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Empowering Leaders Empowerment Forum

Posted by on Oct 26, 2018 in Leadership, Uncategorized, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Empowering Leaders Empowerment Forum

On October 23, 2018, Management Concepts along with Young Government Leaders (YGL) and Blacks in Government (BIG) NOW Generation held the “Emerging Leader Empowerment Forum” for aspiring leaders in government to hear from a panel of speakers as they discussed their career journeys, challenges, and successes. Jozetta Robinson currently serves as the Director, Office of the Executive Secretariat at the Office of Personnel Management where she facilitates the management of correspondence, regulations, plain language implementation, policy and other critical issues for the Director and agency leadership. She has dedicated over 25 years of service to the Federal Government. The panelists for the event included: Ron Holloway, M.B.A. who serves as a Program and Management Analyst, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He is also an advocate, creative writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. Ron has spoken to a variety of audiences ranging from small groups and large conferences to speaking on topics on behalf of the Obama Administration. Tiffany J. Lightbourn, Ph.D. who serves as the Director of Payroll and Personnel Systems at the Internal Revenue Service. She oversees the timely issuance of pay to 84,000 IRS employees, obligating over $8 billion annually. Previously the Director of Employment, Talent and Security, she led the hiring of 12,000 permanent and seasonal employees and the suitability and security screening for all employees of the Service. Arlene Pena who serves as the Chief Communications Officer at the Young Government Leaders (YGL) National Leadership Team. Since joining YGL in 2017, she has created YGLs first Branding Guidelines, put together a 208 omnichannel marketing strategy and is currently developing YGL’s 2018 video campaign. When beginning her career as a public servant in 2015, she took the digital portfolio of her agency and doubled the following, quadrupled their engagement, and created a robust digital marketing strategy. Lisa Thomas, Ph.D., FACHE serves as the Executive Director, Human Capital Management at the National Cemetery Administration. In June 2016, Dr. Lisa Thomas was appointed as the Executive Director, Human Capital Management for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) within the Department of Veterans Affairs. In this capacity, Dr. Thomas is responsible for the entire human capital life cycle of NCA’s workforce, which includes approximately 1,800 dedicated employees who are committed to honoring Veterans and their families with final resting places in national shrines and commemorating their service. The panel was moderated by Lahaja Furaha, the Organizational Culture Practice Lead and Senior Human Capital Advisor at Management Concepts. The conversation between the panelists and the audience was lively and informative. Below are a few topics touched upon in the discussion: Finding a Mentor Informational interviews are a great way for aspiring leaders to seek receive guidance as the chart out their career path. Connect with those in positions that you admire, be clear about your intentions, and provide updates on the results of any action items provided to you. As an employee of the Federal Government, you have access to coaching inside your agency, outside your agency, and from coaching providers like Management Concepts. Information on how to receive coaching can be found on OPM’s Coaching wiki. Gaining a Promotion It’s important to first understand why you want the promotion. Whether it be more responsibility or higher pay, there might be another route to get you to the same path. A key factor in...

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The Secret to Building a High-Performing Team

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

The Secret to Building a High-Performing Team

All organizations strive to build and maintain high-performing teams on some level, yet few are successful. Why? What is so elusive about high-performing teams? Before we can explore the answer to those questions, we must first define the word “team.” A team is a collection of individuals working toward shared goals and making decisions using consensus; accountability is shared among the manager/leader and the members. When most effective, teams have the capacity to: Encourage collaboration Develop interpersonal skills Strengthen the creative process Increase engagement Promote accountability and feedback High-performing teams are uniquely committed to action, achievement, and maximizing opportunity. All organizations have teams, but not many can be crowned high-performing. In the Harvard Business Review article, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” author Alex Pentland characterizes high-performing teams as being, “blessed with the energy, creativity, and shared commitment to far surpass other teams.” Members of high-performing teams are: Empowered to maximize their strengths Afforded the opportunity to develop additional skills Fully engaged Motivated to perform at their best Capable of adapting Responsive to the internal and external forces that may alter team dynamics Transforming low-performing teams into high-performing teams is a tremendous challenge, as well as an opportunity. A team development and performance study by the Brandon Hall Group referenced in the Training Magazine article, “High-Performing Teams: A Crucial Differentiator of Business Performance” by Laci Loew included survey results from 191 organizations and found that approximately “72 percent of 191 organizations surveyed said team performance has a positive or extremely positive impact on overall productivity.” What’s even more interesting is that “one-third (34 percent) of those same organizations said they do not have a strategy to improve team development, and 21 percent said they do not invest any time or resources of any kind to develop teams at any level within their organizations.” Many organizations are leaving productivity and financial gains on the table by not investing in the development of high-performing teams. When the benefits are so obvious, the natural question is – why? As you can imagine, the answer differs from organization to organization and depends on countless situational variables. But could it be that most organizations can’t get over the first hurdle in any growth situation – an open admission that the team in question is low-performing? To be fair, job security, complacency, and personality conflicts are all obstacles in change management and cultural transformations. However, there is an inherent vulnerability required for team members and leadership to openly express that they are headed in the wrong direction and something needs to change. For many organizations, this moment of clarity and vulnerability will never be actualized because the organization and the team are missing one essential element: trust. Loew defines trust as “confidence, the absence of suspicion, and an ongoing record that confirms expectations of behavior and performance. Trust is expressed in the behavior toward others and will grow or shrink due to interactions and experiences.” High-performing teams are defined by their individual trust of team members to do the job, stay on mission, and ask for help when necessary. Trust is the glue that holds high-performing teams together. Teams that do not have trust are by definition, low-performing. Low-performing teams are stagnant, lack action, and rarely initiate growth activities. Collectively they operate timidly, reactively,...

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And the winner of the 2018 PMI Fellow Award is …

Posted by on Oct 11, 2018 in Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

And the winner of the 2018 PMI Fellow Award is …

It’s often said that the most important asset in any organization is its people. It’s true in the public sector, it’s true in the private sector and it’s definitely true here at Management Concepts. We can deliver superior solutions not just because we have great course content, but because we also have amazing, highly-qualified instructors with a passion for teaching. One instructor that we are extremely proud of is Cynthia Snyder-Dionisio. It turns out that we aren’t alone in finding her exceptional. On Saturday, Cynthia was named a Project Management Institute (PMI) Fellow at the 2018 PMI Professional Awards Gala. The PMI Fellow Award is the highest and most prestigious individual award presented by the Project Management Institute for service to the organization and profession. With membership of over 500,000, and almost 1 million certified project managers around the globe who are potentially eligible for the award, this is no small feat. Cynthia has had a remarkable career with Management Concepts since she joined us in 2004. She played a pivotal role as a lead consultant and instructor on multiple key accounts such as Medtronic, ViaSat, NASA and NASA JPL. But perhaps the biggest feather in Cynthia’s cap was being a key part of the Management Concepts team that developed the Federal Acquisition Institute’s Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) curricula for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VAAA considers the FAC-P/PM certification to be one of the most successful training programs in the Federal Government. Ms. Dionisio was awarded a letter of commendation signed by the Chancellor of VAAA, based on her work on this project. Subsequently Cynthia developed our popular PMP Exam Prep Bootcamp based on the updated PMBOK 6th edition. High quality work, high caliber professional. We could not agree more with the PMI decision to name her a Fellow. Congratulations,...

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40th Annual BIG NTI Conference Recap 2018

Posted by on Aug 23, 2018 in Leadership, Uncategorized, Workforce Management | 0 comments

40th Annual BIG NTI Conference Recap 2018

  I write this blog as I await the announcement to board my flight back to Washington D.C. after a phenomenal week at the 40th Annual Blacks in Government National Training Institute (BIG NTI). This annual training event ran from August 13-16, held at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel and hosted more than 2,500 professionals from Federal and state governments as well as private and not-for-profit organizations. The theme for this year’s BIG NTI was “Leveraging Your Professional Attributes for Sustained Growth and Development.” While the institute is primarily focused on the professional development of attendees, it also boasts thriving community engagement, leadership, academic achievement, and military veterans’ programs among its core initiatives. Management Concepts was a proud Gold Sponsor, presented a leadership workshop, and hosted a Munch & Mingle networking event in conjunction with the BIG NOW Generation. The Munch & Mingle networking event gave conference attendees the opportunity to connect with peers, BIG leadership and other special guests. This year’s event featured remarks on “The BIG Experience” from BIG’s National Executive Vice President, Ms. Shirley A. Jones, Esq. Michelle Clark, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing presented the 4th Annual Leadership Certificate Program Scholarship Award to Emmanuel Onyeobia, Grants Manager at State Veterans Home Construction Grants Program; Office of Capital Asset Management. There were several all-day forums held by Federal agencies including the Departments of State, Energy, Labor, and the Navy. Management Concepts held a one-day Leadership training program, “Creating Connections to Improve Performance and Foster Engagement.” The program covered mentoring, managing change, cultivating motivation and engagement, and building relationships through collaboration. The session reached capacity before the start of the institute, and due to continued demand, we were able to reopen registration for additional participants.  The training was very well received, one attendee said: “I am really enjoying this leadership course. I am glad you are depositing into Aspiring BIG leaders.” Another attendee of the training said this of the program: “An AWESOME training experience in leadership, collaboration, and networking with Margaret Eggleston.” After being professionally enriched, motivated and challenged in the sessions during the day, attendees were able to participate in a wide variety of events in the evenings. There was something for everyone; from networking and receptions to shopping and even a gospel concert. Of course, attendees were excited to partake in the local cuisine – the seafood gumbo, beignets and café au lait were among my favorites. I’m thrilled to have participated as an attendee as well as a representative of Management Concepts. The week was packed with opportunities to learn and grow both professionally and personally. I highly recommend this event to leaders and emerging leaders across every workforce. It’s well worth the investment. Learn more about the training and consulting we offer at Management Concepts. In addition to Leadership and Management training we offer courses in Program, Grants, and Financial Management, Analytics, HR and...

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Competition and Collaboration in the Workplace

Posted by on Aug 7, 2018 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Competition and Collaboration in the Workplace

Competition is a natural component of all economies at some level whether it involve markets, companies, or job-seekers. The workplace can make for an equally competitive environment with employees working longer hours to secure promotions with fancier job titles and bigger paychecks. Now that more and more organizations are starting to adopt a distinctly collaborative approach to achieve success and build high-performing teams, it’s time to re-evaluate the oft-perceived dichotomy between competition and collaboration. In “Competition At Work: Positive Or Positively Awful?,” Kristi Hedges refers to “coopetition” as the act of cooperation between competing companies and applies this same principle to the workplace. She argues that by introducing competition to the workplace, team members will often push one another to become more productive, ensuring the quality of work. Think of it as a form of scaling competition. It’s the surest means in which team members can constantly challenge each other to grow while continuing to raise the proverbial bar set by the newly established workplace standards. While this might increase productivity to some degree, there will inevitably come a point where these benefits plateau. This is where the unspoken danger lies: in allowing the workplace to devolve into a culture that is overly results-driven, encouraging incessant one-upping or, in some extreme cases, fraudulent behavior to occur, all while punishing those who strive to take innovative risks and adhere to their morals. What happens when competition negatively impacts the workplace? The Harvard Business Review featured an article about this exact issue describing how competition can be either positive or negative based on how employees emotionally interpret it. Specifically, they used the Wells Fargo debacle to show how subjecting employees to such high-pressure demands to open new credit card and bank accounts only reinforced negative competition, which ultimately was a detriment to Wells Fargo’s success (and wallet). The significance here is that the competition waged by a quota-obsessed upper management is what led Wells Fargo employees to inflate their sales numbers by “secretly creating millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts — an unethical path toward results that has very high long-term costs.” In conducting such unethical business practices (out of fear of losing their jobs or being otherwise penalized for their lack of performance), consumers began to distrust their banks, which in turn, brought about organizational failure. According to the article, this is the major difference between negative and positive competition. Negative competition is a short-term strategy with long-term consequences. Positive competition aims to further team sustainability and organizational longevity. In summation, compromising team integrity for quick results is not effective. Here are 3 ways to leverage competition to drive workplace collaboration: 1. Find out what motivates your individual team members and capitalize on those intrinsic/extrinsic motivators. One aspect of “coopetition” that Kristi Hedges doesn’t cover in her article is how crucial it is to understand what motivates your team members. Before you can even begin to arrange for there to be workplace “coopetition,” you need to first determine what intrinsic/extrinsic motivators most strongly affect each team member. This will better enable you to predict what forms of competition are most effective. For example, someone who is just starting in a new position might be more inclined to want to prove themselves to the group and develop their own self-worth (an intrinsic motivator) as opposed to someone who has been working at the...

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Federal Spotlight Interview: Nathaniel H. Benjamin

Posted by on Jun 21, 2018 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight Interview: Nathaniel H. Benjamin

  MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? I’ve been in Federal Service excluding military time for about 15 years and my main responsibility is managing the Human Capital Office for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Under that responsibility, I’m responsible for talent acquisition for general schedule employees. Additionally, we manage the executive resources program for our Senior Executive Service members and our political staff. We also manage the diversity and inclusion programs, learning and development, employee engagement, outreach, employee relations, performance management, and data collection and reporting. MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? We are in such a place of change when it comes to the Federal Service. We have Baby Boomers that are exiting. And as Baby Boomers are exiting, it’s creating new opportunities for Generation X and Generation Y. As these opportunities present themselves, it creates a landscape for public servants to see change right before their eyes. For me, it’s an opportunity to continually build a solid career and, down-the-line, position myself so that I can hopefully be a change agent for Washington, as well as the Federal Government at large. MC: What is one of your biggest achievements? I would say one of the biggest achievements that I’ve had is coming into my position. We had a hundred percent turnover. I am currently the most seasoned veteran. When I came in, one of the charges was to bring the office into the 21st century; to be more strategic; to be more aligned with the organization. Because those were the marching orders that I received, I made it a point to make sure that I hired a staff that was capable of making these things happen. It’s great if you have one person come in, but anybody who is in management understands that the staff really can make or break the organization. And so, I hired in a top-talented staff, or as I call them, my varsity squad; because there was no room for JV players. Within 18 months, we brought in more automated processes and website development. We really ramped up our employee engagement efforts to include staff partnering with our senior leadership to create a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Work Plan focusing on D&I as a part of the institution and not just a program that resides in Human Capital. By getting engagement around the entire organization, we’ve been able to establish what we know as diversity and inclusion dialogues. Additionally, we have created a program known as “Community Spaces” where our employees with different backgrounds, perspectives, life styles, and work experiences can feel safe to engage in constructive dialogues – in a confidential setting — because we know that who you are and what you bring to the office has a critical impact on the work that you perform. We want our workforce to feel that they can bring their whole self to work, because that is when they can do their best. The total person is very important. We were intentional when it came to promoting Special Emphasis Programs (SEP) and it’s very important for each month where we acknowledge and celebrate specific groups. And so, each month that there is a...

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The President’s Management Agenda Series: Transforming through Innovation

Posted by on May 18, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

The President’s Management Agenda Series: Transforming through Innovation

In March 2018, the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) was released to the public. The PMA “lays out a long-term vision for modernizing the Federal Government in key areas that will improve the ability of all agencies to deliver mission outcomes, provide excellent service, and effectively steward taxpayer dollars on behalf of the American people.” So how will the U.S. Government carry out these goals? In this blog series, we will explore some of the actions, processes, and practices it can leverage to ensure success. 1: Transforming through Innovation Many people think of innovation as a bulb that suddenly flashes on as your face lights up with a one-time stroke of brilliance. Sure, an innovative idea can come to you at any time, but innovation comprises much more than a moment of genius. Innovation is a structured and deliberate process; it can be practiced, improved, and fostered by an overarching framework that supports creative thinking and risk-taking. Innovation occurs when organizations follow through with the best creative ideas, evolve with changing demands and challenges, capitalize on new opportunities, and achieve efficiencies through continuous improvement. It can be a very powerful tool that buoys individuals, teams, and whole organizations. Innovation is considered successful when it adds value to an organization—often that value equates to profit. But in the case of the Federal Government, innovation is measured by whether it improves the lives of the American people who are served by the government every day. The President’s Management Agenda refers to the concept of innovation frequently, and it is depicted as playing a critical role in achieving the outlined goals. Take for example the administration’s intention of creating a data strategy and infrastructure for the future by leveraging data, accountability, and transparency. According to the PMA, the Federal Government “lacks a robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve customers, and steward resources.” The administration seeks to develop its data strategy to remain current with technological advances and ultimately increase the effectiveness of the government. One of the key components in its plan to enhance Federal data strategy is through commercialization, innovation, and public use. While commercialization and public use will take advantage of the private sector and research communities, the innovation piece of this objective is especially crucial, because it requires a major mindset shift from the status quo to the inventive and imaginative. The PMA states that “enabling external users to access and use government data for commercial and other public purposes spurs innovative technological solutions and fills gaps in government capacity and knowledge.” With the administration’s renewed commitment to innovation, can it succeed in accomplishing the lofty goal of bridging the gap between ideas and action? Below we explore the challenges facing the government when it comes to innovation, and the ways it can overcome those challenges and support an environment of innovation. What are the barriers to innovation? Lack of flexibility and an acceptance of risk that can be uncomfortable and unnerving. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, or fear of looking foolish. Knowledge, which tends to cause us to look at things in a highly selective manner, can lead to close-mindedness when envisioning solutions or ideas. Habits that make tasks easier to perform, but hinder creativity. Complacency—as exemplified by the attitude, “If it...

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Federal Spotlight Interview: Kim Bauhs

Posted by on Apr 18, 2018 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight Interview: Kim Bauhs

  MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? KB: I made a mid-career move to join the Federal Service in 2000. Prior to that, I spent 9 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy and another 8 years with the Virginia State Government. I was ready for a change, and loved the flexibility – and opportunity – that came with joining our Country’s largest employer. I am currently the head of Human Resources (HR) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an organization of 12,000 dedicated scientists and program administrators who use cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision-makers with the reliable information they need, when they need it. NOAA’s Mission: Science, Service and Stewardship To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts To share that knowledge and information with others To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources The work is fascinating. My team of HR professionals provide tools and guidance to ensure NOAA has the talent needed to accomplish the mission, and promote a work environment that enables optimal employee performance. MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? KB: I’ve never wanted to work anywhere else. Mission is what drives me, and the Federal Government has some of the most exciting and meaningful jobs in the world. But more importantly, our customers are the American People. As public servants, we are not here to generate revenue, but rather are motivated by a “higher calling” to serve others. We’re here to protect our nation and its resources; to provide essential services to the public and ensure long-term economic prosperity; to fight deadly diseases such as cancer and HIV; and to care for those who need our help. I’m proud to be a public servant, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. MC: What is one of your biggest achievements? KB: I’m working towards it now! At NOAA, and more broadly across the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), we are changing the way we deliver HR services. In 2017, we began moving transactional functions to a shared “enterprise” approach, where efficiencies are gained through process improvements and technology solutions. As these day-to-day operations (e.g. personnel actions, benefits, payroll, etc.) are migrated to the DOC Enterprise Services Organization (ESO), the NOAA HR team focuses more on providing human capital guidance to our customers. We are reshaping ourselves to serve as strategic partners with our mission areas, guiding them to make effective decisions on how to attract, develop, and retain the workforce they need. This 3-year transformation is the most comprehensive change management initiative I’ve led. It affects every aspect of our work – and impacts the thousands of internal customers we serve at NOAA. We have much more to do to achieve the goals we’ve set, but we are making progress. MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government? KB: A few things come to mind: Know that every organization has a degree of “bureaucracy.” This is not unique to government. The key is to learn your organization inside and out. Gain insights into how decisions are made and who is in a position to...

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Federal Spotlight Interview: Adrianne M. Callahan

Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Federal Spotlight Interview: Adrianne M. Callahan

MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility? AC: I have been employed within the Federal Service for a little over 26 years.  I have spent the entire 26 years at the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  I am currently the Small Business Specialist and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Manager for USEPA, Region 5.  Where I advocate for small businesses to have a fair and reasonable opportunity to access, understand and hopefully receive an opportunity to do business with EPA.  I work with both sides of the EPA procurement house – contracts and grants.  In my role, I work closely with senior management and staff to implement the Agency’s small business program which includes: socio-economic goals, participation in short and long-term acquisition planning, negotiation of Fair Share goals, etc.; I also ensure appropriate assistance to small businesses working on EPA funded projects for state, local, and tribal organizations and represent the Agency in a multitude of outreach events throughout the Midwest states (IL, IN, MI, OH, MN, WI) to ensure the small business community is aware of EPA’s procurement opportunities.   MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector?  AC: I serve as a collateral duty Special Emphasis Program Manager for the Black Employee Program, participate on a number of intergovernmental committees for small business and a number of organizational improvement committees that encourage process improvement.  From the internal activities to promote cultural awareness and consider workplace trends to the external committees that support the everyday work I do, all of these support my routine work activities however, each of them, tends to give me a new opportunity each day to learn and/or meet someone new.  I stay motivated and passionate about the public sector because I have found value in being a public servant.   MC:  What is one of your biggest achievements? AC: One of my biggest achievements is winning the Federal Employee of the Year – Outstanding Specialist Category.  Competition for the Federal Employee of the Year is extremely high, my nomination was reviewed and ranked the winner out of 18 nominations from various agencies within the Chicago Federal Agency area and it truly was a humbling surprise.  Having my family attend, along with the supervisor who nominated me, was a very momentous occasion.  More importantly, it was a very stressful work year, with a number of high level assignments and it was truly an honor to receive the award for all my hard work.   MC: What advice would you share with the next generation of leaders on entering government? AC: I would share the following advice with the next generation of leaders entering the federal workforce: Get involved, beyond your day-to-day assigned activities. Be willing to conduct the necessary research to understand the mission of the agency and how your work directly impacts the mission. Understand the Agency’s budget and how your position is impacted by changes to the budget. Network beyond your comfort zone; engage with people that can not only mentor you but offer you the opportunity to share your knowledge and experience.   Read more Federal Spotlight interviews by clicking here. And subscribe to this blog using the form at the top-right of this...

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Federal Spotlight Interview: Laniera Jones

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight Interview: Laniera Jones

  Federal Spotlight:  Laniera Jones, Training Officer, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? LJ: I have been in the Federal service since June 2003 which included serving all my time with the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Department of Commerce. I came into BEA working part time as an intern while I was attending Lynchburg College.  BEA offered me the flexibility of adjusting my schedule to accommodate my course load.  In June 2010, I was offered a full-time position with the Bureau which I graciously accepted. Throughout my tenure at BEA, I worked in training and development and currently, I serve as the Training Officer for my agency.  I have seen the progression of the agency’s investment in employee development mature over the years. I manage all training initiatives and programs, at the Bureau and program area level.  I ensure that we comply with OPM regulations, chair our Training Council, and represent the Bureau and Department at the Federal Chief Learning Officer level. What I love most about my role is that I also have an opportunity to use my additional skills as an organizational development subject matter expert and facilitator.  I also serve as a coach with the Federal Coaching Network.  These sessions remind me of why I truly enjoy seeing the outcomes of learning and development. These events provide an opportunity to connect with colleagues and customers on a different level, helping them to realize their desired state. This is so intrinsically rewarding for me! It is truly a joy to have a position that allows me the flexibility to perform outside the role of a traditional Training Officer.   MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? LJ: The opportunity to serve the public is noble and honorable from my perspective. To know the work I do continues to grow and develop our workforce that contributes to the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission is motivation enough. As I mentioned, I am able to experience variety in my role almost every day which is another facet that keeps me motivated continuously. Over the last four years, I have had the opportunity to work with the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy (ICSP), by developing a mentoring program across the Federal statistical system. Part of this experience I could not have anticipated is the comradery the working group has developed during this process. Not only have we created a mentoring platform across agencies, but we have organically mentored one another in the process. Last year, ICSP made the decision to focus on broader development opportunities for technical staff across the agencies. Thus, the employee development working group was formed under the sponsorship of Brian Moyer, the Director of BEA. We have been working diligently over the last 11 months to determine technical challenges across agencies and how to target those collectively. As a result, we focused on two main priorities: an action learning project team across four agencies and hosting an innovation showcase. The showcase, called Big Data Day, is an event highlighting the innovations across ICSP agencies around big data through posters, demonstrations, a panel, and lightning presentations. As the working...

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Federal Spotlight: Melody Bell

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight: Melody Bell

  Federal Spotlight:  Melody Bell, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary (ADAS) Resource Management, Office of Environmental Management. Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? MB: I have over 33 years between my time in the U.S. Air Force and Department of Energy in management and leadership positions with multi-disciplinary programs in energy, environmental management, and defense programs.  Currently I am the Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Resource Management in the Office of Environmental Management (EM).  Specifically, I provide leadership and direction in implementing key activities around empowerment, engagement, diversity and inclusion, and continuous improvement to promote positive organizational culture change within EM.  Previously I served as the Senior Advisor to the Associate Deputy Secretary (ADS) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  I also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Business Administration and the Director of Program Execution Support in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at DOE and the Deputy Director of the Office of Transformation for the National Nuclear Security Administration where she assessed and developed policy to enhance and improve effectiveness, utility, and efficiency of the nuclear weapons complex. I began my career as an Officer in the United States Air Force, where I managed several projects and contracts in support of major Air Force weapon systems. My education achievements include: a Master’s of Science in Environmental Sciences from the Colorado School of Mines, a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering Mechanics from the Air Force Academy.   MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? MB: As the oldest of 4 children raised by a single-working mom, I have always felt a calling and motivation to pursue a career of service.  I wanted to be a role model of service and responsibility. Upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, I began my service career in the Air Force.  I enjoyed being part of a dedicated, professional cadre that stood for Duty, Honor and Country.  During my Air Force career, I had the opportunity to work on a Hazardous Waste minimization and Pollution Prevention project at Hill AFB.  This is when I knew that I wanted to combine my passion for both the environment and national security.  After serving for over 8 years, I wanted to continue my love of service, passion for helping others and my community and entered the civil service.  DOE Office of Environmental Management and Defense Programs were perfect alignments for interest in public service. I have learned much in my career progression to SES and as a public servant.  In addition, I enjoy mentoring and being a role model for women and girls in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career fields and reinforcing the benefits of being a life-long learner.  I am a lifetime member of Girl Scouts and volunteers as a Troop Leader enabling the transformation of girls into leaders.  I am also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers.   MC: What is one of your biggest achievements? MB: I have several, starting with successfully graduating from the Air Force Academy to having a son and adopting a daughter with special needs at birth. ...

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Decision-Making: The Impact of Organizational Culture

Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in Leadership | 0 comments

Decision-Making: The Impact of Organizational Culture

When I worked for a small (less than 10 employees) consulting group, it was the habit of each person to ask everyone else if they needed any help before leaving for the day. Because it was a small group of people, it was easy to check in with everyone. This would occur like clockwork at the end of every day, and each person asked the same question before shutting down his or her computer. When I first joined that group, this practice made a big impression on me. It was an indicator of the importance of team work and collaboration in this organization’s culture. This particular practice was just one of many behaviors that demonstrated a strong team culture. As I soon learned, when you have less than 10 employees, it’s all hands-on deck, regardless of the task at hand! While this is a great example of an organization’s culture being aligned with on-the-job behaviors, organizations can also experience the opposite – misalignment between culture and behaviors. For instance, we’ve all heard about the push for organizations to use evidence-based decision making. These organizations have incorporated evidence-based decision making into their operations, creating analytics functions that feed data related to the financial and people operations of the organization. However, some of these same organizations use selection systems which feature parts that are most certainly NOT evidence-based – they use unstructured interviews. As a candidate attracted to the organization because of their focus on evidence, data, and analytics, experiencing this part of the selection system would be very off-putting. It’s inconsistent with everything the organization says it values. The behavior doesn’t back up their values and norms and beliefs. These examples demonstrate the importance of ensuring that specific behaviors, values, and norms are aligned with an organization’s culture. The way the organization goes about conducting business should be reflective of the organization’s mission, vision, and values. This is true throughout all facets of the organization, but let’s take a closer look at aligning culture with human capital initiatives and systems, such as selection systems, professional development approaches, evaluation strategy, etc. If you say you are an evidence-based organization, then your selection systems should include proven approaches that are supported by the research such as structured interviews, work samples with scoring guidelines, and assessment centers. Don’t forget about conducting a job analysis to determine the competencies covered by your selection instruments.  And remember, saying “you don’t have time to change your selection systems” or have “always done it this way” is also a reflection of culture. If you say your organization is data driven, then a logical question is how do you know your training is having an impact? Are you using assessments to help identify skill gaps in your leaders or technical workforce? What about your coaching or mentoring programs? Are these programs resulting in the outcomes identified prior to implementation? What value are they bringing to your organization? What changes in key performance indicators have occurred as a result of these programs? The bottom line – how does your organizational culture inform human capital initiatives? What do your values and behaviors say about the type of organization you are currently and the type you want to become? Learn more about our human capital and culture alignment solutions and how...

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Ready, Set, Go: Time to Finalize FY 2019-2023 Strategic Plans

Posted by on Feb 22, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Ready, Set, Go: Time to Finalize FY 2019-2023 Strategic Plans

After months of waiting, Performance.gov is finally back online. While it’s only an interim resource and a brand-new site is forthcoming from The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration (GSA), leaders across the Federal government are thrilled to have something easily accessible to support continued updates to draft strategic plans submitted last summer. The Trump Administration’s call for large scale reform first outlined in a 2017 OMB memo is beginning to take shape with the release of the FY 2019 President’s Budget, and more important details needed to finish the next round of strategic plans will be announced in March when the President’s Management Agenda is available: “This March, the Administration will release the President’s Management Agenda to set forth a long-term vision for an effective Government that works on behalf of the American people. The Administration will make aggressive down payments on this vision by establishing key management reform priorities, addressing critical challenges where Government as a whole still operates in the past. To drive these priorities, the Administration will leverage Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals to coordinate and publicly track implementation across Federal agencies.” –Performance.gov The process of preparing strategic plans for Federal agencies is highly prescriptive and follows a well-documented, mandated process. However, without all the necessary inputs, the process grinds to a halt. Why is it so important the FY 2019 Budget was released this week and why are so many waiting with bated breath for the President’s Management Agenda? Strategic plans are the essential road maps our Government uses to guide its work for our safety and prosperity each day…down to the last detail. Strategic planning provides a way for agencies to determine if they are achieving their mission. It provides a framework for organizational action by providing organizations within the agency a common basis for assessing situations, discussing alternatives, and deciding appropriate actions to take. Strategic planning in the Federal sector also provides agencies across government a plan for cross-agency action. Simply put, effective strategic planning allows Federal agencies to: Improve decision-making Foster teamwork and communication Assess market and industry forces Facilitate effective resource allocation Clarify future direction Manage change If you are contributing to your Agency’s strategic planning process for the first time or need a refresher on the latest guidance, join us for Strategic Planning in Federal Agencies. We’re updating our content in real time to bring you the latest information on how to prepare a Federal strategic plan....

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Finding Time for Strategic Thinking

Posted by on Feb 1, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Finding Time for Strategic Thinking

In our fast-paced work environments, there is a natural inclination to keep our heads down and accomplish only the tasks directly in front of us at any given time. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we are bombarded with emails and social media alerts that require our immediate attention. Indeed, we are often rewarded on the job for our ability to navigate daily emergencies and constantly be available. However, there is a cost to always being “on.” Constantly receiving alerts triggers stress reactions in the body, leading to physical and emotional fatigue. More broadly, when we are stuck in firefighting mode, we lose the ability to plan for and achieve long-term goals. This is why strategic thinking is such a powerful skill to develop. Instead of simply focusing on what exists around us, strategic thinking allows us to consider what could be in the future. To move beyond the here and now and incorporate strategic thinking into your daily routine, consider these best practices: Avoid checking your phone when you first wake up. Though we might want to immediately connect with the world, checking your notifications instantly frames the start of your day around your immediate to-do list. Focus your energy on one task at a time. There is a wealth of research showing that humans are not skilled at multitasking. Fully investing your attention on one specific task improves your productivity and time management, allowing you to pursue long-term interests. Cultivate strategic relationships. Ask yourself: Who can help me get where I want to be in five or ten years? Identifying these people and actively seeking partnerships ensures that you are positioning yourself for continued success. There will always be another email in your inbox, another meeting invite, and another pressing deadline. Still, finding the time to take a future-focused perspective ensures that you are always advancing your long-term goals. Elevating your thinking beyond the here and now requires discipline and intention, but it is well worth the investment. Thinking Strategically, and many other topics, are covered in the updated Professional Government Supervisor Program. Learn more about how to design a curriculum catered to your personal development needs at...

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Year In Review: Our Most Read Blogs of 2017

Posted by on Jan 12, 2018 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Year In Review:  Our Most Read Blogs of 2017

And that’s a wrap for 2017! Just in case you missed some of our most read blogs of the year, we wanted to make sure to call them out… again. With topics ranging from human resources, OMB Releasing the 2016 Compliance Supplement to how culture can make a significant impact in an organization – there’s something we all can relate to. We strive to produce content that is not only relevant, but that also can provide insight and value while initiating new ideas to our subscribers. As an early 2017 Forbes article put it “Blogs offer an avenue for delivering that value to a global audience. They provide a hub for tutorials and walk-throughs, and an avenue for crafting and constructing resources that help individuals that are looking for useful information.” And on that note, enjoy reading our top 10 most read blogs from 2017. Our Top 10 What’s in a Name? Human Resource Business Partners v. Human Resource Generalists How Assumptions Impact Organizational Culture OMB Releases 2016 Compliance Supplement and the Revised SF-SAC Form What Changes are Ahead with the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition? Tracking Timesheets under 2 CFR 200 Three Pillars of Project Management Agencies Required to Use Federal Award Identification Number (FAIN) for Grant Awards Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview Strengths and Weaknesses of Agile FAPIIS is Here – What You Need to Know Cheers to another successful year in...

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The Three Leadership Skills You Need in 2018

Posted by on Nov 1, 2017 in Leadership | 1 comment

The Three Leadership Skills You Need in 2018

The end of the 2017 fiscal year has come and gone, and most organizations are in the midst of performance appraisals and planning for 2018. Whether you are a front-line supervisor, an experienced senior leader, or a new employee in the Federal government, this is an important time for reflection on how you can improve and expand your capabilities. Everyone has personal areas for growth so you are better prepared to help your organization meet its goals; however, in thinking about the realities of the Federal government in the upcoming year, three fundamental skills underlie most critical tasks: The ability to think strategically. Too often, the daily stresses of our positions overshadow the bigger picture. We spend all our time reacting to daily tasks, rather than pursuing long-term goals and focusing on building relationships. By broadening our perspectives, we can take a more proactive approach that allows for more effective planning. Managing and planning for change. 2017 was a turbulent year of changing priorities. This trend seems destined to continue in the upcoming year. Many changes are beyond our control, but it is important to understand that, at a minimum, we have control of how we respond to these changes. Developing a more flexible mindset allows us to be resilient in the face of even the most difficult circumstances. Time management. Individuals and organizations alike face the reality of needing to do more with less. Improving the efficiency and productivity of work-related tasks has a major impact on your overall performance. Effectively managing your time also reduces the stress of feeling overworked and allows you to pursue personal development to advance your career. Regardless of your role or the specific goals on your individual development plan, focusing on these three skills ensures improved performance and productivity. Though this time of the year is often hectic and full of uncertainty, it also presents an opportunity to take control of your future and commit to new opportunities for personal and professional growth. These topics, and many others, are covered in the updated Professional Government Supervisor Program. Design a curriculum that meets your personal development needs and allows you to succeed in the upcoming...

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Resilience: Millennials on the Rise

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Resilience: Millennials on the Rise

On October 19, 2017, Management Concepts participated in a professional development series with the Young Government Leaders (YGL) and Blacks In Government NOW Generation (BIG-NOW). We have been joining forces to create educational networking events to increase the participation and engagement of underrepresented groups within public service.  This breakfast event was held in Washington DC and included a dynamic keynote speaker followed by panelists who told compelling personal stories about how they have succeeded in their careers while sharing thoughtful career advice to those in attendance. The keynote speaker was Chad Sheridan, Chief Information Officer at the USDA Risk Management Agency.  Chad shared some life lessons learned through his various career experiences which helped him become a more resilient person.  For example, early in his military career he learned no one was going to save him when things went wrong, and that resilience is critical to helping him overcome obstacles.  He also advised that when someone you respect offers you an opportunity, you must say “yes” even if you have no idea how to do the job; he admitted it was the best thing that ever happened to him.  As a leader, he has learned that you must believe in the people you hire, trust them to do a good job, admit when you are wrong and give others permission to be wrong. He concluded with telling the audience to be open to learning, show curiosity and don’t be locked into one mental model. Following Chad’s engaging talk, Tim Bowden (General Manager of People and Performance Consulting at Management Concepts) was introduced as the moderator and asked the panel members to introduce themselves by talking about their current role along with their favorite books/blogs for developing leadership capabilities. The panelists included: Melody Bell, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy Leland Boyd, Branch Chief, Benefits, Performance & Compensation, USDA Departmental Management Office of Human Resources Management Tinisha Agramonte, Director, Office of Civil Rights, U.S Department of Commerce Minette C. Galindo, MPA, Public Health Advisor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tim Bowden then led the panelists through four questions before holding a Q&A session with the audience.  Here’s our paraphrased collection of the best advice and perspectives shared at the event:     What advice would you offer young government workers who feel like they can’t get ahead? Tinisha: Attitude determines altitude – you need to be able to change the way you look at things.  Are you working for a purpose or a paycheck?  Sometimes you have to check your ego at the door and show humility for there is always room for development. Minette: Be open to mobility and doing something new and different so you can re-brand yourself.  Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Learn something new every day and give back to your community.   Can you share what approaches you’ve used to “manage up” or lead from a more junior position in the organization? Leland:  Be innovative and don’t be afraid to give your opinion or point of view.  And it is most important to make your customers happy. Tinisha: Speak the boss’ language and constantly be aware of the national priorities and public sentiment.  Also think about everything right regarding an idea instead of everything wrong with the idea. What advice would you offer...

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Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Future: BIG NTI Conference Recap

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Leadership | 0 comments

Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Future: BIG NTI Conference Recap

At the 39th Annual Blacks In Government National Training Institute (BIG NTI), approximately 2,000 attendees filled the exhibit hall and ballrooms at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from August 21st through the 24th. Management Concepts was a proud gold sponsor, and presented and hosted a pair of workshops in addition to a Munch & Mingle networking event in conjunction with the BIG NOW Generation. The theme for this year’s BIG NTI was “Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Future”—and that theme was clearly reflected by the passion and purpose behind everyone in attendance. The workshops, presentations, ceremonies, and speakers encouraged all in attendance to be agents of change, for their own growth and success as well as for their colleagues and the missions they serve. The conference kicked off with a series of inspiring welcome speeches from Dr. Doris Sartor, President of BIG, Hon. Darlene H. Young, Chair of the BIG National Board of Directors, and Tinisha Agramonte, Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Commerce. One of my most memorable moments was during Ms. Agramonte’s welcome speech, where she said, “It’s important to do what you need to do, so you can do what you want to do.” Simply put, those words were a great start to the conference. We had more than 100 attendees fill the rooms at our two workshops. Michelle Clark, Director, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Management Concepts, co-presented with Marcus Brownrigg, Strategic Partnerships and Communications Advisor to the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps) on the topic of Creating Strategic Partnerships Through Internal and External Collaboration. This session took participants through strategies and methodologies for developing creative solutions to the nation’s challenges by instituting partnerships across agency lines. The key take-aways were: Partnerships help you make your dollars go farther Why build partnerships? Combine resources, extend your ability to achieve goals, maximize ROI, learn new skills and develop new knowledge, extend the reach and benefit of your organization’s work, increase diversity and increase synergy The key to change in government is incremental change, brick by brick Share the work, share the credit Partnership principles are as follows: Have the same goals, mutual respect, defined roles, compromise, communication, accountability, and metrics Make it official: MOUs, charters, contracts To get buy-in from leadership, be able to explain the WIIFM to leadership. Be positive and focus on impact In addition, Lahaja Furaha, Organizational Culture Practice Lead and Senior Human Capital Advisor at Management Concepts presented Making Culture Change Stick. In this workshop, participants discussed the formula to create lasting culture change with a direct and sustainable impact on performance. She was quoted as saying, “True culture change requires change agents. Culture needs leadership, but culture is a team sport; you don’t change culture just to change culture, you do it for a business imperative” For the third year in a row, we presented the Blacks In Government and Management Concepts National Leadership Certification Program scholarships, encouraging others to take steps into their future as leaders. We received stellar applications and selecting the recipients were difficult decisions. However, we were very proud to award two training scholarships. Congratulations to our winners: Melinda Burks, Senior Program Officer, English Access Microscholarship Program, Bureau of Educational and Culture Affairs, U.S. Department of State Monisha Barnes, Risk Analyst, Budget and Risk...

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Building an Organization’s Performance Culture

Posted by on Sep 22, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Building an Organization’s Performance Culture

For leaders tasked with developing a performance culture in response to the Human Capital Framework (HCF) released by The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in April, I suspect agencies are seeking answers to the questions like: Where do we start and how do we interpret the framework? If you are uncertain with where to start, how to make it relevant to your agency, or how to execute let’s explore possible immediate steps to support your existing performance culture or begin to shift your existing culture to one of performance. The purpose of the HCF is to aid agencies as they implement talent management strategies in response to the change in Administration and subsequent budgetary and management policy adjustments. OPM has structured the framework across “four open systems”, one of which is the Performance Culture System. OPM defines Performance Culture as: A system that engages, develops, and inspires a diverse, high-performing workforce by creating, implementing, and maintaining effective performance management strategies, practices, and activities that support mission objectives.” So what is meant by a Performance Culture? It’s the practice of creating new and reinforcing existing systems that lead to improved organizational performance. It is the mindful and intentional practice that sustains organizational growth and evolution. A performance culture is not established by simply having a performance management practice. It’s deeper than a system(s). A performance culture is the shared understanding by members about the value and importance of individual, team and organizational learning. How is a Performance Culture created? First, evaluate existing systems to assess effectiveness and value. While culture goes beyond the systems, the systems must be effectively functioning and stable to enable employees to effectively benefit from the system. Second, determine if the systems and resources are relevant and aligned. Many organizations have systems or resources that no longer support the mission and priorities of the organization. Evaluate your development initiatives, ask if they are supporting the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for today and tomorrow’s workforce. What can leaders start doing? In Organizational Culture and Leadership, author Edgar Schein, identifies multiple strategies leaders can practice to embed and transmit culture. Here are several techniques to kickstart your efforts: What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis According to Schein, “the most powerful mechanism … for communicating what [leaders] believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.” Put another way, employees pay attention to what leaders say and do. Using the HCF as a guide, identify organizational priority areas of focus when developing your performance culture. Share the story effectively and often. Ongoing communication about the purpose and importance of establishing a performance culture. Why is a performance culture important to the organization? How does a performance culture benefit individuals? According to OPM, a performance culture refers to an agency’s “holistic approach” to performance. Learn more about our Organizational Culture Alignment solutions and how we can help align the values and capabilities of your organization’s requirements for future...

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Time to Thrive: Empowering Millennials in the Workforce

Posted by on Sep 15, 2017 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Time to Thrive: Empowering Millennials in the Workforce

Every day there are countless articles and studies casting aspersions on millennials. This cohort of young adults has been blamed for the declining viability of chain restaurants, gyms, diamonds, and even the National Football League. Millennials are frequently stereotyped as selfish, entitled, and disloyal to their organizations. For this reason, HR specialists, leadership, and managers alike may find it difficult to cater to this growing segment of the global workforce. Let’s face it, Millennials have been in the workforce for over a decade now—many of them are now in the prime of their careers. Though I may not be able to reverse prevalent generational stereotypes in a single blog post, I do want to offer a few strategies for cultivating a workplace environment in which millennials (and all generations) can thrive. Provide inclusive professional development opportunities. Millennials, like members of any other generation, want to feel that they are continually growing and advancing with their careers. Engage employees in frequent conversations about their preferred career path and collaborate on ways to achieve long- and short-term goals. Embrace potential challenges with ongoing dialogue. Diversity of preferences, values, and experiences can create real workplace challenges. These challenges should not be ignored, and can lead to valuable, creative opportunities. Engaging in meaningful conversations with employees about difficult situations shows respect for individual differences and promotes a workplace culture where all perspectives are valued. Emphasize a common purpose. Sometimes when differences consume our mental energy, it is helpful to appeal to common goals and values. Focusing on the collective mission and vision for your team, department, or organization highlights the ties that bind us together, rather than inherent differences. It is important to remember that generational affiliation is just one element of our identities. Just as we would not want to be judged solely by our race, gender, or educational background, it is unfair to pigeon-hole a group of people based on their birth year. Asking, “What do millennials want?” only reinforces this narrative. The more poignant question for HR professionals and organizational leaders is, “How can I create an inclusive workplace environment that values and celebrates individual strengths?” Managing Beyond Generational Differences is just one of the many new topics covered in the updated Professional Government Supervisor Program. Stay tuned for more information on this cutting-edge training program, and in the meantime, check out our upcoming classes Human Resources, Talent Development, and Workforce Development, and in Leadership and Management and Professional...

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Federal Spotlight: Chad Sheridan

Posted by on Sep 14, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight: Chad Sheridan

Chad Sheridan serves as Chief Information Officer for the Risk Management Agency (RMA) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal service, and what is your main responsibility in your role today? CS: I’ve been in Federal service for just over 24 years, including six years of active duty. I’m responsible for all the IT systems and services for the Risk Management Agency here at USDA, which supports the Federal Crop Insurance program, which is really a public-private partnership. We provide crop insurance across the country, covering about $100 billion worth of agricultural value every year. MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? CS: For me, it’s always about mission. It started with my service in the Navy. My service in the Navy was at headquarters for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. I got the opportunity to design and build nuclear power plants for navy ships. I ended up working on networks and software for nuclear-powered ships to support propulsion plant operations. That’s been more than a decade now. Evidently, IT stuck. I’m one of those who likes a challenge. I got to work on, and recently just got to see the commissioning of, the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, which is a new class of aircraft carrier. That was my job for more than seven or eight years. I was either supporting the design or responsible as the Deputy Program Manager for the design of that propulsion plant. The Deputy Program Manager job came about from an informal hallway conversation. One day, I ran into one of my colleagues in the hallway, who was the Program Manager for the new aircraft carrier propulsion plant. She was about to be broken off into her separate section as the first female executive in the organization. I’d been working on a specific aspect of the propulsion plant design for two years. She told me that she needed a deputy. She then half-jokingly asked, “Hey, do you want to come work for me?” I replied, “Yes.” Then we looked at each other, somewhat stunned. “Did that just happen?” Life lesson: when someone you respect asks you to come work for them, the right answer is “yes.” Two months later I started working for her. I was active duty at the time—still a junior officer. Many times, I felt I had no business there, but the mission did not care. We were expected to represent the four-star admiral in anything and everything we did. It was a GS-15 type job, and I’m running this as a 26 year old. Learned everything along the road. I got thrown in the deep end and I swam. You only design an aircraft carrier about once every 40 years, so the opportunity I was given at a very young age to work in a program that might outlive me is something that matters. I believe that service matters and that continuing to work in the Federal government is about driving the mission, driving what we are trying to do to support our citizens. So now I am in information technology, which was never part of the plan. I started life as a nuclear engineer. That was my life. I’m still a certified mechanical engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia....

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When You Manage Resilience, Your Best Self Shows Up

Posted by on Aug 1, 2017 in Leadership | 2 comments

When You Manage Resilience, Your Best Self Shows Up

Resilience is something of a hot-button skill in 2017, especially for folks with careers in public service. It carries a theme of overcoming chaotic, uncertain environments, but it also connects to opportunity and the (re)discovery of vital strengths for yourself, your team, or your organization. In chaotic times like these, frustration and exhaustion creep up like a ninja if you don’t check in with yourself and revisit how you’re managing your resilience. While it’s often easier to focus on what drags you down (people seem to like saying misery loves company much more than positivity loves professionals), it’s crucial to make time to find, and utilize, what makes you a strong professional. I recently co-led—with human capital and talent management expert, Debbie Eshelman—a professional development conference session entitled, “How to be Resilient During Chaotic Times.” This session was for a group of attendees at the recent Federally Employed Women National Training Program (FEW NTP) in New Orleans. The session concluded with each participant sharing a message about how their ability to be resilient had just changed, and what they can immediately do differently to maintain strength. Here are some of the top ways to focus, recover, and find strength in difficult times: Start every day with a focus on yourself. Dedicate (and defend) time that’s just about you. Start every week with a specific effort to improve your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance. When experiencing challenge (or even failure), look for the learning opportunity that’s meaningful to you. Don’t ask yourself to do it all—ask yourself to do what you can. Take a few minutes each day to reflect, breathe, and think about a specific action you can take to make the next day better. These tips are important for any individual or team, even in positive environments. At some point, everybody’s resilience wanes, and “weathering the storm” is no safe bet for bouncing back. For our session, Debbie and I drew from a Management Concepts training course, Fostering Accountability, Adaptability, and Resilience, which covers everyday techniques for thriving and helping others thrive in today’s complex, uncertain, and often chaotic environments. Sign up now for one of our upcoming classes! — Further reading: For a play-by-play overview of the inspiration, wisdom, and techniques shared at the FEW NTP conference, check out our conference recap—takeaways from the session were timely, plentiful, and immediately useful; and the presenters were...

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Your Words Matter: Have Conversations that Make Things Happen

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Your Words Matter: Have Conversations that Make Things Happen

Words matter. A short but very powerful statement, this old saying feels especially timely right now in Washington. So, let’s talk about how we can be more intentional and get better results when communicating with others. It doesn’t matter if you are having a face-to-face, phone, or email conversation—or if you are trading quips over Twitter—how you approach a conversation directly impacts the outcome. You probably think about your approach before giving a presentation or holding a project meeting. But what about those small, quick conversations throughout the day with team members, leaders, or project stakeholders? All day long, we hastily grab a coworker for a quick chat, zip off emails to get or give important information, and (if you are like me) often multitask while commuting home by catching up on missed phone calls from the day. How often do you pause to consider what you want to achieve through conversation before you start talking or typing? Being more strategic when communicating will not only help streamline the number of conversations you have throughout the day, but also improve what you (and others) get out of a conversation. Taking just a minute before we engage in a conversation to determine a desired outcome helps to clarify what we want to relay/achieve and what we want others to do. You may have used the SMART method to set personal or professional goals, but try using it to articulate what you want to achieve in a conversation. Before you go into a conversation, think about a SMART outcome statement: Specific. Identify and state your desired outcome so that what you are trying to achieve is clear. Measurable. Make your outcome quantifiable. Provide some sort of numerical indicator (e.g., 95%, 3 times a year, 4 out of 5 attempts, etc.) when defining what you want from a conversation. Achievable. Will you motivate yourself and/or others through what you are saying—or will your words shut them down? Are your nonverbals helping or hurting the conversation? Realistic. With the time and/or resources available, can you (or others) achieve what you need to do? Time bound. Be clear about any timeframes you need to set so others aren’t left to wonder when they need to do what you are asking. If you can articulate what you need through this SMART lens, chances are you can wrap up a conversation faster, get better results, and get on with the rest of your day. Let us know in the comments below And if you want to work on more strategies for efficient, influential communication, check out upcoming offerings for our class on this subject: Communicating...

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Now that I’m the Leader, How Will My Team Change?

Posted by on Apr 24, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Now that I’m the Leader, How Will My Team Change?

All people fear change, whether they admit it or not. Your people (please don’t say “subordinates” – that language is SO outdated) don’t know what to expect of you as a leader, and you don’t know what it’s going to be like to lead them. Many new leaders think they should walk in with all the answers; great leaders walk in with the right questions. Then, they lead their teams to a co-crafted solution. Not only does this get buy-in from your team, it gives you a pulse on what every team member is thinking, and what they’re willing to contribute. And please write (or have someone) write down the responses to these questions. And post the questions and answers in a place where everyone is reminded of them. Do the following three things, in some way, every single day: 1. Ask them what is going well currently, and what isn’t. If you want honest and candid responses, be honest and candid. And be respectful of everyone. 2. Ask them where they see the team in one year. Ask them to describe, in rich detail, what the team will be doing, how it will be working together, and how what/how each member will have contributed to create a better, more fulfilling, more productive future. 3. Ask them what and how the team is going to get there. Ask what support they need from you as the supervisor. Ask what they need from each other. And ask what they need from other stakeholders. Your team will change and adapt, because of you, based on how you ask these questions.   But, aside from asking great questions…how is the team going to work together now that you’re the boss? Your team wants you to be successful. After possible feelings of resentment, defensiveness, or competitiveness subside, your team members realize that you are responsible for making a large portion of their lives (40 hours/week in most cases) either an enjoyable, fulfilling experience, or not. Don’t be afraid to lean on your team, just as they will lean on you. Try these things: 1. Check in with your whole team regularly in staff meetings. You’ll never know what’s going on with the whole team unless you hear from them. And if they work remotely, they may not have any idea what the other members of the team are doing. Ask for status reports, and actually read them. Acknowledge the information you receive in staff meetings. Especially with remote employees, your job is to be a connector. You’ve got to connect them with their work, with the workplace, with their teammates, and with you. Even the most senior employees have to learn different habits if they begin working remotely. And this presents an opportunity for you, as leader, to serve your team in a different capacity. 2. Meet individually with your team members at least once every two weeks to go over the work, but more importantly, to deepen the personal connections that build trust. That’s the best way to get work done. If the trust is broken, try everything you can to rebuild it. 3. Ask for feedback from your team. That sounds like, “How am I doing?” Initially, you might get a response like, “Fine,” especially if they don’t know if they...

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So I’m Officially a Leader… Now What?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

So I’m Officially a Leader… Now What?

Well, you did it. After all your hard work, your contributions, and your tenacity, you got it. That promotion. That next step. You had the celebratory party (hopefully with cake), shook hands, hugged your loved ones, and eagerly awaited the moment when you could check your paystub to see if it were true. Yes! The money’s there! You’ve made it! You’ve been promoted to a supervisor/leadership role! Then, a week passes. You’re headed home, and it hits you. “What’ve I gotten myself into now? I think I’ve got ‘what it takes,’ but what if I don’t?” Relax. It’s perfectly natural to have those moments of self-doubt. In fact, if you’re NOT having those moments, you’re in trouble. You may be using the same mindset and thought patterns that got you the promotion. Now, the game has changed, and you must as well. But that’s OK, because we all have to evolve to grow. Sometimes growth is easy; sometimes, it’s painful. It’s all part of the process – your process. Adjusting to your leadership role means expanding your skills and increasing your awareness in a number of ways, and they’re noticeable (by you, but more importantly, by others—namely your team members). Questions and situations will almost immediately come up that require you to think and act differently. You’ll need to begin thinking about your impact on others in a much more intentional way than you did before. As renowned author and leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith stated, “What got you here won’t get you there.” You may have been promoted from among your peers. You’re immediately different in their eyes—and maybe you competed with them for your promotion. Here are three ways you can start increasing your awareness and thoughtfulness with your team members: 1. Acknowledge your team members’ feelings and respect where they’re coming from. Were you ever passed over? Remember how that felt? That’s where they are. Don’t say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Say, “I know this is a difficult and awkward situation given our history together; however, I’m committed to working with you to achieve our team goals. What can I count on you to do?” 2. Reassure them that while your interpersonal relationships will remain, you now have different responsibilities than you did before. Always keep your focus on the present and future. Your team will say things like, “You weren’t like that when you were one of us.” Rather than getting defensive, you can respond with a statement like, “In the past we’ve relied on each other as teammates. Now, I’m going to need your help even more as your boss. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can all create a better future together. And trust me; I’ve got your back.” 3. Ask what they want next for their career, and assure them that you’ll do what you can to help them achieve it. If you’ve been with the team for a while, you probably have already assessed everyone’s performance and potential. Your job, now, is to help all team members unleash their potential. So do it. (And you probably don’t need to hear from me how rewarding your new role will be.) And when you need help, or are looking to take more new strides in your leadership skills, training...

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Federal Spotlight: Soraya Correa

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 6 comments

Federal Spotlight: Soraya Correa

Soraya Correa serves as Chief Procurement Officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal service, and what is your main responsibility in your role today? Soraya Correa: I’ve been in Federal service 36 years. I’m the Chief Procurement Officer at the Department of Homeland Security—what that means is that I’m responsible for providing leadership, policy oversight, and support to the acquisition for the procurement workforce, which consists of about 1,500 individuals across the country. Our spend is about $16 to $17 billion annually, and we process approximately 90,000 transactions. We accomplish our work through a variety of contracting actions. Sometimes we write very specific contracts to meet specific program requirements, and sometimes we develop strategically sourced contracts that are agency-wide and possibly even government-wide. We use a variety of mechanisms to accomplish our work, but primarily we make sure that folks comply with the policies and procedures to achieve the acquisitions that support the men and women who execute the day-to-day mission of protecting the homeland. MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to continue your career in public service? SC: I am in Federal service because I am passionate about Federal service. I believe in our government and our system of government. I understand we have some flaws—if we were perfect, we probably wouldn’t all be here. I’m motivated by the fact that this is a great country and we have one of the best systems of government, if not the best one, in the world. I’m also passionate about the mission that I serve. At DHS, I look at it as there is no greater mission than to protect the people who are the citizens of this country, the people who visit this country and live here. So I’m motivated primarily by mission, but I’m inspired by the people who work for me and the people that I work with and for. I’m inspired by all the other Federal employees as well as contractors who come in every day to serve this mission and support the work that we do. Those are the things that inspire and motivate me every day. MC: What is your biggest career achievement? SC: On a personal level I would say my biggest career achievement is to be where I am today especially as a woman and a minority. I started working in the federal government 36 years ago as a clerk/typist. It was a job, and I wasn’t really thinking about a career, but it turned into a great career, a career that I navigated successfully on my own. In other words, I never worked in an office where things were handed to me or a promotion was given to me. When I was ready for the next promotion or the next challenge, I went out and sought it out myself. I’m very proud of where I am as a woman and as a minority. That’s my greatest personal achievement. It’s where I am and how I try to share with others my experience how I got here, so that hopefully they’re motivated to share with others how they got here, and hopefully this is how we continue to grow and develop the workforce. At DHS, I...

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Agency Experts and Leaders Convene to Address Challenges Facing Federal Workforce Management

Posted by on Mar 29, 2017 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Agency Experts and Leaders Convene to Address Challenges Facing Federal Workforce Management

On the morning of March 28, at the University Club in Washington, D.C., Management Concepts joined forces with the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) to produce a spirited, critical event called “Exploring and Addressing Talent Gaps in Federal Workforce Management.” Speakers and panelists from Federal agencies included experts in workforce planning and organizational development from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), FBI, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They joined for a panel on closing critical skills gaps in Federal organizations, including a fire side chat on how community-building was a critical success factor in successfully implementing SES reform at HHS. Moderating the panel, facilitating discussion and audience interaction, and sharing welcome remarks, were our own Tim Bowden (Executive Director for People and Performance Consulting), Debbie Eshelman (Managing Director of Human Capital and Talent Management), and Lisa Doyle (Managing Director of Learning Solutions). The packed room at the University Club was greeted with an opening statement from Teresa Gerton, President and CEO of NAPA. Her message carried two particularly valuable points: The information and concepts shared today can be of immense value to the new administration. Everyone can take these ideas and discussions and push for meaningful and necessary change in public service. Tim Bowden followed Gerton’s charge by encouraging the audience to get back into the habit of asking questions—asking hard questions that aren’t so difficult as to not have an answer, but hard enough to lead to meaningful answers that bring change. “Ask the why, what if, and how,” said Bowden. “How would I get more people involved at my agency to engage in efforts toward performance improvement? If we can begin to answer these questions about engaging, managing, and delivering improved results in the Federal workforce, we’re going to see some changes.” What follows are highlights from topics discussed at the event:   Exploring Gaps in Federal Workforce Management Debbie Eshelman walked the audience through a new research report, published by Government Business Council (GovExec.com) and Management Concepts, called “Unleveraged Talent: Exploring Gaps in Federal Workforce Management.” The survey conducted in this report assessed how Federal employees from over 30 different agencies feel they are being supported with regard to workforce management strategies being implemented in their agencies. The survey pointed to the biggest blocks to better talent management strategies: ineffective processes, lack of leadership support, and budget constraints. Management Concepts framework for meaningful talent management speaks to the integration of strategy and implementation. An effective strategy needs to be aligned to the agency’s mission, vision, and organizational strategy, along with the culture to engage, retain, and leverage talent. Implementation needs to focus on comprehensive workforce planning, recruitment and selection, performance management, learning solutions, recognition, critical knowledge retention—it all needs to be interconnected and interdependent, and all employees should feel supported. “It’s not just Millennials who want transparent, open dialogue about performance and career pathing,” said Eshelman. “I think everybody wants this, Millennials are just more open to talking about it.”   Highlights from the Panel Discussion: “Implementing Talent Management Strategies to Close the Gaps” Lisa Doyle moderated the discussion, which featured Dr. Amy Grubb (Senior Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, FBI), Sally Jaggar (SES, NAPA Fellow, formerly of GAO), Bill Wiatrowski (Acting Commissioner, BLS), and Lisa Dorr (Director of IT Workforce...

