Hire more oddballs and learn how to herd cats with different colored headwear

In a previous post I posed three questions that one should ask before trying to make change happen in an organization:

“1) Who is successful or who thrives? Who fails?”

But beyond making change happens, what happens if a group’s make up becomes dominated by the same kinds of people? When a culture starts to dominate a group’s thinking, people in the group start to echo each other. Groups start hiring more people that think or behave just like they do. Whether they form a culture of doers and followers or a culture of collaboration, the impulse to regularly hire for fit can result in homogeneity or sameness. It’s been argued that highly uniform cultures can lead to stagnation. Diverse cultures on the other hand  potentially promote sharing of ideas, innovation, and change.

Has your workplaced hired itself into a "Stepford" culture?

Has your workplace hired itself into a “Stepford” culture?

According to Martin Davidson, companies need to break this habit of building cultures of sameness and hire more “weirdos.” His chief argument is that it’s the odd-duck who potentially contributes to finding the best innovative ideas or solutions. But it’s the manager’s role to ‘harness’ that weirdness and creativity to provide or bring value to the company’s goals.  As he notes:

The key for leaders is to figure out how to support weird people so that they create—not destroy—value for the company. Some of these people have stifled their offbeat creativity out of social fear, camouflaging their true selves because they think it’s not appropriate at work to be as they really are.

Hiring the right kind of weirdos is harder that it seems. Obviously, if managers/leaders have been so dialed into identifying and selecting ‘normals’, then how could they identify a helpful weirdo? As Davidson notes, it’s important for the leadership and hiring groups to understand where their own weaknesses lie. Taking an organizational self-assessment can provide a baseline. If you have more planners and doers in your group, perhaps you need to hire or grow more strategists. If you have more big idea people maybe you need more logistically minded individuals.

Also, ability to communicate effectively despite one’s weirdness is still a necessity in any eligible job candidate. Though if someone is challenged with communicating effectively, it is possible to learn as long as one demonstrates the willingness and capacity to do so. Also, as Davidson hints, communication style differences can also be mitigated by managers and project leads who are savvy at building collaborative bridges and trust within diverse teams. So hiring and promoting managers for their ability and potential to get various work styles to jive in harmony should be considered when reviewing candidates. For groups with highly proactive employees regardless of their talents, an introverted leader is an ideal manager because introverts often allow these highly proactive and talented individuals to contribute and share before diving in and solving problems for them like an extroverted manager might. Extroverted managers impulse to lead by throwing out solutions can stifle and frustrate employees or event prevent developing their capacity for independent proactive problem solving.

Extroverted managers are needed, but with employees or workforces that look solely to leadership for direction or cues for action. My father-in-law likes to refer to them as employees “with a strong back and weak mind.” This type of work culture might not be useful in situations where people need to think quickly and not require their boss for guidance on decisions. For example, teams that rapidly develop solutions or innovation for example, can do better with a leader who lets them solve problems on their own.

So now I have my diverse dream team? How do I get them to work with each other effectively?

In addition to hiring for a diversity of ideas, or behaviors and personalities, once you’ve got a diverse team you need to manage them effectively. Without guidance & trust a diversity of work styles and personalities leads to conflicts and disagreements. This year I observed a training that highlighted Edward de Bono’s Six Hat thinking as a method of promoting different voices in problem solving and collaboration.

The Six Hats encourages a structured discussion/exchange between different styles of thinking from the innovator, the planner, the data collector/analyst, the optimist, the empath, and the skeptic.  This choreographed exchange is designed to promote a balanced approach to working cooperatively to accomplish goals. The process leverages different styles of thinking and viewpoints to come up with solid and viable solutions and processes.

It’s important to note that building trust between all team members is key to achieving success with diverse teams. As many experienced managers know, this is easier said than done.  Establishing trust takes time and real NOT artificially or forced situations such as that uncomfortable team building exercise or roleplaying activity. In the meantime while teams learn how to work with each other effectively, leadership must constantly orient team members to their common goals to promote working collaboratively to reach their aims.

Coming up next… examination of examples of collaborative leadership approaches and how they can help build successful teams in a workplace that demands rapid change.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the "Island of Misfit Toys." It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the “Island of Misfit Toys.” It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Additional Reading:

Looking at decision making from all points of view

The case for recruiting weirdos

Six steps for avoiding group think on your team 

Hire the quiet neurotic not the impressive extrovert

Everything you need to know about the introverted leader

Using social media to connect with employees to promote engagement, learning & innovation

We're extinct? I must have missed the newsletter.

