Reframing Failure: When Failure Doesn’t Feel Like Failure

March 7, 2018

You hear it all the time. Some of the most successful people I know attribute their biggest wins to something they learned from a failure. Design Thinking is built around the principal of failing fast. Innovation requires a lot of ideas, and a lot of failure. Entrepreneurs are failing at unprecedented speeds. Yet, as I reflect on my almost 30-year career – I have a difficult time pinpointing any failure.

Of course, over 30 years I’ve failed hundreds (dare I say thousands) of times – small failures that feel huge in the moment, and bigger ones – having to do with specific projects, risks and even people. I know they’re there. I’m vulnerable enough to admit it – yet, I can’t put my finger on many. And I finally figured out why….

I have successfully re-framed my failure into things I’ve learned. 

And because I’ve learned so much, I wouldn’t change it for the world. But, if I really think about it – many people might construe them as failures.

Let’s talk about my gym. About four years ago I got it in my head that I wanted to own a personal training studio. I’ve been working out most of my adult life, have had some of the best personal trainers in the world and have made life (and body) changing decisions based on my level of dedication to the workout. I thought about a few things:

1)     I’ve been talking about improving performance at work for many years – but now I knew that improving my physical performance contributes to my professional performance. Check – that’s aligned.

2)     I am an executive coach that works with leaders across industries and sectors. I know  that physical well being matters when trying to lead organizations (meaning, leading organizations is tough to do when you are sleep deprived, nutritionally unbalanced and stressed out). Check – owning a personal training studio is aligned there too.

3)     I also work with entrepreneurs. Being one myself will only enhance my empathy, knowledge and practice. Check – also aligned.

4)     Being an Owner of a “woman owned business” was one of the coolest things I could do.

5)     Going to work locally, in yoga pants? Who would complain about that?

So with everything aligned so perfectly, I set out to do something I had no idea how to do…..I’ve never started a business and I’ve never run a fitness studio. I had twinges of negative self-talk (‘what are you DOING?’). I even had my own executive coach tell me “it’s much cheaper to join a health club then to build one.”

November, 2014, was the ‘soft opening’ of Underground Fitness Ahwatukee. It took about eight months for me to figure it all out. I networked (and met some incredible people who helped me tremendously), I learned about insurance requirements, commercial real estate, buying equipment, hiring trainers and paying taxes. And, I did all of this while continuing my job in Corporate America (something had to pay the bills.) I was set. The doors opened officially in January, 2015.

In February, 2018 after much angst, consternation and loss of sleep I sold 85% of my business to two very successful fitness professionals. I lost a lot of money over the years, spent a lot of time, but learned more that I ever thought I’d learn.

So then, was that a failure? From an outcome perspective – well, yes, it was a failure. A big one. The outcome was I had less money, some debt and less ownership. Not what an entrepreneur is shooting for as they enter into a project. However, when I consider the journey and really reflect, I just can’t call it a loss.

Here’s what I learned:

·        You can do whatever you want. You just have to have the courage to do it. I think I took this one for granted. Courage is what gets you off and running.

·        Looking at a big project can be hugely overwhelming – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Keep your eye on the North Star, but figure out the important steps to get you there and focus your energy on knocking those out of the park.

·        Surround yourself with people that do know what they’re doing. Be humble enough to ask for help. And value the expertise that they bring.

·        Trust your gut. TRUST YOUR GUT.

·        Except the anxiety that comes with ownership. Some nights you’ll sleep like a baby, and some nights you’ll be haunted by the “what ifs.”

·        Consider the worst-case scenario. In most cases, what you make up during your sleepless nights is WAY scarier than reality.

Owning that gym was something that I was very proud of. I loved taking people there, I loved seeing the expression on their faces when they realized it was ‘legit’. I loved the pride that came with entrepreneurship. And, I’m so lucky to have failed, yet still have all of that. I’m still a minority partner, I still have some interest and I still work out there. Almost every single day. I haven’t run from it – I’ve just learned all of the lessons I was supposed to learn and have moved on.

Medius Advisory Group is also my company. I get all the benefits I described, yet this time, I do know what I’m doing. I have a partner that keeps me honest and certainly humble, and I am continuing to learn every single day from the great clients with whom I surround myself. I’m not sure I would have had the courage for Medius if I didn’t prove to myself that I had it for Underground Fitness.

They say everything happens for a reason. Maybe failure was the reason.

Don’t Buy the Wireless, and 9 other things I learned in 2015…

January 21, 2016

I know it’s late – it’s January after all.  Don’t most of these types of “looking back” sentiments come out the last week of December?  Doesn’t matter. I learned a few things recently and in my reflection I realized, I should share….maybe others can learn a few things simply from reading this….or maybe they too will need to experience it.  Or maybe, I just want to write them down.

