Posts Tagged ‘business’

Corporate Communication: Shoot in all Directions

by Matthew Carmen on August 29, 2011

Any company – whether it’s two people or 200,000 – must have a coherent internal communications system in place, enabling it to thrive on every level within the organization.  As with many things, it all begins with a plan. A good communications plan will include processes that allow all employees to both hear the message and be heard as well.  Succeeding with that communications plan also means the senior management team must fully comprehend and embrace the ‘message’ related to corporate policy and new strategic initiatives to all employees in a way that they will understand.

Corporate communications can take many forms: email, memos, website announcements, manager conversations and town hall meetings, and the like.

Let’s look at an example: A company needing to implement a revised strategy for growth.  The first method of communications will likely be in the form of senior management explaining the new plan to their direct reports – the VP and director-level management staff – in a management town hall-type format. Other useful first methods might be an offsite management retreat, or a memo explaining the new strategy and what the responsibilities of certain corporate functions will be. This first communication must be followed by other reinforcing communications, such as the ones that were mentioned above , if the new strategy is to become successful.

The key to a successful corporate communications plan is that all employees must: a) receive the message, b) understand the message, c) understand how the message will affect their way of doing their job, and d) know that they can communicate back up the chain of command when needed.  This last point is very important in order for a new strategy or other initiative to be successful.  Employees who are actually doing required work are closest to the actual processes involved with that work, and thus tend to know – better than those in leadership – what does and what doesn’t work well.  Therefore, a successful corporate communications program allows employees to communicate their issues and ideas up the chain of command and allow for more successful implementations or provide more timely knowledge that can change a failing program.

So whether we’re talking implementation of a broad-reaching corporate strategy, or a successful personal relationship, communications is the name of any successful game.  Either way, in order for everyone involved to be on the same page and work towards the same goals, communications needs smart planning and must go in all. Ready…aim…

Flexible Focus #66: Change the World, Change Yourself

by William Reed on August 26, 2011

In the last eight articles we have looked at themes related to significance and focus, finding what matters most. Revisiting these articles will help you re-explore the territories where we have been, and see also how they fit together. These selections also correspond to the primary eight categories covered in the series, so this review provides an overview of one trip around the wheel, and also reflects the amazing range of topics possible to address with the Mandala Chart.

The images are assembled in the Mandala shown here, referenced from the articles and downloads below. In the conventional Mandala fashion, they are marked A (bottom center), B (left center), C (top center), D (right center), E (bottom left), F (top left), G (top right), F (bottom right)

Here are a few notes to set your thoughts in motion. For easy reference, and to trigger new insights, download the Mandala Charts and review the original articles from each of the links below.

THE BOX OF PERCEPTION (From Flexible Focus #57: Unlocking the Box of Perception)

A recurring theme in the Mandala Chart is the use of frames for flexible focus…One of the benefits of flexible focus is mental health and resilience.

We refer to a frame of reference, the belief system or perspective which frames our perception and values. Reframing is a core concept in psychology, both in the ability to reinterpret a problem as an opportunity, or the ability to listen to differing opinions with an open mind. It is one of the principles behind meditation and hypnosis, where silence and suggestion reframe the way we see and experience the world. Reframing is what moves our mind in art and in advertising.

Leonardo DaVinci frequently would draw the same object from at least 3 different perspectives. We should not be so quick to think that our current perspective is the only one. This folly is magnified when we try to impose our limited point of view on others, whether it is through education, propaganda, or persuasion.

Scientists, artists, and inventors develop the ability to change perspective in visualizing solutions and solving problems. In business and training, creativity is encouraged through games that help the group achieve a new perspective.

 

A LENS ON LIFE (From Flexible Focus #58: The Principle of Objectivity)

The Mandala Chart is a multi-faceted lens through which we can observe ourselves and all phenomena…Flexible focus is fast moving, physical, and multi-dimensional.

The Principle of Objectivity, the 7th of 8 principles for the Mandala Chart, takes this process into a deeper, more reflective mode, in which you gain crystal clarity of perception and insight by examining things from multiple perspectives. Like the crystal cube shown in the illustration, which could also be called a Mandala cube, when the laser beam passes through, it refracts and reveals new surfaces both inside and outside the box. When the light of insight passes through our mind, the Mandala Chart acts in like a lens to reveal new facets and perspectives. This becomes a driving force for creativity and innovation.

Objective thinking is usually associated with science, observation, and experimentation. The effort to measure and get repeatable results works well under controlled laboratory circumstances, but is far less predictable in real life. Complex systems are impossible to describe in terms of linear cause and effect. Hence the quote attributed to MIT Meteorologist Edward Lorenz, “When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world.”

Instead of the phrase, cause a hurricane, it might be easier to understand if we say it is connected to a hurricane in another part of the world. Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus recognized this in saying that, “A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.”

