Harness the Power of the Visual

Business Communication
  • 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.

  • “How to Lead Effective Meetings” Site Wins Award

    Kathleen’s web site How to Lead Effective Meetings was selected as the winner in the web category in the 2007 Information Mapping (IMI) international competition. The site which provides tools and techniques for productive meetings was co-designed by Les Howles, UW-Madison Division of Information Technology. The meetings site was created for a higher education audience using principles of Information Mapping, although the approaches work for meetings in any organization.

    Information Mapping method is a research-based approach to the analysis, organization, and visual presentation of information based on how the human mind actually reads, processes, remembers, and retrieves information.

    Kathleen provides professional development activities and workshops on how to make the most of meeting time.

  • Wordle Has Me Enchanted

    This amazing “word cloud” was created by Wordle at http://wordle.net. The site creates customized word clouds from any text that you provide. Words that appear more frequently in the source text show up relatively larger. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The resulting images can be printed, shared on a BLOG. Heck, you can even put the images on T-shirts. You can put your Wordles in the on-line gallery which is open for the universe to see which is why so many of them are anonymous.

    I entered my entire 170-page book, Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™, and this is the picture I got. I was thrilled because it captured my book which is about what people can achieve in their work life. And when I write my next book, I will “Wordle” it to make sure the themes that are most important have the biggest presence.

    Wordle is being used is to create word clouds of speeches of public figures and candidates. You can see at a glance what the speakers focused on most. It can be scary actually. Although the brilliant man who created Wordle, Jonathan Feinberg, calls it a “toy” it is really a tool for cutting to the core of what’s being said. I could imagine Wordle pictures of candidate speeches influencing the presidential election.

    I like the idea of communicating visually. It’s a very nice change from the usual.

  • Soft Skills—Call Them What They Are

    It grates on me when I hear people talk about “soft skills.” Although definitions vary, soft skills generally refer to the ability to communicate effectively, knit a group of people together toward achieving a goal, and create a sense of shared community and purpose. CareerBuilder.com’s Kate Lorenz describes these as “interpersonal skills and leadership qualities to guide teams of diverse professionals.”

     “…Firms today are having a very difficult time finding managers who have superior ‘soft skills’,” says John P. Kreiss, president of SullivanKreiss, a recruitment and placement firm for design and construction professionals.  Based on my own consulting practice, I would have to agree that most workplaces could do with more soft skills.

    Our language is part of the problem. By calling them “soft,” we are demoting this constellation of abilities and skills to something frilly, mushy and largely unimportant. Let’s find a more fitting term for them.

    We use the term “hard skills” to describe technical expertise such as ability to read balance sheets, conduct market research, create computer programs, diagnose engine troubles, perform surgery, conduct research, design skyscrapers. These are all essential skills. What if we called them “soft” skills? It wouldn’t fit. They are too important to be called soft.

     This same argument can be made for what we now call soft skills. If we have learned anything from the last half of the twentieth century, it’s that language is important. It matters what we call things. Language frames expectations. Working women were called “girls” around the time I was born. Anyone calling a woman in the workplace today a “girl” would be instantly perceived as an oaf. If you call a paramedic an “ambulance driver” you will surely incur that person’s wrath. During the 2008 Democratic Primary race, pundits who don’t like Senator Hillary Clinton called her “Mrs. Clinton” and referred to Barack Obama as “Senator Obama” in the same sentence. For telling ethnic jokes in the workplace—fill in the blank for which group is the target—those in search of a cheap laugh risk getting scowled at, shushed, or fired. Peter Senge says, “Words do matter. Language is messy by nature, which is why we must be careful in how we use it.”

     “Emotional Intelligence” was added to the modern lexicon by Daniel Goleman. Much of what he called Emotional Intelligence would be considered soft skills and includes self awareness, self regulation, self motivation, social awareness and social skills.

    Goleman reports that in work performance, large variations exist between “average” and “high performing” employees.  He found that only a third of this difference is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds is due to emotional competence–those soft skills.  In top leadership positions, he says, emotional intelligence accounts for over four-fifths of the variation between average and high performance.

    There is a business case for what we call soft skills. So let us call them what they are—higher order skills.

    Updated 10-31-08


    Kate Lorenz, “What Are Soft Skills?” CareerBuilder.com, 2005,<http://msn.careerbuilder.com/Custom/MSN/CareerAdvice/532.htm?siteid=cbmsn4417&sc_extcmp=JS_js5_may05_advice&cbRecursionCnt=1&cbsid=124f22b59ba543bfb98781df040bd9a1-255822427-r2-4> (February 11, 2008). 