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Federal Spotlight: Georgia A. Thomas

Posted by on Mar 20, 2017 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight: Georgia A. Thomas

Georgia A. Thomas serves at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as the organization’s Southeast and Southwest Area Manager, Communication and Stakeholder Outreach (CSO), Field Operations. Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? Georgia A. Thomas: I have been with the IRS since 1979. In my current position, I serve as an Area Manager in Stakeholder Liaison—Field Operations. I manage two Areas of the country, (1) the Southwest Area which includes the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and (2) the Southeast Area which includes the states of Florida and Georgia. My management assistant is located in Rhode Island. As Manager, I provide oversight to the outreach efforts within both geographical areas. Our stakeholders are primarily the Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) Community. We also provide Disaster Assistance in these areas. In addition to providing education and resources to our stakeholders, issue management is an important tool we utilize to support our stakeholders and effectively influence compliance with tax laws. MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? GT: I stay in public service at this point in my life because no two days are the same. I am motivated by knowing that the liaison work we do involves helping someone each and every day. While education and outreach is one of those fields where you can measure success by the number reached, growth in knowledge can sometimes be very speculative. However, being able to note the improvement in overall compliance levels over time because a group was educated on a given topic makes all the difference in tax administration. I am proud to be a part of a small group within the Internal Revenue Service that educates our stakeholders and lessens the burden of the American taxpayer through our outreach activities that focus on education, disaster assistance, and stakeholder issue resolution. MC: What is one of your biggest achievements? GT: For me, my biggest achievements have been the ability to mentor and assist others in their careers. I have been rewarded by the gift of seeing others grow and accomplish the career goals they have set for themselves, and in several cases exceed what they thought they could do. And of course, the added bonus is when the person comes back and lets me know how much they’ve appreciated the assistance. MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government? GT: Join an organization, whether you join something like Federally Employed Women (FEW) or another organization that supports your career and your passion. Never underestimate the power of personal growth and moral support gained by being proactively involved with others. Joining FEW has given me an appreciation for the hard work and service that Federal employees provide every day. I am especially appreciative of the positive impact that women make in the Federal workplace and in their service to the American taxpayer. My involvement with FEW has been invaluable to my career and personal growth. Without my involvement with FEW, I would not have been exposed to so many skillsets and career paths in my interactions with FEW sisters and brothers across the United States. Being active in FEW gave me the confidence to...

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Resilience: The Word of the Year

Posted by on Feb 17, 2017 in Leadership | 0 comments

Resilience: The Word of the Year

Each year, the Pantone Color Institute names a color of the year. “Greenery”, the choice for 2017, feels especially symbolic: “Greenery bursts forth in 2017 to provide us with the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political environment. Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another, and a larger purpose.” – Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute Interesting, yes, but I know what you’re thinking: How will this year’s “it” color help me? For starters, it’s a great, non-political trivia fact that can fill an awkward gap in small talk with someone you just met. More importantly, however, this year’s color is a good reminder that nature is eternally resilient and we must choose to be resilient. Resilience feels like the word of the year—our signal and guide to something better that can happen tomorrow if we harness today’s nervous energy and channel it wisely. I’m not saying that being resilient is easy or the cure to all of our problems, but learning how to bounce forward in the face of adversity shifts the momentum from negative to positive and refocuses us on what is possible tomorrow. To those of you that lead a team or an entire organization, you know how important it is to help others focus on what could be in order to fix what is. If you need to create resilience and opportunity for others in this time of uncertainty, here are 5 tips to keep in mind: 1. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. This idiom is a favorite in my family, and all it means is don’t lose sight of the big picture. As a leader, others look to you for the playbook or path forward. When you or those you lead get so focused on the details, issues become overwhelming—that can trigger an unproductive emotional spiral. The best way to help others stay focused on the big picture is to create a space to communicate regularly so you can address questions openly and everyone hears the same message. If you find you can’t answer a question, take note and commit to seeking clarity from others on behalf of your team. Be sure you follow up, too, even if it’s only to say, “I’m working on getting an answer to your question.” 2. Be honest yet optimistic. When decisions are complex or information floating around is scarce (or inaccurate), resilient leaders are honest yet optimistic. I am a huge advocate of creating a “circle of trust” among team members so people feel comfortable to share both concerns and ideas openly. Such an environment is only possible if you share good information with your team and ensure the spirit is one of optimism, as opposed to a forum for airing grievances and spreading negativity. And, that optimistic spirit must be enforced by the entire team (not just you as the leader) so all team members stay positive if it isn’t their innate tendency in tough times. 3. Celebrate small successes. I see resilience as a bank of good will that fuels you through difficult times. Like most things in life, if you aren’t being proactive or monitoring things, resilience seems to follow Murphy’s Law: you...

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How to Navigate an Uncertain Political Landscape

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Leadership | 0 comments

How to Navigate an Uncertain Political Landscape

We are nearly two weeks into the Trump administration and one thing seems clear: change is happening. Since the transfer of power took place on January 20th, senior-level management officials at the State department have resigned, and President Trump has signed executive orders implementing a hiring freeze across the Federal government and reducing the number of regulations Federal agencies are allowed to impose on U.S. businesses. Depending on your political orientation, you may find these changes to be necessary course corrections, unfortunate shifts in the Federal landscape, or something in between. Regardless of your views, many government employees (and the agency missions they support) are now faced with uncertain futures. Workplace uncertainty can be emotionally taxing, particularly when you feel you have little or no influence over your future. Wholesale organizational changes in policy, structure, or culture are often beyond your control. However, focusing on your perceived lack of influence is counterproductive and demotivating. Instead, leadership professionals suggest concentrating on what is within your own “sphere of influence”. These are the elements of your life—thoughts, attitudes, emotional reactions, and work ethic—that are fully (or at least mostly) within your control. Concentrating energy and attention on these elements allows you to engage in higher levels of strategic and creative thinking, and tackle difficult situations by managing your behavior and emotional responses. If you are anything like me, focusing your energy and attention on only things within your control may not come naturally. I often catch myself lost in thought, worrying about what my life will be like 5, 10, or 20 years from now. In doing so, I lose the ability to impact what is in front of me in the present, adding undue stress to my life with no apparent benefits. When I manage to focus on what I can control—today, tomorrow, and next week—I find myself more efficient, effective, and efficacious. There are many strategies that can be used to remain centered in your sphere of influence—mindfulness meditation, metacognitive questioning (questions about how you’re thinking), and journaling, to name a few. However, simply asking yourself, “What do I have the power to change right now?” may be a sufficient reminder. Though change is inevitable, and sometimes unwelcome, it does not make us powerless. At a minimum, you are in control of your attitudes and perceptions of any situation. In the face of sweeping changes to the national landscape, you must remember to accept ownership and remain accountable for what you can control. As noted in our latest complimentary research report—Unleveraged Talent: Exploring Gaps in Federal Workforce Management—organizations in the Federal government need to start addressing their skills gaps and talent management issues. You don’t have to wait for sweeping changes, expected or unexpected: ask yourself what you can do today and tomorrow to navigate the uncertainty and fortify your performance. Signing up for our training in adaptability, accountability, and resilience will help you advance your professional skills and goals, but you’re always your own best catalyst for the outcomes—big and small—you...

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Leaders: Hold onto Your Wigs and Keys in 2017

Posted by on Dec 9, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Leaders: Hold onto Your Wigs and Keys in 2017

I have no idea if David Letterman or another quick-witted individual is to thank for that hilarious yet odd phrase, but it feels timely as we look toward the coming year. Seasoned Federal employees, especially those based in the DC area, are no strangers to Presidential turnover and the organizational dancing that signals a new administration is coming to Washington. However, that doesn’t mean the process gets any easier to live through or lead others through. And, if you’re new to the government, I’m sure you’re sensing the uncertainty in the air. Regardless of who’s getting ready to move into the West Wing, it usually follows that a Presidential election creates chaos in government organizations. Departures are already underway, arrival announcements are forthcoming, and everyone is questioning how anything will get done (skillfully or even at all) in the transition. Lately, I see the overtaxed looks on our clients’ faces and hear the odd mix of hesitation, anxiety, and hope in their voices when we talk about what they anticipate 2017 will be like for them and their teams. All of these very interesting and diverse conversations led me to wonder: I can’t guarantee the suggestions that follow will solve all of your problems but maybe, just maybe, they’ll come in handy as we navigate through 2017. #5: Rally your team It doesn’t matter if you lead a team or are simply part of a team, being able to work effectively with others during challenging times produces better results than trying to go it alone. Especially when so many roles and responsibilities are in flux, it’s important to stay connected to your colleagues for support, information, and to help your organization stay on track towards its goals. Openly discuss what’s going well, opportunities for the team to contribute to the change differently/more effectively, and concrete actions you all can take to help each other stay on track despite uncertainty. #4: Think critically Change and complexity breed ambiguity and the tendency to respond with emotion or knee-jerk reactions—but that usually only makes things worse when it comes to resolving issues at work. It is human nature to let a tough situation take over our conscious mind, so we have to learn strategies to focus our brain on how we deal with the situation in a productive, positive way. When we can step back and logically evaluate an issue or situation, it helps reveal the best path forward. #3: Focus on what engages you (and others) When more days than not feel like a hike up a steep mountain, you and those you lead or work with will need extra fuel to make it to the next stage. You can drum up that extra energy in a couple ways. Re-commit to current tasks or projects within your role that you truly enjoy, and think about ways you can add even more value in how you do them. Also, take this opportunity to forge relationships that either provide you with more information about the change in your organization or inspire you to find personal motivation when you start to feel drained. #2: Be mindful during change Often change (even when you know it is coming) feels like it is being forced upon you. That may be true or simply the way you...

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Quit Moving the Target: How to Set Clear Expectations and Not Drive Your Employees Crazy

Posted by on Sep 20, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Quit Moving the Target: How to Set Clear Expectations and Not Drive Your Employees Crazy

Have you ever felt like you are chasing a moving target?  My first supervisor had me feeling like that constantly.  I had to commiserate with my teammates and turn it in to a joke so we wouldn’t go crazy.  We called it the “Gwen Guessing Game”*, or the “G3″ for short.  I don’t know if it was the type of job it was, the fact that many of us we’re right out of college, or maybe it was just the way she had learned to manage her team, but we found it very hard to understand her expectations. Gwen made a lot of requests; the problem was they were always vague.  She would provide little to no direction about how to successfully carry out a request… just a “get it done” kind of attitude.  I’m not saying we needed the hand-holding, coddling type of directions (no one wants to be micro-managed!) but there was never any explanation of what getting it “done” entailed, or what “done” even looked like. Picture Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly) in The Devil Wears Prada…. “That’s all.” I can look back now and see that my frustration was coming from a lack of engagement and knowing what my target was.  How was I ever going to figure out if what I was doing was exceeding, or even meeting expectations if I didn’t know what the expectations were? How would I move up and grow in my profession? Needless to say, I didn’t stay long. Gwen probably hated this time of year.  Now that budget season is coming to a close and the focus is shifting to performance planning it’s the perfect time to set, or reset, expectations. Communicating expectations sounds so simple but if you look at it in the context of performance planning it’s actually only one piece of several interconnected activities.  Taking a systematic approach to performance planning gives you the framework to communicate how the work of your team is to be accomplished and enables you to support your employees’ performance while they work to achieve their goals and the goals of the organization. “We cannot focus on improvement in processes without a complementary focus on the people we rely on to do the work.” With the increased focus on accountability and people performance, particularly in the public sector, there is an increased demand for supervisors to communicate performance expectations more effectively. When you combine that with the cultural workplace shift where employees expect more personal conversations, there is a need for supervisors to master performance-focused conversations. A few things to keep in mind when planning and engaging in performance-focused conversations include: Remember that both parties need to prepare for the process; employees should develop personal goals and supervisors need to communicate what is expected for the meeting Look at past, present and future to determine your expectations Consider individual context, goals, capabilities, and potential stretch goals Be authentic and supportive in order to build shared ownership of the process The more effort you put in to improving performance conversations, the more likely you are to get to a shared understanding of expectations…. And not cause your employees to play the G3.  This small, but important step in the performance planning process can set the stage for an increase in successful performance...

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Speaking the Same Generational Language

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Speaking the Same Generational Language

I have mixed emotions. The Olympics are over (sigh) but a new school year is around the corner and pre-season football is in full swing (hooray!). That’s three tell-tale signs that fall is on the way. It also means Performance review season is here for most Federal employees. While performance reviews add another significant task to your ‘to do’ list as supervisors and managers, the hours that go into them are time well spent for you, your direct reports, and the organization as a whole. As you step back and assess how well each individual performed this year—and begin to formulate what you want to accomplish as a team in FY17—I encourage you to add another question to your assessment: Are we leveraging the strengths of each team member and the generations we represent? Having so many generations in the workplace can generate mixed emotions for supervisors and managers. It presents well-documented advantages but also produces palpable challenges when it comes to getting a team to function like a well-oiled machine. At times, it can seem like your team members speak the same language but have no idea what each other are saying. Here are a few tips you can lean on to help your team members set goals that will foster a unified, strong team: Ask your team to take an introspective look at themselves and their generation We all have strengths, weaknesses, assets, limitations, and emotional responses, and they are influenced by the environment and time in which we exist. Knowing the self that you bring to the team and considering the effect of your journey will open you to new perspectives and self-development. Encourage each team member to find out what unites them with their colleagues Fixating on what is different about you and your team members can block you from seeing how you complement each other and what you can accomplish as a team. Identifying individual strengths and what you have in common reframes your view to what’s possible as opposed to what’s standing in our way. Create an opportunity to discuss and share insights about the generations on the team Once your team has engaged in a bit of self-reflection and considered what each team member contributes to the team, facilitate a conversation about the generations you represent. Ask each team member to identify three words that describe their generation and one stereotype that is untrue to get the ball rolling. I’ll bet the conversation eventually leads to realization that while each generation is defined, the definition rarely offers a fair and full assessment of a generation. To ensure the self-reflection and team discussions have lasting effect, you have to create the right conditions for your team to adopt a new mindset: Are you fostering an environment of inclusiveness? Being inclusive means all your team members feel valued, connected, and involved in decisions and processes. Evaluate what you are doing—or could do better—to make sure your team understands their roles in decisions, give them consistent information, hold each member of the team to the same standards, and provide opportunities for professional development. Are you taking an appreciative approach when you communicate? Supervisors and managers aren’t mind readers, though it would be near the top of my super power wish list. When challenges arise, are you...

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Building Your Own Olympic “Dream Team”

Posted by on Aug 5, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Building Your Own Olympic “Dream Team”

The opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games takes place this evening, kicking off more than two weeks of exciting competition involving the world’s best athletes. As an avid basketball fan, I am most interested in seeing if the U.S. Men’s basketball team can win a third consecutive gold medal. With NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving on the team, the United States enters the Olympics as one of the most heavily-favored teams in any sport. It is easy to take this level of success for granted. In the 2004 Olympic Games, a U.S. team comprised of future NBA Hall of Famers Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Tim Duncan failed to make the championship game after an upset loss to Argentina in the semi-finals. This loss forced USA Basketball to make wholesale organizational changes. One of the most critical changes was hiring legendary college basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2005. According to many current and former players, Krzyzewski’s leadership skills and coaching acumen are responsible for the gold medals won in 2008 and 2012. Krzyzewski wrote a book in 2010 (The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team) that explores the leadership choices and challenges he faced when rebuilding the U.S team. In reading this book, several pieces of advice resonated with me and my own work in organizational teams: “You do not select a team; you select a group of people and then work together to develop into a team.” Leaders must take the time to figure out which experiences and expertise is needed on the team. However, even with the right people identified, it takes additional effort to form a cohesive, effective group. “Whether your team’s mission is preceded by failure or success, you have to have a complete comprehension of your current situation before you can improve upon it.” Many teams are formed in response to organizational failures or gaps. However, even teams with a long history of success must have a shared understanding of past performance in order to set goals for the future. “Communication brings about trust. One facilitates the other.” Having open communication is crucial to the development of successful teams. Teams must have time to form a common internal language and identify standards for how teammates should communicate with one another. “When leaders make clear their willingness to change, it establishes an environment in which everyone can be comfortable adapting.” Krzyzewski was a championship coach before accepting the U.S. job and could have easily forced his new team to accept his normal leadership style. Instead, he tailored his coaching style to accentuate the strengths of the individuals on his team. This flexible approach gave him real credibility with his players. A common theme that emerges from these quotes is that building successful teams takes time and attention. Simply having the patience to allow relationships to strengthen over time is a critical leadership skill that is often overlooked. Enjoy the...

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Juno to Jupiter: Navigating the Creative Space

Posted by on Jun 29, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Juno to Jupiter: Navigating the Creative Space

In this fast paced environment creative thinking and innovation are vital to individual, team, and organizational success.  Through information overload, expectations to multi-task, and pure exhaustion, many people struggle to find and utilize their creative capacity.  Some people may resign to the idea that there are creative people and there are those without the talent.  I don’t buy it.  I think it’s a skill, like many others we work to grow in the workplace.  Even the most creative people have to work at being creative. What sets a creative mind apart is being aware and being proactive about getting in to a creative space. I’ve been reading about NASA’s Juno mission where they are in the process of sending a probe to Jupiter to learn about its origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. The Juno Mission is part of an integrated exploration strategy that aims to take the information gathered about Jupiter and use it to help answer the world’s biggest questions… quite literally! According to the National Research Council, some key questions include “what processes marked the initial stages of planet and satellite formation?” and “What planetary processes are responsible for generating and sustaining habitable worlds, and where are the habitable zones in the solar system?” I’m not an astrophysicist but I think that translates to “Where did we come from? And are we alone?” Reading up on the Juno mission reminds me of when I read The Martian (maybe because I recently re-watched the movie about my favorite “space pirate.”)  The book reads as a stream of consciousness where you are inside the incredibly creative mind of Mark Watney.  Although the plot and astrophysics were critiqued and modified by fans over the course of the story’s inception, it’s still fiction.  The Juno mission is not – but the similarities are striking!  From budget constraints, to overcoming Jupiter’s intense electromagnetic pull, to the dangers of nearing the Great Red Spot, NASA’s articles about the Juno mission read like a series of innovative problem solving genius. Like all government agencies, NASA had a budget constraint that required it to use an existing rocket to launch Juno in to orbit.  This rocket would not get Juno close enough to Jupiter (which is approximately 1.74 billion miles away.)  The solution: the Rich Purnell Maneuver.  Ok not exactly, but similar to the solution in The Martian, NASA used a fly by and Earth’s orbital motion to slingshot Juno all the way to Jupiter! Crazy right? Well it worked, and now Juno is days away from entering Jupiter’s orbit and capturing vital information to answer those questions. If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it. —Albert Einstein So what can we learn from NASA’s Juno Mission about breaking the barriers to creativity and innovation?  Like I said before, I think creativity is a skill that if nurtured, can flourish in anyone willing to work on it.  While practicing, individuals must be able to fail and learn from their mistakes.  In the workplace this means organizations must work on fostering an environment that allows for creative thoughts to be generated and considered. The ideal environment for encouraging creativity would: Build flexibility in to work processes Equip individuals with a variety of creativity tools, and the time to use...

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How Does Critical Thinking Inform Our Problem Solving?

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

How Does Critical Thinking Inform Our Problem Solving?

In an increasingly complex world, the ability to think rationally and solve problems effectively is even more critical. In the modern workplace, we need to work effectively with others to solve problems. This requires working together to navigate different perspectives and collaborating to choose and implement the best, systematic solutions. This becomes particularly challenging with complex, and seemingly ambiguous, problems. Problem: Design the Perfect Team Take for example, designing the perfect team – one that works together cohesively to produce high-impact results. Is that really possible – is there a science to team construction? There are countless studies aimed at determining what makes a team effective. Should you balance introverts with extroverts? Is it better to have similar educational backgrounds? Do they need to have similar professional goals? Surely if there is a pattern, in this data-driven world we can find it, right? Framing the Problem Fortunately, Google, the algorithm master, has in fact tried to answer these very questions. Through the Aristotle Project, the tech giant took a look inwards to see if they could find the recipe for designing the perfect team. They applied the principles of critical thinking – beginning with an analytical, inquisitive, and systematic approach to framing the problem. They sifted through a decade of data they had collected on various aspects of its employees’ lives to analyze if the best teams were made up of like-minded individuals, with similar interests or personality types, or if it mattered more that they had similar hobbies, similar motivators, or departmental goals. Or was longevity of the team itself the key? Breaking through Perceptions After examining 180 teams from different parts of the company Dubey, the Aristotle Project leader admitted “we had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.” As they struggled with their pragmatic approach to find patterns, they called on another critical thinking skill and expanded their circle of knowledge to look at research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on group norms. Group norms can be thought of as the rules teams cultivate that enable success. Finding the Root Cause Through the refined lens of group norms, Google found that two important trends emerged: First, they found that on high performing teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. They called this “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” and it boils down to each person having a chance to talk. Second, they found that high performing teams had what they call a high “average social sensitivity,” also known as emotional intelligence. The best teams were collectively good at identifying how others felt and providing the members “psychological safety.” Implementing the Solution Google sought to answer a specific problem—the composition of the perfect team. However, using an open-minded critical thinking approach focusing on data-driven results, Google was able to define (and ultimately address) the true problem at the core of team-building—how we can structure team interactions to achieve greater results. The Aristotle Project teaches us that critical thinking – thinking that is comprehensive, systematic, and traces the broad and deep implications of an issue – is what will give us a deeper understanding of our complex, ambiguous workplace problems. In...

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Millennials in the Public Sector: We Want You!

Posted by on May 5, 2016 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Millennials in the Public Sector: We Want You!

If you Google “millennials and public service,” the search results paint an interesting picture. You will see clear references to a widening millennial talent gap alongside articles about how millennials actually love their government jobs and want a career in the public sector. Where is the truth, you ask? As always, it is probably somewhere in the middle. However, the important takeaway from this far from scientific observation is this: The Federal Government Needs Millennials. As we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), it is a perfect time to reflect on what this generation brings to the workplace and talk about ways millennials can find more meaning and opportunities to grow and lead in their public sector work. Transforming the Status Quo The 2015 Millennial Leadership Survey reported that 63% of millennials surveyed aspire to be a “transformational” leader. That means the majority of those seeking leadership roles are not motivated by money or power, but instead want opportunities to challenge themselves and inspire those around them to find purpose and energy in the work they do. I can tell you the issues my colleagues and I help government employees build the skills to untangle are increasingly complex and have far-reaching implications for our country. The Federal workforce needs people with inclusive leadership skills, who can tap into the collective wisdom of diverse groups and lead cross-functional teams with ease. Reality check: No, this won’t happen overnight, but today’s government leaders can take steps to give emerging leaders the tools they need to create new patterns of behavior and build resilience in organizations. Given the density of issues facing government organizations, being a transformational leader must also involve entrepreneurial thinking—another hallmark strength of the millennial generation. If the issues government organizations face are stickier than ever, approaching them with an entrepreneurial mindset produces the accountability, flexibility, and ingenuity needed to ignite and sustain lasting changes. Once again, current senior leaders play an important role in helping this next generation of leaders tap into their entrepreneurial genes by being transparent about what’s going on in an organization and authentic in how they can engage millennials in being part of the solution. Finding Meaning and Opportunity If you are a millennial working in the public sector, here’s four tips to help you more fully connect with your organization and find a path that fits your values and talents: Find a Mentor: You should understand “standard” career paths in your organization but you should also seek a mentor to learn how your talents as an individual can support organizational goals. Your mentor cannot only help you find ways to stay engaged and plan for the future, but learning from their experiences can literally place you years ahead of your peers. Your organization may not have a formal mentoring program, but building a network of informal mentors is just as (if not more) effective. Seek Feedback: It’s a common complaint that millennials in government organizations can’t hear enough about their performance from their supervisors or others in leadership roles. Rather than wait and let frustration build about someone’s communication style or performance management skills, ask for the feedback you want. And, be specific. Target the skills you want to refine and use the insight they provide to reflect on your performance and set...

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International Leadership Lessons from Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

Posted by on Apr 6, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

International Leadership Lessons from Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

The newly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is bringing Canadian politics to the spotlight. The news is flooded with images of this young, charismatic, athletic (you have to admit that is an impressive yoga pose!) politician spreading a message of hope, change, and “sunny ways.” Trudeau brings with him the belief that politics can be a positive and powerful force for change. Canadians endorsed that message with a resounding “yes!” when they elected him to office with a “win of historic magnitude” according to the BBC. Trudeau’s liberal party claimed 184 of the 338 Parliament seats this year, netting 150 seats and making them the first party in history to move from third place to a majority in one election cycle. So what lessons can we gleam from Trudeau’s rise to international leadership stardom? First, his story proves that the power of engagement is undeniable. Casey Wilson, the author of The Cornerstones of Engaging Leadership says “…leadership must be considered a source of empowerment. The focus moves from what you want to what individuals want.” People rally behind this young politician because he is engaging. His charisma draws people in and genuine compassion for those he serves builds a sense of trust. He balances confidence with humility, conviction with empathy. This is an incredibly tight rope to walk and is a skill that must continually be challenged and nurtured. The second lesson I take away from Trudeau is… well I’ll leave it in his words: “You can’t run a government from one single person. What instead matters is that leadership be about gathering around extraordinary individuals and getting the best out of them.” Isn’t that the key to success in any business? In government or otherwise, you need to get the right people around the table, with the right information, to have the right conversations. Trudeau gets at a critical issue facing the private and public sectors – the need to effectively leverage diversity to solve the big issues. What leaders across industries can learn from him is that there is value in bringing a diverse team together. These types of teams will push the envelope, challenge assumptions, and think critically about the issue. The last lesson is one of sustainability. We don’t know yet how Trudeau’s time in office will pan out, but I have a sneaking suspicion he has thought about the sustainability of his message. How do you maintain enthusiasm and engagement while navigating the incredibly complicated and stressful web of politics? Trudeau has said: “I’ve made the commitment to Canadians that I’m going to stay myself, and I’m going stay open about it, and I’m going to make sure that the thoughtfulness with which I approach issues continues to shine through.” He promises accountability. He vows to take personal responsibility for the transparency of his decision-making. It might sound simple, but if you put that in the context of the workplace – organizational structure, policies, bureaucracy – that can become very sticky. Accountability often comes with a connotation in the workplace, but it’s not about accepting blame, it’s about a commitment to clarity and achieving the desired goal. The most successful leaders are able to foster a culture of accountability by taking ownership of their decisions and actions, encouraging others to do the same, and...

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Finding the Right Solution for Your Learning Need

Posted by on Mar 14, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

Finding the Right Solution for Your Learning Need

What is the best way to improve a skill or competency? Take a training class, right? It sounds easy. Sign up for a class, learn from a facilitator, meet some new people, and take home some great reading material. While training is very effective for developing some skills, it may not be the best solution for other areas in which you are trying to cultivate. The right learning solution depends on the skill or competency. For example, is it new or are you trying to hone an existing skill? Do your direct reports have the skills but lack the motivation? Are you trying to learn a technical or non-technical concept? Do you already have the knowledge and just need more practice demonstrating what you learned? It is important to answer these questions before making decisions about learning methods and programs. We recently viewed a recorded presentation given by George Mason University’s Dr. Stephen Zaccaro titled “OPM’s Leadership Development Matrix” that addressed this very concept. Research by Dr. Zaccaro and other management experts tells us that formal instruction is great for providing “foundational knowledge or when you are first trying to acquire a skill.” If you are beginning to develop technical competencies related to business acumen (e.g., financial management, technology management), formal coursework is great place to start. For example, you need to understand accounting concepts before you can start to perform accounting tasks. To advance your skills, create long-lasting learning, and even improve your motivation, integrating multiple learning methods into a formal training program is very effective. Formal instruction can be followed up with time to practice and apply what was learned. Dr. Zaccaro and other management experts call this performing a “stamping in” assignment. Another way to think about “stamping in” is basically “use it or lose it.” Get a good foundation about the concepts and then practice and apply what was learned on the job. Once you are able to apply the skill in basic or routine situations, then try to apply it in a more complex situation or “stretch” assignment. So, what are other ways to develop competencies? What learning methods can be paired with formal instruction? What competencies are best suited for which learning methods and is there research to support this? These are important questions, especially in light of restricted training budgets, an aging workforce, and a need to do more with less. When working on an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for you or your employees, think about different learning methods and which ones are best suited for the competencies that need to be developed (see table). Learning Method Examples of Competencies Best Suited: Participating in cross-functional action learning projects Depending on the project—creativity and innovation, conflict management, customer service, entrepreneurship Leading cross-functional action learning projects Team building, partnering Developmental assignments Depending on the assignment: policy launching (creativity and innovation) strategic focus long range planning (visioning) resolving conflict working with a diverse group navigating multiple agencies (political savvy) Workshops with role plays Conflict management, political savvy, influencing and negotiating, customer service Coaching Stress management (resilience), developing others, accountability, executive presence, effective communication, emotional intelligence  Mentoring Strategic thinking, external awareness, partnering, political savvy, technical competencies such as financial management, human capital management, technology management Job rotations Building on foundational knowledge related to financial management, human...

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Want a Smarter Workplace? Focus on Diversity

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 in Leadership, Uncategorized, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Want a Smarter Workplace? Focus on Diversity

Diversity efforts are often perceived as solely focusing on compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws or enforcing political correctness. Yet in reality, there are scientific and business reasons for leaders to take action to create more diverse and inclusive working environments. For today’s organizations, diversity and inclusion are crucial for organizational success, creativity, innovation, and talent maximization. This is Your Brain on Diversity Creating diverse environments is not only important for building stronger communities and organizations, it also impacts the way our brains function. Studies comparing groups with ethnic, gender, and sexual-orientation diversity to more homogeneous groups time and again find that the diverse groups are more innovative and creative, and demonstrate better decision making and problem solving than less diverse groups. Differences Prevent Groupthink and Expert Overconfidence Homogeneous groups with similar experiences and ways of problem solving will tend to agree with one another more readily, and may fall prey to “groupthink,” a phenomenon where individuals consciously or unconsciously feel inclined toward consensus rather than challenging the status quo. Groupthink occurs when individuals develop an inaccurate sense of surety in their ideas, or refrain from dissenting due to concerns about their reputations within the homogeneous group. Diverse groups are less bound by this “expert overconfidence” complex or pressure to maintain a sense of sameness. In fact, the mere presence of divergent experiences, viewpoints, and approaches to problem solving within a diverse group provokes more active thinking. To put it plainly, working in diverse groups puts people’s brains on alert and engages them in more neural activity. Stir Up Some Dissonance Word of caution: it’s not enough to just get a bunch of different people in a room together. Successful and innovative organizations foster environments in which every individual feels valued and able to fully contribute. Organizational leaders who build inclusive environments don’t focus merely on building “kumbaya” cultures, either. In his book, Originals, Dr. Adam Grant advises organizational leaders seeking to build more innovative and successful organizational cultures to: Hire for cultural contribution rather than cultural “fit” by looking for diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and personality traits rather than hiring those who think in similar ways. Unearth the devil’s advocates who will offer well-reasoned dissenting opinions and challenge the status quo. Invite and listen to criticism from all corners of the organization rather than only inviting the opinions of individuals who typically share their ways of thinking. At first glance, homogeneity looks easier. Diversity brings challenges. Decision-making is messier and takes more time. Individuals have to let go of their traditional views and ways of thinking. Teams have to stretch themselves outside their comfort zones in terms of their beliefs. However, leaders who commit to building strong foundations of diversity and inclusion, who invite divergent ways of thinking while fostering cohesive and caring teams, will be rewarded with high functioning, innovative, and engaged...

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Why Organizational Improvement Programs Don’t Work

Posted by on Feb 11, 2016 in Leadership, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Why Organizational Improvement Programs Don’t Work

Organizations are continually looking for ways to be more effective. Organizational improvement programs go by many different names—workforce improvement, productivity enhancement, and organizational effectiveness, to name a few. For government organizations, improving effectiveness usually means finding more efficient and cost-effective ways to meet the mission. Programs like this typically don’t “stick.” Sometimes new ways of doing things result in short-term improvements. Other times, the changes are piecemeal; some people embrace the change, while others don’t. Either way, people usually revert back to the old, more comfortable way of doing things. Why does this happen? Is there any way to create lasting change? When it comes down to it, organizational improvement is really individual improvement. Change happens when individuals start doing things differently. Lasting change happens when those changes become permanent. So, the following must happen in order for lasting change to occur: Individuals must be aware that a change is needed They must know what old behaviors to rely on less and what new behaviors to rely on more They must be motivated to maintain the resulting changes in their behavior Let’s look specifically at leader behavior because leaders are often highly visible and influential; they also serve as role models for expected behaviors in organizations. Make leaders understand what they need to do differently can be done by making a nonthreatening case for change. We know from neuroscience research that it’s pretty easy to stimulate a flight-or-fight Organizational improvement programs may stimulate that response if they refer to how the program is going to “address weaknesses,” “reduce errors,” or “evaluate” how someone is doing their job. In contrast, focusing on how the leader can have a more effective impact on his or her team may be a less threatening approach. The idea is more than semantics—the focus is not on “fixing” the leader, but instead on showing the leader how their behavior impacts their team’s effectiveness. The leader must buy-in to any new approach because they are the one that will ultimately have to make a change. They aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong; in fact, they usually have good intentions. It’s that leaders aren’t always aware that the impact they are having on their team is different from what they intended. And, what the team needs from the leader may vary from team to team. Show the leader what behaviors to use less and which to use more, and, even more importantly, show how changes in those behaviors will impact their team. It’s not enough to just tell leaders to do more of one thing or less of another. Show them how making those changes will impact their team to be more effective. Again, it’s not necessarily that the leader is doing the wrong thing; instead, the leader may need to rely less on certain strategies and more on others. Maintain the leader’s changed behavior by providing the right motivation. This can be done in many different ways—link their team’s improved effectiveness to the organization’s mission and goals, provide ongoing feedback and coaching to the leader, make sure the leader gets the opportunity to build new skills to better carry out the new behaviors if needed, and reward and recognize their accomplishments and improvements. Tools exist for measuring expected behaviors in organizations as well as a leader’s behaviors...

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Employee Wellness

Posted by on Jan 25, 2016 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Employee Wellness

Last week I lost my house key. And then a replacement house key. And then my wallet. Yesterday I dashed out to do an errand and upon returning to my car, realized I had left my phone in the car. In the computer bag with my laptop. Next to the car keys. With the car running. I was equally angry and amused by this complete and utter flake out. Amused by my almost cinematic absent-mindedness, and angry because I had recently made significant changes in my professional and personal life to be more healthy and well-balanced. Here I was, having taken the plunge to live my life with complete purpose and intention. I had a visual in my mind of myself, tranquil and free of anxiety, full of positive energy and wisdom. Instead, I felt like a disheveled, forgetful, impatient mess. What was happening? What was happening – and is still happening – is that my brain is trying desperately to keep up with the immense change events I have initiated. Even when we welcome change in some aspect of our lives, that change has a significant ripple effect. Traditionally in our society, when stressful situations arise – be they professional or personal change events, demanding deadlines, high profile projects, or crisis situations – the reaction has been that everyone must work harder, put in more hours, and be chained to their desks or the conference room until the event ends, the problem gets solved, or the crisis passes. The consequence to this response is that creativity, energy, and morale disintegrates. We are left fatigued. Our immune systems are compromised. And most importantly, our brains are no longer functioning at a level where rational, strategic, creative decision-making can happen. In my situation, during a major life changing event, I was so focused on checking off the many boxes on my “to do” list, I failed to pay attention to something equally, if not more, important: my “to be” list. I didn’t give myself the space to acknowledge the new identity I was accepting, to get acquainted with the new person I was becoming. The “to be” list allows individuals to mentally and emotionally focus themselves on what is most important to them – their core values, their goals and aspirations, and their sense of balance and well-being. Effective leaders recognize that allowing time for individuals to re-balance themselves actually leads to higher productivity, better decisions and problem solving, and more efficiency in the face of major turmoil. Neuroscience research indicates the immense benefits of engaging in behaviors that establish this balance – whether it is physical exercise, meditation and deep breathing, or engaging in creative or playful activities. Our bodies are more able to counteract stress and focus our minds, and even increase the production of new brain cells and have better memory retention. To write a “to be” list, consider the following: What are my core values that drive my life? What is my personal mission statement (what are my professional and personal goals that I am aspiring to?) What are the most important things I need to do today to feel fulfilled? How am I going to build in time today to connect with my goals and values? How am I feeling in this moment and where...

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A Quick Refresher on Giving Feedback

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Leadership | 0 comments

A Quick Refresher on Giving Feedback

As a supervisor during the recent review cycle, were you uncomfortable addressing your employees’ poor performance? Did you cringe when you needed to have a conversation with someone about his or her ineffective or unproductive work practices? Did you try to avoid dealing with others’ negative work behaviors? Did it feel forced to give honest, yet constructive feedback? If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, you are not alone! We surveyed more than 850 supervisors and aspiring supervisors and found that many people, regardless of supervisory experience, feel the same way. Understandably, people struggle with giving constructive feedback to others. Supervisors tend to feel uncomfortable advising their employees on how to improve their performance, even if they are already high performers. If supervisors have a hard time providing feedback, why should they do it? Why is feedback SO important? As you may know, feedback is one aspect of employee engagement. Engagement is one of many important factors that the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) examines for the Federal workforce. Part of having engaged employees is ensuring they are provided with opportunities for growth and development. Feedback, specifically positive and constructive feedback, has been shown to improve job performance. So, here are three feedback principles to keep in mind, and hopefully, this is a good refresher for your next feedback conversation. (Hint – you should be giving feedback frequently throughout the year, not just during performance reviews.) Three Feedback Principles Positive intentions – The spirit in which you approach providing feedback will make a big difference in whether it is effective. Your goal for providing the feedback must be to help the person improve. If your intention is genuine, and you are able to convey this to the employee, there’s a good chance your feedback will be effective. Remember, the importance of nonverbal cues in communicating positive vibes! Specific and timely – Your feedback must be based on work performance, not the person or their personality. Be sure to word your feedback that way. Identify the specifics of what went wrong or could be improved and discuss your expectations for how his/her behavior should change. If you are giving positive feedback, simply saying “good job” is not enough. Be specific about the behaviors you observed. Further, give the feedback while the individual can act on it. Waiting until the end of the week, or worst yet, the annual performance review doesn’t help the person make mid-course corrections. Coaching the individual in the moment leads to better business outcomes and individual performance. Remember, effective supervisors discuss both positive performance and areas for improvement frequently with their employees. Open Two-Way Communication – Feedback discussions can result in significant learning for both you and the employee. Create a space in which the employee is open to what you are saying. Listen to the employee and give him an opportunity to respond. Maybe the employee is running into obstacles, or maybe the employee doesn’t have the right tools or systems to do the work. Once you understand the reasons behind the performance issue, you can work to minimize or remove the obstacles. This approach will go a long way towards building the relationship and building a culture of feedback. I hope these tips serve as good reminders for giving feedback...

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Scientific Team Collaboration

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Leadership | 2 comments

Scientific Team Collaboration

Early in my career, I realized that succeeding as a researcher involved more than technical skills. As a new assistant professor who was focused on research and teaching, I thought my strengths were coming up with innovative yet rigorous methodologies and ensuring that students knew how to apply theory to their jobs. Although those did turn out to be strengths, I soon realized additional strengths that I was not previously aware of – the ability to get along with strong personalities and write clearly. Here’s what happened: An eminent, senior professor, a mentor of mine in graduate school, had collaborated with a grad student on a research project. They were trying to publish the study in a top academic journal. This particular grad student was a serial entrepreneur and successful CEO who had returned to school later in life. Both had considerable experience and high levels of self-confidence. Despite carrying out an excellent study that contributed to the literature, their paper was rejected because they were unable to clearly communicate how it fit in with existing research. They realized that neither of them had the skill needed to revise the paper in a way that addressed this gap, partly because of their writing ability and partly because they held different views on how to frame their research. They turned to me to re-write the paper. Before beginning the re-write, they agreed that I was in charge of rewriting the introduction and discussion sections, with the goal of getting the paper published. My previous track record in writing clearly and successfully publishing gave me the credibility I needed to get them to agree to taking on the writing role. I also convinced each of them that the introduction needed to clearly explain how their study added to existing research as well as frame the paper differently than their original approach. We needed to explain the study in a way that made sense to the reader, not how they had conceptualized the work. Instead of focusing on their internal debate, I refocused their attention on the logic that was needed in the introduction. After the rewrite, the article was accepted in another top journal. My take-aways from this experience? I was able to refocus them on the common goal of publishing the paper. I convinced them that given my writing ability, I was the best person to do the rewrite and the introduction had to take on the reader’s perspective. By staying calm and focusing on the paper, I came across in a nonthreatening manner to convince them that the study they did was good while the introduction needed to present their work in a slightly different way. Most scientific and technical work is conducted in teams comprised of individuals who have unique, specific expertise who come together to find an answer or discover something new. These types of teams are not always successful. Sometimes, even teams of the most highly talented technical experts fail to achieve their objective because they cannot find a way to work together. Functioning effectively as a team requires much more than scientific or technical expertise. It requires soft skills – teamwork, collaboration, communication, and listening. Soft skills can be extremely difficult for scientists or technical experts to learn, especially when their ability to defend their...

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Building an Emotionally Intelligent Team

Posted by on Oct 26, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Building an Emotionally Intelligent Team

Why is emotional intelligence so important for teams? Quite frankly, organizations need teams to get the work done. Historically, the most consistent and effective efforts come from groups of people who over time developed trust, group identity, and efficacy to become teams. Who has the responsibility of building the emotionally intelligent team? One might argue the responsibility rests with individuals with the positional authority and influence to translate the organizational vision into goals and objectives for the team to achieve. Why then, is such disproportionate effort placed on getting the “right individuals” on the team? Despite best efforts – including a thorough vetting process with specific criteria, a comprehensive list of qualifications, responsibilities, and the validation of an internal interview board, hiring managers select new hires that on paper appear to be the best candidate, yet often don’t work out as originally planned. Anyone can look good in a party of one, but the proving ground of emotional intelligence can best be validated within the context of interpersonal relationships. An individual effectively modeling emotional intelligence has the powerful combination of self-management and the ability to relate to others. They figure out how to strike just the right balance of independence and interdependence within a team. Numerous studies indicate teams are more effective when they are able to foster participation, cooperation, and collaboration among team members. Given what we know about the importance of high performing teams and the investment of time, energy, and commitment it takes to sustain them, the nature of efforts used to source new team members could substantially shift. What if hiring managers, continued their due diligence during the hiring process, but added the focus of long term team impact to the list of criteria? The shift of perspective has the potential to affirm the value of the existing team, and challenge the new hire to deliver individual achievement and viable team contribution. Here are a few questions, managers can consider as they build and sustain an emotionally intelligent team: Does the new team member model confidence (self-awareness) as an individual contributor? Would the presence of the new team member likely foster interpersonal understanding (social awareness) within the existing team? Is there evidence to support the new hire would initiate a transparent and collaborative (self-management) work style? What examples does the new hire provide to describe scenarios when they were able to work through conflict (relationship management) as part of a team? Managers can advance the cause of emotional intelligent teams, with thoughtful consideration, one team member at a time.  ...

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Ask the CHCO: DoD’s Paige Hinkle-Bowles

Posted by on Aug 16, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Ask the CHCO: DoD’s Paige Hinkle-Bowles

In her interview with Federal News Radio for our Ask the CHCO series, Ms. Hinkle-Bowles shared some key areas of focus for the civilian workforce that support the DoD “Future Force” Initiative. Described as opportunities to build, shape, and improve workforce performance to meet changing DoD mission needs, Ms. Hinkle-Bowles discussed how many of the challenges facing the department’s 900,000 civilians in recent years are currently or will be addressed in the near future. As the interview concluded, I found myself wondering – how will DoD leaders address and link organizational culture to the Force of the Future Initiative or for that matter, any one of the supporting civilian workforce initiatives? For example, the long awaited performance management system, New Beginnings, or the functional community concept created to address workforce competency gaps, each have their own set of complexities that will require careful planning and working together to fully embed new practices into the fabric of DoD. Why Culture Matters. Any organization seeking to shift the strategic view of its workforce will increase its probability of success if viewed through a culture lens. Organizational culture is the “soul” of an organization that guides how people think and act. It is fundamental to achieving organizational goals, attracting and keeping people, and getting work done. Everyone Has a Role in Transforming Culture. When people in an organization recognize the current culture of an organization needs to transform to support its success going forward, only then will the needed change happen. This is the hardest step in culture change – because it takes time to internalize new patterns of thinking and acting – individually and organizationally....

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Building Resilience

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Imagine you are in the water at the beach on a stormy day. The surf is high, and each time a wave comes it knocks you over. You stand back up, and another wave comes and knocks you down again. You may sustain this for a little while, even get a thrill from the waves crashing and getting back up, but eventually you will start to lose your ability to face the oncoming breakers. Even the strongest physique can’t withstand being hit by those waves time after time. At some point, we all get fatigued by trying to withstand the impact of wave after wave crashing on us without the time and effort needed to regain our balance and prepare for the next impact. The Impact of Prolonged Stress Stress is a constant in our busy, complex lives. To a degree, stress can be good for our brains and bodies. When we experience stress, hormones are released that create a burst of energy to help us deal with challenges effectively. Yet when we experience consistently high levels of stress over long periods of time, these same hormones can be incredibly damaging to us physically and mentally. The good news is that our brains and bodies are adaptable, and we can develop practices to reduce stress levels and find ways to maintain our ability to bounce back from the waves crashing over us again and again. What is Resilience? Resilience is the ability to effectively recover and thrive in the face of stress, challenges, or adversity. Resilient leaders take the time to rebuild their balance even in the midst of wave after wave of issues hitting them. The more balanced you are, the more capable your brain and body are to handle the intense stress levels that come with chronic or mounting adversity or crises. The Glass is…the Glass One might assume that those who are endlessly optimistic and positive will naturally be more resilient. This isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who fail to acknowledge the reality of their situation may end up losing their ability to endure chronically stressful or difficult conditions. On the other hand, those individuals who fall into the trap of viewing the situation as hopelessly or endlessly negative are equally unfit to sustain resilience in the face of challenging times. They lose the ability to attach a sense of ownership or meaning over their situations, which can lead to burn out. Resilient leaders are able to simultaneously acknowledge harsh realities and maintain a positive mental perspective where they focus on what they have the power to do in any given situation. They maintain a focus (for themselves and others) on making meaning of their actions. They inspire and help others to see how their work has purpose. Creating Balance Resilient leaders attain balance in four core dimensions of their being – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Physical: To be able to perform effectively, we must ensure that our bodies are cared for and that we allow for physical rest and recuperation. Over time, not eating or sleeping well or exercising regularly will take a toll on any leader’s ability to function at their highest level. Emotional: Not surprisingly, positive emotions increase energy and inspire productivity and higher level thinking....

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Survey Fatigue: Do You Have It??

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 in Leadership | 2 comments

Survey Fatigue: Do You Have It??

Survey fatigue is a common occurrence in agencies. I often work with them to collect information from their employees in an automated way, whether it is a training needs assessment, a training evaluation survey, or some other type of survey. Clients usually tell me that although they need input from employees to make resource-conscious decisions, their agency’s employees are over-surveyed. On the occasions that I talk directly with those employees, I hear them echo the same thing: “We get so many surveys we can’t possibly fill them all out.” “They keep asking us to complete these assessments, telling us that they will share the results with us. I never see any results.” “Didn’t we just get a request a few months ago to fill out a similar survey? I don’t think they did anything with the feedback I gave!” I can empathize with employees. It is frustrating to be inundated with survey requests, especially when nothing seems to happen as a result. But, as a consultant, I’ve picked up some lessons that can counteract survey fatigue: Know the past. As the old adage goes, those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. Take the time to find out what requests have gone out in the past. Note that “requests” go by many different names: surveys, pulse surveys, assessments, 360s, and questionnaires. It can be hard to know exactly how far back to go. Many years ago, I was conducting a focus group to prepare for an organizational survey when one participant said, “Didn’t we just do this seven years ago?” Instead of debating whether seven years is the recent past or not, try to understand that, from that participant’s point of view, it was too soon to be collecting the information again. Find long-tenured, trusted colleagues across your organization who can share with you what has been sent in the past. Where possible, try to use existing data to inform decisions, or if you do have to send a survey, collect only the data that is needed to make decisions or inform actions. Explain yourself. Take the time to explain to employees why the information is needed, how the results will be used, and what benefits they will get from participating. Sometimes this can be done in the email that invites them to complete the survey. Other times, you might want to hold an informational session that explains the importance of the survey and addresses employee questions. It also might help to have an executive send a letter explaining the importance of the initiative. Actually take action. Most of the time, employees’ aren’t complaining about the actual number of survey requests but about how nothing ever seems to change as a result of the surveys. So, make sure that you actually take action based on the results. If you’re doing a training needs assessment, then make sure you use the results to inform the training offered to employees. If you’re doing an employee engagement survey, then do something to improve in areas that score low on the survey. Although you can’t solve all the past ills of others, if you can show employees that you follow through on your promises to take action, then they will start to have a more positive attitude about survey requests. This...

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Diversity and Inclusion

Posted by on Jun 8, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Diversity and Inclusion

Government agencies serve the American public, and thus should not only be representative of the population they serve, but demonstrate the value of that diversity in their workforce. However, a recent survey put out by the Government Business Council and Monster Government Solutions identified some concerning data about how Federal employees experience diversity and inclusion efforts. The study found that 75% of government employees feel misunderstood because of some aspect of their identity, and only 28% believe their organization is effective in leveraging diversity. Organizations that Get D&I Get Results Research time and again has demonstrated the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace for organizations. Diversity and inclusion enhance employee morale, productivity, and innovation.   Truly inclusive organizations embed diversity into the very fabric of the organizational culture. The organizational identity to which everyone belongs is one of inclusion. It’s not only in the written policies and practices, but also in the unwritten norms and social ways of being. It’s part of the organizational language. Everyone feels equally valued for what they bring to the organization. There is transparency in decision making. There is representation of diversity at all levels of the organization. Individuals at every level of leadership are committed to and responsible for building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive environment. Senior Leaders Need to Pave the Way Although 82% of the respondents to the survey agreed that a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusion would benefit the organization, 40% of respondents believe there’s a lack of support from leadership, and 35% believe there is a lack of dedicated resources to lead and manage D&I initiatives. Organizational leadership must initiate noticeable organizational culture change, where they actively acknowledge the current state of the organizational culture and how it helps or hinders inclusion. They must elicit a vision for an inclusive organization from every corner of the organization, rather than dictating what that vision will be. They need to actively and visibly remove barriers to inclusion by ensuring sufficient resources are available to support D&I efforts. Managers and Supervisors Need Skills Although the study found that 65% of managers believe they have the resources to effectively resolve diversity related issues, 67% of non-managers lack confidence in their supervisors’ ability to resolve D&I issues. All supervisors and managers must hold themselves and their teams accountable for creating and sustaining an inclusive working environment. One-off training that only focuses on EEO compliance is not enough to build a cadre of supervisors who are committed to diversity and inclusion and have the skills to foster an inclusive workplace. Supervisors need adequate development and coaching to ensure they have the competence to support diverse and inclusive working teams. Individual Contributors Need to be Advocates Individuals at all levels of the organization must see themselves as advocates for inclusion, and be willing to have open and honest conversations about identity and how it impacts individuals’ values, perceptions and behaviors at work. Individual contributors must be able and willing to elicit and provide feedback that may be tough to hear, to test their own assumptions and prejudgments, and acknowledge that they have implicit biases that may cloud their vision of others. Fostering diversity and inclusion is not a new challenge for government organizations, and past efforts can yield valuable lessons. In order for D&I...

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Recruiting the Next Generation of Feds

Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Recruiting the Next Generation of Feds

Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard from a number of Federal leaders through our sponsored “Ask the CHCO” series on Federal News Radio about the work going on to recruit, retain, and engage Federal workers. CHCOs from USAID, FLRA, and HHS have shared best practices and initiatives to improve the Federal employment experience. Much attention is being paid to retaining and engaging Federal workers, as shortages in mission critical skills suggest that a renewed focus on attracting high performing, highly skilled individual to Federal service is needed. Fortunately, it won’t take major reforms to the Federal hiring process to begin the process of attracting high performers, particularly Millennials, to the Federal government. Here are a few easy steps you can take to begin building a pipeline of promising future employees: Emphasize the value of public service: For Public Service Recognition Week, Mika Cross and Dr. David A. Bray shared their perspectives on what attracted them to Federal employment. One common theme in their stories was the importance of public service as a motivator for joining the Federal government and their specific agencies. The desire to connect with a larger mission and contribute to the public good is a strong motivator for Millennials, and for many workers in other generations. If you can make the connection between a particular job opportunity and the mission of your agency (like through an Employee Value Proposition), you’ll attract candidates who share the agency’s values and are drawn to contribute to the work of the agency. Emphasize job mobility: According to Forbes, 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Unlike private industry where moving to a new job often requires leaving an organization and seeking new employment, the ability to move between divisions, departments, or even agencies is a natural part of Federal employment. Consider taking time to develop career paths and maps that include links to service in other agencies as part of the development path to demonstrate to new Federal employees their ability to move across the government as they build their Federal careers. Put organizational values front and center, and live by them: According to a PwC survey, 59% of Millennials will deliberately seek out employers whose social responsibility values match their own. If you want your agency to rise to the top of the list for Federal job seekers, it’s important that you make the agency’s values are a primary part of your messaging and your employer brand. But, be aware that the values you promote can’t just be a marketing pitch. Transparency and consistency are priorities for many younger workers, and they’ll quickly spot a mismatch between words and actions. As of the 4th quarter of 2014, the share of the Federal workforce under 30 was around 8%, despite the fact that in 2015, this demographic will become the majority in the U.S. workforce. As OPM works on major initiatives to diversify and build the Federal workforce, individual agencies can, and should, take steps of their own to improve their talent pipeline and attract the next generation of Federal workers....

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Is Your Ecosystem Thriving or Collapsing?

Posted by on Apr 27, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Is Your Ecosystem Thriving or Collapsing?

Imagine a thriving ecosystem, and you may envision a lush landscape with great diversity, energy, and balance. Now imagine an ecosystem that is suffering and you probably see a barren landscape, where life forms are dying off and there is bloodthirsty competition for limited resources. Now think of some of the organizations or teams within which you have worked. Notice any similarities? When you think about it, organizations have a lot in common with some of the most complex biological ecosystems: Individuals at all levels matter Ecosystems are comprised of interdependent organisms, from microscopic to gigantic, that all function to support and sustain one another. In an organizational ecosystem, every member regardless of their level or function plays a key role in the sustainability of the organization. Healthy organizational ecosystems ensure that the talent and skills of every member are valued and utilized, and every individual member of the organization develops the competencies needed to take initiative and contribute to the vitality of the ecosystem. Relationships matter In a thriving ecosystem, symbiotic relationships are critical. Individual members of the organization consider the ripple effect of their actions on other stakeholders. They build relationships to support other members of the system, not because it’s “nice to do” but because it is the only way the organizational ecosystem will thrive over the long term. Conditions matter Ecosystems are dependent on their conditions, and climate and environmental changes can cause a significant impact on an ecosystem’s sustainability. Thriving organizations have leaders at all levels who demonstrate adaptability and resilience to help the ecosystem maintain its balance in times of turbulence. However, even the most adaptable and resilient ecosystem can only withstand so much imbalance due to environmental changes before it suffers. Therefore, leaders must also constantly manage the conditions to ensure stability while the ecosystem is in a state of flux. Sustainability for organizational ecosystems For any organization, it is critical to plan for sustainability in the face of constant changes. This means that individuals across the organization need to continuously develop their abilities to effectively contribute to the ecosystem, and the organization must create the conditions for every individual to maximize the full extent of their talents and skills. Moreover, individuals must be equipped with the right combination of competencies to support the organizational ecosystem. Therefore, the organization must take an integrated approach to building the individualized competencies of each member. In an upcoming blog, we will explore what this looks like and how the organization can make this integrated approach a reality. Stay tuned!...

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5 Steps to Take to Escape Old Employee Engagement Ideas

Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

5 Steps to Take to Escape Old Employee Engagement Ideas

Last week I was having a conversation with some colleagues about the renewed focus on employee engagement in the Federal government and how Federal agencies can meet the goal of reaching 67% engagement by 2016. Moving the engagement index up by 3 percentage points over a two year period is an ambitious goal that will require thinking differently about employee engagement. Of course, as John Maynard Keynes wrote, “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” So, with that in mind, here are a few steps you can take to escape some old ideas about engagement: Start with the organization’s strategic plan – Any efforts to increase employee engagement should start with a look at the strategic plan and associated strategic initiatives of the organization. As with any other major initiative the organization takes on, the return on investment for engagement initiatives should be linked to, and traceable from, the organization’s stated priorities. Linking the outcomes of an engagement initiative to the organization’s strategic objectives elevates those initiatives, bringing attention and accountability to the process while at the same time providing concrete evidence of the success or failure of the work. Recognize that the factors that drive engagement may not be the same as the factors that drive mission results – There has been a great deal of research linking increased engagement to organizational performance using a variety of measures (e.g. here, here and here) and it’s well established that organizations with higher levels of engagement outperform the market. However, it is important to remember that there may not be 100% overlap between the factors that drive employee engagement and the factors that drive mission results for the organization. While increased engagement may indeed provide positive business outcomes, a host of other factors including systems, governance processes, policies, or available resource can affect business results and mitigate the effects of increased engagement. As you plan efforts to increase engagement, first identify the drivers of key organizational performance measures and prioritize efforts that also influence specific desired outcomes for your organization. Consider engagement to be situational – Studies by Gallup, IBM, and CIPD all show that engagement varies across job types, industries, culture, and context. While large scale engagement studies that demonstrate relationships between specific workplace factors and engagement can help narrow your focus when considering ways to enhance engagement, your chances of success will increase if you take the time to identify the specific characteristics of your organization and workforce that are affecting engagement at your organization. Engagement is an individual, not a collective phenomenon – The most common measures of employee engagement take individual survey results and compile them across various levels of the organization to calculate the percentage of employees ranging from actively engaged to actively disengaged. Group level data on engagement can provide insights into the scope and scale of your problem, but doesn’t provide much help in figuring out how to really improve it. The truth is, engagement increases as the overlap between what the organization offers and what the individual wants increases. When there is consistency between individual interests and the structures, processes, and objectives of the organization, individual engagement will increase. So, you should look to add richness and depth to your data to understand the...

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No More Generation Bashing

Posted by on Apr 1, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 2 comments

No More Generation Bashing

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.” – Hesiod, Greek poet and philosopher, 700 BC We’ve been hearing the same complaints about generational differences for, literally, millennia. The old lament the youth of today, while the young believe themselves to be the future and that the generation before them – although living in the present – is already the past. It’s all reductive and too dismissive of the motivations and habits of any generation. And yet it’s become the hallmark of some of the more popular research around generational differences in the workplace – and it’s a troubling trend. I recently heard an expert describe “Generation Z,” the next generation to soon enter the workforce whose members were born between the late 1990s and today, as one that expects the latest technology in their work environment because their parents handed them an electronic device any time they threw a tantrum. Again, the observation about what motivates and shapes the behavior of a generation reduces the analysis of generational diversity to caricatures, frequently perpetuating negative images of the younger generations. Millennials (or Gen Y, itself a reductive term whose only descriptive quality is that it tells you they come after Gen X) are decried as narcissistic, coddled, and lazy, raised by helicopter parents, and feeling entitled to take over the world without earning their stripes through hard work. Not only are such characterizations about the younger generation harmful, they are also wrong. Recent research by IBM blows major holes through these depictions of Millennials, and finds that there are fewer differences in workplace expectations among the different generations. Moreover, the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint (FEV) Survey report by OPM, “reveals a picture of Millennial employees who strongly believe the work they do is important, who believe they are given real opportunities to improve their skills, and who are satisfied with their jobs.” These values are not markedly different from their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. Young professionals expect the latest technology because technological advancements took place so rapidly in their formative years. Think about it: a Millennial entering high school in 2004 would have seen the rise of YouTube, the iTunes music and video stores, and the iPhone (among countless other innovations) before graduating. One day “apps” weren’t a thing; the next day they were all anyone could talk about and a possible way to make a living. So yes, they might seem frustrated by walking into an office with five-year-old laptops. In 2015, aren’t we all? So let’s change the conversation. Imagine your life priorities in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. What is most important to you? What is most pressing to you in terms of family, free time, career, and finances? Granted, the period of time in which a group of people grows up does impact views, social norms, and expectations. Cultural, political, economic events, technological and medical advancements, educational and parenting philosophies – these all can contribute to generational trends. However, we limit ourselves as leaders when we fall into the trap of saying, “all people from this...