 

LEARNING IS FOR LIFE (From Flexible Focus #59: The 8 Frames of Life: Learning)

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

In the Mandala Chart, the 7th Frame of Life is Learning. The problem that has plagued both students and educators from the beginning of time is that learning is hard to come by. It doesn’t seem to stick very well. Perhaps this is because learning is often imposed on us more or less by force. The lucky ones discover that learning is not for school; learning is for life.

Learning by doing is the shortest route to retention. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you will still be able to do it even ten years later without any practice. However, it is likely that you have forgotten most of what you learned for tests in school, often within hours of taking the test!

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell gives numerous examples of what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule, for which he claims that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of extensive deliberate practice. It certainly makes sense in fields like music or the martial arts, but turns out to be true in just about anything we call talent. Even those gifted with a natural genius often turn out to have been at it in one form or another since they were small children.

Clearly though, it is not just a matter of clocking in 10,000 hours, or we would all be geniuses in our field after just 5 years of work experience. It isn’t about hard work, which is another word for hard won experience. It is the quality of experience and engagement that makes the magic happen.

 

PUT YOUR PASSION ON A PLATFORM (From Flexible Focus #60: Writing Tips and Tools)

If we don’t stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”~Peter Marshall, Chaplain (1947)

One of the best ways to develop a platform is to write. Whether it is a diary meant for your eyes only, or a published platform for the world to see, the very act of putting your thoughts in writing gives your thoughts wings, and sets your mind in motion. Writing not only gives shape to your thoughts, but the process of writing makes you a proactive producer, rather than a passive consumer. Writing puts things in perspective by requiring you to take a point of view, while at the same time considering the points of view of your readers, an excellent recipe for flexible focus.

Although we all learn to write in school, few people continue to write, and many resist the process as a tiresome task. Even people who want to write often experience writer’s block, a state of mental congestion in which words jam and fail to communicate what is inside wanting to come out.

Oddly, chances are that you are never more fluent when it comes to talking about your passions. But when you try to write about them, you often find that your thoughts have clipped wings.And yet putting your thoughts on paper is one of the best ways to put your passion on a platform, because it is lasting, and reaches much further than your voice. Your writing can be the core element of your personal brand.

 

ANATOMY OF A FAN (From Flexible Focus #61: The Art of Folding Time)

The Mandala Chart can free you from the tyranny of living by the illusory objectivity of the clock and the calendar.

One of the best representations of flexible focus in Japanese culture is the folding fan, invented in Japan between the 6th and 8th centuries. The folding fan can open as a fan, or fold for easy storage. Its radial form is symbolic of opening out to new possibilities, of victory, and of good fortune. It is a product of the same culture which invented origami, the art of paper folding, the quintessential art of Folding the Square.

The anatomy of a folding fan is work of genius. It is both simple and complex, an enigma of Japanese design. It fits in the fingers as an organic extension of the hand. It was used in Japanese dance, and could double as a weapon for the samurai. The range of designs and materials available make it a perfect product for infinite variations on a common theme. Moreover, the art of folding has been applied in Japan to everything from umbrellas, bicycles, eyeglasses, to keyboards, as well as clothing, and even the joints of the human body in the martial arts.

Pay closer attention to your experience, and show greater appreciation for what you have. Lend a helping hand to others in need. Open the fan.

 

MONKEY MIND (From Flexible Focus #62: Discipline Your Thinking)

The practice of Zazen is a discipline for mind and body, but one which joins them in a higher degree of freedom.

One of the most delightful, and most confounding aspects of our mind is that it is undisciplined. The mind is so susceptible to distraction, so easily seduced by its surroundings, that this aspect of the mind is referred to in Zen as the monkey mind. While it is very much a part of our everyday experience, we rarely sit down to confront and discipline this creature of consciousness. Try sitting still for even 10 minutes without any purpose other than to sit, and you may come face to face with the monkey, who will try to distract, persuade, or plead with you to let it run free.

However, this freedom is an illusion, because the monkey is in fact bound and attached to anything and everything that comes along. One purpose of Zazen, or Zen meditation, is to discipline the mind so that you actually realize more by thinking less. This seems counter-intuitive when convention dictates that you have to think more to understand more, and do more to achieve more. However, you can set that concern aside by realizing that much of what we call thinking, is actually mental flotsam and jetsam, unoriginal and unproductive. It is worthwhile to spend some time each day freeing yourself from this by entering a deeper level of mindfulness.

 

SEE YOURSELF ONE YEAR FROM NOW (From Flexible Focus #64: The One Year Plan)

Taking care of what is important in one area can make life easier in another. Likewise, neglecting one area can negatively affect another.