“We’re extinct? I must have missed that newsletter.”

There are tons of articles and proposals out there that tout the benefits of using social media at work to enable communication and collaboration. Companies that are early adopters and embracers of social media for these purposes have learned lessons that can help the rest of us implement social media practices more effectively. These pioneers have help answer some of the questions and arguments against. All the answers are not there, but the dialogue for usage has begun.

If I were to propose social media usage to my own group or department, I would want to have a good picture of how it can be used to help the company meet its business goals. I started exploring this topic a year ago and recently spent the time to develop a brief informational presentation to outline my learning. You can view a .pdf by clicking the image below.

An obvious use for social media in the work place – communicating news

Hopefully the use of social media platforms at work will drive that monthly or quarterly newsletter into extinction. Use of social media platforms as a news delivery tool may provide an more timely effective news channel for employees. Those traditional newsletters that come via email often get shuffled into mail folders or are simply ignored or deleted. I’d like to be able to search for news, past & current, on certain company-wide initiatives via a search engine rather than having to spend 5-10 minutes scratching my head as I wonder where I saw that particular newsletter with the info I’m looking for.

Other uses for social media in an enterprise environment

Traditional leaders may see social media as a mere distraction, but in reality, it provides powerful opportunities to connect with employees and leverage their knowledge. Statistics show that growing numbers of the world’s population see it as a common way to get the information they need or connect with others professionally as well as privately. According to a 2013 Pew survey, 82% of 30-49 year olds and 89% of 18-29 year olds use social media. For these people, it’s not odd to get news or connect with others this way. Consequently, they would be open to a growing number of uses for social media in a business environment:

  • Carefully guided but authentic application of social media tools such as polling and discussion can empower change management initiatives in an organization
  • It can also be an effective tool in building employee engagement by sharing business goals and asking employees to demonstrate or showcase where they fit in to these goals. Providing sounding boards for authentic discussion and opportunities for executives to listen and respond can build goodwill and engagement in the workforce. (This requires leaders who understand how to effectively communicate using these channels)
  • Highlight and build employee culture
  • Promote interdepartmental collaboration that can lead to innovation
  • Attract new talent (both from sources that are external and internal to the company). Having an outdated social media policy may deter younger talent from applying.
  • Sharing media, information and microblogging can promote learning of concepts, processes and methods within and between departments

Before social media usage is adopted, some homework needs to be done

It seems that successful implementation of SM requires the company to ask change management questions before implementing or even selecting a tool.

  • Are there enough people out there who are willing to experiment but then use it regularly going forward?
  • If not, do you have a set of super users and ‘mavens’ who would effectively model and proliferate the adoption of the platform?
  • What guidance would we include in our social media usage policy both for external & internal sharing? What sort of things are appropriate for sharing? What are not? What language will you use to communicate these rules to employees?
  • Is the company culture and leadership prepared to provide and use the transparency social media allows? Are they effectively trained in how to do so authentically?
  • What strategy will be used to engage employees and organizations at all levels of the company?

These are just a few questions that can be asked as part of a needs analysis. The presentation I’ve linked below examines some possibilities for engaging all levels of a company (Slide 5). Thanks to a very helpful article/whitepaper from EY Performance started a matrix of social media tools that can be used in an enterprise environment (Slide 11). I would caution any group or decision makers who are looking at implementing a social media strategy not to look for that ONE tool or platform that does everything. From my own experience and research it seems that there is not a one-stop-shop (at least today).  In the future, to continue this exploration, I’d like to outline some best recommended practices for both selecting a social media toolset and then recommendations for training all levels of a company in how to use social media effectively and safely.

I’m also working on developing most of the content from the slides shared below into an infographic. Creating simple infographics is another item on my own personal development checklist.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.52.28 PM

Using Social Media at Work to Connect with Employees – Google Slides

Building the best learning & development site ever

WebDesignforLearning If websites are like kitchens, then the best sites are the ones where you can get what you need quickly to get the job done. Perhaps none of the idealized websites as kitchens presented in the image above do that. While the third option is the most clean and organized it requires the user to know exactly where things are kept. If you are like many instructional designers that work in corporate environments, at one point in your career you have maintained or kept a learning and development website that is not unlike that messy and unorganized kitchen where you just can’t find what you’re looking for. Many of us have also had the pleasure of curating large bulky ‘link farms’ that require targeted searching (strategic use of “Ctrl + F”). But targeted searching implies that the user knows what to start looking for from the beginning. What about those users/learners who have no clue where to begin? The technology used for content management for the web can allow us to break out of those old-fashioned static content sites and linky boondoggles. There are several platforms available that allow us to effectively design for our learner’s need to find their content, instead of forcing them to use a contrived or even ad hoc designed and confusing structure that resembles a Dr. Suess building.

