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Archive for the ‘Making Sense Of It All’ Category

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I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with entrepreneur and author Danny Gutknecht and was inspired and enthralled by his theories about organizational culture and employee engagement. His research and experiences are described in his recent book- Meaning at Work, And it’s Hidden Language”. Here are a few key takeaways from the book and also where I think it fits into the broader landscape of making culture change happen.

Two barriers to engaging employee hearts and minds:

Standardization:

We may be underestimating the malaise that we create when we standardize how we manage people. The normal way we achieve economies of scale in an organization is by standardization. We standardize electronic medical record data entry, employment application processes, policies and procedures, meeting times, and organizational titles to just name a few. While this all works to create a smooth operation, the one place Gutknecht says this falls short, is when it comes to people. Employees are showing up at work with their own expectations and past experiences. If you have any doubt about this just take a look at your organization’s varied responses on Glass Door.

When we standardize how we treat people, this homogenization takes the wind out of employees’ sails. We unintentionally fail to harness the power that comes from employees wanting to feel that they matter and deeply desiring inspiration so that they can do their best work.

Top down vs. bottom Up:

Second, Gutknecht point out that culture change, like strategy creation, is usually a top down exercise. Without knowing what actually creates meaning for employees, we tend to invent a marketing brochure vs. actionable plans to engage people, instill a common purpose, and inspire the energy to satisfy customers.

A new paradigm – The Human Fugue

So, to move past these barriers and decipher how meaning is created, Gutknecht uses a model created by his friend and colleague Stanford grad and entrepreneur Bijoy Goswami. This model called “The Human Fugue”, describes four “houses” or domains through which humans operate to make meaning of their existence.   Like Maslow’s hierarchy, when these houses are laid one on top of another, there is a sense of moving from a place where there is very little autonomy (ie. being given facts and theories we are expected to adopt – The House of Phenomena) and the constraints placed on all of us by laws, policies and standard protocols (The House of Rights), to the arena where we create meaning by building and exchanging assets (The House of Resources). The ultimate pinnacle though is –“The House of Meaning”. At this level of self-actualization – culture is not inherited from senior leaders at the top, nor adopted, it is curated.

In my view, “curating meaning” is a pretty revolutionary concept and requires a bit of trust on the part of leaders. Here’s why taking the risk to allow your employees to curate (collect, assemble, translate, understand, incorporate) meaning is so important:

Curating meaning at work….

  • Allows employees to decide what resonates with them and then allows them to discard the rest.
  • Frees people up to embrace beliefs and aspirations that fit their values.
  • Fosters empathy for others who might view their work through a different lens.
  • Places accountability on the shoulders of the employee. By Webster’s definition, a curator is “one who has the care and superintendence of something”.
  • Transforms employees by the very fact that you take them on a journey to decipher the meaning of their work. In Bijoy’s words – JOurneY is spelled using these three capital letters because knowing you matter and finding this kind of fulfillment at work brings joy.

The secret sauce – Essence Mining

Lots of organizations use engagement surveys as a way to understand their employee mindset and how easy it is to operate in the environment.   And surveys, while a good start at giving employees a voice, don’t often result in much revelation. (Ever wonder why the same comments end up on your survey year after year?) By their nature, surveys are anonymous and the answers are often based on context that leaders will never know. This is why Gutknecht created a process called “Essence Mining”.

Essence mining is unique in the following ways:

  • Interviews are recorded on video and then analyzed for not only what the employees has said, but how they have said it. Through studying the rhythm, tempo, and loudness of the conversation, Gutknecht says much can be learned about the employee’s emotional state.
  • Questions begin with very early memories of influences from childhood to adulthood. Even though the interview in no way resembles therapy, these early memories and influences have helped to form the person showing up at work, so are viewed as important.
  • Upon completion these videos are analyzed, stories cataloged, and themes, mantras and patterns identified. This data forms what Gutknecht calls the Organizational Dynamic Lingua Franca – ODLF. This ODLF is the actual culture that exists vs. the one you think you have because you published a description of it on your website.

Where Essence Mining (EM) Fits in the bigger picture of culture change:

In a 2012 article by Jon Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley titled Culture Change that Sticks”, the authors describe five key strategies used by companies that successfully evolve their culture: 1) Understanding culture and matching it to strategy, 2) focusing on a few critical shifts in behavior, 3) honoring the strengths in the existing culture 4) Integrating formal interventions with informal and 5) measuring and monitoring the culture evolution.

If the goal is to get culture change to take root, Essence Mining could be deployed to not only gain understanding but also provide a safe space for employees to share their stories. The interview process in itself is an intervention that helps with group cohesion and since the “hidden meaning of language” is dynamic, and changes as you hire new employees and others leave, it can be deployed periodically to monitor the culture evolution.

Another differentiator seems to be that EM is outcome oriented, unlike other studies that end up in a binder on the top of a leader’s shelf.   Gutknecht shares that organizations have used Essence Mining to do everything from designing ways to recruit for hard to fill positions to developing cohesion among new work groups during mergers and acquisitions. And for transparency, the results are shared with both employees and leaders. It’s about producing an outcome that transforms the relationship between people and their work. In Gutknecht’s words…

By making a space for the people in your organization to be who they are and offer what they have to contribute, you become a dream weaver. You weave everyone’s passions, and the dream of what they are capable of, into a vision of getting something done for the company, the customers, and the world.”

Pretty cool if you ask me.

How do you create meaning in your work and in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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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