  1. Don’t buy the wireless.  We recently took the kids to an all-inclusive vacation in Cancun.  It was beautiful.  The weather was perfect, the resort was clean and big and filled with great food and fun – they even had sushi (which was included in the all-inclusive – so think about it – all you can eat sushi!).  The only thing we could really find to complain about was, you had to pay extra for the wireless.  It wasn’t about the money really – it was more about the fact that living without wireless shouldn’t be that hard.  Well, it was. Especially at the beginning.  But guess what?  We did it and it was wonderful.  We were more present with each other….we actually looked at each other and talked.  And we decompressed.  And much to the disbelief of my children, it was all definitely still there when we got home and the wireless was free again.
  2. Stress – it really is all in your head. Because that is where your central nervous system is – in your head.  And I’ve recently learned stress has the ability to screw up your central nervous system in a pretty profound way.  “It’s like you’ve been driving with the parking brake on” was what I was told by my new superhero friend, Dr. Jason Kolber (livinginline.com).  So this year, I’m going to spend some quality time (and money – because duh, it’s worth the investment), on getting that parking brake down. I wonder what is possible if I not only align my heart and spirit, but my mind too.
  3. Mom really does know best – in this case, I’m not talking about my mom, I’m talking about me.  Sometimes as parents we are faced with what feels like impossible decisions…..do we do what is best for our kids in the long run, or what will make them happier today?  What I’ve learned in my 15 years of being a mom is this…it depends.  How will we ever know the impact of either decision unless we do it?  And, in most cases, you can’t do both.  So, here is what I learned – trust your gut.  There is really something to be said for women’s intuition (I can’t speak for whether or not men also have it).  Recently I made a decision that was hard on my son – but he rose to the occasion and it turned out (so far) to have been the absolute right thing to do.  Is there anything more rewarding than that?
  4. Patience is truly a virtue. It’s a lesson for me that has been extremely long in coming, however, once learned is a beautiful thing. Sometimes I just believe that being patient is the lesson itself.  It will happen (whatever it is) – but not until you learn the lesson of patience.
  5. If I was Queen for a Day, I would want a “listening machine” so that I could best understand what was needed in the land. I learned this year (and I know this was a cumulative learning) that I don’t have to have all the answers.  And, when in fact I think I do, I should reevaluate. Instead, I need to be able to ask all the right questions and then listen closely for the wisdom in the answers. Fortunately for me, there is Waggl (www.waggl.it).  Now, I can actually be queen for the day!
  6. The Teacher Appears when the Student is ready. I can’t say I’m just learning this now.  I actually have been learning this one for a long time.  However, recently I’ve learned it again. And again. And, frankly, again.  It seems the people that have been coming into my life in the last six months have been coming there because I’ve finally be ready to receive them – to meet them, listen to them, help them and have them help me.  Don’t get me wrong – I believe that I have been extra blessed when it comes to surrounding myself with amazing teachers.  I think when the universe was handing out the teachers, I got in the line several times….but it continues to amaze me when the perfect people appear at EXACTLY the right time.
  7. Why yell when you can whisper?  This is a new one.  And it was said to me so beautifully, so casually, as though everyone just knew this.  Dr. Elissa Katz (livinginline.com) said this to me only a few days ago and it’s hasn’t stopped vibrating in my mind.  Of course!!!  Why yell, when you can whisper?  If I have to say it, and write it a million times to be able to do it, that’s what I’m going to try to do this year…..whisper instead of yell.  I love it.
  8. Gratitude actually changes your brain chemistry. Did you know this? I’ve heard this one a few times myself.  Try it.  I dare you.  Spend a few minutes – even one minute, each day being grateful and see what happens.  Better yet, share your gratitude – tell someone you are grateful for them and change the brain chemistry of two people. I don’t know much about chemistry, or brain chemistry….but I learned this, and I’m so grateful.
  9. Karma is real. I mean it. But only if you are doing good because you want to do good – not because you expect anything in return.  You get what you give, you get back what you put out….call it what you will.  There is really something to be said for this “energy” thing.

10. I know how to fly an airplane. This is a new one – something that Randall Stutman (crainc.com) explained to me this morning at a meeting when we were talking about confidence.  Here’s how he said it…. “look, he said, “I know how to fly an airplane.  I know how to take off, how to fly it, and how to land.  You might not think I know how to do it, but I do.  I’ve done it a thousand times.  So, if you tell me I don’t know how to fly an airplane, I really don’t care.  It doesn’t shake my confidence.  Because the fact is, I know how to fly an airplane”.  Of course, for me that’s a metaphor.  I don’t know how to fly an airplane, but I am certain that I know how to do a lot of other things.

I guess the point is, I’ve learned some pretty big things this year, and I’m sure that trend will continue.  The goal is to continue to apply what I’ve learned, share it with others and be open to the lessons that come along with it.

How to have the best business trip ever in 14 easy steps:

October 22, 2015

How many times have you gotten on a plane, then gotten off the plane, gotten into the car /taxi/bus/train and headed to the hotel? Then, gotten less than a decent night sleep, woke up, drank bad coffee and headed directly to the ballroom/conference room/window-less space to work for the day? Repeat 2, 3 or 4 days in a row. Add in a few meals, maybe one workout (if you’re lucky) and then do the whole thing in reverse to go home. Countless times, right? You can sleepwalk through the routine, especially if it’s a trip you’ve made before, right?

But what if it was different? What if you decided that the entire trip was going to be a learning adventure?