Using a traditional linear To Do List puts you at risk of achieving one set of goals at the expense of another, succeeding in your job, only to ruin your health. Or you might set yourself an unrealistic task list, and end up giving up before you make progress on your truly significant goals. In other words, this format gives you perspective as well a focus, something not easy to achieve with traditional goal setting tools. You may also wish to set a theme for each of the 8 fields, a short phrase or key words which helps you focus on the big picture for that field.

Ideally you do this at the beginning of each year, but even if you start late in the calendar year you can still use it, though your focus may be on a more immediate set of objectives. It is still worthwhile, because it gives you practice in thinking in this way, and each year you will get better at it.

The image in Step 3 is quite important as well, because it gives you a visual anchor, a point of mental focus. It also breaks the monotony of pure text. When you create your One Year Template, be sure to leave enough room to list 5 to 8 phrases, as well as to illustrate your goal. You can write small, but you don’t want to feel cramped in when thinking about your future.

 

SEE YOURSELF ONE YEAR FROM NOW (From Flexible Focus #65: Shaping Your Future)

Therefore why not create images of beauty and abundance in your mind’s eye, awaken the sleeping statue, and see your dreams come to life?

We have seen how abundance, as well as lack, can be experienced in each of the 8 fields of life: Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Learning, and Leisure. The Mandala Chart can help you gain perspective in each of these areas, as well as in how they enhance and complement each other. In effect, we tell our life story in the way in which we integrate and excel in each of these areas. Without a tool such as the Mandala Chart for viewing and balancing our life, it is all too easy to get caught up in the challenges of one or two areas, at the expense of the others. No wonder it takes a lifetime, maybe several, to get it right.

The first step is to seek continuous improvement, not perfection. Living is a dynamic process, and balance is achieved by continual adjustment, not holding on to a status quo. Think of how you keep your balance on a bicycle. At first you wobble, but gradually your adjustments become so smooth that the wobble seems to disappear. Balance is easier to maintain in motion than in standing still. After you learn to steer, the next question is where do you want to go?

So much of our experience is conditioned by our expectations, that we sometimes mistake them for reality itself. The first step to leading a life of abundance starts with your mental outlook. The way our expectations condition our experience is known as the Pygmalion Effect.

NOTE: The articles in the Flexible Focus series are updated with graphics, links, and attachments on the FLEXIBLE FOCUS Webbrain, a dynamic and navigable map of the entire series. It has a searchable visual index, and is updated each week as the series develops.

Leader driven Harmony #33: Know Your People!

by Mack McKinney on July 15, 2011

I visited the director of a mid-sized aerospace company recently.  His group has over 200 employees and performs major maintenance, repair and overhaul on C-130s and helicopters.  I wanted to meet him and discuss the possibility of collaborating on some projects.  He has only had the job two years and was a career Marine, so I expected a rough, gruff, order-barking guy.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Unlike the guy before him, he is straight forward, but friendly.  One of my friends was just hired there and he says the employees all talk about people smiling and laughing on the job for the first time in years.  The line workers seem to really like him which is a big change for this operation.  Absenteeism is way down and productivity is way up.  When he first came aboard he personally reviewed each contract and renegotiated several of them that seemed unfair to his company.  (These were put in place by the manager before him and were poorly written).  He also personally reviewed every employee’s personnel jacket (record) and called them in to discuss the pay, what he expected from them and to ask what they needed from him.  I’m also told this guy shows no favoritism among the staff or workers.  Everybody gets a fair shake.

I enjoyed talking with him.  His polite straightforwardness was refreshing.  And we may do some work together later this year.  But it was a couple of little things that really impressed me.  His office is not very large, doesn’t have a breath-taking view and is located above a hangar floor.  It takes a good five minutes to walk there from the visitors’ parking spots in front of the building.  This is a controlled area and most execs would simply have sent their secretary out to meet me and escort me to his office.  But this fellow personally fetched me!  He walked all the way from his office, met me at the car and escorted me all the way back in.  (I remember a television journalist saying how impressed he was that King Hussein of Jordon walked him to his car after an interview in Amman and when thanked, the King explained “this is just common manners – – – I do this for visitors all the time.”

But even this was not the most impressive thing I saw that day.  From the parking lot to his office and then back along that same route an hour later we probably passed a dozen people and without exception he called each by their first name and asked them something personal:

  • Sarah, how’s your son doing?  Is he out of the hospital yet?
  • Jane, I hear you are leaving us?  Are you taking a better job with more money for your family?  (Yes I am)  Well then that is ok and let me know if there is anything I can do to make your transition easier.
  • Bobby, how are you doing?  Did your guys find that tool they were looking for?

