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Showing posts from February, 2014

Which is Better -- Great Leadership or Great Management?

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr
Neither. What you need is a brand. 
But since most people don't think of branding as a business tool, here is the logic in traditional business terms.
The positives:
--With great leadership, the energy around the vision gets people excited. They want to follow the light. The leader is the light. You may not know exactly what things will look like once the vision is realized, but you want to be on the plane that takes you to that faraway place.
--With great management, the natural need of an employee for stability, predictability, order and fairness is supported. You wake up in the morning and you pretty much can plan your day. That's a nice feeling.
The negatives:
--Leaders tend to put their vision ahead of the people who work for them. This is the natural way of a leader. They are cognitively focused on the end state, not on what they think of as "handholding." This can be brutally painful for staff who want very much to be "managed in&…

Breaking The Coding Glass Ceiling

Computer programming is one of those skills we should all learn from birth. Photo by Graham via Flickr.
In the checkout line today, the cashier made a comment about how her job left her brain-dead.
I said, "In college I was a cashier too. I was so poor I ate Balducci's muffins for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
She said, "I'm an English major, so what can you expect, right?"
"Learn to code," I responded.
She said, "I minored in Japanese."
"Well then, your other choice is to join the CIA."
Personally I don't know how to code. I keep telling myself to learn, but unfortunately I'm too busy blogging.
Seriously, knowing how to code is critical to getting your foot in any door. You may never even use it. But lacking the literacy puts you at a major disadvantage.
For a lot of reasons women avoid learning code. It's the same as financial literacy. We have the vote, we have a checkbook, we have access to education, but it's almost…

10 Ways To "Think LinkedIn" At Work

Photo by LeI3nd via Flickr
The first part of this post deals with the "why" of internal networking, as in why is it important. The second part goes to the "how." 
I. Why To Do It
A. To Do Your Job Better
You wouldn't know it to see me at work, but in truth I am a huge introvert. Mostly I live in my head thinking creative thoughts. The necessity of dealing with other people can actually be painful.
Which may be great for writing. But it's not great for working. Because -- particularly in the knowledge/slash collaboration enterprise -- your value comes not only from what you do, but how well you understand the actual needs of the team and contribute to those.
Notice that I said "actual" -- at work you have to listen with your "third ear" for what is really wanted and needed. For example:  Customer service means identifying areas of frustration that the customer does not express.Project management means getting organized but also knowing the team …

First, Fire All The A*******s

Photo via Flickr by daveynin
Yes, really, let's just call them what they are, OK? 
Like skunks, you can spot them by their distinctive white stripe, combining: Sociopathic lack of feeling for others but exaggerated feeling for oneselfActual or convincing technical skillsChameleon-like ability to blend in anywhereMastery of suckup-nessAdvanced sense of entitlementThese people pretend to be a huge advantage for the organization, but in fact they come at quite a cost, because people know they're "trouble" and avoid them like the plague, leading to:
Workarounds, meaning loss of time - it takes twice as long to get stuff doneDuplication of effort, meaning loss of money- because people stay away from this person, but they both need to do the same thingDemoralization, meaning loss of staff either physically (they quit and take institutional knowledge with them) or emotionally (they check out and act like drones).Chaotic, inefficient systems, meaning inefficiency on the ground. …

Management By Listening

Photo via Flickr by Leonard John Matthews

Your entire job as a manager is to listen. Your entire job.
The reason you listen is to find out what is really going on, sufficiently that you can repeat it back as if you were expressing those very same sentiments.
The purpose of listening is not to solve problems other people can solve. 
The purpose of listening is not to do therapy. 
It's not a schmooze-fest.
Managers listen to improve productivity. Where are people wasting time, or duplicating effort? Why are they working that way, when there is another way so much easier? 
Why are they taking those assignments, when they're outside of scope?
What is happening at all those theater-stadium meetings, that take up so much of everyone's time?
Who is feeling frustrated, disempowered, blocked from doing what you're paying them to do?
What are the interpersonal conflicts?
People, and relationships, are not a small thing at work. They are huge.
You listen to improve the quality of relationshi…