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Inside the Minds of Chief Learning Officers

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Inside the Minds of Chief Learning Officers

On March 10 Steve Maier, President of Management Concepts moderated a thought-provoking panel discussion at a recent Training Officers Consortium (TOC) luncheon that included the following esteemed Federal Chief Learning Officers (CLOs):   Sheila Wright, Housing and Urban Development Michael Casey, General Services Administration Jeffrey Vargas, Commodity Futures Trading Commission Susan Camarena, Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration We’ve all heard the phrase “do more with less” – especially in government – but during the panel the idea of “do more with what we have” resonated throughout the presentation. Federal CLOs face the dilemma of maintaining an environment of a highly skilled workforce with diminishing resources – the need for increased productivity with less human capital resources. The shift of encouraging employees to be empowered about their own career paths and not rely on their management to create opportunities is increasing daily. Below are a few key points made by the panelists: When asked if their respective training programs are ‘top-driven’ (i.e. have managerial buy-in) the panelists were in agreement that professional development is critical at all levels and starts from the ground up. All panelists noted their organizations have the buy-in, but with caveats. They stressed that employees must still empower themselves to take training, and that the conversation should migrate from training toward performance improvement. In addition, using resources internally to share and transfer knowledge is another way to promote a learning environment beyond just executing on training. When faced with the question, “In the current fiscal environment (with declining budgets) what is your number one strategic training priority?” we learned: Strategy: Develop an employee development strategy that embeds the idea of ownership, empowerment, and focus on your own career and development; Emphasize that career pathing is key to cultivating that ownership. Collaboration: Work collectively with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to get economies of scale in learning. Empower: Focus on enhancing leadership capability and capacity; Help people to learn how to lead, not how to manage. Focus: Emphasize technical training. Determine a Learning Management System (LMS) that allows you to do everything you need to do. Determine the kinds of training that learners expect to receive via “eLearning.” Make sure delivery of learning meets the needs of all the generations taking the classes. We wanted know where the future lies, in their opinion, so we asked, “What are you looking at in five years’ time?” Panelists noted: Extend the reach of learning & development efforts by 50 percent. Know when it is a people problem and when it is a technology problem. (Technology can help, but can’t solve all problems. It takes three to five years to change a culture.) Change the landscape of how learning and development is perceived. Train people with skills to do not only their job, but any job; Train them to lead and manage. Integrate technology; CLOs need to be ready to become learning technologists – technology impacts the design, development, and delivery of learning. Finally, as Management Concepts is an education provider, we asked: “What programs or courses would you like to see developed?”  And related…  “What training needs are not being met currently by your current educational providers?” We heard: Use a blended approach, such as coaching, as part of...

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Considerations for Building a Strong Coaching Culture

Posted by on Mar 12, 2015 in Coaching & Mentoring, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

So you’re thinking about bringing coaching into your organization, but not sure where to start. How do you know what kind of coaching is right? What are you willing to do to make it work? Three coaching modalities are most prominent within organizations, including: External coaches Internal coaches Managers/leaders using coaching skills According to a recent joint report by the International Coach Federation and the Human Capital Institute, Building a Coaching Culture, organizations with strong coaching cultures seek to develop a combination of all three of these modalities that uniquely suit the context of their organization. When combined in the right proportion to fit the culture, engagement and performance improve compared to non-coaching cultures. Why the distinctions matter. The more training you have in coaching skills, the easier it becomes to work with someone in a way that seeks their input (not just give your own directives) for bringing out the best in themselves. I can’t count the number of seasoned professionals I’ve known who, after going through an Accredited Coach Training Program, have said to me “All this time I thought what I was doing was coaching. Now I know what coaching really is, and that’s not what I’ve been doing!” Each modality below has a different level of coaching expertise typically associated with it. If you want to build a strong coaching culture, you’ll begin to invest in building both external and internal coaching capacities. Let’s begin to explore what each modality involves, as well as their benefits and challenges, in order to generate a conversation about how you could introduce coaching into your organization using the right mix. We’ll start with the most common modalities: External Coaching: External coaches are independent professionals who are typically hired on a contract basis to work on a specific coaching program. Ask about their coaching school or level of credentialing from the International Coach Federation; they should have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of experience. They provide an opportunity for employees to work with a well-trained, yet uninvolved third-party who supports the growth and development of the employee, in whatever direction the employee chooses to pursue. They’re not the one telling you what to work on. These coaches help you look at what is most important in any professional and personal domain, get excited about possibilities, come up with your own answers and take action. When organizations seek external coaches, individuals often question how well the external coaches understand their company culture. For the same reason, some coachees may be less trusting of external coaches, even though they are probably the most likely to maintain true client confidentiality. Internal Coaching: Internal coaches are employees of the organization, often called on to fulfill a range of HR roles and may or may not have a professional coach credential. Their position within the company provides important advantages and disadvantages. Being knowledgeable about company culture, they can provide a sense of empathy and understanding to their coachee, while also being able to spot organizational trends through working across departments and leadership levels. However, their position within the organization often raises doubts about their ability to maintain client confidentiality. They can be less expensive than external coaches though, and might be a viable way for organizations to provide coaching while building a stronger...

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Building Leadership Capability: A Roadmap for Improving Employee Engagement

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Building Leadership Capability: A Roadmap for Improving Employee Engagement

Just a couple short months ago, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the results of the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), measuring whether or not the characteristics of successful organizations can be found in agencies across the Federal government.  The FEVS results, and in particular the employee engagement index, are used increasingly by agencies to identify areas for improvement and compare their agency to other agencies and the private sector. Reinforcing the need to focus on engagement in the Federal government, in December 2014 OPM and the Executive Office of the President released a memo outlining a renewed focus on employee engagement and establishing policies for measuring, monitoring, managing, and holding agencies accountable for improving their engagement scores.  The memo recognizes the value in improving engagement, not for its own sake, but because they know that engagement is linked to important mission-related outcomes that include retention and productivity. This increased interest in understanding and improving employee engagement usually leads to the question, “What impacts engagement?” There has been a great deal of research conducted to answer that question. One set of findings in particular suggests that leadership may be one of the most significant factors affecting engagement. The good news is that leadership can be taught; leadership skills can be learned and practiced, and with a planned approach, any agency can build the leadership capability and capacity across its workforce. Here’s the five-step process we’ve developed and recommend for building leadership capability that enhances employee engagement: Define what leadership means for your agency. Given your agency’s current mission, future mission and goals, and history, you may need more emphasis on some specific leadership behaviors than others. Many Federal leadership competencies already exist and can serve as a good starting point for discussions on what your agency needs to focus on. Many clients we’ve worked with have incorporated the process of identifying mission-critical leadership competencies into a few of their regular planning sessions. Others have convened a cross-section of employees to narrow down the competencies in one long planning session. Regardless of the process, ending up with a set of 8-10 mission-critical leadership competencies is a good starting point. Measure the competencies. Top management generally has a good sense of where the agency as a whole is stronger and where it needs improvement. But they often don’t know how it breaks down from there. Conducting a leadership competency assessment is a way to get more detailed information on different parts of the agency. This information can be used to create a workforce development plan that is data-driven. In addition, a leadership competency assessment can be a valuable tool for supervisors to understand their team’s leadership skills and for employees to understand exactly where they can improve. Plan an integrated approach to improving leadership competencies, along with other factors (e.g., shared organizational values, the availability of resources to do the work) that are known to improve engagement. Developing shared values, communicating, going for quick wins. Monica Linhardt of the Partnership for Public Service gives an example of a State Department employee who made a suggestion for showers in the basement of the headquarters building for employees to use after jogging at lunchtime. This change reflects shared organizational values of work-life fit and also of listening to and acting on...

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Telework: The “Just Right” Solution to New Types of Workspaces

Posted by on Feb 13, 2015 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Telework: The “Just Right” Solution to New Types of Workspaces

When it comes to office space these days, a lot of people are feeling like Goldilocks. For some moving to an open concept environment, all that space to collaborate is just a little too open and too distracting, but others feel like the walls of their cubicles are receding inch by inch in traditional spaces that are too small and too isolating. You may not have much influence when it comes to your workplace design, but many have access to what can be a “just right” solution to balance your need to be productive and collaborative: Telework. Consolidate to Collaborate? Maybe… GSA is assisting high profile agencies like DHS and HHS to consolidate their real estate holdings across the U.S. to reduce costs and create operational efficiencies. Part of this effort includes taking different approaches to building out workspaces, not only to make more efficient use of limited space, but also to acknowledge that how we interact day-to-day with our colleagues must evolve. The pace of change and volume of decisions we experience daily requires us to be connected to our teams and maintain open channels of communication. New workspaces can facilitate that connectedness, but they also have implications we cannot ignore. As some Federal organizations prepare to box up their belongings and transition to new work environments in smaller, government-owned buildings, they are learning the move will include more options to telework. In some cases, it’s no longer a choice but now a necessity because of space constraints. To many this is very welcome news, but not all. While space may be less of an issue for those moving to state-of-the-art open plan offices, you may find the lack of personal space leaves you feeling more stressed, vulnerable, and less productive. The jury is still out on whether open concept plans deliver on their promise to improve performance, boost productivity, and foster innovation. Striking a Balance If you find yourself on the move to a new workspace and feeling reticent, telework can provide the crucial balance you need to adapt and continue to be successful in your role. Consider the following questions as you think about how telework could help you improve your personal work situation or help you more effectively lead your employees in a new environment: Are you an extrovert who is energized by constant social interaction in the office? Do you lead a team of introverts who are easily derailed by constant interruptions? Is your team centrally located or spread out across several locations? Do you or your team currently  interact or share information using technology such as virtual meetings, instant messaging, video chats, file sharing, etc.? Are you intrinsically motivated to get your work done or do you perform better when surrounded by your colleagues? How often does your work require intense concentration to write or create? What is your organization’s policy on telework? Telework can take many forms and, in order for you or your team to be successful, you have to consider personality, team or interpersonal, productivity, and performance factors. Chances are every member of your team has different work preferences and telework is only valuable when it is structured to allow you to do your best work…but doesn’t prevent your teammates from doing theirs as well. Tip Jar I have teleworked...

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How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be – It’s All in the Mind

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

In a previous post I presented a basic approach to goal setting that could be used to help leaders acquire new skills as they set goals to make the required behavior changes necessary to close the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be in their careers. The steps to closing the gap include several elements that should be considered when setting behavior-change goals. Goal setting for closing any skill gap is a process. The same process can be applied to any goal, whether professional, organizational, or personal. The basic steps are the same; however, the amount of time, rigor, and level of detail is dependent upon the gap to be closed and the reason for the gap. Writing down the goal and a set of action steps is easy. The challenge is getting down to the underlying motivation for the change and honestly thinking through the change elements. Throughout the change process not only do you need to know what you want to accomplish, but also clearly understand why you need to do it and all of the factors that influence how you do it. Dr. David C. McClelland, in his book Human Motivation addresses the importance of motives on goal setting. He discusses that throughout the behavior-change process everyone has thoughts, feelings, and expectations that they think about and influence the goal accomplishment success or failure. Let’s take a look at each of these elements along with a professional and organizational example. The Problem to be Solved – What is the gap you want to close? Professional – I can’t get promoted without a formal credential Organizational – Customer satisfaction surveys indicate that our project results are below acceptable standards The Goal – What do you need to do to solve the problem? Professional – Get a professional certification and qualify for a promotion within the next 12 months Organizational – Increase customer satisfaction results by 60% by the next internal metrics audit Once the problem and goal have been defined, then the “mind games” begin, during which time you think about all the factors to accomplish your goal. These thoughts are not just a one-time event to help you get to an action plan, they actually occur throughout the goal-setting process. Underlying Need – How important is the need and how deeply do you want to attain it? Professional – I want to advance my career, work on more challenging projects, and provide more financial stability for my family Organizational – It is important to our reputation and on-going success to deliver the highest quality deliverables and customer support to our stakeholders Positive Expectations – Successful leaders set realistic goals and are confident they can achieve them Professional – I have a broad range of knowledge and skills and a lot of experience so I know I can do this Organizational – With the support I’ve been promised from management and the talented team I have, I know we can reach the 60% Realistic Expectations – Because goals should also be challenging, successful leaders also know that everything will not go as planned. This makes them work harder and plan more to reduce the chances of failure. Professional – I know that with recent organization changes, promotion opportunities are limited Organizational –...

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Managing the Diverse Needs of Expecting and New Parents in the Workplace

Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Managing the Diverse Needs of Expecting and New Parents in the Workplace

A few weeks ago, the President issued a memorandum “Modernizing Federal Leave Policies for Childbirth, Adoption and Foster Care to Recruit and Retain Talent and Improve Productivity.”  These policy changes provide greater flexibility for and support of new parents – both mothers and fathers. Such policies alone, however, cannot create a family-friendly workplace. Leaders and supervisors must take action to imbed a family-friendly culture, especially for expecting and new parents. I was visibly pregnant with my first and then second child when I interviewed for my last two jobs. I remember feeling anxious and apprehensive going in; part of me was certain that I’d be seen not as a valuable potential asset, but as an absentee manager with a steady stream of family-related reasons to be out of the office for months to come.  What I experienced is what I believe all must do.  The leaders in both organizations each had built an inclusive environment that values and supports every member of the team, including new parents and parents-to-be, so that every team member was able to contribute fully to achieving the organization’s mission. It is well known the first few years with young children can be exceedingly challenging for parents and may lead to lower productivity levels if they don’t have the organizational support to help them balance the demands of the job and their expanding family.  So what can leaders do to leverage the value of their employees who are starting or adding to their families? Here are a few tips from my leadership toolbox (and personal experience with great bosses): Be Actively and Visibly Supportive. Show enthusiasm when your team member shares the good news. Ask that person what he or she will need from you and the organization to support his or her needs. One former colleague reported that when she informed her boss, the response was, “Are you sure this is what you want?  I thought you were interested in having a career.”  She left the organization shortly thereafter. Remember It’s Family/Medical Leave, not Vacation. Recognize that new parents are recovering physically from childbirth, perhaps even major surgery.  However, many parents-to-be feel pressured to take less than the allotted 12 weeks FMLA and return to work before they or the newborn are physically or mentally ready.  Be sure to encourage your employees to take the time they need.  Prepare for work to be covered by other staff while they are on leave so they feel no anxiety or expectation to return before they are ready and able. Recognize That Men Need Time, Too. Last year we saw paternity leave hit the headlines when the starting second baseman for the NY Mets missed two games to be with his wife and newborn son – only to be criticized by local sportscasters. Although FMLA covers paternity leave, all too often our organizational cultures expect new dads to return to work a few days after the child is born – if they miss any work time at all. Not only do new dads need time to bond with their babies, but they also need to be home because their partner needs several weeks (or even months) to physically recuperate from childbirth. Beyond compliance with FMLA, leaders should encourage time off and telework arrangements for fathers. And by...

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How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be

All leaders and managers are motivated to improve their skillset for many reasons; however, they are generally motivated by the opportunity to accomplish challenging goals and objects (Achievement), influence and control others (Power), and being able to work with others (Affiliation).  Successful leaders and managers are never satisfied with the status quo, especially when it comes to their own skills and abilities. As a result, they take personal responsibility and strive to continually improve their technical, leadership, and business skills.  Research has shown that those who critically assess their current skills and set goals to acquire new ones acquire them faster and implement the skills more efficiently and effectively. What is the secret to more effectively closing the skill gap? Identifying what skill needs to change, determining why the change is needed, and using a simple – but effective – thought-behavior model to help facilitate the skill acquisition. It is a continuous cycle of setting goals, modifying behavior to accomplish those goals, and measuring the results. Goals are about change, and more often about behavior change. Change is simply moving from one state (the “As-Is” condition) to a desired state (the “To-Be” condition.) To help with the change, there are several things you can do. Critically asses your current skills – This may be obvious or it may require a great deal of introspection. You can’t fix what you can’t see. Determine your desired skill – Clearly being able to identify this will make it easier to set a goal and take action Assess the gap – Determining the gap between where you are and where you want to be will help you understand how much difficulty, time, or work there might be in closing that gap.  Identify the reason for the change – What is your primary reason or motive for making the change? Is it for a promotion, personal or professional satisfaction, or job security? This is likely to take a great deal of reflection. Commitment to make the change – Does making the change really matter to you? It depends on the reason for the change and the consequences of changing or not changing. The more the need for change is internally driven, the more likely you are to follow through with your goal. Set a change goal – Be specific as to what you want to change. Determine how you will know if the goal is achieved. Set a goal that is attainable, but also challenging – any goal that is too hard or too easy you’re less likely to pursue. Set a timeline for accomplishment to help provide some degree of urgency. Set realistic plan of action – This plan should consider not only specific steps to accomplish the goal, but also the following: Barriers to closing the gap – These barriers may be internal (your own personal short comings) or external (something out of your control that could impact your success) Sources of help to overcome barriers – Actively identify and seek assistance and advice from available resources to help you succeed. Leaders and managers desire to be successful in whatever they do, and understand that they have gaps with respect to their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Setting logical goals to close those gaps may be challenging, may be externally driven and forced...

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Keep Up the Work with Federal Telework

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

This month’s GSA Inspector General Report on telework does hit GSA on a previously well-served program.  But, while GSA may not be able to report on exactly how many teleworkers it has, we should not discount what is still a viable and helpful program.  Keep in mind, the Telework Enhancement Act was only enacted in 2010, so this is still a new program.  We as a Federal workforce should view this as a learning experience, make necessary changes, and move forward.  Telework is still a beneficial program for agencies and their employees. Read more about telework and the role of HR with our previous blog post, “Not Just Phoning It In: HR’s Role in Supporting Agency Telework”...

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Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Each January, we all make resolutions with varying degrees of sincerity and dedication. As we get further and further from New Year celebrations, life has a way of creeping in. Achieving lifestyle changes is not solely about exercise or dieting; it should also be about improving your professional competence and positioning yourself and/or your staff for future success. This year, why not try a different resolution? Are you an individual trying to manage your career? Resolve to focus on your career. Ask for the stretch assignment. Explore mentorship opportunities. Challenge yourself to hone current skills or learn new ones. Go for that promotion. Ask for training and professional development. Be ambitious! Get out of whatever rut you may find yourself and commit to creating and fostering a personal path to career success and an environment of learning and advancement. Perhaps you are more seasoned, and at a more advanced place in your career development. Why not investigate a certificate program; successful completion can demonstrate your knowledge and dedication.  Another possibility is getting a leadership coach or mentor.  If you’re lucky, your organization may have a formal mentorship program, but you can do it informally too.  Ask for over-the-shoulder coaching, stretch assignments, or simply discussing your career aspirations with a trusted co-workers can also make a huge difference. Are you a supervisor?  Maybe your resolution is to bolster the skillset of your direct reports.  I’m sure someone took an interest in your development—pay it forward. As the President’s FY15 Budget noted, steps are in place to “restore cuts to Federal employee training to help train, retain, and recruit a skilled and effective Federal workforce, targeting investments in employee training to common, but high-impact areas such as customer service or information technology.” This statement announces a hopeful and positive change, a return to the time-proven practice of investing in people.  Feds are again able to focus on seeking the learning and development that keeps them – and their staffs – efficient, productive, up-to-date, and effective. Career development for your personnel will enhance productivity and morale.  Smart investments in quality learning solutions will help deter the loss of high-performing Federal employees to the private sector. Identify the stepping stones that will take you – and your staff – to the next level. Recognize and reward your dedicated employees and groom them for future success in positions of greater responsibility. Don’t wait for your staff to ask for training. Identify the development opportunities that will lead them to successful performance. As a professional development and performance improvement company, clearly we value formal training. It is important to remember, however, that remaining professionally competitive doesn’t necessarily entail only classroom training. Career development is a broad mix of mentorship, coaching, challenging work assignments, support, industry association, and professional certifications that together enhance the skillsets of Federal employees. Abraham Lincoln once said “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” Don’t leave your career or the development of your staff to chance.  Positive developments result from intentional steps toward a goal. I love to hear stories about a team finishing a challenging project or a student getting promoted.  We succeed when you succeed because we are dedicated to unleashing the potential of people, teams, and organizations.  Now, what is your resolution? Tom Dungan,...

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What to Consider When Starting a Federal Workforce Plan

Posted by on Jan 16, 2015 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

To the Federal Human Capital professional: Workforce planning is must-have skill in advancing your human resources career. Even if you aren’t driving creation of your agency-level workforce planning, understanding the process and how to effectively contribute to it is critical. Even at the division level, however, the workforce planning process can appear to be a huge undertaking. To make it both manageable and effective – as well as headache free – you need to plan out your individual process before you begin. The first step is to really understand the factors that affect your plan, ask the right questions, and gather the data you need. If you do this well, you can create a high-quality plan that will positively impact the future direction of your organization. Effective workforce planning is a complex process requiring both high-level strategic analysis and seemingly incredible attention to detail; here are some essential questions to ask when getting started: Accountability What individuals will be accountable throughout the process? Budget How much budget do you have to support the plan?  How is the workforce plan integrated with the budget formulation process? Commitment Do you have the commitment of HR staff, agency leaders, and the people who control resources critical to your plan’s success? Communications What is the overall communications plan for the workforce planning effort? How will you deliver communications to different stakeholders? Controls What tools will shape long-term strategic management of the workforce plan? What infrastructure and controls are needed to support agency transformation? Coordination How will you coordinate internal departments impacted by the plan, such as IT and finance? In large agencies, how will your plan be coordinated with sub-agency workforce plans? Infrastructure What systems and tools will be needed for implementation? What staff skills and training will you need to use them? Policies Will you need to create or update existing policies to support implementation of your plan? Process Improvement How does you workforce plan link to other efforts to improve business processes? Stakeholders Who will have an interest in the success of your workforce plan?  How will it impact individuals at every level of the organization? Timing It can take up to six months to complete all phases of a workforce plan. How will you integrate that process into the agency’s annual planning cycle? Share these insights with your team and download the guide Workforce Planning: Getting Started.  To be even better prepared, consider taking training in Federal Workforce...

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An Organization Knitted Together – by a Mustache

Posted by on Dec 17, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

Federal agencies are by their very nature complex organizations with a wide variety of highly specialized functions that often do not interact with each other as part of day to day work. This creates the perfect environment for unintended silos and a workforce that doesn’t feel connected with others working somewhere else in their agency.  My organization has found a way to remedy this type of situation by building stronger, broader networks through community awareness activities. Our #Movember team recently completed our month of unabated facial hair growing. For those who are not aware, Movember is a movement that encourages men to grow mustaches (or other facial hair) to help raise awareness of men’s health issues: this year’s focus is on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and depression. Men typically aren’t comfortable talking about these ailments, and so this is a way of encouraging them to get screened annually, or otherwise managing these and other men’s health issues. If you looked around, you may have seen more facial hair than at other times of the year during November. If you did, it may have been because others are participating in Movember. Word of mouth is how our Movember team was built.  Human Resources sent out an email announcing my co-worker Ethan’s interest, and asked if anyone was interested in participating. As Ethan walked around the office doing his regular work (providing IT support), he reinforced the message and did some light recruiting. “Hey, you look like you need a mustache!” he said, or, “A beard would go well with that caterpillar.” Ethan can be pretty engaging, and pretty soon, we had a team of nine men from across the organization, plus a few outsiders, participating in this year’s facial hair grow-a-thon. What is interesting is how the team came together. I have seen most of the guys in the hallways, recognized a few, know some by name, but didn’t really know them well because most of us work in different divisions. Now, as the Movember challenge winds down, we recognize each other in the hallways, comment on the progress being made or make friendly jests about progress not being made), and generally greet each other with a smile. Relationships are being formed – nascent ones, I’ll grant you, and based only on the willingness to try and grow facial hair and raise some money for a charity, but all relationships start somewhere. And that is the point.. Someone with a bird’s eye view of the entire organization served as the catalyst that drew us together, regardless of where in the organization we worked.  Who can predict how this experience may pay dividends to the organization in the future, when an opportunity calls for us to work together on a new initiative.  Because of Movember, I met colleagues whom I did not already know, and may never have met without this experience. Bottom Line:  Informal social projects can help create a sense of community, and that may help grow the organizational culture into one that is more collaborative, engaged, and fun....

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Want to Make Better Decisions? Ask Better Questions.

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 1 comment

We’ve all heard the adage, “There’s no such thing as a bad question”… but let’s be honest – we have all been subjected to a question at some point that prompted a mental response of “Are you kidding me?!” This reaction is usually accompanied by rolling of the eyes, shaking of the head, feelings of disgust, and so on. On the other hand, masterfully worded and perfectly timed questions have the ability to provoke deep thought, challenge previously held beliefs, reveal new unimagined solutions to problems, or even alter the mission of an entire organization. While the goal of most questions is typically not this lofty, it is worth taking into consideration the power that such a simple act can have. The behavior of asking questions is something we figure out at a very young age. It comes quite naturally. However, asking effective questions that allow you to make informed decisions requires a bit more thought. Before formulating a question, make sure you consider 1) Purpose and 2) Audience. Purpose – why you are asking the question and what you hope to achieve with the results. Always remember to focus on one topic at a time. Mixing purposes can be confusing to the audience and will lead them to provide inaccurate or inconsequential feedback. When you have a single, concrete purpose, the subject knows exactly what is being asked of them and can deliver the most precise information. To start, you should be able to answer the following questions about yourself: What do I need to know? Keyword being “need.” Avoid wasting others’ time by asking “nice to know” questions about things you will not act on. How am I going to use this information once I have it? The decision or action being made should drive the line of questioning. Be certain of what you want to accomplish before initiating your inquiry. What is the best way to obtain this information? Don’t always assume that the easiest way is the best way. An email or instant message may take less time and effort, but is often misinterpreted or even ignored. A phone call or face-to-face conversation demonstrates sincerity and can produce a more detailed, meaningful response. Once you can answer these three questions, you should have a clearly defined purpose. For example, I want to find out the level of effort for a previous project in order to create an estimate for a project plan involving a similar task. To accomplish this, I will go talk to my colleague and see if he will send me the level of effort figures from his recent project. Audience – the target individual or group from whom you hope to gain a response. Assessing your audience is a crucial prerequisite for any form of communication. You want to ensure the individual or group is comfortable providing information and is aware of how this information will be used. Consider the following audience perspectives: What motivates them to respond? You want to make it clear to the audience the reason you are asking for their feedback and what you plan to do with it. How might they respond differently based on the question phrasing? Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewee and brainstorm ways in which the question could be misinterpreted. Your...

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Sherpa 101: Mentoring Tips for Guiding the Next Organizational Generation

Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership | 0 comments

When many people think of Sherpas, they think of rugged tour guides. The value of a Sherpa, however, is not just their ability to lead you to the summit making sure you have the right gear and make the right turns on the trail. It is their ability to read the mountain, adjusting to cues you cannot see, as well as their relationships with others on the trail who can provide information and assistance that makes the journey with them so different than if you went with just another Bear Grylls. It is not Sherpas’ general skills as mountaineers that make them invaluable: it is their understanding of how to navigate both the people and the terrain on that specific mountain with all its nuances and unique features. Sherpas have a tacit knowledge of their environment – both physical and relational. Moreover, some scientists have even proposed that Sherpas have a physiological anomaly that enables them to live and work at high altitudes longer than other people. Simply put, they have adapted to their environment. If you look at who in an organization has the tacit knowledge and has been able to adapt their personal style, you’ll see the making of a good mentor. If that person is you, then your organization needs you to mentor others even if no formal program exists. When an organizational culture is highly complex – like Mount Everest, as most Federal agencies are, knowing how to get things done may not be obvious to those new to the agency. The mission may be clear, but when the formal roles and responsibilities don’t align with how things really work, or when systems and processes are unclear or inconsistent, mentoring can be the difference between a new employee reaching peak performance or being buried under an avalanche of confusion. The good news is that those relatively new to the organization will naturally gravitate toward colleagues who can – and are willing to explain how to get things done: mentees seek and find informal mentors naturally. They will find a Sherpa. You should be prepared to guide them when they come to you.  If you connect as a mentor with a less-experienced colleague, here are a few tips that can make the interaction feel successful for all parties: Invest in their success. Align your own success with the success of your mentee. The reward is helping them grow as a person, learn to navigate the culture, and become more productive in the process. Make mentoring a priority. You are there as a resource for your mentee, and that suggests you and your mentee both value the relationship and its impact equally. Meet them where they are. Make sure you meet the mentee where they are in terms of skill and motivation. If they are wary, bring them along more slowly. Likewise, if they are high energy, don’t drag your feet. You can’t help them mature in their role without their agreement, so you should work to be an enabling force, not an impediment to their development. Be the change you want to see. Model the behavior you are trying to help them adopt. Remember this is a development opportunity for you, too. If you can model how to take risks appropriately, you both will gain by...

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What do Senior Leaders in the Federal Government, Members of Congress and Carp Have in Common?

Posted by on Nov 18, 2014 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

In my role supporting Federal Government agencies trying to build leadership at all levels I often find myself discussing the differences between effective and ineffective leaders. Of course, there are many different opinions about the traits and qualities that separate the good from the bad when it comes to leaders in the Federal Government, and there is probably no single set of competencies and behaviors that completely discriminate between the two. Personally, I believe an often-overlooked element of effective leadership is external awareness. External awareness is “the ability to identify and integrate key external factors into daily work activities.” Often, when we talk about effective leadership the discussions focus on building internal relationships, inspiring others, and building the next generation of leaders. But, in looking at recent data on Congressional approval and data from OPM’s 2014 Federal Viewpoints Survey (FEVS), the importance of external awareness seems to be rising. One key element of external awareness is the leader’s ability and willingness to understand and keep up-to-date on trends that affect the organization and shape stakeholders’ views. According to the FEVS results, perceptions of senior leaders’ effectiveness, communication, and connection to the organization have steadily declined since 2011. For members of Congress, a recent Rasmussen Report found that 80% of voters feel most members listen more to political party leaders than their constituents, and a previous poll found that as many as 62% of voters believe their legislators have lost touch with voters. The data for both groups of leaders suggest that leaders aren’t aware of the external realities of their roles. This is where the carp comes in. Celebrated author, futurist and physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku tells a story about his childhood visits to a Japanese Tea Garden: When I was a child, I used to visit the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. I would spend hours fascinated by the carp, who lived in a very shallow pond just inches beneath the lily pads, just beneath my fingers, totally oblivious to the universe above them. I would ask myself a question only a child could ask: what would it be like to be a carp? What a strange world it would be! I imagined that the pond would be an entire universe, one that is two-dimensional in space. The carp would only be able to swim forwards and backwards, and left and right. But I imagined that the concept of “up”, beyond the lily pads, would be totally alien to them. (From Hyperspace and a Theory of Everything) For leaders, being like the carp, only aware of adjacent issues – focused on the obvious dimensions of right, left, forward and backward, while failing to account for what may be just above the surface of the water, can be a powerful, but harmful temptation. With the barrage of pressures leaders face each day it can be easy (and rewarding) to tackle the immediate challenges. But, the best leaders know how to distribute their attention between near term, internal challenges, and the larger external realities that ultimately affect their organization. Given the many demands on Federal leaders, how can they improve their external awareness without neglecting other responsibilities? Identify Your Stakeholders AGAIN: Formal stakeholder identification processes can be rather long and complex. The problem with that is that stakeholder groups...

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Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield: What We All Can Learn from Veterans

Posted by on Nov 14, 2014 in Leadership | 1 comment

As I searched my on demand library for a movie to watch last weekend, I knew Veteran’s Day was just around the corner. I had dozens of war-related movies at my disposal and had to make a choice: classic or modern war story? That’s not an easy question for me. I am not a veteran but both of my parents served proudly for more than 20 years, and military service runs generations beyond them in my family. Getting lost in a war movie or listening to their stories is the closest understanding I will ever have to knowing what it means to wear a uniform in the service of our country. And, that isn’t very close as any veteran will tell you. Thankfully, my work at Management Concepts has given me the opportunity to work alongside and help clients who are former military leaders, most of whom are now using their skills as civilians in agencies across the Federal government. As we celebrate the 11th day of the 11th month this year, I want to highlight four key leadership strengths that former-now-civilian Federal leaders bring to the table to serve their county in a new way. “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower Personal integrity and trust. Nothing cripples organizations faster than rampant distrust of leadership and a lack of personal accountability. Civilian business is not war (all jokes aside), but successful military turned civilian Federal leaders know that in order to carry out a mission and achieve goals, moral principles and standards of professionalism matter. Period. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. That is sage leadership advice from one of our Founding Fathers, and is a cornerstone of military training because there is no substitute for good planning. Theater conditions change, often quickly, and military leaders are taught to dream up the impossible and plan for it. The pace of change in civilian organizations shows no signs of slowing, and embedding the discipline to plan for a variety of situations starts with leaders modeling that behavior. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a meeting or writing a 5-year strategic plan, preparation is important.   “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – George S. Patton Don’t dictate. Collaborate. To you historians out there, it might seem odd that I picked a Patton quote to demonstrate how military leaders truly embrace teamwork over providing strict directives. General Patton was tough and had swagger, but like many other successful military leaders (past and present) he had great respect for those he led and confidence they could rise together to meet any occasion on the battlefield. When military leaders join civilian organizations, the best ones set clear goals for their employees and support their efforts to find novel solutions rather than taking a command-and-control approach. “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – Colin Powell Problem solving. Even when you act with integrity,...

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2014 NAPA Fall Meeting Focuses on the Future of Public Administration

Posted by on Nov 13, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Management Concepts will be participating in the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) 2014 Fall Meeting taking place November 13, 2014 in Crystal City, Va. Management Concepts is an Academy patron-level sponsor and the event’s focus is on “Public Administration 2025 – How will Government Adapt?” The event’s theme aligns with our view that the government in the next ten years will look drastically different than how it looks today. With technology, priorities, and the workforce changing considerably, the government must remain agile enough to seamlessly adapt to provide citizens with a high level of service and transparency. The Academy’s esteemed speaker faculty will bring an informative and innovative look to where government is going and how it will adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Management Concepts president, Stephen L. Maier, will join the Academy leadership in providing opening remarks to kick off the day’s events. Speakers will include: The Honorable Katherine Archuleta, Director, Office of Personnel Management Reginald F. Wells, Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources and Chief Human Capital Officer, Office of Human Resources, Social Security Administration The Honorable Beth Cobert, Deputy Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget The Honorable Dan Tangherlini, Administrator, General Services Administration The Honorable Robert F. Hale, Former Under Secretary (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense We all know that organizations are better positioned to meet their missions when they have the support and dedication of an engaged, motivated, creative, innovative, and collaborative workforce that finds ways to exceed the demands of their job and organization. Transforming an organization to achieve this success requires proactive assessment and planning, consistent and holistic opportunities for workforce growth, and sustained support of people and programs. Change will be transformative, introducing new risks, but more importantly new opportunities and a chance for a restored public confidence in...

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Does Anyone Look at Those End-of-Course Evaluations Anyway?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

When you complete an evaluation, do you ever wonder if anyone actually looks at your responses? Do companies take your feedback seriously and make changes based on what you have to say? If they are asking for your feedback, they should review it and take action when warranted. Anyone who has taken one of Management Concepts training courses knows there will be an end-of-course evaluation to complete. Why? It’s good practice to collect students’ feedback on courses they’ve just taken. We collect feedback about the learning experience including the quality and usefulness of the course materials, the instructor’s facilitation skills, and the extent to which the facilities were an appropriate learning environment. In addition to getting feedback on various aspects of their experience, the end-of-course evaluation serves another purpose. We can collect information such as: How confident students are that they can apply what they learned back on the job The degree to which the training will improve their job performance The degree to which the training was a worthwhile investment in their career development In case you’ve wondered if anyone at Management Concepts actually looks at your completed evaluations, the answer is yes. Actually, lots of people at Management Concepts read the evaluations and it drives much of the work we do to create professional development programs. Of course we love hearing about positive student experiences, but we also need to hear about the negative ones. How else can we improve? We use both the quantitative and qualitative feedback you provide to make informed decisions about possible improvements. Here is a sampling of how different stakeholder groups within our organization use your feedback to improve your learning experience: Instructional Designers who create the courses and are always looking for ways to improve the experience Instructors/Facilitators who look for ways to improve their delivery and teaching approach Resourcing Staff who schedule the instructors/facilitators and want to ensure the best delivery of each course Logistics Staff who coordinate the course delivery and  want to ensure the course materials are complete and where they need to be when they are needed Learning Technologists who produce online courses and materials and are looking for ways to improve the online learning experience Facilities Staff who want to ensure a clean and inviting environment Customer Service Staff who help students with registering for courses and want to ensure a positive experience Administrators who review the data to ensure we are in compliance with Continuing Education requirements Executives who oversee all these areas and use the information in short- and long-term planning and want to ensure we meet needs and exceed expectations All of these groups work together to ensure your learning experience is valuable and enjoyable. Your responses help us know when to update courses, what new courses are needed, which instructors are most effective, which technologies add the most value, and what types of learning environments are most effective. So, next time you are asked to complete an end-of-course evaluation, make sure you do. We want to hear from...

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Ethics and Engagement: Validate Ethical Values to Drive Productivity

Posted by on Nov 7, 2014 in Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Ethical Dilemmas in Daily Work Imagine an employee who has just completed a project. He tells his manager that although it meets the requirements, it could be top-notch if he had just one more day to work on it. The manager says no, brushes off the idea, says “Thanks for your work,” and issues the next assignment. A situation such as this presents an ethical dilemma for the manager. Quality is important, particularly for the client who receives the product. But deadlines are important, too; so which takes greater priority? For an employee who prides himself on quality, compromising quality for deadlines can quickly lead to a lack of engagement. Imagine that this person’s manager gives the same response the next time he asks for additional time to improve the team’s outcome. And what if the next time, and the time after that, the employee gets the same response? An Ethical Crossroad If you are the employee, you may feel dismissed or even undervalued. If you are the manager who faces choosing between maintaining the quality standards and meeting the deadline as promised, you likely find yourself at a crossroad. If every time you’re at this crossroad you can’t make a decision based on what you know your team members value most (in this case, quality), it is important to remember that you have options beyond saying “You can’t have more time, but thanks for your work.” Let’s assume that in this case, performance is not an issue — that is, the work was technically acceptable, done well, and any obstacles or challenges were handled effectively. If your team prides itself on quality but circumstances beyond your control limit your ability to secure an extended deadline, plan a response that articulates your position and validates their ethical stance: use this as an opportunity to discuss the ethical issue, even though your decision can’t change. How to Leverage Ethical Values for Engagement and Productivity Acknowledge quality is a core value: In this example where you simply cannot allow an extended deadline, find a way to acknowledge that quality is a core value of the team. If not every project allows the utmost attention to quality, find projects that allow team members to exercise their commitment to quality. For example, invite the employee to participate in the QA process for other work products. For an employee who is deeply committed to teamwork but often ends up flying solo on assignments, find at least one project that requires office or departmental coordination and appoint that employee the driver of the project. Look for opportunities that require integrating cross-divisional information, such as business process redesign for a process takes inputs from multiple business units. Respect Individuals’ Values: Validate your employees’ customer focus and see this as an opportunity to support operational efficiency. Providing an opportunity for team members to work on assignments that speak to their personal values gives you a greater chance that your team members feel connected to and motivated by responsibilities they are assigned. Leverage individuals’ motivators: Use this as an opportunity to channel valuable energy toward team goals, department objectives or mandates, or even cross-agency priority goals. Consider other responsibilities that may not be as closely related to core duties but may be highly engaging for particular team members...

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Effective Mentoring as Part of Phased Retirement: HR’s Role

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Coaching & Mentoring, Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Implementing OPM’s Phased Retirement program creates a powerful opportunity for HR to drive value and productivity through an agency mentoring program. Moreover, according to OPM, “the main purpose of Phased Retirement is to enhance the mentoring and training of the employees who will be filling the positions or taking on the duties of more experienced retiring employees.” Federal HR professionals can rise to the challenge through a structured process for implementing the mentoring program. Although OPM has yet to write implementation guidance for the mentoring component of the Phased Retirement program beyond that it must be 20% of the retirees’ time, agency HR leaders can step up to help their agencies realize the value that Congress intended of the program. HR leaders should: Make Phased Retirement Mentoring a Part of the Overall Human Capital Strategy In general, mentoring program design starts with defining the objectives of the program. In the case of Phased Retirements, however, decisions must first be made about how the agency implements Phased Retirement mentoring into the existing human capital strategy and aligns to any already developed mentoring programs. HR professionals should consider: How Phased Retirement will be integrated in existing plans such as succession plans; Whether there are efficiencies to be gained by aligning with other programs; and Whether the program be used to “pass the baton” to one person or prepare multiple people for new roles. Phased Retirement mentoring should not stand alone, but rather should be part of your overall strategy. Define the Objectives through the Lens of Phased Retirement I believe the key question is “What will the agency lose when the retirees leave”? Answer that and your primary objectives become clear. Traditional mentoring programs, such as the program at EPA, often focus on a broad range of topics such as building and retaining a well-rounded cadre of employees as well as improving communication and collaboration across organization lines. These programs are not designed to address the loss of employees. With a Phased Retirement program, the mentoring program may need to focus more on knowledge transfer more than the “softer” skills required to the job. A program focused on knowledge transfer will look very different from a traditional mentoring program such as those designed to enculturate new employees. Design the Program Using Multiple Mentoring Methods What is the universe of mentoring solutions available to meet the objectives? One-on-one mentoring is only one possible component of the mentoring program. Phased retirees, who work half-time, will spend 20% of their time – about a half day a week – on mentoring. This is a lot more time than participants in most mentoring programs allot for program activities. As such, HR has an opportunity to rethink mentoring based on the objectives. Some mentors may have multiple mentees. Group mentoring may also be beneficial. Consider using panel discussions, online discussion boards, and other methods to broaden the reach of the program beyond a one-on-one relationship. You may also want to consider having mentors work with mentees in entirely different departments or roles to help break down organizational silos or develop lateral career move opportunities for mentees. Design the Management for Success After you have a program design, you need to determine the level of effort required to support the program. How many hours of HR’s time...

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Help Your Federal Team Hit More Home Runs

Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 in Analytics, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), performance information’s effect on Federal managers’ decision-making has remained largely unchanged in six years. Despite the increase in the amount, variety, and availability of performance data and analytics tools to drive decisions, performance data’s promise in the Federal Government has not yet been realized. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but I would argue that the shift to data-driven decisions in the Federal Government requires disruption of the mental models most commonly used in making decisions. Despite the Nats’ absence from the World Series this year, Major League Baseball serves as a great example of how disrupting a mental model may enable a leader to improve decision-making and organizational performance. One recent revolution in the baseball world is the now-accepted practice of applying empiricism and analytics to performance data, to drive strategy and tactics. Analytics helps baseball executives find hidden value in player effectiveness and situational game tactics that lead to the ultimate criteria of success: wins on the field. The rise of this new field — Sabermetrics — pioneered by Bill James, has been well-documented in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book-turned-movie, Moneyball. Embracing this approach — gathering data and performing analysis to determine what skills and behaviors contribute to wins on the field — is one of the things that help teams from smaller markets bring greater competitive parity to the game. For over a century, baseball talent evaluators relied on conventional wisdom to assess players using generally accepted criteria regarding the “5-Tools” of baseball: running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding. During a player’s early career, scouts would assess all players on these traditional success criteria. Usually these assessments were made simply by watching the players perform. Little effort was made to systematically gather data in a way that permits players to be compared. Despite these haphazard attempts to measure raw skills, some players who excelled on the 5-Tools metrics were not able to perform under game conditions to produce wins. This indicates that while raw tools were important, they were inadequate as sole predictors of success. In addition, baseball’s conventional wisdom — informally referred to as “the Book” — around game tactics: when to bunt, steal a base, position the defense for certain hitters, and even make player substitutions has relied on time worn, but not necessarily rigorously tested presumptions about what actually produced wins. By asking the same questions for over a century, baseball scouts and executives relied on consistent criteria, analyzed in the same way, to make player assessments. Over the last 15 years, more focused measurement, the rise of behavioral economics, and the improved willingness and ability to perform statistical analysis are testing these assumptions and causing new wisdom to be applied to baseball. This approach is yielding greater insights into what skills, behaviors, and tactics lead to team wins. While 15 years ago very few teams would have been aware of or invested in this approach to discovering and benefitting from objective truths about baseball, now every team has staff dedicated to measurement and video and statistical analysis to identify and leverage a winning edge. By scouts and executives shifting their viewpoint, asking different questions, measuring performance differently, and then performing analysis on the data they measured, they...

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Hedgehogs, Foxes, and the Future of Federal Workforce Planning

Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Workforce Management | 0 comments

As reported by the GAO in July 2014, the Federal Government has a pronounced need to create more agile talent management capabilities to address inflexibilities in current systems. How can the Federal Government accomplish this? It’s not about the systems themselves, but rather about the approach to Federal workforce planning. Most agencies plan like a hedgehog, but they need to plan like a fox.  Not following the animal references? Greek poet Archilochus of Paros wrote: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.” He was describing: The fox – who knows many things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to adapt to changing events; and The hedgehog – who knows one big thing, locks in on one tradition and imposes rote solutions to even ill-defined problems. This concept – of depth versus breadth, of strength versus flexibility, of innovation versus efficiency – describes the trade-offs we make in a variety of settings from predicting election results (as described by statistician Nate Silver) to making business decisions (as described by Wharton professor Philip Tetlock). It also applies to two competing approaches to workforce planning: Building a staff primarily with individuals with deep expertise about your organization’s core offerings like the hedgehog; or Filling out your workforce with people who have moderate amounts of expertise in a wide variety of areas like the fox. So, who is better at workforce planning, the fox or the hedgehog? Like so many other choices, it depends on the environment. In an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA), plan like a fox. In a recent HBR blog, John Boudreau asserts that in VUCA conditions, the best approach to workforce planning is to envision the many possible futures the organization must plan for and build a strategic workforce plan that provides the most flexibility to meet the broadest set of potential future scenarios. Boudreau suggests that the best workforce plan is likely to diversify your talent, building several different talent arrays that are each well-suited to a different future scenario, building a skillful mix of talent that provides flexibility, adaptability, and resilience to respond to a changing environment. But what if you have high certainty about the future environment? The hedgehog reigns when your agency has a singular, defined view of the workforce needed to execute their agency strategic plan. For example, in the event of a global pandemic, the CDC may develop a workforce plan neglecting other priorities and focusing on a workforce to address the pandemic. If a global pandemic occurs, that approach to planning would be logical given the scarcity of resources. Such scenarios may seem extreme – and they are because the only thing most Federal agencies can safely predict is uncertainty. Nonetheless, many Federal organizations take “hedgehog” approach through default rather than intent: building their workforce based solely on achieving the strategic plan under current conditions with no allowance for changes to the environment in which the strategic plan is to be executed. This has resulted in inflexible talent management practices and systems that cannot easily adapt to ever changing needs, as highlighted in GAO’s finding that the Federal Government’s“talent management tools lack two key ingredients for developing an agile workforce.” With continued volatility in the Federal labor market, rethinking the...

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Teamwork More Beautiful Than a Waikiki Sunrise

Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 in Leadership | 1 comment

Teamwork More Beautiful Than a Waikiki Sunrise

My heart leapt with joy as the sun rose over the beautiful beach in Waikiki, Hawaii. But it didn’t leap because of the sunrise. It leapt because right at that moment I got a callback from my colleague Anna Mauldin. It takes a lot to trump a sunrise in Waikiki – songs have been written based on lesser things. So why write about a business callback? What kind of priorities are we talking about here? Think about a time when you really needed help. Something important was on the line for you, and you really, really needed support. That was my situation in Hawaii. An important presentation was coming up, and I needed help with it. The clock was ticking fast, I was six time zones away from my colleagues, and I was on my way to another client site. I was busy, jet-lagged, geographically distant, and feeling the pressure. After I briefed another, wonderful colleague, Briana Colescott about my need, she got the ball rolling and immediately called Anna. Minutes after I hung up from my cry for help, I saw Anna’s name on my phone as the call came in. I felt like the cavalry had arrived. The feeling of relief was better than the sunrise. Great teams are comprised of people who not only get their work done, but know how to connect with and support each other. There is a genuine sense of “we,” not just “me.” Team members sense when and where the need is, and seamlessly slot into position to help accomplish important goals. This very organic, fluid functioning is a beautiful thing to witness or participate in. It usually creates a sense of synergy – a somewhat overused word that may even trigger eye-rolling. But, it’s true, and it’s absolutely related to high performance. Instead of people saying “That’s not in my job description,” they ask “How can I help?” or they just do it. Ask yourself, “How do I reach out to help others? What do I do?” The Law of Reciprocity is a law of life. Remember that when you help others, it creates a bond, in which they will show up to help you, too. Which is why if Anna called, I would drop everything now to...

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Forget the Knowledge Management System: Mentoring as Knowledge Transfer

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 1 comment

Forget the Knowledge Management System: Mentoring as Knowledge Transfer

Ah, the perpetual threat of the Federal retirement wave. First, experts predicted it would come down on us like a “tsunami” in 2012.  Then it didn’t for reasons described by other experts (including myself). Now it’s expected to “skyrocket” in 2017. The good news is that the Federal Government has time to prepare for the brain-drain of boomer retirements. Sounds like a great reason for a large technology project resulting in a shiny new knowledge management system, right? The simple answer is NO. Workers would rather get information from colleagues and often ignore databases, portals, and electronic repositories. So, does that mean we can rest easy and assume a haphazard process simply of individuals conversing with colleagues in the lunch room will preempt the problem? That’s also a negative. To prevent “brain drain” before it occurs, agencies should create mentoring programs specifically for knowledge transfer from potential retirees to individuals likely to do their roles or tasks in the future. These programs, however, must be distinct from traditional mentoring programs. Mentoring for knowledge transfer is essentially different from traditional mentoring in that there is a more emphasis on practical application with less emphasis on enculturation and building networks and the interpersonal relationship between mentor and mentee is far less critical. As agencies build differentiated mentoring programs, it’s important to understand how knowledge transfer programs are the same as and different from traditional mentoring programs. Let’s start with how they are the same. Both traditional and knowledge transfer mentoring programs require: Clear Objectives and Measurement: The more formal the program is, the more likely it is to meet program objectives. Both traditional and knowledge-transfer mentoring programs should have formal objectives at both the program and individual relationship and be measured as closely to real-time as possible. Moreover, both types of mentoring programs should have structured mentoring plans for each mentor/mentee relationship. Finally, both programs should be monitored to ensure the mentors and mentees are meeting program objectives. Visual Commitment of Leaders: Mentoring takes time out of the participants’ day. This time is only as important as the individual believes it is. The best way to ensure individuals believe mentoring is important is for leadership to demonstrate its importance. This means that leadership should be involved in sending communications about the program, reporting to the organization on the program’s success, and participating in the program itself. Training on How to be a Mentor and Mentee: According to a study by Clutterbuck Associates, “Without any training at all, less than one in three pairings will deliver significant results for either party. Training mentors alone raises the success rate to around 65%. Training and educating line managers about the program pushed the success rate above 90%, with both parties reporting substantial gains.” Regardless of whether your program is traditional or knowledge transfer, training both the mentor and the mentee is critical to getting a positive return on the agency’s investment. And here’s how knowledge transfer programs differ from traditional mentoring programs: Focus on the Job, Not the Individual: Knowledge transfer mentoring should focus on practical application of job skills – both technical skills and the relationships you need to get the job done. Whereas as traditional mentoring can focus on developing the mentee as a whole person and across competencies, knowledge transfer is...

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A New Role for Mentoring: Work-Life Integration Coaching

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership | 0 comments

Be honest. When you hear the term work-life balance, what is your instant reaction? Personally, it makes me laugh (sarcastically) because it seems absolutely unachievable. Despite my daily effort year after year to balance the scale, as the life side of my equation grows more complex and the work side of my equation consistently intensifies, one side inevitably wins at the expense of the other. For most, the daily wins and losses for work and life likely average out over time, but the constant battle to achieve a zero sum game leaves us exhausted and overwhelmed. Stop keeping score. Integrate instead. As someone who straddles the line between two generations, GenX and Millennial, I feel the GenX tug to dig deeper and work harder in order to strike that perfect balance, but I also completely understand the tactics Millennial are using to scrap the division between work and life and seek greater integration between the two. What does integration mean in the work-life sense? Rather than compartmentalizing work and life and tracking the number of hours we dedicate to each, Millennials focus on: Getting the job done, not being slaves to the clock: The term 9 to 5 is foreign to Millennials. They prefer to have clear expectations about project goals and objectives, and individually manage their time to get the job done. Work can be accomplished outside of the office and during non-traditional workday hours. Multitasking: Yes, there are times when devices need to be set aside, but Millennials are adept at seamlessly bouncing in and out of work and social networking time throughout the day. We all have individual routines for staying productive; maybe drawing such firm lines between work and social isn’t so productive after all. Cultivating relationships: Millennials know that work is a lot more enjoyable and productive when they have friendly relationships with co-workers. It breeds accountability, engagement, and they are more likely to stick around to devote their talents to achieving organizational goals. Seeking their passion: The saying goes that you never work a day in your life when you do what you love. Some learn this early in life, but most of us have gone down a professional path that may not directly feed our passions. We have to find things within our jobs that spark our individual passions. Millennials are innately better at focusing their energy and attention on the things that feed their passion, and the other generations need to feel less guilty and more empowered to seek ways to feed their passion. Perhaps the so-called “Me” generation (who are, in reality, the opposite of lazy and self-absorbed) is closer to having this problem figured out, or is at least onto something worth trying. And, thanks to leadership experts like Stewart Friedman and his research on Total Leadership and Leading the Life you Want, other generations can learn ways to integrate work and life that fit their personal values. Mentors as work-life integration coaches As I’ve been thinking of ways to integrate my work and life demands, I quickly realized that I need help. What if I could find a work-life integration “coach” to help me identify the intersections between my work and non-work lives, and uncover ways to ignite and feed my personal passions? Let’s face it, if you’ve...

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The Value of Project Management Skills and Roles in Federal IT Projects

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Despite the technical improvements made in many Federal IT programs, the Federal IT workforce often still lacks the foundational project management skills necessary for project and program success. Time and again, we see large-scale projects fail. However, with the right project management training, skills, and tools, IT projects can yield effective results. Leadership, communication, understanding of contracts, and the balance of schedule and cost are necessary for project participants to move beyond their assigned tasks and work to solve project-level challenges and achieve overall project success. Skills That Are Fundamental to Success First and foremost, to increase the odds of success, Federal IT staff need a set of foundational project management skills that extend beyond each individual’s own technical proficiencies, including: Project Management: The ability to manage complex projects, lead project teams, develop strategic plans and identify, validate, and manage the business and system requirements of a project. Leadership: Being able to effectively motivate oneself and others to achieve optimal results to move the organization beyond the status quo and achieve goals. Communications: Thinking independently in strategic, systemic, conceptual, creative, and critical ways to offer innovative solutions and make more effective decisions. Financial Management: Understanding how to work more effectively across functional areas and improve accountability, transparency, and performance. Acquisition and Contracting: Learning relevant and practical content on government-wide acquisition and contracting regulations and best practices to improve project performance. These skills are not intrinsic to the technical competencies that Federal IT employees possess. Thus, additional training is often needed. A Case for Project Management Training A willingness to understand and work toward the strategic (not just operational) mission is important to achieving a project’s initiatives. This can be nurtured through comprehensive and effective training. In 2011, the Federal Government CIO Council surveyed the Federal IT workforce with over 12,000 employee respondents. A summary of that survey shows that current top skills of Federal IT employees don’t always align with the individual and organizational training topics needed to succeed. According to the survey, current skills included desktop applications, systems support and helpdesk, network operating systems, and information management. In contrast, network security, contracting/procurement, administrations management, and leadership were among the training needs that were lacking. The data showed that insufficient training in communications, analysis, and procurement (all part of a foundational IT project management curriculum) is detrimental to an IT project. It is the collective skillset of the project team that can ultimately determine the project’s success. Bringing It All Together: The Role of the Executive SponsorAnother significant key to success is the involvement of an executive sponsor, yet they are not always present on every government program. As Jordan Sims argued in a recent Federal Times article, programs fare better when there is an active and engaged executive sponsor who supports project and program managers in aligning objectives to the organization’s overall strategy. According to PMI, there are five critical actions of an executive sponsor: Remove roadblocks. Help the team understand the alignment of the project or program to the organization’s strategy. Champion the project or program. Add resources when appropriate. Act quickly to resolve issues. These actions ultimately result in the creation of an environment where project and program managers are empowered to manage and lead effectively and dynamically. One example of the power of an executive...

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Giving Up on People: When Negative Leadership Attitudes Cause Poor Performance

Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

At a recent leadership consulting engagement with a Federal client, I spoke with a leader who said “I’m done.” He talked at length about the incapability of much of the workforce, its lack of commitment and energy, and the fatalistic outlook he held for many on the team. As I heard this dismissal of so many in the organization, it somehow came to my mind that very few people go into marriage counseling thinking they are the problem. The fact is, in many agencies, there are leaders who have “given up” on the people. In their experience, you can’t really count on them for much, they need to be coddled, and for sure, they don’t understand what leadership is up against – what it is trying to get done, and what pressures it faces. World-weary, fatalistic and pessimistic, these leaders have figured out “how things are around here” and they have pulled back. Guess who feels this the most? And guess what results? There is a famous study in education in which two teachers working with a group of students were told different things about those students. One was told the kids were high-potential, bright and capable. The other was told not to expect much out of them. Yes, you guessed right. The students’ performance under the first teacher was great. There was distinct drop in performance under the second teacher. Same kids. Different teacher beliefs, and it’s just possible that those beliefs leaked out into behavior that set the stage for performance or failure. I am not going to argue here that the only variable in performance is the view of leadership. There are people in the wrong jobs, people who wouldn’t want to be there even if Gandhi were the boss, and people who game the system. These are all legitimate subjects for inquiry. But there’s something else along the way to inquire into, and that is whether the leader has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sports coaches – in the domain where performance and winning and losing matter most – know that the real game is between the athlete’s ears. The way they think is often the single largest controlling variable in performance. Accordingly, coaches help them get into a frame of mind to win. This means things like: Honestly appraising what just happened; learning from failure and leveraging strengths Believing in self Having a sense of optimism Trying and caring What’s the flip side? What happens when leaders send (usually non-verbal) messages that the people won’t amount to much? A profound loss of confidence Disappointment Fatalism Resentment toward leadership The fact is, regardless of the intent, if these are the products of the view of leadership, no one can argue they are good in any way. The hard question for leaders is whether their perspectives are actually at the root of some of the performance problems they wring their hands about. We all know the definition of insanity. And they’ll never know until they try something new, like sharing the challenge and asking people to step up, showing confidence wherever it can be found, and giving positive...

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It’s Time for Your Fiscal New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions dates back more than 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who made promises to earn favor of the gods and start the new year off right. Today, most New Year’s resolutions represent a chance for individuals to set goals, establish their focus for the coming year, and chart a course to self-improvement and success for the next 365 days. With the end of the Federal Government’s Fiscal Year upon us, I thought it might be a great time to think about another set of New Year’s resolutions — resolutions focused on improving the performance of your Federal Agency in Fiscal Year 2015. Here are a few hints to help you focus your thinking around performance when crafting resolutions for the New Fiscal Year: Use available data to identify areas in need of improvement Most Federal agencies have a great deal of data that could inform decisions on investments for professional development. Whether it’s the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) or enrollment data from the agency’s learning management system, take a look at trends in satisfaction, engagement, or participation as indicators of areas in need of improvement. Align with your agency’s strategic plan Thanks to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), all agencies have a set of identified strategic objectives and initiatives. Those things represent the priorities for the agency and provide a roadmap for any performance improvement investment. Review your agency goals and objectives for FY 2015 on your agency website or at performance.gov and think critically about how your resolution aligns with your agencies’ strategic plan and priorities. Examine the composition of the workforce Much has been written about the number of Federal employees who are, or will soon become retirement eligible. With a renewed focus on implementing phased retirement, now is a good time to take a look at the potential critical competency gaps your agency may face if individuals begin to retire. Use what you know about mission critical job functions to build a progressive succession planning and workforce development strategy that you can begin implementing in the coming FY. Review data on existing programs OPM requires organizations to collect participant evaluation data on training courses and programs. Review the feedback you are getting from agency personnel on the quality of the training they receive and how relevant the training is to their job requirements. Look for common themes and suggested areas of improvement that can be addressed by refreshing and expanding the development opportunities your agency offers. The close of the fiscal year is a busy time with the last minute push to obligate expiring funds, planning for the new fiscal year, and continuing to provide high quality services to constituents. But, don’t forget to make time to do something new and different in the next year.  So, what will you resolve to do in the new Fiscal Year to improve employee and organization...

