Posts Tagged ‘Lessons Learned’

When You Have Disagreement

When you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

But, when you have something to say, you must say it.

When you think your response might be taken the wrong way, it will.

When you take care to respond effectively, your response might be taken the wrong way.

When you have disagreement, there’s objective evidence that at least two people are thinking for themselves.

When you have disagreement, confrontation is optional.

When you have disagreement, everyone can be right, even if just a little.

When you have disagreement, that says nothing about the people doing the disagreeing.

When you have disagreement at high decibels, that’s an argument.

When you have disagreement, disagreeing on all points is a choice.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to sharpen your response, it’s a death spiral.

When you have disagreement, it’s best to disagree wholeheartedly and respectfully.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to understand, there’s hope.

When you have disagreement, it’s a disagreement about ideas and not moral character.

When you have disagreement, intentions matter.

When you have disagreement, decision quality skyrockets.

When you have disagreement, thank your partner in crime for sharing their truth.

When you have disagreement, there is sufficient trust to support the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, sometimes you don’t, but you don’t know it.

When you have disagreement, converging on a single point of view is not the objective.

When you have disagreement about ethics, you may be working at the wrong company.

When you have disagreement, there are no sides, only people doing their best.

When you have disagreement, the objective is understanding.

When you have disagreement, it’s the right thing to have.

When you have disagreement, there may be disagreement on the topic of the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, you are a contributing member, even if you stay quiet.

When you have disagreement, why not be agreeable?

When you have disagreement, it’s okay to change your mind.

When you have disagreement, you may learn something about yourself.

“Day 7: I disagree” by Stupid Dingo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What do you want?

If you want a promotion, do the right thing.

If you do the right thing, be prepared to be misunderstood.

If you want the credit, you don’t want the best outcome for all.

If you want to have focus, spend time outside.

If you want to have more control, give it away.

If you want to be happy, want what you have.

If you want to be praised, ask yourself why.

If you want to have focus, get your sleep.

If you want fame, once you get it you probably won’t.

If you want more influence, spend the next decade helping others.

If you want to make progress, demonstrate a healthy disrespect for the Status Quo.

If you want to make a difference, say thank you.

If you want to do what you love, maybe you should consider loving what you do.

If you want to have focus, get your exercise.

If you want to feel better about yourself, help someone who has a problem.

If you want to be more productive, it’s better to be more effective.

If you want to make change, point to the biggest problems and solve them.

If you want to be right, don’t.

If you want loyalty, take responsibility for the bad stuff.

If you want to be successful, same some of your energy for your family.

If you want to make progress, start where you are.

If you want to be happy, you have to decide that what you have is enough.

If you want to preserve your legacy, develop young talent.

If you want respect, be kind.

If you want to be understood, you may not do what’s right.

If you want to do better work, work fewer hours.

If you want to work on great projects, say no to good ones.

“That is the Question” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Musings on Skillfulness

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

“Old Monk” by anahitox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How will you allocate your time differently?

I don’t like resolutions, but I do like looking back to assess how spent my time differently over the previous year. Below is a short exercise that could help you get ready for 2021.

Below are some questions intended to help you assess how you spent your time differently in 2020. Take fifteen seconds, or so, to think through each one.

Did you spend more time with your family or less?

Did you spend more time helping yourself or others?

Instead of commuting, what did you do with your time?

Did you work more hours or fewer?

Did you spend more time on your mental/spiritual health or less?

Did you take more vacation days or fewer?

Instead of eating out, what did you do with that time?

Did you exercise more or less?

What did you do with your time freed by reduced business travel do more?

Did you participate in more meetings or fewer?

Did you sleep more or less?

 

Grab a pen and paper (or print out the text below) and let’s go through the rest of the exercise.

What are the top three questions that caused the strongest emotional response?  (Write them down.) For those three questions, think through three scenarios: A) 2021 is just like 2020. B) 2021 amplifies the changes you experienced in 2020. C) 2021 is just like 2019.

For each scenario, write down how you’d allocate your time differently in 2021.

The question that caused the strongest emotional response:

_________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) ____________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) _________________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ____________________________________________________

 

The question that caused the second strongest emotional response:

________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) ___________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) ________________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ____________________________________________________

 

The question that caused the third strongest emotional response:

________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) __________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) _______________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ___________________________________________________

My list of questions likely missed important questions for you.  You may want to go back and ask yourself other questions and see if your emotional response is strong enough to displace the top three you identified above.

