March 12, 2012

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It starts with a conversation.

Last Saturday’s cartoon pages here in the United States contained a hidden gem of wisdom. In a simple three-panel cartoon (“Zits” by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman) two teen-aged boys confronted a pithy reality about humanity’s journey through time:

Zits April 18, 2015

Copyright Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Jeremy: “Do you think about your future, Pierce?”

Pierce: “I try…but technically every second my future becomes my past.”

Jeremy: “So it’s almost like you have no future.”

Pierce: “That’s what the guidance counselor keeps saying.”

(to see the entire original, go to

As the television sports announcer Jim McKay once said of a star athlete, “His whole future lies ahead of him.” And of course, that’s true for all of us; one of our strongest, and most common, yearnings is to know what lies ahead. What’s around the corner? What’s over the horizon?

Those are interesting questions for us as individuals, but they are essential for organizations. [click to continue…]

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Who ARE Those People?

April 13, 2015

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last week I wrote about how to decide who to invite to your meetings (“Who’s on the Invitation List?“).

It’s also critical for you to leverage those Participants’ unique experiences and skills in order to make your meetings meaningful for everyone. Now I want to share some thoughts on how you can gain insight into what those Participants think and how they actually feel about the conversation.

There are two questions to pay attention to:

  1. Who are the Participants as human beings? What talents, experiences, and expectations do they bring to the meeting?
  2. What are their organizational roles? How do those roles affect their goals and behaviors in the meeting?

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Group of Diverse Multiethnic People in a MeetingLast week I commented on the power of being clear about why you are convening a meeting (“What’s This Meeting For, Anyway?”). Now it’s time to think about who should be invited to the meeting how to anticipate the value that each Participant will bring to the conversation, and the challenges they represent.

There are three basic questions to think through about the Participants in any meeting:

  1. Who do you want or need to be in the meeting? Who are the stakeholders who will be affected by the meeting’s outcome? Who has information, insight, or experience that is relevant and might affect the decisions or other meeting outcomes?
  2. Who are the participants as individual human beings? That is, what are their individual values, perspectives, talents, and experiences? What are their personal needs and objectives?
  3. What are the participants’ organizational roles? What are their formal responsibilities? How are they measured and rewarded for their work? What kinds of personal and organizational pressures might they be feeling? I am not suggesting that you need to spend endless hours preparing for every meeting; but I do want you to give these kinds of questions explicit attention as often as you can before you walk into that meeting room and launch the conversation.

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ManagersThere are something like 11 million corporate meetings held every day in the United States alone. Yet most of us would rather be somewhere else.

But if your meetings are well-planned they can be highly productive, fun to be part of, and even personally satisfying.

The first step in creating a memorable meeting is to be very clear about why you are calling the meeting. [click to continue…]

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cube farm4My colleague and good friend Diane Coles Levine is fond of saying “It’s a lot easier to think outside the box when you’re not in one.” That’s her way of pointing out that cube farms are not the best environment for creativity and collaboration.

I have written previously about my belief  that knowledge workers don’t just need a workspace, they need many places (“De Uno, Plures – From One, Many”). Work today isn’t monolithic or monotonous, and we need workplaces that offer variety and choice that matches what we do day by day or hour by hour.

And as I pointed out last week (“You Make It, You Own It”), when individuals make choices about where and when to get their work done they “own” those choices and are generally more committed to their work, more productive, and more engaged with their employer.

About five years ago I was part of an international research project team that was seeking to define the attributes of an effective workplace. Our Swedish lead researcher asked each of us on the project team to take a photograph of our favorite part of our own office and then to post it on the project website. [click to continue…]


You Make It, You Own It

March 16, 2015

English_Bay_Vancouver_BCLast week I participated in IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2015 Canada conference in Vancouver. I enjoyed seeing many old friends and making new ones. But more importantly I enjoyed having my brain cells stimulated by so many interesting stories of new workplace designs and workforce programs.

If there was one underlying idea that linked many of those stories together for me, it was the power of choice. Almost every story we heard about workplace innovation mentioned increased variety within the workplace, and/or between alternative workplaces. And more variety clearly means more choice for the people using those workplaces. [click to continue…]

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conversationsEven though most of us know intuitively what a good conversation feels like and how it unfolds, the vast majority of conversations at work are okay at best, and the rest of them range between boring, inconsequential, depressing, and demeaning.

In spite of what most of us know, most meetings and far too many of the less-formal conversations at work just don’t generate excitement, or learning, or even clarity. And that’s being kind:  I’m not even considering the meetings that waste time and generate anger, frustration, and patently wrong decisions. And worst of all is how few conversations tap into the “hidden talent” that everyone carries around with them every day in the form of experiences, insights, ideas, and intentions.

But the barriers that get in our way are actually very basic, and very understandable. [click to continue…]

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Cafe Conversation 23178999SmallI recently put that basic question to several friends and professional colleagues: What in their experience characterizes a good conversation (that simple question generated some incredibly meaningful conversations all by itself).

Chris Hood, a senior director with CBRE, thought a moment and described it this way:

When you have a good conversation you know it. There is something almost magical about one idea building on another, or one link following another. The succession of ideas just flows.

I attended a workshop several years ago that was focused on improving conversations between managers and employees. The primary emphasis was on authenticity – where both parties were saying what they really mean, as opposed to just saying what they were supposed to say.

There are all sorts of personal skills involved too – empathy, interest in the other person, nonverbal behaviors, being engaged, being clear.

And then there is nature of the conversation itself. What is its purpose? What do you want to happen afterwards?”

A well-developed conversation is something that actually has to be thought about, and structured. It’s not just something that happens. It needs to be thought about in advance.

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Knowledge is not a “Thing”

February 23, 2015

Classic wall clockEarly in my career I worked for a large Midwestern textbook publishing firm. I have never forgotten a conversation with one editor, a brilliant, well-educated woman, who told me in tears that she had just been docked a full week’s vacation.

My friend was supposed to be at her desk and at work every morning at 9:00 AM; her supervisor had been tracking her arrivals and had secretly documented that over the past twelve months she had accumulated almost 40 hours of tardiness (10 minutes one day, 5 minutes another, and so on).

It apparently made no difference that she almost never joined the parade out the door at precisely 5 PM; in fact, she regularly worked an hour or two beyond 5 PM to meet her deadlines. And she often took work home at night.

That might have been an appropriate disciplinary action if my friend had been working on an assembly line somewhere and was being paid by the hour. But she was a former secondary school teacher with a Masters degree who was being paid a decent salary to collaborate with a college professor on a high school math book. [click to continue…]