Thursday, October 31, 2013

Listening

Of all the communications tools we have at our disposal the one that sits prominently atop the heap is LISTENING.  

Oddly, that is the one that is often the least frequently and least effectively practiced.

Some things that active listening conveys:

Valuing
                      Interest 
                                          Attention 
          Respect
                                                             Concern 
                         Calmness 
Openness 
                                           Acceptance
         Deliberation
                                                                   Curiousness 
                             Humbleness
Steadfastness

Hmmm….  I don't see a single word in that group that I wouldn't want folks to think of when they think of me.

What would it be like if others thought of us in those terms? 

What would it be like if we could think of ourselves in those terms?

What would our homes and places of work be like if we could listen our way through each day in those terms?

No costly training required.  We can start right now.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Secrets

What are some reasons organizations (and people) try to keep secrets? 
  • Hide damaging information
  • Maintain hierarchical privilege
  • Mask inequitable decisions
  • Protect perceived advantage
  • Fear of dissent and debate
  • Protect turf

The damage done when organizations (and people) try to keep secrets?
  • Fosters lack of trust
  • Drains precious human/organizational energy
  • Distracts from the primary mission(s)
  • Causes inertia among the troops
  • Creates uncertainty in decision making
  • Promotes risk aversion
  • Inculcates isolationism
  • Incubates fear

When you look at those two lists (which are not exhaustive, by any means), it's hard to come to the conclusion that secret-keeping serves a useful purpose - that is, IF...

Trust
     Teamwork
          Productivity
               Full Investment

are elements of your aspired culture.

My vote goes to Transparency and Full Disclosure.  Even when it hurts.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TrumpCard

A great deal has been written about setting objectives and goals, then pursuing them relentlessly.  I agree, in principle, with that practice.  Monitoring progress toward those stated objectives is the obvious and next step in that process, to “see how we’re doing.” 

A painfully common phenomenon of this process is that the monitoring takes on a life of its own, and eventually the whole reason for the objectives/goals (call it the vision) is lost in the process.  We become slaves to the process, and to not the actual desired outcomes. 

When our efforts become focused on the “control processes” and not on the desired outcomes (the vision), we have lost our way. 

For example, I took this picture in the restroom of a store of a well-known international retail chain:


To be certain, this store (and probably the other bazillion in the chain) had formulated a process to absolutely ensure the cleanliness of their public restrooms.  And, as this monitoring tool will attest, that particular restroom should have been squeaky clean.  Any guesses as to what that restroom looked and smelled like?

The trump card for great organizations is first and foremost to have a committed and passionate team in pursuit of the vision.  The data collected around the goals and objectives aligned to that vision should be purely for self-referential purposes, not an outcome in itself.

A company’s, a school’s, a team’s, a family’s brand is its people, no matter how powerful the systems and processes put in place for "quality assurance." 

Only our people can assure quality, regardless of the product or service we're trying to deliver.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Execution


I learned a powerful lesson about strategizing from my high school football coach (I'll call him GS) some 40 years ago.

GS taught us that a high-fallootin' and complex game strategy didn't mean a thing if it couldn't be executed (or wasn't executed correctly).  He hammered away with us that even the simplest plans and plays stood a very good chance of success IF we would execute them flawlessly.  He was a firm believer in the old axiom, "Keep it simple and don't outsmart yourself."

I can't even remember how many times since those high school football experiences I have seen complex and intricate strategies devised in organizations I've worked in/with.  Lots of high-fiving at the grand plan, lots of impressive launches, lots of crowing about the sophistication of the strategy, press releases announcing, etc. ....................................................................................................then lots of flops.

Why?  Some fizzled for one of the reasons shown below, some for multiple reasons:
  • The need for the strategy was never communicated well to the team.
  • The team was never included in the planning process.
  • SPOTS - "strategic plan on top shelf" - The plan was well-conceived and developed, placed in a three-ring binder and stored on the top shelf in someone's office.
  • Team members never had a clear view of their role in the deployment.
  • The articulated outcomes seemed bogus and hollow, fabrications using suspect metrics (I see this in our school accountability system every day).
  • Leaders of the organization never successfully "embedded" the plan into the daily fabric of the work.  "If it's not that important to the bosses, why should it be important to me?"
I've come to believe the following with regard to continuous improvement (which is really why strategic plans are needed in the first place):
  1. Plan simply.
  2. Plan collectively (everyone gets input).
  3. Revisit  and revise it constantly (embed it into the daily "talk" and the daily work).
  4. Speak often and clearly about the desired outcomes (implied accountability).
  5. EXECUTE!  Flawlessly, persistently. At least a little, at least every day (somehow).
  6. The "boss" must live it, speak it, notice it, affirm it - with every breath.
Thanks Coach GS, for a worthy lesson (about life, and about work).