This little exercise doesn’t generate resolutions, nor will it tell you how to allocate your time in 2021. But, I hope it helps you more skillfully navigate the uncertainty that 2021 is certain to bring.

Happy New Year. And thanks for reading.

“Sundial” by Nigel_Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Foundation of Leadership Development — Work Products

Leadership development is a good idea in principle, but not in practice. Assessing a person against a list of seven standard competencies does not a leadership development plan make. Nor does a Meyers-Briggs assessment or a strengths assessment. The best way I know to describe the essence of leadership development is through a series of questions to assess and hire new leaders.

Here’s the first question: Is this person capable of doing the work required for this leadership position?  If you don’t start here, choose the person you like most and promote (or hire) them into the new leadership position. It’s much faster, and at least you’ll get along with them as the wheels fall off.

Next question: In this leadership position, what work products must the leader create (or facilitate the creation of)? Work products are objective evidence that the work has been completed.  Examples of work products: analyses, reports, marketing briefs, spreadsheets, strategic plans, product launches, test results for new technologies. Here’s a rule: If you can’t define the required work products, you can’t define the work needed to create them.  Here’s another rule: If you can’t define the work, you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to do that work. And if you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to the work, you might as well make it a popularity contest and hire the person who makes the interview committee smile.

Next question: Can the candidate show work products they’ve created that fit with those required for the leadership position? To be clear, if the candidate can show examples of all the flavors of work products required for the position, it’s a lateral move for the candidate.  That’s not a bad thing, as there are good reasons candidates seek lateral positions (e.g., geographic move due to family or broadening of experience – new product line or customer segment). And if they’ve demonstrated all the work products, but the scope and/or scale are larger, the new position, the new position is a promotion for the candidate. Here’s a rule: if the candidate can’t show you an example of a specific work product or draw a picture of one on the whiteboard, they’ve never done it before.  And another rule: when it comes to work products, if the candidate talks about a work product but can’t show you, it’s because they’ve never created one like that. And talking about work products in the future tense means they’ve never done it. When it comes to work products, there’s no partial credit.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has shown us, are they relevant? A candidate won’t be able to show you work products that are a 100% overlap with those required by the leadership position. The context will be different, the market will be different, and the players will be different.  But, a 50-70% overlap should be good enough.

Next question: For the relevant work products the candidate has shown us, do they represent more than half of those required? If yes, go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has not demonstrated, has the team done them? If the team has done a majority of them, that’s good.  Go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate or team has not demonstrated, can we partner them with an expert (an internal one, I hope) who has? If yes, hire the candidate.

Leadership development starts with the definition of the new work the leader must be able to do in their next position. And the best way I know to define the work is to compile a collection of work products that must be created in the next position and match that against the collection of work products the leader has created. The difference between the required work products and the ones the leader has demonstrated defines the leadership development plan.

To define the leadership development plan, start with the work products.

And to help the leader develop, think apprenticeship.  And for that, see this seminal report from 1945.

The Innovation Mantra

We have an immense distaste for uncertainty. And, as a result, we create for ourselves a radical and unskillful overestimation of our ability to control things. Our distaste of uncertainty is really a manifestation of our fear of death. When we experience and acknowledge uncertainty, it’s an oblique reminder that we will die. And that’s why talk ourselves into the belief we can control thing we really cannot.  It’s a defense mechanism that creates distance between ourselves and from feeling our fear of death.  And it’s the obliquity that makes it easier to overestimate our ability to control our environment.  Without the obliquity, it’s clear we can’t control our environment, the very thing we wake up to every morning, and it’s clear we can’t control much. And if we can’t control much, we can’t control our aging and our ultimate end.  And this is why we reject uncertainty at all costs.

Predictable, controllable, repeatable, measurable – overt rejections of uncertainty. Six Sigma – Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control – overt rejection of uncertainty.  Standard work – rejection of uncertainty. Don’t change the business model – a rejection of uncertainty. A rejection of novelty is a rejection of uncertainty. And that’s why we don’t like novelty. It scares us deeply. And it scares us because it reminds us that everything changes, including our skin, joints, and hairline. And that’s why it’s so challenging to do innovation.

