Does My Omniscience Bother You?
Amazingly, our culture is full of omniscient people.
Or so it seems from people whose behaviors I observed over the past week:
  • All-knowing people who freely shared their truth—the truth, which they had in abundance—informing lesser beings about what they should think and do.
  • People with no questions, only answers.
  • Those who, instead of listening, reloaded, preparing to fire off their next rejoinder.
  • People who filtered incoming data for that which confirmed their worldview.
Tune in to popular talk shows, listen to our colleagues at work, and reflect on our own conversations for more of the same. At one time or another, we all have engaged in these kinds of unconscious behaviors to show that we are smart, capable, and right—maybe even god-like.
And frankly, it's annoying (not to mention bad for business, which is a topic for another blog).
Inquiry is an important antidote for omniscience. Inquiry is not asking questions that can be answered with yes or no—questions that begin with phrases like “Don’t you agree that…?” or “Have you considered…?” Neither is it asking questions to which we believe we already possess the answer.
Inquiry is asking open-ended questions and then listening—truly listening—for the other’s perspective. Inquiry requires listening with curiosity and readiness to hear ideas that may challenge our worldview.
“What is your understanding of the situation and how we might address it?”
“What leads you to think that? What experience or data can you share?”
“What is your thinking about what we should do next?”
“What is important to you, going forward?”
Let's stop sitting in for God. Inquire of someone today, and then shut up and listen.
RUTH / INQUIRY / DIALOGUE / TOOLS / Jun 27, 2011, 7:21pm / Comments (0)
The Trouble with Training
For six years I was responsible for non-clinical training and development at Spectrum Health. About once a week, my phone would ring: “Dev, my team is broken. They need training. Can you come and fix them?”
Early on my ego took the bait. “Sure, we can do that.” I’d deliver relevant training; the team would have fun, learn some new skills, go back to their jobs and do…nothing different.
Ninety percent of performance issues cannot be solved with training. Training works when there is lack of knowledge or skill. Usually, the team has a good measure of each of these.
More often, the performance issue resulted from poor communication of expectations or inadequate feedback. Sometimes the staff member didn’t have the proper resources (time, tools, authority) to do the job.
Guess who’s responsible for setting expectations, giving feedback, and providing resources? The leader.
While most leaders don’t like to hear this, for mature leadership this is actually good news. 
Good news because the leader has the ability to fix the problem. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to provide expectations, feedback, and resources. The leader controls these.
It is the leader’s job to help employees understand the mission and how their work fits within that mission. Good leaders work with staff to develop short and medium range SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound) goals that are aligned with the organization’s direction. 
Good leaders host regular and frequent feedback sessions for their team. They also meet individually with the people reporting to them. They celebrate what’s working and—without blame—investigate what is not. Good leaders allow the physical, mental, and emotional space for their teams to work.
Next time your team is off track skip the training and instead examine how you can use your role as leader to address the problem.
DEV / ALIGNMENT / FEEDBACK / Jun 20, 2011, 3:05pm / Comments (0)
Construct Culture for Results
What makes it so difficult for paying customers to get a response? At our house, we have been waiting two weeks for a quote on sealing our exterior brickwork. It’s been three months since we asked our builder for a kitchen update plan. A friend seeking a repair to his boat can't get a return phone call from the marina.
What makes these behaviors acceptable?
Every workplace has cultural issues that diminish the company’s results, such as poor customer service, wasted time at meetings, delinquent reports, workplace drama, finger pointing, and lack of personal accountability.
Employees have two versions of culture: “company handbook” culture and “here’s how things really work around here” culture. Bob, the brick repair guy, may have been instructed to submit bids to the customer within two working days. However, company practice is to give the biggest clients preference, so he figures this little job on Lawrence Avenue doesn’t matter much. Also, the boss regularly rants about annoying and ignorant clientele, devaluing the importance of the customer in Bob’s mind. Finally, his peers talk incessantly about how far behind they are in their work, legitimizing poor customer service.
What might convince Bob to change his behavior?
Culture has a layered construction: at the base, employees have experiences at work—what they see and hear. From these experiences, they select certain data, often based on past experiences. Next, they build assumptions and draw conclusions about "how things work around here." Finally, they act on their conclusions in ways that either enhance or diminish the company’s ability to achieve its objectives.
It’s a leader’s role to define the culture that will get results and then develop employees’ beliefs about what’s important through language, stories, behaviors, and practices. This process requires careful thought and reflection, considerable input from others, a clear plan, and the discipline to implement the plan consistently over time.
Once Bob internalizes the belief that customer service is important, I’m sure I’ll receive his bid. Meanwhile, I’m calling the next guy on the list.
RUTH / LEADERSHIP / CULTURE / Jun 13, 2011, 12:26am / Comments (0)
Dog Day Decisions
My dog, Gizmo, frustrates me.
We aren’t supposed to feed him people food, but we all do. He likes carrots, popcorn, and, of course, red meat.
When he believes a people treat is coming, he dances, shakes, wiggles—basically a full-blown anticipatory conniption. After all the excitement, he gets his treat and whomp, it’s gone. In one swallow. Done. Where’s the next one?
I’ve seen groups make decisions like this. Heck, I’ve made decisions like this.

Take a little information, mix it with gut feel, shut down the dissenters, and whomp—decision made. The stickiness of such decisions is often as fleeting as Gizmo’s enjoyment. People aren’t committed. We forgot a crucial stakeholder. We had incomplete data. Important elements are changed in the hallway conversation after the meeting. 
In his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, acclaimed consultant Peter Block identifies six critical conversations that when used together are transformative and build lasting community. The six conversations are: Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, and Gifts.  
I’ve facilitated meetings using these six conversations. The energy and participation were palpable. Participants were more energized, more committed, and more united. They left saying, “Why don’t we do this more often?,” “I’ve known Shelia for 10 years and didn’t know she felt that way,” and “We finally got somewhere.” 
In our fast-paced, what’s-the-next-thing world it can pay to slow down.

Savor the process: seek the right input, allow for dissent, make the decision, identify available gifts, secure true commitment, and build the team.  
Gizmo’s an old dog and probably won’t learn new tricks. Do we have to share the same fate?
DEV / DECISIONS / DIALOGUE / Jun 3, 2011, 6:39pm / Comments (2)
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