Friday, October 25, 2013

InGoodHands

The leadership of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) just met for two days in Austin, Texas.  We spent time learning about howTASA has impacted the education of Texas children in the past, and more importantly, how we see it influencing the futures of children in Texas in years to come.

I found myself wishing that critics of Texas public schools could have been present to hear the depth of those conversations, to see the collective and dedicated commitment to making public schools in Texas the envy of the world, and to feel the palpable passion for educating ALL children equitably and optimally.

The group represented a cross section of the state’s public schools, small/mid-sized/large, rural/suburban/urban, from all corners of the state, and with every imaginable demographic make-up of students.  Most inspirational for me was to hear administrator after administrator articulate in their own way, and from the perspective of their own contexts, some of these powerful ideas that resonated with me:
  • ALL children deserve the best that Texas can offer in the way of public education.
  • Local communities must recapture a primary role in the crafting and directing of the education its own children.  No government and no bureaucrat can love, nurture, and educate a child like the local community can love, nurture, and educate a child.
  • Schools can and must continue to add value to the learning experience through innovative and creative approaches to learning task design.
  • School leaders must do a better job in sharing “our story” of the powerful work done in schools, every day, in a million ways (actually, about 5,000,000 ways – that’s how many children Texas public schools serve).
  • An ineffective accountability system continues to marginalize too many students.
  • Texas public schools can, must, and will adapt to changes in social contexts, new knowledge regardlng how the brain learns, advanced technological tools at our disposal, and the globalness of the world our students will live and work in as adults.
I feel very blessed to be a part of an organization that is committed to providing “student-centered schools, future-ready students.”  The future of Texas and its students is in good hands under the direction of these leaders.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

8th Habit

The late Stephen Covey has shaped my thinking for years, both through his speaking and his writing. One of his latter books is The 8th Habit (2004), which was a sequel to the book that made him famous (and rich): The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (1989).

Those Seven Habits, plus the 8th one he added 15 years later, are:
  1. Be proactive (A habit of “independence”)
  2. Begin with the end in mind (A habit of “independence”)
  3. Put first things first (A habit of “independence”)
  4. Think win-win (A habit of “interdependence”)
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (A habit of “interdependence”)
  6. Synergize (A habit of “interdependence”)
  7. Sharpen the saw (A habit of “continuous improvement”)
  8. Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

 While learning about and trying to implement all of the habits has been very beneficial to my personal growth, I have found a disproportionate amount of my time/effort in recent years focused on that 8th Habit.  It seems to be centered on service to others as much as it is about one’s self.  I find that I’m increasingly drawn to that others-centered kind of thinking.

I think often and intentionally about my own development and effectiveness in terms of Covey’s succinct but powerful framework of “the habits.”  SC’s thinking has pushed me to be a better human and a better leader.  (At least, I think I am better than I used to be in both respects).


RIP Stephen Covey.  A belated thanks from this admiring learner.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Web, Not Chart

Margaret Wheatley says that “the organizational chart never charts the organization.”  Organizations always resemble a cobbling together of partnerships rather than a tight chain of command.  The better graphic to conceptualize this is a web of interconnectivity.

Still, many leaders try to insist that the org chart rules and the chain of command is the holy grail.  The key underlying term here would be CONTROL.  When “permission” is required to work its way up, then back down, an elaborate command structure, then positive action, positive growth, and positive results are pretty much NOT guaranteed. 

Here are some Indicators of high performing organizations:
  • Employees throughout the organization grasp the vision and can see their role within that concept.
  • Employees are entrusted with the autonomy to make decisions within their purview, with the assumption and expectation that they will make those decisions in alignment with the organization's driving principles (not check-off boxes).
  • Significant resources are invested in the education (not just training) of employees along a broad range of skills, all in the interest of enhancing professional AND personal growth.
  • Information flows openly and freely in all directions throughout the web.  There are NO SECRETS that are kept from employees.
  • Leaders in the organization spend the lion's share of their time teaching, talking, promoting, and praising efforts aligned to those driving principles.
Sound like a place you'd like to work?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Irrelevant

My lovely bride of 36 years (Moe) often reminds me that we MUST see current movies, read current literature, stay digitally connected, etc., in order to remain relevant.  She wisely understands that as we approach our golden years it will be easy to begin coasting, to disconnect, as it were, from the hubbub of a very fast-paced modern world.  

Moe’s admonition to me has everything to do with us being able to engage and interact comfortably with our children and grandchildren right up to the point when the iconic large female tunes up for our final song.
  
I can’t help but draw connections to my chosen profession of education, but I think Moe's admonition is probably equally applicable to almost all other professions.  The world is changing at speeds and in ways we could not have even conceived only 10 years ago.  As professionals in any field of work, we risk becoming “irrelevant” if we choose to hang on to the old ways of doing things simply because they are the comfortable ways. 

In today’s environment of accelerated everything, “irrelevance” can overtake us rather quickly. 


All the more reason to keep LEARNING atop the list of our daily objectives.