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Motivation: Using the Right “Carrots” to Reaffirm Valuable Contributions

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

A Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) study released in 2013 revealed that a mere 21% of Federal employees feel their job has the potential to be highly motivating. In other words, 79% of employees feel little-to-no reason to be motivated based on their jobs. To be clear — this is not about whether employees want to do their jobs, it’s whether employees think their jobs present particularly motivating factors: “Does my job come with good ‘carrots’?” Motivation is critical for engagement, but with limited budgets and a shrinking workforce, how can your agency drive motivation and increase productivity? What are the “carrots” that you can use to incentivize employees to give their best and know that it counts? This is an area where any management team can benefit from strong human resource analytics. Recent data tell us that money is not the only thing that employees care about. In fact, when it comes to our jobs, a number of non-monetary rewards can be powerful motivators. The same MSPB study revealed that Federal employees care more about nonmonetary rewards than monetary rewards. Factors such as being included in important agency decisions and being able to serve the public outranked bonuses and opportunity for advancement. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely (current professor at Duke University and cofounder of BEworks) has volumes of research that explain this. His research has demonstrated the fact that meaning is a powerful motivator and drives productivity in the workplace. (See this TED talk for a few examples.) Although Federal leaders may worry that the inability to give large monetary bonuses in Government diminishes Federal employees’ motivation, Ariely’s research also posits that we can rely on large monetary bonuses to drive activity — but not necessarily productivity. That is, bonuses let people know their employer expects more, but it doesn’t necessarily make them work smarter, contribute better ideas, or innovate agency processes. To drive performance with limited workforce and shrinking budgets, choose carefully the “carrots” you’ll put on the end of the employment stick. Creative non-monetary rewards can go a long way, so what are some ways you can ensure your rewards programs are optimally effective? Here are some tips to en sure your “carrots” can boost the motivation potential of working in your agency and drive performance: Link rewards to effort. Employees work best when they believe their effort is strongly correlated with the potential for a reward, something fewer than 30% of government employees currently believe. For example, an employee needs to know that additional effort that yields a strong product that aligns beautifully with agency goals will be acknowledged and received in a more positive light than a less amount of effort that “gets the job done” but just barely satisfies an agency goal. Communicate candidly about rewards. Whether monetary or non-monetary, make sure employees know what rewards are available and how one can receive them. OPM provides a list of awards for Federal employees. Be aware of what they are and how to nominate a deserving employee, teammate, or leader. Depending on the type of reward and the context, use a variety of channels. Flyers in the break room are appropriate for some; for others, you may want to distribute detailed summaries along with performance review packets. Target only high performance. Avoid having rewards...

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How to Manage a Low-Performing Employee

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

It’s many Federal supervisors’ worst nightmare, and yet if you are one of those supervisors, it’s likely to happen at some point in your career. It’s the under- or low-performing employee – one who can’t or won’t do the work well, or very much of it. For whatever reason – and stayed tuned on that point – work is just not getting done. A few years ago, our team at Management Concepts did a webinar on the topic and the switchboard blew up. About triple the number of people who usually listen in to these things showed up, anxious to know what to do. I have some answers for you. But first, you, the supervisor, have to make a pivotal decision. Everything rides on this. You have to decide whether you are going to take a stance of supporting the employee to perform, or put the employee “in the barrel.” This huge decision means either letting the employee know that you are in his or her corner, and will do everything you reasonably can to help, or essentially setting up him or her to fail. Being in the barrel means a supervisor is orchestrating events and interaction so the employee feels progressively more under fire, fearful and doubtful. When an employee feels the lack of support, it can generate a downward spiral, in which the employee starts to have to think about whether he or she actually knows how to tie his or her own shoes. (This is because you have activated the threat center in the employee’s brain.) It could also be called paralysis. Of course, this crippling doubt, which is not so uncommon as many might think, only leads to a performance deterioration. So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.Let’s say that you decide to avoid this virtual guarantee of failure. Congratulations. Now let’s figure out how to make things better – for the work, the employee, the organization and you. This may sound strange, but it’s critical that you notice your non-verbal communication and resolve to be positive in talking with the employee. Frowning, grimacing, eye-rolling or displaying any negative emotion will “leak out” and send a counter-productive message to the employee, leading to the situation described above. Your goal, which must be mirrored in your words and non-verbal communication, must be to help. If this is what you really want, the employee will feel and sense it. It will create a sense of encouragement, a partnership, alignment, support and strength. Along the way, be sure you comply with Merit Systems Principles on addressing inadequate performance. From here, it’s important to run the standard performance diagnostic that helps to create clarity on why performance is so low or non-existent: What I have noticed about many supervisors over the years is that they often leap to the conclusion that the poor performance is due to employee laziness or lack of interest. It may be, but it’s better to come to that conclusion after first ruling out other factors. Let’s get on the record here that you may do everything in your power to help the employee perform, and he or she won’t. In this case, you are fully within rights to either reassign the employee or, in the worst case, terminate the employment. A final thought on that latter...

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New Year, New Routine to Be a Better Leader

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

No matter how many years you’ve been out of school, it is hard to ignore the back-to-school frenzy. For some, it is nostalgic to think about buying brand new school supplies, retracing the long walks you made to class each Fall as the weather turned cool, or how your mind would race after learning something new and fascinating. For others, this time of year may make you slightly nervous. The carefree days of summer are really over and it is time to get back to routines and business so to speak. The Government Fiscal Year is coming to an end and the new one is about to start. I would be remiss if I didn’t say this time of year might also remind you of the professional development you’ve been putting off…for months or even years. Don’t be hard on yourself — we’ve all been there — but I want to challenge you to start a new routine this Fall. Do it now!For those of you that read Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller The Happiness Project, the “one minute rule” might be familiar. One of the tips she follows to stay organized each day is to immediately tackle anything that takes less than a minute. Throughout your day there are literally dozens of small things you can accomplish in the moment that will save you time and effort if you don’t let them pile up. For example, take a minute to wash your coffee cup and place it back in the cupboard rather than tossing it in the sink to deal with when you return home exhausted from the day. Take a minute to respond to a colleague’s email while you wait for a meeting to begin rather than flagging it for response later in the day. I’m sure you can instantly think of at least five tasks you do each workday that fall into this category. One minute each day…Here’s the challenge. I think the one minute rule can be applied to leadership development. Many people put off leadership development, or other professional development goals for that matter, because it seems too overwhelming or time consuming. All too often people think you need to engage in a lengthy and all-consuming leadership development experience to jump-start a personal leadership transformation. While those types of programs have tremendous value, it is not the only way to meet your goals. The best leaders find ways to make ongoing learning part of their daily routine. Nothing is static in government today. In order for leaders to be able to navigate constant change and remain adaptable, you need to stay engaged and train your brain to ponder different ways of tackling leadership challenges. The best way to build that mental stamina is consistently introduce new ideas, tools, and concepts you can test out as situations emerge. For that reason, one minute a day can make a huge difference. If you take one minute each day to read a blog you have bookmarked, scan a personalized newsfeed, or flip through a magazine (with the swipe of a finger or by turning actual pages), chances are the rest of the day you will process and practice applying whatever tip or nugget of new learning caught your eye during that one minute. That means the one minute you...

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How to Make Training “Stick”

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As summer is ending and kids are going back to school, I was thinking about ways to get the most out of learning. While there are many reasons for attending a training class, most of us take training to meet a certification requirement, or because we need to improve/expand our skills. Just like we tell our kids to do in school, we know that during training, it’s important to take good notes, interact positively with our instructor and classmates, and pay attention to the lessons that are covered. Doing these things will get you through the course just fine. But, to make sure you get the most out of your learning opportunity, there are three easy things you can do before, during, and after training to make sure it “sticks.” Before – Take time to prepare. In addition to having your supervisor approve your training request, you should also spend a few minutes talking to your supervisor about why you need to attend the training. Specifically, review the course objectives with your supervisor and make plans for how you will apply the training once back on the job. If you have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), then the training you are planning to take should be linked directly to a topic or skill on your IDP.If there are specific questions you or supervisor have about the topic or skill, or areas you are struggling with, make a list to share with the instructor. Good instructors will start the class by asking you what you hope to get out of the training. Then, they’ll know which areas to emphasize and which areas will have most meaning for the students. Your instructor and fellow classmates have a wealth of knowledge and varied experiences, and most instructors welcome the opportunity for questions and debate during class! During – Create an action plan. We all know you either “use it or lose it.” Some training courses end with having students develop an action plan. The purpose of this, of course, is to document ways in which you will apply what you learned on the job. This is an important step in helping training “stick.”Mastering the skills you learned in training will take time and practice. Be sure to complete the action plan with things you want to remember and/or apply back on the job. Set goals for yourself and identify a strategy for achieving those goals. Even if you aren’t working on a current project that relates to the training, find a way to get involved with one. Maybe you can take on a small assignment or join a project team at work. Alternatively, maybe there’s a way to practice what you’ve learned in your personal life – plan a party to practice your project management skills, volunteer at your kids’ school, or get involved in a professional or community group to practice your leadership skills. After – Reinforce what you learned. Once you have completed your action plan and left the training facility, it can be easy to get caught up in other priorities, deadlines, and fire drills at work. But, this is the time to put what you learned into action. Here are a few easy tips: Keep your action plan in a place that you can see everyday Create job...

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Workforce Planning Is Key to a High-Performing Future Agency

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The Federal Government’s most valued resource is its people. At a time when the Government faces what the GAO describes as a “period of profound transition,” management of human resources within the Government has become a key driver of not only achieving mission today but also of positioning agencies to be ready to achieve missions in the future. Despite advances in human capital management in the Federal Government, strategic human capital management has been designated by the GAO as government-wide high-risk area since 2001. Last year the GAO added “Human resources specialist” to its list of “Mission Critical Occupations.”  Despite this, however, human capital management often begins after the organization-wide strategic planning takes place, which prevents using human capital information to inform the overall strategic plan. Moreover, it inhibits the organization’s most powerful tool in optimizing the workforce — and in optimizing the organization: workforce planning. Why is workforce planning HR’s most powerful tool? The GAO has identified two benefits of effective workforce planning: Aligning an organization’s human capital program with its current and emerging mission and programmatic goals; and Developing long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. Workforce planning sets the direction and goals for the entire human capital lifecycle. From recruiting to employee development, workforce planning is the unifying keystone. Workforce planning is the bridge between the current state and the desired future state. It is nearly impossible to radically change your current workforce regardless of the radical changes in the environment. It is possible, however, to have a radically different workforce in the future without disrupting the efficacy of the current workforce. The critical element is understanding what the future need will be and aligning the need with what the workforce will be able to do at each point in time through workforce planning. A frequent frustration of workforce planning efforts is that organizational leaders often have little insight into what changes will need to take place for the workforce to meet their strategic goals. It’s very common to see the pace of change overestimated and the level of effort underestimated. The root cause for this problem is that HR is often brought to the table after the decision has been made rather than being part of the decision itself. GAO has also identified five key principles that strategic workforce planning should address irrespective of what is being done, which you can reference here. The GAO does emphasize that top management, employees, and other stakeholders should be involved in development and implementation of the workforce plan. The GAO does not call out, however, the importance of HR having a seat at the table when the organization sets its overall vision and goals instead of just setting the strategic direction of the workforce after the organizational strategy has already been determined. When involved in overall agency-wide strategic planning, HR can help line leaders to understand the amount of time and level of investment required for goals to be achieved. From gauging how long it will take to have a workforce with a new skill to understanding how long it takes to stand up a fully effective new function, HR can help the organization to set goals that are achievable within budget and within the necessary timeline. It’s wonderful to have the line...

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Feedback: Pay it Forward

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

You’ve heard of the expression “pay it forward,” where instead of repaying a favor when a person helps you out, you pay the favor forward by helping someone else when they need it. Well, I couldn’t help but think of this idea as I was recently looking over survey data gathered by a team of my Management Concepts colleagues. Each year we work with many individuals who are either working towards or have recently moved into supervisory roles in their organization, and we were curious to see how prepared they felt to take on their new responsibilities. We asked them a variety of questions about how they: Understand their current supervisory abilities, including their natural leadership skills, personal strengths, and comfort with stepping up to new challenges Understand crucial supervisory skills, such as performance management and career development Can get the best work out of others Make good things happen — by being aware of their surroundings and situations, and taking steps to elicit the best outcome Are prepared to lead others when the organizational landscape is constantly changing Not surprisingly, after surveying more than 500 emerging leaders, some interesting observations jumped out of the results. Keeping it RealI was glad to see that the majority of those who took our supervisor readiness assessment are approaching their supervisory role with a sense of openness and a healthy dose of optimism. They are energized by the ability to help others, and ready to embrace the diversity of those they lead, knowing their teams are likely multi-generational and have varying viewpoints. They are eager to be flexible when challenges arise and willing to recognize when they need to develop new leadership skills to be a better supervisor. More importantly, in my opinion, I am encouraged by their overwhelming interest in asking others to share their observations and experiences and their willingness to take responsibility for mistakes — choosing rather to view them as opportunities for growth. Pay it ForwardYou must approach a supervisory role with a sense of optimism because the reality is being a supervisor is both rewarding and challenging. The good days feel great and put wind behind your sails, but it’s how you choose to navigate difficult situations that is crucial to your success and the success of those you supervise. I bring this up because our survey also showed that the vast majority of new supervisors were, let’s say, hesitant when it comes to bringing up negative or counterproductive behaviors, addressing sensitive topics like poor performance, or giving feedback in general. Understandable responses? No doubt. The good news is you can learn strategies and techniques that make those less-than-comfortable feedback conversations very positive experiences. And that’s where pay it forward comes into play. When supervisors take feedback seriously and provide it consistently and constructively, it is the greatest thing you can do to help those you supervise to perform to the best of their ability.  And as an added bonus, it positions them for future supervisory roles. The beautiful thing is that when employees receive the right support from a supervisor, they often are motivated and engaged to pay it forward by becoming supervisors that understand the value of feedback. Over time, that can go a long way towards building a feedback culture, which is priceless.  We’d love...

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Does It Make Any Difference?

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

From time to time it is important to take stock of why we invest our energy in the things that occupy us.   Birthdays, job changes, and retirements are points where we as individuals commonly reflect and ask “does what I do make any difference?” In early August my colleague, Cleve Pillifant, retired from Management Concepts.  He joins the cadre of senior “‘tweens” who work on occasion a few days or weeks here and there, ‘tween work habits compacted over a career and a complete leisure retirement.   Cleve proudly and irreverently (as is his style) titles himself on his LinkedIn consulting LLC as “President and Grand Poobah.” I’ve known Cleve for less than a year, but we have common root in military careers, his in the Marine Corps, mine in the Army.  At the Management Concepts farewell luncheon, hosted on the outside terrace of our Tysons Corner office building, standing on a stepstool above the group of his friends and co-workers, Cleve made public his reflections on “does it make any difference?”  Typical of a colonel at a change-of-command, he diminished his own importance in favor of the Management Concepts team. He wanted to give us a final challenge and motivation.  He asked, “In the grand scheme of life, what’s the value that our company gives?”   He paused, giving time for us to consider our own individual efforts to develop and deliver quality training for our many customers.  I reflected that it’s easy to narrowly focus on “the metrics” like enrollment stats or student surveys.   To take satisfaction in a course revised with the latest law and policy changes.  To count the number of successful course deliveries and client “attaboys” and call that success.  Are these the right measures of the value we give? Cleve then answered:  The training we provide is important because it changes peoples’ lives for the better.  His point was that training statistics, contracts, and performance metrics are useful to measure progress along the journey, true.  But the significance of our training efforts is only achieved one person at a time: when our adult student gets that promotion, when he discovers an entire new field of work to pursue, when she decides to commit herself to mastery of her career field.  These are points of realization which elevate the trajectory of a person’s career, and we, the Management Concepts team, can take pride that our efforts have this positive impact. The genuine reason for our team of professionals who agree to the collective banner of “Management Concepts – Unleashing the Potential of Individuals, Teams, and Organizations” is the achievement of each person who betters their life by the knowledge we convey. Then, the old colonel didn’t say this, but I knew he was thinking it: “… that’s your mission, and don’t ever forget it.  Carry on!” Ooorah, Cleve.  And...

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Is Trustworthiness a Professional Competency?

Posted by on Aug 8, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

Trust as Essential for Engagement According to the 2010 Deloitte Ethics & Workplace Survey, 48% of employees cite loss of trust in the organization as a driving factor in the decision to look for a new job. In a recent Federal News Radio survey, 90% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Does the government need to rebuild trust with its employees?” and almost 68% of survey respondents believe lack of trust is causing employees to leave government service. “Trust is a symptom of whether or not employee engagement exists. It’s not possible, I don’t believe, to have employee engagement without trust,” said Bob Tobias, director of public sector executive education at American University. With increased employee engagement, Tobias noted, comes increased organizational performance. Given the importance of maintaining trustworthiness among its employees, where should an organization start? Deloitte’s study pointed to executives. All factors considered, an organization’s leaders are the single most powerful influencing factor on whether employees trust an organization. Transparent Communication from Leaders What do employees look for in leaders? Executives and employees alike agree —transparent communication by leadership is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain trust at work. 92% of executives ranked this among their top three ways to build trust, and nearly one third of employees identified it as the most important thing an executive can do to promote trust in the company. A recent look into employee morale at General Motors is compelling evidence that straightforward communication contributes to employee trust. Marking the largest increase in employee morale ever observed by the third-party firm who conducted the survey, trust in organizational leadership at General Motors in 2014 is the highest observed in the history of the company — even amid a global company crisis. What improved trust at GM? In a word: candor. Plenty of face time and open conversation about the tough issues has boosted morale dramatically. GM executive Mark Reuss recently commented at an industry form, “Mary [Barra] and I…tell them what’s going on, where we’re at, where we’re going to be in a month, where we’re going to be in a week. We’re being really transparent.” In NASA’s history, observers around the time of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia cited lack of trust as a key factor that shaped employees’ reluctance to speak up when they first suspected something could go wrong. NASA has since re-established trust in the organization and in 2013 earned the top ranking in Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, boasting top employee engagement numbers. How did NASA do it? NASA charged its leaders with developing and maintaining a culture of trust, including offering two different courses on trust as part of their leadership development. Trustworthiness as an Organizational Priority Trustworthiness is not just about having employees feel good about the organization or their work. When a leader’s trustworthiness instills trust in the organization and has a lasting impact on employee engagement and retention, trustworthiness stands clearly as a professional competency. More importantly for your organization, you can train leaders to see where promoting trust is critical. The adage “If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” is relevant here. How does your organization use honesty or trustworthiness-related survey data to make positive changes to your organization? In...

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Levels, levels everywhere and not an ounce of clarity anywhere!

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

About once or twice a year, I find myself sitting in a meeting with clients and colleagues, and I suddenly realize that confusion has ensued without people realizing it. I specifically remember one meeting where, despite that fact that we were all training and learning experts in our own right — we began to talk past each other. The discussion was on “levels.”  A few of us had confused looks on our faces. The discussion continued as each person tried to explain and re-explain the points they were trying to make. After several painful minutes, I realized that the confusion was due to a communication problem. One person was talking about Blooms Levels, but instead of saying Blooms Level she simply said Level. Another person heard Level and assumed that she meant Certification Level. Someone else heard Evaluation Level. And confusion ensued. Now, that I’ve learned the lesson of Level Confusion, I know to keep an eye out for it. I can more quickly recognize when it happens. I even try to head it off by using the specific term that I mean. Sometimes, I ask someone to clarify what they meant when they use Level. What are all these Levels? Let’s take a quick look at what the most common Levels are in the training and learning field. Of course, many other Levels exist. Blooms Levels refer to levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. Typically, when people refer to it, they are talking about different objectives that a training course could have. The levels begin with Knowledge and then build on each other: Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation For example, there are many ways to train employees to communicate better. The training could teach them to memorize different theories of communication or facts about effective communication (Knowledge). After teaching them basic knowledge, they could be taught to compare and contrast different communication theories (Comprehension). Next, the training could ask employees to solve a problem by applying one of the communication techniques in a role play (Application). It could have them identify different ways of effectively communicating in a new situation (Analysis) or require them to compile different elements of communication theories to come up with alternative ways of approaching a conversation (Synthesis). Finally, they could observe other students in a role play and judge their effectiveness at using communication techniques (Evaluation). Many agencies and fields have Certification Levels, which indicate that an individual can competently perform a job. A certification is typically attained by passing a certification exam (such as a Project Management Professional certification) or taking and passing a series of classes (such as the Federal Acquisition Certification for Contracting, or FAC-C). In some cases, experience and education requirements also must be met. Different certification levels represent increasing degrees of competence within the field or area. For example, both FAC-C and the newly refreshed FAC-C® has three levels—Levels I, II, and III—each of which requires progressively more years of experience doing contracting work as well as more training. Evaluation Levels refer to levels in a training evaluation model, such as the Kirkpatrick® Model or the Phillips Model. There are many different ways to determine whether a training event was effective. The Levels describe different ways to evaluate training and include: Level 1 is the students’...

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Windshield or Bug? — How to Thrive During Change

Posted by on Aug 1, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As both Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dire Straits have pointed out, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.” This isn’t exactly the case with change in organizations because there are inevitably fewer people leading the change than there are people impacted by a change they don’t control. Change management practitioners would emphasize that every individual has influence over whether change is accepted in their organization. From change champions to passive accepters to active resistors, everyone can affect change. In many cases, however, you may neither want to bolster nor derail a change. You just want to find a way to navigate through it with as much benefit and as little disruption as possible. The question is how to do that. When a change is happening in your organization, here are a few tips on how not only to survive, but also to thrive: Un-Divide Your Attention: Thoroughly read all the communications about the change. Attend the all-hands meeting without your smartphone. View the webinars – and not while multi-tasking. If you’re relying on the water cooler conversations for information about what is happening, misinformation is a given. Actively listen to what your leaders have to say. Yes, this takes time away from your day-to-day responsibilities, but it’s worth it. Question Authority: Do not hesitate to ask questions of your supervisor and senior management about the change. Use your agency discussion boards and other communications forums to get answers. Of course, word your questions wisely. If that’s not possible, seek a safe forum in which to ask the question. If there isn’t a way to submit anonymous questions, reach out to HR to develop one. Just Me, Myself, and I: As much as we want to be “all business” at work, our emotions do play a role. Spend some time reflecting on both your practical and emotional reactions. Will the change results in less interaction with a favorite colleague? More interaction with your office’s Andy Bernard (or Mimi for Drew Carey fans, Copy Guy from SNL), and you just can’t take that? Will the change result in more or less interesting work for you? More or less power? Figure out how your feel about the change and WHY you feel that way. Know the lens through which you, as an individual, view the change. Think Globally, Act Locally: Communications from leaders often focus on the benefits at the agency level. It is critical you can view the change through that lens, too. If you’ve participated in the change communications and asked questions, you should understand the global situation. Where your efforts are most critical, however, is at the local level. Boots on the ground implications of changes are sometimes missed by senior leaders in change planning. Think through all the implications of the change for your role and team. What are the indirect consequences? Are there any potential issues that need to be addressed? Surfacing them – and addressing them – early prevents later problems for both you and your leadership. Expect the Unexpected: No change program goes according to plan. If you enter the change expecting to have to be flexible, you’re less likely to be annoyed when the unexpected happens. Have contingences in place if, for example, a software program is delayed. If you’re scheduling vacation around...

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Start With Goals: Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

With constantly changing technology to keep up with, demands for efficiency and a shortage of millenials entering their ranks, Federal leaders are under more pressure than ever to recruit and retain new talent, and get more from existing employees. The need to optimize talent in the workforce is evident. How do you begin to assess the critical skills gaps in your workforce, and align professional development and training to agency missions and goals? And once you have a vision of what your future workforce should look like, how can you make it happen?  My colleagues and I recommend a strategic approach in our upcoming book from Management Concepts Press, Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce. Here’s an excerpt: The first step is to analyze the agency’s strategic and performance goals and determine where training could enhance the achievement of those goals. A gap analysis will identify competency discrepancies that hamper achievement of the future desired state. Some key questions to ask are: To reach each goal, what competencies must the current or future workforce members possess? What benchmarks can be used to create innovative approaches to reaching this goal? Are there competency gaps that must be addressed to meet this goal? Could training help reduce other HR problems, such as high staff turnover? (OPM, 2000) The next step is to develop alternative strategies to close the identified gaps using both training and non-training solutions. If the conclusion of the analysis is that training solutions are necessary, then a cost-benefit analysis will be required for justification of a training program. Key questions to ask are as follows: Could training address the competency gaps? Are non-training strategies needed to support the training intervention? What types of training should be provided (e.g., classroom, distance learning, electronic performance support, on-the-job training)? Do the anticipated benefits from training outweigh the projected costs? (OPM, 2000a) Excerpted with permission from Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce by William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CPLP Fellow; Aileen G. Zaballero, M.S.,CPLP; Jong Gyu Park, MBA. © 2014 by Management Concepts Press. All rights reserved....

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Supervising a High-Potential Employee and a Lesson From Happy Gilmore

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 1 comment

Leslie was a rock star on the rise . . . until she got fired. We’ve all seen someone with Superman or Superwoman potential, one with extraordinary talents. With eyes closed and one hand tied behind the back, this person can still, somehow, miraculously pull out great results. That’s what Leslie did in her promising career, going from strength to strength . . . until so many relationships internally were so damaged that her boss had to see her out the door. How do you supervise a high-potential employee? How do you help him or her avoid career “derailers?” And what does the Adam Sandler movie “Happy Gilmore” have to do with anything? (Keep reading to find out.) Let’s start with the assumption that the employee has the right stuff; there is no real question about technical capability. However his or her brain is wired, he or she is primed to perform. Technical proficiency is much more easily addressed than “soft skills.” To help the employee with this technical skill, a few things help. Let’s discuss those first before getting into the tough stuff. First, connect him or her with other, more experienced and high-performance people doing similar work. Whether you call them peers, mentors or comrades in arms, it can help for a high-potential employee to see a bit beyond his or her own immediate horizons. Sometimes, the employee may start to see his or her own brilliant way is actually not the only way. Second, help the employee get very specific on which specific aspects of the work tap their talents. Most knowledge work is a constellation of dozens of discrete, different tasks. The job may include research, problem-solving, critical thinking, customer service, scenario planning and teamwork. These, and even particular aspects of these, may be either manna from heaven or dreaded tasks. Things get more differentiated. Getting specific helps to isolate strengths, which is important for career planning. Having employees experience many different kinds of work (rotations) helps them further discern the range and type of their talents. Third, help the employee set real developmental goals. These will stretch their talent, and expose the employee to ever more information about the intersection of the talent and the work. Now, for the hard part, and why Leslie got fired, and what Adam Sandler learned. The potential trouble with high potential starts with the employee realization that he or she has got the goods. With a growing sense that he or she can run circles around others, a variety of counter-productive thoughts and behaviors can start to occur. The person may show up as aloof, a diva, dilettante, savage critic, condescending or arrogant. What’s underneath this is usually a two-word mantra that organizations need to pay attention to: “Talent walks.” Because it can when it doesn’t like what is happening. The calculation the employee makes “My (great) results justify my behavior.” The behaviors mentioned above are, of course, derailers, likely to invite resistance, anger and isolation. As it is very hard to get much done all by one’s self, most reasonable people can see the need to engage others in a way that creates commitment and collaboration, rather than hostility and distance. In Leslie’s case, she was brilliant with external stakeholders. Able to win agreement nine times out...

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Having an “HMU” Instead of an Attack

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A senior leader at a Federal agency I recently worked with was revered throughout the organization, known for his wisdom, excellent communication skills and approachability. When something went bad or wrong with anyone, he would sit down with the person and have an “HMU” conversation. Before explaining what an HMU is, it is important to remember how most conversations go in many organizations when something goes wrong. The conversation often goes badly, evokes negative emotions, defensiveness, hurt feelings, future avoidance and other damage. (This is why teaching people how to give feedback that works is a standard feature management and leadership development programs.) But an HMU conversation is different. It stands for “Help Me Understand.” First, it’s a conversation, not a diatribe or one-way monologue. Second, it leads with questions. Asking to help someone help you understand is a question itself. HMU starts with no real agenda or pre-conceived notions. It starts with a desire to understand. Since the “how” of the “what” always matters greatly in these things, it should be noted that the demeanor of the leader who uses this approach is calm, open and reasonable. The HMU gives the employee the responsibility of walking through his or her reasoning, and it goes from there. When there is information that was not known to the leader that changes the picture, he thanks the employee and everyone gets back to work. And when there was a lapse in logic or good thinking on the part of the employee, the leader helps the employee see that. Employees know an HMU could lead to constructive criticism, but it’s different than an attack. It helps them to think through their actions, surface their reasoning and actually learn something. The next time something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, start with “Help me understand . . .” If giving effective feedback and other leadership and management competencies are holding your team back, consider implementing a leadership development...

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Instructional Games in Government and Industry

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A growing trend in today’s business learning environments has been moving toward simultaneously teaching and experiencing important ideas through verbal, tactile, and surrogate methods.   In other words, we don’t just describe, display, and observe — we simulate.   Game-based business simulations provide a means for students to perform tasks, demonstrate skills, and also exhibit attitudes in order to create or experience effective approaches in dealing with real or potential situations. The concept and practice of simulations are not new; they’ve been part of human behavior for centuries.  Child’s play, drama, and scientific experimentation all facilitate knowledge acquisition and personal experience in ways that encompass formal, informal, and various combinations of learning.  However, in this technological world, the word simulation most likely conjures images of computer-, tablet-, smartphone- and other types of digital hardware and software-based approaches. Business learning and simulation games take several forms including in-person role play, computer simulations, and team-centered scenarios while connecting multiple players that are geographically near and far.    During business simulations, whether in-person or computer-based, the participants typically assume a specific persona and exhibit behavior within a business setting; are given tasks to perform or decisions to make; and receive feedback on the quality of their individual or team performance.   Through the development of realistic business scenarios, the participant is provided with a problem or situation requiring various physical, mental, emotional, kinesthetic, and combination responses.   In both in-person and via computer, the scenario events will branch based on the dynamic interactions of the participants, frequently yielding a multitude of solutions or outcomes. Meaningful simulations, especially in business and industry still require human interaction, the kind that cannot be fully satisfied through surrogate, two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional representations or natural language processing.  Computers, for the most part, have rebranded the definition of simulation.   There are still actions and tasks that computers cannot perform.   The benefits and uses of people-centric, interpersonal, and table-top simulations that have been widely used by the military and other tactical decision makers in government and industry is not dependent upon the graphics representation, but rather, human collaboration. There are two basic types of business simulations:  content and process. It is important to note that the line between process and content is often blurred because each simulation contains elements of both.  However, in most cases the type of simulation used skews the primary learning either towards learning the process or learning the specific content. For the most part, content simulations are hosted on computers to explore what actions are to be taken.  For example, if an individual makes a decision and implements that decision by pressing a button, what will happen? On the other hand, process simulations examine the how and why of actions taken. In other words, the focus of the simulation considers the outcome as it pertains to the level of agreement among the interpersonal processes and motives used, the how and why regarding a particular decision. Process simulations usually precede content simulations and are more interpersonal by nature. The reason is that human beings are a why-driven species. We like to know why we are doing something before we actually engage in the task and do it. Knowing the why helps us make sense of our actions, no matter how small or large they might...

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Affordable Care Act’s Butterfly Effect

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In conversation, a friend often mentions the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” which refers to chain-event related outcomes that may not have been foreseen when an initiating action occurred. It is an extension of Chaos theory’s “Butterfly Effect” that suggests unforeseen linkages such as, “When a butterfly in California flaps its wings, weeks later, a typhoon hits Asia.” From a management perspective, this is “Systems Thinking,” the art and science of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure, as described by Barry Richmond in 1987 and perfected by Peter Senge beginning in the 1990s. Systems thinking is using the butterfly’s flap to predict and prepare for the typhoon. I bring this up because the recently enacted Affordable Care Act (ACA) could be the “butterfly’s wing” that eventually causes a “typhoon” of workforce mobility. Before the ACA, employees typically obtained health insurance by holding a full-time job with an employer who negotiated a health insurance plan and subsidized it as a benefit of employment. Many employees stayed with their organizations out of fear of loss of access to health insurance or due to continuity of care issues. This was especially true in the Government sector, where good healthcare coverage is a key benefit. Prior to the ACA, a break in insurance coverage could cause an individual to be denied new coverage or face very high premiums based on preexisting medical conditions. Leaving a Government job for no or lessor insurance was, simply put, a bad bet. Now that ACA is experiencing greater acceptance as the law of the land and people are signing up for coverage through state or Federal exchanges, this potentially impacts the relationships between employers and employees. It may motivate Feds to move into the private sector or retire early with confidence that they will be able to obtain health coverage comparable to what they have now. How has your organization prepared for this change? Have you considered the possible indirect consequences of the ACA on your organization? More healthcare options may lead to higher turnover: If you had staff who didn’t want to change organizations under the previous health insurance environment, are they now feeling like they can make a move? Do you have a retention strategy for critical individuals? Is your recruitment capability ready to find people to replace them? Or will you have to recruit less experienced people and grow your own talent? Do you have  a robust enough succession plan to deal with these risks? Higher turnover may lead to loss of institutional knowledge: Are you at risk as employees’ knowledge base walks out the door? Are your knowledge management practices defined and documented? Should you implement a shadowing or mentoring program to help with knowledge transfer? Are your employees skilled at collaboration and knowledge sharing or is this a skill they will need to develop? Do you need a knowledge management tool such as software? Vacancies and the resultant loss of institutional knowledge may lead to suboptimal mission achievement: Is your organization ready to become a learning organization that embraces employee mobility while still driving high performance and achieving mission results? Organizations can capitalize on a more mobile workforce resulting from ACA by taking a systems approach to workforce planning, including succession planning, recruiting strategies, and...

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Be Prepared for IT Leaders Retiring: Start Training Your High Potential Staff Now

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The aging demographics of the Federal workforce has been apparent for years, and the latest set of data (March 2014) released by OPM show no improvement in the outlook.  In the short term, the government has the benefit of the long years of service and experience of a seasoned workforce. Almost half of the IT workforce is now age 50 and above. Most of these workers are retirement eligible at age 55 or 56, so within a few years, as older workers retire and leave Federal service, so leaves that experience. Funding in the Federal budget for training has been in short supply, and training needs will only increase as demand grows to replace the lost skills of the retirees. These younger workers who were born into the digital age also expect a much richer and dynamic learning experience. Training will have to be technically stimulating, professionally advancing, and personally entertaining.  Management Concepts is rapidly expanding its extensive courseware into e-Learning offerings, which provide the scale, economy, and rich learning experiences to coincide with this change in Federal IT workforce demographics.  Look at this as a part of the larger, varied curriculum designed specifically for Federal IT...

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Lesson from the VA: The Role of Culture in Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Recently, failures of service at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been in the news.  Investigators have found that the problems at VA are not occasional occurrences but to quote the Washington Post, the VA suffers from “corrosive culture of employee discontent and management retaliation. “   Unfortunately, organizational culture and workforce development continue to be particularly challenging for many Federal agencies. Federal agencies have always faced unique challenges in workforce development including competition in attracting and retaining talented employees. To improve performance, the VA and other agencies facing similar challenges will need to develop and sustain high performance cultures.  To make this happen, Federal leaders must utilize benchmarked best practices.   Recently, Management Concepts Press and my team at Penn State University have collaborated on a ground breaking book, Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce that analyzes some of these practices and how they can be best be used in a Federal environment.  My colleagues and I especially emphasize the importance of organizational culture: Agencies are working to create a culture where employees want to be—and can be—as effective as possible in serving the public. A results-oriented performance culture system, as defined by OPM, is a system that “promotes a diverse, high-performing workforce by implementing and maintaining effective performance management systems and awards programs.” OPM identified six critical success factors for creating such a system (OPM, 2005): 1. Communication. Each agency should have a process for sharing information with all employees that allows employee feedback to involve employees in planning and executing the mission. 2. Performance appraisal. Each agency should have a process under which performance is reviewed and evaluated. 3. Awards. Each agency should recognize and reward individual or team accomplishment that contributes to meeting organizational goals or improves the efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of the government. 4. Pay for performance. Each agency should use pay-for-performance systems that link salary levels to an individual’s overall performance and contribution to the agency’s mission. 5. Diversity management. Each agency should maintain an environment characterized by inclusiveness of individual difference and responsiveness to the needs of diverse groups of employees. 6. Labor/management relations. Each agency should promote cooperation among employees, unions, and managers that enhances effectiveness and efficiency and improves working conditions. Excerpted with permission from Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce by William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CPLP Fellow; Aileen G. Zaballero, M.S.,CPLP; Jong Gyu Park, MBA. © 2014 by Management Concepts Press. All rights reserved....

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I’ll take Cognitive Analytics for $1000, Alex

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Analytics, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

One of my fondest memories from my childhood is my family’s nightly ritual of gathering around the TV to watch Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek. I’m still a big fan of the show and when, in 2011, IBM”s Watson took on two Jeopardy champions I was captivated. Having worked on some early efforts to use Natural Language Parsing (NLP) and Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA), it was great to see how the technologies had advanced to allow querying of large sets of unstructured data using plain language queries. Watson is just one, impressive, example of the growing field of cognitive computing and cognitive analytics.  Cognitive analytics refers to process of bringing together machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence to analyze large quantities on unstructured data in ways similar to those used by the human brain. According to Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2014, “cognitive analytics relies on technology systems to generate hypotheses, drawing from a wide variety of potentially relevant information and connections,” and the emerging technology will be a growth area for many organizations in 2015. In honor my favorite game show, I thought I’d provide a Jeopardy style list of ways Federal managers may, in the not too distant future, be able to use cognitive analytics to improve organization performance. Answer: Natural language search agents. Question: What tools can government agencies use to improve customer service in a resource constrained environment? Apple’s Siri is arguably the most familiar version of an artificial intelligence-based natural language query engine, but corporations have been introducing more rudimentary versions of automated agents to support customer service for nearly a decade. With enhanced language understanding, the introduction of machine learning that can improve the recommendations coming from search agents, and more access to information storage and processing power, opportunities are increasing to automate customer service functions. Cognitive analytic techniques will enable systems to interpret and connect disparate pieces of information to provide better answers and more resources in response to customer inquiries. Automating elements of customer service processes (for both internal and external customers) helps support the agencies drive to maintain service levels with decreased resources. The key will be implementing the type of technology users are becoming accustomed to (e.g. Siri), while still allowing for easy access to customer service agents before users become frustrated with the technology experience. Answer: Social media monitoring and sentiment analysis. Question: How can a federal manager use cognitive analytics to understand trends in employee engagement and brand management? In an increasingly connected world it is important for organizations to maintain awareness of how they are perceived on social media. Using analytic tools, agencies can monitor, aggregate and analyze trends in messaging on internal and external social media networks to understand how employees and the public view the organization. And emerging technologies for sentiment analysis offer a glimpse into the positive or negative views being communicated about the organization. Answer: Better data aggregation, improved used of unstructured data, and faster data processing. Question: How can cognitive analytics enable data driven decision making at my organization. A recent survey by MarkLogic and GovLoop (here) suggests that many government agencies are struggling to realize the benefits of big data and advanced analytics for their organization. The merging of advanced technologies in the field of cognitive analytics will offer agencies a...

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Don’t Forget the Sammies This 4th of July!

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I’m not referring to the “sammies” you may be planning for a July 4th picnic celebration, but you can get back to perusing tasty recipes for your holiday menu in just a minute. I’ll be brief. I’m talking about what are referred to as the “Oscars” of government service awards: The Service to America Medals awarded each year by the DC-based Partnership for Public Service. The Sammies recognize “outstanding Federal employees who are making high-impact contributions to the health, safety and welfare of countless Americans and others around the world.” Eight Federal leaders are awarded for their efforts across a handful of categories, including: Science and Environment Homeland Security and Law Enforcement National Security and International Affairs Citizen Services Management Excellence The 2014 Sammie nominations were released back in early May, and the results are announced at the annual Service to America Medals Gala in September. The Sammies are particularly important to note this year because all too often lately the lead story on the evening news is another “failure,” “mistake,” or “cover up” by a Federal organization run by a high profile government leader. The fact is that Federal organizations are no more or less immune to scandal or poor management decisions than private sector companies. We need (and we clearly have some) exceptional individuals that are dedicated to bringing the same drive and innovation to the organizations that exist to keep us safe and healthy as those that exist to grow our investments or develop the next life-altering tech gadget. From saving $4 billion in purchasing new rockets to using cutting-edge technology to detect crime to improving the way Government respond to natural disasters, this year’s nominees have shown innovation, agility, and hard-work are essential to outstanding public service. So, on the eve of this Independence Day, let’s celebrate those Federal leaders who are choosing to use their talents to serve our country with the same American spirit that helped us on that pivotal day in 1776. And, to those Federal leaders out there, we say thank...

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Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

You’ve completed the self-assessment, submitted your resume via USAjobs.gov, and have been selected for an interview. Now what?  Interviewing can be quite nerve-wracking in general, but can be even more so for a Federal job, which is quite different from interviewing with a private firm. Successful planning and preparing in advance will be the key to success… and hopefully an offer for employment. Below are some tips on preparing for a Federal job interview. Before the interview… Prepare Using the Job Announcement: You applied and tailored your resume and assessment for a specific job announcement that lists the qualifications, skills and experience that the organization deems necessary to be successful in that role.  Prepare in advance specific examples that demonstrate your experience and accomplishments that align with those items mentioned in the job announcement. You want to be able to confidently talk through several of these examples to effectively illustrate why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you’ve tailored your resume for the job, you can reference the section of your resume where it’s discussed. This gives the interviewer a visual as well as an auditory reference to help them remember your qualifications. Know the Organization: Do research on the organization. Each agency has a specific mission and it’s important to know what that is. Furthermore, agencies have a human capital plan that often explains skills the agency is most seeking.  Click here, to search for missions and human capital plans by agency.  Setting up Google news alerts is another easy way for you to stay on top of current events for a particular organization. For many government employees, it’s not about the money they make, but being a part of an organization that is working hard to do something specific for the public. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask and tailor it to the organization and role you’re interviewing for. This will show the hiring official that you take this interview and job opportunity seriously.  In addition, if you know who will be interviewing you, check their profile on LinkedIn. The Interview… Arrive Early: You never know what traffic will be like or what obstacles you may face while trying to get to an interview. If you have time prior to your interview, do a “dry run” so you know exactly where the building is, where to park, what metro stop to get off at, etc.  Another important thing to keep in mind is that many government agencies have strict security requirements, which may take some additional time when arriving and checking in at the building. Always be sure to bring a government ID with your photo such as a driver’s license or passport. You may also want to leave non-essential items, likely to set off metal detectors, such as a pocketful of change, at home. Many women feel more comfortable bringing in a portfolio with their ID and leaving their purse locked securely in the car. Feeling rushed right before an interview will only add to your stress. Ask the person setting up the meeting if there is anything extra you should know about traveling to their building. First Impressions: Hiring officials often make a judgment within 15 seconds of you walking through the door, making appearance a critical, although often subconscious, aspect of an...

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4 Generation Workforce: Instructional Challenges for Human Resources & Management Leaders

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

“They’ve been called Generation Y. They’ve been called Echo Boomers. They may go by different names, but there’s no debate about their effect on business. They are the fastest growing segment of your employee population. They’ve been trained to use their heads more than their hands to solve problems.  It will take a new set of leadership skills to understand their perspective and motivate them to succeed.”  –  Donald D. Shandler, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President, Graduate and Adult Education, Marymount University, and author of Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker. Historically, this is the first time that there are four different generations concurrently in the workforce. The anchor years for these generations are: silents (b.1925-1942), boomers (b. 1943-1960), generation X (b. 1961-1981) and millennials (b.1982-2003). America’s new four generation workforce brings different values, needs, preferences, behaviors and experiences to the workplace. It’s critical for today’s senior leadership, line managers, and training professionals to realize that their multigenerational staff may require different learning styles and preferences. More specifically, there are critical instructional design considerations that must be addressed when designing and developing programs for the four generations that now work and learn together. For those professionals charged with the responsibility of engaging, training, and educating a high- performing multigenerational workforce they must plan and accommodate for the commonalities and differences that each population exhibits. In particular, it’s essential to focus on the learning preferences of the three largest cohorts presently in the workforce. Boomers have a preference for classroom-based and career-related programs; Generation X express enthusiasm for online programs and learning for both fun and enrichment; and, Millennials, as digital natives, have an intense interest in technology-enabled learning with little tolerance for boredom. To be an effective manager of these generational differences: Recognize the unique learning preferences of the four generational cohorts now driving America’s economy, and in particular the millennials. Identify inclusive learning strategies to design multigenerational learning experiences. Appreciate the importance of the millennial knowledge worker as a seminal force and centerpiece of a rapidly changing workforce. Incorporate technology-mediated learning methods to meet generational learning needs. Staff directly serving the training and professional development needs of the generations should: Expand their instructional design strategies to include generational learning preferences. Encourage the application of generational learning strategies to enhance an existing or proposed learning experience. Stay current on the growing body of generational research impacting workplace learning and performance. Reconcile the balance of classroom-based and technology-enabled learning. Stuart H. Weinstein, Ph.D is Practice Leader – Instructional Systems at Management Concepts.   Additionally, he was a contributing author to Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker (Axzo Press – Crisp Fifty-Minute Books, Paperback, 257 pages, December 2009).   In addition to his role at Management Concepts, Dr. Weinstein teaches Principles of Training and Development and Corporate Distance Training in the Instructional Systems Development graduate program at the University of Maryland Baltimore...

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Pop Quiz: How Do You Evaluate Training?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Recently, I’ve encountered several instances where agencies want to make sure they get what they pay for when training their employees. One method that I’ve observed is giving students a test at the beginning and end of a class. At first glance, this makes sense: Let’s make sure the employees are learning something when we spend our scarce training dollars. To understand the limitations of the before and after test, let’s look at Laura, a GS-9 analyst with ambitions to move up to deputy program manager and eventually to program manager. Laura signs up for a three-day class on effective briefing and presentation skills. The morning of the class, she feels nervous, wondering “Will I have to give a speech in front of the whole class?” Walking into the classroom on Monday morning, the instructor hands her a test. Laura finds a seat and looks over the test, which asks how she should analyze the audience when preparing a speech and to identify “bridge words.” She’s presented with four short lists of words to choose the right answer from; the words start to jumble together as she reads them. Memories of standardized tests in high school start to run through her head. Laura does her best to answer the questions and hands her test in. Other students filter in, starting their tests. While waiting, Laura strikes up a conversation with Sam. The instructor asks them to be quiet so that the other students can focus on their tests. Glancing at her iPhone®, Laura realizes that it is almost 10 a.m. A whole hour has gone by as they wait for everyone to finish the test! Finally, the instructor begins the class. Laura learns many tips and ideas for giving a great briefing. She even learns that “bridge words” are transition words, such as however, in addition, and for instance, that help the audience know that you are moving on to a new thought. On the afternoon of the last day, each student prepares a short talk. Laura feels confident and eager to try her new skills. Each student takes turns giving their talk. Laura receives a standing ovation for her talk. At the end of the class, the instructor hands out another test. Instead of leaving with a sense of exhilaration that she nailed her talk, she leaves a bit anxious that she didn’t remember all of the key characteristics of effective presentations. Laura wishes she could ask the instructor a few more questions, but there is no time; the class is done and students filter out of the room. This scenario highlights several drawbacks of pre- and post-tests, which are: They take away valuable instruction time They test students on material that they have not yet been taught They often measure test taking skills more than knowledge Further, pre- and post-tests are not good measures of a student’s skill or behavior. Laura could get a perfect score on her post-test, yet still not be able to give an effective presentation. But, wait! Isn’t it possible that, for whatever reason, Laura did NOT learn what a “bridge word” was? Don’t we need to know if the instructor did a poor job teaching? Or that the materials didn’t clearly explain certain concepts? Or that Laura just daydreamed during the class?...

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How Coaching Really Worked – At Least in This Case

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 in Coaching & Mentoring, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Man, was I ever stuck. I had struggled with this problem, literally, for years, tearing my hair out, frustrated, and increasingly pessimistic about a solution. It was a chance encounter at a coaches’ conference (of all places) when I sat down for lunch with the amazing coach Karen Gravenstine. In less than five minutes, everything shifted. The door opened, and I had cracked the case. Before explaining just what happened, it’s important to focus on one incredibly important aspect of coaching, a feature that, among others, helps give the practice its power and results. We all get stuck sometimes. We go around and around in our thought loops, trying to find an answer. The stuckness can come from the way we are looking at the problem or issue. We may be making assumptions we’re not even aware of. There may be possibilities we hadn’t even considered. Enter the coach, who with fresh eyes, an objective perspective, can help us discover new and different ways to frame the problem, which can generate new moves – solutions. This can take the form of a question, or feedback. In my case, it was feedback. Karen said it sounded like one aspect of a project I was wrestling with was draining me, and another aspect energizing me. As she stated this, a distinction arose in me, and I immediately realized that in order to achieve the goal, I had to offload the portion of the thing that was blocking all progress. In my case, it was around either standing up a non-profit (huge administrative heavy lifting) or partnering with an organization with complementary aims, to whom the services I was envisioning would also create a benefit. So you know, the project itself is around helping disadvantaged women who made it to college learn leadership skills. I realized I couldn’t pull it all off by my lonesome, and perhaps I then joined the millions of managers and leaders who learned the hard way (lack of results) about the need to delegate, in order to focus on what they uniquely can bring, and work they are good at. (I have to tell you in the self-disclosure department it was a pretty big “ouch” to experience the lesson I have taught to many managers and leaders.) As I let go of the previously unconscious need to be in control of everything, I experienced a huge surge in energy around work that I could do well, and which was meaningful. I had painted myself into a corner with this deep-seated belief that I had to manage everything. Karen created a walkway over the paint and out of the room I had been trapped in. And she did it just by confirming which aspect of the work I could really get behind, which she had noticed as I talked about the vision and hopes for the project. Coaches do lots of things, and I hope this one example will help illustrate one of those, and how powerful that can be. Thank you,...

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Walk into Better Management

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

While many are focused on better using technology to achieve mission goals, Federal managers shouldn’t forget that sometimes the best way to know what’s really going on is to get out of the corner office and talk to people. In my upcoming book, 98 Opportunities to Improve Management in Government, I recommend management by walking around:   I highly recommend that you manage by walking around. Such an approach will increase your visibility and give the employees greater confidence in you—if for no other reason than if they see you every day, they will become more comfortable with you and conclude you are truly interested in learning what is going on. Moreover, walking around is a great way to gain understanding of what is happening under the surface. If you stay in your ivory tower every day, you can always find a reason to convince yourself that things are going great. However, if you walk around, you will learn to read your employees’ body language, which is an excellent way of gauging the real situation. For example, if employees do not want to look you in the eye, that is probably a good indicator that something is not right. Moreover, you will also see if people are working together or are disengaged. Finally, if you regularly interact with employees on a casual basis, they will be more willing to share information with you and tell you what is really happening. Such information is absolutely crucial in nipping problems in the bud. Excerpted with permission from 98 Opportunities to Improve Government Management by Stewart Liff. © 2014 Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc.  All rights reserved....

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When Customer Service is the Lemon

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in Leadership | 4 comments

Although the Federal Government doesn’t often talk of “customers” the way the private sector does, customer service is a key competency of every government employee. Your “customer” may be survivors if you’re at FEMA, internal leaders if you’re in HR, veterans and their families at the VA, foreign governments if you’re at the State Department, other government agencies if you’re at OPM, or taxpayers if you’re at the IRS. Providing good customer service, however, goes well beyond the competency of the people in the Federal Government. Sometimes highly competent people are hindered by process and tools that destroy the customer experience before the customer even interacts with an individual at the organization. I recently bought a computer that I think may be a lemon. Moments out of the box I got multiple “Blue Screens of Death” that may be familiar to some of you. When I called tech support I had to wade my way through no fewer than five voice or keypad response menus to get to talk to someone who could answer my questions. In the meantime, I was continually bombarded with “selling” messages – telling me about how wonderful the computer I was having a bad experience with really was, how important my call was to them, and other automated information that was unrelated to why I was calling in the first place. When I finally got through to a live person, I had to make sure the company’s database was up to date by repeating my name, address, email address, phone number, and serial and model numbers before they would talk to me about the reason I called. As if they were worried that I was simply bored and just looking for someone to talk to. And when my call got disconnected, I had to go through the entire process again. Some of you may be able to relate to this part of the experience. We’ve all heard of paying attention to the “Voice of the Customer.” Whether you are a Federal employee dealing with the public, or internal customers, or working in a commercial enterprise, it is important to listen to your customers to make sure you are giving them what they want. I am also confident that this is not news to many of you. Those who worry about branding and marketing spend a lot of time and money shaping how people view your organization, its services, and products. Marketers work hard to motivate people to make contact with their organization to sample what it has to offer. Lots of money is spent to close the gap between becoming aware of an entity and taking an action to engage with that entity. So why is it, that once a customer is convinced to pick up the phone to make a call, the organization feels the need to interpose itself between the customer and the designated point of contact? If the goal is to build a sense of community, why are there obstacles impeding that connection? It is almost as if the organization is saying, “We’ve got you, and now we are going to make you jump through our hoops before you get what you came for.” In my case, this is the antithesis of what I am looking for. I was motivated to...

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Stop Feeling Overwhelmed! Three Questions You Should Ask When Weighing Leadership Development Options

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The most successful leaders know that you can never stop learning and should continually invest in your professional development. That’s easier said than done these days because there are more options than ever for leadership development and professional services like leadership coaching. While the leadership development landscape was once dominated by commercial providers (ahem, Management Concepts), both public and private universities are furiously entering the leadership development market. The good news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business. The bad news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business. So, how’s an individual or a leader in search of options for his or her employees to decide the best route to take? Step 1: Stop stressing. Step 2: Ask yourself three simple yet critical questions: Considering where you are today, what do you or your team need to rev up your performance? How much say do you want in designing your learning experiences? What is/are your preferred learning style(s)?   Determine your needs Yes, this is a big question and it might take some time and effort to peel back the onion, but determining what specific skills you or those you lead need to perform more effectively is the central question to answer. Seek feedback from a variety of sources, including the intended participants, and gather ideas from colleagues and learning development professionals. We all have trouble seeing our blind spots and you need to understand the full picture to make informed decisions. Don’t worry if the picture is still somewhat unclear after a bit of thinking, too. This might be one indication that you should consider a tool like a 360-degree assessment to determine where to focus your energy. Once you’ve zeroed in on the skills you need to target, do your due diligence and find the providers with explicit expertise in those areas. Be sure to cast a wide net and consider both commercial providers—small and large—as well as either local or well-known universities. As I mentioned, many people are looking for your business! Each type of provider has its merits, and you’ll need to determine who is the best match not only in terms of expertise, but also who will be able to engender trust and encourage you or others to fully engage in the process. Structured programs vs. flexible options With so many options out there, another way to help narrow down the possibilities is to decide how much say you want to have in designing your learning experience.  Some providers specialize in providing a small number of prescribed certificate and/or degree programs, whereas others take a more consultative approach and work with you to design and develop programs around your specific aims. Both approaches are equally likely to succeed in the right circumstances, but the program aims must be in line with your needs. Depending on the list of skills you need to target, it may be easy to match up your needs with a highly structured program or it may leave you feeling like only a portion of the focus is relevant to you. Your budget also comes into play at this point. For those of you Federal leaders out there whose travel...

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How to Create a Federal Résumé That Gets Noticed

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

Not getting any responses when you apply on USAJobs.gov? It could be your presentation of your qualifications, not your qualification themselves, that is keeping you from consideration for the position you want. In the Federal Government, you need to have a tailored résumé for each position to which you apply. You aren’t being assessed on the “impression” your résumé gives, but rather your exact match to the job qualifications. And that starts not with your résumé, but with the self-assessment on USAJobs.gov in which you demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the job. The self-assessment often gets a miniscule amount of attention in comparison to résumé, but deserves the same degree of time, effort, and scrutiny. Do a poor job on the self-assessment and it is highly unlikely the hiring official will even see the résumé you worked so hard to perfect. The self-assessment combined with the résumé you complete in Résumé Builder tells a hiring official how your background will best serve the organization, making you a highly qualified candidate for the job. What does it mean to be “highly qualified” by OPM standards? Highly qualified candidates “possess the type and quality of experience that substantially exceeds the minimum qualifications of the position, including all selective placement factors and appropriate quality ranking factor(s).” Moreover, highly qualified candidates are “highly proficient in all the requirements of the job and can perform effectively in the position almost immediately or with a minimum amount of training and/or orientation.” That’s not to say you need to know how to do every aspect of the job effortlessly to get hired, but you do need to demonstrate your skill set as clearly as possible. Here are a couple of tips to improve the likelihood the hiring official will see your USAJobs résumé: Put your heart and soul into the self-assessment. Prior to getting started, print out the job announcement and make a checklist of every requirement. Write down examples of how you’ve demonstrated proficiency for each requirement. Consider accomplishments for each area. Then get to work on the self-assessment with the same attention to detail as your résumé. Finally, go back to the checklist and make sure you have covered all your qualifications. Target the job. Adjust your résumé to focus on the specific job for which you are applying. Make sure to include your accomplishments and to use the language in the job announcement itself. Hiring officials use keywords to electronically search for quality résumés, and this trick will help ensure that yours is selected to receive further evaluation. If you use the same generic résumé for all job applications, you will often be passed over. Do NOT omit something from your résumé (or vice versa) because it is in the self-assessment, as they may be viewed separately. Proofread your résumé and every field in the application. You would be amazed at how many submissions have spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors in them. Once you have proofread your résumé, have a friend look over it, as well. Pay careful attention when entering your information into the fields in USAJobs.gov. Make sure you have not created any errors while adjusting language and that you have the correct information in the field. Finally, check for verb conjugation. Your present job should be in the...

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Assuring Successful Adoption of Business Innovations

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

It’s common practice for the government and commercial entities to periodically modify their organization’s reporting structure, business processes, and day-to-day procedures to adapt to the changing needs of the agency or company.  And … it’s human nature to be resistant or hesitant to the accepting the changes, or confused by the new ideas that result from those actions.   Senior leadership tends to introduce the “new ways of doing things” through policies, memos, all-hands meetings, and the all too frequent “word of mouth.”  Although these work to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the “message” or the level of effort in planning the changes, there are some fundamental tips that relate to basic human behavior which work with most people regardless of their nationality, language, culture, education, or location.   I would like to share five easy-to-remember building blocks that have been proven to lead to successful adoption of new ideas and innovations. The foundation for these building blocks were derived from an analysis of over 1,100 sociological studies by Everett M. Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker in their ground breaking book, Communication of Innovations, 1972. The authors define innovations as “an idea, product, or practice as being perceived as new by an individual.” The key here is that when individuals, not the organizations, adopt new ways of thinking or acting, the resulting changes are more readily accepted.  To verify that this definition is true, Rogers and Shoemaker explored the characteristics of innovators, the rate of adoption of ideas by a diverse population of people, and the decision-making processes in 103 different sociological settings. They also compared what they found with similar conclusions in more than 1,500 publications dealing with the communication of innovations. Examples of the new ideas they studied ranged from introducing farm tractors in Turkey, to family planning techniques among Hindu housewives, to modern math among Pennsylvania teachers and ultimately the introduction of new medicines worldwide. You may have heard of the terms “innovators,” “early adopters” and “late adopters”, which are commonly used in the press and trade journals. Those terms and concepts are from these authors.   Types of Innovation Adopters (Adapted from Rogers and Shoemaker, Innovation Curve in Communication of Innovations, 1972)  The Five Building Blocks for Successful Innovations There are the five building blocks that you may want to include in your planning for new “innovations.” Relative Advantage:   “The degree to which an individual perceives that a new idea or product is better than the one it supersedes.” The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Compatibility:  “The degree to which an idea or innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences and the needs of the person considering the adoption of the innovation.” The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Complexity:   “The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use or understand.  The ease with which an individual can acquire capabilities in the use of the innovation is measurable on a simplicity — complexity continuum.”  The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption. Trialability:  “The degree to which an innovation may be experimented or “tried out” on a limited basis; without committing the individual to a permanent adoption.”  The trialability of an innovation is...

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Employee Performance: Do You See the Big Picture?

