Archive for the ‘Making Sense Of It All’ Category

Slide1In 1998, just about the time that Wikipedia was born, and My Space was big, Alpheus Bingham and Aaron Schacht from pharmaceutical company Ely Lilly were sitting around a conference table, coffee cups in hand, trying to figure out how the internet might be useful to business. They had an idea that they could create a platform to bring together companies that had big problems to solve – they call them “Seekers”, with anyone smart or ambitious across the globe, whom them called “Solvers”. They offer a cash prize to an individual or team of people who creates the best solution to problems like, finding how to “measure the thickness of polymeric film”, or dilemmas like, how to “increase the social and community acceptance of renewable energy”.  The company that gave birth to this creative way to use the internet to crowd source solutions is named Innocentive.  Even though crowd sourcing isn’t new, each time a discovery happens as a results of this kind of process, I bet it feels like the magic is happening for the first time. At least that’s how it felt for us.

In May 2014, Community dabbled in its own Seeker-Meets-Solver experiment by bringing together 160 employees in a focus group we call an “Engagement Accelerator”. We were seeking to understand why our employees were unhappy with one of our benefits, and discover what else would make employees feel more supported. I am so grateful for the open way everyone shared their ideas and wanted to share some tips that we learned from this experience.

If you hear more than once that something is broken, that’s a sign it’s broken

Off and on our employees told us how disenchanted they were over our Paid Time Off (PTO) program. So, we did what any good businessperson would do – we looked at the market. Were we competitive? Highly. Check. Was the policy well written? Reasonably well. Check. Silly as it may sound, we discovered we were simply confusing everyone by the codes in our timekeeping system and on employee’s paychecks. Also, the discussion revealed that we had done too little to educate people about how the policy worked. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

“Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.”

This lyric, from a song titled “Stay Awake – Dreams Only Last for a Night”, appropriately describes another revelation. The grapevine said that employees wanted to donate their PTO to other sick employees. In fact, a manager had asked me to look at this request eighteen months ago, so we put it on the growing list of things we wanted to improve. During the focus group discussions we heard that a policy had been in place several years ago, but for reasons no one could remember, had been eliminated. The team felt great. This was low hanging fruit that could be acted upon very quickly.

Just asking isn’t enough

One operating principal contributed more to the success of this event than anything else. We not only asked for feedback but we shared data that shows we know our workforce is smart. We shared our system finances – both a look back and a look forward. We shared the investment we make in our benefits in terms of cost. We went out on a limb and led everyone through    “The Ladder of Inference”, and followed this with a discussion of any misconceptions about the way things operate and why.

It’s a long journey but brick by brick we’re building toward our goal of becoming an Employer of First Choice in the Valley. Brick by brick.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 4.17.09 PMThirteen years ago in March of 2000, Rob McEwen, who had just become chairman and CEO of a mining operation in Ontario, Canada, decided he had a problem too big to solve by conventional methods. His company GoldCorp, was in distress. The price for gold was at an all-time low, and his operating costs were extremely high. Red Lake mine was producing only one-third as many ounces as his neighboring competitor and the miners were restless and ready to strike.     It was proving to be as difficult to search Red Lake ’s 55,000 acres as it is to find Flight 370, the Malaysian airliner lost somewhere in the 28-million-square-miles of the Indian Ocean.

What McEwen did to solve his problem was unprecedented. He decided to publish all of Red Lake’s proprietary data on the web and committed to giving a cash price of up to $105,000 to anyone who could tell them where they’d find the next 6 million ounces of gold. He nicknamed this project “The GoldCorp Challenge” and the response was big. Over 1400 scientists, engineers and geologists from 50 countries decided to participate.

The winner ended up being collaboration between two firms in Australia who had agreed to split the prize. Neither firm had physically visited the mining site, but instead had analyzed the data to produce a 3D graphical depiction of the dig sites.