I suspect this fellow knows the first name of everybody who works there and that is impressive.  Not just that he can memorize them but that he does.  This is old-school leadership behavior and the people who work there will never forget it.  Do you know the first names of all the people who work for you and your colleagues, and their family situations?  Why not?  Even an old Marine does it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Flexible Focus #61: The Art of Folding Time

by William Reed on July 14, 2011

Anatomy of a Fan

One of the best representations of flexible focus in Japanese culture is the folding fan, invented in Japan between the 6th and 8th centuries. The folding fan can open as a fan, or fold for easy storage. Its radial form is symbolic of opening out to new possibilities, of victory, and of good fortune. It is a product of the same culture which invented origami, the art of paper folding, the quintessential art of Folding the Square.

The anatomy of a folding fan is work of genius. It is both simple and complex, an enigma of Japanese design. It fits in the fingers as an organic extension of the hand. It was used in Japanese dance, and could double as a weapon for the samurai. The range of designs and materials available make it a perfect product for infinite variations on a common theme. Moreover, the art of folding has been applied in Japan to everything from umbrellas, bicycles, eyeglasses, to keyboards, as well as clothing, and even the joints of the human body in the martial arts.

Folding Time

The Mandala Chart can free you from the tyranny of living by the illusory objectivity of the clock and the calendar. While these devices are useful for organizing logistics in life, they serve as a poor measure of experience and imagination. One of the characteristics of the Wonderful World of Flow is a distorted sense of time.

Einstein explained the relativity of time in layman’s terms to a journalist saying, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.”

While we experience the relativity of time, we seldom stop to think, what if it were possible to consciously fold or expand our experience of time through flexible focus, much in the way that we open or close a folding fan? This is not only possible with practice, but it is relatively easy to do. A good exercise for your eyes is to make a habit of looking at things far away, as well as up close. Many people settle into a myopic existence just for want of looking at things far away. The same thing can happen mentally if your mind’s eye settles for a fixed range of vision.

Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, tells the story of a Disney executive charged with revitalizing the Disney Stores, who asked Steve Jobs for advice. Jobs’ responded in two words, “Dream Bigger.” Many people leave their mental fan folded and tucked away, and seldom open it out to dream bigger.

It is better to broaden your experience through curiosity, than to fall into a dull routine. If you simply measure your life by the calendar, without exercising your mental flexibility, you may find that the decades fly by and leave you behind.

Magic of Mindfulness

Thinking that you know will take you out of flow. I wrote on the Magic of Mindfulness in my Creative Career Path column about the work of Harvard Psychologist, Dr. Ellen J. Langer on Mindfulness, who has studied the effects of Mindfulness, as well as Mindlessness on the quality of our lives. Dr. Langer attributes mindlessness to three habits of mind: stereotyping rather than experiencing, acting from a single perspective, and doing things on auto-pilot.

This is another way of describing a lack of flexible focus, and the consequences can range from low self-image to casual cruelty. Fortunately, the cure is close at hand. Awaken your spirit of curiosity. Practice mindfulness in your movements. Pay closer attention to your experience, and show greater appreciation for what you have. Lend a helping hand to others in need. Open the fan.

We all have stress in our lives and a little stress can be a healthy thing.  Stress is caused by stressors, defined by BusinessDictionary  as either 1. A physical, psychological, or social force that puts real or perceived demands on the body, emotions, mind, or spirit of an individual –OR- 2. A biological, chemical, or physical factor that can cause temporary or permanent harm to an ecosystem, environment, or organism.

Stressors are like bullies: We can usually handle one or two but when confronted by too many of them at one time we may lose the ability to overcome them.  Heck, just recognizing stressors can be difficult and sometimes even counter-intuitive. Did you know that pleasant, desirable, rewarding things can also cause stress!?!? In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe suspected there was a link between events in your life and your level of stress.  They looked at 43 life events and after thousands of interviews and surveys they ranked each life event for its contribution to stress.  Some of the events that made the list are surprising: A change in health of family member (including an improvement), a change in financial state (including suddenly receiving a lot of money), and even an outstanding personal achievement!  This is because our bodies react automatically and biochemically, way down at the cellular level, not only to bad changes in our life situation but to any changes.

To measure the overall stress using the Holmes-Rahe scale, determine which events/situations in the past year apply to you and take note of the associated number of “Life Change Units”.  Add them up and the resulting total score will give you a rough idea of how much stress you are experiencing.   (The table and explanation shown here is from Wikipedia at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale but the same table is available from multiple locations on the Internet and elsewhere.  Newer lists may also be available as part of more modern studies.).  This first table is for adults:

Life event

Life change units

Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

A different scale has been developed for non-adults.