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Linda, a supervisor of an eight-person analysis team, went home every night for a week frustrated that her team wasn’t getting the job done. She shared her frustrations with her husband over dinners, “Maybe this team just doesn’t have what it takes. Charles and Kelly don’t seem to understand some of the analyses we do. And, Jose and Pat just seem apathetic most of the time.” Linda’s husband asks, “Wait, didn’t you invest a lot in training those four last year? Remember how many dinners I ate alone because you were doing their work while they took classes?” Linda sighs, “Yeah, I thought things would get a lot easier when they improved their analytics skills. I even made sure they knew how strongly I felt about investing in them and their careers.” Linda faces an issue that many supervisors face each day. They often ask: What influences employee performance? How can I improve their performance? More factors impact performance than many of us realize. Some of these factors include: Skills Ability Attitudes Personality Background and experiences Motivation Organizational culture Work context Linda might want to consider all of these factors as she tries to figure out why they are performing lower than her expectations. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios that relate to each factor: Skills: Despite having sent the four team members to training, the analysis software that is used on the job is different from the one used in training. Additional training in the analysis software that the team uses may be needed. Ability: Some of the team members don’t have the attention to detail that analysis work requires. They may perform better in a different role. Attitudes: Jose and Pat are apathetic because they feel they are still regarded as junior team members even though they have advanced analytical skills. Personality: Charles and Kelly are reluctant to ask questions about their work assignments in a team meeting because they are introverted. Background and experiences: Charles has a background in financial analysis, which is quite different than technical analysis that Linda’s team does. Some of the concepts are the same, yet the work is different enough that Charles has a hard time using his background in his current role. Kelly comes from a family of technical analysts who take pride in one-upping each other, so she feels self-conscious about asking questions and prefers to figure things out on her own. Motivation: Pat was turned down for a promotion last year and doesn’t feel that his performance is being fairly rewarded. Jose feels that any extra effort he puts out is rewarded with more work. Organizational Culture and Work Context: Linda’s predecessor answered questions from the team with, “Don’t we pay you to know the answer to that?” Over time, the team stopped asking questions; the team’s norm soon became one of figuring things out on their own instead of working together to address challenges. Linda’s choice of solution depends, of course, on which of the above factors are operating. A likely next step is for her to gather additional information, perhaps by meeting with each team member. Linda, like most supervisors, will probably feel nervous or unsure how to approach this meeting or how to phrase her questions. The important first step for Linda is to recognize...

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Take It Personnelly: Crisis Communications in HR

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

On the day Mary Bara was promoted to CEO of GM, I happily tweeted a congratulatory message and spent some time fantasizing about being the first female Motor City CEO. I admit a large part of that may be my fantasy about having a 1967 Chevrolet Impala just like Dean Winchester’s, but there also exists a desire to see women in the driver’s seat of a Detroit car company (insert groan for the horrible pun.) I was not, however, thinking about running a company that was hiding a product defect that resulted in the deaths of 13 people and the recall of millions of cars. When I did start to think about it, the first thing that came to my mind was the need for crisis communications and I was impressed, as always, by communications expert Paul Argenti’s advice for senior leaders in a recent HBR blog. Crisis management in the public sector can be even more complicated than in the private sector because the United States has more than 300 million stakeholders. Consider, for example, the situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The implications of the crisis at the VA, like that at GM, not only demand crisis communications to the public at large, but also to employees. VA employees are under intense scrutiny even though the vast majority are doing their absolute best for our Veterans. This is precisely where the advice for senior leaders needs to align with actionable advice for HR. Even when a corporate communications team handles the external communication, HR has a responsibility to ensure that internal communications both facilitate the change necessary to solve the problem and engage employees to maintain continuity of operations. Although HR is usually adept at change management communications, crisis communications can be different and a lot trickier. Here are some tips for handling internal crisis communications when they fall to you in HR: Align External Communications with Internal Communications from Day One: HR may not be the first people you think of to address a crisis any more than the employees are your first stakeholder audience, but HR is critical in mitigating the impact on employee productivity, engagement, and retention. Moreover, employees should not be the forgotten stakeholders in a crisis. HR should be more than consulted on employee impact; HR should be accountable for making sure the organization can make the changes necessary to address the issue – and that starts with internal communication. Mea Culpa to The Employees, Too: Paul Argenti recommends to “admit your mistakes publicly” and that’s sound advice. That mea culpa should also include an apology to employees who will be affected by the crisis and it should be timed as closely to any public apology as possible. No one likes to learn bad news about their organization from a news report any more than Obama wanted to find out about the VA crisis on the news. If an apology is issued to customers, employees deserve one, too, as most of them had nothing to do with the crisis at hand. HR should also reiterate available support to employees, especially if the crisis is of a tragic nature. Provide “Talking Facts”: In crisis communications, the rumor mill is a formidable enemy and hierarchal credibility may have been damaged by the crisis...

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Bounce Up When You Can’t Bump Up: Strategies for Getting Ahead in the Federal Government

Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 1 comment

Bounce Up When You Can’t Bump Up: Strategies for Getting Ahead in the Federal Government

Are you ready for a promotion, but know there won’t be an opening for you until Hilary’s grandchild is old enough to run for President? Given the shrinking size of the Federal workforce, the budget constraints on filling open positions, and lack of retirements from baby boomers, opportunities for promotion in your current division or even your current agency may appear non-existent. As discussed in an earlier blog, this results in the need for members of the Federal workforce to view a career as a lattice rather than a ladder. In plain language, sometimes you need to move laterally to find an opportunity to move up. Moreover, sometimes you need to move down and laterally to find that opportunity: you need to bounce up. The key to the bounce up is that it’s NOT a “bounce” in the Urban Dictionary sense of the word ­­- you aren’t simply existing your current component or agency. You’re moving on with a deliberate plan to move UP. The key to blazing such a career trail is having a deliberate plan, which can be much more complicated in the Federal workplace than in the private sector. To discover how to find a Federal job when you already have one, I spoke with LaVerne Rayford, a Federal human resources expert. I surmised four key recommendations from my conversation with LaVerne: 1. Have a Written Plan – This doesn’t mean that you have to put it into Microsoft Project. A Post-It™ Note could suffice, but put your plan in writing. This is especially important if you’re taking a job at the same or a lower level. Make a commitment to where you want to be and how to get there. 2. Do Your Homework – Take inventory of the skills you have and make a plan to develop any additional skills you will need to move into a new position. It’s imperative you’re honest with yourself about what your skills are. You can read more about that in this great blog by Robin Sparks. LaVerne also recommends talking with a mentor about whether it’s best to move inter- or intra-agency. 3. Invest In Yourself – A reality of public service is that there often isn’t budget to reimburse you for training outside of the needs of your current role, a professional society membership, or a professional journal in the field you want to move into. You may have to pay for these things yourself. And you are worth the investment (like L’Oreal, only with career advancement and without Beyoncé). 4. Put Your Best Foot Forward – Chris Rock observed that, during the first few months of dating, you aren’t really dating that person. You’re dating their “representative.” That is to say the best parts of them with little view into their weaknesses (like whether they wear Crocs.) You need to show your best self in the application process. This does NOT mean you should be deceptive about your weaknesses. Much like dating, you’re looking for alignment or “fit.” To do this: Represent on your résumé: Always tailor your résumé to the job you want and highlight your achievements. Don’t just cut and paste from your position description. Describe your success for each responsibility and use numbers whenever possible. As they say, “In God we trust....

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Use the Active Voice for More Impactful Writing

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

We often lessen the impact of our writing by using the passive voice. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some very practical guidance and examples that illustrate how government managers can add directness and impact to their communications, both with their staff and with the public. Give it a try with something you’ve written recently. See the difference? PREFER THE ACTIVE VOICE In an active sentence, the person or agency performing an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Changing passive voice to active voice in your writing can add energy and cut wordiness. Consider the following two versions of the same basic message, which describes a supervisor’s actions: All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor. Following the completion of each task, I received a full feedback that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and improve my performance. I was given support in addressing my personal objectives such as improvement of interviewing skills and building technical and client knowledge. My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions. His comments after every task helped me to reflect upon and improve my performance. He constantly encouraged me to address my objectives, such as improving my interviewing skills and building my technical knowledge. The first version, in passive voice, is wordier, weaker, and less direct. The second version, in active voice, is briefer, clearer, and more conversational or natural. The active voice emphasizes who is doing something: “My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions.” The actor (my supervisor) comes first in the sentence. The subject of the sentence does the action. The passive voice emphasizes who or what is being acted upon: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor.” Or, the doer may not be mentioned in the passive sentence: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly.” To communicate effectively, write most of your sentences in the active voice. To change passive sentences to active, follow these four steps:   1. Find or supply the actors. “An excellent job was done by Stacy.” Stacy is the actor. 2. Put the actor at the beginning of the sentence. “Stacy . . .” 3. Replace the passive verb with an active verb. “Stacy did . . .” 4. Make the subject of the passive sentence the direct object. “Stacy did an excellent job.” Of course, sometimes the passive voice is a better choice, such as when you need to point out an error or shortcoming in a diplomatic way. “A mistake was made in the last set of calculations” is more tactful than “You made a mistake in the last set of calculations.” Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD., a book in series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.   © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Not Just Phoning It In: HR’s Role in Supporting Agency Telework

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 3 comments

I attended the Federal Workplace Training and Expo recently. There were many great presentations, but my favorite by far was by Mika Cross from OPM on the topic of telework. I was not surprised to hear that 32% of teleworkers participate in telework three or more days a week. I was surprised, however, to learn that 12% of Federal workers have not been notified of their telework eligibility and 24% of Federal Agencies still do not have a telework policy in place to meet the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. (You can learn more about the act and Federal use of telework at Telework.gov.) Perhaps even more surprising, 22% of Federal employees did not receive approval for telework even though their job would allow it. This is all in spite of measurable benefits ranging from energy savings to better Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results. Given the benefits of telework to the Federal agency and employees alike, HR teams have an imperative to implement telework to the extent possible in their agencies. This presents several complex challenges for HR: HR is becoming more virtual and individual contributors must learn how to work as HR professionals on virtual teams as managers adapt to managing virtual HR teams. HR professionals must become adept at supporting a virtual client base. HR must help their client base learn how to participate on and manage virtual teams. Rumor Has It According to OPM research, the number one barrier to telework in agencies is management resistance. HR’s change management capabilities are key to overcoming resistance, specifically in listening to their clients and separating myths about telework from the reality. One of the most common concerns HR hears from clients is that they will not be able to adequately supervise a teleworker. What I find most interesting about this concern is that so many employees only telework a few days a week and have little to no interaction with their managers when they are in the office, yet the manager still feels concern about managing the employee remotely. Ms. Cross suggested a method to address this is to start by having the manager telework a few days a week to help the manager both understand the benefits of telework and that he can manage without being in the same building. I’d also propose that HR offer to facilitate conversations between the manager and the employee about how to measure productivity with the intent that the conversations will continue without HR facilitation after the initial agreement. I have also heard about increased scrutiny of teleworking employees. For example, expecting an hour-by-hour account of the person’s time when working remotely, but not having the same expectation when the employee is in the office. There is also often a mismatch in expectations around communications. Some individuals prefer to use telework to be “heads down” on a project and expect not to be disturbed. If an employee’s manager, however, expects the teleworker to check in via email or telephone throughout the day and to be on instant messenger all day, their productivity might be severely limited. In my experience, mismatches in expectations – especially those around communication– lead to the greatest dysfunction among virtual teams. Tips for Making it Work So, how can HR help managers and individual contributors set and...

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Can You Handle the Truth?

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

There is an infamous scene in the movie “A Few Good Men” where Jack Nicholson’s character responds to constant questioning about the truth with a legendary outburst. “You can’t handle the truth!” he shouts to Tom Cruise’s character. This scene reminds me of coaching, but not in the way you might think. As coaches, it is not our job to goad our clients into acknowledging their situation the way Tom Cruise’s character does in the courtroom. In fact, as coaches, we do not necessarily even know what the truth of a particular client’s situation may be. We come to the table with our knowledge of human behavior and leadership; we also bring an assumption that our client is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. We do our due diligence to learn about the client and the context they work in but we do not seek to be experts in their work arena. We are not coming in to “fix” them or tell them what to do. The client often comes to the table with feedback they have received along with their own perceptions of how things are going. Working in collaboration with our client, it is our job as coaches to help the client gain clarity about what is working and what is not working, and what they are willing and able to do to get closer to their desired outcomes. We accomplish this through deep listening, inquiry, and behavioral practices that help the client to achieve goals for themselves and their way of working. That sounds like a pretty straightforward process, doesn’t it? It can be, but it isn’t always that simple. I have lost count of the number of times a coaching client has said, “I’ve never talked with anyone else about how hard it is for me to lead before now. I’m harder on myself than anyone else is.” Or, “I can’t believe I just admitted out loud that I don’t feel competent as a leader. I wake up worried about it in the middle of the night.” These statements are just two of the ways that past clients have acknowledged the truth of their situation in a coaching session with me. I know I am not the only coach who experiences this on a fairly regular basis. The feedback that clients bring into coaching can be very hard for them to process, particularly if the client has a blind spot or it is the first time they have ever been told that their leadership approach isn’t working on some level. This is where a trained coach helps to create a safe space for the client to discuss the hard truth of their situation. I frequently refer to this as sacred space because that is how it feels to me when a client invests their trust in me and in the coaching process. I feel honored and humbled when a client invites me into that space. It is important to treat that space – and the client – with dignity and respect. It may be the only judgment-free zone they have in their lives. So, where is the similarity to the infamous movie scene I’ve mentioned? The sacred coaching space I’ve described is very different from the witness stand. I think many leaders come into it at...

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Assess Before You Diagnose

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I opened my copy of Performance Improvement recently and was excited to read “An Ounce of Good Assessment is Worth A Pound of Analysis and A Ton of Cure” by Roger Kaufman. It is only natural for managers and executives to diagnose their organizations. They want quick answers. The sooner they can figure out what is causing a problem, the sooner they can focus on getting “real work” done. When I go to the doctor, I am the same way. I’ve already Googled my symptoms and think I know what’s wrong. I don’t want to spend time talking about the different possibilities. I want to focus on how I can cure my ailment. What I really want is a shot or pill that can fix me quickly! It’s frustrating when I leave the doctor’s office with nothing more than an order for a diagnostic test. But, I know that it’s the right approach to gather additional information to make a correct diagnosis. Organizations work the same way. Stepping back to gather information takes time. It takes resources. It requires clear thought. An assessment is simply a tool that helps you collect the information so that you can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then find the right solution. Does this mean that assessment has to be a costly, time-consuming endeavor? Of course not. Many ways exist to gather information—interviews, focus groups, online assessments, surveys, observations, and existing metrics. You might conduct a few interviews with key stakeholders.  You could invite five or six people to a focus group or spend a day observing employees on the job. You also might use an online assessment or survey, which are great ways to get information from many people in a relatively short amount of time. I learned from Dr. Kaufman’s article that investing the time to accurately diagnose the problem is not a new concept. In 1975, another leading scholar in the field of instructional design and performance improvement, Joe Harless, wrote a book called An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Today, people still want to rush to find a quick solution without spending time to analyze the problem. The next time you think you might be self-diagnosing a problem in your organization, stop to ask yourself a few questions: What are other possible explanations for what I am seeing? What evidence do I have that my explanation is the correct one? Am I relying on anecdotal evidence, such as a handful of personal observations or what others have told me? How can I collect information that will help me reach the right conclusion? If you think an assessment will help you better understand an organizational problem, seek assistance from an expert. Find someone who can advise you on how to collect the information you need for an accurate diagnosis. Performance improvement specialists—sometimes called human performance technologists, assessment specialists, instructional systems technologists, or industrial/organizational psychologists—will know the latest and most efficient way to proceed, often drawing on their experience and lessons learned while helping with other...

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Is It Time for a Training Line of Business?

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Reducing budgets and increasing efficiency is standard fodder these days in all discussions about Federal Government operations. Whether discussions focus on government civilian pay and pay systems, retirement contributions, veterans’ benefits, redundant and overlapping programs, or Federal real estate, the need to improve return on investment and reduce spending is a pervasive theme. For more than a decade, the Federal Government has been introducing line of business (LOB) initiatives to reduce redundancy and increase process and system standardization using shared services. LOB initiatives include financial management, security, and human resources. A 2009 Cost Benefit Analysis conducted by NASA estimated that the HR LOB managed by OPM would save more than $1.3 billion in costs. As downward pressure on the Federal budget continues, consolidation of redundant services into shared service LOBs should continue across the Federal Government. Perhaps one area that warrants serious consideration for consolidation into a shared service center is in the procurement of cross-domain competency training. With agencies at all levels of the government challenged to provide needed training to personnel, breaking down silos between agencies and removing redundant infrastructure required to procure, delivery, manage, and evaluate training on core common competencies may offer a way to stretch Federal training investment. To promote dialog on the consolidation and sharing of training across Federal agencies, here are few positives and potential negatives associated with creating an interagency training shared services center. Pros: Cons: More efficient administration of training and training contracts More efficient may not mean less expensive Streamlined administration reduces overhead burden and workload (for agencies and contractors) Shared service center becomes a “single point of failure” for procuring training that could lead to delays in contract awards Increased consistency in quality of training offerings Less ability to customize training to the specific agency context Removes redundant training management systems and infrastructures Integrating agency specific technical training into a shared serviced learning infrastructure could require significant investment Uniform training evaluations enable better evaluations of effectiveness / ROI across programs and vendors Harder to create evaluations that link directly to agency specific performance measures   In her closing remarks for the National Treasury Employees Union annual legislative conference, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, noted that the 2015 budget will include measures to “support the exchange of training ideas across government.” This idea exchange could be an important first step in moving to a training shared services concept. Open and thoughtful dialog about how to save money while providing the high quality training experiences Federal workers need (and deserve) has to be the cornerstone of any meaningful effort to optimize return on investment for government training...

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Bar Rescue – Turnaround Management

Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I have recently discovered a TV reality show called Bar Rescue, which is now in its third season on Spike. The premise of the show is that the fantasy of being in the bar business attracts owners with little experience into this highly competitive world, where businesses fail early, and often. Because of the mismatch between fantasy and reality, many bars fail due to mismanagement and poor market strategy. Often, the owners’ intentions are good, but they simply make uninformed decisions or abdicate responsibility when the situation gets tough. They don’t understand how to stay in business once the novelty of their ownership wears off. Most of the establishments featured in the show are mere weeks away from bankruptcy – hence the need for an immediate turnaround. In the show, Bar Consultant Jon Taffer helps turn failing bars around. In the process, he provides a great primer on turnaround management. While his style may be a bit abrasive, he does what turnaround managers should do when they enter the “Change or Die” phase. Generally, he follows these basic steps: 1. Establish a Performance Baseline: Taffer and his team of consultants spend a few days getting to know the business, the owners, the employees, the marketplace, etc. He watches live interactions via closed circuit camera feeds, sends in “secret shoppers,” and researches demographics for the local market to see how the bar is positioned. Understanding the issues is a key to making sure the changes he proposes address these issues. 2. Confront Issues Head On: Next, Taffer confronts the owners with the mismanagement, performance, staffing, and market-positioning issues the bar faces. He makes the proprietors take ownership for the issues. This process is often contentious, because the owners’ failure to act when they see an issue (or their behavior causes an issue), and often overshadows other performance issues. Common themes include: Owners’ putting themselves before the needs of the business Inappropriate owner and employee behavior Employee theft Poor employee training Poor sanitation Inefficient traffic flow pattern Poor branding, etc. You may see some parallels in these issues to your situation, whether you are leading a team or are in a service execution role. In some episodes, personnel either quit or are fired when it is clear that the business will be managed more closely. Sometimes these firings come at the direction of Taffer, and against the will of the owner, who is too close to the situation to see the real issues. Taffer tries to defuse this tension by maintaining focus on managing the risk to the business. Remarkably, the conflict is rarely, if ever, personal, and I have been surprised to see some of the attitude turnarounds that take place. 3. Set a Level Starting Place: Once the smoke clears from this confrontation and the bar owner acknowledges and takes responsibility for the issues, Taffer sets some basic ground rules to make sure that everyone still involved is comfortable moving forward. This acknowledgment is a building block to implementing the kinds of changes necessary to ensure the bar can stay in business. 4. Train, Train, Train: After Taffer gets that agreement, he brings in his team of experts to help train staff and work on rebranding under the new image. Sometimes they focus on perfecting the timing skills which...

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Is ILT Dying?

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Yes, ILT (instructor-led training) is dying, but we need not mourn its loss. Instead, we should realize we are standing on the brink of something exhilarating: the reincarnation of instructor-led training as virtual instructor-led training (VILT). The traditional brick-and-mortar ILT classroom has been smoldering for a while now. As federal travel budgets shrink and training dollars dry up (although the future of training is looking up), organizations are seeking alternatives to fill their training needs. Organizations are continually looking for a way their employees can be out of the office for less time. In response, virtual instructor-led classes, which are typically delivered by an instructor in a virtual environment, are swooping in to meet this need. Organizations that have previously only offered traditional ILT classroom experiences acknowledge the customer expectation that these same courses be available virtually. ILT Reborn VILT marks the rebirth of ILT. In this format, employees can take required training courses without leaving their worksite. Some parts of the training may be available asynchronously, meaning students can learn at their own pace, and when their schedule allows. The classic VILT experience is guided by a facilitator, who in many cases will be delivering instruction real-time, so students can ask questions and participate in peer discussions. Given that there has been an overall increase in the use of VILT, and it is likely not going away anytime soon, it is important to address some of the common questions that come up around this training modality. How can you possibly replicate the ILT experience virtually? The answer is you cannot — and should not — simply carry over the ILT experience into virtual training. Instead, you design VILT courses so that the material can come to life in a virtual space. VILT courses are not mindless page-turners; rather, they have the potential to be highly interactive, relevant training experiences with frequent instructor and peer interaction built into the course. Where does the instructor fit in this new format? In the VILT class, the instructor still stands at the helm of the learning experience, coaching students, telling stories, answering questions, and delivering lectures (recorded or live). In fact, the instructor may be even more tapped into how individual students are doing than if the class were offered only in a traditional face-to-face classroom. VILT has the potential to provide more engagement through discussion forums, chats, polls, and other “pulse checks” that help the instructor gauge each learner’s mastery of the content. How do you reach those students who prefer to learn in an ILT setting? The point of VILT classes is not to set students adrift, floating alone in the virtual sea. Instead, they are part of a community of learners who happen to interact in a virtual classroom. Students often have the opportunity to explore course content at their own pace, so they can take the time they need with the material. In addition, the virtual environment encourages support, as peers respond to questions and share knowledge with each other. In the VILT classroom, there may also be some hesitation on the part of non-digital natives. Those who have built their careers sitting in the physical classroom with an instructor leading from the podium may find it difficult to envision a productive virtual training experience. Given that the...

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GSA Uses the Cloud to Smash Barriers

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The term road block is synonymous with barrier for a reason. Perhaps that’s what inspired the General Services Administration (GSA) to look to the cloud to overcome communication barriers as they move toward a hoteling model for their office workspaces. As discussed in The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management, if your project hits a barrier—anything that restrains or obstructs progress or access—that means there is something coming in between you and the success of your project. As project managers, it is our duty to remove barriers to keep the project moving. These days, for an organization like GSA, which is spread out with regional offices in 11 different cities across the country, a barrier to an enterprise-wide project like this could be as basic as communicating appropriately with all of the necessary stakeholders. And for that very reason, GSA has been working on migrating many of its core agency systems to the cloud. As part of this migration, GSA set up an enterprise social network for its employees, which they leveraged as part of their hoteling model project to capture ideas about streamlining their business processes. InformationWeek reports that this move has saved GSA approximately $5 million annually. By being inclusive and removing communications barriers from the onset of the project, GSA enabled its employees to collaborate on ideas for future phases of the project, generating continued stakeholder buy-in and leading the way toward overall project success. This hoteling model shift includes a major change in their organizational culture and it demonstrates an admirable level of awareness for them to build on the project’s progress and leverage the network as a line of communication about the project itself. GSA has also leveraged the same social network communications tool to aid in continued employee support for project improvements and ideas as well enabling GSA employees to track project costs and schedules with links to their internal planning and budget documents. To learn more about project barriers and tips to avoid and overcome them in your own projects, download the excerpt “Sin #4: Barriers” and check out the complete book The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management from Management Concepts...

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Tips for Government Managers to Overcome Writer’s Block

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Whether writing a business plan, memo, or report, one of the hardest tasks government managers face in writing is getting started. In my recent book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some  tips to help you break through the writer’s block we all experience—and also to help you make an initial assessment of what you have written before passing it along for editing and review.   TIPS FOR WRITING DRAFTS To make the draft stage easier and more productive, consider the following steps: • Once you have a complete outline in hand, write your first draft quickly. • Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for drafting. • Begin with the easiest section. • After you complete the first draft, walk away from it. • After you get some distance, take a few minutes to review your draft with fresh eyes. • Assess the following before going into the editing stage: – Did I explain my purpose clearly? – Did I consider the role, knowledge level, attitude, and other characteristics of the reader? – Does the overall organization of the draft make sense? – Did I provide closure? (For example, did you tell readers exactly what you want them to do?) After taking a cursory look at your first draft, you’re ready to go on to the editing stage. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.  © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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What is the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership | 0 comments

One of the most frequent sources of confusion about coaching is what it is in relation to mentoring. There are some distinct differences, and then some practices that can overlap. The distinction is important, as most groups in leadership development activities typically reverse the true definitions. The key difference is that a mentor usually has some superior knowledge, wisdom or experience, and is able to give helpful, specific information to a mentee. A mentor might understand the politics of the organization, know who’s who or how to get results in the specific, unique terrain of the organization. Coaches more often help clients come to insight about their own needs, actions and situations. This is usually done through open-ended questions, but also with feedback, assessments and other tools. A key difference is that for a mentor, there is usually a right answer or solution “out there.” This means there is some objective element, such as the best way to get things done in the culture, or a great person to talk to in order to get information. With a coach, the process is more about what’s “in here.” This means the values, beliefs, experiences and ultimately choices the client makes. The coach much less often dispenses specific information, but rather helps clients internally clarify and choose. (And part of the clarity may involve finding a mentor who can help the client distinguish fact from opinion.) Where it can become confusing is that some mentors actually use coaching practices. They may stop giving information and start asking questions to help the mentee think things through. And, it is not unknown for coaches to share experiences as a potentially useful way of looking at an issue. However, in almost all cases, the coach will share the experience or knowledge as just one way to look at the issue, not the “solution.” The coach remembers that the client’s context may be different, and such information is usually offered as just one possibility, always with the client choosing what he or she thinks will work best for him or her. This keeps ownership with the...

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Are You Leading in a Hostile Workplace?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 4 comments

The recent controversy over hostile workplaces in the National Football League (NFL) should have each franchise owner taking a hard look at his or her organization, and serves as a great leadership fishbowl from which the rest of us can learn. For those not following the situation, rookie hazing has had tacit approval in the NFL since its inception. Earning the right to interact with teammates as a peer comes at a price in the NFL. Rookies are expected to entertain veteran players, run errands for them, and as we learned from the Miami Dolphins situation that is still in the news, subsidize (or outright pay for) trips, meals, etc. for them. Rookies even often endure some forms of physical abuse. The prize is acceptance by the veterans – and the right to join in the “fun” the next year when the new crop of rookies join the team. Owners and coaches have long turned a blind eye to this practice, and players haven’t talked about it much, until recently. In 2013, rookie Jonathan Martin changed that, by claiming the Miami Dolphins created a hostile work environment and walking off the team. This week, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers – but that doesn’t address the underlying problem with the Dolphins, and potentially other franchise cultures. To explain more, let’s go back: A hostile work environment is one in which, “The hostile behavior, actions, or communication must be severe [and] must seriously disrupt the employee’s work [or] an employee’s career progress … Additionally, the behavior, actions or communication must be discriminatory in nature.” So how could the owners and coaches fall asleep at the switch and let this hostile workplace develop? A common defense is that “Boys will be boys,” and “We can’t watch what they do all the time,” but that abdicates responsibility and is becoming recognized as a cop-out.  Teams have, in the past, failed to address these kinds of issues (illegal drug use, domestic or sexual violence, or other brushes with the law), preferring to handle them “in-house” without upsetting the applecart. As this issue plays out, the NFL culture is due for a reckoning, and the league response to this crisis will likely be transformative and difficult. So here’s the question for you: as a leader in your organization, what would happen to you if you operated your organization under the same level of tacit approval for a hostile work environment that, until now, was acceptable in the NFL? Without getting too far into the weeds about the legal definition, the question remains: Are you or your colleagues creating conditions where actions, communication, and behavior make doing a job very difficult? And if you think the answer to that question is, “No,” then the follow up question is, “Even if you are not creating that environment yourself, does that environment exist in the workplace in which you lead?” If you can’t confidently comment either way, how can you find out? Keep your eyes open to the dynamics of your organization. Ask around, and listen openly to what you hear. Is HR receiving complaints that you may not be aware of? Does the culture support widespread dissemination of content or communication, in person or electronically, that may be considered offensive? Are you observing employees...

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Trying Times: Leading With Emotionally Intelligent Communication

Posted by on Mar 7, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Emotional intelligence matters almost all the time, but one time it really matters is when any doctor, including a vet, is giving really bad news. After 11 great years, our beloved Corgi dog, Lily, was dying. Her fatal condition came on very suddenly. As my wife and I sat in the vet’s office processing this news, I could not help but notice the compassionate communication and emotional mastery the vet and her assistant practiced in helping us understand and deal with this sad news. When at work we teach emotional intelligence, we talk about all the bad ways communication goes wrong. At the vet’s, a horrible possibility would be to simply say, “Your dog is dying. Do you want to put her down or not?” Particularly during change, disruption, loss or stress, emotionally intelligent communication makes a difference. I had reason to call in at the vet’s a few weeks later, and made it a point to praise the staff for their handling of our situation. One person expressed her thanks, and said, “We try really hard at that.” “Application planning” is a standard component of most leadership development programs. After all, if you’re not going to apply what’s learned, what’s the point? Yet we know that too many people leave the room and have a very mixed record of actually changing behavior. (This is because of a lack of ongoing support and other factors.) In other words, they’re not really trying that hard. Life gets busy, they forget things, and it’s back to business as usual. People often talk about periods of loss, stress, change, disruption or upheaval as “trying times,” but I would like to borrow the phrase the suggest that anyone going through a leadership development experience think about specific instances in which he or she can try new things. This can be a trying time. For example, leaders may try a new behavior to increase communication. They might listen more or better. They may stop interrupting, or start asking open-ended questions to draw out others more. Whatever they do, to set aside a trying time would be good for...

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How Do You Know When You’ve Closed the Gap Between Strategic Goals and Workforce Capabilities?

Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

One of the recurring questions I hear from clients on a regular basis is: “How can we measure the success of our learning and performance improvement solutions?” For years, training and learning professionals have wrestled with evaluations of training effectiveness, return on investment, and impact on the business. Frameworks like Kirkpatrick’s four-level model and Phillips’s five-level evaluation provide an established structure for gathering metrics to evaluate training success. But, with the increasing digitization of training and growth in the use of automated systems for learning management, performance management, training delivery, and workforce management, new opportunities are emerging for harnessing the power of analytics to evaluate and improve learning. In the theme of my recent blogs on helping organizations take the first steps to introduce analytics to the HR function, I wanted to look at a specific application for analytics, learning analytics (LA), to provide HR/HC leaders with insight on one way to bring data driven decision making to HR. Learning analytics is the use of data, statistical analysis, and exploratory and predictive models to achieve greater success in training and learning. If training is all about closing the gap between your strategic goals and your workforce’s capabilities to reach those goals, then learning analytics is the tool that helps you know when you’ve closed the gap. The beauty of learning analytics is in its simplicity. The best LA programs make use of existing learning systems and data to gauge training performance. For most organizations data from your Human Resources Information System (HRIS), Learning Management System (LMS), Content Management System (CMS), and performance management tools can be combined to provide insight into training program effectiveness. Here are just a few examples of the types of effectiveness questions you can answer, and actions you can take, by combining data from various sources within the organization: Question Decision Is there a relationship between training performance (LMS) and position type (HRIS) or time-in-grade (HRIS)? Revise the training program to reduce inequalities across participant groups Document course pre-requisites to encourage enrollment by those most likely to succeed Can I predict performance in a course (CMS) based on the number of embedded links the participant accesses (CMS)? Integrate content from the most frequently accessed links into the course   Do participants who complete a training program (LMS) receive improved performance ratings (HRIS)? Promote the benefits of the training program Customize individual development plans At the organization level, is there a relationship between training participation (LMS) and business metrics (performance management tools)? Prioritize training investments on those programs with the best impact on business performance Is there a relationship between training completion or performance (LMS), engagement with the content (CMS), and a change in employee status (promotion or termination) (LMS)? Predict and proactively address potential attrition based on training performance Integrate training participation and engagement metrics with career planning   As you can see from these few examples, by merging data from a variety of sources, learning analytics can provide valuable insights into your training and learning programs. The measures you can evaluate are limited mainly by your ability to ask the right questions based on your objectives and the available data. The intersection of training and big data can provide a wealth of actionable information to inform decision making and improve your learning program. If...

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Contract Negotiation: The Ambiguous Authority Tactic

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers federal negotiators a host of tactics they can use to get a solid, fair deal for their agency. One of these tactics is the “ambiguous authority” tactic—which we’ve all been subjected to when we’ve bought a car! How do you employ the tactic to get the best deal for the government? Share some experiences with your colleagues and we’ll all be better prepared for the next negotiation!   THE AMBIGUOUS AUTHORITY TACTIC You can use the ambiguous authority tactic when you are the chief negotiator but you don’t have ultimate authority to finalize the deal. You may have to go through an approval process before finalizing the negotiated agreement. You may have instructions to consult with a higher-up before you finalize the deal. These people or committees will be the ambiguous authorities you will defer to if you elect to use this tactic. The most common use of this tactic is in buying a car. You’ve slogged it out with the salesperson all day and finally think you have a deal. But then the salesperson wrinkles her brow, frowns, shakes his or her head slowly, and says those magic words, “I’ll have to talk to my sales manager.” Usually, there is no sales manager. The salesperson simply leaves you in the room to stew and sweat a little bit. You start second-guessing your last offer—and negotiating against yourself.   It’s good practice never to go into a negotiation with unlimited authority to close the deal, even if everyone has given you preapproval to do so. Always have someone you must go back to for approval. If you do have ultimate authority, never let negotiators for the other side know it. Once they find out you are the sole decision-maker, they know you are the only obstacle in the way of the terms and conditions they want. There is just one person to convince. The ambiguous authority tactic is usually employed just before the close of a negotiation. The other side thinks it has a deal, and all of a sudden there is someone else, or even a whole new cast of characters, to deal with. The last thing the other side wants is for this mysterious other person to blow a deal that is so close to being consummated. Negotiators may start to second-guess themselves and be tempted to soften their positions a bit to help you “sell” the deal to the other authority. They actually might start making additional concessions without demanding something in return. In effect, they start bidding against themselves. Always try to keep your ambiguous authority as vague as possible. This prevents the other side from immediately countering your tactic. If you hold out your boss as your ambiguous authority, the other side may simply ask you to bring that person into the negotiation. It’s harder for them to put a face on something vague like “the review committee,” “my finance folks,” or “my customers.” The best way to counter the ambiguous authority tactic is to head it off at the pass. Simply refuse to negotiate with anyone who doesn’t have ultimate authority to bind the company. Remember, you control the process—including setting and running the agenda. When you send the other side...

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What Can You Learn About Mentoring From the Game of Tennis?

Posted by on Feb 12, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Here’s a mentoring tip, borrowed from the world of tennis. In tennis, the mantra is that if you want to get better, you should play against people a little better than you. (Not a lot better, because you get smoked 6-0 and that’s just demotivating.) The reason playing against people a little better than you is so important is that in doing so you start to notice moves you would not have made. The other person is playing a different, better game. It has been said that all the best moves are stolen.At work, I recommend identifying people who seem to have a better game. In whatever domain, they perform better. It may be that they: Are more organized Are good at managing conflict Know how to gain cooperation and buy-in Create great presentations Connect with customers in creative ways Whatever it is that you notice, and value, I recommend you take these people out and buy them a cup of the gourmet coffee. Maybe even lunch. In this setting, you can ask them how they do what they do, and then sit back and listen. Here’s the potential magic in this conversation: As your new friend unpacks his or her reasoning – a way of thinking about the topic – you will probably hear something new, something you hadn’t thought about. This creates new opportunities and possibilities. For example, you might hear from someone skilled at conflict management that the first thing he or she does in a conflict is to listen and ask clarifying questions. This is contrary to how most people engage, which is more commonly to raise defense shields and counter-attack. And so the drama begins. You’re really after superior “source code,” lines of instruction that create better “applications” that you can run. The reason for the O.S. metaphor is that the ways of thinking about performance and behavior are often beneath the surface and perhaps not immediately obvious – until you...

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A Collision at the Library

Posted by on Feb 5, 2014 in Leadership | 0 comments

It seemed synchronous, or maybe asynchronous, that the lead story in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review was “A Great Place to Work,” which I noticed while returning my library book, 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers. Let’s start simple, and then ask two important questions. The simple part is an assumption: It’s quite a stretch to think employees will consider their organizations great places to work if they hate their bosses. Ergo, there must be some kind of decent relationship there. If you buy that assumption, then the two questions are: 1) Does all this “great places to work” business mean anything in terms of results? 2) How do you make your organization a great place to work? Question 1 is more than academic. Some leaders say they don’t care what employees think or feel, that the organization is not there to make them happy, and that it’s just about results — not love-fests, group hugs and brownies on Friday. Here’s an alternative logic. It’s about means and end. I don’t believe just feeling that the organization is a great place to work necessarily makes it more competitive, efficient or effective. The other part of the equation includes things like talent selection and management, some “secret sauce” that creates a competitive advantage, and cultural alignment, for example. So, employee positivity is part of the puzzle, but here’s the deal-sealer. The logical opposite definitely doesn’t work. Who really wants to run a workplace where people hate it? It’s highly unlikely the organization will do well, over the long haul, if employees feel it is not a good place to work. After all, talent walks. (The inverse is that great organizations are talent magnets.) And if you’ve ever noticed how much time is spent in the coffee room furtively discussing what’s wrong with the organization you can see the productivity subtraction right away. Perhaps it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition. You need other sources of greatness, too. If you buy that having employees feel their organization is a great place to work as at least a part of formula – because who wants to work in a toxic energy dump? — then the question is how do you create something great? This is truly the head-scratcher — the holy grail and mystifying (to very many) question. But it’s really very simple and obvious. It’s just that it runs contrary to much of traditional business logic and values. Perhaps the easiest way to address this ongoing question, the answers to which we are still learning, is to quote Bruce Katcher and Adam Snyder, authors of the book mentioned above. They say it’s just three things. Listen to employees Involve them in developing solutions Start small (and big things will happen) Listening shows employees the relationship is there, that they matter. Involving them in solving problems shows them they and their views count. You also learn a tremendous amount by doing these things. Starting small means to build things over time, to start what has been called the flywheel effect, not go for what I call “Transformation by Thursday.” It was the famous philosopher W.C. Fields who stated, “From the tiny acorn grows the mighty...

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Mentoring: Something to Celebrate

Posted by on Jan 27, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Did you know that, in addition to being National Blood Donor Month, January is also National Mentoring Month? For those of you already in the know, that’s awesome. For everyone else, consider yourself warned. Mentoring is making a comeback in leadership development, and for good reason. Jumping on the bandwagon could change your professional life or the trajectory of your organization. And, there is no needle involved. Promise. Mentoring has been around forever if you think about it. The term “Mentor” comes from Greek mythology and has been used since then to refer to individuals who guide and teach us. The resurgence of mentoring in leadership development has been steadily building steam over the past decade, but the conditions for its return seem to be converging: It Keeps You Moving Forward When Formal Advancement Isn’t PossibleLet’s be honest, the past few years have been tumultuous from a jobs perspective. Many organizations have downsized, and those still employed are juggling extra responsibilities to maintain business as usual. The Federal Government has a budget (big win) and the stock market is on a tear, but jobs growth remains relatively slow. As a result, formal opportunities for growth and advancement are still harder to come by in both the private and public sectors. You cannot sit idle waiting for hiring conditions to improve and big training budgets to be reinstated. Ask any leadership expert and they’ll tell you it’s essential to stay focused on growing and investing in your own leadership development—relentlessly. Mentoring is something you can do on an individual or organizational level to keep yourself or others moving forward in the absence of clear promotion opportunities. Mentoring is Taking on Exciting, New FormsWhen you think of mentoring, your mind’s eye probably pictures a seasoned leader taking a young, promising protégé with tons of energy and ambition under his or her wing. No doubt it still happens in that way, and with great success; however, mentoring is being achieved through many different types of interactions between those that have experiences and expertise to offer and those seeking to learn from them. Agencies across the Federal Government, for example, are piloting flash mentoring, group mentoring, and electronic mentoring. The easiest way to describe flash mentoring is a modified form of speed dating, where the mentees have multiple brief meetings with a variety of leaders. Group mentoring is particularly effective in helping a group to solve a defined problem, and electronic mentoring is bringing mentors and mentees together who are located in different geographic locations.  Younger Workers Want to be ConnectedMillenials build social networks naturally, almost subconsciously. They excel at connecting themselves to others in the world around them, and it may (or may not) surprise some to know that one connection emerging leaders are actively seeking in the workplace is a trusted mentor. The beauty of mentoring is that it can work just as well informally as it does through a formal program. The magic is in the match. Younger workers have already recognized that important caveat, and are focused on finding mentors that will invest both time and energy in a lasting mentoring relationship. So, Happy National Mentoring Month! The month is coming to a close. Whether you are a potential mentor or mentee, or in a position to bring mentoring...

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Sometimes Smaller is Better: Starting an HR Analytics Program

Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in Analytics, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Last week, I blogged about the emerging skillsets required in the HR function for introducing analytics and data driven decision making to the HR practice. Even with the right team in place, it can be daunting to launch your first analytic study. Much has been said about the importance of data driven decision making for HR. The early results suggest that organizations who are adopting data analytics to support HR decisions are reaping the benefits. However, as the resources available to government agencies continue to be stretched thin, implementing analytics programs can seem like an impossible task. But there is good news if you are the CHCO of a small or mid-sized organization – not all analytics programs have to be complex and costly. Instead, sometimes smaller is better when it comes to your first foray into the world of workforce analytics. Here are a few strategies your organization can take to start an HR analytics program and reap the benefits of data driven decisions. Go Small to Go Big One of the most significant challenges in creating an analytics program is to conceptualize and implement big data tools and methods. So, instead of trying to build and deploy a comprehensive program, find some small wins where a limited and readily available (or easily collected) data set can provide solid evidence that will improve your decision making. Applicant tracking systems, learning and performance management systems and intranet sites that are all present in most organizations may provide valuable insight on trends, issues, and organizational needs that can be collected and evaluated with minimal investment. Use Data to Confirm (or Disprove) Your Intuition or Hypotheses While the ability to improve workforce decision making through data collection and analysis is indisputable, a hallmark of effective leadership is the ability to make sound decisions based on experience and intuition.In the rush to utilize big data and analytics it can be easy to overlook your own successful record of making good decisions in the absence of data. So, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, focus your data collection and analysis efforts on gathering data that can confirm or disprove a hypothesis you already have. Chances are, if you’re plugged in to your workforce, you really do know what’s going on in the organization and what it takes to be successful. Devise a data collection strategy that is targeted to address areas where your intuition tells you more data is needed while moving areas where you have a high degree of confidence lower on the priority list. Of course, there are risks with this strategy – you might be ignoring blind spots or over estimating your grasp on the organization and its challenges. However, with limited time and money to invest in data driven decision making, prioritizing your investments is a necessity, so trust the wisdom gained from experience to guide you in the right direction. Start With the End in Mind  You will experience a strong temptation to go fishing for what your data can tell you.. As more and more is written about the benefits of data driven decision-making, resist the urge to invest time mining data in an undirected exploration.Instead, take time upfront to carefully consider the challenges your organization is facing and how increased data may...

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Go Ahead, Make My Year

Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 in Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

There is a small, weekly column in the Washington Post titled Animal Watch that chronicles the various adventures of animals of all kinds – dogs, cats, raccoons, eagles and more. The Animal Control Department is often called. This column is very cleverly written and headlined. It always brings a chuckle in my household. And with the New Year underway, I decided to do something about it. What does this have to do with leadership and why should you care about this? In working with leaders, managers and supervisors, we always emphasize the importance of giving positive feedback, recognition and praise when due. The opposite means the only feedback employees get is negative. This does not create a good climate, and is something people may want to bear in mind in continuing to read the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work data. On the other hand, giving positive feedback has been shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in our bloodstreams. We’ve all experienced this, and we certainly appreciate it when it happens to us. We ride a little taller in the saddle, and perhaps may feel, deep down, that yes, at times, we are, in fact, The Man or Woman. But, back to Animal Watch. Here are some examples of recent headlines: Raccoon can’t make a clean getaway – this was about one found in a laundry room One big dam rodent – about a 50-pound beaver Severe headache for hawk – about a hawk that flew into a screened porch Bird gets sooty – about one found in a (cold) fireplace Stray Shih Tzu is not up to restaurant dress code at Ballston mall – about a dog that wandered into a Noodles restaurant I have sometimes read these to my wife and daughter, and in the new year thought, it’s time to do something about all this, and so I called up one of the reporters who compiles these. I told her I found the writing clever and humorous, and that I really appreciated the touch she brought to the column. What followed made this small effort so worthwhile. You could hear her happiness over the telephone, and then she said, and I quote, “You just made my year.” Go ahead, make an employee’s (or anyone’s)...

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Are You Ready for Data-Driven Decision Making in HR?

Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Analytics, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Are You Ready for Data-Driven Decision Making in HR?

A few weeks back, Management Concepts released the white paper Federal HR Trends in FY14, our take on the five trends we believe will shape the Federal human resources and human capital space this year.  In this blog, we’ll explore the third item on our list: Data Analysts in HR. It’s not news that the rise of big data is a leading story in the field of human resources or that the push for HR departments to embrace data driven decision making strategies is a major focus across the industry. Much has been said about the importance of analytics for HR and the early results suggest that organizations who are adopting data analytics to support HR decisions are reaping the benefits. As government agencies continue to feel the pressure to optimize their investments, the push for data driven workforce decision making will continue to mount, while the resources available to implement analytics programs are likely to continue declining. The focus on analytics, combined with growing (and perhaps unrealistic) expectations about the benefits of big data and mounting pressure to make use of available data from HRIS are combining to create a high pressure environment where CHCOs are being pushed to grow their ability to apply quantitative analysis techniques to support HR decision making. Introducing analytics to the Human Resources Line of Business (HRLOB) will require HR personnel with a set of skills that has not traditionally been part of the human resources function. To ensure your organization can realize the benefits of data driven decision making here are a few key skillsets you’ll want to make sure are part of your workforce for 2014: Business Acumen The ability to tie HR data and study results to core organizational performance metrics will be critical for successful implementation of HR analytics.  While it’s one thing to design a research study, gather data, and analyze the results, making those results compelling by linking them to key performance indicators that are of interest to senior executives is a distinct activity that has not typically been part HR’s area of expertise. Because introducing analytics to the HR organization will require investment (and as such, tradeoff decisions) HR leaders will be required to demonstrate the return on those investments with solid links to business outcomes that are of interest to leaders across the organization. Research / Hypothesis Design Effectively using analytics to drive decision making requires a carefully formulated question and the design of a data collection and analysis strategy that will yield actionable information. HR practitioners need to understand how to design research studies to explain events within their organization. Knowledge about effective statistical sampling techniques and what type of analyses will provide the right view of the data at hand will ensure that the right data is collected  from the right subset of your workforce in order to obtain the information needed by HR and leaders in other functional areas. Statistical Analysis Along with knowing how to design a study so that the right data is collected, it is imperative that HR practitioners develop strong capabilities in statistical analysis using tools such as MS Excel, SPSS, or MATLAB.  The ability to calculate and appropriately interpret key statistical metrics like measures of central tendency, as well as more advanced analyses such as correlations, t-tests,...

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Make Peace with Change and Focus on Building Resilience

Posted by on Jan 3, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Management Concepts recently identified 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. The second item on that list is “Make peace with change and focus on building resilience.” It was not so very long ago that many people in organizations sought to minimize risk, preserve the status quo and even get by until retirement. That strategy worked, in a sense, so long as the going was good. Today, it is a very different story. Beset with change, disruption, technological and social transformation, and rising demands for results, practically all organizations are scrambling to stay relevant, valuable and in front of the latest wave breaking on their shores. Given the fundamentally changing terrain on which organizations now operate, a new personal ethos around change, adaptation, innovation and risk is arising. That ethos is uncomfortable, sometimes destabilizing, fraught with danger, and requires a lot more energy. But, it is here to stay. So what are leaders supposed to do? One way of understanding the new requirements for leaders to adapt and shift long-standing and  comfortable habits is to observe the tone of today’s “success literature” – all the books, articles and businesses that seek to help people succeed. The messages in this genre have shifted from something like a “get rich quick – the world is your oyster with unlimited possibilities” theme to today’s message, which runs more along the lines of “Failure is inevitable when you’re trying to do anything big. Learn from it and keep going.” How many times have we heard about the number of Edison’s failed attempts before inventing the light bulb? Federal leaders face two big problems when encountering the new normal … We will address both, and what you can do about them. The bonus is that in addressing these problems, there is the potential to build leadership capacity in your organization, and strengthen relationships with your team … Problem: Gradual Problems that Build-Up Over TimeThe first problem runs along the lines of “I made my bones coming up the way I did.” This translates as a leader having a sense of how things work, what works, and therefore what should be. As human beings, it is so comfortable to rely on what we have learned through experience. I sometimes say, “Oh, protect us from the things we learn.” The long-term perils of such thinking are fairly obvious. In systems thinking, it’s called “the boiled frog” syndrome. If you put a frog in hot water, it will hop out immediately. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and very slowly increase the heat – well, it’s going to be frog legs for dinner. Unfortunately, you are the boiled frog in this situation if you are failing to gather opinions from staff down the org chart. Especially, staff who could alert you to the gradual changes you may not be aware of. There is a large body of work now around how organizations are slow or even unable to detect changes that are “low and slow” versus immediate, shock-type events. So they keep on keeping on in what is sometimes called fighting last year’s war. Solution: Leverage the knowledge of your team to detect gradual change earlyIt is hard to hear, but the fact is potentially the most important and valuable information can...

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An Impossible Situation, and Yet …

Posted by on Dec 31, 2013 in Leadership | 2 comments

Most people reflect at year’s end. In thinking about 2013 — and realizing this is the last day of it — I realized I had to write about something extraordinary that happened during the autumn, which I will never forget. If you are interested in what it takes to elicit full-out commitment and dedication from employees, read on. Loretta is a supervisor of blue-collar employees. Their jobs are monotonous, boring and low-paid. The career itself is pretty dead-end.Upon taking her position, Loretta saw all the signs of dispiritedness, and it troubled her. The way most organizations deal with such uncomfortable things is to set metrics and make sure people perform, no matter what, with most leaders not losing a lot of sleep over the mental and emotional conditions of this front-line work. It pretty much begins and ends with “Just get the work done.” This mindset breeds all kinds of bad things, including dependency, passivity, aggression, game-playing, calling in sick, even sabotage.Loretta wanted something better, but her hands were pretty much tied. There was very little she could do to alter the actual conditions of the work. So she did something outside of the work. Here’s what she did. Near the end of the year, she called the employees together and said she wanted to thank them for their work. In addition to saying the words, she also wanted to buy them a nice lunch. (In the hands-tied department, she had been told she could not take employees outside the building for a holiday lunch.) So she brought it inside the building. She asked people where they would like to have food catered from, thinking they would identify some nice restaurants for a special occasion. But that wasn’t their world. They didn’t really know much about restaurants besides the fast-food chains. So Loretta went to the restaurants, got copies of the menus, brought them back, and asked the employees what struck their fancy.They picked one, and Loretta placed the order. But here’s the three parts of the story that get me every time. First, she brought from home white linen table cloths, china, nice cutlery and glassware. Second, people walking by the room where the lunch was held could see something unusual was going on. It was usually PowerPoint slides and flipcharts, not Lennox. They stared. They had never seen anything like this in the building. Third, one of the employees wrote Loretta poem of thanks. I have a copy of it somewhere here in the office, but the last line reads:“Someone noticed. Someone cared.” People will do a lot for a boss like Loretta. A gesture of appreciation, a note of thanks, a simple recognition . . . they all go miles in creating reciprocity. People respond to how they are treated. If you really think about how you really treat others (and one option is always that you can simply ask them), that’s a pretty good takeaway for 2013. Happy New...

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Play Dumb to Get What You Want: The Question Tactic in Negotiation

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Negotiation skills aren’t just for entrepreneurs on Shark Tank. Federal managers can also benefit from mastering these valuable skills. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, LeGette McIntyre offers some very specific tactics that could help any fed facing a tough negotiation. Here’s a great example from the book that McIntyre calls “The Question Tactic.” Try this in your next meeting and let us know your results. THE QUESTION TACTIC In any negotiation, knowledge is power. You increase your power relative to the other side as you increase your knowledge about it. Use questions to probe for answers that will increase your information about the other side. Dig for more information about its position, interests, needs, hidden agendas, and so forth. In a negotiation, acting dumb is smart! When you ask questions, you tap into the tendency for people to want to help out folks they regard as less informed or less intelligent than they are. It makes them feel important. So ask questions that make the other side feel superior, such as, “I’m not sure I fully grasp all the intricacies in your proposal. Would you mind explaining them to me again?” Or, “I know the dollars you are proposing are backed up with sound facts, but for some reason I’m just not getting it. Can you explain to me how you came up with these figures?” Notice that you are asking for help in both these examples. Get in the habit of asking that all-important question, “Can you help me…?” That’s almost guaranteed to trigger the human need for the other side to feel smart and superior, and the negotiators will give you information they otherwise wouldn’t have. You also should use questions to test the credibility of the “facts” the other side is asserting. Get good at asking open-ended questions that start with “how,” what,” “what else,” “which,” and “why.” Some examples: “How did you come up with those figures?” They now have to defend their position with additional facts, and remember, any additional information shifts power. “What would you do if you were in my shoes and someone gave you that choice?” This has the added benefit of bringing them around to your side, even if it’s just a little bit. “What is really important to you?” Always follow up with “what else is important?” If they see you as caring for their position, they are likely to be more open sharing information with you. Then, ask them “which of these things is more important to you?” This gives you insight into their “must” and “give” positions. Test their credibility by asking “why do you think that position is fair?” That puts them on the defensive to justify their position. Notice that all these questions are open-ended and can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or with some finite fact. They require elaboration, which will give you more information. Closed-ended questions run the risk of eliciting a simple answer and nothing more. For example, if you ask, “Don’t you think your price is a little too high?” they may answer with a simple “no.” That doesn’t give you much information. If you ask “when will you be able to deliver?” they can answer with one date. Again, you aren’t gaining useful information....

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An Amazing and Dangerous Year

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Leadership | 0 comments

What an amazing year 2013 was. I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Federal leaders, working directly with them on real organizational problems. Along the way, I heard hundreds of stories, from many perspectives, all around what I call “what happens when work needs to be done and human beings show up to do it.” But there was a serious downside, and it created a personal threat. You may have heard of or known people in law enforcement who, because of some of the things they witnessed, got cynical, suspicious or fatalistic. It’s like the water they swam in ultimately shaped their negative views of the world and people. After a couple of very difficult client interactions engagements in which I saw some of the worst things imaginable in organizational life, I started to feel like the cop about to retire. I had always been hopeful about the promise of people and organizations. But I started to wonder, had I just been naïve? Pollyannish? Unrealistic about organizational possibilities? The federal scene certainly didn’t help, with pay freezes, budget cuts and the sequestration. I guess it culminated in one case where a Director of an agency said he had been told by his predecessor, on walking out the door for the last time, “Just remember. People are no damned good.” This had been preceded by work with an agency where the staff was practically in rebellion against the leadership.  I had never heard such stinging feedback – ever – and I’ve been working full-time since 1979. There were moments this year when I thought about getting out, feeling that seeing professional lives ruined, seeing despair and hopelessness was just too much. I have loved my career, but something happened that made me question a lot. There is a tool we use in some leadership courses called the Johari Window. (It’s called that because two people named Joe and Harry thought it up.) It relates what each of us knows to what others know about us, and the real juice in the Johari Window is in the pane called the blind spot. The blind spot is just what it sounds like. It represents things that we are unconscious of. Since no one is omniscient or completely self-aware, we’ve all got a blind spot, little or large. Few micromanagers think of themselves that way. People who lose their temper at work and then attribute that to their “passion” usually have a blind spot, particularly around their impact on others.  Someone who sees leadership as mainly telling people what to do usually has a blind spot around what it takes for people to really perform at their best. The blind spot is the reason for feedback, honest communication, perception checking and other techniques so that we don’t blunder along in ignorance any more than is necessary. The problem is that the higher up one goes in an organization, the less feedback he or she gets. It’s a bit like the old customer service saying: For every person who complains there are 10 who didn’t bother. To come to the point, I believe that a huge proportion of the organizational pain, dysfunction, toxicity and drama we witness comes straight out of the blind spot. (It is certain that some leaders...

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Don’t Forget Your Kids…or Necessary Training! OFPP Updates FAC-P/PM

Posted by on Dec 19, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

You know what else will help avoid Healthcare.gov repeats in the future?  Better equipped Federal project and program managers. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) has just released updated guidance (new since 2007) on the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) requirements. As Jason Miller, at FederalNewsRadio.com reported, “Under new requirements from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, agency Chief Acquisition Officers (CAOs) no longer have the option to waive all or part of the program and project certification prerequisites.” OFPP Administrator Joe Jordan, who delivered the memo, noted: “While program and project managers are important for all Federal programs, OMB’s Office of E-government and Information Technology has highlighted, through its policies, the importance of strong program and project managers in managing IT programs. The FAC-P/PM builds upon this good work and adds core-plus specialized certifications, the first one being in the area of IT.” Further, Jordan included commentary pushing the importance of leadership skills in our project and program managers: “The FAC-P/PM is only one component of strengthening the program and project managers function. Equally important is selecting the right individuals with appropriate experience and leadership skills who will effectively collaborate and communicate with other members of the acquisition team and other stakeholders within the organization.” Adding fuel to the fire, FCW reported yesterday on a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, detailing recommendations for the Defense Department to improve the way it buys goods and services. 2014 will be all about changing the way in which government sources, buys, and implements large projects.  Stronger leadership and FAC-P/PM skills will be vital – start looking now for necessary certification updates, refreshers, and required training. Management Concepts has a full curriculum on FAC-P/PM, as well full course offerings in Federal acquisition management. OFPP noted these new FAC-P/PM requirements become effective March...

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Armchair Quarterbacking and a Killer Idea for a TV Show

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Leadership | 0 comments

Well, here we are again at the special time of the year. It’s gotten chilly, people are getting excited about rounds of upcoming parties, the kids are coming home from college, and great food is on the way. Yes, it’s time for the football playoffs. There are other celebrations going on, like Christmas and Kwanzaa, but back to the football. Everyone knows what an armchair quarterback is – the passive spectator who, especially with the wonders of slow-motion replay, can so clearly see what the better option would have been. Beat-up leaders have a lot of armchair quarterbacks out there. It’s rare that a day goes by that someone in a leadership position is not being pilloried in the press. Some would say it comes with the territory, but I say there’s a deeper problem in play, and that is projection. Critics often rail about things leaders do that they would probably do themselves, given the chance. The world leaders live in is rarely as neat and clean as observers might imagine. They may think leaders have perfect information, people who execute flawlessly, alignment in their executive teams and a whole host of other myths. One way people find out about the messy, real-life existence of leaders is when they get thrust into leadership positions. Supervisors often talk about the self-serving judgments they made of supervisors until they got into the role and found out first-hand what their predecessors were up against. So what’s the idea for a TV show? Most people have seen Undercover Boss. (By the way, Undercover Brother is a dynamite movie, but it’s unrelated to the point of this blog.) The concept of Undercover Boss is that a leader poses as an employee and learns first-hand what employees are up against. My idea for a new TV show is “Undercover Employee.” In this plot reversal, an employee who has been critical of leadership takes over. He or she is suddenly plucked from the front-line and installed on the top floor. And then the drama would begin. As the employee is just sitting down and marveling at the plush, leather chair and big mahogany desk, 17 emails come in with dire warnings about a problem in a department. Then, a reporter working on a critical story calls. The board meeting is in 15 minutes but there wasn’t time to prepare. An audit is announced. Grievances begin flowing across the desk. A high-performer threatens to quit. The phone won’t stop ringing. At least lunch is being brought in. Maybe dinner, too, since it’s looking like departure time might be 10 p.m. The take-away in this show would be that employees learn about the complex, ever-changing, political, sometimes no-win world of leaders. I think it would be a hit. And just like Undercover Boss, the juice in this show would be in our learning about the situations others are in, and perhaps developing this concept of empathy – just seeing things as others see them. This is a huge competency for leaders and anyone trying to work with others. The fact is, we can’t really work together very well in any capacity until we understand each other — as much as two different human beings can do...