    [ii] John P. Kreiss, “In Search of Soft Skills: Creative and Technically Skilled Employees Can Have Trouble Learning Good Management Skills,” ASLA Business Quarterly, June 20, 2005,< http://www.asla.org/businessquarterly/softskills.html> (February 11, 2008).

    [iii] Peter M. Senge, “The Practice of Innovation,” Leader to Leader 9 (Summer 1998): 16-22.

    [iv] The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, “The Emotional Competence Framework,” 1998, <http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/emotional_competence_framework.html> (February 11, 2008). 

    [v] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, (New York: Bantam, 1998).

  • The Imperative to Say Thank You

    If we really believed that our success at work depends on other people being successful in their jobs, what would we do differently?

    I ask this in the context of exploring our interdependence as people working within the same organization. We Americans have a dim sense of our interdependence with each other and with the rest of the world.

    Yet, no matter what our role is, we are supported by many other people of whose work we may know nothing. How many times do we think about the people who are on the roof fixing the leaks or the people who deliver the products or the people whose job it is to find resources for the organization or those who ensure that everyone gets a paycheck?

    When I ask audiences what we would do differently if we really acknowledged our mutual dependence, an answer that comes up is this—We would say “thank you” more often.

    I sometimes go to the other extreme and end a phone call with an absent-minded, “Thanks.” There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it’s more a nicety than an authentic expression of gratitude.

    So what are some authentic expressions that really say “thank you” to co-workers? Here is a list of ways to thank others for a job well done or just because their work every day makes your work (and your success) possible.

    1. A face-to-face “thank you”
    Say why you appreciate what was done for you. “I appreciated your referring that client. I would not ordinarily have had an opportunity to work with him/her and it’s an area I’ve been wanting to get into.”

    2. A hand-written note
    A hand-written thank you note or card will stand out. Very few people take the time to write a message in their own hand. A card or note will last longer than an E-mail. When I visited a client, I felt humbled and happy to see a card I had sent displayed on her desk. (Remember to include the details of why you are appreciative.)

    3. A hand-written card from the whole work group or staff
    This is nice for the times when the whole office has received special help or consideration. Having each person write a few lines and sign the card is a thoughtful gesture and brings every employee into the process. It can also get people into the habit of thinking and behaving appreciatively. It makes my day when I receive one of these.

    4. An E-card
    Many E-greetings are free of charge and all of them enable a personal message.

    5. Custom cards automatically created and sent
    You can send real paper cards (with stamps) that are generated automatically through http://www.sendbettercards.com/ This is a web-based service that prints, stuffs, stamps and mails cards for any occasion from you. (You create your own messages and can even have the card message generated in your own handwriting.) Try out the service free.

    6. A single flower
    If you can manage it, include one of those little plastic tubes that keeps the stem in water. This could mean the difference in the flower making it through the day. When I was an assistant principal in a high school, I put a red rose in a teacher’s mail box as part of an apology. It made a difference.

    7. A favorite candy bar or a piece of really good chocolate or a perfect piece of fruit
    Noticing what people particularly like or never eat helps here.

    8. A gift certificate to a movie for two

    9. A special award created for a special project
    I once produced a video for an event called the Showcase. Taking a cue from the Oscars, my colleagues created and presented me with a “Showscar” which is a gold statuette flanked by a CD. My “Showscar” stands proudly on my bookcase.

    10. Leave a brief message on someone’s answering machine
    “I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your doing XYZ. Thanks so much. We were able to get it done on schedule thanks to you.” And that’s all you need to say.

    11. Home-baked cookies, bars, muffins, cupcakes
    Anything you bake yourself is almost always appreciated, although few would turn down a bag of cookies from the bakery tied with colorful ribbons.

    And these last two are from Jo Condrill who suggests:

    12. A small certificate of appreciation. As Jo says, it doesn’t have to be a full-size. A smaller size framed certificate will be eye-catching and easier to fit in most office spaces.

    13. A U.S. Flag
    Give a U.S. flag that has flown over the Capitol. It is a unique gift and costs range from $9-$25. depending on how much personalization you want. A certificate of authenticity is included. Call or check the web site of your U.S. congressman or congresswoman to order.
    How do you say thanks to the people you work with? Please let me know.