Innovation reminds us of our death and that’s why it’s difficult?  Really? Yes.

Six Sigma is comforting because its programmatic illusion of control lets us forget about our death? Yes.

The aging business model reminds us of our death and that’s why we won’t let it go? Yes.

That’s crazy! Yes, but at the deepest level, I think it’s true.

I understand if you disagree with my rationale. And I understand if you think my thinking is morbid. If that’s the case, I suggest you write down why you think it’s so incredibly difficult to create a new business model, to do novel work, or to obsolete your best work. I’ll stop for a minute to give you time to grab a pen and paper. Okay, now put your pen to paper and write down why doing innovation (doing novel work) is so difficult. Now, ask yourself why that is. And do that three more times. Where did you end up? What’s the fundamental reason why doing new work (and the uncertainty that comes with it) is so difficult to do?

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you tell everyone that innovation is difficult because it reminds them that they’ll die. I explained my rationale to give you an idea of the magnitude of the level of fear around uncertainty so that, when someone is scared to death of novelty, you might help them navigate their fear.

Trying something new doesn’t invalidate what you did over the last decade to grow your business, nor will it replace it immediately, if it all.  Maybe the new work will add to what you’ve done over the last decade. Maybe the new work will amplify what’s made you successful. Maybe the new work will slowly and effectively migrate your business to greener pastures. And maybe it won’t work at all. Or, maybe your customers will make it work and bury you and your business.

With innovation, start small.  That way the threat is smaller.  Run small experiments and share the results, especially the bad results.  That way you demonstrate that unanticipated results don’t kill you and, when you share them, you demonstrate that you’re not afraid of uncertainty. Try many things in parallel to demonstrate that it’s okay that everything doesn’t turn out well and you’re okay with it.  And when someone asks what you’ll do next, tell them “I don’t know because it depends on how the next experiment turns out.”

When you’re asked when you’ll be done with an innovation project, tell them “I don’t know because the work has never been done before.” And if they say you must give them a completion date, tell them “If you must have a completion date, you do the project.”

When you’re running multiple experiments in parallel and you’re asked what you’ll do next, tell them you’ll do “more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” And if they say “that’s not acceptable”, then tell them “Well, then you run the project.”

We don’t have nearly as much control as our minds want to us believe, but that’s okay as long as we behave like we know it’s true. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing.

If people aren’t afraid, there can be no uncertainty. And if there’s no uncertainty, there can be no novelty. And if there’s no novelty, there can be no innovation. If people aren’t afraid, you’re doing it wrong.

As a leader, tell them you’re afraid but you’re going to do it anyway.

As a leader, tell your team that it’s natural to be afraid and their fear is a leading indicator of innovation.

As a leader, tell them there’s one thing you’re certain about – that innovation is uncertain.

And when things get difficult, repeat the Innovation Mantra: Be afraid and do it anyway.

“Mantra” by j / f / photos is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

When is it innovation theater?

When you go to the cinema or the playhouse you go you see a show. The show may be funny, it may be sad, it may be thought-provoking, it may be beautiful, and it may take your mind off your problems for a couple of hours; but it’s not real.  Sure, the storyline is good, but it came from someone’s imagination.  And because it’s a story, it doesn’t have to bound by reality. Sure, the choreography is catchy, but it’s designed for effect. Yes, the cinematography paints a good picture, but it’s contrived. And, yes, the actors are good, but they’re actors. What you see isn’t real. What you see is theater.

If you are asked to focus on the innovation process, that’s theater.  Innovation doesn’t care about process; it cares about delivering novel customer value. The process isn’t most important, the output is. When there’s an extreme focus on the process that usually means an extreme focus on the output of the process would be embarrassing.

If you are tasked to calculate the net present value of the project hopper, that’s theater. With innovation, there’s no partial credit for projects you’re not working on. None. The value of the projects in the hopper is zero. The song about the value of the project hopper is nothing more than a catchy melody performed to make sure the audience doesn’t ask about the feeble collection of projects you are working on. And, assigning a value to the stagnant project hopper is a creative storyline crafted to hide the fact you have too many projects you’re not working on.