I had one of those this week. Here’s how it happened:

Step One:

Start the trip off in the right frame of mind. Before the flight do something inspiring – I don’t know, learn something? For me this time I attended a leadership talk given by a great friend and mentor with really practical advice. Head to the airport with your brain swirling about how you might be able to apply what you learned. Get through security and boarding without a hitch. Arrive at your destination early.

Step Two:

Meet a friend/colleague for dinner. In this case, it’s not about the food it’s about the company – so make it a really good friend, or close colleague. Talk about what is inspiring you, what you learned and what your plans are. Get so excited you don’t really remember what you ate.

Step 3:

Go to bed early and really sleep well. Wake up early and get a run in – clear your mind and ready yourself for a great day.

Step Four:

Find yourself a new thing to learn and some great people to learn it from. Maybe it’s a new way of doing something, maybe it’s a new subject matter altogether. Maybe it’s a different leadership style. Regardless of what it is, wrap yourself up in learning all about it. Then find the coolest people that are doing it and get on their calendar. Be relentless, show them you are smart and different and mean business. Once you get on their calendar, (and now we’re back to step four), meet with them and learn as much as you can about them and how they do whatever it is they do. Maybe you’ll get really lucky and they will ask you to shoot a video with them.

Step Five:

Have lunch, or drinks, or a coffee (or in my case a Vitamin water) with an old friend, and colleague. Reminisce, share stories, and learn something else. Be vulnerable, tell the truth, and ask for help. Bask in the familiarity, yet feel the time span and all you have learned within it. Be grateful.

Step Six:

Eat dinner with any of the fun people listed above in a great restaurant (and I mean a really great one). Drink good wine, eat dessert and enjoy the celebration of who you are with.

If they give you a cape, put it on and be the superhero you are.

Step Seven:

Participate by phone on a leadership call back at the office. Offer suggestions for changing culture. Drive process improvements to enhance business results. Enjoy the fact that your boss is being supportive and appreciative of your efforts.

Step Eight:

Meet with another awesome person that you haven’t yet met in person, yet have deeply connected with on the phone. Reconnect with her in person and share ideas, listen and learn. Stretch your brain to help her solve complex problems, meet her team, and figure out ways to take what you learned back to your team.

Step Nine:

More food, more dinner, more great conversation and this time include tequila (Patron Silver of course) and guacamole.

Step 10:

Lead a webinar in which you are introduced as an “industry thought leader”. Notice that the people that join the call are your cheerleaders from all phases of your career. Nail the timing perfectly – as though you actually rehearsed it that way. When you are done, order a salad for lunch. Have too much adrenaline to actually eat.

Step 11:

Write a blog, edit and publish it within an hour. Still too happy to eat.

Step 12:

Leave your new friends with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Head back to the airport with dreams of the future, of possibilities and with salad in hand (to eat on the plane). When you get to the airport, skip the salad and eat frozen yogurt instead.

Step 13:

On the plane write down all the important things that you learned.

Adults learn by doing, then reflecting. Be sure to reflect.
Don’t forget any of it. Replay it in your mind. Think about your next steps, how to keep it alive and how to bring it back to your people at home. Introduce all the cool people you met on the trip to each other via email.

Step 14:

Upon arriving home, unpack your cape.

What if we thought like Olympic Athletes?

October 16, 2015

What if we practiced 90% of the time and only performed 10% of the time?  That’s what elite athletes do….they spend most of their time figuring out how to get the most out of their body – how to get themselves to the top of their performance game, so that when they get on the field, the court or the track they are fully prepared to WIN.  What if we did that at work?

What if we understood, that like athletes, our employees come to work every day in hopes of winning?  Would that change the way we managed them?

Performance Management: Would we wait until the annual performance review to give them feedback, or would we give feedback to them real time?  Let’s consider the elite athlete…. An Olympic swimmer hires a coach to help her make it to the games – the coach designs the practices, watches both real time and on film to track how the swimmer is doing.  Together they analyze the performance, make tweaks and the swimmer tries again. And again.  And what if during that practice the coach notices that the swimmer’s left elbow is dragging, thus slowing down her pace, however minimally.  Would the coach wait until the year-end review to give the swimmer that feedback?  OF COURSE NOT. That’s actually silly.  Yet, this is what we do at work.  We wait to give the feedback until the “appropriate time” in the performance review cycle.

If the coach were to do that, here’s what might happen:
– The swimmer would likely not know herself to lift their elbow.  She wouldn’t improve the .10% of a second that was necessary to make the difference between fourth place and the gold medal.
– The swimmer would continue to practice not lifting her elbow, and when she finally got the feedback, it would be much harder to unlearn the old way and then to relearn the new way – instead of just making the minor correction at the time.
– The swimmer would never really trust the coach again – because the coach allowed her to do it the wrong way rather than to have the difficult conversation about making a change.

That whole scenario seems ridiculous and contrived.  Here’s how it really plays out: The coach would scream into the pool, ‘LIFT YOUR ELBOW’, and the swimmer would lift her elbow, and that would be the end of it.  There would be no drama, no feedback models necessary to figure out the best way to offer the feedback.  The coach would give the feedback, the swimmer would incorporate the feedback and be better prepared to win.  If the coach didn’t deliver the appropriate feedback, he would likely be fired.

