Bumper Sticker Blunder
“Love Wins,” declares a bumper sticker often glimpsed in West Michigan. I like this message and celebrate its ubiquity. Maybe love is gaining a foothold.
 
Or maybe not. Recently, my son passed a car with this sticker prominently displayed. As he glanced back, the driver of the Love Wins car flipped him off.
 
As organizations and individuals, we are all guilty of this—proclaiming one thing and doing another.
 
Here’s a gentle reminder: consistency wins, too. Let’s flaunt our bumper stickers—our guiding principles, core beliefs, values, brand identity, or whatever—and live up to them.
RUTH / Apr 29, 2011, 1:07pm / Comments (0)
Four Player, Anyone?
Have you left a meeting and wondered, “What the heck just happened? What did we do for the last hour?” Of course you have—we all have.
 
A few weeks ago, I worked with a client in the Southwest to help prioritize projects, plan tasks, and work on communication protocols. Having experience with this group, I knew that structured and focused conversation was not a native strength.  
 
Don’t get me wrong—these are some of the smartest, hardest working, most generous people I’ve met. However, sometimes their brilliance and optimism throws them off focus. 
 
To help structure a better conversation, I introduced the group to David Kantor’s “Four Player” Model.  Kantor, a former Harvard psychologist and founder of the Monitor Group global consulting firm, suggests that healthy conversations have four roles or players.
  1. Mover who proposes new ideas or solutions and pushes for a way forward
  2. Follower who advances and refines the mover’s ideas and drives for completion
  3. Opposer who provides contrasting perspectives and enhances the quality of the group decisions
  4. Bystander who adds a neutral perspective and reflects on the quality of the conversation itself
 
The group identified their instinctive roles and made a conscious decision to utilize the four players over the two-day meeting. It was slow going at first, with each member reverting to their natural styles—predominately movers in this hard-charging group.  
 
On a few occasions, I had to call a bystander into the room asking, “So, Janet, where are we in this conversation? What do you see happening in the meeting?” Janet would make an insightful comment, and the group redirected to get back on track.
 
Soon, individuals started identifying more closely with the roles saying “I’m going to oppose here, and…” or “I’ve been playing the mover a lot; maybe I should be quiet and listen.” 
 
Three weeks later and the group is still using the terminology and reports the quality of their conversations is much better—they are “actually more focused and getting things done.”  
 
Next time you are in a seemingly pointless meeting, look for the four players. Do you have too much of one player? Does a certain role need to be called into the conversation? Better yet, play the bystander by saying, “Can I make an observation here? For the last 30 minutes we’ve…” Do this and watch your meetings go from pointless to productive.  
DEV / DIALOGUE / TOOLS / Apr 26, 2011, 8:27pm / Comments (0)
THINC Fast, but not Too Fast
One of the urban legends from a well-known Zeeland furniture company is that for a time, employees had to scan their IDs when entering a meeting room. The scanner logged each meeting participant’s salary, and a screen in the room displayed the meeting’s total cost in wages as the minutes ticked by.
 
I love this not-so-subtle reminder that time is money. Would a price tag help us think fast together, make good decisions, and move on?
 
I’m big on efficient meetings. Most companies waste a good portion of salaries in meetings that go in all directions. Every meeting has participants who painfully walk everyone through a complete history before making a point, jump from topic to topic, trot out useless exceptions, and cover old ground just to hear themselves talk.
 
Yet, we want to be sure to get the essential contributions, explore thoroughly, think creatively, and make decisions that will engage the energy of the participants.
 
So how do we go fast, but not too fast? At THINC, we encourage an approach to decision-making that is comprehensive, penetrates the issues, and, most importantly, keeps people focused on one part of the process at a time.
 
This focus requires discipline from everyone, particularly the facilitator.  First, identify the goal of the meeting. Then examine the current reality related to this goal. Next, brainstorm options without analyzing or evaluating. Finally, examine the options to find those that generate interest and are feasible to complete. Specify next steps with a measurable, achievable, time-oriented goal that identifies who is responsible for what. Overall, proceed sequentially and engage as deeply as needed before moving to the next step.
 
Even without a salary meter running, a good process faithfully followed can help us think fast, save money, and produce better results.
 
RUTH / EFFICIENCY / Apr 15, 2011, 4:35pm / Comments (0)
Bodies—and Other Stuff—Revealed
Over spring break, I took my three young sons to see Bodies Revealed at the Van Andel Museum. The exhibit consists of real human bodies and various body parts without skin, hair, and other components depending upon which biological system was highlighted. Needless to say, my boys were a little apprehensive…as was I. 
 
The exhibit was truly fascinating, and I was profoundly struck by two things:
  1. When you take the clothes, skin, and hair off of a body, they all pretty much look the same. Perhaps for the first time, I truly understood that we are all humans underneath the shell of skin color, hair-styles, job-titles, houses, and other accoutrements. As humans, we generally have the same needs (to be competent, to know we are doing good in the world, and to be worthy of love), the same fears (not satisfying those needs), and the same desires.  
  1.  It was a little unnerving to see people so exposed. Opening up, standing in front of thousands or millions, and saying “this is who I am; this is what I’m made of” can be uncomfortable—yet, we each have a deep need to do just that. When we allow others in, our relationships, conversations, and decisions are more genuine and effective. It is scary to expose ourselves, yet doing so enables us to live in fullness and freedom. To others watching, like my boys at the exhibit, exposure provokes anxiety but is also exhilarating, engaging, and inspiring.
Why do we allow the superficial, the immediately visible, to determine our behavior? Why do we allow the masks to keep us from truly knowing and accepting ourselves and others? What would happen to ourselves, our groups, and our organizations if we were bold enough to expose our thinking, feelings, objections, and aspirations?

A bit like the producers of Bodies Revealed, Ruth and I build safe spaces where groups can “take off” their defensive skins and be truly present and involved. We use a simple, four-step model to coach individuals to examine their motives, desires, and behavior. Using tools of inquiry and disclosure, we open up thinking and feeling for others to see. We do this because we believe it increases engagement, improves decision-making, and creates true change in the world.   
DEV / DIALOGUE / Apr 11, 2011, 8:59pm / Comments (0)
Profiles in Community Courage
I spent the last three days observing community and business leaders in action – a few of whom personified profiles in courage. These individuals took a stand on a critical community issue and articulated a bold, inspiring, game-changing vision.

I wondered why so many leaders lack this quality.

Some seem so encumbered by “what is” or “what’s impossible” that they struggle with “what could be.” Perhaps some leaders simply do not take the time to ponder the big questions about the future. Some may be convinced they are not gifted with visionary thinking. Others appear to be waiting for someone else to set the direction. Supposedly, the nineteenth century French politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin said, on seeing a crowd marching through Paris, “There go my people. I must find out where they’re going so I can lead them.”

How does one discern and shape a compelling preferred future?

Let’s try it. First, intentionally carve out some quiet space and time for this essential, but not urgent, task. Next, identify a couple of big questions about your business or life that are keeping you up at night. Now, put yourself 10 years into the future and imagine, with no limits, what could be. Think about what kind of future could address these big questions by maximizing the unique value and passion you or your company can offer. Visualize the specifics of day-to-day life, the people involved, and how you are engaging with them. Write this up in present tense, as if it is happening now.

Of course you’ll want to develop alternatives to this first draft thinking. You’ll want to be mindful of trends. You’ll want to test your thinking with wise people. You’ll want to refine your ideas.

But for now, practice this activity. Get nimble at thinking forward, seeing possibilities, and setting your sights on something good and grand.

Begin building your personal courage profile today. Soon, you will be called upon to help solve our biggest community challenges, and you’ll be ready to step up.
RUTH / MUST-READ / Apr 4, 2011, 5:57pm / Comments (0)
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