If you are asked to create high-level metrics and fancy pie charts, that’s innovation theater.  Process metrics and pie charts don’t pay the bills. Here’s innovation’s script for paying the bills: complete amazing projects, launch amazing products, and sell a boatload.  Full stop.  If your innovation script is different than that, ball it up and throw it away along with its producer.

If the lame projects aren’t stopped so better ones can start, if people aren’t moved off stale projects onto amazing ones, if the same old teams are charged with the innovation mandate, if new leaders aren’t added, if the teams are measured just like last year, that’s innovation theater. How many mundane projects have you stopped? How many amazing projects have you started? How many new leaders have you added? How many new teams have you formed? How will you measure your teams differently? How do you feel about all that?

If a return on investment (ROI) calculation is the gating criterion before starting an amazing project, that’s innovation theater.  Projects that could create a new product family with a fundamentally different value proposition for a whole new customer segment cannot be assigned an ROI because no one has experience in this new domain. Any ROI will be a guess and that’s why innovation is governed by judgment and not ROI.  Innovation is unpredictable which makes an ROI is impossible to predict. And if your innovation process squeezes judgment out of the storyline, that’s a tell-tale sign of innovation theater.

If the specifications are fixed, the resources are fixed, and the completion date is fixed, that’s innovation theater.  Since it can be innovation only when there’s novelty, and since novelty comes with uncertainty, without flexibility in specs, resources, or time, it’s innovation theater.

If the work doesn’t require trust, it’s innovation theater. If trust is not required it’s because the work has been done before, and if that’s the case, it’s not innovation.

If you know it will work, it’s innovation theater.  Innovation and certainty cannot coexist.

If a steering team is involved, it’s innovation theater.  Consensus cannot spawn innovation.

If more than one person in charge, it’s innovation theater.  With innovation, there’s no place for compromise.

And what to do when you realize you’re playing a part in your company’s innovation theater? Well, I’ll save that for another time.

“Large clay theatrical mask, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne” by Following Hadrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Giving Continuum

I don’t give – regardless of the situation, there is no giving.

I won’t give – in this situation, there is no giving.

I cannot give – there’s a reason for the non-giving.

I might give – there’s something about this situation that could result in giving.

I almost gave – there was strong consideration of giving.

I will give – in the future there will be giving.

I gave, but I got more – there was more getting than giving.

I gave, but I also got – there was a little getting, but far more giving.

I gave, but I got credit – getting credit helped, but there was giving.

I gave – in this situation, there was giving for the sake of giving.

I gave, and could spare it – there was surplus, and in this situation, there was giving.

I planned, saved, and gave – there was forethought to the giving.

I gave more than I saved – there was a lot of forethought, and far more giving.

 

I’ve found that the size of the gift doesn’t matter. What matters is the giving.

I’ve found that giving is for the giver.

I’ve found that giving is like getting twice.

I’ve found that giving creates givers.

 

Thanks for giving when you can.

Thanks for giving when it’s difficult for others to ask.

Thanks for giving when no one else sees the need.

Thanks for giving when no one is looking.

 

Wherever you are on the giving continuum, thanks for giving.

 

“Give a big hand to…..” by Andrew Pescod is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How To Know If You Are Trusted

When you have trust, people tell you the truth.

When you don’t have trust, people tell you what you want to hear.

 

When you have trust, people tell you when others tell you what you want to hear.

When you don’t have trust, people watch others tell you what you want to hear.

 

When you have trust, you can talk about the inconvenient truth.

When you don’t have trust, you can’t.

 

When you have trust, you can ask for something unreasonable and people try to do it.

When you don’t have trust, they don’t.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need organizational power.

When you have organizational power, you better have trust.

 

When you have trust, you can violate the rules of success.

When you don’t have trust, you must toe the line.

 

When you have trust, you can go deep into the organization to get things done.

When you don’t have trust, you go to the managers and cross your fingers.

 

When you have trust, cross-organization alignment emerges mysteriously from the mist.

When you don’t have trust, you create a steering team.

 

When you do have trust, the Trust Network does whatever it takes.

When you don’t have trust, people work the rule.

 

When you have trust, you do what’s right.

When you don’t have trust, you do what you’re told.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need a corporate initiative because people do what you ask.

When you don’t have trust, you need a dedicated team to run your corporate initiatives.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need control.

When you don’t have trust, control works until you get tired.