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How Communication Will Save Your Job, the Holidays…and Avoid Squirrels, the FBI, and Cousin Eddie

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

On Monday I blogged about the pitfalls to written communications – especially within the Federal-Contractor relationship.  Now we’re looking at a similar topic – the top pitfalls in face-to-face communications.  Whether it’s your upcoming family-filled holidays, or a meeting at work, you’d be surprised how the rise of the smartphone has decreased our basic ability to communicate with one another. I was at dinner last night and the family next to me – all five of them – were lost in their devices.  No one was talking, just five heads down, lost in their smartphones. Clark Griswold planned the best holiday ever, but he didn’t communicate to his family the details, ask for help, or effectively collaborate with anyone involved…and it ended up a kind of a mess.  (Just ask his neighbor). With in-person conversations, we all need a refresher on effective and appropriate communication skills, and pitfalls to avoid.  An email won’t always be the most appropriate vehicle for discussion, so let’s look at the following from Jeff Furman, PMP: Be Open – don’t blindly push your own ideas and disregard all other’s input Be an Active Listener Ensure – and confirm – you and all involved clearly understand one another Read the body language and nonverbal facial clues from others Use your concrete communication tools, like the communications management plan In person meeting are not synonymous with a teleconference or VTC – make sure you schedule the appropriate meeting for the appropriate discussion No lying to avoid confrontation with others Do not misrepresent the facts or spin in one direction to support your own agenda Prepare for all meetings – get invitations out with sufficient time, setting up best meeting type for the discussion, providing materials in advance, etc. Pay attention once you’re at the meeting – that includes turning your smartphone OFF. Whether you’re setting up tomorrow’s project meeting, or planning for your in-laws arrival – let’s reengage our face-to-face communication skills.  Put your phone down, shut down your email, and let’s just discuss the item at hand…like where Rusty is to help with the lights.   How has in-person communication saved time for your work life?  What kinds of meetings are best suited for a face-to-face dialogue?  Share your thoughts and best...

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The Workplace Wisdom of Christopher Robin

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were finally getting around to cleaning out the coat closet when we stumbled on our kids’ baby books. As we leafed through the pages of memories, I ran across a snapshot of my son carrying a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.  I was reminded of how central Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood were for several years of our lives.  Thinking back on that time, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes when Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The coincidence of turning up this memory, while at the same time reading Clive Thompson’s recent book, Smarter than You Think (perhaps Thompson is a Milne devotee), jump started an interesting chain of thought.  In his book, Thompson sets out to counter the “alarmists” who insist that the prevalence of technology is negatively impacting society’s intellectual capacity and abilities.  Building his argument from extensive anecdotal evidence, Thompson makes the case that technology is enabling us to outsource cognitive processes that can be limited and inefficient, to grow the tacit knowledge that is embedded in our social networks, and to benefit from increased multiplicity by connecting us more readily with others who share our niches of interest and expertise.  While Thompson lacks strong empirical evidence to support his premises, the points he raises about technology’s impact on learning should prompt training and learning professionals to examine how their training programs have changed (or should change) in response to the growing use of technology. The emergency of the “common core” and a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the primary education system has opened up a wide ranging discussion on how we educate children. But that conversation has yet to really translate into the world of corporate and, especially, Federal Government training. So, here are a few tips that will help you build a training program that considers how technology is changing the way we think about intelligence and training. Take advantage of technology’s capabilities  We’ve all been through training courses where we’re forced to memorize chapter and verse of one particular policy or another. Now that most people have smartphones with more computing power than early computers (TRS-80, anyone?), there’s rarely a need for rote memorization. Instead of focusing on storage and retrieval of information, teach smart search strategies and “library” skills so learners can more readily navigate the vast amount of online information and efficiently locate the salient information they need to execute their job responsibilities. Focus on networking and relationship building skills Training events offer a great opportunity for participants to make new connections. Building connections in the workplace has numerous benefits ranging from increased engagement and reduced turnover to improvements in collaboration and team performance. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and distributed, building relationships with coworkers and developing professional networks that can augment individual expertise can be challenging.  Take advantage of the power of collocation during your training events and intentionally teach the skills and techniques for building productive work relationships. Minimize problem solving and maximize problem definition While the ability to solve problems is important...

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You’ve Got the “Write” Stuff – Top 10 Pitfalls of Effective Fed-Contractor Communication

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

OK, So the New Kids on the Block song may be a bit out of date.  (I wouldn’t necessarily still call them “new”).  But having the right stuff in collaborative work environments is still vitally important – specifically with the Fed-Contractor relationship, as it relates to these large-scale (and high profile) projects and programs. But what do I mean by the “write” stuff?  Well, in an era of practically only written communication, if you think about it, (email, text, etc.) everyone – regardless of career – should be effective written communicators. The Federal government is no exception, particularly given these large-scale projects that encompass hundreds of Federal employees and various contractors, all trying to work together to successfully complete projects on time and on budget – there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. In one of our project management books by Jeff Furman, PMP, he outlines some of the issues in written communications we should be all on the lookout for, including: Make sure your subject line aligns with the email content.  Specifically?  Don’t feel the need to keep replying off an ancient email with new discussions Be concise – emails are not epic novels.  Get to the point early and clearly Replying and replying all are two very different emails  – reply to all on the email chain only when it is needed People can tell if you mass email them (i.e. you get an email with the sender BCC’ed), it is worth your time to make your communication personalized to the person you’re asking something from Clearly in your email, line out the necessary action items and who is to take what.  By taking the time to outline this, you will save time in the long run with unnecessary follow ups you could have avoided Spellcheck has been around for ages – please use it.  Sending a note with spelling or grammatical errors make you look unprofessional If you are attaching or linking to something, take an extra second to ensure they work properly.  Recipients can get frustrated if you send these out and they are not working correctly ALL CAPS EMAILS MAKE YOU SEEM ANGRY EVEN IF YOU DO NOT MEAN IT THAT WAY If you forward an email – do so with more than an “FYI.”  Take time to write to that recipient why you are forwarding, and what you expect of them from this email Finally – written communication isn’t always the best.  Learn what kinds of issues, discussions, and topics may be better (and faster) handled by a quick in-person conversation So does your agency have the “write” stuff?  Or, more importantly, do you?  What’s been your most entertaining work-related email discussion to date? Share your thoughts on the pitfalls above – do you agree?  What’s been your experience?  And – keep an eye out.  My next installment will address face-to-face communication...

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Do You Want to Innovate More? Don’t

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Leadership | 1 comment

Management Concepts recently identified 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. The second item on that list is “Seek new ways to experiment and ‘fail small’ to drive change and innovation.” Having worked as a leadership consultant and coach with dozens of Federal leaders, I’ve observed a few things about how leaders can drive innovation in an organization. As a leader, do you want to innovate more? Don’t. A more effective alternative is to give the opportunity for innovation to your employees. This will lighten your load, help employees grow, and best of all generate good ideas with faster buy-in. First, you no longer have to feel the burden to come up with all the ideas. You already think about these things a lot, anyway, and whatever your own personal batting average on innovation, many Federal leaders report they too often feel “stuck” in creating meaningful change. Second, it’s not simply burden-shifting. Delegating this responsibility opens huge doors for employee development, ownership, accountability, critical, creative and strategic thinking skills and engagement – all things you probably want. (You may have tried to develop these traits in employees before with less success.) Here’s how it works, what you can do, and some parting thoughts. Fasten your seat belt, because this may be very different than what you’ve done up until now. Break the Destructive Cycle: No More Top-Down Changes Yesterday, I was coaching the leader of a huge organization. He was constantly struggling to solve problems and create change amidst foot-dragging, complacency and shoulder-shrugging. Encountering these, he intensified his efforts to create change which only created more resistance among employees. You already know the definition of insanity. I coached him to share the problems and opportunities with his direct reports, to provide the context, facts and “the sitchie” and then ask the most motivating question a leader can pose: “What do you think?” That’s exactly what he did, and his direct reports started coming up with solutions, got excited about pride of ownership of their ideas – this is very motivating – and got energized in a way the leader had never seen. Remember, no one ever washes a rental car, and innovation that comes only from the top can be perceived as just more work or unwanted change – especially when the “why” behind the “what” is poorly explained, or not at all. It got even better for the leader. He also reported that for the first time he was finding time to focus on the big picture, instead of being dragged into the weeds and fighting non-stop fires. The employees had started the weed whackers and were putting out the brush fires. Create a New Cycle: Employee-Led Innovation Tell the story. Share as much information and context as you can – the good, bad and ugly, and don’t worry; your folks are adults with mortgages and really can handle the truth. Don’t withhold because they might be demotivated. Ask the most motivating question. You know what that is. Be sure to respond. This includes two actions. First, show genuine appreciation for the effort and ideas. Second, validate and go with what makes sense. If it doesn’t, rewind to context and share the information, priorities, values or experience you think makes the idea a non-starter. This helps employees...

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99 Problems But a Communications Plan Ain’t One

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As we near the end of 2013 and (hopefully) the end of “Obamacare-gate,” Feds and contractors alike need to get a jump on improving the management and collaborative work of these large-scale IT projects we’re expecting more of in 2014 and the years to come.  A good place to start? Let’s communicate better. In a previous blog, I noted the New York Times wrote about communication issues between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor, which failed at effectively communicating all requirements of the Heathcare.gov project lifecycle.  In the PM Answer Book, we note the importance of a communications management plan, which combats this problem. As the program or project lead, here are just a few key questions to ask yourself when thinking you DON’T need a communications management plan: Did one of your team members send information he or she shouldn’t have to a customer? Have two of your stakeholders ever come to a meeting with different versions of the (extremely important and vital to success) project plan or schedule? Did you ever find out (too late) that a customer felt they were receiving too infrequent project updates (Here’s looking at you, Healthcare.gov)? So, as the Washington Post’s Capital Business recently asked – are leaders born or built?  Writer Clawson argues leaders are teachable – I think so too.  In fact, our Leadership and Communication Skills for Project Managers course equips you with techniques to apply to your upcoming projects, such as: Defining and communicating project vision Holding yourself and others accountable Problem solving Decision making Conflict management and negotiation The use of influence and power Building partnerships The role of creativity and innovation in projects What kinds of communication skills have made you a successful leader?  How has a communications management plan helped you successfully complete your project?  Do you think good leaders are born or...

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Stop, Collaborate, and Listen – Fixing Federal Project Management

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

We’ve seen a lot in the news about the issues (and failures) of large-scale projects coming to successful completion – and specifically, IT projects are at the forefront of high-profile Federal programs.  Obama’s focus on open government to citizens will only require more major IT initiatives throughout agencies.  So, we need to be looking at how to avoid Healthcare.gov repeats.  Our recommendation?  Invest more in the beginning of the project lifecycle. In the Project Management Answer Book, we include the Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid When Starting a Project: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can (Currently) Chew – Ensure you’ve allocated the necessary time and resources to new projects Be Specific! – Don’t jump in without a clear project plan; have a clear and realistic budget and deadline Reinventing the Wheel – PMI is a world leader; use their standards My Way or the Highway – Your agency has templates, procedures, and legal guidelines; don’t go rogue History Repeats Itself – Look through lessons learned from your agency and others for best practices to safeguard success Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want – Discuss and ensure you fully understand your customer’s goals, needs, and specifications How Much? – Get on the same page with your contractors; who’s paying for what when? Did I Pass? – Go through – in detail – the metrics associated with the project with all stakeholders; specifically go over the quality, risk, and customer satisfaction needs That’s Mine! – Clarify the team structure and all roles early in the process; this allows the program manager to foster teamwork and positive morale Plan, Plan, Plan – Never start a project without a well-thought out and descriptive project planning document or workflow In essence, it’s about collaborating as a team first to ensure a successful end.  Use your management and leadership skills to develop a strong plan that your team can successfully complete – on time and on budget.  2014 will be all about IT project management reform; we can’t afford another Healthcare.gov, so all projects will be under even more scrutiny.  Don’t get caught in a (Vanilla) Ice storm – what’s your plan for project success?...

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Speak Up! Better Requirements Management at the Heart of Federal IT Project Success

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent article, Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, highlights the ongoing issue of government clearly defining what it needs in IT projects, and ensuring the contractor understands exactly what is needed.  Otherwise known as?  A better discussion on requirements – to avoid the Healthcare.gov or SBInets of the future. Particularly difficult are coming to agreements on the large-scale IT project requirements.  Due to the government acquisition process, more often than not the technology itself moves faster than government implementation, causing add-ins and adjustments to requirements along the way.  So Feds and industry must work better together to ensure success. But as government cannot completely rely on contractors, Waldron goes on to say:  “Requirements development has been an Achilles’ heel for 20 years now.  The best, most effective way for the government to acquire high-level, best-value contractor performance in support of agency missions is through improved requirements development.” Top Pitfalls in Requirements Detailed in The Project Management Answer Book, government and its contractors should together remain aware of all requirements throughout a project lifecycle – from the first step through testing to eventual completion.  Some of the top pitfalls include: Not putting sufficient effort into securing the proper requirements from the customer – don’t assume you know what the customer wants; ASK Being too much of a yes-man – be realistic to avoid scope creep Failing to implement a strong change management system – all new or updated projects are in fact, a change.  Change management needs to be a focus throughout the project Not scheduling scope verifications with the customer and performing contractor – both in the initial stages, but also throughout the project; you must ensure everyone is on the same page The New York Times recently highlighted that very issue for Healthcare.gov, noting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor failed at communicating effectively regarding securing all requirements along the project lifecycle.  This ultimately led to a well-publicized failure at launching (on-time) a successful, completed project that included ALL aspects of the initial requirements CMS provided.  Don’t get caught in a misunderstanding of the vital requirements your project needs for successful completion.  Whether you are a Fed running the project, or the contractor supporting, requirements management is a key skill set to enable you to finish on time, on budget, and without compromise.  Leaders in government have only highlighted that Healthcare.gov is merely one example of the need for better overall success in large IT projects as we move to 2014, and mutual misunderstanding of the requirements has been a major pitfall thus far.  It’s bound to get more intense as we continue this open government focus to citizens – don’t let your agency launch another troubled project; focus on requirements management to get the job done....

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Essential New Leadership Habit: Develop Cross-Functional Skills and Build Personal Networks

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Leadership | 1 comment

Federal leaders are dealing with uncertainty and change. To thrive, leaders must adapt quickly to the “new normal.” To share our take on how to do this; Management Concepts recently compiled 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. In case you missed it, download the complete list here.  The first item is “Develop cross-functional skills and build personal networks.”  So, what do we mean by that? Develop Cross-Functional Skills In “the good ol’ days,” employees climbed one organizational ladder vertically, rung by rung. They rarely collaborated with colleagues outside their functional areas and focused only on skills relevant to their job title and the next rung of the ladder. Moving up was an eventuality for most and salary increases were reasonable even for those who stayed put. Several factors have influenced a significant shift in the career growth paradigm: 1. Welcome to the Transformation Age: The “information age” is as over as the Stone Age. Information is now transmitted and optimized through technology. Even the coined “knowledge age” doesn’t capture the need to constantly adapt volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (V.U.C.A) environments.  Some argue for the “talent age,” but that still doesn’t capture the need to transform oneself, constantly adding to one’s skills and knowledge. The most common usage for the “transformation age” is in reference to IT. My perspective, however, is that our new Transformation Age is about continuous personal transformation and the greater your ability to transform, the greater your ability to lead. 2. The Boomers Aren’t Leaving: As described in an earlier Management Concepts blog, the retirement wave isn’t happening – at least not yet. The result is decreased upward mobility due to fewer vacated positions. Simply put, a detour may be your shortest path to the corner office. 3. Those GYPSYs: Although you can argue about the accuracy of the term GYPSY, which means Generation Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, GenY is destined to have more career changes than any previous generation. Although it’s debatable whether GenXers have seven careers, GenY is likely to have many more than that. So, although I don’t have a strong opinion about the whole GYSPY concept, I do believe GenY will be nomadic in their careers. As that generation moves, it creates instability in the system and the system will need to adapt. Members of other generations will need the ability to work with GenY employees with divergent functional backgrounds. So, how has the paradigm shifted? With few available vertical promotions, leaders will need to transform themselves and their teams to make lateral moves. (Side note, human capital professionals love this model because studies have consistently shown that the more divisions of an organization that a leader has worked in, the more successful the leader). This creates a variety of “career paths” to your desired destination rather than a “ladder.” Rotating through different parts of the organization also provides protection against over reliance on skills and abilities that could be outsourced or become obsolete. You can always call upon an old skill. Your most valuable skill, however, is the ability to develop new ones. You will need cross-functional skills to lead cross-functional teams and it is crucial for leading more than one function. Cross-functional teams used to be defined as consisting of individuals from different functions.  In the transformation age, however,...

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An Agile Approach Will Help the Fed Acquisition Workforce Successfully Chart Their Course

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent news article, both Feds and industry weighed in on the importance of a strong Federal acquisition workforce to better equip for large-scale IT project success – but that their historical hesitancy to avoid change and risk pits them in a waterfall environment, rather than an agile approach, that has better secured project success.  Moving to agile will enable fewer Federal projects that are running aground. Is your agency ready for an agile approach?  Well the government thinks so.  GAO ran a report in July, 2012 recommending that the Federal CIO Council, along with OMB, move Federal IT projects to an agile environment, finding that it helps reduce the risk of overrun, over budget, or failed projects.  But you should first ask yourself the following: Does your organization have the right structure to support agile? Will your agency culture be an obstacle to agile adoption? Do you have commitment from stakeholders to transition to agile? Will you be able to secure – and keep – executive buy-in and support? Does your agency select the right projects to move to agile? To help answer these questions, we’ve built a quick, five minute Online Agile Assessment Tool to determine YOUR readiness to head away from waterfall. And if your agency is ready, we’re at the helm to show you the way.  Our new Agile Acquisition Course has been specifically designed to show you how to successfully implement an agile strategy – from start to...

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Just Remember. People Are No Damned Good.

Posted by on Nov 20, 2013 in Leadership | 0 comments

Once in a while, someone in a leadership development workshop says something that seems to reveal a fundamental truth, a perspective that greatly illuminates the topic at hand and greatly raises awareness. This happened recently when I was working with a group of leaders in the Midwest. We were talking about the admittedly somewhat abstract topic of worldview. This term means the way a leader interprets reality – how he or she sees things. Examples of worldview might include, “If I really want something to be done, I have to do it myself,” or “You have to really watch your back,” or “You have to do whatever it takes to get to the top.” Worldview is powerful. It sets the frame for how life is experienced, and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to see how significantly it impacts how one seeks to lead others. What is particularly problematic is that leaders are often unaware of how their deeply imbedded worldviews affect how others react to them. In the session I was conducting, the head of the organization related how, on his predecessor’s last day, literally, as he was walking out the door for the last time, he turned to his successor and said the following words. “Just remember. People are no damned good.” If there was any confusion about what I meant by worldview, it ought to be cleared up by now. Consider, if you will, the kinds of behavior, communication, interaction, thinking and emotion that come out of a worldview of “people are no damned good.” You probably get things like micromanagement, suspicion, lack of trust, inspection, hostility and distance. Imagine how it must feel to be an employee treated this way. I will not try to argue here that some employees have not richly earned the kind of reputation imbedded in the participant’s worldview. Maybe they were milking the system, or playing a game. The problem is that when such an interpretation is applied to an entire organization, it forges a culture that practically guarantees dysfunction, negative emotion and resentment. And here’s a really big problem. The people I have worked with who hold such a worldview are almost always oblivious to the impact that it has on the behavior of others. They cannot see that the way they see things is dialing in the results they are getting. It is unconscious.Meanwhile, blame, frustration, resentment and even anger at employees are expressed. Why won’t those people do the right thing? Why do they drag their feet? What’s wrong with them? And so it goes. One of the best book titles ever chosen was, “How Come Every Time I get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints are on the Knife?” Here’s the key: By becoming aware of your own worldviews, you can start the process of asking yourself whether they serve you and get the results you want. And how do you become aware of them? The best place to start is your patterned, chronic, recurring problems. You may recognize some fingerprints. There should be no mistaking the fact that this is deep, subterranean work. It is not for the faint of heart nor easily discouraged. Recognizing patterns of interpretation that have set into motion workplace demotivation, disengagement, frustration or resentment is probably the hardest...

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A First (Quick) Look at the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Human Resources, Leadership, Uncategorized | 2 comments

The 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results are out. There are thousands of ways you can slice and dice the data, but for instant analysis, let’s look at a few key points. First, the results overall are showing the toll of pay freezes, sequestration and furlough concerns, reduced training and everyone having to do more with less. Positive responses to a majority of the questions declined; a phenomenon that started last year. There was a significant drop in employee satisfaction. Second, in what I call the 80% club – critical mass in that at least 80% of the respondents had a positive response and probably impact culture as a result — we have the following questions: • When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get a job done. (An impressive 95.6 %!)• I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better.• The work I do is important.• How satisfied are you with the Alternative Work Schedules (AWS) program in your agency?• I like the kind of work I do.• I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities.• How would you rate the overall quality of work done by your work unit?• I am held accountable for achieving results. Take that, critics of the federal so-called uncreative, unaccountable slackers who hate their unimportant jobs. Third, we still have issues with performance management. The following statements were agreed with by fewer than 40% of respondents:• Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs.• Creativity and innovation are rewarded.• Promotions in my work unit are based on merit.• In my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way.• In my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve.• Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs. (This was below 20%, but what did you expect with freezes?) What to do with this data? If you are a leader, manager or supervisor, make sure people know that you recognize their efforts. Give them positive feedback when things go well, and feedback that helps when they don’t. Help others to differentiate between the things they or you can control and not control. And just to keep perspective in often-difficult circumstances, remember that the stresses, annoyances and hindrances are actually very small when compared to, say, living in the Philippines right...

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Dispelling the Retirement Wave Myth: It’s an Undercurrent, Not a Wave

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Human Resources, Leadership | 1 comment

For years now Federal human capital  and human resources practitioners have been told human resources horror stories about the retirement wave: “Nobody go into the barn, the boomers are all in there retiring!” In most Federal organizations, however, it’s just not happening. We know it’s coming, but more like a herd of “walkers” way off in the distance in “The Walking Dead” that is out there but never seems to approach us. (It’s Halloween, thus the scary movie references.) Of course, organizations with mandatory retirements face challenges as the boomers retire. The majority of the Federal civilian agencies, however, do not have mandatory retirement and despite feverish workforce and succession planning, it seems that far fewer govvies are retiring. Simply put, the retirement wave isn’t. There is, however, an undercurrent of change in the Federal workspace and HC/HR needs to set course with this in mind rather than focusing on the distant tsunami they fear is on the horizon. This brings key questions as to why boomers aren’t retiring, what the implications are for human capital, and what a human capital leader can do about the implications. Let’s start with the why. The economy has burdened the boomers with a trifecta of bad: • Dwindling nest eggs: First, investments have plummeted both in the stock market and in real estate. Boomers’ nest eggs aren’t as large as many expected them to be. Moreover, boomers have watched many of their parents outlive their retirement savings. Living to be 100 is great. Running out of money at 80 isn’t. • Uncertain economics: Second, boomers have a heightened awareness of the uncertainty of one’s financial future. Boomers weathered the 1970s stagflation (some even believe their entrance into the workforce caused it), Black Monday, the Friday-the-13th minicrash, dotcom bust, 9-11, and the housing bubble, just to name a few. The real cause of their uncertainty now, however, is not the commercial sector, but rather the Government. Fears around cuts to Social Security and Medicare are doubled with the reality that most of the boomers will live longer than they expected. • Sandwiched Generation: Third, and finally, many boomers’ expenses haven’t decreased the way they had hoped. Boomers’ parents are living longer than expected and many boomers are caring for their elderly parents. Boomers’ children are facing hard economic times and many have moved home.  Eight percent of grandparents share a household with a grandchild and many are the primary breadwinner in supporting their grandchildren. Boomers are sandwiched between their elderly parents and their boomerang children and grandchildren. Their expenses didn’t drop off at 55 or even 65. For many, their only option is to keep working. So, what are the implications? The upside for boomers who work in Government is that most Government jobs are not manual labor intensive (with many exceptions, of course) and boomers have unprecedented health even in their “golden years.” Many boomers are continuing to work just because they enjoy working! Government is also one of the few remaining industries that respects long-term service and experience as much as youth and exuberance. The downside, however, is that this complicates workforce planning and “sandwiches” gen X in the workplace the way boomers are at home. The result will be the loss of gen X talent in the Federal government, not the predicted mass...

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Now What? Returning from Furlough: Three Steps to Re-Engage Your Team

Posted by on Oct 17, 2013 in Leadership | 1 comment

The furlough is over and our Federal Government is back at work. This should be great, right? Everyone should be happy – even psyched to be returning to work?  Well, not so much in many cases. Remember when civil servants were admired for service to our country? Even if you do, most of them don’t. Our Federal workforce has been under the cloud of increased scrutiny, public condemnation, and inquest from a Congress that used to extol the selfless act of service. Over the last few weeks, debates on the news about the shutdown have included views that our “non-essential” Federal workers should be laid off. After all, they’re non-essential, right? Facebook posts have vilified the Federal workforce. Tweets have blamed our “too large” Federal workforce for our deficit. Our Federal workforce is frustrated with their bosses and probably deserving of a Clark Griswold like rant about them, except that their bosses are the American people. (Side note: if you haven’t seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you must.) And more than anything, civil servants love the American people. That’s why they are civil servants. (Please imagine an adorable child singing “God Bless America” now.)  The direct effects of the Shutdown combined with the media assault have turned our Federal workforce into the “walking wounded”. And your team is well aware this could happen again in January. How can you, as a leader, build back up your team’s engagement and retain your top talent in such a situation? To regain employee engagement after shutdown, leaders must focus on connections: the employee’s connection to their team, their leadership, their agency, and, most importantly, the agency’s mission. To that end, leaders must focus on the drivers of connection: 1. Leading the individuals in the organization, not just the organization 2. Confidence in the importance and achievability of the organization’s mission 3. Interesting work that is a vital contribution to the organization’s mission 4. Work/ life fit even with the backlog 5. Confidence in senior leaders’ ability to manage in turbulence In business-as-usual situations, managers should spend about 20% of their time developing their staff. That target is rarely met. Moreover, most managers end up spending a disproportionate amount of time with low performers. It is imperative that you focus on your top performers. This will not only help to retain the key personnel but also allow you to use their influence in getting the organization back to its pre-shutdown morale. Not doing so can result in an exodus of talent with the remaining staff limited to those without other career options, creating a “lemon law” in the organization. Plan to have two one-hour team meetings and at least a half hour with each direct report — and up to an hour with key personnel — the first week back. It’s also usual to spend up to four hours reorganizing workflow and assignments. So, how does a leader take action on all of those things while catching up on their own work? We suggest a three step process to re-engage your team: 1. On the first day back, meet with your team (i.e., both direct and indirect reports) as a team to build confidence in the importance and achievability of the organization’s mission. As you team arrives at the meeting, greet each of them personally. Shake their hands and...

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5 Ways to Lead in Turbulent Times

Posted by on Sep 27, 2013 in Leadership | 0 comments

  Federal managers face numerous challenges in the current environment. You may not have control over the changes that are taking place, but you do have control over how you react. As a manager, you can choose to see change as a threat or an opportunity. Think for a second what could happen if you seized the opportunities created by change to innovate, increase efficiencies and learn. Just like a worn out pair of shoes or tattered briefcase, some old leadership habits need to be thrown out to make way for new possibilities. My team at Management Concepts recently compiled 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. Download the complete list and rationale here. Try adopting some of these habits: 1. Develop cross-functional skills and build personal networks. Management silos are quickly becoming a relic of the past. To move quickly and drive innovation, you must be able to mobilize cross-functional teams and build strong relationships with other function areas. 2. Seek ways to experiment and “fail small” to drive change and innovation. Borrow an idea from The Lean Start-Up. Before investing hours of time and effort on a new strategy, test it with your target audience on a small scale. Allowing small failures makes your team more likely to pipe up with suggestions for improvement. 3. Make peace with change and focus on building resilience. Focus on flexibility. Abandon rigid systems and processes in favor of flexible, more adaptive ones. 4. Tap into shared leadership capabilities Include more people in decision-making processes. In an uncertain climate, a fresh perspective can be invaluable. 5. Promote “WE” as leaders Focus on energizing others to lead. With all the negative energy out there, employees need a boost from an inspiring leader. Download the complete list. What do you think of the list? What changes have you made that proved successful? Over the next few weeks, my colleagues and I will be posting more information on how to adopt each of these...

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Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership | 1 comment

Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

What if you’re representing your agency in the middle of a negotiation with a contractor and you reach a deadlock? What can you do to keep the negotiation moving forward—and to gain the competitive advantage? In his book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers the “set-aside” tactic as an effective way to keep things moving in your favor. Has this tactic ever worked for you? Is there a chance it could backfire? THE SET-ASIDE TACTIC Deadlocks happen in negotiations, and the set-aside tactic is specifically designed to break deadlocks. Whenever the other side insists on a number or an issue that deadlocks the negotiation, simply acknowledge the contractor’s position and suggest setting it aside for a while and moving on to other issues. Say something like, “I can tell this issue is important to you, and it’s obvious we’re pretty far apart on it. To keep the negotiation moving, let’s set that issue aside for the moment and see if we can’t get some of these other issues out of the way.” If the other side is truly interested in reaching an agreement, it will always agree. Then restart the momentum of the negotiation by getting agreement on many of the smaller (or noncontroversial) issues. This gets both sides into the swing of the give-and-take of the negotiation again. And the more you agree on issues, the more the other side will be under pressure to keep the ball rolling and continue to agree. After you have reconditioned the other side back into the habit of saying “yes,” reintroduce your tabled issue. Chances are, the other side is now more willing to come to some agreement on it—to meet you more than halfway—to continue the momentum of the negotiation. What if the other side uses the set-aside tactic on you? How can you counter the tactic fairly and effectively? First, don’t be too hasty to counter an offer at all. Setting aside the sticky issue may be just as healthy and appropriate for your side as it is for the contractor. You can also reverse the effects of the tactic by simply taking it over. If the other side proposes to set an issue aside, say something like, “Fine. Let’s table this issue until later and see if we can get some agreement on all these other points. Let’s have a caucus and I’ll rearrange our agenda so we can get to these other issues.” Keep in mind the most powerful counter to the set-aside tactic: You are the government, so you control the agenda and the negotiation. Don’t let the other side take away this powerful inherent advantage you enjoy. When a contractor pulls out the set-aside, you get to reset the agenda and now can order the revised agenda to encourage agreement on minor issues to build momentum and create time investment. You can literally hijack the other side’s own tactic! Of course, you can also disagree to set aside the issue and continue the negotiation if you feel it is in your interest to do so. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation by LeGette McIntyre, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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EKG Part Three: Gratitude As A Leadership Practice

Posted by on Jun 3, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

This is the third and final installment in a blog series that I have been writing about positive practices that leaders can use to improve the well-being as well as the performance of their teams. You can catch up on this series by clicking through the posts about empathy and kindness. Last but not least, this final post is about gratitude. Many leaders do a fairly decent job of saying thank you to someone who has performed a much-needed task, or achieved a noteworthy outcome on a project. The basics of social skills and common courtesy will get most leaders that far. When I talk about employing gratitude as a leadership practice, however, I’m talking about something more than the occasional kudos. I’m talking about an intentional, consistent practice of infusing gratitude into how you are as a leader, not just what you do. Gratitude, then, becomes an attitude, not just an act. Here’s what I mean. Imagine that it is 7pm on a Friday and you are still in your office. (This won’t be a stretch for many of you who are reading this post.) You are eager to get to your weekend plans and are starting to feel a tad worn out, maybe even a little resentful, about the stack of deliverables that are still on your desk. The more you think about the work you still have to do, the more shallow your breathing becomes and the more stressed you feel. You decide to sweep those reports into your briefcase and take them home so you can at least get out of the building. You’ve cleared your email as best you can; sorted out what priorities will need your top attention on Monday; the only thing left to do is turn off the computer and close the door. This is when I encourage you to stop and take just 15 minutes to do one more thing. I know, I can hear the groans from here – one more thing?! Yes. Take 15 minutes to reflect on the most positive outcome of the week that one or more of your team members helped to achieve. This doesn’t have to be a world record. This can be small, but significant to their ongoing development – possibly something that only you know they are working on. It can be about a micro shift in behavior that you noticed and want to see more of. Whatever it is, write down a few lines to capture what happened and why it made an impression on you (and possibly others). Once you get started, you may find that other examples from other team members start coming to mind. Write down those examples too. Don’t limit yourself to your own team, either. What comes up when you think about a department you interact with regularly? Are there any moments, large or small, that you feel grateful about this week? Capture as many examples as you can in this short block of time that you’ve set aside. Now, you may think my next recommendation will be to write a thank you email or handwritten note to a team member to thank them for what they did. That is definitely one action you could take that may be meaningful to the person(s) on your team....

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Thought Bubble: “Blah, Blah, Blah”

Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

As leaders and HR professionals, we frequently have the amazing opportunity to work with our clients on their improving their leadership skills. Maintaining a strategic focus, treating the people well, and meeting or exceeding business results are leadership indicators that most leaders would agree are vital to their success. I’ve had the opportunity to hear Pat Donahoe, Postmaster General for the United States Postal Service, speak on several different occasions. Whenever he opens the floor for questions, people inevitably ask him the same question. “Pat, what’s the number one thing you would suggest it takes to become a top leader?” Every time, Mr. Donahoe answers, “Listening.” Hmmm. Listening. Do you mean that thing we’ve been doing for our entire lives? The thing that has allowed us to relate to someone else, share successes as well as challenges, and then set out upon a course of action based on what we understand? Yes. That very thing. Then why is it so hard to do? Why is it so hard to be fully present when we’re communicating with someone else? Why do we let our internal dialogue so strongly influence our interpretation of our external interchange? I recently saw this depicted in an amazing way. I was working with an audience, and in the audience, many of the participants were either visually impaired or blind. We were going to use a video, and the point of contact mentioned that she had an “audio enhanced” version of that video. Not really understanding what that meant, I quickly agreed to use her version. She had used it successfully with similar audiences, so I thought it was the best option. If you’ve never experienced an audio enhanced video, it takes a little getting used to. A rather robotic sounding voice interjects and describes what’s going on in the background, specifically to allow those with visual impairments to get a fuller picture of the interchange. It works very well, in most cases, to allow those with visual difficulty to understand what’s going on. For those of us who are sighted, it’s a great experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with movies with subtitles where you can see what’s being said. Here, you hear what’s being done. The most memorable moment in that video, for me at least, was a vignette where someone was prattling on and on about something that seemed insignificant. The robotic voice said, “Thought bubble: blah, blah blah” precisely at the same time when the actors on screen were clearly not listening to each other. I chuckled, along with many of the others. How different would your conversations be if the people you were talking to could actually read your thoughts? Surely we’ve all thought “blah blah blah” when we’re on hold trying to speak to a customer service rep or doing something that may seem mundane, but what if, and I mean if, the person you’re speaking to has something that’s very important to say. Not something that you’ve heard before, yet something that you really need to hear? How do you suspend distractions to give them your full presence? It takes practice; it takes work, and it takes intention. For the next week, strive to be fully present when someone comes to talk to you. Give them the gift of your attention...

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5 Steps to Spring Cleaning Your Psyche

Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

Spring has sprung early this year. From the rescheduling of the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC, to the record setting pollen counts in Atlanta, no one can argue that Mother Nature decided to exit her Winter hibernation a bit sooner than usual this time around. And with Spring comes a few rituals that we’ve come to embrace over the years: the Easter Egg hunt on the White House grounds, the Spring practices of college and pro football teams, longer days and shorter nights, and all the other outdoor activities that we associate with warmer temperatures. My question for you, however, relates to the indoor activities of your workplace. We can certainly engage in physical Spring cleaning activities: throwing away outdated files, rearranging some of our furniture, and scouring our office surfaces with pine-scented cleaners. But what about the internal opportunity we have to start something new and fresh? What can we commit to doing differently to become even more effective in our work? How do we break from those habits, behaviors, and activities that are not serving us well? Here are five simple steps you can use to begin the Spring Cleaning of your psyche. Take an honest look at what you’re doing. This one is simple enough. For one week, track all of your activities. If you’re the person who says, “There aren’t enough hours in a day,” or you frequently tout your multi-tasking skills, ask yourself why. Why do some people get a lot more done, while not seeming to work as hard as you? The key here, as with all of these steps, is to be honest. Take an honest look at what you’re not doing. Every time you choose to do something, you’re intentionally choosing not to do something else. This one can be difficult for people to understand. If you’re a leader with an “open door” policy, you’re also choosing not to give yourself some needed down time. If you’re constantly responding to email and other distractions, you’re also choosing not to give your brain time and space to focus on the other, perhaps more important, tasks at hand. Only you know what the true cost is of what you choose to do. Engage in scenario planning with yourself. After you’ve taken some time to examine where you’re spending your time and energy, play a few what ifs. What if you closed your door from 8-9, and then 4-5 every day? You’ve taken time to focus, plan your day, or plan your tomorrow. What if you responded to emails less frequently? Again, only you know if a strategy like this will work for you and in your environment. Choose one thing to do differently. The great thing about scenario planning is during the planning phase, all of the results are hypothetical. You don’t know how things are going to play out. Only once you begin doing something different (or differently) can you see the actual results on your workload. Practice. You may have heard that it takes 21 days of doing something differently to become habit. While that’s a convenient rule of thumb, the actual time it takes for a new behavior to become internalized may take more or less time, depending on how long you’ve been doing it in the first place. Spring...

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Part Two: A Different Kind of EKG

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

In my last blog post, A Different Kind of EKG, I offered a leadership move I call EKG that combines three key practices – empathy, kindness and gratitude – as a way to devote more attention to the human side of change in your organization. These practices are effective at any time, but they have the potential for even greater impact when an organization, and the people in it, experience change. I appreciated the emails that readers sent me offering examples of how they had demonstrated the first practice, empathy, with great success. See? You’re changing the world already! Time to add on the next practice: kindness. K= Kindness “Kindness is free.” – Tom Peters Some of the words that people use to describe kindness are grace, benevolence, generosity and compassion. Tom Peters also provides some examples of the power of kindness within healthcare, an environment that is all about demonstrating care and concern for others. You can read more about it here: http://www.tompeters.com/dispatches/011942.php. There are few work environments that are more closely linked to the importance of demonstrating caring and kindness, given the literal impact it can have on someone else’s well-being. In fact, stop and think a moment about your team and your colleagues in general. Given these common descriptors, would you describe these people as kind? If so, what are some examples of the things you see them doing and saying that make you think that about them? When you think of these things, notice how you feel physically. My hunch is that you feel a little less on edge just by thinking about these people and the way their kindness shows up each day. Now, as a leader, turn this question toward yourself. Do you think your team and your colleagues would describe you as kind? If not, it may be that you’re not showing this side of yourself and your leadership style enough. It is common for busy leaders to get so engaged in the ‘real’ work they are called to do that they overlook opportunities to intentionally demonstrate care and kindness to the people around them. This doesn’t mean they are uncaring. In today’s fast-paced world, it likely just means they are busy. A busy calendar is no excuse, however. Leaders have to find a way to prioritize the human side of their ‘real’ work in order to foster engagement across their team and their organization overall. If you watch the television show Undercover Boss you see some examples of ‘extreme caring’ every week. I’m not saying that you need to start handing out big bonuses, college funds, or extra vacation days, as terrific as those gestures are. I’m talking about simple expressions of genuine kindness that leaders can do every day. The only cost to you is the time and intention it takes to pay a compliment, offer an encouraging word, or perform a small task for someone without being asked to do so. Here are two examples for you to consider. A little encouragement goes a long way. One of the hardest types of change for organizations involves the implementation of new systems. People are attached to the previous system (even if it was found lacking) and they are often flat-out resistant to the new system for fear that they will no...

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A Different Kind of EKG

Posted by on Feb 9, 2012 in Human Resources, Leadership | 2 comments

There are scores of helpful courses, articles and books by multiple firms on how to lead during times of change. (Full disclosure: the company I work for is one of those firms.) Many of these resources focus on strategy and tactics, while others focus more on the human emotions that leaders must also pay attention to. Thankfully, that human side of leadership and change seems to be gaining more attention. This is good news for the workplace, and quite possibly, the world as we know it. Change seems to be the rule more than the exception, which means we’d all be better off if we learned to deal with change – and each other – more effectively. Suggesting that the world can be changed through a greater focus on the human side of organizational life may sound a tad grandiose. But when leaders pay as much attention during change to the emotional engine in their organization as they do to their strategy and execution plans, they can foster a spirit of well-being that kick-starts the change initiative and transcends the workplace. That is a win for all of us even if we don’t work in the same organization. Think about it: what type of post-workday conversation would you rather participate in? Would it be the one that is full of positive energy and optimism? Probably. Unfortunately, too many of these conversations go like this: “Well, you’ll never believe what they dropped on us at work today.” As a leader, the way you implement change in your organization can have a direct impact on the dinner table dialogue and the sense of well-being for everyone on your  team. Research about the impact of positive psychology by thought leaders such as Dr. Martin Seligman bears this out. Check out his recent book, Flourish, to read more about this for yourself. So, presuming you are a well-intended but busy leader, what steps can you take to devote more attention and intention to the human side of change within your organization? You can start with something I explain to my executive coaching clients as an EKG. No, this isn’t a medical procedure for your heart, but it does involve your heart and the hearts of those around you. EKG stands for empathy, kindness, and gratitude. E=Empathy Think back to the last time a friend or family member approached you about some changes they were going through at work. Did they excitedly tell you about something their boss or company did during that time to show them how much they cared about him or her as a person? This is a simple yet underutilized aspect of leadership and human relations in general. Leaders promote well-being and engagement by demonstrating empathy. You might try a statement similar to this one with someone on your team who has stepped up to help during a time of change: “I realize that the new system we’ve implemented is taking some extra time for everyone to get used to. I really appreciate the time you’re taking to learn the system and coach others on it. Your patient willingness to help has reduced the stress level for more than one of your colleagues! I know your effort reduces the time you’re able to spend on other projects you really enjoy...

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What the Director Knew about the Brain

Posted by on Feb 2, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

This week, I had the pleasure of participating in a video shoot Management Concepts organized as part of the Professional Government Supervisor Program. It was a lot of fun (apart from the mortifying aspect of seeing yourself on screen), but what I really noticed was how the director worked with people who had speaking roles. Time after time, he would encourage the on-air “talent” through expressions such as “That’s great,” or “Yes!” or “That’s it!” Let me tell you, it is no easy thing to stand in front of lights that look like they could be used to open a car dealership and coherently express thoughts. You are aware the camera is rolling, and that mistakes cost time and film. In this context, I’m sure the Director has figured out over the years that the best way to help people perform at their best is to remove any sense of threat or criticism, and to encourage and praise progress. Since it’s all about what it takes to achieve peak performance, we can contrast this approach with the fault-finding, nit-picking, micromanagement and looking for any weakness that sometimes characterize supervision, management and leadership. A prime example of where this occurs is when something you write is edited by someone else. There is some kind of deep-seated need to find something to change. The dreaded red-ink (today, track changes) produces a lot of negative emotions in most writers. With a red page, they lose confidence, try to second guess the editor, and sometimes wind up hating the whole process of writing. Contrast this with steady, honest praise for what is working well, along with questions or suggestions to change what could be better, but all couched in a posture of support. The fact is, when we are criticized or micromanaged, our brain’s threat center (the amygdala) switches on. We can fight, freeze or flee really well, but we generally don’t get very creative, intelligent or resourceful. Cortisol (the stress hormone) floods our systems. When we are praised, recognized positively or complimented, the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters kick in. We feel good, empowered and ready to roll. So when the director said “Rolling,” he really knew what he was doing. In fact, I don’t know if he even knows about hormones, neurotransmitters or the amygdala. I think he knows a lot more about establishing shots, close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, how to flare the camera and lot of other things. But he doesn’t need to understand exactly what happens between the ears. He’s operating very successful from his own intuitive understanding of what it takes to help people perform at their...

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The Program is Loading

Posted by on Jan 26, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

I often compare the emerging, new story of supervision and leadership to the loading of a huge new program on your computer. You know — the blue status bar creeps slowly across the screen, so you go get a cup of coffee rather than staring at it for a long time. This new story loading onto the computers we call ourselves and our organizations is contrasted thus: • Commitment versus compliance • Initiative versus status quo • Communication versus need-to-know • Engagement versus apathy • Listening versus just telling • Connectedness versus fragmentation • Spirit versus emotional void • Caring versus not caring • Excitement versus depression • Winning versus just getting by The blue status bar just lurched forward a bit with the news that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is going to widen the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) out to all federal employees. It currently goes to about one-third. http://www.fedview.opm.gov/2011/Reports/ (Caution: Descending into the survey results can result in a lot of time going by. The results are endlessly fascinating, and OPM has brilliantly made the data available in a way that can be sliced and diced across multiple dimensions, such as age, gender, supervisory status, HQ versus field, etc.) OPM Director John Berry said the survey is becoming more important in how federal agencies address their challenges. Now, let’s just stop here for a moment and have a pulse check. One interesting thing that we run into from time to time in our work is supervisors’ and leaders’ reactions to hearing the concept that they are going to receive feedback from employees reporting to them. This is often in the form of the 360-degree assessment, an instrument that is rapidly growing. There is simply no way to comprehend the sanity or utility of such an idea if you believe supervision and leadership are about control, command, only telling, using power to punish dissenters, and most of all, that the “people stuff” in work is irrelevant. Sorry to tell you ladies and gentlemen, this mental model is much more common than many people think. Old habits die hard. And so, here we are in 2012 with the federal government tripling the size of one of the most powerful surveys by which the workplace, supervisors and leaders are evaluated. It’s only been around 10 years, and now it’s being rolled out to all employees. There is an expression command-and-control types use whenever employee perceptions, recommendations or even actions come into the mix. “The lunatics are running the asylum.” This is a dark, depressing expression on several levels. It name-calls – a very primitive defense against uncomfortable things — and it compares work to an asylum. Some other expressions you have probably heard include, “When I want your opinion I’ll ask for it,” or “That’s not your area.” I have often said that we are living in a fascinating time. The old story of leadership is slowly, agonizingly slowly, headed toward the door, mainly through the room called retirement. Showing up in its place, and championed by Generation Y, is an entirely new mental model around what leadership and supervision are. The voice of employees is about to get a lot...

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Agile, or Fragile?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

Ed Frauenheim has written a tremendous blog on workforce.com that everyone who feels busy should read. http://www.workforce.com/article/20120113/BLOGS05/120119976/when-agility-adopts-the-symptoms-of-a-d-d# To be fair, he is actually summarizing work done by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, who wrote in the January issue of the McKinsey Quarterly. But he does a nice job, and here is what he (and they) are saying: Organizational life, work, pace and culture have stumbled into a condition that they call Strategic Attention Deficit Disorder (yes, SADD). It is characterized by leaders careening from one priority to another, always jumping to the next thing. In the process, they demoralize the workforce and “kill meaning” at work. This only matters if you care about motivation and people feeling that what they do makes sense. If you don’t mind low morale and employee perceptions that work is meaningless, then you can disregard the piece. Here’s the kicker: What seems to be driving at least some of this is one of the latest, recycled buzzwords of “agility.” Who can argue with being agile? We all have to be this way – at times. The problem is that it has become code for constantly shifting priorities that confuse employees, and who learn to see the pattern of “here today, gone tomorrow,” as the organization grasps for the next new thing. Maybe it will be operational excellence. Or customer-centricity. Or core competency. Seriously, we can go back in the literature and pull these things out at any time – although it is best to wait until most of the organizational memory is erased around the initiative. (The one that still has not been dead long enough to remove the memories is TQM, and its key word: “empowerment.” When you use those terms with a government group, there is usually a groan, and this dates back to the 1980s.) The desire for the silver bullet – that one, key linking piece that will forever resolve all the problems, anxieties, confusion and pain – will never go away, I suspect. It’s why a bazillion books have been written on leadership and organizations. Everyone is looking for The Answer. It also speaks to how our brains work. We are hard-wired to notice what is bright and shiny, something exciting and new. We want to be sure we don’t miss the boat, or incur a threat. So we give a lot of air time to whatever is new, even while not really following through on what is already in place. So agile becomes fragile. My friend Katherine McGraw calls the age in which we live “global speed-up.” I believe a symptom of the age is SADD, and wise leaders will recognize the problem and perhaps slow the ever-accelerating merry-go-round to ask some new questions. One of those might be how to get the workforce really behind and supporting whatever the new initiative is. The answer? Engage them in the process. This creates a commitment that makes change efforts more likely to...

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Fancy Pants Language

Posted by on Jan 24, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

As I listened to a coaching session recently, an insight suddenly hit me. I realized that in the many hours of coaching I’ve done and listened to for observation purposes, I have never heard anyone speak in what I call “fancy pants” language. Fancy pants means convoluted, long-winded, and jargon- and abstraction-laden language. It is the opposite of plain language, where the goal is to get to the meaning of what is being said as quickly and accurately as possible. (Full disclosure: I’m from Independence, MO, home of Harry “Plain Speaking” Truman.) It made total sense to me that anyone working with an executive coach would want to get to the point clearly, and communicate in a way that worked. And so the question that came up was: Why would anyone do anything different? Why would leaders engage in buzzwords, clever concepts and ambiguous phrases? I think the answer is complicated, and probably related to several factors. First, there is a desire to impress or influence. Second, there may be (and this is probably mostly unconscious) a desire for other people to think you’re smart. Third, it may just be what you’ve learned. In my experience, the more the language shifts from clear, understandable and direct, the more distrust arises. People have to parse through to figure out what is meant. They may feel like they don’t know everything the other person is talking about. Distance is created. Here is an example for contrast: “We need to upskill enterprise-wide in order to leverage emerging and strategic ios opportunities go-forward.” Notice it doesn’t say where or how the “upskilling” will happen, what the opportunities are, or how they will be “leveraged.” Also, what is ios? Is it a misspelling? How about instead: “We need to learn how to get our information onto mobile devices so customers can see our information wherever they are.” Which would you rather hear? Which would you be more likely to get...

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Type, being who you are, and the dinner party

Posted by on Jan 22, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

One of the marks of great art is that it stands up to repeated exposures, and in fact becomes more meaningful with each encounter. Psychological Type – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – is like that. It is ironic that some people take the indicator in a compressed session, then forget much of what they learned, including their own Type. (A sports fan once told me he thought he was an ESPN.) The reality is that since Type is essentially about learning about yourself, and others, the learning is never over, and in teaching a class in Type last week I came to renew my appreciation of the power and significance of the Indicator and the Jungian theory upon which it rests. One indication of the impact of the learning came from one woman who at various times during the class would let out a guttural expression along the lines of “Wow!” or sounding something like “Mhh hhh hhh.” These exclamations got closer and closer together in time, and it was like timing contractions in labor. She, and the others, reported very significant insights into themselves, most notably that they realized – sometimes for the first time – that it is OK to be who they are. That’s pretty big. For my money, much of learning about Type is coming to understand what is unconscious. That just means we aren’t really aware of something. I was reminded of this when I got home, right before a dinner party was supposed to start, and walked into a kitchen that looked like World War 3 ½ had been conducted in it. My wife was in a panic. In such situations, we go with what we know. We respond in an automatic, patterned way that is usually unconscious. Here’s how the mental functions in Type would engage: • Sensor: What are the details here? How many minutes until the door bell rings? What is the state of the enchiladas, and what specific tasks remain? • Intuiter: What happened? How did this situation come to be? Is there a pattern here? (Answer: Yes, but it’s gotten a lot better over the years.) • Thinker: What is the most logical way to get the dinner on the table? • Feeler: How is Linda doing amidst all this and how I can support her? The point about Type is that it creates choice. Rather than just go with the usual go-to move in such situations, awareness of Type means you can think about what will be the best response. For example, if Linda were near tears, a Feeler response might be best. If it was all about execution, the Thinker’s approach might be best. Intuition might be better after the fact to process what happened and figure out how to ease the stress a bit in the future. My response was to first open a cold, heavily hopped beer, and then ask what I could do. I don’t know if that is what Jung called individuation (integration and balance in Type), but the dinner was excellent. Back to the class: One other interesting thing occurred during the session. One person was disclosing some very important and personal information. This was intimate content, and reflected a lot of vulnerability and trust in disclosing it. It was not...

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You Done Hired the Hit-Maker

Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

There is a great old story about a great old drummer named Bernard Purdie, who, if you’ve not heard of him, played on records by James Brown, Frank Sinatra, BB King, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and Steely Dan. Bernard has a beautiful sense of time. When you hear him playing a simple beat, you want to move. (For an example of that, click on the following link.) The story goes that when Bernard was hired for a session, he would come in, set up his drums, and then before beginning to play, would also put up two signs, one on each side of his drum set. One sign read: “You done it.” The other sign read: “You done hired the hit-maker, Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie.” That’s pretty bold. If you watch the video clip above, you’ll understand why he was so bold. If you watch this video clip below, you’ll hear Walter Fagen and Water Becker (they are Steely Dan) talking about Bernard’s signs. “Boldness” is a word used in coaching that turns out to have some real significance. Boldness is about confidence, belief, passion and conviction. It may be easier to understand by its opposite: lack of confidence, lack of belief, lack of passion and lack of conviction. Boldness comes from processed experience. That means that not only have you lived something successful, but you have thought about it, and consciously concluded you have reason to be bold about something. (Sometimes people are very good at something, but taking a page from the “aw, shucks. It’s just little old me” playbook, they downplay or minimize their contribution. Not recommended.) A key with boldness is to find where it naturally occurs in your work. Where do you find your voice? What gives you energy? Where does fear dissipate? Where can you put up your own...

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A Must-Read Book on Work and Organizations

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I have never recommended a book in a blog posting before, but that’s about to change, and for a very good reason. Sometimes in a good life, you come across a theory, model, idea, course, book or conversation that fundamentally changes the way you see the world. You may have a sense that the scales have fallen from your eyes, that you understand reality in an entirely new and profoundly more accurate and powerful way, that this new way of thinking explains a whole lot more than anything else to-date. And you may feel that knowing what you now know, that there’s no turning back. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, the secret is out, and you are changed. This is Mark Addleson’s new book, Beyond Management: Taking Charge at Work. http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Management-Taking-Charge-Work/dp/0230308163 I have read who knows how many books on organizations, management and leadership, and many more articles. This book is different, and it is different in a way that is exciting, disturbing and profound. It lays out what we need to understand about organizations if we are to move beyond a tired, exhausted, dysfunctional and counter-productive mental model of what work is. Full disclosure: I had the privilege to sit in Mark’s class at George Mason University a few years ago when he laid out over several months, point to point, his argument on what is happening in organizations, and what needs to be done. I have to tell you that due to the design of the Master’s program I was in, these lectures were often on Friday night until 10:00 PM. If you’re like most people, there are many things you can think of that you would rather be doing on a Friday night than listening to a lecture on organizations and work. And I have to tell you I often left the lecture hall electrified by the power of Mark’s discoveries and explanation. So, what’s the ”juice?” What is Mark saying, and why is it so important? Here we go: • Work has shifted from factories to knowledge work. Instead of a steady, reliable production line, we have today problem-solving, change, ambiguity, conflict, alignment of interests, creativity, collaboration, confusion, clarity, evolving and most fundamentally, trying to make sense of the world and our place in it. “What should we do now? What is the best idea? How can we position ourselves to do something great?” These are the questions of knowledge work. • Management models are still pretty much what they were for the factory. Hierarchy, a culture of “telling” rather than “asking,” defining outcomes without employee input, and high control are all hallmarks of the factory. They also demotivate virtually all employees. • As a knowledge worker, you already understand the profound difference between work you do when you are motivated – “switched on” – and demotivated –“phoning it in,” or “going through the motions.” Because your real value is a function of what comes out of your brain, the state in which you work really, really matters. High motivation, excitement, energy and creativity creates beautiful work products. (Knowledge work is much more art than science. Even scientists doing their best work talk about being immersed in the flow of the activity, the genius of a new idea, or the elegance...

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11 New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Many people like to make New Year’s resolutions. That’s fine, and sometimes they actually keep them. There are two things that are good to know about these things. First is that courtesy of neuroscience, we now understand much more about why it is better to gradually, progressively and steadily move toward change than to engage in a big bang on day one. *(It has to do with brain rewiring.) Second, you can make a resolution on any day of the year, particularly when you have learned something new. Don’t have to wait until the 31st. So why only 11? Why not 12, or 10, or at least some round number? That’s because I invite you to submit your personal favorite — the one that is most powerful for you. And remember, the door does not swing shut at the end of the year; you can submit a resolution for change anytime you want! Here are 11 good ones for supervisors, managers and leaders, from my seat. 1. I will take an extra minute to listen to people. 2. I will ask people for input on things that affect them. 3. I will become better at noticing what emotions I am experiencing – especially the negative ones – and instead of automatically, instinctively operating out of them, ask myself, “How do I want to show up? What would be best long-term?” 4. I will not read or type emails while employees are trying to talk with me. 5. I will ask employees the most motivating question: “What do you think?” 6. I will let my manager know what people are thinking and feeling, particularly during change, rather than sugar-coating or withholding. 7. I will make time to think strategically about what is happening at work, and carefully examine the need for reactive, tactical responses that seem to consume so much of every day. 8. I will work to understand things as employees understand them. 9. I will admit mistakes and share what I learned from those. 10. I will give feedback for only one reason – to help the employee do better next time. 11. I will examine my intentions in conversations, decisions and...

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Dump the Analysts!

Posted by on Nov 8, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I’ve figured out how to have never-ending growth in the stock market—get rid of the analysts! Have you noticed how every description of downward-spiraling stock values concludes with the simple comment, “… but it was lower than analysts’ predictions”? “XYZ Corp’s stock dropped two percent today. Although they made $27M more last quarter than the same quarter a year ago, it was lower than analyst predictions.” Clearly, the analysts don’t know anything. Why else would they be so far off in their estimates for the past three years? Okay, it should be obvious that my suggestion to dump the analysts is said tongue in cheek … sort of. So another option is to have all the analysts grossly underestimate the companies’ quarterly performance. This way every company will always outperform the analysts’ predictions and stock values will go up. Again, tongue in cheek. What does this have to do with leadership? Two words: managing expectations. I’m not suggesting that leaders should low-ball estimates or standards when communicating with their employees. Rather, I do suggest this prescription for managing expectations: 1. Be realistic with your employees—not overly optimistic, but also not pessimistic. Say what you expect; explain your desired outcomes. The number one job of a leader is to establish and explain the vision. Describe what you expect in the way of employee performance toward those outcomes. 2. Be prepared to fight for resources—the number two job of the leader. Nothing dampens employees’ expectations for success more than knowing the needed resources aren’t forthcoming. Demanding high performance with no resources leads to frustration, anger, burnout, apathy, and, ultimately, high turnover. 3. Help remove obstacles. Have an honest conversation and be realistic about what you see as the challenges, but be careful not to unwittingly limit your employees’ opportunity to succeed. Truthfulness goes a long way toward limiting workplace drama. In the absence of information, employees will make things up. So eliminate confusion by discussing up front what’s known and what’s unknown. Employees are smart. Believe it or not, they care about the success of the projects they are working on. Set your organization on an upward spiral: manage employee expectations by having honest conversations about what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you. Then watch your organization’s capital...

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When it Rains, it Pours

Posted by on Nov 8, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

You have probably felt at some points in your life that you were in a pattern, with the same things happening over and over. They may have been good or bad, but you felt the recurring theme. This has been my life over the last two months. I’d like to identify what I’ve experienced, mainly because I believe it’s a sign of the times. I’ll explain at the end what leaders can do about this phenomenon – if they have the will. I am accustomed to hearing the following story – we hear it at many client sites – but the consistency of it this autumn really struck me. It runs something like this: • Our leadership doesn’t communicate with us. • Our leadership is not interested in our ideas. • Our leadership sees our role as simply executors of their will. • Our leadership regards different ideas as hostile and threatening. • Our leadership knows morale and engagement are low, and either blames us or ignores the data. • Our leadership manages by threat and fear instead of encouragement and reward. It has truly been like being in the movie Groundhog Day. As I have listened to participants in leadership development sessions, I have felt as though I could finish their sentences. In every case, where I thought they were headed with their comments was correct. Before addressing what to do about this, it is fair to raise the question of how in the world things got to this point. Actually, things have been this way for a very long time, but as people hear new models of leadership – based on shared values, connection, communication, accountability (for everyone) and meaningful results (to name just a few attributes) – the contrast becomes more stark, more painful. One clear marker of this is Generation Y, which generally wants to have nothing to do with the tired, worn-out models of leadership – if you want to call it that – bulleted above. There is a palpable yearning for a new way to work out there, and leadership in many organizations is tone-deaf to it. So while it’s actually not that new, I believe it’s intensifying, for several reasons. First, organizations everywhere are under attack. Government agencies, banks, the cable company, your local retailer . . . they are all operating under conditions that are very different from just 10 years ago. Competition, consumer expectations, technology, social change, and globalization are all shifting the landscape. Most people, in most organizations, in unguarded moments will admit to feeling overwhelmed, under siege, pulled in a thousand directions, working harder and harder and harder . . . and they’re not sure why. Certainly, the acceleration simply to increase shareholder return has left many employees feeling empty. Human beings are wired for meaning, and so just chasing more money can feel meaningless. Steve Jobs once famously said that Apple’s massive market capitalization was interesting, but it wasn’t really the point. Great products were the point – and what produced that market capitalization. But beyond the factors in play mentioned above, here is what is really happening in organizations that is producing such a profound alienation. In any historical movement, as a new model or theory or way of living/working/being arises, the old guard intensifies its...