It’s About Making a Difference

When the winning team members were interviewed, they said that they didn’t compete because of the prize money. In fact, the prize money barely covered the hours invested in their research. Yes, they had wanted the recognition that would come from solving the puzzle, but most of all, they wanted to open the eyes of their industry to a new way of doing exploration. In short, they invested the time because they wanted to make a difference. In the words of the winning team leader, “This has been like a beacon (of hope) in a sea of darkness,” for the mining industry.

This story, published in Fast Company Magazine, is yet another example of what James Surowiecki calls the “Wisdom of Crowds”. About 18 months ago, Community used crowd-sourcing, by bringing together 250 employees to discuss and debate what kind of culture and benefits we need in order to attract and retain the brightest minds, the most committed and loyal hearts and souls and the most highly engaged employees on the planet. Like McEwen, we struck gold and these ideas generated a powerful action plan that turned into measurable outcomes

Mining Expedition Scheduled 5-14-14

Employees at the 2012 Engagement Accelerator

Employees at the 2012 Engagement Accelerator

We know that we need to continue to innovate though so we will are going to tap employee input once       again, on May 14, 2014 when we will be hosting an “Engagement Accelerator.” We’re inviting 160 randomly-chosen employees to attend this event and discuss how the PTO/sick time policy works and how to improve it, as well as, brainstorm other changes to create an innovative, transparent, mission-oriented, results-driven culture. We’ll be reporting back about the nuggets of wisdom we gain from this session and of course, the action steps. So stay tuned.

(This blog post was originally published on the Community Medical Center website – The Forum)

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I recently met with new employee Melissa Phelps to hear why she joined Community Medical Centers, and what she loves the most about her work as an office assistant and scheduler in the radiology department. By the time we had finished lunch I ended up hearing not only how much she loves her job, but also learning about her personal love story with her husband Josh.  See the blog post “Love Letters“.

Valentines Day is a time to celebrate love for our husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, pets and yes, …our jobs.  This feeling of attachment and connection is so important, it deserved a poem of sorts, so I wrote a knock off of 1 Corinthians in celebration of Valentines Day.


Done well, work is Love.  Work is kind. It allows us to accomplish things in service to others, it allows our hearts to swell with pride and our voices to sing praise of goals met.  Work done well does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, it praises in public and criticizes in private, it is slow to anger and it keeps no record of wrong doings (except of course those that violate policy).  Work delights in excellence and rejoices in customer satisfaction. Work done well always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.  Work done well –  is Love.

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When my son was growing up, sports movies were one of our favorite modes of entertainment. I’ve always felt a little underprepared as a parent, so these outings were strategic on my part.  I figured that my rants and ramblings might not stick with him but maybe a movie with inspiring themes on leadership, perserverance, courage, and hope, would make an impression.  Some of our favorites are Rudy, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers and now Invictus, staring Matt Damon and one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman.

The film, based on John Carlin’s book “Playing the Enemy,” takes place in South Africa in the mid-1990s, just after Nelson Mandela’s election as the country’s first black president.   After 27 years in prison, Mandela takes office and then leads his nation by demonstrating compassion, forgiveness and even inclusiveness toward those who had imprisoned him.  When I left the theatre I still had no idea what the rules of rugby are, but I had a very clear impression of what great leadership looks like.

Since our future’s are bright and we all will certainly be applying our skills and talents to new organizations soon, I wanted to share several lessons on leadership that appear in an article written in 2008 by Richard Stengel, who worked with Mandela for two years as Mandela wrote the book “The Long Walk to Freedom”.  Although Stengle describes “Eight Lessons”, I’ll only list a few nuggets of wisdom here, but I found them all particularly relevant to my past and to our future journey:

  • Lead from the front but don’t leave your base behind. Stengel says that Mandela’s tactic was always, “What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?”  He was willing to do things to bring along a minority because they controlled the economy and the military and he calculated that he couldn’t succeed without them.
  • Appearance Matters – and remember how to smile. We often think that all great leaders are great public speakers – Obama comes to mind of course.  But Stengel mentions that Mandel was in fact not a very good public speaker and his audience would often tune him out after a few minutes.  He goes on to mention however that Mandela was a master at  knowing when symbols mattered more than substance.  There is a great scene in the movie when one of his personal bodyguards tells a new guard to smile as he faces the crowd of rugby fans who were booing Mandela.  Yep its true- how we appear can convince followers that we are being authentic or convince them we are not, despite the facts.
  • Quitting is Leading Too. Stengel says “knowing when to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make.” Mandela knew that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do.