5 Reasons Your Change Communication Plan Sucks

Photo by filedump via Flickr
1) You're Perceived As Out-Of-Touch.
Most people aren't executives, yet executives are the one doing the change communication. That's why, other than the CEO, mostly non-executives should be doing the explaining. The change team should be working privately to coordinate what gets said and how.
2) You Tolerate Infighting & Turf Wars Among The Executive Team
The older you get, the higher on the career ladder, the more mature, right? Wrong! No way! Completely no way! It is really eye-opening how people earning in the six figures and more tend to act like six-year-olds fighting over the last scoop of ice cream. What's funny, and sad, is that they think other people don't see it. Believe me, they see it. And when executives are not unified, the message is not unified, and the staff ignores all of it.
3) You Ask For Opinions When It's Too Late To Change Anything, Or You Don't Really Care What People Think In The First Place
Once you'…

Workplace Bullying Is A Form Of Domestic Violence, Counsel Victims Accordingly

Photo by Corey Seeman via Flickr
The Workplace Bullying Institute has a wealth of resources online for anyone interested in studying the phenomenon of workplace bullying, or advocating on behalf of victims.
And we need to advocate for them. Because people who are currently in the process of being bullied at work are suffering on so many levels, it's not realistic to ask them to fight back right then and there.
Just like when someone is getting beat up at home, you don't tell them to put up their dukes while they are still in the same home as the abuser. And under their control.
WBI notes that there are three parallels between workplace bullying and domestic violence:
1. The motive is control and domination, and nothing else. It's not about work, it's not about love. It is about treating a human being like a plaything, a thing. Dehumanization.
2. Surrounding parties tend to stay away from the situation, especially if they don't personally see anything that can be directly…

10 Things The Government Must Come To See About Itself

Photo by haglundc via Flickr
My older daughter is taking a class called Visual Rhetoric. This is a fancy way of saying that photos can be interpreted differently, depending on the perspective you bring.
I was in the new Safeway Saturday night, the one by the mall. They have a health checking machine that gives you an eye test.
I got a lot of the test wrong. 
Or, to be scientifically more accurate, I'm myopic in at least one eye. (I don't know which one, because I held up my hand to my face just the way the avatar showed me to...except now I'm not sure if I should have held up the opposite hand, or the one on the same side.)
Either way, I can't see right, at least not totally.
In real life I tend to have the same problem. Things that are far away from me, that I don't care about, I can analyze to a T. I can tell you how J.C. Penney should reorganize, or how the Kardashians can reinvigorate their brand. I can deconstruct the federal government.
But things very close to me, …

Snobbery = Insecurity In Disguise

via Angie's List

When I was a little girl I remember learning to read on Cinderella. I stumbled over the syllables, and as I grew to understand them, got angry on Cinderella's behalf. Why should she be scrubbing floors while her evil step-sisters mistreated her?

On a superficial level, the book was about the jealousy that ugly people feel towards the fair. (Ugliness is represented as physical ugliness, which isn't fair.) But more deeply it is about how bad people try to keep good people down.

You can see this everywhere in life, any time you have a group of people getting together. Where there are people, there is always negative rivalry, and hatred of the gifted by those less so. This is a universal truth.

What is less universally known is that hatred frequently takes the form of snobbery. The hater presents their opinion as an axiomatic fact, knowing that the recipient's reasoning is equally as valid - or perhaps even superior.
It happens in families, which are supposed t…

Barbie Dolls? Or Blue Ribbons?

Strategy Is Life from Dannielle Blumenthal

Leaders are constantly saying that "people are our most valuable asset."

But if you look at where most leaders spend their time, it isn't on mentoring people.

Rather they are looking at strategy. Formally and informally, planning how to get to goal. Setting out the big ideas and the major methods. Adjusting, adjusting, adjusting along the way.

For organizations, strategy is life - it is all-important - because it gets us out of a very dangerous realm: people for people's sake.

In this kind of model, people have forgotten that the outside world places any kind of demand on the organization - on them, personally.

Caught up in the "bubble" that is the day-to-day functioning of the organization, they forget the outside world and focus instead on "getting along." Shushing conflict, indulging quirks and whims, soothing ruffled feathers.

Soon enough we are back in high school - and the popular kids rule.