And then, imagine if at the end of the year the coach gave the athlete a ‘3 out of 5’ for a performance rating.  A 3 out of 5 is good he’d say.  You met expectations, you did exactly what you set out to do!  Again, that sounds ridiculous.  How could an Olympic athlete actually be a 3?  Very likely, the swimmer would not get back in the pool for that coach again.

Why then at work is that whole scenario OK?  Why do we assume that the feedback is going to be taken in the wrong way?  Why do we think that not giving the feedback is acceptable?  What if we treated employees as though they were striving to be the best they could be.

What if we assumed employees had an intention for greatness and we acted as if it were our job to guide them there? 

Would we act differently with that frame?

Goal setting works the same way.  The Olympics are every four years.  That’s a big, hairy goal.  In fact, at work, that is so big we might actually call it a “corporate objective”.  And the goal itself is actually to qualify for the Olympics.  And then there are micro-goals under that – personal bests,  national competitions, and key qualifying events (among many others).  There is a tremendous amount of effort and sweat, and successes and failures that lead up to those micro goals, which drive the big goal and corporate objectives.  Four years’ worth in fact.   Yet, together the coach and the athlete sit down and chart the course – when are the trials, when are the world championships, what races can we do to get ready for those?  How can we practice?  Where is it OK to fail, and where do I have to be at the top of my game?  What else can I do to fully develop – what are the ancillary things that will make me more successful (sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress, etc)?

Do we really think about those things at work?  Or instead, do we run from one thing to the next, not really understanding how everything fits together?  Can we work with our employees to create meaningful short term micro goals that drive the bigger organizational goals, that ultimately lead to being the best in the world?  An opportunity that realistically comes along only once every four years?  Can we identify those corporate objectives, vs. the goals and micro goals and then understand the “near and clear” steps it takes to achieve those?

Can we focus on getting a teeny bit better every day, rather than trying to go from good to perfect in one conversation?

And can we make the leap that our employees want and expect that kind of coaching and feedback from us in order to help get them there?

We have Olympic Athletes hidden among us at work.  Those people that need the right coaching, the right feedback and the right type of goal setting to just help them be the best they can be…and in some cases we’ll never know it, because we give them a 3.  And then they fire us (or move to another company), or become so disenfranchised that they actually give up.  And because of our process, our system, our fear…they don’t reach their potential.  That’s the exact opposite of the job of a coach.  What if we operated as Olympic Coaches instead of managers at work? Maybe we’d get Olympic Performances.

I Heart Millennials, part 2: If you can’t beat them, help them

August 3, 2015

This is a follow up to my first post on Millennials. Read that one here.

I was sitting at a luncheon not too long ago. Around the table was a group of senior HR leaders from different companies – these were smart people, well connected with great backgrounds. We were brought together by a well-respected industry leader and mentor of mine. The question on the table was, “What is the biggest challenge you will face this year from a talent perspective?”

Some of the answers:

“Talent acquisition – it’s really hard to find good people for the kind of jobs we have available.”

“Retention – The Millennials – they stay for a couple of years and then they bail.”

“Development – finding the time, money and the right opportunities to actually prepare people for the next step.”

And as we went around the table, everyone said one of these same things, in his or her own words, from a different company’s perspective. I was not at all surprised.The conversation then turned to what we were doing about it. That’s where I was surprised.

These were smart leaders – men and women who spent their careers in and around HR, tackling these challenges, or similar ones all along the way. But here is a synopsis of what was said:

“We are offering retention bonuses with long vesting cycles.”

“We’ve been making a lot of counter offers, but that doesn’t always work. I’d say it works 20% of the time.”

COUNTER OFFERS? I couldn’t believe my ears! Why would you want to save someone who is already halfway out the door? How much engagement could you possibly squeeze out of a person who already accepted another offer? And if that person actually was to stay, how engaged would he or she really be? Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for counter offers, but it really shouldn’t be a talent retention strategy.

What if:

  • We accepted the fact that Millennials can’t be bought?
  • We recognized what we often view as entitlement is actually a preference for working differently, and more efficiently?
  • We tried to give them what they wanted in the allotted time we were given with them?
  • We made their experience so good, and so rich that they’d tell all their friends about how it spring boarded their career?

And what if we actually helped them to become great leaders that went off to invent things, or run big companies or start foundations? What if they would attribute at least part of that success to us? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

So let’s do it. Let’s begin to build programs with that in mind. Let’s design employment brands and on-boarding programs that lay out expectations clearly – and show what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for us.

For Millennials (at least the ones I know and talk to), it’s about their everyday experiences. So, let’s create opportunities that can achieve what they need: hands-on experience, constant learning and growth, and meaningful, purpose-driven work.

I took my hypothesis to the test. I went to one of my favorite millennial “sounding boards”; A very successful working mom who just turned 32. Here’s what she said:

We (millennials) are growing up in a world where we have been taught to find the VALUE in things. We aren’t money driven and don’t have company loyalty beyond what’s logical. In my specific case, I’d take a 20-30% pay cut to work 4 days a week. It would make me happier and therefore more productive, increase my retention, and I work efficiently enough that it would have zero impact on my output. 