Result of building architecture around immediate need vs. actual planning around user needs/goals

This is the result of building architecture around immediate need or whim vs. actual planning around user needs/goals

There are a number of viable options for creating a user-friendly yet flexible web architecture for your learning website that leverages resuable and taggable content (Drupa, Joomla, SharePoint). SharePoint when used as a content management system (CMS) can help provide a vehicle for learner-designed web experiences. However, there must be some administrative and programming customization to your SP platform and some careful planning of use based on well-thought out site usage goals. In the end, good web and user interface design relies on meeting criteria/needs of the end user while fulfilling your business goals. I’ve built a set of questions for sussing out this criteria for my learner/end users. BIG QUESTION 1: Does your site help the learner achieve his or her learning & development goals? What are the learner’s primary goals? Develop their individual development plan? Seek out learning resources, courses or certificates in their fields? What fields? BIG QUESTION 2: Does your site help meet your groups business goals? Or is the content on your learning and development site relevant to helping learners achieve these goals? This is an age old set of questions that L & D groups who wish to stay relevant to the business should routinely and religiously be able to answer. What are your group’s business goals? How is your learning and development strategy supporting these goals? Can users access content for achieving these goals from the home page? BIG QUESTION 3: Can your site’s content and views be personalized according to the various audiences and learners that visit it? Is your content presented in units that can be tagged by user groups or topics, or types. Are you employing a flexible structure or set of different audience based taxonomies? Or are you using one set navigation structure? Have you identified the specific user groups or user personas who visit your site? If so, have you designed taxonomies based on their specific learning needs? BIG QUESTION 4: Can your users personalize their use of your site content? Can your learners apply their own personal tagging when it comes to organizing the site content per their needs? Can they organize or bookmark content that they like or find useful for easy reference afterwards? Can they contribute to the site’s helpfulness by rating individual pieces of content? BIG QUESTION 5: Do you have a handle of your site content and structure? Is there a tracking or monitoring system set in place that allows you to measure usage of the site content? Do you have an archiving system or regularly scheduled process in which you cull what is no longer relevant? Do you have an approval workflow for enabling, multiple Subject Matter Experts to post new content for approval by a groups of site admin who can monitor and approve content based on set quality criteria? Is this workflow user friendly enough to allow less tech-savvy people to post content for review? Can you iteratively design your content and structure to change to meet both your business and user needs? Per Jeffrey Zeldman’s 10 principles. Good designs and web platforms allow site admin and developers to ‘seamlessly’ and gracefully adapt web-content to their users changing needs (or just to make things look and work better ;)) IDEA IS TO PROVIDE BOTH STRUCTURED NAVIGATION AND PERSONALIZED USE OF CONTENT If you can provide different ways to get to the content a learner needs without confusing them, then you’ve put together an effective site. I’ve created learning websites with multiple layers of navigation (easily accessible by users) that allow for the following layers. Each layer is presented as a navigation option at the top of the page linked from obvious labeling (“Group X Top Learning Focal Points,” “Most Popular Content,”  “Site Map”).

  • A layer based on business context – what are the group’s business learner goals. For instance if are business driven initiatives for learning (Improve strategic planning, drive use of cost-saving practices, build a more virtual savvy business team). Then the site can be built upon these goals
  • A layer based on usage and user driven popularity of content. This layer would feature relevance driven navigation based on what is most popular (visited or rated)
  • A layer that provides an index of all site content. Kept simple and put in alphabetical order. With proper use of tech, this layer can be built automatically from a good tagging system with set organizational criteria. This is the ‘kitchen sink’ layer

Example: This presentation illustrates the process in which we designed a smaller topic focused website that used user personas to create multiple layers of navigation.

The wrong way to assess culture before attempting change

Let me preface this post with a confession about my fan love for classic Sci Fi films.

