years old. I invested in myself - in study, in mastering my tools, in preparation. Many a man who is putting a few dollars a week into the bank would do much better to put it into himself."

ps: I've tried to track down the authors of these quotes, if you can help, let me know!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Training + Development = Great Strategic Investment

As a Training and Development professional, I am often asked about the ROI for workplace learning. They want to know, "Is learning really that valuable to my business?"

Well...?

Well, yeah!

Learning = Success and Growth (aka: Greatness)

Is success valuable to your organization? Is growth?

Companies either have a mindset for success and growth or they don't. It's a shame for those that don't because time marches on and the options are simple: move with the times or eat the dust from the competition.

Both training and development are neccessary; one supports success and the other supports growth.

Training defines boundaries so people know what's safe and how to be successful.
Training helps people learn how to behave or complete tasks correctly.
Effective training is task specific, timely and positively reinforces behaviour.

On the other hand,
Development expands our boundaries so people can grow and become better.
Developing people helps them learn new and better ways to behave or complete tasks.
The most effective development is personally relevant, inviting and playful.

So, what's the return on an investment in learning? Answer: Success and growth.

What's your strategy for success and growth?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Feedback: It's an Art

I opened up my email this morning to find two articles that show just how invaluable it is to learn the art of giving feedback. One article was about performance reviews at work and another cautioned against a performane review concept called 360 Degree Feedback (feedback from several points of contact around your professional role, ie: feedback from your manager, your team, your partners in addition to self evaluation.)

In the first article, author Kimberly Roden suggests depersonalizing feedback. So instead of "You didn't do the dishes," she suggests saying, "The dishes weren't done." It's a small shift but it may be just enough of a shift to garner the other person's participation rather than provoke their defenses.

The other article written by Dr. Wendell Williams shows exactly how important it is to have a smart process and skilled execution when delivering feedback. He argues that asking too many questions to a large group of people doesn't give useful feedback. Yes, agreed. I certainly would not ask my dentist for feedback on how I deal with change. The point is to fish for quality not to dilute the issue by quantity. Getting feedback about one issue from a group of invested people can be very valuable.

Sure there's an art to implementing a program such as "360 Feedback," but there's also an art to delivering feedback to anyone at any time or place. But then, it's all neither here nor there if we forget that "Application Trumps Information." How we act on and apply that information is more important than how we get the information in the first place.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wanna be Pigeonholed? Try Politics!

The other day I received a letter in the mail from my Member of Parliament asking me to participate in a questionaire. As one who delights in giving feedback, I was tickled. Answering was annonymous and the return postage was paid so it was a cheap investment on my part.

As I completed the questionaire, I thought about the lack of interest in politics these days. How people say that the young generation (am I still part of that generation?) doesn't get involved, that they're not engaged. I thought about the term Millenials and how it's often synonymous with "tech savvy." As I answered questions about my interest in military efforts overseas and local tax concerns, I also thought about diversity and community.

And then it dawned on me. Identifying with a political party will pigeonhole you.

For a generation now we have taught the merits of diversity and collaboration. That there is no I in team and that Together Everyone Achieves More. But when it comes to politics we still subscribe to an old mentality; there is only one leader, with one agenda and if you support the party you are required to believe and accept their whole platform. If you go out on a limb to support a party you risk the notion that you might be pigeonholed.

Remember clicking the facebook "like" button on some embarassingly silly website only to realize that everyone in your newsfeed can now see it? Cr@p!
Remember the last time you forwarded an email to a friend but then it turned out to be a farse? Doh!
Remember when the cool kids in high school invited you to sit with them at lunch but the unwritten rule was also that you could no longer hang out with so and so? Yeah, I called bs too.

But let's be honest folks, that's politics now. If I "like" your political party it means that everyone of my friends now labels me with your brand. I'm not sure I'm ready for a committed relationship. I also don't want to look foolish if I share a story about you and then you either change your mind or don't actually do what you say you're going to do. It muddies up my integrity. And if I saddle up next to your party platform will I end up being conflicted about supporting at least a few agenda items? Probably!