Strategic focus…

Outsiders & Inbreeders: A Marriage Of Necessity

They're both right, of course.
At the one extreme, the outsider sees the organization as a sum of component parts. S/he isolates and evaluates the value of those parts against a desired framework. 
For example:
--The "big data" specialist asks: Given the people, processes and technologies in place right now, how do we synthesize and analyze it so as to arrive at useful insight on demand?
--The marketing specialist looks at these same elements and asks, where is the unified narrative we can call an identity? How can we make it comparable to or distinct from other entities claiming to do the same?
--The human capital specialist studies the place and wonders, how we can make the most of the talent that is there - to make people most productive?
These filters are like different kinds of eyeglasses the outsider wears. None of them are right or wrong. It's just a matter of knowing when you need sunglasses, bifocals or 3-D.
Of course the head of the organization should integrate a…

Toss the Bad Apples, Save the Strategy

Photo by KarmaBlue via Flickr

My daughter had a school assignment where she had to write conflict. The ending was not working. I said, "Where's the struggle? That's what the audience wants to see."

In a healthy organizational culture, people struggle every day toward a clearly envisioned result.
In an unhealthy culture, nobody knows what the destination is. 
Because every sign points to somewhere else.
Photo source here.
Faulty strategy is not usually the problem. Our desks are littered with analyses, most of them sound.
The root of the problem is toxic people, who get in the way of a real struggle to move things forward. Generally these fall into three categories:
* Fearful. Scared of making a mistake, scared of looking bad, scared of other people who are scared, their philosophy can be summarized as "Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." They always need to put on a good front.
* Power-hungry. These people want to be in cha…

Chirpy Communications & The Orwellian Enterprise

Photo by TimLewisNM via Flickr

One time, in a foul mood, I yelled at my daughter as we were getting in the car after grocery shopping.
And then, when I had calmed down, I was prepared to forget the whole thing. Except I couldn't cook up any "spin" for dinner.

She had put on her iPhone and taped me ranting. 
Now, let's say my daughter was an employee of mine, and I had to figure out what to do about it from a corporate communications point of view. Not able to ignore it, I might come up with a snooze-worthy version for the newsletter that reads something like this:
"Complex and sensitive subjects are no barrier to parent-child closeness in the Blumenthal home."
Or I could get more daring, more first-person and say,
"We had a slight generational conflict in the car." 
Yawn, yawn, yawn.
Let's say my daughter were to suggest actually playing the viral video, over and over on the TV monitors in the lobby near the front hall.
There I'd be, in the parking …

Dylan Farrow's Suffering Will Help Bring Darkness To Light, L.A. Times

I was dismayed to read Robin Abcarian's article about Dylan Farrow's public accusations against Woody Allen.

She blames New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for the public resurrection of the charges, which -- it should be emphasized -- never were proven in court.

However it should also be emphasized that sexual predators of 7-year-olds rarely get prosecuted.

Also that child victims overwhelmingly keep quiet rather than "make this stuff up."

Finally that it is implausible at best to believe a mother can "coach" a nearly 30 year old to spend a lifetime being traumatized.

Sadly, victims are disbelieved until they are believed, while alleged perpetrators enjoy the opposite privilege.

It is not surprising that a writer at the LA Times -- situated as it is in the home of fantasy, exploitation and image -- regrets the indelicate nature of all these allegations and counter-allegations.

After all they spoil the illusion that is Woody Allen. The one Diane Keaton trie…

Linking Brand To Business: USAID's New Mission Statement

Photo via Flickr, Office of Governor Patrick (Mass.)
It was great for me to hear that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had finally come out with its new mission statement and core values. It's a project I helped launch and worked intensely on throughout the research phase last year.

Here's the mission, which is almost lyrical. Truly, it is so simple and beautiful and accurate:

Source: USAID website
At Devex, Michael Igoe analyzes the mission statement and its implications fairly accurately. He revisits what he calls the old statement:
“On behalf of the American people, USAID is helping to accelerate human progress around the world by reducing poverty, advancing democracy, empowering women, building market economies, promoting security, responding to crises, and improving the quality of life through investments in health, agriculture, and education.”As I recall there were several old statements, none of them recognized as the "real" old one. That is wh…

That's What Feds Are For

Most people think of the federal government as a nameless faceless bureaucracy, and it often can be.
But federal employees are not the same as the buildings they work in.
Feds as a rule are very motivated to help. A few years ago a family member up North told me about someone who helped her son get his passport on time to he could make his trip overseas. 
The employee went above and beyond just explaining - the person literally took him through the process.
It is routine for my staff to spend hours researching a single inquiry from the public. It's not just because it's their job. It's because they actually care, maybe too much.
Federal workers have made our family celebrations happier, and our more painful times more bearable. They have generously welcomed us into their homes, and offered advice and a professional support network that people outside mostly never get to see.
They have even helped me heat up blocks of frozen kugels on a moment's notice. 
I remember serving on …