If you let me wear jeans and sneakers, I’d take another $5k pay cut. Because I don’t see the VALUE in pantsuits.

If you gave me a fun, comfortable work environment, and didn’t monitor my internet use, I’d take another pay cut. 

Alicia, she said “we are not driven by money, we are driven by the yearning for better value in our opportunities.”

So, instead of trapping the millennials in entry-level jobs for which they can see no end, let’s put an end in sight. Let’s say, “You do this for 18 months, and then you move to your next thing – either inside the company or outside.” But then during that 18 months we make it compelling. We make it valuable. We make it about learning while they are doing. It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive.

After 18 months we have other people lined up to take these jobs. The original group has the option of moving up, or moving on. If they decide they want to stay – we’re thrilled – because it’s cheaper to onboard them, and they already know and embrace our culture. If they move on, we’re also thrilled because they filled their commitment and we were able to plan for it.

And so it will go and continue. Some will stay, and some will leave. But we won’t pay anyone to stay that doesn’t want to be here. And we can leverage the engagement/excitement of new folks every 18 months – we get fresh ideas, thoughts and perspectives. And we can be purposeful and intentional about the turnover. And at what cost? That they can wear sneakers to work?

What if we just thought about things differently and stopped trying to fit the Millennials of today into the mold of yesterday.

Employee Engagement: Stop Measuring, Start Doing

July 26, 2015

We’ve all heard the cliche… “What gets measured, gets done”. In the case of employee engagement – I say maybe not. For years organizations have been measuring employee engagement. Organizations like Gallup and Towers and Hay Group have made millions of dollars administering employee engagement surveys that ask hundreds of questions and measure how people feel at work at some given point in time. Don’t get me wrong – it’s what organizations are asking for, and I’ve done it too – for years and years. But my question is this,

How come, after all these years of measuring employee engagement, we still haven’t moved the needle on the very basic service profit chain?

Does it really matter if employees are engaged anyway, as long as they’re doing their work? You tell me… Engaged employees are happier and more productive employees. They connect more strongly with their organization and are more loyal to the mission. They are what drives a workforce forward, particularly amid change – because they do what is required AND MORE. So, if this is true, why then, after all this time, don’t business leaders (and HR for that matter) understand the correlation between business outcomes and employee engagement? Why haven’t most companies been able to get it right?

A little history

In the early 1990’s Dr. William Kahn introduced the term Employee Engagement when talking about an employee’s ‘discretionary effort’. Then, in the mid 90’s Gallup came up with the Q12 – the 12 simple but critical questions that employers can use to measure how much of this employee-based discretionary effort is being used to drive their productivity. The results were shocking. Let’s put it this way, results today are the highest they’ve been since 2000, and they are at 31%. 31%?! That is the percentage of engaged employees we have in America.

So, we’ve been measuring this for over twenty years and we’re still only at 31%? WHY? (For more on the Q12, click here)

Here’s why

Organizations and the people that lead them don’t “just do it” (to steal a line from Nike). Oh, they think they’re doing it. They build action teams. They rally around it. They share the results (at least some do).

But how many can truly say they are focused on engaging the hearts and minds of employees as they drive their strategy forward?

I recently met with a senior leader who was discussing his strategy with me. He showed me his PowerPoint deck, his communication plan and his much longer execution plan. It was thorough and well thought out. He had reviewed it with this Board of Directors, as well as the Executive team. Our conversation went like this:

Him: What do you think?
Me: Are you sure, you really want me to be honest?
Him: Yes, of course, that’s why I asked.
Me: (and as always, this is where the coaching gets dicey – does he really want the truth?? Have I built enough trust to give him the truth? In this case, I thought yes). I think it’s a great plan – it’s thoughtful and almost complete – yet, there is a big component missing. Nowhere in this 20-page plan is the mention of the word “employees”. How do you expect to get any of this done without thinking about how to engage the employees?
Him: No words – his jaw dropped.

This is a leader that is typically very in tune with the organizational culture. He is always concerned about communicating plainly and with transparency, yet he is absolutely not alone. How many leaders truly understand that if they focus on the employees – on real employee engagement – what Dr. Kahn and Gallup meant from the beginning, that we really wouldn’t need to measure anything except business results? And they would speak for themselves.

But why is it such a leap? Why don’t business leaders truly understand and believe in this notion that employee engagement drives business results – actual outcomes? My guess is because they fear taking their eye off the results ball for one minute to focus on something else – even if it’s a driver. They believe in their heads that engagement drives results, but do they really believe it in their hearts? If they did, overall engagement in this country would undoubtedly be higher than 31%, wouldn’t it?

Or, maybe they do believe it, but don’t know what to do about it. Maybe they think if they just measure it it’s bound to get better, right? Well congratulations to us. We’ve proven that’s not the case.

Here’s some good news.

There is something that we can do about it. I’ve been in exploration mode lately and have come across some really great tools that get to the essence of what Gallup has been talking about. They don’t measure engagement, they just do it.