    If this idea of interdependence in the workplace interests you, read “Declare Your Interdependence,” Chapter 3 in Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice

  • More Ways To Say Thank You

    Readers share their approaches for saying thank you to colleagues, co-workers, and clients. These suggestions followed the post “The Imperative to Say Thank You.”


    I posed the question to a community of people who care about healthy workplaces: How do you express sincere thanks to colleagues, co-workers and clients? Here are some responses:

    • ...Take that person out for breakfast or lunch. (C. Gosenheimer)
    • ...Taking someone out to lunch to thank them is a nice treat…for both the sender and the receiver. (M. Best)
    • Lovely cards…food, of course that matches the individual’s tastes… (C. Compton)
    • The “TY” award. This is an object that denotes “thankfulness” or something special that symbolizes the group. Pass it around at each team meeting as a special “thank you” to a team member. For example, the TY object could be a trophy with a special team inscription on it. Sue received the trophy last week for something special that she did. Sue now passes it on to someone she thinks deserves it. Everyone gets involved and it encourages everyone to look for special things about team members that should be recognized. (G. Pursell)
    • Have self-stick notes printed with a customized message or picture and space for a personalized message that you can use for special “thank you” notes. For example, the message I used was “For all you do…” (at the top of the note) with “This bud’s for you” and a graphic of a rosebud at the bottom of the note. My personal message was written in the middle (G. Pursell)
    • Whenever I’m in contact with an employee, subcontractor or vendor, I always try to be in an “upbeat”, “everything is possible”, “we’re in this together” frame of mind. We all respond better to sunny people. We all hate to let a sunny person down. If they have bad news or make a mistake, I let them know the impact without overreacting or belittling them. I help them look for options to make things right. I make mistakes, too. I know how it feels to make an unintentional or silly mistake. I let them know when they do a good job because I like my work to be appreciated, too. I show appreciation by learning about and showing interest in their personal lives. I try to remember special events in their lives as well. I, also, show appreciation through work lunches, flowers, small gifts, birthday dinners and special vacation bonuses. But these are worth nothing without a liberal use of the words “Thank you”.... (M. Webster)
    • I have trained myself to be cognizant of the greatness of others. I have found that acknowledging and thanking people for their efforts is most powerful when said right in front of them and looking into their eyes. I let those in upper management know the people responsible for our team’s successes as well as celebrate with my team in meetings where we are all present to share triumphs. (D. Lautenschleger)
  • World Cafe Magic for Involving People

    The World Café is a technique for really engaging people in questions and issues that matter to them. It combines doodling or drawing on the table followed by discussion and the opportunity to move to a different table with a different question and another round of writing, drawing and discussion.

    You know the scenario. An all-hands meeting is called to discuss the strategic plan or a topic that everyone should know about. The leader dutifully shows a PowerPoint and asks if there are any questions. After a few seconds of thudding silence, someone makes a comment or asks a question. The vast majority of people do not participate. These kinds of meetings are a waste of everyone’s time.

    I have been having great success with the World Café as a technique for really engaging people in issues that matter to them and to their organizations. In the World Café, participants sit at tables that are covered with paper. They are invited to write or draw their answers to a focus question which is posted on the table. A “table host” invites people to share their responses. Everyone listens for themes or connections. After 15-30 minutes (depending on the questions) people move to a different table with a different question posted on it. The table host remains.

    In this second round, the table host makes sure everyone introduces themselves and participants look at what the prior group wrote or drew on the table. Additions, arrows, comments, are added and the conversation continues.

    A third round usually occurs which is similar to round two except that participants help the table host prepare a list of themes and also identify any clear differences of opinion. Each table host reports out on themes heard in a 3-minute summary.

    I have used the World Café for strategic planning, asking questions such as, “What changes are occurring outside of our organization that we need to be aware of as we plan for the future?” or “What are some ways we can harness the energy of social networking technologies in our work?”

    I like to make the atmosphere as café-like as possible with coffee mugs for markers, vases of silk flowers, colorful place mats and restaurant menu-holders for the focus question. Of course, French café music is playing as people walk in.

    The World Café has much to recommend it. First, it is a friendly conversation. The questions themselves are interesting. Full participation is built in. Everyone’s point of view is welcomed, regardless of job title or demographic. Different modalities are tapped into—writing, drawing, speaking, listening. Participants are asked to synthesize and look for patterns which requires higher order thinking than just generating ideas.