Life Event

Life Change Units

Getting married 95
Unwed pregnancy 100
Death of parent 100
Acquiring a visible deformity 80
Divorce of parents 90
Fathering an unwed pregnancy 70
Jail sentence of parent for over one year 70
Marital separation of parents 69
Death of a brother or sister 68
Change in acceptance by peers 67
Pregnancy of unwed sister 64
Discovery of being an adopted child 63
Marriage of parent to stepparent 63
Death of a close friend 63
Having a visible congenital deformity 62
Serious illness requiring hospitalization 58
Failure of a grade in school 56
Not making an extracurricular activity 55
Hospitalization of a parent 55
Jail sentence of parent for over 30 days 53
Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend 53
Beginning to date 51
Suspension from school 50
Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol 50
Birth of a brother or sister 50
Increase in arguments between parents 47
Loss of job by parent 46
Outstanding personal achievement 46
Change in parent’s financial status 45
Accepted at college of choice 43
Being a senior in high school 42
Hospitalization of a sibling 41
Increased absence of parent from home 38
Brother or sister leaving home 37
Addition of third adult to family 34
Becoming a full-fledged member of a church 31
Decrease in arguments between parents 27
Decrease in arguments with parents 26
Mother or father beginning work 26

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

The Kent Center has adopted this scale in their stress assessment and treatment practice.  (We found them online and have no affiliation with them.)  Working with mental health professionals is almost always a good idea.  If you perform a self-assessment of stress and the result concerns you, seek professional counseling (in-person and face-to-face if at all possible) because untreated stress can easily lead to physical illness and depression.  And then things can get very serious because depression cannot always be self-diagnosed or self-treated.  Worse yet, severe depression is potentially lethal.

But if you decide that your stress level is sufficiently low, and composed of only a few distinct and easily identified causes/events, you may want to tackle them yourself.  To make this stress-busting effort effective, be methodical.  Spend some time thinking about each stressor in your life.  Here are some tips:

  1. Make a Master List of Stressors and list each stress-causing event/situation separately
  2. Have a plan to deal with each one, independent of the others
  3. The plan for each one should include the following:
    • Identification of what you see as the root cause of the stress (OK all you Mental Health Professionals, don’t email me: I know we mere mortals cannot always determine the root cause of stress but this is a start)
    • A descriptive vision of what your life would be like without this stress (you being worry-free, happy at work, etc.)
    • Who else is involved besides you, and what each person will do to help correct the situation
    • Actions you and the other people involved will take today, this week, this month and this year

The human brain does not come with a user’s manual.  Get professional counseling to help with high stress scores, depression or with any thoughts about harming yourself or others.  Don’t mess with stress!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Can a business create profitability based on kindness? Sure, why not?

The Dali Lama says if nothing else practice kindness. This must be a very powerful practice, so just what does it entail?

I googled the word kindness and here are a few words that showed up as synonyms: Accommodation, benevolence, compassion, courtesy, forgivingness, friendliness, generosity, gentleness, goodness, goodwill, grace, graciousness, helpfulness, humanity, perceptiveness, sensibility, sensitivity, service, tolerance, understanding and warmth. Who wouldn’t want to be part of an organization that practiced kindness? As I read each one of these words I could feel a heartfulness present: a quality of being mindful of the wholeness of the organization and all of its members. Each organization has a heart, just as each individual has heart. We forget this fact. We forget our own heart too. An act of kindness reminds us to be mindful of the essential nature of life that beats within us all.

In my google search, the words that came up as antonyms for kindness were: complaisance, compliance, deference, obligingness. These words reflected a different quality – not one that generates heartfulness. To me they reflect a stand for doing the minimum of what’s required by the organization. They reflect an attitude of resistance to participate or engage. “I’m not committed enough to shift my stand or position. I don’t want to and you can’t make me.” What is underlying this stand for complaisance and compliance?

Every one of us in a business environment are there for personal gain first and foremost. Only as a secondary intention are we there to fulfill the vision and mission of the organization itself.  If it were any other way we would set aside our judgments and interpretations, our fears and needs, our resistance and other survival strategies for the best interest of everyone associated with this organization. We would act in alignment with the highest good and the highest truth of ourselves, which is always in the alignment with the highest good of everyone and, believe it or not, every organization. The fact is that we just aren’t that committed.

Though we say we are committed to serving our organization, generally we aren’t committed enough to shift our personal perspective in order to move beyond compliance and complaisance. What are we committed to?

I suspect many of us have a hit list – those people at work who we wish would disappear, with whom we avoid eye contact and conversation. It may be those about whom we gossip or complain. We may even perform passive-aggressive or passive-resistant maneuvers in order to sabotage their success or fulfillment. I’m always curious about what we gain from other people’s demise.

Taking on a practice of kindness, just as a practice, will reveal underlying motives. Bubbles of emotions begin to surface that often feel uncomfortable. It’s not uncommon for anger, frustration and sadness to arise. Attached to each of these emotions is a thought that is harbored in the recesses of your mind; a belief, a judgment or interpretation that is confronted by just the smallest act of kindness. I’m always fascinated by this process, and though it is often uncomfortable I encourage the exploration, discovering what’s interfering with kindness, compassion, generosity, graciousness. What do you have to lose? Funny, isn’t it, that we think we have something to lose by being kind.