The movie’s title comes from a Latin word meaning “unconquerable”, and is also the title of the poem by William Ernest Henley that Mandela read while in prison and then passed on to inspire the Springboks team to win the national rugby title.   The closing lines can inspire us our next journey:

I am the master of my fate;     I am the captain of my soul

If you see this movie, share what had meaning for you.

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All of us will be faced with a decision at some point– Where do we want to relocate?   And thus today’s reflection….

I had coffee with a well-read friend and he recommended that I should read a new book by Peter Kilborn, a former reporter for the NY Times called, “Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class”.   I read an excerpt, a couple of reviews from major newspapers and also watched a video clip of an interview with Kilborn on Fox Business.  Click “Fox Business” to link to this video.  I am hoping that having really read the entire book, Mark will post a comment providing some additional revelations, but here’s the theme:

Kilborn coins a word “Relos” (REE-los) to describe the corporate gypsies, or middle class professionals who relocate every few years.   At their core, he says, “is a faith in open horizons and a willingness to risk losing ground to gain ground. ( ) They are an affluent, hard-striving class. They inflate the American Dream and put it on wheels.” In the Fox video interview with Kilborn the interviewers even make the point that many “reloville” communities thrive because of this professional migration.

The thing that has me thinking though are comments like these:  A Minneapolis Star Tribune writer comments:  “In pursuit of power and influence, they lose the simple staples that generations of human beings have leaned on for meaning”. Another reviewer says – “A fascinating account of a new type of transient worker in America, affluent in their material lives but impoverished in their community ties.” The most depressing reviewer commented,  “In this sympathetic and arresting portrait, Kilborn takes the Willy Lomans of the present age and weeps for them.” The Willy Lomans?  Ouch.  I’ve read “Death of a Salesman” and seen it on stages several times but never in my life figured I’d be him.  Did you?

For some of you, you’ll transport your family to the new location, and develop a best-friends-at-work network, and continue to keep in contact with your colleagues across the U.S. and will probably be able to keep everyone including yourself from feeling isolated, adrift, disconnected, lost, and disassociated. For me – it’s just me.  My son is in college and my parents are finally doing well in a retirement home so I’m free to “seek open horizons”.  But I do need to figure out the cost-benefit equation.   How do I make sure that what I’m doing doesn’t sacrifice creating a greater meaning for my life.  I’m going to take a stab at answering this but your suggestions are welcome.

How Relos can lead a fulfilled life during their season of migration:

  • Pick an employer who truly has a Mission you believe in and work that makes you feel energized and passionate
  • Stay connected to your virtual family – for members of TS, just a quick nudge,  that means all of you
  • Make time to contribute your talents in the new city.
  • Once per year, spend the money to join former colleagues at a spa (I’m sort of into this experience now), or an education seminar so you can reconnect.

Tell me what you you’ll do to create a smooth transition and make the new place feel like home….

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A few days ago I had lunch with a member of Team Severance (TS), and she was glowing.  It wasn’t because she had just finished 90 minutes of crazy weight lifting and cardio at her fitness club, although in fact that was true. She was on top of the world because she had a phone interview that morning with an entrepreneur in London!  This fellow is a VC guy, had bought and sold companies many time over and I can only imagine,  is probably 10 years younger than I am.  She said he loved her resume, and commented that she was very  articulate.  He noted  that they had some experiences in common and told her there might be some leadership opportunities in companies he would soon be buying.  She of course will be a FIND for anyone.  So after I listened to her I reflected on what there is to be grateful for, large and small.