    Sometimes the drawings left on the tables are zany. Sometimes they are just stick figures and sometimes the artwork is breathtaking. The words and artwork can be photographed and made into a montage that makes a great cover for a report of the event. I have designed and facilitated half a dozen World Café events in the past six months and people uniformly seem to enjoy the experience. One of seven design principles for the World Café is that people should have fun.

    The World Café is the 1995 creation of a global interdisciplinary group known as the Intellectual Capital Pioneers. “Awakening and engaging collective intelligence through conversations about questions that matter” is the motto. Juanita Brown and David Isaacs have written a comprehensive “how-to” book covering the seven design principles and more. The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2005). The helpful (and artful) web site is http://www.theworldcafe.com/.

    I really like the World Café approach because everyone has a chance to be part of the conversation. Viewpoints that would never see the light of day in an unstructured meeting are aired and discussed. Points of agreement are found where people thought there were none. Participants leave the meeting better educated in the issues, knowing more people in their workplace, and better able to execute organizational strategies because they have a deeper understanding of what they mean. And there’s nothing like shared meaning to inspire people to do their best work. ***

    World Cafe Table Setting

  • Until We Get Our Act Together?

    It’s an old fashioned approach to think we have to know all the answers before we are willing to communicate with clients, colleagues, customers or stakeholders. Inviting them to contribute to solutions is respectful and appreciative. This open approach is also very likely to shed useful light on the problem itself.


    “We can’t say anything until we get our act together!” This is repeated countless times every day by leaders facing complex problems. Whether it’s a manufacturer dealing with a mechanical failure, or an agency installing a new system, or a college creating intellectual property guidelines, the underlying issue is the same-Leaders usually don’t want to discuss problems publicly until they have the answers figured out.

    This reluctance to openly discuss situations that are not yet resolved is a carryover from patriarchal, authoritarian command and control systems. We are accustomed to that way of doing things-the people on top figure it out and then tell everyone else. Our underlying fear as individual leaders is that we will be seen as less than competent if we discuss an issue without knowing how we are going to resolve it.

    Ten Questions to Ask
    It’s an old fashioned approach to think we have to know all the answers before we are willing to communicate with clients, colleagues, customers or stakeholders. Inviting them to contribute to solutions is respectful and appreciative. This open approach is also very likely to shed useful light on the problem itself.

    Here are ten questions to shape a discussion around any problem for which we don’t yet have answers. Questions 1-5 are those we provide answers for and questions 6-10 are those we ask of stakeholders.

    1. What do we know about the current situation?

    2. What are the questions? What is it that we don’t know yet, but will need to find out?

    3. What are the barriers and bottlenecks we know of so far?

    4. What information is lacking?

    5. What will we do to fill the information gap?

    6. What are some ideas for addressing the issues, barriers, and information gaps?

    7. Where could we find models for benchmarking?

    8. What additional partners might make sense?

    9. What are possible unintended consequences or connections we should think about now?

    10. Who would be willing to work with us on this issue?

    If you are uncomfortable with standing in front of your clients, customers, stakeholders, employees without the answers in your back pocket, be open about that too. You can say, “I usually like to have everything figured out before coming before you, but this issue/problem will be best solved if we put our heads together on it.”

    We don’t need to have all the answers, but we do need to let people know what the timeline is and how we will ultimately develop the solution.


  • Be A Better Leader—Take Notes!

    The most powerful leadership strategies are also the most simple. Here is one of those simple things: Take notes!  If you have time to make a grocery list, you have time to jot down a few things you noticed today.


    The most powerful leadership strategies are also the most simple. Here is one of those simple things: Take notes! John Aleckson, CEO of Web Courseworks, writes about taking notes throughout the year and compiling a “Victory Log” to share with the team at the end of the year. Besides victories, your notes will include things that didn’t work, reactions you didn’t expect, things you want to try in the future, and equally as important, how you felt about these things. Whether in a tiny spiral notebook or bound book or electronic file, your notes are a goldmine of information, especially if you look back on them over time.

    If you want to dig deeper, your notes can be your vehicle for double loop learning as described by Argyris. If you are double loop learning, some of the questions you will ask yourself are, “What are the assumptions that underlie my actions? What’s the theory we have in our heads that is directing our actions? How are our theories holding up?” In single loop learning, according to Argyris, we simply ask ourselves, “What happened?” without looking much deeper.

    It is very likely that you will see patterns in your notes—people who consistently behave in a certain way, targets that regularly get missed, questions that come up again and again, people who deliver wow results every time. Our lives are so full, that if we don’t attempt to capture these things, they slip away. So your notes can be both a personal learning tool and a way to keep track of victories so you can celebrate them. But of course, you don’t have to wait till the end of the year to celebrate your team’s achievements. People need all the encouragement they can get.

    Be protective of your notes too, so you can be perfectly honest. You can figure out what this means.

    One of the leadership practices we cultivate at our annual Women’s Executive Retreat is journaling. If you have time to make a grocery list, you have time to jot down a few things you noticed today. 

    Do you take daily or weekly notes or keep a journal? What does it do for you? What impact has it had on you as an individual or a leader? Please share your experiences.

  • Collaboration in Action

    Collaboration in Action

    We have an opportunity to get up to speed on today’s most pressing leadership and human productivity issues. Human resource leaders in the Madison area are collaborating to offer a day of hot topics  as part of a larger conference of the IPMA-HR Central regional conference. This collaborative learning event takes place on Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at the Madison Marriott West. (The full IPMA-HR event runs June 6-9.)

    I have the honor of being one of the speakers and a co-sponsor. I’ll be leading sessions on “Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide to Implementation” and “The Clover Practice™ for Leaders.” The tantalizing list of presentations by veteran presenters also includes:

    • Retaining and Developing a High Quality Staff
    • How to Ramp, Rally and Revive Employees on a Flat Budget
    • Social Media: New and Creative Ways to Communicate
    • Employee Onboarding and Reboarding: Getting Employees Up to Speed Faster in New or Cross-Trained Positions
    • Using Conflict to Promote Labor/Management Collaboration and Success
    • Generation Soup: Inspiring Today’s Multi-Gen Workforce to Higher Performance
    • Understanding a Multi-generational Workforce
    • The Supervisor’s Role in Building a Customer Service Culture
    • The Supervisor’s Motivational Tool Kit
    • Increase Productivity, Innovation and Profits by Working Harmoniously with Human Nature
    • Sustainable Health Care; Strategies to Support Healthier Decisions
    • Health Care Reform is Here, What to Do Now?
    • Communicating Successfully in Person or Via Technology: What Works and When
    • Building the Future, One Coaching Question at a Time
    • Succession Planning and Performance Management for Engagement and Results
    • Preferred Learning Styles and the MBTI
    • Making a Difference with Mediasite

    The day will begin with a fun walk-run and be capped off with Suzy Favor Hamilton, 3-Time Olympic Runner, 9-Time NCAA Champion, Motivational Speaker, Realtor speaking on “Perfection is Not Success”

    The collaborative nature of this event attracted local cosponsors including Madison Area Quality & Improvement Network (MAQIN), Station 1 Consulting, Inc., Wisconsin Association of Mediators (WAM), Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence (WCPE), Wisconsin State Training Council, UW-Madison Executive Education, and UW-Madison Office of Human Resource Development.   

    You can still register for this day of rich learning and networking. The fee for Tuesday, June 8, which includes a continental breakfast. is $125. Walk in registrations will be accepted. Feel free to call me if you have questions at 608-445-1085.

  • Reviewer Focuses on Interdependence

    In his review of Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™,  UK Consultant Philip Whiteley seized on “Declare Your Interdependence.”


    He says, “When I reached the third of the three principles…I thought I had mis-read. Where I expected to read ‘declare your independence’, it runs: ‘declare your inter-dependence’ (my emphasis). This was the first indication that something original is going on. I rather tire of ‘how to’ books that place too much of a burden on the individual to sort out their workplace context. But she strikes the right balance, warning individuals against victimhood, and blaming the context for lack of effort to achieve.”

    Whiteley says he uses the book as a guide in negotiating and contracting with people he doesn’t know well and recommends it for anyone “charting difficult waters” at work. In addition to these practical uses, Whitely says the book’s focus on teamwork and interdependence has deeper implications for organizational design and philosophy. “I’m aware that a few organizations, Nokia, Southwest Airlines, WL Gore, for example, have broken out of this and embraced much more teamwork. The next step is to start to encourage shareholders and others to look at companies through this prism, rather than stick to the mono-culture of the quarterly report.”

    See the full review at http://felipewh.wordpress.com.

    Whiteley is the author of How to Manage in a Flat World: 10 Strategies to Get Connected to Your Team Wherever They Are.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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



    Possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles and professional standards


    Express consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something


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


    Acknowledgment of achievement


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


    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.

  • 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?