Waggl is a tool I have just recently launched at Apollo Education Group. It is a real time pulsing platform that allows leaders to ask questions of large groups of employees and receive anonymous, real time feedback, quickly. It also gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinion and vote on answers that their peers have submitted to which they feel particularly aligned. It’s fast, it’s cool, it’s transparent and it creates a culture of listening. And, since one of Gallup’s 12 questions is: “At work, my opinion seems to count”, it is completely relevant to driving engagement. Not measuring engagement, driving it. It’s very easy to use – only takes a minute to create and the best part is, the results are real time so you (and everyone else) can get them immediately – it even puts the results into a presentation format if that’s what you’re into. Waggl was recently written up in Wall Street Journal.

Gallup also asks: “I know what is expected of me”. How can we be engaged if we are constantly trying to work out what is the important stuff? Enter Workboard. This is a simple app that managers actually choose for themselves – no heavy IT infrastructure required. Once downloaded, the tool gives managers the ability to determine who is on their team (think beyond direct reports – alas, this also includes cross functional teams – reaching beyond silos), and then align weekly goals – not lofty, prophetic goals – but real, execution based goals that either get completed in that week, or don’t. There are several other really useful bells and whistles embedded – like badging, scheduling and a myriad of things that make project implementation much easier.

Are you satisfied with 30%?

Maybe it’s better than this in your organization but is it good enough to drive the kind of outcomes you are looking for? Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some companies out there that are getting it right. We know them, we talk about them, and we benchmark them. How does your organization measure up? Are you simply measuring it, or are you actually doing it? Tools like Workboard and Waggl have made it easier. But to really capture hearts and minds of employees it takes courageous people to step up and use the tools and do the very hard work – not just measure it. And isn’t it worth it? Don’t we spend enough time at work to want to create an atmosphere where people can be at their best, where they have the tools and resources to be successful? Where people care about each other, and help each other grow and learn? I certainly do.

I Heart Millennials

July 23, 2015

WHAT??? With everything I’ve read lately, that sounds almost like sacrilege. How can I love millennials when they are selfish, entitled and lazy? How can they be good, when they are demanding things at their young age that I would never have dreamed of demanding? They want, want, want… all the while they are threatening to leave – to go somewhere where their demands are not so unreasonable. (For those that don’t know what millennials are, see the Urban Dictionary definition here.)

What do they want that is so terrible?

Development? Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound so bad, even at my advanced age. They want to learn and grow and not be stagnant. They want to collect and gather meaningful experiences out of which they can reap valuable lessons – both in business and in life. I have to admit – I get that. I want to keep learning too, and I look for the lesson in everything. And I certainly get bored if I’m doing the same thing again and again.

Flexibility? They want to work remotely? Do more than one thing at a time? Work like they do everything else – when they want to, not according to the strict 9-5 hours that the baby boomers are so used to? Well, let’s admit it, that doesn’t sound too bad either, does it? I wanted that when I was their age, and I want it now.

To be listened to? Granted, in many situations their experience is limited, so why would anyone listen to them? BECAUSE THEY ARE GENERALLY SMART and see things differently than we do. Because of when they grew up, they join the workforce with a different sense of things – a different vibe of the world. Their eyes see differently than ours do.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t think they are any different than I was at their age. I wanted all of those things, and I still do. They have access to so much more information than we ever did.

The world is so much smaller, we are so much more connected.

We can Skype and Face Time and see each other while we talk on the phone. And because we work so much more globally now, this phenomenon occurs at all times of the day and night.
We can work from virtually anywhere – home, Starbucks, even our car. There is no place that doesn’t have WI-Fi, and we have all the codes. We are on 24/7 and we’re actually fine with that.
Development is experience-based, and can be virtual, and if it does take place in the classroom, the classroom can be in Japan, and we can be learning in New Jersey.
The fact is, when I was their age none of this was possible. My first job was in New York City at the Citicorp Center on 53rd Street and Park Avenue. I worked on the 57th floor. When I printed something at my desk I had to take the elevator to the 40th floor, cross over the elevator bank and then take a different elevator two floors up to 42 in order to pick up what I printed. There was literally a farm of printers. Because Citi was so progressive, I had a MAC – it wasn’t a laptop, but I was lucky because the typical alternative was an IBM computer that didn’t even have Windows. When I was their age, sharing information was difficult and slow, and technology didn’t support many of the things that millennials want today – they were completely out of reach (even unimaginable then).

So, in the world they grew up in, where we can learn constantly and engage with each other in real time any time, I ask this:

Is what millennials want unreasonable? Why do we need training programs and articles and webinars for how to manage millennials?
I surround myself with millennials at work and at home. I own a gym in addition to being a leader in a corporate job. Most of the people on both of my teams would be described as millennials. I love working with them. They are smart, and see the world differently than I do. If they don’t know something, they Google it. I do that too, but it’s a learned behavior, where for them it’s as natural as brushing their teeth when they get up in the morning. They instinctively look for and easily find information they need; because they’re information natives they’re also discerning about the information they choose to believe. Their sense of connection is completely different than mine – it’s larger and more fluid. As a result, they are exposed to hundreds of thousands of more ideas and expressions than I am. I tap in to that – I learn from it. I respect it and I relish it. I Heart it.millenials textBut don’t take my word for it – they’re everywhere.