I had another conversation with a member of TS who had an outstanding discussion with a search consultant. I caught him on his way into a Kinkos for a video interview.  He had just returned from a  visit to Philadelphia.   Each of the search consultants were incredibly impressed with his qualifications and want to talk further.  Of course.  We know how amazing he is.  It helps though to hear it coming from the other side of the table, the other side of the video screen, or the other side of the world.  I don’t even remember driving my car, while I was on the phone with him.   It was completely energizing to hear THAT tone in his voice.  The sound of “good things yet to come”.

And today, I returned from an interview.  I felt confident I could make a difference in this company and spoke  in a way that I think demonstrated my knowledge, energy, focus, and leadership style. I debriefed with a friend and mentor afterward and just talking through the experience out loud allowed me the chance to revel in the possibilities of a new challenge and new relationships.  I received 4 phone calls this evening,from people who just wanted to check in.

In Mike Morrison’s recent blog,(See –  theothersideofthecard.com) he says “Every day offers a powerful sense making opportunity”.  I think some of this “sense making” at this time, for some of us, maybe for all of us includes these things –

  • We can be grateful for having this time to mold our lives in a new direction.
  • This time of change gives us a chance to take stock in how much we’ve learned in the past and how we can contribute to a Larger Purpose in the future
  • This transition time, could be very lonely, but we can be grateful for the support that we have given, are giving and will give to each other in the future.  It has made all the difference.

The universe has opened up possibilities for all of us.  I will relish hearing the stories.

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I’ve been reflecting on how I might lead differently in order to capture hearts and minds and influence people in the direction of a larger vision.  I think this nagging question keeps reappearing because I’ve because I know I need to make sense of the experience I’m going through.  I’ve been talking with a friend about this rear-view mirror issue – “what could we have done differently” and then read an article that may have some insight for all of us. 

Scientists David Rock and Jeffry Schwartz have coined the term “neuroleadership”.  They’ve taken a look at why organizational change fails miserably and suggest that we go about it all wrong.  We fail to recognize a few things about change and instead go along our merry way attempting to drag along our constituents.   Here’s what they say, and what they recommend we consider doing (but note, I’m not a brain scientist and  I’m giving you my personal  slant):

  • Change is pain – Hum, this has a personal ring to it.  Even change that is intended to make a positive long term difference in organizations provokes “psychological discomfort”.  I need to sit with that one awhile.  In the past I’d have said – “so what, let’s get on with it”.
  • The Carrot and Stick doesn’t work – point well taken.  The very people who resist change could also benefit greatly from it, but that still doesn’t move them.
  • Compassion and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people – Being empathetic in times of great change creates a co-dependent relationship where the dialogue goes something like:

Change Resistant Employee:   This new “system” you are introducing makes me feel uncomfortable.  I don’t’ think I’ll support it”.

Relationship-Focused Manager:   “Aw shucks, isn’t this hard, I’m so sorry you have to change, why don’t you just wallow around and feel sorry for yourself while Rome is burning”.

  • Focus is Power – Here’s a silver bullet discovery:  The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.  I’m going to try this experiment on myself. 
  • Repeated Attention Shapes People’s Expectations and Behavior – Another  silver bullet.  The words “repeated”, “focused” and “purposeful” all suggest this takes time. Ah ha moment: Change occurring too fast doesn’t allow the time for personal behavior change.

So, what would my coaches, Drs. Rock and Schwartz suggest I do differently next time?  Their first suggestion is facilitate change by cultivating “moments of insight” because people do not need to be provoked, but need to provoke themselves in order to change their attitude and expectations.  Second, they suggest focusing on one thing and providing positive feedback.  Brain scientists say that words like “Yes, good, that’s it”, help create the brain connections for lasting behavior change rather than “pruning” the synapses.

I’m heartened by reading and reflecting on this. Tell me what you think.  Did these observations make sense to you? What will you do differently or the same in the future?

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