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Lies, D^%&*^ Lies and Statistics

Posted by on Oct 16, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Recently, I was in two separate meetings where the discussion was about the leadership of organizations receiving statistical, hard-data evidence of problems in leadership, or another path to take to get work done. One of the organizations had done multiple studies. The leadership’s response was very interesting. In one case, the leaders decided to get very scientific about the stats that represented major red flags about the organization’s leadership. They looked at the data from multiple angle, tried to correlate messages across the multiple studies, parsed language (“too negative” was one phrase). They inspected the data, a lot. The inspector mode is an often unconscious reaction to uncomfortable information. You study it further, and then further, and then some more. You may have heard the term “paralysis by analysis.” Sometimes in 360-assessment data that are heavily negative, individuals want to question validity, reliability, statistical significance and just about anything else they can find to throw sand in the bull’s eye. The other thing that gets paralyzed in these cases is employees. Having contributed their perspectives multiple times and hearing or seeing nothing constructive back, they often throw their hands up. It culminated in a comment from one leader, who reportedly (full disclosure — this is second-hand) said, “I’m tired of hearing about it. I just want people to get the job done.” In this case, the inspection created fatigue that eclipsed the messages in the data. There is something very self-fulfilling about such an approach. Second story: The other organization had studied how a group of employees perform when given the option to telecommute. Productivity, responsiveness and quality all went up by significant amounts. When a recommendation was made to expand telecommuting based on the results, the response of the leadership (which I was told doesn’t trust the employees) was “There are lies, d#$%^%$& lies and statistics.” In other words, you can prove the case all day long, but if it collides with a view, mental model, belief or perception, then the facts don’t really matter. There is all kinds of work that has been done in the areas of cognition and emotion that explains this phenomenon. Filtering, bias and perceptual errors abound. How do you react to information that may rock your boat? What is your response to feedback? How do you treat the messenger? Do you go to Inspector mode, say the information doesn’t support your pre-conceived notions, or do you stop to ask yourself one vital question of leadership: “Is this...

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Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

It’s the end of an era. Tonight, the death of Steve Jobs was announced. Much has already been written about the man, so no need to go over all that. From my seat, Apple was a company unwavering in its commitment to excellence. This is in opposition to just plain bad – but not quite bad enough to get you to cancel the contract or switch providers. The new model of customer service for many corporations is “Drive the cost of customer service down as far as possible until customers start bailing.” Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who said he hates his bank, but it is such a hassle to change banks that he stays. Apple unapologetically charged for its customer service, and it’s excellent. So what about the money? Jobs once famously said something to the effect of — when hearing an interviewer talk about the company’s financial position – that this was a nice number, but it was really just that. A number. It wasn’t very important to him. What really mattered was whether Apple was producing great products. Do you feel that many of the products coming from large corporations today are really motivated by a quest for greatness? Or a desire to cut costs and maximize shareholder return? Apple dared to be different, and this should not be understated. At a time when the entire world was rushing to PCs, Apple stood by its vision. Its OS, applications and graphical user interface. Imagine the temptations there must have been to be a PC wanna-be. After all, that’s where the big money was, right? Jobs demanded the best, and he had a vision. In this way, he was no different than any respectable junior high sports coach, when you stop to think about it. What is it about the economy, the business culture today that such a posture should be so radical? Jobs also bridged the artificial gap between art and science. He studied calligraphy as a young man, and this exposed him to aesthetics, design and beauty. Can you say the products of most companies today are aesthetic, designed well, and even beautiful? But what always got me about Apple was empathy. Empathy is not sympathy – it is the ability to see and understand something as someone else may experience it. It is a cognitive and emotional skill. The first time I bought an iMac, I opened this beautiful, sleek box and the first thing I saw was a note that said, “We’re as excited about your new Apple purchase as you are.” They “got it.” They understood that customers were more than revenue-generating units to be seduced with promises of 3 free months of service and then to be shafted at customer service time. Apple related to customers. Apple products are easy. One of the machines I bought over the years had instructions to the effect of: “Take the computer out of the box. Plug it in. Press the power button.” That was it. You were in business. Who hasn’t sworn at a personal computer at some time – trying to get it to print, network, configure or just cooperate? I have compared Apple’s sense of customers with traditional PC companies’ sense with an analogy. It’s as though we’re...

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Change Can Be Fantastic

Posted by on Aug 18, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Change can be fantastic. Really. Late summer tends to bring on a time of change in people’s lives, and this summer is no exception in my neck of the woods. Some of my friends are about to send their kids off to school for the first time. They are studying bus schedules and working up the courage to ask their boss for a more flexible work day so they can be with their kids at the beginning and the end of the school day. It is a natural request, yet one that feels hard for some people to make if they work in an office with a culture that seems to value long hours and ‘face time.’ It is easy to feel like an outlier if it isn’t common behavior in your office to decline in-person meetings after 3pm for the sake of personal commitments. Other friends are preparing to send their kids off to school too – college. These friends are busy helping their kids to pick out dorm supplies; they are double checking their insurance policies to make sure their kids will be covered when away from home; they are lovingly planning the last family meal at home before the composition of their household changes forever. They are learning how to care for their kids in a whole new way through all of these steps. The ones who are married are also learning how to relate to their spouse in a new way, particularly if their college-bound kid is the last one to leave home. No more track meets to schedule dinner around or dry cleaning reminders to work in between car pool runs or soccer practice. There is suddenly more time for ‘real’ conversation again. That can feel fantastic…or scary…or at the very least, unfamiliar. Quite possibly, all of the above at different times. Times of change present us with an opportunity to demonstrate some curiosity and adaptability. This takes some intention and practice for most people, however. Our brains are wired to appreciate routine. A change to our routine – even a small one – can feel like a threat to the brain, making it hard to adopt a perspective that is open to possibilities. And yet, our brains have a remarkable capacity for continuous learning. When you help your brain to learn to see changes as opportunities you build the capacity to adapt to change more successfully. There are a few simple questions that I often ask my coaching clients to consider when they are working on their capacity to adapt to change. One question is: “What is one thing about this change that I might like?” This question helps to shift the perspective from a sense of what is being lost to the possibility that the change presents something that would be positive. Another is: “What is one thing I will be relieved to let go of as a result of this change?” I have found that this question is sometimes harder for coaching clients to answer right away, especially if their answer is tied to something they feel a strong sense of responsibility about (like caring for their kids every day). It can be easy for that sense of responsibility to become a sense of identity, making it even harder to let...

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Leadership Lessons from Bacchus Part 1: Keeping Your Eye on the Goal

Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Being a leader is tough business. You have to set direction for your team; ensure every team member is on board; decide how to allocate resources; reward positive behavior when you see it; reshape negative behavior when it becomes apparent, and create and maintain a healthy workplace. A leader also must help the team support each other; ensure that the business at hand is getting completed, and intentionally include everyone so that they all feel a part of the team, and that they want to contribute. I’ve been very privileged in my career to have lead many different teams, with a wide variety in scope, scale, and, even, success. I’ve read the books; I’ve attended (and actually led) webinars about how to become a better leader, and I constantly strive to maintain a high degree of self-awareness of how my behavior, as well as the choices I make, affect those around me-in classes I facilitate, other groups I work with, and within the circle of my family and friends. Overall, I would say I was doing relatively well until last Saturday, August 6, 2011 when my effectiveness, the very essence of my leadership, would begin a long journey of being constantly tested. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I adopted a 4 month old puppy, Bacchus. Bacchus is a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix. He has already survived being abandoned in a shelter, a bout with parvo, and is honestly very lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have him. And our relationship is off to a great start. As I began to reflect on the week, I realized how many parallels there were between being the “leader” of something-be it a team, organization, function, or even pack-and being the grownup for a puppy.  You can’t fix everything at once, so our focus this week largely on housebreaking and crate training. Like any good leader, I had read the literature about “how” to do it. Positive reinforcement, praise and reward for a job well done; negative words immediately when the undesired behavior happens so as not to lose context-all those things look great in a tri-fold glossy brochure from the adoption agency. But the consistency of actions, both his and mine, are what’s key for our long term success. Bacchus quickly reminded me that life was more complex than a tri-fold. I’ve had to adjust some of my expectations (as I’m sure he has as well), but what I’m finding is success comes from “being” in the moment. It comes from understanding that we’re both just learning how each other operates, just as we do on our teams. It comes from understanding that when Bacchus (or one of our employees) has an “accident,” that it’s just that-an accident. There’s no harm intended, no malice implied. And although we as leaders can get angry, we often also realize that we have a part in their “accidents,” as well as in their successes. Why do you lead others? Chances are, you find some type of gratification in it. For Bacchus and me, it’s because we both want to forge a friendship that will last a lifetime. When you’re leading others, remember to keep your eyes on the mutual goal, but enjoy the “moments” that exist in the interim. That’s what Bacchus is currently teaching...

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Clerk of Course, or What I Learned in Type Development

Posted by on Aug 10, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

One dismaying fact — and I would argue a growing trend with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — is the series of misconceptions that regularly arise in its interpretation. This is mainly due to increasingly compressed timeframes in which the theory is taught. I would like to do my part to lay to rest one of the myths, and I want to do that with a story, in order to help others understand what the MBTI really is. You have probably heard someone complain that the MBTI “puts people in boxes.” The hypothesis of a preference is somehow seen as tagging someone with a label from which he or she cannot escape. I know I’d be unhappy if that were the case, but it’s not. Type simply describes preferences we bring to life, work, relationships and situations. In fact, we have to use all the functions every day in order to survive, but some we prefer to others. Type describes where you start, but it says nothing about where you wind up. In fact, one of the most important concepts in Type – Type development – is all about how you develop the less-preferred parts of the personality in order to be more well-rounded, adaptive and, as Carl Jung said, “individuated.” I have always believed it is healthy to engage in activity that is the opposite of preference – that it is a good idea for introverts to work on speaking up more, for extraverts to take a little more time before speaking, and so on. In my own Type – ENTP – I have a very clear preference for Intuition over Sensing. Intuition is about the big picture, patterns, concepts, themes and the future. Sensing is about the details, specifics, concrete facts, the knowable and more the immediate reality. And now to the story. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, or if it involved some arm twisting, cold beers, volunteer guilting or — in the way so many volunteer jobs work — a profound lack of understanding of what I was getting into, but I wound up in a role as something called “Clerk of Course” for my daughter’s summer swim team. Clerk of Course may sound like an official, even bureaucratic function involving a sharpened pencil and perhaps a banker’s lamp, but it’s not. No, Clerk of Course is physically located right in the middle of the central nervous system of a meet. It includes mayhem, stress, elevated pulse rates and a never-ending fear of jacking up and delaying the running of a meet, at which point hundreds of over-ambitious, time-starved parents can hate you, let alone the swimmers who are inconvenienced. The job of Clerk of Course each Saturday morning during the season is to get 272 excited swimmers to the right lane, at the right time, for the right race. Some of these swimmers are 8 years old and younger, meaning they suddenly realize they need to go to the bathroom right before a race, and want you to tell them it’s OK to do so. If you think that’s bad, try corralling the 15-18 age group, the chief goal of which seems to be strutting, preening and occasional chest-beating (the boys) and quietly talking about each other and relationships (the girls). Both genders are...

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Two things that happen really fast

Posted by on Jul 8, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

The subjective perception of time is fascinating. After all, it objectively ticks away one reliable second at a time. There is no deviation. The atomic clock rules. Yet, there are times when time seems to slow down. We sit at a long traffic light, ensure a boring speech, clean out a basement – we might feel like, “How long has this been going on?” and be surprised it was just a few minutes. On the other hand, it is good to know there are at least two things that happen really fast — shockingly fast — so you can be prepared. The first is brief and personal; the second relates to you and your career. Kids leaving home happens fast. I remember bringing my daughter Emma home from the hospital after birth, and in a blink, she is headed off to college. As my colleague Scott Boozer would say, “Yay!” We are thrilled for her, and (we think) we’re all ready. We’ll see about that with some experiential learning in the drive back from drop-off, and yes, we know it is uncool for parents to linger or get all emotional. Here’s the other thing that happens really fast: your career. We go to work day by day, navigating the terrain as best we can, getting a promotion here or there, an assignment to here or there. We do what we do, and the days roll into weeks, the weeks into months and then “Wow! I’ve been here 5 years!” What happened?” That turns into a decade faster than the first 5 years took, and then amazing things start to happen. People start talking about retirement more, the little ones go to college (see above) and start their careers, you notice the retirement account and wonder about how your lifestyle will be. There are more and more retirement parties, the people in your office get younger and younger (and gosh, certainly dress and behave differently than you do!). It all flies by. In a blink, and maybe before you know what happened, your career is over. What was your plan? What was your vision for your working life? To get by? To make the mortgage? Only you can figure out the vision for you. This means the mental picture of the future you want. HR will not tell you, neither will your boss. It’s yours. It’s good to know what it is that you want, because the clock is ticking. It feels like it is speeding...

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“It Finally Hit Me — I Have to Learn All-New Skills”

Posted by on Jun 28, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

It was a pleasant lunch. As usual in this business, the conversation was around leadership, organizations and culture. The point was made for the umpteenth time in my life that the federal government often promotes people into supervisory positions who are very skilled technically, but not very good in managing people. I invoked one of my favorite expressions from Dan Goleman, who quoted one person in such a position who said: “It finally hit me – I have to learn all-new skills.” One of the diners said, “You know, in my life I’ve had to do that several times.” It was a succinct, yet powerful statement. No one should overlook or underestimate its significance. The power in this approach to work and life resides in the adaptability, resilience and change-readiness it is based on. It proves an openness, a yielding to the rhythms of life, and a proper location of subject and object. It is also a way to facilitate movement through the stages of adult development. (See Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner for an excellent treatment of this topic.) It is a stance of behaviorally being able to let go of things that may have worked, even for decades. It means stepping into uncertainty, risk and even fear. What if it doesn’t work? What if you fail? Yet the circumstances of our work and lives demand sometimes that we change, even when we may not want to, or like what the change represents. It is the difference between, as Viktor Frankl put it, asking what you want out of life versus asking what life wants from you. There is no need to belabor the point on resistance to change. We see it frequently; much less often in ourselves, where it is so easy to get up each day and pretty much do what we did the day before – no matter that the context and demands of the environment have changed. I offered that I have experienced more than a few leaders in workshops and coaching who have proclaimed as soon as we started: “I’ve been at this (insert number of) years, know what I’m doing and I’m not changing.” This is often accompanied by a folding of the arms. Resistance, even stubbornness, thinking that since you have a hammer, every problem must be a nail, rigidity – all these characterize the opposite. Here are some examples of the kind of deep, personal change I’m talking about — which happen to be essential for leadership in most settings: Micromanaging versus granting autonomy Trusting versus not trusting (very hard if you’ve been burned) Learning to look for strengths instead of weaknesses Asking for feedback versus making it clear you are the only one who will give feedback to subordinates Admitting mistakes and weaknesses (and what you learned from them) versus “the need to be right” Thinking of the impact of your actions on others versus just executing tasks Seeing others’ resistance as information versus something that is wrong and to be shut down Erik Erikson said that during the bulk of our working years, human beings experience either generativity or stagnation. Generativity is creating, giving back, yielding, accepting and living. Stagnation is not knowing what to do when your moves no longer work, when your program is out of...

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A Check-In on Check-Offs

Posted by on Jun 15, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

What’s not to like about a check-off? You know, that feeling you get when something is finished and with a satisfied stroke of the pen, you draw a checkmark through that empty box that you drew just so you could put the checkmark through it. The check-off is particularly satisfying for those whose last letter in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is “J” (Judger). This preference likes closure, completion, resolution and finality. What organization doesn’t like that?  I once worked with a group of coaches who insisted on whiteboarding the tasks for our meetings, each one prompting a “woo-hoo!” when checked. In contrast, “P’s” (Perceivers) like keeping options open, exploring possibilities and continuing to think about what could be. I believe P’s actually experience a kind of grief when something comes to an end. After all, all those exciting other possibilities (which they can sometimes surface late in the process, much to the annoyance of the J’s) are now history – at least for whatever just went out the door. But Steve Jobs once famously said, “Real programmers ship.” By that, he meant they didn’t just indulge their fantasies around cool code. They complete the application and it goes out the door to be sold. Check. Jobs and Apple are not a bad place to start a check-in on the institution of check-offs – and yes, they are an institution now. They are such a part of the workplace lingua franca that they occupy a special place right alongside the organizational drivers and DNA strands like “goals, priorities,” and “planning.” They are a huge part of work life. Think about it. There was a big series of check-offs at the World Wide Developers Conference, where Apple released its new OS and cloud-based connectivity.  But today, millions of other people will check many other things off, big and small. But the real question for them, and you, is: Is what is being checked off any good? Immediately, a provocative question like this can create significant discomfort, defensiveness and even confusion among those wedded to check-offs. Check-offs are binary, either/or. Once this question of quality is raised, everything moves into a new realm that is harder to measure, more controversial, certainly more subjective, laden with differing values, politics, assumptions and worldviews. Wouldn’t the busy, overstressed, maxed-out management team really just rather hear if it got done (binary), and maybe secretly, quietly hope it was good? Microsoft and Dell and other companies have their big check-offs, but do you hear much about them? Are they good? I hear much less excitement and enthusiasm. Could it be that Apple cares both about shipping code, and shipping the right code, the good code? That’s an important question for any organization trying to stay viable, innovative, leading-edge and valued. A simple yes/no can potentially disguises the real issue. Broaden and deepen the question. What is it that you’re really checking off? How do you know it’s good? Then, when you’ve answered it satisfactorily, go ahead and draw that...

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Kitchen (and Other) Nightmares

Posted by on Jun 14, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

In the embarrassing-admissions department, I have to confess I sometimes watch Kitchen Nightmares, that show in which the acerbic Gordon Ramsay (poster child for Thinking versus Feeling in the MBTI) shreds a failing restaurant along the way to rebuilding it into something successful. The predictable sequence is: Gordon enters the disaster zone, dissects what is going wrong, engages in a confrontation, makes a new move, turns the place around. Along the way many bad words are dropped, emotions run high and arguments ensue. It’s just like many workplaces. One episode the other night struck me as particularly resonant for the modern office. In this show, the chef, Eric, began by talking about how many customers had complimented his dishes. “They say it all the time,” he stressed. He expressed complete confidence in his abilities and execution. Of course, there wouldn’t be a decent show if there weren’t a different perspective from Gordon, who F-bombed his way through a critique of Eric’s meals. Eric’s response? To defend his cooking. Gordon then went out with a video camera and asked people on the street if they had ever eaten at the place, and put together a little movie that he showed the staff, including Eric, of stinging criticism of the food. Still, Eric defended his work. Even as dishes kept coming back into the kitchen as unacceptable to the diners, Eric defended. It’s easy to blame the customer, isn’t it? The closest thing we have today to a movie about you and your work is the 360-degree assessment, in which people up, down and all around assess you on a variety of competencies. There are, fortunately, some other very simple and powerful ways to gather feedback, but first, the problem: Research shows that the higher up ones goes in an organization, the less feedback he or she gets, and the less accurate it is. No need to mine the reasons here, since you already understand – it’s about power and control, and fear of consequences. It’s easy to understand. So what if your organization doesn’t do a 360, and no one is walking around with a video camera for you? First , you can observe. Carefully. What happens when you walk in the room? How engaged are people in talking with you? How committed to their work are they? Do they show passion and connection? Are they able to be themselves? Do they speak freely and honestly? What kind of impact are you having? It can be hard to judge much of this, which is why there is step two. You have to ask. Nicely. This just means inquiring of others about their perspectives – on you. Simple, right? Yes, actually, but maybe a little unnerving to most mere mortals and fallible human beings. How do you make this work? You do it by, in the words of the brilliant facilitator Clara Martinez, “disarming yourself.” It means letting go of defenses, self-justifying routines, blaming and rationalizing logic. You have to really be ready for whatever people say. (This step is one of the reasons we call this field “the soft skills,” because this isn’t that hard, is it . . . ?) It’s important to declare your intentions. Again, simple. “I would like to understand how I come across so that...

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The Awards Night

Posted by on Jun 13, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

It was another rite of passage: Sitting in a high-school auditorium for the awards night before graduation. A parade of wonderful young people being honored for achievements and successes. It makes you optimistic for the future. But one thing really stood out – jumped out – as a counter-cultural, I would say practically subversive theme. To understand it, and what it means for leadership, we first have to step back and look at the terrain in which many of our organizations are operating. Increasingly, it appears to me that that ethos at work, our workplace culture, is about self-advancement and self-promotion. Jockeying for the verbal advantage in meetings, subtle or overt put-downs of those with other perspectives, the fight for the next promotion, the lack of true team consciousness as individuals come together and wind up in gridlock as they advocate for their own, individual interests. I describe this as the crisis of the “I” story. (The “We” story is about connecting with others. The “It” story is about what needs to be done.) Your own experience may vary. You see what you see, and if your view is more sanguine, then enjoy. You’re in a good place. What I see and hear too often in talking with people in workplaces all over is the late-stage moral decay; the logical, ultimate extension of Adam Smith’s invisible hand: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism and competition are great, but they are incomplete. Left unchecked, you don’t hear what I heard at the awards night. Here’s what the speakers kept saying about the recipients. “He helped others who needed help.” “She always had time for others.” “He thought first about others.” “She brought people together.” “He helped people come to agreement.” And on and on. The objects in I think every case were “others.” The whole point, the focus of the excellence was toward others. Not the self, not the resume, not the accomplishments. It was about how this award-winner built something larger than him or her. Think about your day. Your week. Your career. When you engage in action, which story are you living in? And as Dr. Phil asks: “How’s that working for...

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The Energizer Bunny of Leadership

Posted by on Jun 2, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I don’t know if it’s running anymore, but there used to be a great ad campaign for Duracell batteries that featured the Energizer Bunny. This wind-up rabbit would parade through the scene, beating a drum and just kept going and going and going. That was the point. The bunny, fueled by the batteries, kept going and going and going. Starting to sound familiar? Maybe hit close to home? Here’s a contrast to consider. Today I was on a conference call hearing about a particularly fascinating leadership development topic (the stages of adult development), while an email came in from a colleague attending a conference, where she was having a great time, learning lots and feeling good. She called it awesome. Many leaders we work with report never having the chance, or to be more accurate, taking the opportunity to step back from going and going and going to restore, refresh, rejuvenate and re-engage themselves. And a week in Cancun once every 365 days doesn’t cut it or count – it has to be more regular than that. Many leaders I’ve worked with report endless days, inhaling their lunches at their desks, multi-tasking during meetings (which means only partial attention and impaired focus – sorry to tell you), not taking vacation days, thinking about work while talking to their kids, checking email right before going to sleep and right when waking up. They are clinically burned out. (It is amazing how much information you can glean within a fraction of a second when sitting down to coach someone. Always good to check out and validate, but people who are burned out usually look it, and are usually pretty immediate about admitting it. The body never lies, as Martha Graham said.) This blog could go on for many pages describing the deleterious effects of all this — most notably, crowding out time for reflection — but I’d prefer to make the pitch. You decide if it works and is worth it. I believe it is really important for leaders – and everyone else, actually – to intentionally set aside time to renew and restore. I don’t care if it’s learning about something that excites you, working the lathe in your basement woodshop, walking in a nature preserve, volunteering, gardening, cooking a really nice meal, singing, or anything else. The key is that your emotions will tell you if whatever you are doing is helping you to balance the work ship, which is dangerously close to capsizing for many people I know. I’m also not going to go into the brain and body benefits this brings to work, let alone your life and relationships. Instead, I’m just going to ask you to give it a shot. What is something that fascinates you that you would love to be able to do? What really stands in the way? Could it be your priorities? I once coached a client who decided to haul his bicycle out of deep storage, clean it up and ride. Somewhere along the way he rediscovered...

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How the Music Affects the Wood

Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Readers of this blog know I like to play the electric guitar (I turn it up to 11), and I like Arlington Fretworks. http://arlingtonfretworks.com/home Proprietor and craftsman Daniel Carbone repairs and builds guitars there. I have written previously about his standards of excellence being off the charts. (One client wrote that he would trust him to work on his kids’ teeth.) http://managementconc.wpengine.com/lm/leadership/2010/09/a-thousandth-of-an-inch-or-%e2%80%9cgood-enough-for-government-work%e2%80%9d/ Daniel’s website notes that an interesting question has arisen in the music and physics world of whether a wood-based instrument improves the more you play it. http://arlingtonfretworks.com/articles Sounds pretty virtuous if it’s true. According to a New York Times story, Dr. David G. Hunt of the School of Engineering Systems and Design at South Bank University in London believes it is. He says vibrations aimed at the instrument subtly alter the physics of the wood in a way that empirically increases sustain (the Holy Grail of guitar players), and more subjectively improves the sound. So what leadership lesson can we apply from world of musical instruments and physics? Every time you do something positive, constructive, helpful, engaging, uplifting, inspiring, motivating or other-centered (music), I believe you change yourself (wood). By actually doing whatever you have learned and think might work better than whatever you were doing, you behaviorally rewrite some of your operating system source code; you rearrange the molecules in the wood. There is actually a neuroscientific explanation for this, as you change behavior, you lay down new neural pathways in your malleable brain; it is about plasticity. It is how habits – good or bad – get formed. One phrase is, “what fires, wires.” Synaptic connections become the new reality. You can also pick up good vibes by associating with people who operate at a high level. By observing, maybe by  osmosis, you are influenced in a positive way — but you still have to act on what you are noticing. Keep in mind that overnight, radical development usually doesn’t last. It takes time. I once worked with a woman in Atlanta in a leadership position in a federal agency. She said in workshop that one thing she does now is really listen to employees. She also said she could not do this several years ago. (Actually, she could have at any time; she just chose to start trying it at some point.) Her comment was that it still requires some effort, but it is much easier now than it used to be. Her molecules got rearranged. Without belaboring the point about the very significant benefits of true listening, we can say she is somehow different as a result of all the times she was ready to jump in with The Expert Opinion, but chose to hold back and listen longer. I would lay a heavy bet her employees appreciated this. The opposite way to think about this is the old phrase, “To know and not do is to not know.” A final point: The author of the study mentioned above said in an interview that “People don’t understand entirely the structure of wood, even after using it and studying it for centuries.” So there’s something a mystery in this (but not enough to prevent guitar players from keeping their axes by their speakers). Think about it: We have some real gaps in our knowledge of...

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Faster Is Not Always Better

Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I recently served on a grand jury, which is definitely some experiential learning. It allows one to discover many facets of the community that may not be encountered so regularly in the course of everyday life. The way a grand jury works is that you hear many, many case summaries, each of which takes anywhere from less than a minute to just a few minutes. The grand jury only decides if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial, not guilt or innocence. With dozens of cases to hear, the question came up: Should we work through lunch and get out early, or take a break and stay later? In my experience, almost everybody today advocates for “let’s go faster and get done earlier” under the relentless pressure of the clock. “Hurry up, compress cycle time, be just in time” and “now” seem to be the words of the age. There was an immediate — I would say almost unconscious — push toward “Let’s get it over with.” So I had to say something. Having recently read the phenomenal book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” and knowing what would happen at least to my attention span, energy, blood sugar and focus on an empty stomach, I had to push back. And so I said, “We could work through lunch, but I think we would feel it later this afternoon. And I don’t think we were brought here to be fast. We were brought here to decide whether many people would be indicted by a grand jury. I think we owe it to them to give our best thinking and decision making.” The room was quiet for a second. I was ready for pushback, but somewhat surprisingly, they all agreed. I had a steak and cheese sub. (I know. This was not the best choice, but it was a small sub.) We reconvened after an hour and I would like to think we gave our best effort. We asked lots of questions, had high-quality discussion and worked productively as a group. It wasn’t our fastest effort. Just our best. There’s a...

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What’s in your box?

Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Part of my mid-life and daughter-going-to-college-soon plan involves building a recording studio in my basement. (There are worse ways to handle this phase of life.) I like to play the guitar and drums, and apart from occasional purchases that have to be carefully explained in advance of the credit card statement arriving, it’s all good. If you thought some of your friends were snobs about their stereo sound systems or home theatres, you ought to talk to musicians. They salivate and practically genuflect over the really good equipment, and go out of their way to trash-talk inferior products – it’s almost personal to them. They get angry about bad product. In looking for the equipment I need – mixers, mics, audio interfaces, DI boxes, pre-amps, etc. – one thing I have noticed is that some companies go to great lengths to build a box that makes their product look very sleek and high end. But when you read the reviews and user opinions they are withering in their criticism. It’s an interesting strategy – make your product look like something it’s not. Maybe you can fool enough people to get rich, like if you put a really attractive label on a bad bottle of wine. Where does your energy and effort go? Is it about building something great, or making something mediocre look great? Is it mostly about packaging, “messaging” and covering? No one faults beautiful design that covers beautiful product, but most people figure out eventually when there is a mismatch. The great organizational sin of flashy PowerPoint slides must be mentioned here. Some people, with few original ideas, valuable contributions or insights will spend a lot of time making their presentation look oh so good. Others spend the time on the ideas and concepts, and focus on conveying those clearly and effectively. If you have ever sat through a whizzy PowerPoint presentation but not really know what the point was at the end, you know what I’m talking about. What’s in your...

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Kindness

Posted by on Apr 12, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I’ve adopted a new practice I want to share with you, because it’s making a real difference in my own life, and maybe it could in yours, too. You know the bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty?” The one some people sneer at? Well, the people who made and display that bumper sticker have something going on. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, and think I’ve hit it every day. (I was on the road and you know how blurry things get on the road.) I’ve been doing the acts of kindness part rather than senseless beauty; I’m still working on getting my arms around that latter part. And I want to tell you, it changes things. I was talking with a colleague about this practice and she asked what the impact was. I told her, after pausing to think about it for a minute, that it changes the space. By this, I mean that it changes several things. This is ironically pretty selfish, but it changes me. At the best of times, I can be pretty demanding, critical, judgmental and negative. But doing something kind somehow pushes back on all that. It’s a kink in the armor. It also may change others. You never know what the result will be when you pause to let someone in a hurry into the lane of traffic, or tell someone how much you enjoy working with him or her, or tell an employee that you really appreciate his or her help. (I had to pay a traffic ticket last month, and used Virginia’s automated system to do so. I have to tell you, it’s a really great interface. When I talked to a human being to confirm everything had been received, I told her what a great system it was and that I had actually enjoyed using it. We had a laugh together, and I imagined what she must hear from other disgruntled traffic violators.) And then, this is in the somewhat mystical department, it changes the space. Somehow, the air, the vibe, the climate is different. I can’t really explain it. The weather inside gets better. This may relate to mirror neurons, or limbic system resonance. I was at a party last night talking to a friend who had been through some pretty bad team development experiences. Understandably, he seemed pretty skeptical about organization development efforts. I told him one premise I hold is that at the end of the day, people have to believe in and really own and behavior or change they want to make. You can’t really make anyone do anything – at least very well. So in that vein, I offer this practice as a possibility for you to pursue. You decide if it makes sense. You decide what the results are. Give it a...

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Glue

Posted by on Mar 9, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

The team over here at 8230 Leesburg Pike has been through a lot lately, let me tell you. From a variety of sources, we have been buffeted by new demands, expectations, rapidly changing circumstances and other factors that all created what can safely be described as enormous stress. It started in the autumn, so it’s not like it’s been just a short-term thing. What helps you get through stress? One thing I learned, or maybe relearned, or maybe learned more experientially is that a tight team really counts. By tight team, I mean a group of people who genuinely care about each other, who are willing to put in extra effort to help others, and who actually appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to do so. There’s a certain pleasure and satisfaction in knowing that you are directly helping someone you care about. There’s an iron commitment in knowing you will go the wall for others. There is something magical in this. It’s beyond the pure, very limited, self-interest Adam Smith wrote about. (Free-marketers, settle down out there. Nothing wrong with self-interest. It’s just that it’s only one part of a much larger picture.) It’s transcendent. It’s not really described in any competency model, strategic plan or other official artifact, because it’s not an official, organizational process. It’s an organic, grass-roots, person-centered state of being, grounded in relationships. The most an organization can officially do is to create the space, the grounds, for it to happen. Some military environments and sports organizations seem to be the best at fostering it. (Hmmm. I wonder if that’s because their performance is measured so carefully, because it’s so important?) But the people have to be the ones to make it happen. Mot people have been fortunate enough to be on a tight team at some point in their lives. It could have been in a sport, a committee at church, a neighborhood or anywhere else. There is no real predicting it – it certainly can’t be guaranteed. But sometimes, it just happens. If it’s happened for you, you understand its power, and the difference it makes. If you shoveled snow off an elderly neighbor’s drive-way, and your other neighbors came out to help . . that feeling that you had, together? That’s what I’m talking about. When I think about how the team I’m on might have fared through the stress we experienced if we had not been a tight team, I just shake my head. I don’t think it could have happened. It’s the glue that keeps people connected. It’s a beautiful...

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Where Eagles Dare

Posted by on Mar 4, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

I wrote a blog last year about the Eaglecam – an ingenious and beautiful streaming video site where fascinated observers can see the laying of eggs, hatching of eaglets and development of the furry young birds into flight-ready, majestic beauties. http://www.wvec.com/marketplace/microsite-content/eagle-cam.html I noted then that part of the birds’ flight readiness plan is “branching” — a hopping to and from different branches, accompanied by the first flapping of wings. This builds muscle and eventually leads to full-out flight. I compared branching to new behaviors for leaders trying to change what they do, and how the first efforts can be partial, faltering or inelegant. The Eaglecam is back (hatching is estimated at March 12), and this time, I want to take another angle on it, and people, and wisdom. This angle is perhaps deeper. There is something undeniably, intrinsically mesmerizing about these nature observations. Like people who watch a nature show on the Discovery Channel, those who first see the Eaglecam are captivated by it. There is real juice in this experience. When we show it to visitors they don’t want to stop watching. So, what is it about the Eaglecam that is so compelling? Certainly there are all the elements of a story there. Mom and Dad build the nest, mate, and eggs are laid. There are daily events: Dad goes out for a while (it is never clear how long he will be gone. Hmm.) and comes back with a fish, rodent or other food. Mom and Dad take turns covering the eggs and keeping them warm. (Guess who pulls most of the hours there?) How are predators kept at bay? Will the chicks fall out of the nest? Plenty of drama. While we all are encoded for stories, I believe there is something far beyond this that actually explains the fascination. The Eaglecam evokes intrigue with nature; a marveling at the intelligence built into the ecosystem and in each part of it – the eagles, the tree (and yes, the geniuses who figured out how to put up a webcam nearby so we could see all this). How do the Eagles know where a good nesting place is? How do they know the time of year to mate? How do they know what to use to build a nest that will withstand high winds? How do they know where to get those materials? (There is no Home Depot in nature.) How do they distinguish the different sounds from each other? (“Warren, go get some food!,” versus ”Get back here to the nest!”) At the same time the Eaglecam came back on line, I was reading the book published by many of the leadership coaches in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, On Becoming a Leadership Coach. http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Leadership-Coach-Holistic-Excellence/dp/0230606784 Several of the articles in this book surface the point of leaders accessing a kind of inner wisdom, which we all have – although a whole lot can get in the way. This is the innate, genetically embedded inner knowing that regulates everything from breathing, to emotion, to the progression of crawling to walking to running, to knowing what to do in a high-stakes situation. This a deeper knowing – a knowing beyond knowing. It is a quiet sense of sense. It is more than facts and figures, spreadsheets, presentations and...

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Who are You?

Posted by on Mar 4, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Who are you? Are you an individual, who has made choices around career, relationships and where to live? Or are you your job, relationships and location? It sounds like a silly or trick question, but let me share with you a line I heard delivering a leadership development program at one government agency. We had shown a video that highlighted leaders’ ability to evoke possibility and outstanding performance from those they are leading. Much of the video stressed the emotional connections and deeper communication with people that helps unlock possibility. I suppose the person who delivered the line I am about to share had not really thought about that way of leading, or felt unable to lead in that way. (Hey, that’s the work.) In any case, here is what he said. “But we’re a bunch of lawyers! We’re not like that!” I believe what he meant was that in his role, these kinds of leadership behaviors were not mainstream, or conventional. Never mind that they work better. It was just hard to see the change, given the context, especially culturally, in which he worked. I submit this is really over-identifying with a role, career or job. What works for you? What individuality do you bring to where you work? Are you your job? Or are you...

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Let’s Single-Task

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

One problem with writing blogs is that you have to admit when you do things you wish you hadn’t. After all, how real is the post, if not? In this vein, I need to make an embarrassing confession: It started at home, then quickly spread to the office, and now I hardly notice it anymore. It was so innocent at first. Yes, I am now multi-tasking while in meetings. To those of you who were expecting something more shocking or salacious, or those of you who have been doing that a long time, hold on – we’re going to circle back to the damage done. But first, the slippery slope. It started while I was on a conference call while at home. The topic had nothing to do with my part of a project, and so I just sneaked a quick peek at email, where potentially something far more relevant may have popped up. But I instantly realized it, right then; I was no longer really hearing or processing what was said. Then it happened again: marginal topic, quick diversion of attention to something else. I had stepped into the waters. Then, while in the office, I noticed in one meeting that half the participants were doing something on their smart phones. I was waiting to learn about something “important” through email, and so I joined them. I felt guilty, and passively disrespectful of the speaker. But I am putting a stake in the ground now, am going to “Just say no,” and here’s why. What I really noticed while multi-tasking was that although I may technically have heard what was being said, I was — and this is crucial – not able to process it in the same way. I think the implications of this are pretty profound. Not fully processing content means that although you get the quick “hit,” you do not: Think about what it means Connect it to other things Explore how it could be used to improve something Creatively play with it. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that these four qualities are what everyone keeps saying is missing in a high-speed, reactive, hit-and-run culture. It means thoughts run out of steam, and everyone just goes back to work. Maybe it’s just me, but I keep seeing examples of failure to connect dots, particularly in customer-service interactions, political debate, problem-solving sessions and any time the topic is the future. You can also sense the superficiality, impatience and craving of one fast, right and simple answer to life’s problems and challenges. People are encouraged to “bottom-line it, boil it down,” or “get to the point.” Not that this kind of communication is sometimes useful (such as an emergency), but it has become the default mode almost everywhere. The other two things to know about multi-tasking are that A) There is no such thing; people rapidly bounce from one thing to another, but they do not do two things simultaneously of any cognitive complexity. B) Performance degrades the more multi-tasking occurs. Please join me in putting away the smart phone. Listen. Pause. Process. Think. If you find vast amounts of your time are being wasted, focus on the meeting design and agenda. That’s probably where the real problem is. Otherwise, see what single-tasking can do for...

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Is Your Own House in Order?

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

For better or worse – probably worse – I find myself sometimes so tired at home that I fall back to the television and an unreasonably comfortable chair. (The Leisure Commander.) It is not exactly a productive end to the day, but it is relaxing. In doing so, I have come across a television show titled “Holmes on Homes” that is pretty hard to turn off, and I think I’ve figured out why. The basic plot on Holmes on Homes is the same every time; a distressed homeowner calls up Mike Holmes with some problem – a leak, mold, flooring that is buckling, a system failing, etc. Holmes comes out with his instruments and declares whatever he is looking at a total mess, and then brings in the crews to “make it right.” The juice in the plot is vicariously enjoying seeing an existing system or product analyzed, spoken about with disdain, ripped out, and then replaced with something new that works functionally and beautifully. It feels so good when everything is put right. Leadership development, coaching, adult development and growth are not so different (minus the disdain). We often start with an extraverted behavior or communication that is not working; someone is micromanaging, creating tension, not getting results or failing in some way. We spend some time talking with those involved and start to get a picture of what is happening. The real work is often helping leaders figure out what isn’t working in their “system,” taking it out and replacing it with something that works functionally and beautifully. It’s getting beneath the surface to reveal the assumptions, values, beliefs and interpretation of reality that give rise to the behavior – the presenting symptom. A classic example is the manager who can’t get people to take more initiative. A little probing usually reveals that those who did so in any way different from what the manager would have done got punished. That is often not initially apparent to the manager. It is hard to see behind the walls in your house, and it’s hard to see inside yourself sometimes to connect the dots on workplace problems. Very few clients have called us up and said, “I’m the problem. Come fix me.” (We have had more than a few who point to others and say, “Fix him/her/them.”) You never know where these things may lead, but any time things aren’t working it’s worth asking, “Is my own house in...

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Steve Jobs Gets It

Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Like probably almost everyone else reading this blog, I have spent much of my adult life horsing around with software. By this, I mean trying to navigate user interfaces, trying to understand the architecture of forms, trying to understand responses in the FAQ or Help forums that ironically assume proficiency in the programs or at least a master’s degree in software engineering, encountering bugs, eliminating viruses, losing saved work, spending half an hour trying to figure out how to do something that seems like it should take half a minute, and a variety of other tasks that added zero to productivity. And like probably almost everyone else, I have just gotten used to it. It seems like just part of the terrain that software should be counter-intuitive, frustrating, buggy, quirky, glitchy and time-sinking. No one intentionally sets out to design bad software. But people do design it in a context – that context being what’s in their head that they understand about the program and code, and how they see the entire software system. Notice one word missing here: “customer.” The shift involved in moving from thinking about one’s own distinctions, knowledge, perspectives and assumptions to those of the customer is nothing short of profound. It means letting go of whatever you think is “the right way,” and all the knowledge and beliefs you bring to the work, and instead entering a state where you get into the head of the customer. It doesn’t mean that’s the only legitimate point of view, or that the customer is always right. It does mean understanding the customer, though. It is a great example of the platinum rule: Don’t treat others as you want to be treated. Treat them as they want to be treated. This is why relationships matter. If you are not in a place where you want to make this shift, you’re done before you start. The door is closed to solutions that delight customers, that meet them where they are, and help them perform the work they have to do. The shining example of a company that has embodied users as the point of the software is Apple. Every Apple user I have talked to makes the point that there is a significant difference between a Windows-based computer, with its attendant software and hardware, and an Apple computer. As a user myself, I appreciate the experience every time I use my iMac or iPhone. Steve Jobs’ fanatical insistence on elegant, customer-friendly design is the key. I often think of software as the automotive industry 100 years ago. The prevailing mental model was probably that the goal of the car was to get people from point A to B. And it was. Except that along the way, people started to think about things like rider comfort (shock absorbers, better tires, suspension, frame construction), safety (frame construction, bumpers and seat belts) and fuel economy (more efficient engines). It has culminated now in cup holders, DVD players and music systems. The user experience is very different now. Yet most of the discussion in the software field seems to remain around features, power and technology. The machine, not the person, is the focus. This is why the user experience today is not really a technology problem. Apple has already proven a company...

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Yes, Miracles Really Do Happen, and I Have the Proof (and 5 Witnesses)

Posted by on Jan 20, 2011 in Leadership | 0 comments

Many people are skeptical of miracles. They think they know “how things are,” and that they have a good grip on reality. They have little truck with the possibility of an event that would defy all expectations. All I can say in response to this nonsense is that I saw a miracle yesterday, and I’d like to describe it to you. In order to understand this miracle, we first need a little background. To localize it, think of someone you know who is really stuck in his or her ways. This is a person who has been doing the same thing over and over for years, maybe decades, and you see no prospect of change. (Of course, this person isn’t you.) When you think of this person, you probably have a whole set of beliefs and opinions around the potential for change. Think of the following stock statements that you have already heard: * “He/she will never change.” * “That’s just the way he/she is.” * “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” * “Why go to training? Nothing will change.” The list goes on. Implicit in each of the statements is an imbedded notion that it would be a miracle if this person woke up one day, came in to work, and did something really different. As soon as we confuse our pre-conceived notions, even assumptions, with reality, then we are off the hook for trying to help in any way. Our internal resistance to providing feedback to others, our failure to provide coaching when it may be needed, our fear of broaching a difficult issue is often defended on the grounds that “nothing’s going to change, anyway. It would be a miracle.” Sorry to tell, but this view is wrong, and miracles happen. Here’s what I saw: The meeting was called to discuss planning for an enormous training event starting in a few months. The person in charge of the whole event, and the team, had already been through a couple these events Predictably, lessons had been learned. One of these was that the project manager was often needed in three places at once. Running here and there, with a cell phone glued to her ear, she put out fires, answered questions, handled problems and kept the client happy. Now, being in three places at once really is a miracle, and I’m not advocating trying it. As the meeting opened to prepare for the next conference, I observed something happen in the project manager. I could tell there was some hesitance, even discomfort. But she plunged ahead. She said, in effect, that she had learned a lot in the last conferences, and probably the biggest realization she had come to was that she had to delegate more. Given the need for her to be available to the client, she wanted to ask each of us to take greater responsibility for our areas of focus, to really “own” those from start to finish, letting her know if we needed help. Some insight into the project manager: I have noticed in working with her over the years that relationships and harmony are very important to her. She would prefer to not upset people, and for everyone to get along. For her to ask others to do more, she...

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Pay Freezes Present Leadership Opportunities

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If you’re a manager in the federal government, you’ve heard some big news this week: not only will your pay be frozen for the next two years, but so will the pay of those who report to you. If you’re new to supervision you may wonder whether it is best to proactively surface this issue with your team or just hope they won’t bring it up. Don’t let the water cooler conversation get ahead of your leadership. Now is a great time for government supervisors to step up, talk with their team members about what matters most in their work, and turn the issue of pay freezes into an opportunity to foster more engagement within the team. You probably realize that annual increases are not the only reason that people stay in their jobs, but when was the last time that you talked with your team about what does keep them engaged in their jobs? How did those conversations go? Research shows that when managers take the time to talk with employees about what really gets them excited about their work, and then do all they can (beyond pay and promotions) to connect the dots between assignments and energy, engagement levels go up along with several other positive workplace indicators. If you have a solid performer on your team that you think is at risk of leaving, here are some engagement tools that you can use to turn things around. In addition to using these tools with your employees, now is also a good time for you to ask yourself these questions. Take time to re-engage your own energy and focus too, so you can continue to be the best leader you can be for your team. The High Cost of Low Engagement: What Supervisors Can Do About It by Casey Wilson This short white paper is designed to help supervisors build trust and engagement with their team members through intentional conversations about their work and what energizes them. Applying the principles in this article (as well as the book it connects to, The Cornerstones of Engaging Leadership) will help you to navigate through some of the most important conversations you will ever have as a leader. You can access the white paper and the book through the following links. (Full disclosure: My boss wrote this white paper, the book, and the course we offer on this topic. I’m recommending them because they work, not for any extra engagement “points”.) White Paper: http://www.managementconcepts.com/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=372&PageID=1698&cached=true&mode=2&userID=238 Book: http://www.managementconcepts.com/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=325&PageID=624&cached=true&mode=2&userID=238 Course: http://www.managementconcepts.com/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=301&PageID=642&mcTarget=course&mcTargetID=4003&cached=true&mode=2&userID=238  Love ’em Or Lose ’em: Getting Good People to Stay by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans This book contains multiple “stay factors” for supervisors to leverage with their staff, such as opportunities for growth, meaningful work and great co-workers. The authors include questions that supervisors can use to conduct “stay interviews,” or conversations that surface what matters most and what it will take to keep them on board. You can read about the book here: http://www.keepem.com/ 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter This book is full of stories, examples, and data that show the power of engaging employees in service to a common mission. The research for this book came from interviews with more than 10 million employees. You can read more about the book...

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Back to the Basics

Posted by on Nov 10, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

My colleagues and I are sometimes excited by the latest, leading-edge research or new theories on leadership. Whether it’s the huge waves the burgeoning field of neuroscience is making, or the growing recognition that many of our work practices are not sustainable, there is something intriguing and engaging about the latest insights. And then we are yanked back to “reality.” This happens when we get our noses out of a fascinating white paper and just listen to what many employees say about their workplaces, and in particular, their bosses. It is almost always a sobering and sad reality check. We are reminded that for all the advances that have been made in creating productive, functional and high-performance workplaces, the reality is that far too many are still scraping by, fraught with dysfunction, toxic relationships, anger, frustration and even bitterness. We hear things like the following: “My boss throws me under the boss when he makes a mistake.” “My manager refuses to tell us anything. We last had a meeting a year ago.” “My supervisor only listens to people who agree with him.” “My team lead said we all had to work late on a project, and then went home early.” “My child was very sick and I needed to be with her, but my boss said he needed me at a meeting, which was a complete waste of time.” “My manager only cares about one thing – her career.” This list goes on and on and on, like the Energizer Bunny of dysfunction. In sports, when an athlete’s performance goes wrong, the coach usually says it’s a matter of getting back to the basics. A fundamental error was made, and needs to be fixed. This metaphorically applies to leadership, and to the broader place of what happens when work needs to be done and human beings show up to do it. So what are the basics? In the spirit of a blog, rather than textbook, let me just list a few. The basics include: Realizing your job is to support the performance of others, not just make yourself look good. Taking the time to listen to others. (Don’t say you don’t have it. How does it work for you if your boss says he or she doesn’t have time to listen to you?) Being respectful. Do I need to say anything here? Cultivating empathy – the ability to see different points of view without automatically judging them. Sharing information – as much that is relevant you can. Making the connection between the work and what you and others individually care about. If it’s just a paycheck for you, how do you expect others to be excited? Showing up. Literally. Do you make face time? Do you ask people how they are doing? Having enough self-management skills to avoid blowing up. When you feel the stress and pressure – which, by the way, we all do; it’s not just you – do you have the maturity, self-discipline and self-control to respond in a way that helps the other person to solve the problem? There are many more, and this is just a quick list. How are you...

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Empathy for the Devil

Posted by on Oct 28, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

There is a real problem with the word “empathy.” Many people confuse it with “sympathy.” If you look up the words, there is some literal connection between them, but the difference between them is huge for leadership and individual effectiveness generally. Everyone knows what sympathy is. It is a feeling, usually connected to another’s pain. It is literally feeling bad when another is feeling bad. You may feel sympathy for the victim of a crime, or some unfortunate event. Empathy is quite different, and it is not so connected to emotion. It is more related to cognition. Empathy, set in the context of emotional intelligence, is the ability to see the perspective that another person has – to “get” where he or she is coming from. It’s simply to understand. The easiest way to understand empathy is to remember a time when you had a disagreement with someone, particularly a significant one, where something important was on the line. It could have been a pitched political argument, for example. In this argument, were you able to temporarily suspend your own thoughts and perceptions and judgments, and really understand what the other person thought? If you are like most people, this is the last place you go – usually after all your defenses, attacks, blaming, name-calling, and projections (more on this below) are done. The need to be right, to win, to prove the other person wrong usually trumps true understanding – empathy. Less dramatically, empathy also means understanding others’ views in situations not so charged. How do employees feel about the latest reorganization? What is their take on the new team being formed? How do they feel about telework? Simply understanding their perceptions is empathy. It also doesn’t mean you always agree with the other point of view. It doesn’t matter. As long as you get it, you’re demonstrating empathy. The Washington Post used to run an ad that touched on this – “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” It’s really true. What about the Devil, referred to in the title of this blog? In order to develop this, we need to understand something called projection. It is a psychological term that means projecting onto others parts of ourselves we don’t want to own. In Jungian terms, these are thoughts and feelings that reside primarily in the unconscious mind. We use that term because it means we aren’t conscious of them – we’re unaware of the real contents they hold. For example, if you think about someone who “triggers” you, it can potentially open a big developmental door to ask this question: Is there anything in what you are reacting to that reminds you of anything in yourself?” On a very simple level, think of how you drive. If you’re ever in a hurry, you may do things behind the wheel that you wouldn’t normally do; go faster, stretch the red-light margin. When you are not so rushed, and you see people do similar things you can become judgmental. The magnitude of the negative emotion is equal to the presence of that factor in you, probably in your unconscious mind. If you have no issues with any particular negative behavior, it usually signifies that you have no baggage there. You tend to be surprised, or curious...

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Thinking and Feeling in the Hospital

Posted by on Oct 26, 2010 in Leadership | 3 comments

My wife was recently hospitalized (she’s fine now) and during an emotionally wrenching 6-day saga I served as air-traffic controller for a lot of communication from outside the hospital with and about her. One problem with being the in leadership and professional development business is that you cannot avoid seeing situations through certain lenses, some of which I want to share here. What jumped out most for me was noticing how people tended to respond to the news that things were definitely not well in one of two ways. Some people immediately wanted to know what was happening – an analytical, fact-driven narrative of the medical situation in order to understand what was happening, and what was needed that they could provide to help. Others, however, immediately went to the emotional realm – how Linda was feeling, how I was feeling, how our daughter was handling the news. Their emotional expressions of support stood out. For those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you can probably recognize the preference for Thinking judgments in the former, and the preference for Feeling judgments in the latter. Thinkers generally want to know what is, while Feelers focus more on the human side of whatever it is is. What struck me was the language. The vocabulary of Thinkers was populated with words like “cause, events, diagnosis, outlook, facts,” while the parlance of the Feelers included words and phrases such as “Tell Linda that we love her, what can I do to help? This is weighing on us all, and know you’re not alone.” With type, there is no right or wrong, there is just different – a concept that may seem easy to cognitively “get,” but which in real life tends to produce a lot of judgments and conflict. A legitimate question is: Which preference was more useful? And the answer – and the key to understanding Type generally – is “both.” You want people like doctors, specialists, nurses to get very fact-oriented and operate from a logical, rational, technically correct perspective. A life may be hanging in the balance. At the same time, since we are human beings, you also want people to connect with you, feel your pain, empathize and sympathize. At one point, during the darkest hours of not knowing what had happened to my wife, a nurse simply put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I know how hard this must be.” This expression of support brought tears. I didn’t want the nurse to step away from her responsibility to administer medication properly, report vital signs or update a chart, but the Feeling element was huge. Doctors who have a good bedside manner, and are emotionally intelligent, get sued at a fraction of the rate of those who don’t. Both Thinking and Feelings matter. For leaders, the question is whether they can bring both to the game. The bad news is leadership is overwhelmingly populated by Thinkers, leaving a real deficit in the Feeling domain. No wonder engagement levels, a sense of meaningful connection and genuine commitment toward leaders on the part of employees are so low. A good gut check for any leader is: Am I over-relying on my preference, or can I flex enough to incorporate behaviors, actions and communication that come from the...

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Call It Leadership If You Want To, But . . .

Posted by on Oct 15, 2010 in Leadership | 2 comments

The November, 2010 issue of Vanity Fair offers a fascinating and in-depth, if depressing, insight into the world of Merrill Lynch’s leadership before and during the financial crisis, when Stanley O’Neal was at the helm. The piece, “The Man Who Blew Merrill Lynch’s Billions,” by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera truly reads like an archetypal fairy tale, or myth. Perhaps Greek drama is a better characterization. It’s all here in the story — all the elements of leadership that run an organization into the ground. (See the summary at the end of this blog.) O’Neal joined Merrill in 1986 as a junk bond trader. He quickly worked his way up, impressing his superiors in each position as a top performer – and one who could be ruthless in chasing the performance imperative. The authors write that he was “proud, prickly, intolerant of dissent and quick to take offense at perceived slights.” Within 16 years, he was CEO. Once he got the top job, he immediately pushed aside those he had competed with to get there. But he went further. The article authors write, “O’Neal had been insular before; he was the kind of man who liked to play golf by himself. Now he became isolated. He had been wary; now he became suspicious of everyone around him. Patrick and Zakaria (two officials) had been extremely competent executives; he replaced them with more pliable lieutenants.” Other executive mirrored this; they were vindictive, surrounding themselves with a small group of those who would only say “yes” — a process that ultimately had catastrophic results. He once said, “You don’t understand. Dysfunction is good on Wall Street.” During this time, O’Neal developed a fixation with Goldman Sachs, the money printing press that quarter after quarter was churning out enormous profits. O’Neal’s jealousy was such that one executive commented that you did not want to be in O’Neal’s office the day Goldman released its financial results. Beyond the differences in financial performance, there were others. The authors write, “O’Neal insisted that the company’s executives speak only to him about their businesses and not with one another. The Goldman brass insisted on knowing bad news; Merrill executives trembled at the thought of giving O’Neal bad news. O’Neal rarely asked for input when making a decision. And under no circumstances did he want to be challenged once he had made up his mind.” Some basic economics: One hugely important strategic decision O’Neal made was to not only sell, but also own, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). CDOs are one example of those derivatives that precipitated the U.S. financial crisis. They are essentially your mortgage, mine, others’ car loans and other forms of debt all bundled together and resold to investors who like the stream of income as debt is repaid. The only problem is that when individuals cannot make the debt payments, the system comes unhinged. Since the credit rating agencies gave top marks to any CDOs with a pulse – even when they were shaky – they were freely bought and sold with Triple A confidence, until the music stopped. In reality, many of the debts in these CDOs were perilous, and O’Neal kept pushing for Merrill to embrace higher coupons – Wall Street parlance for increasingly risky debt instruments. Merrill had grown up as...

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Reality Depends on Where You Sit

Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

For some, possibly synchronistic, reason lately I have been confronted with numerous examples of cases where the interpretation of what happened really depended on where you sat. For example, one employee was railing against managers who do not prioritize the organization’s interests over their own. Later on, he described as a victory his own manager’s success in getting a favorable budget allocation out of a shared pot of money. I think it’s pretty clear, but in case not, imagine how the people outside his department must have felt. Pure selfish politics. It also happens a lot when one department needs something from another. The requester is seen as demanding, insistent and unreasonable. The other department may be seen as slow, unresponsive and aloof. One more: An employee who has selected responsibilities on a special team is struggling to balance his or her commitments to the team under a heavy workload. The team may feel he or she is not “pulling their weight,” while the host organization is worried about all that time the person is spending on that special team project. In all cases, the common denominator is a manifestation of what I call the crisis of the “I” story. In the I story, the only reasonable interpretation of events is filtered through what benefits the story teller. The I story excludes the interests and priorities of others. It is a nice, clean version of reality. Except that it’s limited, and therefore often wrong. Before addressing what specifically can be done to break out of the I story, I’d like to explain that conceptually, nothing can really change until individuals accept their interdependent, connected relationships with many others. A locus solely out of “what works for me” is doomed to fail. This is really a matter of consciousness, not tools or techniques. The last sentence in the new, and phenomenal, book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz, is “A new way of working ultimately requires an evolutionary shift in the center of gravity in our lives – from ‘me’ to ‘us.’” Much of this boils down to one, misunderstood word: empathy. Empathy is not sympathy, but rather the ability to see things the way another person might see them. It doesn’t even mean you have to agree, just that you get it. If a person can get to this point, then there are a few specific things that can help in the complicated, fraught world of work. Clear standards: Good agreements on who will do what by when provide an objective reference standard, and minimize negative judgments of others. Because agreements have to be negotiated, raw self-interest may be surfaced before it becomes a performance problem. Of course, this doesn’t mean that one’s locus shifts from self to others, but at least it’s understood earlier in the process. Relationship work: This means intentional action to learn about and improve relationships. Feedback is the most direct way, but check-ins, process checks and just asking how others think things are going can surface disconnects. Self-checks: This means asking yourself, “What is my intention here? Is it all about me, or is about others, too, and jointly figuring out what needs to happen for the best interests of the organization. It may seem simple, but it can take a...

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In the Groove

Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If you are, or have tried to be a golfer (the joke is that the first 20 years are the hardest), then you already know a lot about performance. The maddening aspect of golf, in all its unforgiveness, is the ball flight. It is perfect performance feedback, and because of the razor-sharp margins of error in the game, the ball often goes into the weeds instead of the hole. So you would think given how many people get frustrated with their results, that whatever is needed to get from Hank the Hacker to Phil Mickelson would be steadily, methodically pursued. Not so. In fact, the research shows that golfers’ “handicap” – a measure of how good they are – has not changed substantially in many decades. Weekend golfers are standing still. Before explaining why, let’s go to the driving range. That’s the place where wanna-be golfers can hit ball after ball. The big problem is that the way they’re hitting the ball is wrong. Swing after swing, they’re doing it wrong. One golfer once told another that his swing looked like a man changing out of a raincoat in a phone booth, while fighting off a snake. It’s not usually that bad or obvious, but if you step back from the driving range and just watch the swings, it becomes immediately obvious that many golfers are either fighting snakes, warding off demons or otherwise executing very compromised swings. Some are humorous in their contortions (and I should talk). Swing after swing, the faults are repeated and then grooved. Bad practice becomes habit. But it’s known, repeatable and familiar. For those of you who have tried to change a habit, you know how hard it is. For those of you who have tried to change a physical sequence – usually in a sport – you know how hard it is. You have to come out of a groove you’ve established. It literally requires rewiring of your brain, though doing something new, intentional and at least initially, awkward. You go backwards at first, and your performance suffers. You want to go back to old reliable, even if it got you in the weeds. So let’s leave the driving range and talk leadership. The fact is, the skills and competencies in leadership – things like listening, transparency, focus, communication skills – can be taught. The question is whether leaders want to go through the difficult, awkward process of learning them. Unlike choosing to keep your elbow in on the backswing, or pronating the wrists through impact, the skills in leadership for most people involve even deeper internal change. They require upending fundamental assumptions about the self, others and the organization. For example, someone who has achieved some success largely through telling others what to do may find it hard to increase listening. Someone who is secretive may be threatened by the concept of disclosure or transparency. Someone who secretly wishes that everyone else were more like him or her may find it really hard to actually value differences. Getting the concept is easy – you can read it in the in-flight magazine — but relating it to the self (current swing) is where it starts to get hard as fundamental beliefs, habits, worldviews and even values are called into question. But the...

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The Long Run

Posted by on Oct 1, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

It is always fascinating to read the biographies of failed leaders. These are the folks who went to jail, lost many billions, resigned in accounting scandals or lost the confidence of employees. Bad Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Pigs at the Trough by Arianna Huffington are packed with examples of such leaders. We are talking Chainsaw Al, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, John Rigas, Ken Lay et al. In the stories of these leaders, a familiar pattern emerges with uncanny consistency. It goes something like this: Person of humble means pulls himself up, gets a job, gets promoted, starts putting results on the board, makes a big leap or two to the next levels, more results and then the top job — after which, everything eventually unravels. Along the way is where it gets interesting. When former colleagues are interviewed, they invariably talk about how the person had some kind of singular vision or steely – almost scary — sense of direction, and executed to that with incredible will and strength. Hence, the results on the board. Along the way, slashing and burning were commonplace, dissent was not tolerated, and hey, as long as the results were coming in, who cared? Certainly not Wall Street with its quarterly earnings per share attention deficit disorder. All this may have worked in the climb up, but once people like this arrived at the top, things started to change. The resistance to hearing other ideas, the suppression of alternative points of view, and very often the command-and-control mentality ultimately wore down any goodwill, sense of genuine cooperation and social capital. In the end, all they had was rule by control, power and fear. Threats to subordinates and public humiliation were common. What is really interesting about these narratives is how often the failed leaders bragged about their leadership style. They not only admitted, but celebrated and reveled in their take-no-prisoners methods. “My way or the highway” or “You’re either with me or against me” challenges were common. Self-congratulatory autobiographies as the makers of tough decisions or conveying that they did what had to be done are not hard to find. There may be a temporary place for such leadership in crisis situations, but for most modern organizations, it just doesn’t work – at least in the long run. Andrew Ashore, an analyst who met Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap, was reported to have said, “”I didn’t necessarily like him or trust him, but I thought my clients could make money on him. I knew they just had to get out at the right time.” In other words, this pattern is so well-worn that stock analysts can try to market-time CEO trajectories. At some point, the social capital is exhausted, relationships are non-existent and goodwill has vanished. When the hammer falls, there is no one to support the leader. And the rest, as they say, is history. And this may all be just a history excursion except for one thing. Recently I have been talking with employees in the federal government about their perceptions of their leaders. Familiar patterns emerge: unwillingness to listen, no tolerance of disagreement, rule by force and threats to those who do not toe the line. Sound...

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“My Brain Doesn’t Work That Way”

Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Michelle Rhee, the D.C. Schools Chancellor, has been one of the most controversial, polarizing figures in educational reform in years. She was pictured on the cover of Time magazine with a broom in hand, symbolizing the clean sweep she would make of the much-criticized D.C. school system. She has consistently forged a take-no-prisoners style in her decision making and communication, shrugging off growing criticism of her leadership style. This blog post is not about the politics or merits of what she has done, or not done. Instead, it is about a fascinating quotation contained in today’s Washington Post, in a column by Courtland Milloy. Milloy referenced a line Rhee delivered to an interviewer when she was asked about how her approach was being perceived in different parts of the city. “That’s not how my brain works,” she said. “I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about the what-ifs. I’m a much better thinker when it’s, ‘Here’s the situation, now what?’ ” One thing you cannot fault Rhee for is her unflinching honesty. Saying “That’s not how my brain works,” is much more straightforward than many other officials would have said. Still, it leaves a nagging question: Are leaders just a product of how their brains work, or can they adapt, flex, change or grow in response to events and reactions? (The smart money, by the way, is on Rhee being out of a job with D.C.’s new mayor.) If you can excuse any perceived weaknesses with “That’s not how my brain works,” then you’re off the hook for any potential adaptation. People sometimes complain about assessment instruments, such as MBTI, or Disc, that they “put me in a box.” Saying your brain only works one way is a real, no-kidding box. Beyond this, almost everyone in organizational life can relate to the law of unintended consequences, or how culture creates pushback on unpopular initiatives. Saying one does not explore what-ifs or perceptions of actions is cognitively limited and culturally naïve, respectively. The what-ifs are often the stuff of organizational change. Not exploring those is a set-up for failure. The “if’s” have a real track record of becoming “is’s,” even by surprise. Finally, there may be an argument for crisis leadership here. The D.C. schools were at the bottom of the barrel, and one could legitimately make the case that bold actions were required. But Rhee may be discovering the hard way that bold action works better when thought through for long-term and sometimes surprising consequences, and when supported by...

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“If I Don’t Tell People My Story They Will Make One Up For Me”

Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Sometimes, clients are our best teachers. I experienced this a few years ago working with the director of a federal agency office in Wyoming. During a leadership development session, “Paul” (name changed to protect his identity) said something I’ll never forget, and which, when shared with others, tends to produce a lot of immediate agreement. We were talking about how rumors start, how information rushes in to fill any vacuums in organizations, and how people view leaders. That’s when Paul dropped the line: “One thing I’ve learned as a leader is that if I don’t tell people my story, they’ll make one up for me.” What does this mean? It certainty doesn’t mean contriving some version of reality that is palatable and designed to get others to go along with you. No, the story that Paul meant can also be conveyed by the words “disclosure” or “transparency.” If you’ve ever wondered why leaders or organizations did something that made no sense to you, then you know why disclosure and transparency matter. These words mean explaining to people why you are doing what you are doing; why, in the past tense, you did what you did; or in the future tense, why you are thinking of doing something. If they don’t know or understand, they will invent something. This may be a conscious or unconscious process – they may not even be aware of what they are doing – but it will happen, nevertheless. Given the significant risks of distortion, misunderstanding, misperception or imputed motives, why in the world would anyone not tell others his or her story? There are two biggies. First, leaders claim they do not have time. Without delving here into all the ways information can be exchanged efficiently, think about this: How well does it work for you to have someone above you say he or she does not have time to communicate with you? To quote Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you?” The short answer is, it doesn’t. To be sure, there will always be some very small percentage of the workforce that doesn’t actually care about the why behind the what that is shaping their world, but most people want to know. They need to make sense of their experience. Beyond this, take a guess as to what is identified time and time again as the number one problem in organizations. That’s right: Lack of communication. Second, telling people your story means you are accountable for the values behind the actions. If you do things out of convenience, for self-serving reasons, or without regard to others, then you have to explain that, and peoples’ worst suspicions are confirmed. Transparency is...

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I’m Interested in That

Posted by on Sep 23, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Occasionally, a practice comes along that seems to cut through a lot of the normal confusion and noise at work, and genuinely helps people communicate and get work done. The practice described here is very simple, except when it gets hard. Why it might be hard is explored below. The practice is to simply say, “My interest in this is . . .” So what is an interest? An interest is why you want something. It’s the motivator behind action, the value or belief upon which you are saying or doing something. It greatly facilitates communication by helping others understand the why behind your what. For example, if you want to see a report by 5:00, you can say, “I’d like to see the report by 5:00. My interest is in having enough time to read it before I have to pass it on.” Or, “Can we invite Joe to the meeting? My interest is in asking him about his experience with projects similar to ours.” You can probably already see, particularly in the second example, how not disclosing your interests might lead to misinterpretation. People often rush to fill in motives of others when they don’t have any actual ones. For example, there could be many reasons you might want Joe in the meeting. Others might think you want him there because he supports your position on a contentious issue. Or because he’s your buddy. Or because you don’t know what to do about the issue. The point is, imagined interests will rush in to fill any voids. One client I worked with once said, “I learned as a leader that if I don’t tell people my story, they’ll make one up for me.” This practice has another aspect to it that is more difficult. If you ever find yourself in a position of doing or wanting something for reasons that are not compatible with the organization’s, it will be very hard to talk about. For example, if you want to delegate something because you don’t like to do that particular piece of work, or you don’t invite someone to a meeting simply because they have a different point of view, then that is going to be very hard to explain to others. Revealing interests increases transparency, trust and communication. Practice saying, “My interest in this is . ....

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“It’s All a Priority”

Posted by on Sep 22, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

It is time to put something in writing that is at the very heart of an unbelievable amount of organizational angst, confusion and turmoil. I hear it in practically every group I work with, and it is extracting a huge toll on employees. Without question, it is worsening. To kick this off, let’s imagine the prototypical scene when you see an incoming on the work radar, are already juggling multiple priorities, and you ask your boss, “What’s the priority?” When I ask groups what they hear when they ask their bosses this, the room always answers in unison: “It’s all a priority.” As my teen daughter would say, “Let’s review.” First, the root of the word “priority” is “prior.” It means something comes before something else. I don’t know mathematically how everything can come before everything, but then again, I was never very good in math. Maybe it’s just me. But second, try explaining this concept to anyone managing triage in an emergency room, or to an air traffic controller. It doesn’t make sense. Third, I can share that when I have worked with effective leaders, there were times when I noticed things not working well in their organizations. Maybe customer service was weak, or IT fragile. When I would bring these to the attention of these leaders, they would quickly acknowledge the situation (rather than denying or blaming). What they also said was where they were currently focusing effort and energy. They said they could not get to these problem areas until other initiatives were finished. Maybe next quarter, or next year. But right now, the focus was being held. This is discipline, clarity, and more than anything, strategy. This leads us to the next major point. Michael Porter’s conception of strategy is that it represents the essential choices – the big bets — the organization places in order to succeed. What will happen that operationalizes the best hope the organization has of succeeding? The crucial, vital, unambiguous part of his definition is that this careful choosing is done against the constraint of limited resources. Since the organization can’t do everything, hard choices must be made. Effective strategists don’t try to be all things to all people all the time. They don’t diffuse and confuse the strategy with efforts that are not aligned. They truly decide what’s a priority and – here’s a new word for you – a “posteriority.” A posteriority is what comes after. Ever notice how often you hear the word priority, but never posteriority? But posteriorities are the key to strategy. They represent what the organization is going to say “no” to, at least in the current time period, so that the organization can really embrace what matters. The next point is about what is called the productivity frontier. The productivity frontier is the maximum output available given the (limited) resource inputs. It is a curve that slopes up and to the right. More resources equal more outputs, but in a non-linear way. You might be able to violate the productivity frontier in the short run, but it will come back to bite you in the medium and long term, as we shall see. (Another nonsensical expression is working “110%.” If on the perfect day you can only do that amount of work, then...

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Progress

Posted by on Sep 21, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Last spring, I attended a pre-college planning session at my daughter’s high school, and decried in a blog the counselor’s reference to “a little personality test” as essentially a throwaway adjunct to the real stuff of standardized academic testing. I’m pleased to report that in the latest of these pre-college sessions, the counselor this time – a different one — talked about the importance of the young adults creating a real plan for college, which is linked to their vision of their best-fit career, which is ultimately grounded in, yes, you guessed it, the personality tests. These are evidently the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory, two great assessments of the self. The battle to get people to see the importance of understanding the self, and not just how to do more, better, faster and cheaper, is a long one. Many organizations just want more of the same. But when people take responsibility – and it’s a very big responsibility — for figuring out where they are going to do their best work, then new and better things can start to...

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A Thousandth of an Inch, Or, “Good Enough For Government Work”?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in Leadership | 1 comment

For my mid-life crisis I bought an electric guitar. (It was cheaper and more acceptable than some of the alternatives.) This weekend, I took it to a local repair shop I found on the web (http://www.arlingtonfretworks.com/) for some routine tune-ups and maintenance. I had been struck by the site itself. It sold me on the shop. The proprietor described in extensive, rich detail what he does and how. It was clear this is a guy who is really into what he does. He loves his work. This was confirmed when I handed over my beloved Line 6 Variax 300. He stared at it for a while, put it on the bench and began taking measurements, sighting along the neck, making “hmm” sounds, hooking it up to various test instruments and immersing himself in the project. Totally absorbed. I had intended to just drop the guitar off and head home, since I was on the hook to pick up salad at Safeway for dinner. But I stayed more than an hour as he showed me things I would have never seen or realized. (Like many mechanics – and this seems to be obligatory in the field — he spent some time dissing other guitar techs as not really knowing what they are doing.) The time culminated in a moment when he noticed that the nut (the part of the guitar neck the strings run through) was slightly uneven. “See?” he exclaimed as he wobbled the string and took measures. He then got out a tool – there were many, many tools – and tapped a few times ever so slightly, then moved the string again. He seemed satisfied, but got out another instrument that measures the evenness in the nut. It showed perfect. The instrument was indicating he had adjusted the nut by 1/1000th of an inch. He was happy. He was proud. I was more than satisfied. The state of caring about one’s work was explored in great detail in Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a classic in philosophy. Caring means involvement, concern, wanting, pursuing, investing and engaging. It is not really about the work, as there are many, many different kinds of work. It is about the individual, and what motivates him or her. The opposite of this state is found in a cynical phrase I’ve heard too many times in working with groups and teams – “It’s good enough for government work.” I’m not sure what the origin of this phrase is, but I know what it means. It means we can all settle for mediocre, minimally acceptable, pedestrian and barely passing. The more we emphasize volume production, the more likely it is we fall into a “good enough” mentality. How immersed are you in your work? How much do you care? How do you feel when you pack up at the end of the day? Was it good enough for government work? Or was it a product of true caring? From a leadership perspective, what are the implications for others of you showing up as “good enough” versus being truly into the...

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I never really meant to do this work

Posted by on Sep 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

My father, John, was a career counselor, and he told me something many years ago that I will never forget. It chilled me then, and whenever I tell this story to groups there is an immediate reaction. It’s a story, and it takes the form of someone about to retire coming in to talk to my Dad: “John, can we talk? “It’s a funny thing. I’m retiring next month, and it’s hard to believe. It seems kind of like a long time ago, and also like just yesterday, that I was in college and didn’t really know what to major in, so I majored in business (or English, or history, etc.). “I graduated and didn’t really know what to do with my degree, but there was an opening down at XYZ Co., so I took it, because I had bills to pay. “It wasn’t a bad job, and I enjoyed being on my own, having a little bit of money. I met Jane then, and we started going out, got engaged, and then married. More responsibility now. “Jane started having babies. More responsibility, and a promotion, and then the move out to Ohio. Another promotion, the kids were growing up, and then got near college age. One more promotion. Jane and I had our 25th anniversary. The kids graduated and moved on. Empty Nesters, and I retire next month John and it’s a funny thing because I never really meant to do this work.” My father said, “You don’t want to know how many times I’ve heard this.” There was a popular ad campaign that said “Life comes at you fast.” I say we measure time in seconds today, like when you cross the urban intersection and the seconds count down. Every second counts. And yet, there is a large clock in your life that you never actually see. It’s called the clock of your life (and career). We are periodically shocked by the passage of time – an anniversary, our 10th, 20th or 30th year working somewhere. The kids leaving home. This big clock really makes its presence known at times, but it’s usually invisible, ticking away quietly in the background while we organize our day-to-day lives (often in minutes and even seconds). One of the biggest decisions a leader – and anyone else, really – has to make is how to spend this big unit of time called a lifespan or career. Leaders who haven’t really chosen what they want and need to do can hardly expect others to be excited by working with them, in a climate of unknowing, lack of commitment and indecision. You get one shot, with this thing called your life. Take it. Because that clock keeps...

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Just Do It

Posted by on Sep 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

This year’s results for the best and worst places to work in the federal government are out. Winners and losers. If an agency shows up on the Partnership for Public Service’s “worst” list there prima facie is a question around what to do about it. (Unless the leadership decides it doesn’t really matter. This then becomes a much deeper problem.) So virtually every agency wanting to make progress on this front naturally wants to know, “What should we do now? How do we ‘fix’ this?” The bad news, to quote an old slogan, is: “You can’t get there from here.” This may seem discouraging, but if it discourages quick-fixes, Band-Aids and superficial remedies, that’s good. If it makes eager beavers stop for a minute and think, that’s good, too. To make sense of this, it’s important to step back for a minute and think a bit differently. The best way to start this inquiry is to realize a fundamental truth of organizations: “Everything that happens in any system makes sense.” This may be galling to those who have scratched their heads in bewilderment over meetings, decisions, conversations or outcomes, but trust me — to someone, somewhere, whatever happens makes sense. You may not agree with it, but the person who has the decision doesn’t intentionally make stupid decisions, with the intent of creating dysfunction, drama or poor results. Those may, and often do, result, but they are not the goal. So the plot thickens. To advance our understanding further, it’s important to realize that all those policies, procedures, actions, decisions, conversations, meetings, regulations and outcomes that were the basis of the organization getting deep-sixed as a place to work were actually logical or sensible in someone’s world – probably the one person or persons who made the call. Edgar Schein said, “If you want to really understand any system, just try to change it.” Let’s make this tangible. Assume that a lack of flex-time is a reason the place got low marks. Well, someone, somewhere decided that it was more important to have people there when he or she wanted them there than the employees have autonomy over hours. Another example: Perhaps telecommuting is not an option. Why? Someone doesn’t trust employees to be productive at home. Another: Recognition is lacking. Reason: Managers don’t want to give positive feedback because “people will get big heads.” (We actually hear this one frequently.) Finally: Leadership doesn’t communicate much. Reason: “We’re really busy getting work out the door. We don’t have time.” (We hear this almost all the time.) Executive coaches have a concept called “breaking the coherence” that is important here. It means that clients often have a very tightly wrapped “story” around why they do what they do — even when it is not working. The coherent story explains, justifies and rationalizes whatever they are doing. The coach’s breaking of the coherence can mean challenging the story, pointing out the rotten fruits of it, or holding a deep assumption up for re-examination. The point is: Organizations can’t fix what is broken until the coherence that gave rise to whatever is wrong is broken or shifted in some meaningful way. People will not arbitrarily change behavior until their underlying values, priorities, agendas and interests start to shift. When the leadership of...

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Who’s Showing Up for Work Today?

Posted by on Aug 17, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

I’ll state the obvious: as long as people are involved, life’s not predictable. This platitude applies in all domains—social, spiritual, and business. It’s not just a matter of rationality or irrationality.  No, I remind you of this because even the most rational employees can behave irrationally at times.  That’s because they bring a different “self” to work every day.  This is what makes the art of leadership so challenging. I’m reminded of what my parents went through almost every day in getting ready for work.  Both of my parents worked, and they had five children and one car.  So coordinating morning schedules was a challenge, to say the least.  Like clockwork, just as we were ready to leave the house, my ornery baby sister would show up at the door sans clothing because she didn’t want to go to the child care center.  It would send my folks into a controlled rage as they frantically searched for her hidden clothes.  So how do you think my parents showed up for work on those days? As a supervisor, do you know how your employees are showing up?  Their ability to produce miracles is often dependent on what’s personally going on behind the scenes.  To create a high-performing team, you must take this into account.  It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it just is. A different me shows up for work every day.  So who’s showing up for work in your...

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The Best Quote in the Business

Posted by on Jul 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Sometimes, just a few words can nail a concept so important to life and work that they border on poetry. That’s the case with the following quotation – the best I’ve ever heard in the business of leadership and management. It comes from the ancient philosopher from the West – not the East – (Santa Monica, to be specific) whose name is George Carlin (RIP). George Carlin once said, “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving faster than you is a maniac, and everyone driving slower than you is a moron?” Think about it. Whenever I share with a class this piece of wisdom wrapped in the veil of comedy, there is an immediate reaction (laughter), to which I respond with the question, “Why is this so funny?” Invariably, someone says, “Because it’s true!” At which point there is even more laughter. This affirmation reinforces the central irony of the statement, which we should unpack here. • Do you know a workaholic? How about someone lazy? • Do you know someone who is obsessive about details? How about someone too blue sky? • Do you know someone who spends too much time making things “perfect?” How about someone sloppy with work? • Do you know someone who takes too long to make a decision? How about someone who jumps the gun and is too hasty? • Do you know a micro-manager? How about someone too hands-off? Guess who is present, but usually invisible, in all these stories? That’s right – you. The ultimate arbiter of the correct balance point in life. The only person driving the right speed, working the right number of hours, with the right amount of attention to detail and quality, and so on. You must be right. After all, if you thought you weren’t, you’d think or do something different. Sometimes, there actually is an objective standard to which we can refer to figure out how much or little of anything we should do. For example, there is a speed limit (although few people pay any attention to it). But much of the time in knowledge work, there is not some higher standard to reference to make a clean, defensible decision. Instead, our approaches often come straight out of our own values. And guess what? Not everyone shares your values – the subject of another post. The next time you hear some difference and judge it as too fast or slow, or too anything, stop and think. How did you come to your own decision on what’s right? How do you know that’s right? And perhaps most importantly, why is something different creating potential discomfort in...

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Organizational Laryngitis

Posted by on Jul 1, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Organizational laryngitis – a term I made up – is not a medical condition in which everyone at work suddenly loses his and her voice. Instead, it is a psychological and cultural condition. Organizational laryngitis is widespread, culturally entrenched, a sapper of new ideas and a demoralizer. It occurs when large groups of people feel they cannot safely speak up with their ideas, perspectives and points of view. When this condition sets in, the conversation does not stop. It goes underground. People need to express their ideas and interpretations, and if it is not safe to do so in meetings and with authority figures, they do it with colleagues. Once true communication stops, several bad things happen. The talent walks out, the conversation becomes mainly complaining rather than problem-solving and a gulf is created between managers and employees. The longer it goes on, the wider it gets. It is always interesting to watch what happens when new employees come in, unaware that the culture supports organizational laryngitis. They may speak up in meetings, prompting immediate eye contact and looks of alarm from those already afflicted. They know the newbie didn’t get the memo on what can and cannot be said around the place. Poor thing. Someone will have to have a chat with him or her in the hallway or coffee room – the great forums for conveying the real culture. Why does this laryngitis start? Usually because someone signals that he or she did not want to hear what was just said. This is all it takes to inhibit the communication. A kind of no-go zone is established. Interestingly, it is not usually through the actual words said in response. It’s usually the facial expression and body language. The speaker picks up on an emotional level that a line was crossed. If you’re ever interviewing for a job, one important question to informally ask your prospective colleagues, perhaps over coffee or lunch, is: “Can you tell the truth around here?” If you are a manager, what can you do about this horrible condition? Here are some keys: • Ask people what they really think • Ask people what they are really feeling. • Share difficult truths yourself, modeling the way that it’s OK to talk about the pleasant and not-so pleasant. In organizations where laryngitis has been healed, it’s amazing how fluidly and effectively people communicate. Since there’s no need to sweep things under the carpet, information flows much faster and efficiently. There is no need for secrets. Also, trust is higher. A great body of work now links trust to speed and effectiveness in business results. After all, you know how much longer it takes you to operate in a low-trust environment. That email you have to write to someone you don’t trust takes about five times as...

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Failure Is An Option

Posted by on Jun 15, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

This time of year tends to be full of milestone events. Weddings, big vacations, and graduations are at the top of the to-do list. In the case of graduations, valedictorians, thought leaders and celebrities of all kinds tend to include a common thread about the importance of success in their commencement speeches. Those messages tend to go something like this: Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. (Nelson Mandela) Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.  (Wendy Wasserstein) Do not follow where the path may lead.  Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.  (Ralph Waldo Emerson) No pressure, right? It has been some time since I was in college and longer than I’d care to count since I was in high school. And yet, one thing remains true today as if it was just yesterday: nobody I know gets up in the morning with the intention to fail. I’m no exception; I appreciate and strive for success as much as anyone else, and I like to be surrounded by people who do the same. Failure does happen though, and it often serves as an important milepost on the journey to success. For leaders, in fact, the learning that comes through and as a result of failure can be as important – if not more so – than the achievement of a successful outcome. Leaders who are able to withstand and overcome setbacks give themselves and their teams the permission to fail in pursuit of learning and excellence. This is an adaptive capability that is not always easy for leaders to develop. It requires some resilience and humility along with a willingness to let go of what you think you know sometimes, for the sake of learning. Here are three tips that I’ve used myself and that I’ve offered to executive coaching clients who seek to build this particular leadership muscle. What’s your definition? Look at your current definitions of success and failure and assess where you may need to let go of some long-held assumptions. Where did your definitions come from? Are they still serving you? If not, rewrite them. Experiment! Choose a small project that presents an opportunity for you to experiment with the possibility of failure. Include learning milestones for yourself in addition to project milestones – things you can observe and learn about yourself and your leadership style, in addition to the tangible project outcome. What you learn about yourself during times of “failure” may turn out to be mini-successes all in their own right, whether you achieve the overall outcome as originally planned or not. Involve others. Talk with your team about the effort you are making to build your adaptive capabilities by experimenting with failure. Engage them in the process by inviting their feedback on how you react, respond, and recover when things go differently than you’d planned. Be sure to tell your supervisor and other key stakeholders too so their expectations are set accordingly. After all, leaders are expected to manage and mitigate risks. Your first experiment should be big enough to provide learning but not so big that you put your organization at risk for the sake of your personal development. In her commencement speech at Harvard two...

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A very hard soft skill

Posted by on Jun 9, 2010 in Leadership | 6 comments

It is always interesting to hear people talk about the “soft skills.” One technician once described these as the “non-critical” competencies – things that are optional, not required. Things like communication, problem-solving, motivating others and engaging a team. The whole phrase “soft skills” sets up the domain of leadership and management competencies as frilly, puffy and frivolous. The not-so-subtle message is: Anybody can do them, but they’re really not that important. Other blogs will address whether they are important. This post asks the question: How hard is a soft skill? Let’s find out by randomly picking one: empathy. First, empathy has nothing to do with sympathy. Two completely different concepts, so let go of any associations you may have around a soft shoulder. Second, you should know that empathy has been described as the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. (You may think emotional intelligence is non-critical, too, so just for a minute forget about the mounting evidence that links emotional intelligence to performance.) So what is empathy? And why should you care? Empathy is the capability to see things as another person sees them. Empathy means you can “get” how someone else experiences, perceives, thinks or feels about an issue. Let’s get right to the hard part of this soft skill: Imagine you are having a disagreement with someone. He or she wants to handle a pressing, significant problem one way; you want to handle it in a completely different way. To amp it up a bit, let’s say there’s something important on the line for you personally and professionally in this. If it goes wrong, you might lose respect, status or power in the organization. What’s more, the other person in this drama irritates you. Sometimes, a lack of respect and candor has been shown. Given this, how easy is it for you to see the other person’s perspective? If you’re thinking, “In such a case, I wouldn’t care how he or she sees it!” then we’re done before we start. You cannot connect, communicate or work jointly with such a mental model. Is it starting to seem like this work might be hard, not so soft? Let’s say you grit your teeth, and based on the above, decide that you want to give it a shot. You’re going to try to really understand the issue as the other person sees it. We might start with questions: “How do you see it? What is important to you in this? What are your concerns and hopes?” The hard part may be around really listening without leaping instantly to judgment. How long can you stay in the posture of curiosity and openness before moving into judgment and closure? Further, what happens within you as you suspend judgment, try to see another perspective and not pull the rip cord? For people experimenting with this behavior, two things usually emerge. First, they realize they did not have a monopoly on the truth – there may be a kernel or larger piece of truth in what the other person is saying. The great saboteur of development – defensiveness – serves to keep that uncomfortable reality at arm’s length. Second, something in them changes. They broaden, “horizontalize” and acquire a larger, more powerful perspective. Both of these are good things. The final point to make...

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An amazing statistic

Posted by on Jun 7, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If I told you that as a leader or manager you could do something relatively simple to increase loyalty, motivation, cooperation and buy-in, would you be interested? Probably so. And if I told you that I have discovered – somewhat accidentally – a statistic that is almost 100% correlated with perceptions of greatness as a manager or leader, would you want to know what the correlation is? Probably so. I have asked groups for about a decade to raise their hands if they have or have ever had what they consider to be a great boss. Some unpredictable percentage of hands goes up. I then ask people to lower their hands only if they think that boss was not a good listener. Here’s the data: With about 2,000 people (I wish I had kept an actual count), a total of seven hands have dropped. The technical term for that in the social sciences is a “no-kidding correlation.” What is it about listening that is so powerful? And don’t we already listen pretty well, anyway? Let’s first dispense with the myth. Many people listen superficially. They are rehearsing in their heads what they will say next (and interrupt if it takes too long for them to make their point), they listen for what it means to them – instead of truly just listening for what it means to the other person, and they get distracted a lot. This is when you are doing things like thinking of your grocery list, wondering what will happen next in your favorite television show, or thinking about that catchy tune you heard on the radio driving in. (By the way, when you are “listening” on the telephone while typing out a reply to an email message, I hate to tell you this, but the other person knows. Same thing when you’re trying to eat your lunch and make it sound like you’re not eating your lunch.) Also, if you want to experience another amazing statistic, keep track sometime of the interruptions in a contentious meeting. I did this recently with a group and tracked 10 interruptions in 20 seconds. The interrupters got interrupted! And the people who interrupted the interrupters got interrupted! Here’s the really amazing part – it didn’t seem that unusual. It felt like a normal work conversation where people had strong feelings. This kind of non-listening is not what I am talking about. I mean attentive, focused, present listening. Here’s the easy way to start to understand the power of it. Think of someone who really just listened to you – fully, engaged and dialed-in. What did that mean to you? When people talk about how it affected them, they usually say that it made them feel valued, respected, trusted and connected. (Are you starting to see how this could lead to loyalty, motivation, cooperation, and buy-in? These were the four words used by a management group going through a development program when they were charged with practicing the listening skill for two months.) There is something about this experience that connects people and creates a space in which new meaning can emerge. I am not claiming that all you have to do to be seen as a great leader or manager is listen – there are other blogs for that...

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Women Leaders: What’s Your Brand?

Posted by on May 29, 2010 in Leadership | 4 comments

“Whatever job you are asked to do, at whatever level, do it well because your reputation is your resume.” This statement by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that post, says a lot about perception and performance. This connection is likely to be made no matter what gender you are. But is stellar performance enough when it comes to establishing a leadership brand that adds conceptual context to your tangible performance record? If not, is the process of perception-building any different for women in leadership roles than it is for men? I think it is, and the recent laser-like focus on Elena Kagan, President Obama’s pending nominee for the Supreme Court, bears this out. Here’s an example. Several of the news items about Ms. Kagan have focused on her personal appearance (especially her wardrobe), the fact that she has never married, and the primarily academic career she has had outside of the courtroom, including her role as the Dean at Harvard Law School. Taken to the extreme, the not-so-subtle undertone of these articles also implies that Ms. Kagan is somehow less qualified than she should be for the role of Supreme Court Justice. This may or may not be true; I don’t know her and can’t say that I’m an expert at assessing her critical thinking or decision-making skills from afar. What I have noticed, however, is that an article about the color of Justice Roberts’ tie, or the state of Justice Breyer’s marriage, is unlikely to make it to mainstream media coverage about their rulings. There are likely to be many reasons for this disappointing state of affairs, starting with the fact that media coverage today is no longer the journalistic endeavor that it once was. I also submit that although we have come a long way, women leaders still need to work harder than men do to establish the brand that sends the message they want others to get about their professional capabilities. While you may not be able to change the norms in the environment you lead in, here are some tips that I have used and that I have offered to multiple women I’ve coached as they sought to establish their own leadership brand: What comes to mind when you think about the 3-5 essential professional characteristics that you want others to notice and remember about you? Write them down, and keep it short so you can remember them easily. For example: articulate…prepared…decisive. Think about the key meetings and other activities that comprise your workday. When you are in those situations, what do you need to start doing, or perhaps stop doing, to convey that you are articulate, prepared and decisive? Write this down as well, and commit to practicing over the course of a few weeks. Enlist the aid of a trusted colleague or two so you can receive regular feedback. This is a piece of the puzzle that some of my coaching clients have found almost as valuable as the reflective time out to consider their brand more intentionally. One client has shared that by asking a colleague to help her process her behavior in key meetings, she has substantially increased her self-awareness of times that she may be detracting from her intended brand.  She has...

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The Importance of Certainty and Autonomy in Leadership

Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If given a choice, research in the field of neuroscience shows that people are willing to bet on risky outcomes over ambiguous ones. The lack of uncertainty prevents people from stepping into situations that hold unclear outcomes; therefore, people demonstrate ‘away’ behavior such as retreat or withdrawal to move to a place of safety and security. The ‘knowing’ or awareness of some details in a risky situation is enough of a factor to influence ‘toward’ behavior. Given that leaders are responsible for leading change or working on a myriad of projects that don’t always have a clear-cut path to a desired outcome; leaders create situations fraught with risk and ambiguity. Simply by giving people choice in situations that are risky will increase the likelihood of action in the direction of accomplishing the change or meeting the requirements of the project. Choice, offers a sense of autonomy which leads to a feeling of reward…a feeling of control in their destiny enables people to feel more at ease in the accomplishment of tasks in their organizations and therefore stimulate the reward center of their brain’s to initiate ‘toward’ or welcoming behavior. Every organization is faced with developing strategies to effectively deal with a changing economy. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about research that had been conducted over an 18-year period on organizations that laid people off and organizations that selectively cut costs, but did not make drastic lay-offs during a prior recession. The long-term effects of organizations that over reacted to the down turn in the economy by drastically cutting staff with lay-offs suffered for the next ten years. They experienced minimal profits and growth as they could not rebound from the loss of talent and they struggled with efforts to hire replacement staff to make up for the loss of talent. Former workers, potential talent who had experienced the imposed changes of being streamlined with a pink slip, weren’t as eager to rejoin an organization that left them out in the cold…a bitter pill of uncertainty and very real threat to their survival! They voted with their feet and joined other organizations that provided some sense of certainty for their futures. The organizations that demonstrated a level headed approach to keep their talent and avoid drastic moves, tended to reap greater rewards during the same period after the down turn. These organizations experienced abundant growth in profits, as they were able to keep up with the trends of economical growth without missing a beat while putting in play their long-term strategies. They had retained their talent and were able to adjust quickly and seamlessly to the increased customer demands and product development requirements. The lack of certainty among staff within organizations demonstrated by the leadership in these organizations that made drastic moves in staff adjustments, created chaos and threatened the very people who made up their organizations; it put people in a heightened state of fear and discomfort. There was no autonomy and most certainly gross uncertainty. The sense of certainty offered in the other organizations, gave them a feeling of autonomy through the challenging times and helped them to effectively handle the challenges associated with the recession. Leadership has a responsibility to reduce or eliminate the ambiguity within their organizations by providing tactical...

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Almost No One Ever Washed a Rental Car

Posted by on May 11, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Why would you? It doesn’t belong to you. But imagine you’ve brought your own, brand-new car home. You will detail that thing if it starts to get dirty (or pay someone else quite a bit of money to do so). It is sometimes said that when an employee makes a suggestion in a meeting, that participant’s suggestion is the most powerful idea in the room, at least to its author. That’s a privately-owned idea, and there’s some serious investment in it. Contrast this with just telling someone to do something. That’s a rental car. No pride of ownership there. It turns out that there are neurological reasons why energy is created with the birth of an idea. An “aha!” that is shared is part of a motivational profile that should be recognized as an asset, or resource. People will really work hard on their own ideas. If you encourage and foster that, employees will share more ideas. They are excited by seeing a difference they make. If you hog all the idea-creation (Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last, calls this model “the genius with a thousand helpers,” – and it’s much more common than we generally acknowledge), everyone will be driving rental cars. Why the “Almost” in the title of this blog? After years of talking about this principle in leadership development classes, one participant once raised his hand and said he washed his rental cars. Hence the caveat in leadership development involving humans – “Actual user experience may...

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Straight Off the 7th-Grade Playground

Posted by on May 4, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If you learn much about how capital, technology and other “hard” assets are managed, it’s hard to not be impressed. Sophisticated, cutting edge formulae, research and precision are evident. Financiers chase the third digit in rate of return, and in our lifetimes we’ve all seen how fast, and sometimes breathtakingly, technology moves ahead. These assets are truly optimized, with best practices identified and implemented. However, if you think about where the next big productivity boost could come from – and if you’ve seen the contrast between a truly high-performance and low-performance organization — you know the difference resides largely in the people. Some people come to work everyday and put in their customary 30%. Some do the minimum to not get fired. While these phenomena are the subject of another blog, they point to another fascinating fact about human beings at work: For all the science, elegance and sophistication surrounding hard assets, behaviors seen in workplace conflict are often straight off the 7th-grade playground. You know what I mean: talking about the problem with everyone except the person who apparently owns the problem; name-calling, marginalization, enrolling others in camps and cliques, refusing to acknowledge it at all. So on the one hand, we have P.h.D-level sophistication around money, technology, law, intellectual property, etc., and one the other we have teen years’ behavior. The truth is, it’s much easier to study up and learn how to tweak an IT system, float the right kind of bond or know the law that applies in any case. The hard stuff is actually not that hard. But the “soft stuff” of human interaction, particularly conflict? Now that’s...

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The EagleCam and Leadership Development

Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Some of my colleagues and I spend more time watching an incredible internet EagleCam than we probably should. This is a weather-proof camcorder trained on an eagle’s nest, where we have been watching the mom and dad raise three Bald Eagle chicks. It is something like one of those wonderful nature shows, delivered through a browser. Someone asked about how the young eagles learn to fly. Do they just go for it and potentially fall? Get a lift from a parent? Start from the ground? In the bird world, there is a verb called “branching,” where the birds hop out of the nest to a nearby, adjacent branch with a little assist from a flap of the wings. (They start to build the muscle needed to flap their wings while still in the nest. They stand around and beat their wings in a process called “wingercising.”) Next time, maybe they flap a couple of times, reaching for a farther branch. In the process, they are building muscle, improving coordination and balance. At some indeterminate point, the “branching” becomes “flying.” What does this have to do with a Leadership and Learning? A lot, actually. Apart from justifying the time spent watching this fascinating development, the point can be made that participants in leadership development classes and programs often get stuck around what they do now. How do they start to move toward what they want? Do they bet the ranch? Just go for it? This is frightening to most human beings. (It’s akin to potentially falling to the ground, if it doesn’t work.) Much better is “branching.” We recommend people pick one specific behavior they want to change, and then slowly, one step at a time, try something new. It should be in a safe environment, with people they know, respect and trust. Examples of this could include listening more, eliciting others’ opinions, clarifying disagreements, trying to see other perspectives, or articulating more clearly the vision and mission. All we really ask is that one modest step in the direction of the change be made. For example, in learning to listen more, I urge people to hang in there one more sentence before replying. That’s just a start. The fact is, once people see they can do that one little thing, they are more emboldened to do it again, perhaps longer or more reliably. This is building capacity, and hopping to farther branches. Eventually, the new behavior “crowds out” the old behavior, and a new capability is present. Taking this perspective relieves huge pressures on already-pressured leaders. One step, one stride, one thing – in the direction you want. One other thing: The way the parents get the eaglets to start making forays out of the nest is to stop bringing them food. The hungry birds start to realize they have to change what they’re doing if they’re going to stay alive. And, of course, this is exactly how change comes about in our lives. We need to adapt and change because the situation we’re in has changed. What changes are you being asked to make by the environment, your people, your market? How can you “branch” and get started on...

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Learning Right FROM Wrong

Posted by on Apr 27, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of “How to…” books and manuals in existence? Take a stroll down the “Do It Yourself” aisle of your local bookstore and you’ll find everything from “How to Install a Kitchen Sink” to “How to Invest So That You Can Retire by 25” (personal note: I don’t recommend the investing book). Conversely, have you ever noticed that there are not a lot of “How not to…” books and manuals in existence? It’s difficult trying to illustrate how not to do something. Which leads me to my topic: all of our lives, both academically and personally, we are taught how to do things, not how not to do things. Granted, it is much easier to explain many things in terms of how to do it: how to change a flat tire, how to bake a cake, how to assemble a book shelf, to name a few. However, when it comes to leadership, or more specifically, how to be a good leader, consider looking at it from a how not to perspective. Barbara Kellerman wrote  a book titled “Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters” that focuses on some bad leaders of the past few decades (Leona Helmsley, Andrew Fastow, Mary Meeker to name a few) and what made them bad leaders. She uses words like incompetent, rigid and callous to describe some of them. I would be willing to bet my lunch money for tomorrow that you have not used any of those three words – in this case, I’ll call them non-examples – to describe to someone what good leadership is. Non-examples is not an idea that I am familiar with, but a person that I know and respect very much mentioned it to me a few days ago. She was referring to it within the arena of education and it got me thinking: maybe non-examples can be a good way to supplement standard leadership training and theory. Think about some managers and supervisors you have had throughout your career; I’m sure not all of them were ideal leaders. So, what did they do wrong in your opinion? Did they exemplify traits that you can clearly say to yourself, “I will not do that…”? I’m not trying to suggest that you should re-think how you view what good leadership is. I’m simply giving you another lens with which to view leadership through. What do you think? I invite you to share any experiences you may have had with managers and supervisors that exhibited traits and characteristics that you learned from because it was how not to lead...

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It’s the Simple Things. Really.

Posted by on Apr 20, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

As leaders, it’s very easy to get caught up in our hectic day-to-day activities. Whether it’s a pressing budget deadline, a project that’s behind schedule, or a new initiative you’re implementing for your group, it sometimes seems like the work keeps coming even when we feel we’re completely tapped out. If you’ve ever felt this frustration, raise your hand. Now, everyone put your hands down. Truth is, we’ve all felt it. How do we sustain our relationships with our people while getting the work done? Well, it’s the simple things. Really. What are simple things you may ask? A quick check-in water cooler conversation. An email for a job well done. An occasional drink after work with the gang. A pat on the back. Listening when your people bring you their personal problems. Taking care of details that may not matter to you, but matter to your people. Taking the team to lunch regularly. Simple things are those little actions and activities that remind us we’re all humans, and all humans like to be appreciated. They don’t take long; they don’t cost any money; and they help us maintain healthy relationships with others. Today, do something...

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A “Little Personality Test”

Posted by on Apr 13, 2010 in Leadership | 3 comments

Last night I attended a pre-college seminar at my daughter’s high school, where a counselor described to a large group of overexcited, vicariously ambitious and excessively stressed parents some standardized tests of knowledge and reasoning skills to help their (also stressed) children get into college. There was a detailed presentation on the key test components, and then, almost as an afterthought, the counselor mentioned “there’s a little personality test in here, too.” Later in the session, she again mentioned the little personality test, and then used the word “little” once more. It is possible she meant the test was brief or short, but judging from her voice inflection, which sounded dismissive or condescending, I think she meant “little” as “insignificant,” or “nice to know but don’t need to know.” There is a lot of debate now on how relevant high schools are. From abysmal graduation rates to the question of how well high schools are preparing children for the competitive, economic and social reality of today (versus one that existed 50 years ago), there is a sense that something is wrong. Bill Gates is now the chief advocate of reform in schools. To connect the dots, I’d like to suggest that knowing one’s self (of which the personality is but one part) in order to find one’s place and succeed in the world today is more than a “little” matter. For sure, the kids need to know science and engineering, particularly if they’re going to be scientists or engineers. But the research now is consistently showing that emotional intelligence is a much larger predictor of success in work and life than just specialist knowledge. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and. But don’t call the self-awareness piece “little.” I have now met thousands of people unhappy in their jobs who were unable to connect their lack of knowledge of who they really were and what they really wanted with the unfortunate outcomes they got. Feeling like they had to fit in to someone else’s mold, or feeling like distinctive or unique parts of themselves were to be covered up, or simply not knowing what made them happy had led them to some real regrets, particularly at midlife. There are many tests you can take to help piece together the puzzle — unprecedented in human history, and never to be repeated — call “you.” The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory, FIRO-B, Disc, the Strengths Finder Assessment and others can all help you understand yourself better. Just don’t call this knowledge or matter...

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Development and the Dripping Faucet

Posted by on Apr 7, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

If you’ve been a homeowner for some time, you have probably experienced the following phenomenon: You see a faucet slowly dripping, think “big deal” and then get the surprise water bill at the end of the month. What does this have to do with development? Participants in leadership development often struggle with application. They “get” the content, see the possibilities for change . . . and then get stuck in application. They go back to old habits; fail to break new ground. There are powerful reinforcers for this. For one thing, the brain likes to keep things in patterns and habits. It conserves energy that way. Change is hard, mentally. But one way to think about, and act on, development goals is to pick just one thing – this creates focus rather than the confusion of many goals – and then use the power of time. The power of time is what’s behind your water bill, and it can be turned to your advantage in working on a new behavior, whether it’s listening more, speaking up when you need to, remaining calm in conflict, or anything else.  The point is this: if you keep taking steady, even modest, small steps in the direction you want, over time you will find yourself building capability and competence. The sheer force of time, and repetition of what you want, almost guarantees you’re going to create an impact. Of course, you need reflection and feedback along the way – subjects of other posts – but if you stick with something that has real focus and definition – and let this occur over an extended period of time, you’re going to be in a different...

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The How of the What

Posted by on Apr 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

The How of the What A lot of management and even leadership thinking focuses on the “what” of work – deadlines, meetings, delegation, feedback, and so on. These are defined activities with a purpose, result and presumably some kind of measure. What is often missed in mechanistic models of workplace performance, however, is an understanding, let alone embracing of the “how.” The how is subjective, nuanced and very often the difference between success and failure. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re giving feedback to an employee on a busted deadline. The what here is pretty straight-forward – identify what happened, causes of that, what can be changed to make the next deadline, and so on. However, it is easy to see that artful feedback would help the other person own the problem, not feel personally attacked, and come up with great ideas for a solution. The difference between a defensive, arm’s length and strained conversation, and one in which honestly, directness, support and a genuine intention to help is the how. It’s the difference between the sheet music and the playing. It is art.  It is easy to nominally check a what box. Harder to assess, but crucial to success, is how the what is...

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Share It. Often.

Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

How many great leaders accomplished their visions on their own? Was Apple’s iPod envisioned, designed, built, managed, delivered, and serviced all by one person?  Obviously, the answer is, “no.”  It takes an entire team of individuals, each at their own level of the organization, to ensure the dream of the iPod is realized each and every day with customers across the planet.  It also takes a leader like Steve Jobs to paint the picture…to sell the vision…to ensure that individuals throughout the organization embody the very spirit of engagement the iPod itself is meant to create.      What I wonder is, “How do leaders who don’t engage others believe their visions will be fully realized?”  Leaders who don’t explicitly extrovert and communicate their vision likely won’t create the buy-in and commitment they need to execute it.  Leaders must engage the hearts and minds of others in order to fully achieve the potential of their ideas.   A few questions to consider: When was the last time you share, or re-shared, your vision as a leader?  If you had to rate their level of understanding of your vision on a scale of 1-10, what would it be?  What would they rate their understanding of your vision? What can you do today to foster a better understanding of your vision?  As a leader at any level of an organization, never forget there are a great number of people who help you accomplish your vision.  Every day is a chance to revisit that vision with...

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A Radical Haven of Innovation

Posted by on Mar 16, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Every organization has opportunities to innovate – either incrementally or via leaps and bounds – in order to better serve its customers.    What would happen if for one day you led a group of your colleagues to create a radical haven of innovation?  What would happen if you commandeered a conference room, posted a dozen large flip charts on the wall, and for two hours collectively asked: What would it look like to be amazing at what we do? What can we make incremental progress on today that moves us towards amazing? If we were operating at our leadership potential, how might things be different?  How can each of us, in our own ways, lead an innovative step towards our goals? Each and every day presents an opportunity for leaders at every level of the organization to create a radical haven of innovation.  What are you going to do to lead the effort in your...

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When You Leave: Victim or Victor?

Posted by on Mar 10, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

When we’re out pounding the pavement looking for a new job, we do all we can to put our best foot forward. We prepare for the interview, and we do our absolute best to ensure that the product we’re presenting (us) is the product that our prospective company wants to buy. If we’re lucky, we get the job and are ready to begin. The first 90 days may greatly influence how your career progresses with the organization. Chances are we’ve all been there. But what happens when, at the soft drink machine or over lunch in the breakroom, we hear that there may be layoffs coming? How you handle yourself after you’ve received that devastating news greatly affects how you find your next job.  Your last 90 days may be just as critical as your first 90 days. I ask that you think about this from two perspectives: your employer’s, and your own.  From your employer’s perspective, how you conduct yourself in those final days may have a bearing on whether they can bring you back on when the economy improves. If you show up angry, dejected, and with a poor attitude, those team mates (and your boss) who remain will always remember how you acted toward the end of your tenure.  Conversely, if you show up (and I’m not saying it’s easy), doing what your employer asks, tying up all loose ends, proactively assisting in your transition, and acting as professionally as possible at all times, your employer will be much more likely to reconsider hiring you if their market position changes.  From a personal perspective, simply ask yourself how you want to be remembered. It’s easy to feel rejected, angry, that you’ve been treated unfairly, and all the other non-positive feelings you may have when, through no fault of your own, you find yourself without a job. But if you do everything you can to help the transition, you will have proven to yourself that you can rise above any situation, that you can persevere, and that ultimately, you did the right thing. If you’re asked in future interviews about accomplishments and are able to list “how I left my last job,” that speaks volumes about your character, your work ethic, and you as an employee.  If you find yourself in this position, the choice is yours: be the victim, or be the...

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Leadership and the Olympics

Posted by on Mar 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

As someone who watched many hours of the Olympics, I noticed an underlying, yet present connection between my work in the field of leadership and those Olympians on television.  Leadership was being demonstrated everywhere! Individuals from all over the world demonstrated the self-perseverance and determination required to be a participant in their sport, yet practically every one was humble about their own accomplishments, gracious towards their fellow athletes, had a deep appreciation for others’ while still in competition, and carried on, even sometimes after crashing hard.  Self-driven and tenacious yet compassionate and committed to others, all with an eye toward the greater good of their respective sport…these athletes were demonstrating the core tenants of effective self-leadership.  It makes me wonder, can every leader lead like an Olympian?  Can every leader give it his or her best while still maintaining a sense of camaraderie and an eye towards the mission of his or her organization?  I believe so.  My question to you is, “Are you ready to earn your medal…in effective...

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Let’s Go to the Data: What Really Works in Leadership?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

Go into your neighborhood bookstore and you will find countless titles on leadership. (350,000+ on Amazon.com.) Competency models can contain dozens of things a leader is expected to do, and we all relate to ideas of what effective leadership is really all about from our own experience – good and bad. It can be confusing, and overwhelming. Given this, an interesting question is: What does the empirical, data-driven work show us about truly effective leadership? What do we know from real research? Fortunately, there is exhaustive research in the books cited below that takes us beyond intuitive, personal ideas about leadership to which we can look to solidly ground thinking and action. The following mine data in particularly powerful ways: The Extraordinary Leader, by Joseph Folkman and John Zenger  Good to Great, by Jim Collins The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner Let’s summarize each, and then look at some connecting points: The Extraordinary Leader Joseph Folkman and John Zenger start out in The Extraordinary Leader with a simple question: What differentiates the best- and worst-performing leaders, as judged by the results of 360-degree assessments? They studied more than 200,000 such assessments on 20,000 leaders. They conclude with a metaphor of a tent, with the “long pole” in the middle representing character. The other keys to leadership effectiveness are interpersonal skills, focus on results, personal capability, and leading organizational change. Good to Great Jim Collins takes a completely different approach in Good to Great. Rather than relying on internal perceptions of leadership effectiveness, he takes the analysis outside. He and his small army of researchers spent 15,000 hours carefully evaluating Fortune 500 companies that had posted significantly better-than-peer results over a sustained period of time. They simply looked for who had been doing the best, the longest. Collins took a deliberately agnostic view of everything, holding no theories or ideas about what differentiated these companies. Instead, he backed up from the outstanding results to find out what was going on inside the “black box” that accounted for the results. His first finding is that these companies had what he calls Level 5 leadership in all cases. A Level 5 leader moves beyond individual effectiveness, beyond being a good team player, and beyond being a competent manager or leader into the rarified air of building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. The enduring greatness Collins writes about relates to the organization rather than from the leader. This view connects to the personal humility he identifies next: the notion that the leader is not an ego-propelled, publicity-seeking figure. Collins’ leaders stand in stark contrast to some leader personalities we see today. He even notes that Level 5 leadership is at odds with the personal ambition that drives many people into positions of leadership. Collins’ work makes it ultimately practical for any leader to ask himself or herself: Is this about me, or the organization? Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman reviewed huge databases of performance in coming to his model of emotional intelligence, which consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and relationship management. What is most striking about Goleman’s work is his contention, buttressed again and again by empirical data, that emotional intelligence is a far better predictor of success in performance, and particularly leadership,...

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Learn from Failure or Fail to Learn

Posted by on Feb 16, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

It may sound almost heretical in an achievement-driven culture to spend much time thinking or talking openly about failure. After all, the reality is that we’ve all seen many times how individuals, teams, departments and even entire organizations will go to extreme lengths to demonstrate that whatever happened wasn’t a failure, or at least their fault. Admitting failure is often viewed as something like the ultimate sign of weakness. This is unfortunate, and in the long run it is very costly. Problems and mistakes swept under the rug don’t generate very good information about how to prevent them next time. In fact, in a truly “successful” problem cover-up scenario, the rest of the organization or outsiders aren’t even aware there was at problem at all. You may be able to recall examples of where your own organization — and perhaps you — kept making the same mistake out of a refusal to fully explore what went wrong the first, second or third time. For another perspective on this, we turn to an ironic source: the very successful. We can ask, what do they tell us about failure, learning, and the relationship between the two? One cannot read the biographies of very successful people without being struck by how many times they failed. Edison was noted for experimenting hundreds of times, failing each time, until he hit on the solution that resulted in the electric light bulb. One high-performance leader once told me “I fail every day, but I learn from it.” Healthy organizations treat failure differently than dysfunctional ones. The former, rather than denying the existence of a problem or failure, actively monitor for it, and then invariably ask themselves, usually in a safe group setting, “What has this taught us?” Certainly, succeeding is more satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable. And there is without question valuable learning in the successes. But people who succeed over the long haul often admit that the best learning they ever experienced – the learning that later set them up for spectacular successes — came out of the difficult periods of failure. It seems as though failures provide more specific, focused information on what was a blind spot or glitch. So, the next time you experience a problem or failure, you can ask yourself the following questions as a way of harvesting as much knowledge as possible. The problem will sometimes just pass or be forgotten, but the learning won’t. * What do I know and what do I not know about what happened? * What is factual and what is interpretation, belief or opinion? * What exactly was it that surprised me? * What was my own, individual role in the creation of this problem? * Is there a pattern of any kind in the problems I’m experiencing? * What roles were played by others? * What, in retrospect, could I have done differently? * What am I going to do now about the problem? * How will I know if it is successful? The absolutely hardest part of this process is that complete openness to the information is required. There can be anything from sensitivity to vulnerability to hurt feelings. You may find, however, that being honest with yourself equips you to get there faster next time – that it’s a bit easier...

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The Courage to Lead

Posted by on Feb 10, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

It takes a lot of courage to lead.  It takes courage to step up to the challenge.  It takes courage to stand in front of others and ask them to follow.  It takes courage to push or pull others along a path that is anything but familiar or comfortable at times.  The reason is takes courage to lead is that because leadership inherently involves risk.  There is a risk that your activities won’t lead to outcomes…that your ideas will fail in comparison to the promise you offered…and others won’t appreciate or even like you as a leader.    At the same time, the practice of leadership offers rewards.  Leaders can bring people and their ideas together to create synergy.  Leaders build trust and foster engagement.  Leaders experience the joy of seeing success via individuals, groups, and organizations.    Make no mistake about it:  It takes courage to lead.  The questions for you are, where is your courage, and when will you step up to...

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Are you a producer, or a performer?

Posted by on Feb 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

We all know what a producer is: gets the job done, churns out product, is a volume operator. You can be sure there’s a check-mark next to the task. We may not be so sure about what a performer is. What exactly is performance, anyway? What does the term really mean? An example helps explain the difference. Let’s say you are in charge of developing new software for internal users. You can produce that software (and go ahead, check that box), but for many of us who have lived through software deployment or upgrades, the real question is: is the software good? Does it make work faster? Is it easier to use? Does it create better reports? How elegantly and intuitively is the interface designed? Two companies – Apple and Google – are examples of performers, not just producers. Apple is legendary for its performance in intuitive, easy and even fun software. Google’s main search page is still just one text box. That’s easy for users. That’s performance. (Look at your television’s remote control buttons for a study in contrast.) Any time you experience a product or service that isn’t very good, the provider can technically (and correctly) say, “We produced it. We got it done.” And they did. It was just a bad interface, remote control, car, pizza, learning session, invoice or any other good or service. The point is, the entire economy is moving from production to performance. More and more, work today is about performance – high performance, true performance — not production. It’s a higher standard. For leaders, the challenge is in instilling an ethic around performance. Fortunately, there is one very easy, enjoyable and powerful way to do this. Everyone likes it. That move is to simply recognize great performance. Talk about, highlight, underscore, brag on and show excitement when great performance occurs. This is one of the most overlooked opportunities in leadership. Sometimes people fear others will get a “big head.” Or, they say that’s what people are paid to do, so why say anything? Astounding, but true. Promote...

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What Unlocks Potential in People?

Posted by on Feb 2, 2010 in Leadership | 0 comments

This is an intuitively, inherently appealing topic. After all, who doesn’t want to see others (or himself or herself) fulfill individual potential? Unlocked potential is about people playing “full out,” swinging for the fences and working their best and hardest for the biggest results. It’s playing to win, which is a lot different than playing not to lose. The latter is playing safe, minimizing risk, not wanting to ever make waves, keeping your head down, or doing the minimum to get by (compliance). Sports coaches all take the concept for granted. There’s no question that the name of the game in this domain is fulfill potential. At a time when most organizations are struggling in some significant way, isn’t it interesting how much we’ve finely tuned the use of capital, land, equipment and other resources, but the human variable is still a fraction of what it could produce? This is no small matter. Research shows the difference in performance in the knowledge economy from the highest to lowest performers is a multiple of what it was in industrial or factory work. So what does it take for people to fulfill their potential, and what can a leader do? Here are some keys: Create safety – People perform best when they feel secure, emboldened and confident. Nothing robs them of this more effectively than when their sense of safety is threatened. If people feel vulnerable, they will not do what it takes to perform most powerfully. They will not take the measured risks needed to break through. There are many ways to threaten safety, from poorly executed negative feedback, to exclusion to outright threats. Engaging in any of those guarantees people will not perform at their potential. The brain processes information differently when feeling fear. True support creates safety. This does not mean guaranteeing someone a job will be there for life. It means guaranteeing that you are there to support them through successes and failures, and that the intention of what you do is to help them succeed. When they know this, they are more likely to perform at their best. Encourage people by recognizing their performance — Noticing and commenting on good or great work helps people repeat what works, and it increases their confidence. If you don’t tell them, they may not know what they’re doing well. Recognition is an extremely powerful motivator. Note that encouragement and recognition have to be genuine. If not, it will be detected quickly. Understand and accept uniqueness – Some managers and leaders harbor secret wishes that employees would all act and think alike. Wouldn’t life be simpler that way? It might, but it would also be boring. The more important point is that there is something about individual potential that demands room for individual, unique expression. It’s hard to be great by being like someone else. It could be a work style, how communication occurs, the pace at which someone works . . . whatever it is, you don’t get greatness by asking someone to be a copy of someone else. Understand and support the personal mission – A person’s mission is that same thing as his or her purpose. People acting in support of their core purpose are much more likely to achieve greatness than those who don’t know why...

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Keep the Change

Posted by on Jan 29, 2010 in Leadership | 2 comments

Keep the change.  No, it’s not just what people say when they get your morning coffee from the local barista.  It’s something that’s said every day within organizations.  It is the all-too-common employee revolt against changing the status quo.  If you are a leader, then you need to understand change from the eyes of an employee.  To not try to understand change through others’ perspectives is like trying to give directions to someone to a restaurant that you’ve never actually been to.  Atticus Finch, a character in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, said “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  As a leader, when was the last time you took the time to look at an organizational change you were promoting through the eyes of someone other than...

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