Go find a few. In fact, make a deal with yourself – before you write them off completely do some exploration. Find three or four men or women who are currently in the workforce and are between 22-30 years old. Invite them for coffee and then interview them. Ask them questions to better understand how they think. If you can’t think of your own questions, I came up with a few for you:

What are you passionate about, and how do you plan to tie that to your work?
Describe the person who you will someday describe as the best boss you ever had?
What are the three most important issues you are dealing with right now?
How do you learn new things?
What insights did you have? What did you learn? My guess is that while not all millennials are the same, (we are talking about an entire generation here), you will realize at least some of them are a lot like you were at their age. And, maybe they need some help navigating our world as much as we need help navigating theirs. You’ve taken the first step now – there is no place to go but forward.

The Team Behind the Team

July 20, 2015

When I worked at the United States Olympic Committee I was proudly part of the ‘team behind the team’. The team that worked relentlessly to ensure that every detail was perfect such that when the athlete stepped on their world stage, their only thought was their gold-medal winning performance.

When you watched the US Women’s soccer team win the world cup this month, you didn’t think about the team behind the team – but believe me, there was one there in Canada that propelled that team to take home the trophy.

Who is on your team behind the team? Great leaders always have them – those individuals that support, encourage, coach, question and push them towards greatness. They do it unselfishly because they believe in that leader or person. The team behind me is large and its members come and go.   All of them play a critical role – some offer advice, some open doors and some really teach. In fact, the team members behind me, while they don’t know each other, all see my strengths from different angles and believe in me from their vantage point.

They aren’t afraid to tell me the truth, question my assumptions or push on my thought process – and that’s what makes them so important.

But the most important thing about the team behind the team is that they are clear on what my goals are and do what they can to help me achieve those goals. And because of that perfect clarity and alignment – we have the secret ingredient that every team needs: TRUST.

I’ve been working with a leader lately who is taking some huge, courageous culture building steps and they are scary. He can do it – he has both the brain and the brawn. The other day he ran a series of town hall meetings for all employees. He was addressing some dicey issues, and afterwards, when I asked him how it went he said “I often think about Jack Nicholson saying ‘you can’t handle the truth’ but then I tuck that away and move forward”. I am definitely on his ‘team behind the team’ and I heard the request for support in that comment. And that’s what I gave him: the positive reinforcement and support he needed in that moment to continue on this difficult quest. And he trusted me enough to be vulnerable, share his doubts and let me know he needed the encouragement.

Organizations Are No Different

Like great leaders, great organizations also need “teams behind the team”. These are the support functions designed to build infrastructure, manage process, and create efficiency so that the front line team (in some cases called ‘the line’ or ‘the business’) can do their thing. I work in HR, and we are definitely the team behind the team. It is simply not our stage – we ensure the right people are on the team, that the team gets compensated appropriately and understand exactly what is expected of them. We work hard to ensure that they get the development they need to be successful so that when they go out on their world stage (or sales calls, or laboratory, or whatever true business they’re in) they have every expectation of success.

Sometimes people in support functions forget which team they’re on and what its real role of is.

Why do support teams sometimes operate as solo teams – as though they are the ones on the main stage?

Why does the HR team have their own set of goals, separate and apart from rest of the business? Oh, they link them to the business goals, but in reality aren’t they really working their own goals and calling their own success? Why can’t they be satisfied with being the team behind the team?

It comes down to trust. Do we actually all feel as strongly about the organization’s goals as we feel about the goals of our own team? Is it more important to understand a new performance review process, or in the case of Finance (another team behind the team), a new expense management system, or is it more important to diversify our business portfolio?

Some might say one drives the other. I politely disagree. Some might say we can do both. And maybe we can – but that’s where it gets hairy. That’s where we forget what comes first, and that’s where we lose trust in each other. Nobody is clear on what the REAL goal is.

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

We all play many roles. Sometimes we are the star of the show, and sometimes we are a valued member of the crew. What is most important is that we are consistently self-aware enough to understand which role we’re playing when.

If you are on the main team:

  • Have you surrounded yourself with a team behind you that has your best interest at heart, shares your vision and goals? Do they have the ability and intent to provide the support, coaching, tools and expertise you need to be successful?
  • Do you trust your team behind the team?

If you are on the “team behind the team”:

  • Are you clear on what the real goal is and are you genuinely committed to helping the team achieve it?
  • Does everyone trust each other to play their assigned roles and play them well?
  • Are you competing with the main team or supporting its win?
  • Is there trust between you and those you are supporting?

In sports it’s much easier. Winning is well defined, everyone knows who the players are. There are hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people behind those athletes supporting and pushing for the win and they don’t compete with the athletes they support.

It’s muddier in organizations — and sometimes it’s muddy personally when we’re on the team behind the team. But if we can figure out and embrace the role we are really playing, and what is really needed for the win, maybe — just maybe — we can be a part of an epic win with people we trust and support fully. With that, maybe we can all be champions.

Why is Food Always the Answer?

July 11, 2015

Why is Food always the answer?

I mean, it makes sense, when you think about it logically. Food is fuel, it’s calories. And calories are energy. And energy fuels, right? So logically, it makes sense. But in the day to day decisions and judgements we make about life, it seems that lately, regardless of the question, food is the answer.

When you are from NY and spend your entire life surrounded by great food, it’s not a surprise that life revolves around it….when it’s raining, you order in Chinese. It’s just what you do. And, similar to Pavlov’s dog, now, even though I’ve been out of NY for over a decade, when it rains I still always crave Mu Shu Pork and Lo Mein. The good news about this is – I live in Phoenix where it hardly ever rains…which is great because they really don’t know how to make Chinese food out here. But, I will not judge.

Moods can be changed, managed and enhanced by the right food. Arguments can be settled, milestones celebrated and families reunited with some great pasta and crusty bread. Broken legs and scraped knees can be mended by a creamy macaroni and cheese, and love can form over a plate of sashimi.

But, I’m talking about more than this. I’m talking about performance. I’m talking about even at work, the answer is always food.

For three years I had the great fortune to work at the United States Olympic Committee. I worked side by side with some of the world’s most elite athletes and their coaches. I watched as they conditioned their bodies, trained and practiced their sport with energy and determination. I learned that it was a package deal; that elite athletic performance came from a combination of the right balance of focus, preparation and recovery. And I don’t just mean physically.

These athletes spend a significant amount of time setting goals – understanding exactly; to a second or a millimeter, what it will take to go for the gold. They think about the qualifying competitions and work backward from there. They create mini- steps, short term milestones that will lead to great success. This takes a huge amount of focus – both mentally and physically.

The physical focus takes the form of energy management. When do they practice, train, and then recover? What do they eat that will drive this focus? How do they fuel their body, and their brain to take them to the next level? When do they rest? How do they recover? I learned that there is passive recovery – we laymen call that sleep. And there is active recovery – things like massage, meditation, visualization.

The question becomes simple – why do we expect that we can demand elite performance out of ourselves and our teams – yet we don’t value the things that drive elite performance. “Wait a minute, you’re saying, “but I do value those things. I eat well, I sleep and I even workout sometimes…..” Yet, we don’t value it enough to see it as our obligation to those things and people we care the most about. Taking care of our body translates to understanding what your family needs from you – YOU. We don’t view exercise as something that will drive our energy and mood such that we perform better at work either. We never make the connection between how we eat and the success at the meeting we just had. And when we only get 3 hours sleep the night before we simply drink a lot of caffeine and complain to our colleagues.

Elite athletes use food as fuel. I’ve seen them eat A LOT of food, and really enjoy it – but the good news for them is, they need that fuel to power them through their relentless practice to be the best in the world. They are also very careful about when they eat what…..

But, here in Corporate America – we don’t really think much about that. We have “fast food”. We actually call it that – food that is fast, so we don’t need to think about it, we can just gobble it down regardless of what it might do to our performance. We have cafeterias – some of which are actually subsidized by the company for whom they serve, and yet they still don’t pay attention to how the food served there will fuel their employees. I don’t want anyone on my team eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes at lunchtime and then trying to come work at optimal performance levels – do you?

I pay attention to what I eat. I eat clean – I really do. I eat a lot, admittedly, but I eat healthy food that is very nutritionally sound. I also own a gym. I work out A LOT. I love working out and I love being at my gym, so it makes it easier for me than for most. However, I’m gaining weight lately and I feel sluggish, and my clothes are not fitting right. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care as much about what the scale says as I do about how I feel. And I feel sluggish. “I can’t believe It”, I say to my trainers, “I workout so much!” “What are you eating?” is all they want to know.

I’ve been going to yoga for over a year religiously. I love it. I’ve seen a huge change in my flexibility and balance and at 50 years old, that’s really important. Yoga challenges me, teaches me to be mindful and how to breathe to calm myself down. I love that. There is an advanced yoga workshop coming up in a few weeks. I don’t feel like I’m advanced yet, but after a year, I’m certainly better than where I started. So, I asked my yoga instructor if he thought I was ready for the advanced workshop. He mentioned a few poses and asked how easily I was able to do those. “Pretty well”, I explained – “but that big toe standing balance – I can’t get that one. I’ve been trying for a year and I can’t seem to progress”.

Guess what he asked me? “What do you eat?” ARE YOU KIDDING??? I can’t do big toe standing balance because my eating is wrong?? “Do you eat meat and dairy?” he said. “Yes”, I said, “but I don’t eat fried foods, I limit my sugar and I eat tons of vegies”. He said “meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation. You can’t do big toe standing balance with inflammation in your body”.

My husband is a chef. He cooks delicious food; mostly healthy but still delicious. Going to great restaurants and having an amazing “foodie” dinner with a big, bold glass of red zinfandel is one of the top three joys in my life. Food plays a critical role in my life. Yet I’m a high performer in almost every area of my life and I strive for nothing less. I have high expectations and I’ll do whatever it takes to reach them. I’m never going to stop eating. I enjoy meat and dairy, more than I enjoy doing big toe standing balances, so I’m going to make that choice. I’m going to continue to go to great restaurants and eat great food when I want to – but it will be my choice and I’ll do it mindfully. I will never stop caring about what goes into my body and I’ll never stop taking care of it. It’s all I really have, and all my kids have. But there is balance, and there are choices.

But fundamentally I guess, I still have to ask….why, oh why does it always come down to the food??

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