Kindness makes good economic sense. Research shows that good business and profitability comes down to creating good relationships. Good relationships require so many of the words that relate to and include kindness. How are you doing kindness or how are you being kindness. Too often doing kindness is a transparent, inauthentic manipulation, and personal gain is its motive.

Authentic kindness – what’s the motive?

My work is grounded in authentic, engaged connection. When I am grounded in this I enjoy being myself and quite often find more to enjoy in the other. I suspend judgment about who they are, their status, what I can gain from the relationship and remain in the moment authentically engaged and connected.

Kindness, like compassion, is sometimes really challenging to practice, however when doing so we can make a huge difference in our own capacity to be relaxed, open, free of stress and pressures. It contributes to our level of happiness and enjoyment. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by just being kind. It’s funny how it works that way.

Resilience Engineering #2: Drift

by Gary Monti on June 14, 2011

Last week introduced resilience engineering and started with two critical concepts, robustness and resilience, with robust systems being unchanged but pushed to provide performance in a challenging environment and resilient systems adapting to the challenge and evolving.

This week we’ll look at the costs that can accrue with robust systems and the potential for introducing a potentially dangerous behavior called drift. Before getting to drift a little background information will help.

Resilience engineering is especially useful in resource-limited, constrained situations; situations where trade-offs must be made almost on an ongoing basis. One such trade-off that must be considered is how far to push the current system in terms of both technology and people vs. making necessary changes.

The Importance of Time Horizons

The distance to the client’s, customer’s, senior manager’s, or any other powerful stakeholder’s time horizon has a big influence on whether or not a robust or resilient approach is used. A client situation that had very real consequences might help explain. The client firm wanted to purchase another company. Due diligence was performed. However, it was constrained by shortsightedness. The client wanted to enter the market and generated emotionality regarding the issue. As the urge to purchase increased so did the shortsightedness.

The financials looked fine. The concern for the client was the physical plant, comprising four locations. The shortsightedness mentioned earlier won out and the purchase went through. The entire situation ended up slowly turning into a nightmare ending with the client selling at a very reduced price several years later to get out of the situation.

The Cost of Robust Behavior

What had occurred was a classic case of the seller making the company look enticingly resilient while actually working it in a robust manner. A simple metaphor for the situation is brakes on a car. Imagine you want to buy a used car and you ask, “Do the brakes work?” Truth be told; the answer is, “Yes, they always have.” Sounds good. But what if a different question were asked, “How much life does the braking system have left in it?” That might yield a totally different answer, e.g., the rotors/drums need replaced, the hydraulic fittings are corroded and will need replaced if a wrench is put to them, etc., etc. In actuality the braking system is on the verge of failure and an additional $1,000 or more is needed to make needed repairs…and the repairs can’t be piecemeal, the entire system needs replaced at the same time. However, if the purchaser is satisfied with the fact the car has always stopped well in the past then the issue of overuse, of being pushed beyond a safe limit, will be missed and the dreams of where this car can take him will continue. This overuse of the braking system to the point where it is close to being a safety issue is called drift. Formally,

Drift is the incremental movement of a system towards, and eventual crossing of, a failure boundary. This all occurring while belief is maintained that all is well.

Using the brake metaphor, the seller had let the system (physical plant) drift towards failure while increasing performance pressure in order to be able to say, “See, it is giving the desired results.” In the previous blog it was mentioned there was a cost associated with this behavior. In this case it was an insidious cost. Money that should have gone into maintaining the physical plant was shifted towards the bottom line.

The seller pushed the system to perform in a robust manner, i.e., continue generating profit and have them falsely increase by siphoning off money needed for the physical plant to maintain and adapt to the increasing performance pressure.

This made the purchase look that much more enticing causing the client, only looking at the bottom line and blinded by emotionality, to pay too much, essentially taking a mortgage to cover profits extracted by the seller – profits that really weren’t profits but maintenance dollars. On top of that the needed repairs and equipment costs still needed to be incurred.

Another issue was inability to grow since there was no resilience. With the assumption that the plant was fine the belief that current systems could be integrated into the changes envisioned turned out to be bankrupt. Not only did current systems need work, they were close to obsolescence.

Probably enough said for such a dark and dreary topic. Next week we will look at a brighter story, a story where a firm split but did it amicably through a resilient approach.

Does your company’s leadership think that having a robust Business Intelligence function is only viable for large corporations? Think again. In today’s global world, with information shared in the blink of an eye it is imperative that all companies know their numbers and manage by them. The information that a Business Intelligence (BI) function can provide can mean the difference between growth and competitive decline. Utilizing BI has been proven to result in significant competitive advantages both for small companies as well as large corporations.