The story of George Taylor from Planet of the Apes. tells us how underestimating or judging a culture at face value can lead to missteps and frustration when it comes to being an agent for change. Near the beginn
ing of the film, George was convinced that he could take over the planet, because the first sentient beings he encountered were primitive & “simple.” As he sardonically cracks:

Taylor makes an assumption without knowing who is truly in control of the planet & it's culture

Taylor makes an assumption without knowing who is truly in control of the planet & its culture

Alas, poor George ends up finding himself in this situation.

Taylor2

Then ultimately coming to this conclusion:

Taylor3

Of course at moment George made his initial assessment, he didn’t know what he was truly dealing with.

Making assumptions about the culture of the organization you when you’re attempting any change effort can result in the worst sort of initiative sabotage. It’s important that we instead really understand the culture of the groups we are working with and then plan accordingly.

Continue reading ‘The wrong way to assess culture before attempting change’

My top tools for learning & design

I tend to explore tools and software selectively, but after I’ve discovered their uses, I like to work the heck out of them.  Christy Tucker inspired me to write a post on my favorite tools for learning and instructional design. The only ones that are new to my repertoire from over five years ago are Twitter & Storyline.

To enrich my own learning

Twitter – through hashtags & twitterchats I still am able to remain connected to new or trending conversations in my field. I also get to explore and hear other’s voices on topics I care about or am interested in. Yes, sometimes it seems that the chats provide a meeting ground for those who want to collect followers, but they do allow me to connect with others on Twitter who have similar interests.  While engaging in a few MOOCs I found the Twitter backchat most helpful in getting help or being directed to help during the class. The backchat also provided a great channel for starting conversation about topics.

I began using Twitter five years ago and I still seem to be engaged with it.  I have wondered what my choice in primary social media says about me, and apparently according to this article: “long-time Twitter users are found to use the site for cognitive simulation by uncovering information w/o much socialization.”  Considering my introversion this makes sense. Though to be frank, I have been attracted to the character restriction on Twitter because it forces you to be concise and pointed in your use of language. I imagine masters of literary wit from the past loving Twitter. How would Mark Twain or Dorothy Parker used it to hone their sharp observances or comebacks?

Dorothy Parker

What would Dorothy tweet?

Diigo

I still use Diigo to curate and organize resources I find on the Internet, especially when I’m trying to make a case for something I’ve tried using it to share resources with others, but I really only have one or two peers who gets the use of this tool, so I haven’t used it collaboratively.

LinkedIn

I’ve started using linked in more, to learn about what my professional peers and connections are interested in and sharing. I have used the discussion and participated in groups in the past, but not as much today.

For Design/Creativity

Articulate Storyline is my primary tool for developing online courses. The software itself allows me to easily create paths and experiences for learning content. It allows Instructional Designers like myself to focus more on design and delivery rather than programming functionality. Thankfully there’s a highly active learning community out there supported by Articulate and its users.

PowerPoint, like my former colleague, Christy Tucker, I use it for storyboarding course content. To some extent I’ve used it to create simple designs for online course backgrounds. I’m not a graphic designer by trade, but I appreciate the ability to create simple yet somewhat aesthetically pleasing backgrounds and containers for my content without a lot of fuss. No it’s not perfect by design standards, but it will do in a pinch and I can easily import into Storyline.

Sample of course page designed in PowerPoint

Sample of course page designed in PowerPoint

For Creativity Outside of Work

SlideShare – Slideshare allows me to port and share my presentations to the public and also apply audio to them. I also use the entire site as a resource for design inspiration in creating and developing presentation and course content visuals. And While Prezi seemed at first to have a slicker design & delivery, I eventually got tired of using it because the constant zooming left me a little motion sick. I never bothered to figure out a way around it.

CEOs: Scratch the learning from the past. Embrace lifelong learning in your workpace

This environment did not train the workforce we need today and tomorrow:

OldSCHOOL

 

We need to start fostering a learning environment and culture within our own organizations that encourages life long learners. Without this culture & environment we will not be able to generate the innovation and solutions that allow us to be leaders in the market yet alone keep up the pace demanded by changing technologies and a public who demands inter-connectivity via technology. 

Learning organizations both grow and attract star innovators and performers. Organizations that refuse to change wisely & rapidly often fade or fail. There are no magic bullets when it comes to developing a learning culture and environment. It’s really damn hard work, that doesn’t seem to pay off immediately, but it does require a vision and courage to change.

 

Slideshare: Meeting the Needs of a Rapidly Changing Workforce with the Learning Organization of the 21st Century

Looking at a Shogun’s Leadership/Partnership Lessons from a 21st Century Lens

21st Century advice: Freedom of Speech  at Work Requires Partnership from Both Ends

I have been sitting on this blog post for some time now. And now with the summer coming to the end, I finally find some time to finish it. After working in training and development for over 15 years, I’ve been exposed to a lot of leadership development programs. And some programs really emphasize the importance of an open door policy, but it’s not always possible to exercise it without willingness and buy in on the part of leadership. On the other hand, people who follow need to realize that the open door is a gift that should be used wisely.

Leaders should have a truly open door and be prepared to hear the good with the bad

One of my favorite stories from Japanese history is a simple story about listening and leadership…

One day while walking through his palace grounds with a retainer, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu met a low level soldier from the ranks. The soldier had a comment to say on his regiment. When the man had finished and walked away, Ieyasu’s retainer commented with shock, “What a waste of time. How dare he address you on such a petty and insignificant manner.”

The Shogun remarked frankly:

“It took a great deal of courage for that man to approach me. If I did not listen to him, he might not ever do it again.”

 IeyasuTokugawaShogun

Tokugawa Ieyasu – Japanese Shogun who helped unite feudal Japan

With the simple gesture of listening, Tokugawa sent a message to all of his followers low and high, that they could be heard. They could speak up (within reason, of course). The most practical reasoning for this was if he had no true visibility to the workings of his court, he would not be able to guide and manage them effectively. He was probably savvy enough to recognize that his ability to lead effectively could be impeded by courtiers seeking to pander to curry favor.

In hierarchical structures and cultures of leadership that are top down, a truly open dialogue is painfully difficult if not impossible.

Followers to Leaders: don’t treat us like we’re still in middle school. Encourage an open dialogue with us

When I taught middle school students, every year I encountered at least one student who would express their dissatisfaction with rules or my decisions as a teacher aloud. I met one or two who insisted that in expressing their dissent they were expressing their freedom of speech.

Engaging in this kind of argument with anyone let alone a young person who’s testing the boundaries around them can seem like a sticky wicket. I’ve met teachers who avoid giving their students choices simply because of this fact.

I get this sense from many people in leadership positions regardless of their level or profession that there is a hesitancy to allow people to speak freely because they fear the result of this freedom, namely disagreement and even expression of dislike and resentment. This is old school leadership that can be defined by that phrase: “It’s my way or the highway” or the “buck stops here.” In the age or rapid market changes due to technology this management mechanism is too slow and inefficient to allow for the innovation and change needed to keep up and excel the market demands. Collaborative leadership should replace the old school top down model.

21st Century Advice: Don’t fear an open dialogue with people at all levels. Embrace it.

However, if we operate with the fear that people will revolt if we give them too much lee-way in expressing their feelings and opinions, then we gain our ability to control and dictate but loose our ability to lead and influence. The first option allows us to have our own way, the second makes allows those we lead to become self-sufficient and make their own decisions or act freely and efficiently to achieve the whole organization’s goals.

Leaders to Followers: use the opportunity to speak to share the issues and work with constructive solutions to solve them

But there should still be implicit rules of partnership built in any dialogue between leadership and workers and the focus must really be upon collaboration to make the organization’s goals and mission possible.

21st Century Advice: Align yourself with your company’s mission and goals,
but also find where you bring value and express this.

For those of us who are exercising our “Freedom of Speech” with our leadership, it’s important to not only be fully appreciative of the opportunity to do so, it’s good to be mindful of how we’re framing our words.

  • Are they thoughtful?
  • Are they constructive?
  • Are they forward thinking? Not focused on what happened or how things are with the past but defined by new possibilities for the future.
  • How can we help drive achievement of the organizations success? How can we be an asset?

Additional Reading & Resources:

How traditional leadership structures can destroy creativity and innovation:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140707105756-681714-13-ways-to-destroy-creativity-and-innovation

Ieyasu Tokugawa quotes:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/tokugawa_ieyasu.html

The Patience of Ieyasu Tokugawa:
http://hanofharmony.com/the-patience-of-tokugawa-ieyasu/


Why?

My place outside of work to explore and make connections with the ideas and things (sometimes work-related) that I'm passionate about.

My Tweets

Blog Stats

  • 248,814 hits

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers