Category : Corporate Rebels

Jerry Garcia, Reluctant Rebel at Workjpeg

Acting without all the answers

Most people who step in to create change are incredibly reluctant to get involved.

Not because we don’t care. But because we realize that what it takes to solve the problem we see requires expertise far beyond what we know. We keep thinking that the experts should see the problem and step in. But when they don’t, we do. It’s pathetic, really, to paraphrase Jerry Garcia. So when should we step in and what is our role?

FAN2005412

The world is fast: an ode to daring work

The world is fast.

Fads.
Technology.
Terrorism.
Viral diseases.
Natural disasters.
Pop-up stores.
Food trucks.
Trending tweets.
Viral videos.
Bull markets.
Bear markets.
Sudden death.
Market crashes
Medical miracles.
ADD.
Random collisions.
Unexpected introductions.
The three a.m. eureka.

We are slow.

Resisting.
Doubting.
Looking for proof.
Seeking certainty.
Denying our yearnings.
Discrediting our hunches.
Waiting for someone else.
Hoping for a hero.
Worrying about mistakes.
Seeing things through a warped lens.
Remembering before.
Longing for the predictable.

Take one step.

Then another.
Skip.
Jump.
Run.
Twirl.
Let go.
Dive in.

Feel the energy.

The wind helping you go faster.
The unusual friendships.
The laughter from the unexpected.

The surprise that you are safe.
The surprise that work is different.
The relief that you are relevant. Running rather than being dragged.

The world is fast and furiously asking us to take our feet off the brakes.

We are all skidding. Take your foot off the brake.

Steer into your work.

Into your life.
Into the world.

 

 

Supergirl

Myths and privileges

 

I hear a lot of stories talking with people about being a Rebel at Work.

Many people are angry at not being heard. Some are sad that their organizations are on a bad downward spiral, with management rallying around what no longer works. Others have checked out of work and checked into being complacent and “just getting the paycheck.”

For a while the complacent ones got to me the most. To go to work every day and not give a rat’s ass just seems like giving up on life itself.

And the cynicism? Scorching. It would be tough to work with someone with that kind of negative mindset.

But the stories that get to me the most are the people who don’t try to change anything because of the CHANGE MYTH. These people have come to believe — or been led to believe — that if you’re going to try to fix problems you need to be some sort of crusading take-no-prisoners, storm the ramparts hero.

You might imagine the type. A confident Steve Jobs wannabe talking about disruption, not backing down, pushing for “go big or go home.” The kind of person who doesn’t worry about failing, whether that means getting fired or quitting to find the next gig.

How did this change maker myth become so ingrained in our culture?

Has the Silicon Valley “failure is good” entrepreneurial spirit been taken as the way things work at work? Are people with good ideas becoming intimidated about stepping up because they are not Steve Jobs wannabes and they are afraid to fail and lose their jobs?

Last week Jen Meyers sent these two tweets that acknowledged the myth and, more importantly, acknowledged the fact that most people making change are doing so thoughtfully within the rules and corporate culture.

Jen Meyers Privilege jpeg

Because that’s how so much change happens. Bit by bit. Working with our co-workers vs. leaping from tall buildings in superhero change-maker capes.

If you’re a disruptor and get fired, your big idea dies. So much for heroism.

Whereas if you get smarter about working within the existing organizational culture, your idea actually has a better chance of happening. And you have a better chance of keeping your job.

(Because if we’re honest like Jen, we know that most of us can’t afford to walk away from our jobs. It’s not that simple.)

So maybe it’s useful to remember that having a good idea is easy. Being able to work with people willing to do the hard work to shepherd that idea through corporate politics, budget conflicts, and the often-messy roll out is a privilege.

*****************************************

PS — note Jen’s apt Twitter handle: @anitheroine. Nice

Train wreck

Train Wrecks

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  GM knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital warned surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  Only after several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, and consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

It’s time for more of us to support the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

 

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  Gm knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital  warn surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  After  several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

Here at Rebels at Work, we’re all about supporting the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

– See more at: http://www.rebelsatwork.com/?p=1967&preview=true#sthash.nV8WhkDI.dpuf

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  Gm knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital  warn surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  After  several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

Here at Rebels at Work, we’re all about supporting the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

– See more at: http://www.rebelsatwork.com/?p=1967&preview=true#sthash.nV8WhkDI.dpuf

In a world without rebels

Our systems — be they companies, government agencies, schools, churches or healthcare organizations — become brittle, rigid, bureaucratic, and sometimes even dangerous when there are no rebels or change makers who have the courage to say, “This isn’t the right way.” Look no further than General Motors’ recent debacle. This inspirational post reflects on what might happen in a world without rebels.

Messengers at work

A lot of people don’t like the word rebel, which I latched onto because it gets people to pay attention and it conveys people with the courage, conviction and commitment to stand up for change.

“Messenger is a much better word,” my friend Maria has been telling me for several months. “It’s positive. Rebels are angry fighters.”

Last week Maria and I got together for our annual two-day marathon where we help one another set our goals and intentions for the year.

Optimism lifts

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?  “Don’t climb, lift,” said veteran analyst John Bordeaux in his Rebel at Work story.

Don’t climb. Lift.

There’s much to take away from this advice. One question might be, “What allows us to lift?”

Optimism lifts. Skepticism requires climbing.

I remember my first week on a new job talking with a team of discouraged people, demoralized because their client was unhappy with their work.

“Let’s try to show the client how much we’re accomplishing.  How about we change the monthly report formats and  list everything that we’ve accomplished each month in bullet points, right at the top,” I suggested.

“Yeah, right,” said Cindy. “What happens if we don’t achieve those kinds of results?”

Though I had only been at the agency a couple of weeks I was optimistic that we’d be able to achieve more,  especially if we changed a few approaches to the work.

“If we do these two things every month I really think we’ll be able to report some results that will make the client happy. Let’s just try it for a couple of months and see what happens.”

This optimism accomplished two things.  The team didn’t resist my new ideas, although they were contrary to the way most teams did things at the company, and the team did in fact achieve results that surprised them and the client. Someone genuinely believing they could succeed lifted the team, and they achieved more than they thought possible.

Optimism has a powerful influence on people.  It helps us to take a chance, do something new, invest in an alternative approach.

This is not about chirpy, fake platitudes and those motivational “Dare to do the Impossible” posters posted on bulletin boards near the lunchroom. I’m talking about adopting a mindset focused more on possibilities than problems.

In a world where the voices of the skeptics and naysayers seem to shout the loudest, we optimists quietly and persistently keep going. We do so because we believe that our idea is possible. We see the reasons why it can work and the value it will provide. We follow our passions, know and use our strengths, are open-minded and open-hearted, and we often reflect about what is working and where we can do things differently.

Sure we fall back and get frustrated, too. Big time. But it’s how you respond to setbacks that influences how likely you’ll be able to find the energy to get up and continue on.

How optimistic people achieve more:

  • Attract supporters. People prefer to be part of teams that believe what they’re doing is achievable. They also get energy from being around optimistic people, so they like to be on your team.
  • Get the ear of more people. Even if people don’t agree with our ideas, they are more willing to listen to us and have a conversation.
  • Self-motivate themselves.  When you believe something is possible it motivates you to stay with the idea, keep gathering information, ask questions, get input, think how to improve on it. Doing this makes the idea even more likely to succeed.
  • Minimize stress: Persistence and determination are easier to sustain when you have an optimistic attitude. Make no mistake that  being a rebel at work is stressful, but a positive perspective can make it less exhausting.  Optimists ride the possibility wave to keep motivated. Pessimists tackle persistence and determination by pushing a rock up hill. People want to surf with you. Pushing heavy objects up steep hills, not so much.
  • Trigger contagiousness.  Positive ideas get talked about.  Ones that connect with rational and emotional desires hop on the word of mouth train.  “Here’s a way we can do our work faster, easier, safer, with more fun, and with much fewer headaches.”  Sign me up to help.
  • Look inviting.   People who are negative show creases on their foreheads, furrows between their eyes, squint marks by the sides of their eyes, bags under their eyes from lack of sleep. I admit this is a superficial benefit of optimism, but looking healthy and restful also attracts more people to you than when you look haggard.   Think about it. Who do you like to chat with around the proverbial water cooler?  A positive, healthy looking person or someone who is stern, overly serious and coiled like they might strike if you say the wrong thing?

 The science of positivity and optimism

The science backs up these views on optimism.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a scholar in social and positive psychology and author of Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, has found that positivity opens our minds and hearts, making us more receptive to ideas and making us more creative. Positive emotions help us to discover new skills, new knowledge, and new ways of doing things – and to recover more quickly when things don’t go well.

She suggests that we try to achieve at least a 3:1 positivity ration.

“This means that for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you,” Dr. Fredrickson explains.  “This is the ratio that I’ve found to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.”

You can’t force optimism and positivity, using insincere, gratuitous gestures and words.  That will backfire.  You have to really feel it and mean it. No platitudes and smiley faces. People see right through that.

In fact, the subtle difference between positivity and optimism is action, according to Elaine Fox, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England and  author of a book on the science of optimism, “Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain.”

“Optimism is not so much about feeling happy, nor necessarily a belief that everything will be fine, but about how we respond when times get tough,” she writes.  “Optimists tend to keep going, even when it seems as if the whole world is against them.”

Optimism practices

  1. Use new words. If something doesn’t pan out, refrain from calling it a “failure,” or worse, saying “I failed.”  Sometimes things don’t work out. The idea may be too risky for the organization.  You piloted a concept and the data indicated it wouldn’t achieve enough of the right results.  The thinking was sound but the investment costs were far greater than the likely returns.  You get the picture.  If we use failure words, we label ourselves and our efforts in ways that diminish the likelihood of trying again, or of people supporting us again.  We rebels are idea people. Some ideas will work brilliantly, others not so.  We’re not failures.  We’re thinkers and experimenters.
  1. Hang out with optimistic people.  Not the Pollyannas but realists who see what’s possible. Creators vs. complainers.  Avoid the Debbie Downers and Negative Nicks wherever possible. Including in your personal life.
  1. Picture it. Envision how people will feel and be better off if you’re successful. Keep this image clear. Present this image when taking about your project so people are reminded of the big picture benefit. Ask an artsy friend to make an image of it, for you and for you to use when you have to make a presentation about the idea. Or find a metaphorical image that inspires you. (I like the rising moon image in this post.)
  1. Try to work on things that interest you. This isn’t always possible but when we’re determined it’s interesting to see how we can shift assignments and responsibilities, especially when we can demonstrate why the work we WANT to work on is important to the organization.
  1. Tune out.  Though we rebels tend to have insatiable curiosities, there are some things we should stay away from. Like people who over use fear and anxiety to get attention and manipulate feelings. Hysteria clouds perspective and balanced thinking.
  2. Do one scary thing a year.  Something that interests you but you find intimidating, as in “I don’t think I could ever do that.”  Or, “I’d be way out of my league if I took that course.”  “What would I say if I agreed to give a speech like that in front of those people?”  The thing about doing one scary thing a year is that it builds up your confidence.  You will almost always find that you do better than you think you could, or you were welcomed warmly by people you don’t usually associate with. The benefit? Your optimism increases. You believe that more is possible.
  1. Turn to learning: When you hit roadblocks and frustrations turn to learning and questioning. “What could I learn that would help me figure this out? What’s beneath what’s going on here?”  Questions open you back up to possibilities and restore optimism. Don’t stay parked in dead ends.

 

 

 

Knowing when to quit

Two weeks ago I was leading an American Marketing Association workshop about how to gain approval and adoption of new ideas. We covered the first four items on the following list through a series exercises and then I asked everyone which of #5 – 10 they most wanted to spend time on.

1.   What’s at stake?

2.   Make the status quo unappealing

3.    Use the SCARF model

4.   Uncover the hidden motives

5.   It’s an experiment

6.   What’s the real issue?

7.   Move away from drama

8.   Befriend the Bureaucratic Black Belts

9.   Stay under the radar

10.   Know when to quit

People loved #10.  I have to confess I was surprised and perhaps not prepared enough.  How do you know when it’s time to let an idea go? Or  stop trying to get a project funded? Or get people interested in adopting a new way? Or even leave a job?

Here’s what I suggested:

  • Rate importance: Ask your boss or client how important a particular project is to them on a scale of 1 – 10.  If it’s below six, it’s just not that important.  At this point you’ll probably have a hard time getting it to 9 or 10.  If they say 7 or 8, ask them what it what would make it a 9 or 10.  Then listen very carefully.
  • Just ask:  “We’ve been talking about this idea for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be moving ahead. I think it helps us (insert important organizational goal). What do you think is holding it back? What advice can you give me?”
  • Is the energy waning?  Do fewer people show up for meetings about the idea?  Is the idea put early on the agenda (probably still interested) or last (if we don’t get to it, no big deal.)? Is it even on management meeting agendas?
  • Not performance objective worthy: If you set your annual performance objectives and your boss doesn’t view your big idea as an important for your objectives, he or she doesn’t think the idea is important.
  • How much are your colleagues willing to help? If your work friends just aren’t into helping you with the idea, it may signal that they don’t see the value of it. Another sign that it may be time to quit the idea.
  • Are you becoming not yourself? If you’re starting to be angry, judgmental or righteous, this might be a sign that it’s time to let go.

Yogi Berra allegedly once said, “If the people don’t want to come, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

Sometimes the time isn’t right for an idea. We rebel thinkers work ahead of most people, and it takes a while for them to catch up with our ideas. Sometimes you just need to wait a while and reintroduce the idea.

Sometimes you may need to more clearly communicate the value and relevance of the idea. It’s easy after a while to get so down into the weeds of how a project or idea will work that people have forgotten why it’s such a good idea in the first place. (Go to #1 on the list: show them what’s at stake, what the idea makes possible and how that’s so much better than what exists today.)

Don’t beat yourself up or take on all that failure language or people will begin to see you as a problem person vs. the creative person who knows how to come up with great ideas.

Even if this was the greatest idea you think you’ve ever developed, know that there will be more great ideas.  Creativity doesn’t stop.

Unless, of course,  you spend all your energy hanging on too long to an idea no one cares about.

 

When your horse dies, get off.

 

 

 

Tight pants

By last Friday afternoon I was exhausted, having worked on an especially rebel-worthy assignment.

This meant I had to maneuver around Bureaucratic Black Belts (BBBs) and move people off assumptions that they were willing to fight (me) for. All very congenial, but intense nevertheless.

It also meant that I had to find ways to help people see a better way, be confident while also being honest about the uncertainties, and remain steadfast and open-minded.

Talk about paradox. Can I also say once again how exhausted I was?

Two themes I find about change: there can be no progress without paradox, and leading change is often exhausting. Not always. But often.

On Friday afternoon a good friend was kind enough to listen to me talk about what had happened, and ask good questions to help me clarify the best next steps.  She also said, “You know, being a rebel is a lot like what Terry Pearce said in his book Leading Out Loud.”

“There are many people who think they want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with two thousand pounds of bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar.”

Real rebels are not afraid stay in the ring.

Many of us also take long naps on the weekend.

Facilitating healthy dissent

When we corporate rebels (aka intrapreneurs) disagree, it signals we care about an issue. That we want to wrestle with it to find better approaches. So why do people so often try to shut us down?

Many people think disagreeing means that we’re being unkind and insensitive.  Or impolite. (Egads!) “Let’s take this off line,” they say.

What’s unkind to me is pretending an uncomfortable issue doesn’t exist when everyone knows it does. There’s a tension at work when this happens. Nothing is moving forward, corporate inertia is draining us, and we’re becoming ever more skeptical about the cry for  greater collaboration.

Furthermore, the longer an issue is ignored, the more frustrated and demoralized people become. Even worse, trust and respect among people erode. And when that’s gone, the organization gets crippled.

“When someone comes to a meeting and states an opinion or makes a suggestion that his teammates don’t agree with, those teammates have a choice: they can explain their disagreement and work through it, or they can withhold their opinion and allow themselves to quietly lose respect for their colleague,” says organizational health consultant Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

“When team members get to choose the latter option — withholding their opinions — frustration inevitably sets in. Essentially, they’re deciding to tolerate their colleague rather than trust him.”

More than most, we rebels see healthy dissent as a team sport, where everyone with something to contribute is expected to contribute. If you don’t speak up your silence can be interpreted to mean that you agree and have nothing to add.

We view dissent as a way of together getting stronger, like a team preparing to hike Mt. Everest. All the potential issues are honestly discussed and worked through to increase the likelihood of a successful expedition where no one gets hurt. We’re fed by the positive energy around these conversations. We appreciate and value what our colleagues have to say.

We also listen fiercely and ask frank questions.  It’s about inquiry vs. preaching.  But most organizations practice advocacy instead of inquiry in their conversations, say Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield in The Thin Book of Naming Elephants.

“Advocacy is a win-lose form of communication…each person is trying to convince the other that he or she is right and there is only one right answer.  Dialogue assumes people see the world differently…each person assumes he or she can learn something new from others.”

Practices for inviting healthy conflict

So what can you do to move from advocacy to inquiry? To help foster healthy dissent vs. angry debates?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Establish agreements: set some guiding principles at the start of a meeting and keep them posted on the wall as a reminder. If someone starts to violate an agreement, bring everyone’s attention back to the list on the wall. Here are some guiding principles that I have found helpful:
    • Judge ideas, not people.
    • Focus on solutions and ways forward; stay away from drama and problems.
    • Observations are more useful than opinions.
    • Let each person complete their thought; avoid interrupting.
    • Ask questions that illuminate, not interrogate.
    • Ask questions that are brief and to the point without adding background considerations and rationale, which make the question into a speech
    • Respect other people’s truths.
    • If you want your views to be heard speak now. Not later in backroom side conversations.
  2. Set the tone: Open the meeting by going around the room and asking everyone to respond to a soft but relevant question where there is no right or wrong answer. No one comments on what a person says, just respectfully listens. This helps to put people at ease, build personal connections, make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and get comfortable with listening.  I recently asked a group about  the most creative thing they had done outside of work in the past month. The answers were hilarious, and that laughter set a relaxing, collegial tone to dig into important issues.
  3. Set up what’s at risk: Frame the conversation by succinctly stating what’s at risk and why it’s so important to debate the issue and get everyone’s views.  This focuses the conversation and reminds people why it’s worth their time and honest input.
  4. Make sure you have enough time. Issues worthy of inquiry and debate usually require more than the typical one hour time allotment. One hour meetings are good for updates and touching base.  Strategic conversations where we value everyone’s involvement need more like three hours, maybe a even a day or more.
  5. Facilitate or use a facilitator.  Effective facilitators carefully listen, guide, inject good questions to open up new conversation veins, move people off dead horses, prevent any one person from hogging the conversation, help the group to recover if someone has said something hurtful, and adhere to the meeting agreements. If you are facilitating, know that it will be difficult to participate. As a participant you’re focused on the ideas not the meta conversation. Understand what role you’ll be playing, participant or facilitator.
  6. Ask the wind-down question. It usually gets to the real issues: About 30 minutes before the meeting is to end ask, “What hasn’t been said that should? Is there something you feel we’ve been avoiding?  If we never talked about this issue again, would you feel satisfied that we honestly examined all the important aspects of it? If not, what needs to be said?”  Inevitably someone speaks up and speaks the truth and the real conversation starts.
  7. Close with insights: After summarizing highlights and next steps, ask everyone to briefly respond to a closing question, which further respects views and makes sure voices are heard.  Possible closers might be:
  • How did your thinking on this issue shift?
  • What one thing did you find most useful from the discussion?
  • What was the high point of this discussion for you?

For more helpful ideas on facilitating healthy dissent, read Carmen’s post, “Advice for Managers: Do You Make It Easy for People to Disagree with You?”

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.

Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. “This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can’t wait to see what she has that week for them.”
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. “This is essential,” Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His “otherness” has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.”  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

 

The appearance of diversity vs. the impact of diversity

Carmen Medina and I are on a mission to help rebels in the workforce be more successful. We believe these outsider thinkers inside big organizations have the answers leaders need to adapt, grow, thrive, even survive. As part of our journey into helping rebels we’ve been asking ourselves all kinds of questions to understand why leaders don’t listen more to rebels. Yesterday Carmen posted about her recent epiphany on Rebels at Work. Here’s her “aha” about diversity initiatives and rebels.

___________________________________________________

As most of you know, I served for 32 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. During my last ten years there, I would attend recruiting and outreach events where I would answer questions about my career at the Agency. Given who I am, I was often asked this question: “Could you talk about what it was like being a woman and a minority at the Agency?” And I always gave the same answer: “Actually, neither of those was as much of an issue for me as just being a different thinker. Somehow I often saw things differently from everyone else.”

I was recalling this last week when I was thinking about what I might say at a couple of events I’ve been invited to speak at associated with Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts this coming week. (It’s actually not a month, but a 30-day period from 15 September to 15 October.) And as I said out loud the previous paragraph, it came to me like the most gigantic “DUH” moment you can imagine. POW! A giant fist bopped me on the  head.

I had gotten it exactly backwards. It wasn’t that being a different thinker was more of a career issue than being a woman or a minority. I was a different thinker in large part BECAUSE I was a woman and a Latina.

 

Q. You mean that it took you until one month before your 58th Birthday to figure that out!!

A. Sadly, yes.

Many sincere attempts to diversify organizations fail because the organization’s leadership does not appreciate that any significant diversity effort is in fact an organizational change effort. It could very well end up being transformational for the company.

When different types of people enter the workforce–women, minorities–many actually become default Rebels at Work, although they often are not aware of their dual identities. People with different backgrounds should bring different perspectives and ideas with them. (Although truth be told, many learn as early as high school to stop volunteering their different ideas when they realize they are not welcomed.) And yet you often hear leaders say: “It’s a shame about so-and-so. Some interesting ideas but he doesn’t quite know how to fit in.” or You have great potential but you need to learn to be more corporate.”

And that’s how diversity initiatives degrade and become more about the Appearance of Diversity than about the Impact of Diversity.

The organization has made space for people who are different but no space for their different ideas. Helping Rebels be more effective at work is in fact a diversity initiative. And increasing the Impact of Diversity on an organization is in fact a Rebel initiative.

Raise your hand, speak the truth

The guru on the stage was demonstrating his executive coaching approach with an audience volunteer so that the other 800 of us could learn his technique.

I knew little about coaching and was curious. This Ivy League university conference seemed like a good place to learn.

The guru started interrogating the woman on the stage with him, cutting her off before she could fully answer his questions, barking that she wasn’t answering his questions, and flippantly responding, “Really? Really?” when she tried to answer the questions.

I couldn’t believe the meanness of it all. So I raised my hand.

Mr. Guru took questions from two people before acknowledging me, both people praising his technique and asking softball questions like, “Do you use the same approach in phone sessions as in-person sessions?”

I stood up and simply said, “ How was that helpful?  It seemed intimidating and mean to me.”

Silence grabbed the giant hotel ballroom. Even Mr. Guru was at a loss for words.

He glared at me and gave some innocuous response, adding that he’d be happy to speak to me privately later.  He then turned to the sea of people and said that this woman, meaning me, was in error.  Because we were so far from the stage we couldn’t observe his body language correctly. If we could see better, we would know that the “young lady’s” comments were off base.  (Calling a middle-aged woman a young lady also made my skin crawl; it seemed so condescending.)

There was a break after the role-modeling session. As I made my way to the snacks table people came up to me and said, “Thanks for saying what you did. I felt the same way.”  Conversations ensued and I would guess that’s where some real learning happened.

It’s hard to speak up, especially in a huge crowd, especially when you’re not a “subject matter expert” or you’re early in your career or new with an organization.

What if my questions are dumb, we think.

What if they’re not?  What if no one speaks up challenging people who treat others meanly, who use professional practices that seem ill founded, who closes down learning and thinking by being smug and sure?

Being an effective maverick and rebel  in the workplace doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent your company, create new business models or solve other major challenges.

Sometimes we just need to be the people who are willing to raise our hands and put words to what we and others are feeling.

If not we, who?

Throwing employees under the bus: part two

Thousands of people have read my original post, “Better Techniques for Throwing Employees Under the Bus.”  When I look at my blog’s analytics on any given day I can tell what companies are firing people or acting in ways that cause people to feel betrayed. While the tone of that post was a tad tongue in cheek, I wanted to share some thoughts on what to do if you have been thrown under the proverbial bus.

When you’ve been thrown under the bus

What happens when you get thrown under the bus? In other words, your boss or a colleague turns on you, usually unexpectedly, and fires you, blames you, or betrays you in some way?

First, is try not do anything dumb that will further exacerbate the situation and harm your reputation.  When we’re feeling betrayed, our emotions run wild and dangerous.  Here are some ideas to consider:

Go under the radar for a while:  Just as highly public figures like politicians or entertainers often do after a humiliating experience, go quiet for a while.  (If you are still with the organization; obviously this doesn’t apply if you’ve been fired.)  Do work that rebuilds your credibility and doesn’t make waves.  Learn how to better navigate the organizational politics.

Remember that this is work, not your life.  People are taking their work more personally than ever, and when work gets too personal people fall apart when something goes wrong.  While passion for our work motivates us, we can’t let it consume our whole lives. Work is not family, religion or our identity. It is a job.  Benjamin Hunnicutt, an historian and professor at the University of Iowa at Iowa City who specializes in the history of work, worries that work is fast replacing religion in providing meaning in people’s lives.

“Work has become how we define ourselves,” he says. “It is now answering the traditional religious questions: Who am I? How do I find meaning and purpose? Work is no longer just about economics; it’s about identity,” he says.

“Job-satisfaction studies over the past 20 years indicate that people are looking for identity, purpose, and meaning in their work, but very few are finding those things. That’s why people are job-hopping, desperately trying to find the work equivalent of the Holy Grail. They aren’t finding it because what they’re looking for — salvation from a meaningless life and a senseless world — simply can’t be found at work.”

In other words, love your work, but always maintain a life outside work that provides meaning and contributes to your identity. Should you get thrown under the bus, you will have better coping skills to bounce back.  You are not defined by your job.

Think of the betrayal as a divorce:  It’s natural to rehash what went wrong and get angry about it.  But at some point you begin to get mired in those feelings and get trapped, acting as victim.  The other route is to acknowledge the hurt, free yourself of anger and resentment, figure out what you can do to put the issue to rest and move on. Not easy.

Put on an anthropologist hat:  Try to look at the situation like a scientist to more objectively understand what happened, and what you can learn from the situation.  Eruptions, though painful, can be tremendous learning experiences.  We get much smarter from our missteps.

Avoid failure language:  Calling yourself a “failure” is an unhelpful label that may blind you from learning and recovering from the situation.  We creative, innovative types tend to accomplish much, but not without missteps.   It may be that your ideas were threatening or you didn’t understand the environment well enough before stepping on a landmine. This happens.  Your actions or behavior erred. But you as a person are not a failure.

Find a new boss:  whether inside the same organization, or in a position with a new company.  Sometimes you’re never going to succeed with a particular boss. You can’t change him or her; only find canny ways to maneuver. Is the energy spent on maneuvering a good use of your energy?  It might be depending on the opportunities and the organization. Or maybe not.  See my previous post on how to find the right boss for questions to ask in an interview.

Getting thrown under the bus is a terrible experience. You will recover. It may be painful, but next time you’ll be so much more prepared.

I also like this thought from author Sherrilyn Kenyon:

“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when that happens. Don’t let them take that from you.” 

 


 

Anger: when you’re mad as hell at work

Anger is powerful in a good and bad way.  It can motivate us to act and it can derail our good intentions and credibility.

Carne Ross, former British diplomat and founder of the Independent Diplomat, quit the British Foreign Service due to his anger over how issues in Iraq and Kosovo were handled by official powers.

The Museum of Modern Art’’s Paola Antonelli nailed an interview that led to her position as senior curator at MOMA by angrily addressing an interviewer’s dismissive statement on design. “Anger can make you do interesting things. Beneficial good can come from positive anger,” she has said

Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, started an open source automotive company based partly on his anger with America’s dependence on foreign oil – and his tour of duty as an elite Marine sniper in the Middle East.

Anger helps us see what we deeply care about, and it pushes us to act on those beliefs.

How anger derails, hurts our credibility

Anger can also trigger us to say and do things that make us say and do stupid things.

Frustrations can grow so acute that we lash out when we and our bosses, colleagues and/or task forces least expect it, surprising everyone, especially ourselves.  We feel momentarily victorious finally saying what needed to be said.  The outburst relieves pent-up stress. Then we realize that we have damaged ourselves.  People have paid attention to our anger, but not necessarily our point.

When someone or something sets us off our heart starts racing, our jaw clenches, we sweat, our mouths go dry,  and the voice in our head barks at us like a drill sergeant, “Set the record straight right this minute, damn it.  Don’t be a sissy.  Give it to them.”

In a rage we say things that attack. We come across as judgmental and hot headed.  When we spew our anger, people usually run for cover or shut down as they wait for us to finish our rant.

Nothing good comes from these outbursts. Most damaging is that our anger gives others the ammunition to discredit us, labeling us as loose cannons, blowhards, short fuses, temperamental, overly emotional, hot headed, immature, unstable, lacking judgment, and maybe even an ass.   It is all code for implying not so subtly that we are not a person the organization can, or should, trust.

What a mess.

When you feel you’re about to erupt, call on behaviors that help you cool down before spouting off.  This requires enormous discipline and much practice. While I’ve  gotten better at doing this through years of experience, there are times I err.

Techniques for managing anger

Here are some techniques to consier. See what works for you, and practice, practice, practice. By controlling your anger while also finding motivation from it, you’ll be able to act with more credibility, calm and effectiveness. You’ll also be more receptive to understanding the real obstacles you need to deal with.

  • No personal attacks. Never, ever attack the person and use hurtful, rude, derogatory language towards them.  Personal attacks cut the deepest and are the hardest to recover from.  Go after the issue,  but not people.
  •  What’s it like to be them?  Try to understand what it’s like to be the person (or group) you’re angry with. What are they trying to protect? What makes them uncomfortable?  What are they afraid of?  How people talk about something conveys more information than the words themselves.  Listen for the emotion beneath the words. This empathy will help neutralize some of your anger and help you see things more clearly.
  •  Find the data: Related to the above point, consider the upsetting idea, opinion, decision or person as a piece of data to be examined. Even if it makes your bile rise, there’s something to be understood in why the view is making you angry. Put on your anthropologist hat and try to observe what the real issues are.  This calms down the negative anger and prevents you from lashing out. You’ll glean valuable insights by taking this approach, and you’ll earn credibility by showing people that they can express ideas without someone dismissing them or biting their heads off.
  • Everyone is right:  When angry we often believe we’re right, the other side is wrong.  No helpful conversations can happen when we hold this belief. Everyone’s views (and underlying emotions and threat triggers) are valid.   (Unless there is some excellent research proves otherwise. If that’s the case, show them the data and get onto objective territory as fast as you can.)  If you acknowledge that the other side’s view is valid, they are more likely to appreciate that your views may be valid. “Your views on this topic are valid.  It is risky to change a process that’s been in place for years.  Similarly, my views are valid too. There are other types of risks if we don’t begin to change this process.”   This sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t especially with the Bureaucratic Black Belts. But it’s a practice worth practicing.
  • Acknowledge the tension and disagreement Disarm yourself and the situation by acknowledging that tensions are high and disagreements are real.
  •  “We’re all feeling frustrated and on edge abut this.  How about we go around the room and everyone shares what they’re feeling in a sentence or a couple of words? No interrupting, just everyone calmly telling us his or her position.”
  • Or, acknowledge that you’re at an impasse and suggest, “We’re not making progress because emotions are running high, even those that are unstated but bubbling under the surface.  Should we adjourn so we can all cool off?
  • “Are there any data or research or subject matter experts we could bring into the conversation to help us see more clearly?”
  • “Should we get an objective outsider to help facilitate our conversations so that we can resolve this situation?
  •  These questions recognize the tension and take an active approach to finding ways to address them.  Often people suppress their anger, going passive while the frustration continues to build, increasing the chances of a harmful emotional outburst when you least expect it.
  • Quarantine your email and your mouth: Impose a 24-hour no-email, no furious phone call quarantine on yourself. Take a walk, get out of the office. If pressed by the other person to respond, say “I have to reflect on this before being able to respond in a helpful way.” In other words, quarantine your mouth.
  •  Make a list:  Go someplace away from people and write fast channeling your emotion and trying to find answers about what to do next that would help you move forward. Writing while angry cools you down, while also capturing potentially valuable ideas. (My best ideas come when I’m angry or feeling vulnerable. The head turns off, the smart heart kicks in.) Some prompts that have been helpful to us:
  • What 10 things worry people most about this idea?
  • What 10 pieces of objective data or credible anecdotes would help people open up their thinking around this?
  • What are 10 things I can do to move the idea ahead that don’t require approvals and meetings with people who oppose the idea?
  • What 10 people could I talk to who could help me see a way to move ahead?
  •  What are the 10 worst things that will happen if I abandon this idea?

The paradox of anger

Lastly, accept that some anger will always be present and powerful for rebels, change agents and innovators. .  The secret is being aware of  the paradox of anger. It can power and it can derail. Use the power, and find ways to stop yourself from doing and saying stupid things when angry.