Business Intelligence Planning

Initiating a Business Intelligence function in your company does not need to be excessively expensive but does require careful planning. There are five key steps in developing a plan for a BI function that, if followed, increase your chance for success. The level of complexity required for these steps is dependent on the size and complexity of your organization. Small companies can rapidly design a BI program to accelerate the process with the help of a consultant with BI experience.

The five steps are:

  1. Evaluate the company’s  strategic objectives for critical success factors;
  2. Design the Performance Measurement Blueprint;
  3. Perform a Gap Analysis;
  4. Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); and
  5. Develop the high level plan for Reporting – Scorecards, Dashboards, Reports

It is important to involve top management early in this process. Their support will be critical to getting funding for the BI program once the analysis has been done.  Depending on the company culture however a draft of a proposal detailing the potential costs and benefits early on may be beneficial. A clear demonstration of the need for a BI program can facilitate its approval and funding.

It is always best to start the planning process with an evaluation of the company’s strategic objectives. To maximize the probability of success, any BI program should be aligned to the mission, vision, and the strategic objectives of the organization. Another critical success factor is documenting the benefits of a BI program up front in order to garner the support of top management or ownership.

Once you have determined how to align to the strategic objectives take a look at what are the expected levels of performance in order to meet or exceed these objectives. Determine any dependencies between objectives in this review. This will help you determine where you can expect cost savings and cost avoidances. An initial draft of non-tangible benefits should be developed at this time. Common benefits include improving quality, improving customer retention, gaining market share, reducing costs, meeting regulatory requirements, and fostering continuous improvement and innovation.

The next two steps are to identify the high level requirements for data collection and to perform a gap analysis. The gap analysis will identify any gaps in current capabilities to measure, analyze, and present the elements of the performance plan.  From there you can start to develop the KPIs that are needed to track performance. The last step of the planning process is to determine the high level plan for what reporting components will be needed. Generally scorecards and reports will be needed for managers and staff while dashboards will be needed for management.

Before you can complete the proposal for establishing a BI program you will need to determine the expected costs and benefits for presentation to management. This involves determining how the program will be designed. There are several options to consider in developing your capabilities for initiating a BI function. Each option will have different costs, timelines, and pros and cons associated with it.

The most popular options for launching a BI program are:

  1. Outsourcing a portion or the entire function;
  2. Purchasing a package through one of the many BI vendors; or
  3. Starting small with an in-house team.

The costs and the benefits for each of these options should be included in the BI program proposal. For a small company the third option is often the best initial choice due to the lower cost. However the cost of outsourcing and vendor packages can often be competitive and can decrease the time to adoption.

With all aspects of the BI plan identified the last step is to put them together in a proposal that clearly shows the associated costs and the benefits of having a BI program. The most compelling benefit in today’s increasingly competitive environment is to gain the advantages that an analytically focused strategy can give to your company’s success regardless of its size.

Many people assume that most any business can become a big business.  But if that’s true, why is it that 95% of all businesses in the United States never reach a million bucks in annual sales?

Surprising as it may be, most businesses simply don’t have what it takes to grow significantly.  In fact, only two or three businesses out of a hundred will ever grow past the Mom & Pop stage – past the owner’s immediate span of control.

If you’re a small business owner with visions of growth, these facts can be a little unnerving, and more than a little disheartening.  What these facts tell us is that if you want your business to grow into a substantial enterprise, you need to do something that roughly 25,000,000 other business owners have been unable to do!

So where do you start?  You start by confronting the brutal facts.  You start with perhaps the most important question a business owner can ask:

Is the market sufficient?

Two factors comprise the market, demand and attachment.

  • Demand is about quantity – how many people want what you’re trying to sell.
  • Attachment is about quality – how much do people want what you’re trying to sell.

For a business to grow significantly, there must be high demand or strong attachment, preferably both.  Although it’s a little unwieldy, here’s a question that gets to the core of market evaluation:

Do enough people care enough?

Sometimes, the answer is no.  Last year about this time our company released an online service called ReallyEasyHR.  The service provided a complete small company HR program for $30 a month.  It was a great service and a remarkable value.  But guess what?  Nobody cared.  It turns out that small business owners have virtually no interest in spending even a few dollars a month on HR.

I believed ReallyEasyHR was going to be successful.  And I suppose I could berate myself about how wrong I was.  But here’s the thing:  You don’t know how the market will respond until you start trying to make sales.  The hard truth is, until you ask a prospect to fork over some cash, it’s all just guesswork and speculation.