Political parties are a silly, old notion. I don't think that creating new political parties or trying to find agenda items and platform issues that appeal to the younger generation will fix things. I think political parties make it harder to get involved, and more difficult to take a stand. And ultimately the thing is, we all know it takes a diverse team to be great, not just one political way of looking at things. I don't want a leader who says it's my way or the highway. I want a leader who will ask his constituents what to do. I want a leader who leads me and my community, my province and my country -not their party- to greatness.

So, wouldn't it be great if I could "like" my local MP office without claiming a connection to a political party and their agenda? Wouldn't it be great if we could participate issue by issue and if there wasn't an implication that just because I agree with one issue, that it doesn't mean I agree with all the issues?

Jeremy Fisher sings "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." But I'd like to choose what I stand for and not have it imposed on me by a politcal party thanks.

Life Skill: It's All About Negotiating Boundaries

Think of your relationships with the people in your life (at work, at home, even at the grocery store) as continuous lines of connection. Like a tether between you and them. A relationship tether. Negotiating relationships with those around you is about figuring out how close or how far you want to be to them on that tether connection. How close are you going to let them come to you? How close to them do you need and want to be?

Humans want to be safe. That is our innate need. It's baseline survival.

Each of us has determined by our past experiences what feels safe. And we are continually monitoring our current situation/environment/relationships to make sure that they feel safe to us. Growth requires us to break out of our comfort zones to expand our view of safety. We determine which direction to grow and how and when we feel safe enough to step out of our safe zone.

People are continuously stepping in and out of their comfort zones and continuously negotiating with their inner selves if they are safe. We are continuously drawing lines in the sand to mark our safe zones depending on each new situation, each new person we meet and each new environment we come into. We need to become more aware of this process of assessing safety and drawing lines in the sand.

If a boss comes up to you and yells at you in front of your coworkerss, you probably wouldn't feel safe. This is because they stepped over your line in the sand that stands to separate the two of you. Now you feel attacked. Invaded. First thing's first at this point, you need to repare yourself and redraw your boundary. Then you have the obligation to your self to let your boss know he overstepped his bounds and that you would like to draw his attention to that boundary. You need to push back on that tether to move him back to where you are safe again.

But let's say he doesn't "get it." Let's say he continues to cross the line and invade your side of the tether. What do you do then? Well, you can cut the tie or you can move your own self back on the tether. Create space or distance and erect a stronger boundary so you are further away and more secure from his attacks/advances.

We are continually negotiating the boundaries on our tether line between us and those around us. Being able to be aware of our own boundaries in the many different situations, with many different people, in different environments is challenging at best. But being aware that this process is going on, not only for you but also for them, and then being able to navigate the conversations that are required participate in this process is half the battle already won. Perfecting this is an art form and will take more than our lifetime...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Tip: Macro/Micro Checklist - A Great Tool

The other day I met a woman who had just hired her first company employee, an assistant. She noted that it was difficult to work around the fact that her assistant was more of a clock puncher than an independent thinker who was able to anticipate what needed to be done. I offered her my usual, go-to, quick tip training idea that would help her assistant take ownership of her job: The checklist.

When done properly a checklist works great to relay job tasks for anyone in any situation. It defines the parameters of a job and gives the employee the freedom to work independently and take ownership of their job. Here are some the other reasons why I promote checklists:

  • It can eliminate the desire to micromanage staff and help define job relationships.
  • It can improve employee engagement.
  • It is a simple tool that's easy to update with the needs of the job.
  • It's a concrete list of what an employee does every day.
  • It's a concrete list of technical processes.
  • It can take the pressure off performance meetings because the focus is on collaborating on the checklist.

The trick however is to keep the checklist concise, organized and based on action verbs. Not everyone can do that right away, but even so I like to suggest it as a go-to training tool because even a badly written checklist is better than nothing!

If you see merit in my checklist suggestion and you want to take it further, know that there are two kinds of checklists. One can be used to define broad functions of a job. I call this a Macro Checklist and it looks very much like a To Do list. It allows the employee to ask, "Gee, did I cover everything today?"

Checklists can also be used on a micro level to help an employee complete a specific and detailed task. Using a Micro Checklist, the employee can walk through the list items to ensure they complete every detail correctly and in the right order. This is very useful in technical situations, when an employee is learning a new task or when a detailed task is performed infrequently.

For a new employee, a Micro Checklist is a lifesaver. They can rely on the checklist to tell them what to do while allowing their brain to be free to learn and remember HOW to do things. As an employee learns the ropes they will need less and less detailed instructions on how things are done. Over time they can shrink or join items on the checklist that they have memorized and no longer rely on. This moves a Micro Checklist into being a Macro Checklist.

To implement Macro/Micro Checklists, I suggest using Excel to write checklists because in Excel you can hide rows if you don't need them. By combining Macro items and Micro items into one Excel document you can access both at all times. I start by using the left column to list a heading (or Macro item) while listing all the Micro items indented in the next column.

Here's a quick example of how to combine the Macro/Micro Checklist:
Notice how each item starts with a verb and special notes are brief and in brackets.

1. Wash laundry
  1. Separate clothes into categories (Lights/whites, Darks, Coloured)
  2. Fill washing machine with 1 load
  3. Add detergent (one capful)
  4. Close machine lid
  5. Turn nob to appropriate machine setting (usually: "Normal Wash")
  6. Pull nob to start machine
2. Drop off mail
3. Buy Groceries

In this example more items could be added to "Wash Laundry" (once the machine has finished washing the laundry, it needs to go into the drier) but you get the general idea.

A collapsible Macro/Micro Checklist is a great tool. Now go forth and conquer!!

Rant: Teachers are like CEO's

As I write this teachers in British Columbia, Canada have voted with 84% affirmative support to take legal strike action on Monday. There are talks about legislating teachers back to work and there are marketing campaigns from both sides of the debate (Government vs. The Teachers Union) that do more to muddy the waters than clarify things.

BC's Ministry of Education has a plan...

But wait, let's clarify:
   Goal = an idea to work towards
   Plan = detailed actions on how to get there

The "plans" on the Ministry of Education's site are old school, top down, management visions; they are not actual plans. Dear Ministry of Education, what do you think you will accomplish by employing old strategies to old problems in old ways? We have heard these plans for change before: re-assess curriculum, address teacher accountability! These are not new ideas for change.

(Quick! Somebody form a committee and commission a report! It will be money well spent because the report will be so cumbersome that no-one will have time to read it! In fact, by the time schools get around to deploying some of the idealistic recommendations, there will be a new government in charge and those reports will be old and outdated! Money well spent indeed.)

Old solutions applied to old systems does not give new results. But dialogue is good and so I applaud the Ministry for open sourcing ideas on one small part of their website. They are opening up lines of converstation and that is good. New solutions are bound to surface on this site.

My innovative solution for improving the system? (I'm so glad you asked!) I am in favour of full time administrative assistants supporting small groups of teachers with administrative tasks. (Not an earth shattering idea, but a NEW idea in education.) The role would be different from Teachers Assistants that currently exist to support students who have special needs. Having a dedicated Administrative Assistant would enable teachers to delegate work that a teacher doesn't necessarily need to do and a parent volunteer can't do. They could be interns. New teachers possibly. Maybe the role could serve as the final year of their teacher education degree program.
If you told a CEO that he was going to plan and facilitate 6 hours of back to back meetings every day, 5 days a week, every week in addition to his regular duties (managing his staff of 30, meeting company goals and  keeping pace with what others in the industry are doing,) the first thing that CEO would do is hire an assistant! If a corporate manager needs an assistant to do their job effectively, why wouldn't a small group of teachers benefit from an assistant? Someone to book and organize field trips, research instructional materials for the next project, look after lunch milk and pizza day money, track down the bean bag bin when it goes missing from the gym, prepare for a complex lesson demonstration... I could keep going but I think you get the point.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Great Quotes

Saying no is saying yes to something else.

Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behaviour does.

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.

Don't be so emotional in your life that it hurts you, but don't get too practical that it hurts others.

Life Skill: Read Between the Lines. Better Yet, Be Open and Honest

I often check in with CareerHMO for great career tips to help me refocus my career path. The other day I received their weekly email blast. It was so on the money I couldn't resist reposting it here.

J.T. O'Donnell, the CEO of CareerHMO suggests that employers, like employees, are just as guilty for using pat words or phrases to glorify and sell during the recruitment scenario. An employee uses certain phrases on their resume to help them appear to be the best candidate for the position and the employer also uses certain phrases in a job description help sell the position to the employee. As with most things in life, it's important to read between the lines to understand the hidden meanings. With tongue in cheek, J.T. lists what these job descriptions really mean.

"Motivated team-player – Looking for someone who needs a job badly enough that they'll put up with lots of unmotivated, annoying people from whom you'll have to get buy-in on almost everything you do.
High achiever, driven to succeed – Must be a complete brown-nose whose sole mission in life is to please and impress management.
Customer-focused – Can take a lot of abuse from clients AND management and still act pleasant.
Resourceful, independent self-starter – Since we have absolutely no time or resources to train you, we expect you to figure everything out for yourself… quickly.
Attentive to details – We have strict policies and procedures and won't hesitate to blame you for everything if you make a mistake.
Flexible, enjoys multi-tasking – We are unorganized and change corporate directions daily, so you'll need to be able to clean up our messes and do jobs that A) you weren't told about in the interview, and B) aren't trained to do properly – all on a moment's notice.
Agent of change – You'll be responsible for implementing a bunch of stuff we've been unable to make happen with a group of people who are digging in their heels and refusing to convert.
Works well under pressure – Our management team considers everything urgent and is going to micro-manage you daily.
Solution-oriented – We are going to give you lots of messes to clean up and expect you to figure out how to handle them without our direction and with a big smile on your face, even though we aren't going to give you any resources or support to get it done."

She goes on to note that "there are no perfect jobs or perfect employers" and this is absolutely true. I've given up on expecting perfection in a lot of areas of my life. Most notably areas where people are involved. (Don't get me wrong, I am still -and always will be- in love with a perfectly clean bathroom!) But when people are involved there is just no possible way to achieve perfection. Here's why:

People are continuously evolving. Just when you think you've got the other person figured out, or just when you think you've figured yourself out, something changes -life happens- and new challenges present themselves. New obstacles or frustrations come to light. It took a long time, but I finally was able to adjust my attitude and see my professional life from a different perspective. I'm no longer searching for and expecting to find a perfect situation to land into, instead I'm seeking out situations where it is possible to work towards and co-create empowering work relationships.

This has lead me to seek out strategies and processes that can help me navigate and negotiate my professional relationships better. (One great online workshop I've found is from Chrissy Scivicque from Eat Your Career. She talks about Intentional Relationship Design -consciously and cooperatively, openly and honestly, co-defining the structure of relationships.) In fact, most of the strategies I'm learning can help with ALL my relationships because it all boils down to being transparent, open, honest, self aware, authentic, curious and compassionate.

This is exactly the direction the recruitment relationship needs to go. The recruitment relationship is the dating phase of a professional relationship. Interviews are all about courting. A solid and strong relationship where both parties feel valued and valuable is built on trust. Trust is based on truth. So of course, any information that is misleading or not truthful will eventually come to light and poke a hole in the future trust of that relationship.

Everyone, even HR recruiters, needs to understand that our actions are an equal half of the equation when it comes to defining the type of relationship that will develop. Think consciously about what kind of foundation you need to create to develop the type of relationship you want. The question becomes, "Am I behaving in a way that will lead to just a one night stand kind of relationship? Am I behaving in a way that will lead to a passive aggressive relationship riddled with miscommunication? Or, are my actions setting the foundation for a trusting and growing relationship and the possibility of a long future? Am I being truthful and honest?"

It's great to hear people point out fallacies and untruths. The dialogue or communication between the employee and the employer needs to be as open and honest as possible from both sides, at all levels and at all stages of the relationship. Corporate (north) America on the whole is maturing and growing right now. We are negotiating better relationships with those in power. I see evidence of these growing pains all over the place. Occupy is not new. It's part of the process of maturing and growing relationships.