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Does Your Inner Child Need a Diaper Change?

DiaperchangeIn the last post, we talked about management who impose change upon their staff without embracing change themselves.  Change of any kind can be perceived as a political game, especially if a double standard is perceived from the leaders of the change.  I've shared a lot about management transgressions in the past, and my upcoming book, GUST - The "Tale" Wind Of Office Politics, shares quite a few strategies for dealing with these challenges.

An earlier post from last year shared the first step in identifying the Game of office politics - in other words, what is being manipulated?  The second step involves Understanding the game being played, and we've already talked about the three types of politicians:  Snakes, Ostriches, and Bears.  But it's not enough to understand the type of politician; one must also understand the motives behind the actions.

If one hopes to change the difficult and childish among us, it's important that you change your own point of view of the political situation first.  And the best way to do that is to understand what is motivating the political behavior.  We'll cover six kinds of motivational factors listed that tend to prompt office politics:

  • Gain - somebody wants to obtain something they don't currently have:  power, resources, information, relationships
  • Drain - somebody wants to take away something that exists (generally with somebody else).
  • Maintain - are you resistant to change?  Then this might motivate political behavior.
  • Contain - if you have a cult office culture, you want to keep things from escaping
  • Chain - mergers and building alliances are ways bringing together things that otherwise would not have been combined
  • Stain - damaging a relationship, a reputation, credibility can undermine another in today's competitive workplace.

In office politics situations, we often do not allow ourselves to assess objectively what is motivating political behavior.  If a manager is behaving badly, we take an "us good, them bad" stance and brace ourselves for the conflict (or run and hide our head in the sand).  If we truly want to make an impact on the behaviors of those around us, we need to begin by changing our own behaviors and tailoring our approaches to meet the motivations of those around us.  Taking the time to understand the office politics situation an invaluable investment.

Should Rolls Downhill

WorkIt never ceases to amaze me how many managers and executives think that they can impose change on their staff, but it does not apply to them.  I've been fortunate in that my recent clients do not share that philosophy.  Being a parent, I see so many parallels between work place leadership and parenthood.  Whether you like it or not, "the children" are always watching.  My wife and I still chuckle about our older daughter, Lauren.  When she was three and learning to dress herself, we heard the following emission:  "GRRRR!  C'mon pants... work with me, here!"  Yup, no doubt which parent she had overheard on that one (guilty as charged).

Meredith Farkas is a "techie librarian" (I say that with great respect) with an awesome blog called Information Wants to Be Free.  She had a recent post entitled Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.  In it, she talks about the example set at Eastman Kodak in adapting to the digital camera era and the difficulty they're now having in adapting to an evolving industry.  One just has to imagine the discussions that took place within the walls during the 90's.

Employee:  Dad, can we do digital photography?

Manager:  Son, how many times have I told you, "No we can't do digital photography"?  Our specialty is film.

Employee:  But Dad, all the other photography industry giants are going digital... why can't we?

Manager:  Son, if every other digital photography giant leapt off a bridge, would you follow them?

Employee:  Aw shucks, we never get to do anything fun here at Eastman Kodak.

Manager:  Go to your cubicle and don't come out until I tell you.

Employee:  Fine.  Be that way.

Remember, if you are not serving as a positive example, chances are good that you may be serving as a negative example, the type that they print in management textbooks for years to come for aspiring managers to learn from your mistakes.  However, your employees are watching every move you make.  You can't just tell their employees that they need to change and exempt yourself in the process.  Changes that you want to make to your organization will require you to change as well.  Are you prepared?

Need a Good SPANG-ing?

250pxbullseyeI have a friend named Ted who, were he not a couple of years older than I, could easily have been one of those "separated at birth" stories.  Not that we look that much alike, other than being tall, stocky, and strikingly handsome, but our sense of humor and our instincts are so in-step with each other it's almost uncanny.  When he and I would co-facilitate conference calls, we did so with a drive to getting things done; however, we'd add our own "brand" to the meetings through subtle, quick color commentary references to everything from Warner Brothers cartoons to the Reformation Movement to obscure political figures.  And we'd be the only ones who would understand the other's frame of reference.  (Pretty scary that there might be two of us out there.)  Recently, Ted introduced me to one of his favorite words:  spang.

Per Webster, spang is an adverb (yeah, the lack of an -ly ending threw me too) that means 1) to a complete degree or 2) in an exact or direct manner, squarely.  Recently, I was talking with somebody who was asking me about meeting management.  He was concerned that he was attending a lot of meetings that were unnecessary.  Even the important meetings were getting derailed.  It was then that Ted's favorite adverb came to mind.  There was no "spang factor" to his meetings.

Meeting According to statistics from MCI/Worldcom:

  • Most professionals attend an average of 62 meetings per month
  • Over 50 percent of these meetings are considered a waste of time
  • Most executives come to meetings expecting the worst
  • 91 percent admit to daydreaming during meetings
  • 39 percent admit to snoozing during meetings

Ugh.  No wonder we have an aversion to meetings.  If you're going to run your meetings SPANG with accomplishment, then you need to ask yourself some questions about the purpose of the meeting:

  • Are you seeking information?
  • Are you sharing information?
  • Are you seeking a decision?

If the answer to these three things is "no" then you probably are not starting out on the road to good meeting management.  If your answer to any of these is yes, then you need to build (and stick to) an agenda around those planned accomplishments.  Then you need to evaluate your attendees to determine how well each can contribute to hitting your meeting accomplishment spang in the center.  When you add up the cost of people's time in meetings, there's not a lot of room for missing the mark.

Are your meetings able to carpe factum spang?  (Yeah, even writing that sentence made me giggle, too.)  If not, what are you doing to correct it?

That Toddlin' Town... For Relationship Bloggers!

Sobcon07Paris in the spring?  Nah... too prosaic.

Meet me in St. Louis?  Why bother?

I left my heart in San Francisco.  They'll overnight it back to you.

How about... (now hold on for this one)... Chicago on May 11-12?

Take Your Blogging to the Next Level:  A Relationship Bloggers' Conference and Networking Event

Community, Friday, May 11, 2007, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Speakers, Saturday, May 12, 2007, 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Interactive presentations on publishing, design and branding, tools, analytics, social networking, marketing, and coaching -- all from the perspectives of the relationship blogger and the audience.

Only 250 attendees will be accepted then the conference will be sold out.

C'mon you're not a stranger anymore!  Here's the link to register. I'll be there... will you?

Why Am I Doing This Again?

KeyboardRecently, Starbucker tagged me with the simple question:  "Why do you blog?"  I'm nearing my first anniversary on the blogosphere, and I have to admit that it's been a wild ride.  To come up with reasons why I blog wasn't easy, and I felt as though spending a week pondering the question before answering would be beneficial... for me and for you.  Since Carpe Factum is about accomplishment, here are the five things I'm able to accomplish through blogging:

  1. Accomplish Breadth of Relationships - I've connected with so many people in so many industries.  It's rewarding to connect with people from other disciplines and walks of life.  Sometimes, those relationships allow me to make connections I normally wouldn't have made.  I've also been able to connect with individuals with whom I'd never imagined I could (thanks, Steve and Roger).
  2. Accomplish Depth of Relationships - I've seen a few posts comparing blogging with dating.  It starts out with a link or a trackback.  Then there are emails.  Occasionally, it evolves to phone calls.  Even better is having the privelege of meeting other bloggers in person.  People like Phil and Starbucker and Liz have demonstrated the great depth of friendship that can be accomplished.
  3. Accomplish a Business Presence With a Personal Face - I'm a speaker, consultant, instructor, coach, and writer.  Having a blog puts a face on my business.  Some of my more successful blog posts have been those where I've put more of my soul into it and shared a little about myself.  Other successes have been those where I chose to be a little goofy and poke fun at the world around me.  Either way, my clients and potential customers can learn a little about the man behind Carpe Factum.  It helps them decide if they want to do business with me in a way no sales pitch could ever achieve.  Mike and Mike did a good job of selling me on this approach.
  4. Accomplish Fun - The original reason I started blogging was to promote my book, Race Through The Forest.  With my second book, GUST - The "Tale" Wind of Office Politics, being released in a few weeks, people have been able to see my writing style as well as my management and leadership philosophies.  But what people have been able to see through it all is that I love to have fun.  I enjoy presenting the everyday and mundane in a new light.  I love word play, and I have a blast figuring out new ways to bring a smile to your face.
  5. Accomplish Tranquility and Closure - My wife commented a few weeks ago that blogging has provided me with great therapy.  Instead of internalizing the frustrating individuals, companies, and projects around me, they now become fair game for blog fodder.  And I have to admit, there is so much inspiration out there for writing.  GUST is probably as much of an expose of the last 20 years of behavior as it is an office politics reference.  The same is true of my blog; I rarely rely on theory when there is ample application available.  (NOTE:  I never divulge client names unless they've done something really great that needs to be highlighted, and even then I ask permission before identifying them.)

OK, who now gets tagged now in this little meme?  I'd like to point the spotlight at some people I'd like to know better (and whom you should know better as well).  So... Jane, Tom, Robert, Troy, and Adam... the ball is in your court.  Why do you blog?

Romancing the Drone

RosesIt's Valentine's Day.  L'Amour.  Amore.  Love.  Flowers and romance.  Candy and sweetness.  Holding hands and long dinners.

But in the workplace, it's something a little south of paradise.  Delaney Kirk sent me this article about dealing with difficult people.  Seems there's a whole industry springing up around the less-than-pleasant toxic whiners who make our jobs seem challenging.  The amazing thing about this story is the emphasis on our reactions and perceptions, rather than on the difficult behavior.  It appears as though we're not going to change the rude and obnoxious among us, so the trick is learning to deal with it.  Ugh.  I'm not overly impressed.

At the same time, I found this timely post by Susan Heathfield about dealing with the emotional range of people in the work place.  I like her commentary better than the above article.  There are times we don't need to put up with bad behavior if it devalues others.  Conflict isn't necessarily bad unless it undermines our workplace productivity and goals long-term.  Sometimes it is up to the leader to model the behaviors that he or she expects, and then to hold people accountable for delivering on those behaviors.  If managers display duplicity, it will breed mistrust.  If they display openness, it breeds teamwork.  So on and so forth.

So as you are spending your evening with your special someone, think about what you can do to help your colleagues fall in love with their jobs again.  You might just be surprised how much romance there can be in the workplace.

Thinking Out of the Box Set

During last night's lecture in the Creativity for Business course, the conversation shifted to story-telling as a means of getting in touch with your creative side.  We're all story-tellers, whether we know it or not.  Every time we create a PowerPoint presentation or write a status report, we're really telling a story.  One of my favorite blogospheric story-tellers is Valeria Maltoni.  Maybe it's her Italian heritage or maybe it's just her natural self... whatever it is, each of her blog posts weaves a fascinating story, allowing us to see the fabric of her soul as well as the business point she's making.

One of Valeria's posts from last November continues to jump around in my mind.  In it, she describes some of her favorite musicians from her native region in Italy.  I loved her introduction to her post:

"Each conversation follows a rhythm. There are the exchange of the speaker's tempo, which includes pauses, the listener's attention range, and the pitch of the words to the tune this rich combination stimulates. When we connect with someone, the rhythm seems effortless as we are immersed in the flow together. Every so often, there is a special someone who manages to arrange a different kind of experience and the result changes us forever."

Anyway, back to last night's class.  As we talked about the role of story-telling, I asked my students if their life were made into a movie, what would the soundtrack sound like?  What artists and songs would be included?  My personal soundtrack CD cover might look like this:

AlbumcoverThe next point really surprised them.  What would happen if they were asked to create a sound track for their project?  For their department?  For their division?  For their company?  What songs would be included?  What genres?  What artists would they select to represent their culture?

I'm not going to tag specific people and make a new meme virus.  But I'd like to challenge a few of my fellow bloggers to track-back to me and share with their readers their personal or their project soundtrack.

So... Who's Right?

Dsc01476I ran across two interesting - albeit very opposing - posts this past week on the topic of office politics.

Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist had a great post on the topic.  Her premise is that dealing with politics is unavoidable.  Her comment about office politics being integral to society is spot on.  She takes the issue of office politics to be about opportunity, to be about knowing yourself (motives, integrity, and goals), and to be about understanding how to navigate the waters.  Her four steps to getting good at office politics were relevant and useful:

  1. Make Time For It
  2. Listen
  3. Have Genuine Interest In Other People
  4. Practice Empathy

Meanwhile, Jason Echols at Blackbelt Productivity continued his John Maxwell book report by stating that one should avoid office politics in order to be a 360 degree leader.  I have to take exception to many of the arguments stated; it sounds like Maxwell and Echols are supporting avoidance strategy.  While one does not have to dive into every conflict that comes around, one needs to be a shrewd politician about things like turf wars, office gossip, and petty arguments.  Like it or not, regardless of your integrity or your motives, you will be embroiled in these things at some point in your career.  Simply turning your back and saying, "La-Dee-Da, I'm not going to play" can turn you into the next target.  There are smart ways of dealing with each of theses issues.  Now to be fair, I think Maxwell's principles of standing up for what's right rather than what is popular, looking at all sides of an issue, and saying what you mean/meaning what you say are very shrewd pieces of advice.  However, sometimes acting ethically and morally can make you a political target, and you need to be savvy in order to effectively act in your own defense.

OK, so who's right?  Is it possible to unilaterally avoid office politics?  Is that even realistic?  Obviously, I'm falling on Penelope's side on this issue, and not just because I have a book on Office Politics about to be released.  I've watched first hand the people who take the ostrich approach to practicing office politics; they almost always get burned.  John Maxwell makes no secret of his faith, which I admire in his writings.  It is possible to be a Christian businessperson in the 21st century.  However, it's also possible to be a Christian (or a good Jew or a good Muslim) AND play politics.  Read the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and Esther in the Bible (just as a start) if you want classic examples of shrewd political behavior.

What are your thoughts?


BlogbrainstormWe're in the middle of "cabin fever" season here in the Upper Midwest.  People are getting antsy and irritable.  Energy levels are down.  Motivation toward accomplishment is waning.  I've noticed a few of my favorite bloggers have been more sporadic in their postings.

Somebody recently asked me how I keep up with my blogging, given my schedule and other obligations.  They specifically wanted to know how I kept a fresh perspective on topics, given the fact that we're barely into February, winter is showing little signs of letting up in the foreseeable future, and the creative spirit in this environment isn't exactly inspirational.

The realization hit me back in December that the first quarter of 2007 was going to be busy.  Even though I'm not even billing full time at a client at the moment, I'm feeling relatively swamped.  However, I did not want to let my blogging slip (in timing or in quality).  It's just too important to me on many levels.  I started a running brainstorm list (month by month) to write out topics and/or post titles that interest me.  As new ideas come up throughout the month, I add them to the list.  Sometimes a word play pops up that would make a great post title, but I have no idea what the subject will be.  Sometimes events just arise which merit a post.  Sometimes inspiration just hits out of the blue.  But there are times when I'm feeling BLAH and would love to just pay somebody to be creative for me.  That's when I go to my "blog log."  After all, even creativity sometimes needs a little nudge.

Not every idea on the "blog log" makes it to a post.  Some get pushed out to subsequent months.  Some fall into the "That was a stupid idea; what was I thinking?" category.  However, just keeping a visible list in my office helps me stay on top of this vital business communication tool.  My question to my fellow bloggers:  what do you do to stay fresh?  to plan ahead?  to keep on top of things?  I'm curious how we can help each other make our blogs even better.

I've Been Quoughted


Rajesh Setty over at Life Beyond Code emailed me weeks ago with my "one pressing question" for 2007.  He's been posting these "Questions That Provoke Thought" (or Quoughts, as he calls them) on his site.  Today was my turn.

Thanks for sharing so many inspiring ideas from so many impactful people, Rajesh.

Also, Rajesh graciously agreed to write an advance praise for my office politics book (GUST), coming out in April.  What a guy!

Super Bowl Edition: Cults vs. Bares

Ind_rChi_lOK, for those who are searching blogs looking for some football insight, seeking whether Dungy's Indianapolis Colts can beat Smith's Chicago Bears, wondering if the Bears defense can go up against the Colts offense, contemplating how Manning will match up with Grossman... well, you've found somebody who'd rather talk about two different types of corporate cultures and the impacts each has on office politics.  Sorry, but the pun was too sweet to pass up.

2007_0121_ne_1215_macht On one end of the corporate culture continuum, there are "cult" companies.  Just like religious cults, these companies thrive on controlling their employees.  The leaders maintain a double standard, holding followers to higher standards of discipline while allowing themselves an absence of accountability.  The "cult" company emphasizes isolation as a means of controlling its members; if they are not communicating with "outsiders" then they are easier to command and manipulate.  As part of that, they "brainwash" their employees with an elitist mindset:  there's really nothing better out there.  If somebody ventures out, the "world is flat and you'll fall off the edge" doctrine is pushed.  This overbearing culture is a hotbed for office politics, as it creates conflicts over scarce resources, jockeying for position in the "kingdom," and egocentric issues that make facts and objective information difficult to prevail.  Silence is perpetuated through a culture of "don't ask, don't tell" and "if I told you, I'd have to kill you" - so nobody says anything that could get them in trouble.

Imagescaevguc1 By contrast, a "bare" company focuses on openness.  Collaboration is encouraged and rewarded.  Information is shared willingly among employees.  Relationships are honest and open (even when the truth hurts), and trust is fostered in a spirit of teamwork.  Leaders lead, but they also serve in a spirit of humility; there are no naked emperors in a "bare" organization.  Commitment is a natural by-product of how the employees feel; it is not forced through an overbearing culture.  Networking is encouraged, both inside and outside the company.  If an employee leaves, it is celebrated because it is believed that the employee and the company can both grow from the separation.  Office politics have a hard time finding a foothold in an organization such as this.  Resources are shared, healthy competition propels the company forward, and data balances passion to allow for decisions to be made with eyes wide open.

While you are shouting for your team tomorrow, you might stop and think if you are a fan of your own organization.  Do you wear your corporate-wear with the same pride that your sport your Bears shirt?  Do you cheer for your colleagues the way you screamed for the Colts a couple of weeks ago during their amazing comeback against the Patriots?  Do you celebrate your milestones in the same fashion that you revel in the halftime festivities?  In short, do you work for a cult or a bare?

FIRST HALF UPDATE:  Thought you might like to see a few of the sites I used as sources on cults.  All have some interesting checklists that you can apply to your organization.  Looking at them was interesting from a professional perspective, comparing them to actual companies with whom I've worked.

Again, look at these lists from an organizational view rather than a religious view.  You'll see some interesting parallels.

Tex Support

CowboyhatI've been sporting a new hat this winter.  With all of the travel out west during the 4th quarter, my wife suggested I treat myself to something fun during one of more intense trips, so I picked out a black cowboy-style hat.  Yesterday during the monthly Central Iowa Bloggers' Summit, my fellow-bloggers teased me about the whole "shoot 'em up, Tex" image.  Of course, Mike Sansone wryly observed that all I had to do was smile and the whole bad cowboy image was shot (no pun intended).

In business, we tend to give a bad name to those who make authoritative decisions.  Sometimes, that reputation is earned as authoritative decision-making is their ONLY style.  I once had a boss who informed me that my input existed only for her amusement.  However, the other end of the spectrum is almost as bad.  I've seen leaders who are too consensus-oriented.  They care so much about the opinions of all of the stakeholders that when the time comes for a decision, it becomes difficult to move forward.

I discovered David McDermott's site recently, and he had a post last November comparing and contrasting the different decision-making styles.  The point David makes is to place an emphasis on flexibility and balance.  The decision-making style should fit the situation, environment, stakeholders, and expertise available.

The other trick is to be respectful of others' decision-making styles and to consider all the above factors when someone uses a decision-making style with which we may not agree.  They may know some things we don't.  Certainly, there's room for dialogue and discussion in these situations, but there's a reason why it's called leadership.  Occasionally, the leader has to step up and take ownership for the decision... preferably without the cowboy hat and the six-shooter.

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