 

When you have trust, productivity soars because people decide what to do and do it.

When you don’t have trust, your bandwidth limits productivity because you make all the decisions.

 

When you have trust, you send a team member to the meeting and empower them to speak for you.

When you don’t have trust, you call the meeting, you do the talking, and everyone else listens.

 

When you have trust, it’s because you’ve earned it.

When you don’t have trust, it’s because you haven’t.

 

If I had to choose between trust and control, I’d choose trust.

Trust is more powerful than control.

 

Image credit — “Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover” by MarilynJane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sometimes too much is just that – too much.

When your best isn’t good enough, how do you feel? When your best isn’t good enough, what do you do? But more importantly, when your best isn’t good enough, what does that say about you?

If your best used to be good enough and now it isn’t, there are four possible explanations. 1.) Expectations increased and your performance is unchanged. 2.) Expectations increased and your performance increased less.  3.) Expectations increased and your performance decreased.

If expectations of your performance haven’t increased over last year, I want to work where you work because your company is an oasis (and an aberration).  Since nearly all industries and occupations are governed by the unnatural mindset of growth-year-on-year-no-matter-what, it’s highly likely your performance expectations have increased. There’s no need to review this scenario.

In scenario one, your performance is unchanged. Why? Well, you may have tried to increase your performance but issues unrelated to work have consumed huge amounts of your emotional energy, and this new drain on your emotional energy consumed the energy you needed to increase your performance.  A list of such issues includes global warming, deforestation, plastic in our water supply, COVID, political unrest, and the regular issues such as medical care for aging parents, death of your parents, inevitable health issues related to your aging. What does that say about you?

In scenario two, your performance increased, but the increase was insufficient. Maybe your performance would have increased quite a bit, but the special cause issues (COVID, etc.) along with the common cause issues (you and your parents get older every year) impacted your performance in a way that lessened the increase in your performance.  Without the special causes, you would have met the increased expectations, but because of them, you did not. What does that say about you?

In scenario three, even though expectations increased, your performance decreased. In this case, it could be that political unrest and the other special causes teamed up with the common causes (stress of everyday life) to reduce your performance. What does that say about you?

In thermodynamics, there’s a law whose implications make it certain that there’s a limit to the amount of matter (stuff) you can put in a control volume (a defined volume that has a limit).  That means that if every year you add air to a balloon, eventually it pops. Even the strongest ones. And when you extend this notion to people, it says that no matter how much pressure you apply to people, there’s a limit to what they can achieve.  And if you apply pressure that overcomes their physical limit, they pop.  Even the strongest ones. Or, maybe, especially the strongest ones because they try to take on more than their share.

People have a physical limit, and people cannot indefinitely support a mindset of growth-every-year-no-matter-what.  No matter what, people will pop. It’s not if, it’s when. And add in the special causes of COVID, political unrest, and environmental problems and people pop sooner and cannot do what they did last year, no matter what.

And what does all this say about you? It says you are trying harder than ever. It says you are strong. It says you are amazing.

And what does it say about growth-every-year-no-matter-what? It says we should stop with all that, at least for a while.

Image credit — Judy Schmidt

It’s time to start starting.

What do we do next? I don’t know

What has been done before?

What does it do now?

What does it want to do next?

If it does that, who cares?

 

Why should we do it? I don’t know.

Will it increase the top line?  If not, do something else.

Will it increase the bottom line?  If so, let someone else do it.

What’s the business objective?

 

Who will buy it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

What does it look like when you know they’ll buy it?

Why do you think it’s okay to do the work before you know they’ll buy it?

 

What problem must be solved? I don’t know.

How will you define the problem?

Why do you think it’s okay to solve the problem before defining it?

Why do you insist on solving the wrong problem? Don’t you know that ready, fire, aim is bad for your career?

Where’s the functional coupling? When will you learn about Axiomatic Design?

Where is the problem? Between which two system elements?

When does the problem happen? Before what? During what? After what?

Will you separate in time or space?

When will you learn about TRIZ?

 

Who wants you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

When will you read all the operating plans?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Who doesn’t want you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

Who looks bad if this works?

Who is threatened by the work?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What does it look like when it’s done? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What do you need to be successful? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Starting is essential, but getting ready to start is even more so.

 

Image credit — Jon Marshall

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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