That’s true in small companies like ours and it’s also true in huge, wildly successful organizations.  Not so long ago the brain trust at McDonald’s looked at emerging demographic trends and saw what they thought was an opportunity.  People were living longer and the older adult population was burgeoning.  In response, McDonald’s spent $300 million to develop and launch the Arch Deluxe, a sandwich positioned as “a more sophisticated burger for the adult palate”.  The Arch Deluxe was a complete flop. As it turned out, people didn’t want a sophisticated burger from McDonald’s.  Which just goes to show you that some of the smartest people on the planet can be flat-out wrong when projecting demand.

Demand is one thing your company can’t grow without.  Unless enough people care about the product or service you’re trying to sell – and care enough to go out of their way to buy it – survival is unlikely and growth is impossible.  So here are two important reminders for owners who want to grow their businesses:

  1. You won’t know if there’s enough market for your product until you offer that product for sale.
  2. There’s a chance you’ve overestimated demand, so don’t go all in.  Make sure you live to fight another day.

In my next article, I’ll offer some thoughts on the other factor of market potential, attachment.

Have you noticed that the actions of some people often cause you stress and frustration? Does interacting with certain colleagues, bosses and/or direct-reports in the workplace cause your blood pressure to sky rocket?  Have you ever wished you could do something about it?  Well, you can!  You can get those behaviors changed.

(Note that in this series we’ll be talking about changing a behavior, not a person. Understanding that a person’s behavior is separate from the person himself [or herself, we use the masculine form to represent both or either] is fundamental to changing our or anyone else’s behavior.  Later posts will explain this in more detail.)

We have identified at least five distinct types of stress-producing behavior:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Let’s look at examples of each.  (Warning: you will think of people you know when you read these descriptions and you may see yourself here!)

  1. Day Dreaming:  We sometimes say a person must be day dreaming when they seem unaware of their surroundings.  Such people can cause serious stress in others without realizing it.  If confronted they may be genuinely surprised. One glaring example is the order-taker at the restaurant drive-through speaker who mumbles or stringsallthewordstogether.  He causes stress for customers who must repeatedly ask “what?”, for the kitchen staff who keeps getting incorrect orders returned and for the manager who must apologize to frustrated customers. Another common example is the person talking very loudly into a cell phone, disrupting the peace and quiet for everyone within hearing distance – – –  usually the person is completely unaware that there ARE people around, not to mention the effect his loud voice is having on them.  At work, this can be the boss who provides poor direction and blames others for the resulting confusion (expects employees to read her mind) or routinely and cavalierly says hurtful things about others in public. It can also be the colleague who embarrasses himself and others with inappropriate jokes or sexual innuendos, totally unaware of the pained looks on the faces of onlookers. People who are Day Dreaming are often oblivious to the stress they cause in the lives of others.
  2. Comparing:  This is the often-subconscious act of looking at the happiness of another person and comparing it to your own mental state.  Some people are only happy when they come out on top in such a comparison.  They are happiest when others are miserable.  When they act on these comparisons they can cause lots of stress in others.  People who think this way will disrupt a pleasant conversation by interjecting a piece of bad news that instantly changes the feel of the gathering from happy to sad.  Or they will use a “yes, but” maneuver:  “Yes, winning the office’s sales contest would be great for our team but we are short two people and we have never been able to do it before.”
  3. Time Traveling:  This behavior is generation-driven; the Baby Boomer who cannot stop herself from asking everyone who gets to a meeting even a minute late “What time does the 9:30 meeting start?”; or the Gen Yer who cannot resist asking the Baby Boomer having cell phone problems “That advanced technology giving you problems there, Grandpa?”  The result is always more stress.
  4. Gut Reacting: People who routinely use this behavior are seen as the quick-draws at work, the people who always have a fast come-back to any comment.  But they also often omit the think step that should always occur before the speak step.  Their fast, knee-jerk response leaves no time for thoughts of “should I say this?” OR “will it hurt someone’s feelings?” OR “how could this comment be taken?” The result is often wounded pride and stress in others.
  5. Grade Schooling: This behavior is usually motivated by revenge, jealousy, power-trips or other markers of immaturity.  Examples include sabotaging an initiative at work so the originator fails; calling attention to yourself (even negatively) because you need the constant reinforcement of being noticed (poor self- image); or doing something just because you can even if it causes stress in others, for example driving continuously in the left lane of a superhighway so you can keep other people from driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.  People who do these things seem to be stuck with only the emotional maturity they had in grade school – – – they just never grew up.

In upcoming posts we’ll show you how to deal with each of these behaviors.  You’ll see how to first decide whether to intervene, then how to get the person’s attention, and establish some rapport (if possible), and lastly how to request a change in the person’s stress-inducing behavior.  We’ll show you how to do these things in the workplace but the techniques will also work well when shopping, in restaurants, with the family at home and in lots of other situations.

And if you think there are other categories of stress-inducing behavior, beyond the five we mentioned above, we’d like to hear from you.  Email me at Mack@SolidThinking.org

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation