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  • Where Are the Ground Rules When We Need Them?

    It is more and more common that when groups are forming, they create ground rules as guides for productive behavior. Many ground rules are similar: Start on time, end on time, disagree respectfully, don't interrupt each other, listen deeply, stay on topics, no attribution of who said what, etc. Some groups have just a few and others have a long list.

    What happens to the list of ground rules after that first meeting? Usually the ground rules are buried in the meeting notes never to be seen again. They are not too useful in that state.

    I like to have the ground rules on a piece of battered flip chart paper that I bring to every meeting I facilitate with the group. (I have often forgotten to bring the ground rules and then regretted not having them.)  If people start interrupting each other or getting off track, I can use the ground rules we created together to help people adjust their behavior. I can just go and stand by the list and sometimes that's enough to make people aware of behavior that is not what the group hopes for. I sometimes remind groups of the ground rules which can easily be forgotten in the heat of a discussion. Sometimes I ask the group frankly: "We have a ground rule that we are not observing. Do we want to change it or get rid of it?" 

    It is a delicate balance between coming off as a jerk and being a gentle shepherd of the process. That's why it's so important that the group create its own ground rules. As a group facilitator or leader, you are helping them observe their own rules, not yours.

    Every group violates its own ground rules sooner or later. We are all human beings. The point is that when we do slip up, we apologize, correct ourselves and keep going forward. The healthier the group, the greater the likelihood individuals will self-correct when their ground rules are violated.

    One group at Maricopa Community Colleges has its ground rules printed on the back of members' name tents, so they are always in close sight. A group at Madison College has its ground rules posted in its conference room. Another option is to have the ground rules at the bottom of every agenda.

    Ground rules can be a useful guide to shaping group norms and behavior, but only when they are in plain sight.

  • More on the value of saying Thank You

    One of the most effective ways to become a better leader is to take the time to say “Thank You.”

    Most people have not heard a word of thanks from their boss in months. This article from SmartBrief suggests being specific about what is appreciated.

  • Planning Ahead for Difficult Meetings

    Have a difficult meeting coming up? Here are 16 questions to ask yourself as you prepare.

    Successful meetings, especially those that are potentially difficult or high stakes, require advance planning and preparation. Following is a list of questions to think through before the meeting begins.

    1. Are the purposes and expected product(s) of the meeting crystal clear?
    2. Is the agenda “actionable” In other words, are the items written as verbs—decide, review, recommend, discuss, select?
    3. Is the room arrangement optimal for the work at hand?
    4. Are the right people included?
    5. Are ground rules agreed upon?
    6. Is it clear up front how the final decision(s) will be made (consensus, voting, secret ballot, etc.)?
    7. Are planning and decision-making tools used (affinity process, dots, criteria matrix, etc.)?
    8. Has the group identified the characteristics of a good decision (least expensive, reaches a particular group, reflects our values, etc.)?
    9. Are basic meeting roles shared (leader, facilitator, scribe, timekeeper)?
    10. Is a neutral outside facilitator used for highly emotional discussions or decisions?
    11. Is time allotted for silent independent writing before group discussion?
    12. For large groups, is discussion begin first in smaller groups, then the larger body?
    13. Are appreciative questions posed (What has gone well? What do we want to continue doing? What values do we want to hold onto as we move forward?)?
    14. Have processes been built in to ensure that everyone can participate (round robin responses, 3 x 5 cards, interviews in pairs, World Cafe)?
    15. Have we tapped into the power of the visual (discussion questions posted on wall or screen, voting with dots, data displayed graphically)?
    16. Have we discussed security?

    Finally, if you walk into a meeting and there is no agenda prepared, suggest that one be created on the spot. At least one organization I know of has empowered any employee to decline or even walk out of a meeting that has no agenda. Who has time to waste?

  • Three Ways to Use Your Operating Principles

    Leaders may know intuitively that having clearly stated operating principles or values is a healthy step for an organization. But once they are created, what happens next? Follow the example of netlogx and learn three ways to unleash the power of the principles.

    Creating operating principles or values statements is a way to build trust. Operating principles describe the way members of an organization behave in interactions with each other and those they serve—customers, clients, students, stakeholders. Having operating principles clearly spelled out makes expectations crystal clear. Operating principles also give anyone in the organization a way to talk about behavior that is outside the boundaries.

    Although common themes can usually be seen, every organization will express operating principles differently. If your office or work group has established operating principles—bravo! You have taken a step towards creating and maintaining a healthy workplace. What’s next? How can you put them to work?

    1. Talk about them as a group

    netlogx is an Indianapolis-based information technology and security company  poised to expand not only nationally, but internationally. While growing, the company also intends to retain its status as a family-friendly preferred employer.

    At the start of the company’s expansion journey, Audrey Taylor, Managing Partner and the executive team identified a draft of operating principles and then took the draft to the entire group of 30+ team members. The aim of this all-hands meeting was to make the operating principles more real for everyone. The question was, “Think of a situation in which netlogx will ‘live’ each of these principles.” Working in small groups, the netlogx staff described many current activities and scenarios where the operating principles were clearly already in full swing. An additional operating principle was suggested by the staff and added to the official netlogx list. (Talking about what the principles look like in action is essential if they are going to guide behavior. Especially for the new team members in the group, the netlogx discussion evoked a response of “Wow, this is really a great place to be.”(netlogx Operating Principles are shown below.)

    2. Use to screen new team members

    netlogx expects to at least double its staff in the next several years. The operating principles make a nuanced screening tool for selecting new team members. Using the list in the interview, ask the question, “Which of our operating principles appeal to you most and why?” This gives people who are most likely to fit into this culture an opportunity to show it. People who really resonate to the principles will be able to provide examples of how they have encountered situations that relate or why they believe the principles are important. Anyone who can’t make a personal connection with at least several of the operating principles is probably not a good gamble.

    3. Use in performance review

    In addition to discussing goals and objectives in a performance review, ask team members how they have “lived” the operating principles in carrying out their work. Ask them which of the principles are most challenging to live out on a daily basis. This conversation may point towards particular professional development. For example, a manager may reveal that he or she is very uncomfortable to give team members negative feedback (e.g. communicate honestly), even when a change is clearly needed. This can be addressed with online learning, role-playing, identifying a mentor, attending a seminar or workshop, or “bibliotherapy,” like the always excellent Crucial Conversation Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition (Patterson, et al., 2012).

    Most every organization will violate its own operating principles at one time or another. Perfection is not the goal. Awareness and sincere intentions to live by the principles are what matter. If tended to over time, as described here, the principles can shape behavior and soak into the bones of the organization. When the principles are violated, give team members (or yourself) a “do-over” and move forward. A slip doesn’t mean the operating principles aren’t working. In fact, acknowledging a slip is an indication that the principles are alive and well.

     

    netlogx Operating Principles

     

    Integrity

    Possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles and professional standards

    Respect

    Express consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something

    Communication

    Connect clearly, honestly, directly, frequently, and with empathy with anyone in the organization

    Recognition

    Acknowledgment of achievement

    Empowerment

    Make decisions, learn from the outcomes and thereby develop a greater sense of confidence or self-worth

    Initiative

    Embrace challenges, managing expectations and taking practical and pragmatic responsibility for their work

     

    Note: Humor is an underlay for all the principles.

    For more information, visit netlogx.

  • Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life!

    Most strategic plans are never implemented. Organizations may put a great deal of time and effort into creating a strategic plan and then neglect to implement it.

    To paraphrase author Patrick Below, the purpose of planning is not to create plans. The purpose of planning is to create results.

    I have watched my clients create amazing results with planning and intentional implementation activities. Now I have put everything I know that works for making the plan happen into one book, Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide for Nonprofits and Public Agencies (iUniverse, 2011). The book is just out on Amazon and lists for $13.95. I wanted to keep the price as low as possible so organizations could purchase multiple copies for leaders and board members. This book is short on theory and long on what to do right now. I provided a lot of space for taking notes and filling in the questions, forms and formats. I hope readers will mark it up with highlighters and notes to themselves and really make this resource their own.

  • Advice for Job Seekers

    I am in the midst of hiring people and by tomorrow will have reviewed some 200 applications. Here are three bits of advice I would like to share with anyone searching for a job.

    First, make sure you are uploading the right cover letter for the right organization. With so many electronic application sites, it’s easy to upload the wrong documents. I can’t tell you how off-putting it is to read how much an applicant wants to apply for a position in someone else’s organization.

    Second, double-check to see if the employer wants some specific questions answered as part of the application process. These are often at the end of the canned application form and may be in a different font.  I just rejected two applications from people who looked like excellent candidates. Because they didn’t answer the special questions, however,  their applications could not be scored.

    Third, keep trying. Don’t give up just because you didn’t get an interview with XYZ company. I have come to realize that even with sophisticated screening techniques, getting an interview involves a certain amount of luck.  As hard as we try to make a hiring process as fair and equitable as possible, we are still human beings and subject to oversights and inconsistencies. So don’t give up and don’t be afraid to apply a second time to the same organization. Two of my colleagues didn’t get the job after going through interviews the first time around, but both did get hired the second time they interviewed.

  • We Can Rewire Our Minds

    We carry many unconscious habits and prejudices from our past experiences into our everyday work and family lives.

    Yet scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is showing that we can literally change the way we think, act, and see the world. Our brains have much greater plasticity and capacity to change than previously thought. See the NightLine story on the impacts of meditation at 

    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/changing-brain-meditation-14249224

  • Getting Serious About Email Marketing

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email which means, of course, that the overwhelming majority do. And given the fact that so many people access their Email on their phones, it’s important to think about how the email message and graphics are going to play on that tiny screen. These stats were provided by Active Web Group which also advised that the majority of electronic devices are used at home from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening. Another good guide for when to communicate. Sometimes organizations and groups want to avoid investing in Email and electronic marketing with the comment that “Not everyone has Email.” That argument really doesn’t hold up anymore.

  • Operating Principles Can Build Trust In An Organization

    Creating a set of operating principles for how employees will behave towards each other and those they serve can be the foundation on which a more cohesive, trusting and trustworthy workplace culture can be created. And although giants like Google and Whole Foods Market have created operating principles, no group is too small or too large to take this step. As my article for Leadership Strategies, Inc. emphasizes, operating principles only have power if everyone from the CEO to the newest employee is expected to follow them.

    See Build Trust with Operating Principles at Leadership Strategies, Inc.

  • Moving People’s Desks Every Year

    Employees change desks each year for stronger teamwork at Care.com.

    CEO and founder Sheila Lirio Marcelo says that all employees of her company, Care.com, change desks every year. In her NYT interview, she says that the rotation is mandatory and the arrangement is determined by corporate leadership. The annual change of location reduces “turfiness” and enables the 40-employee staff to get to know each other. The end result is stronger teamwork. Marcelo says that new space each year has “actually become an exciting thing that people embrace.”

    Marcelo also heartily supports the practice of keeping a journal for raising awareness of one’s own style and behaviors with the aim of improving.  See “Be A Better Leader—Take Notes!”.  Care.com helps people find babysitters, nannies, senior care providers, pet sitters and other specialized care services across the U.S..