June 30, 2009
I said in an earlier post (One Book, Two Months), I continue to be interested in the evolution of communities and organizations – how to increase collaboration and to reduce feelings of isolation. Today’s post was sparked by connections among:
- A whispered negative comment at a community meeting, “Did you hear that the Smith’s are leaving?”
- An uplifting positive email from a former colleague mentioning that a mutual colleague, who had worked for me, was a panelist at a recent career seminar and had said very complimentary things about how I explained the details of his position during recruitment, how I had piqued his interest enough to accept the job, and how I had been a good coach/mentor later after he was hired.
- And, continued thinking on my last post, Applied to Soccer.
What these three things have in common are the ebb and flow that exists in every community and organization, which occurs like the ebb and flow of the flock of birds in this estuary photo. My three examples differ in tone and timing: negative, positive, arriving (hiring), participating, and departing. Organizations and communities evolve (grow and adapt to external change) as people depart and others arrive, so it is important to prevent stagnation, but there is no need to be negative.
Arrivals are recruited to perform specific functions (in organizations) and are assessed to ensure fit to the organization or community through shared goals, values, and vision. With each arrival the community/organization is infused with the new, the fresh, and dreams. Arrivals generate hope for the future.
Departures, on the other hand, are subdued, because there is loss. The losses come in many flavors: a valued contributor choosing to go elsewhere, a respected contributor departing under organizational contraction, and/or the loss of an aspiration because goodness-of-fit was not achieved (or outgrown).
Managing arrivals is easy because they are naturally positive – hope is good. Conversely, managing departure can be hard. The key to success in managing departure is to ensure shared goals during participation and dignity in departure.
Dignity is infused when leadership conversations are respectful and there is a history of communication around expectations and goals (positives are reinforced and negatives are identified and corrected early). Although it takes more effort to stay positive and to over-communicate, that extra effort nurtures joy, enthusiasm, and loyalty. Thus, the long view advice is to lead with dignity upon arrival, during participation, and upon departure.
Are you infusing your community/organization with dignity?
June 23, 2009
- Relativistic comparisons: “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.” (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
- Loss aversion: “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)
These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:
- Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team. Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
- Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters. Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer). Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
- Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance. (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)
This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development. I felt them as a soccer mom.
The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold: win games and develop players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury). The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players. Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games. This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.
My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials. During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback. At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?! Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games. Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…
Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys. He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible. He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time. With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.
This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…
My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament. Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team. The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games. My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final. Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.
It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final. Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.
From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):
- Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
- Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players. It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
- Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient. Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.
I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence. Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:
- Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
- Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).
I am not sure that will happen spontaneously. I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.
Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively? What is your perspective? Do you have advice?
June 19, 2009
I was raised to be very self-sufficient and to (mostly) avoid debt, so it is difficult for me to ask.
Recently, I joined my son in “picking a fight against cancer.” We are both participating in the 2009 LiveStrong Challenge. We will each fundraise and run a 5k. My son is the LiveStrong veteran. He raised >$1000 as part of his 7th grade charity project. No matter the confidence that I have with the cause, fundraising feels to me like asking for a favor.
To overcome my discomfort with fundraising, I started slowly. I selected ten (10) friends to solicit. I prepared a “base email” and customized salutations appropriate to each friend. I sent these requests out over several days, burying the requests for support amongst a brief personal update, shameless promotion of my blog, and photos of my son. Was it the right balance?….
I did not get many quick responses. My confidence waned! After several days, I received a response indicating that my email had been caught in a spam folder (apparently, having several links causes susceptibility to spam filters). After follow-up emails to the remaining nine (9), I discovered that six (6) of the messages had been caught in spam filters. Whew! My confidence was restored.
The asking tension is in give vs. take of reciprocal behaviors. We give to preserve/nurture relationships (long view). We take (make requests of others) to meet goals. Although this is true both professionally and personally, the medium of exchange makes these transactions quite different. Professional exchanges have market norms; PAY fulfills the transaction. Personal/civic exchanges have social norms; RECIPROCITY fulfills the transaction. Boundaries and expectations are well defined for professional exchanges and I have tons of experience, so it is much easier to conduct those transactions. My instincts tell me that for personal/civic exchange, creating personal boundaries consistent with my principles and behaviors is the right direction. For me, this means nurturing personal connection with each solicitation for LiveStrong.
To date, I have raised $70 out of $200 goal for LiveStrong. Leave me a comment if you want to donate to my effort and I’ll send you the link. ☺
In the meantime, I will continue to gain experience through practice, practice, practice (does that mean that I’ll “get to the Carnegie Hall” of fundraising?!)
Do you have advice for me to strengthen my ability to ask?
June 12, 2009
Specifically, we discussed the challenges of coping with isolated HR (Human Resources) actions that benefit a single individual/group, yet create long-term unintended consequences for other staff. One example was a scenario where HR advocated offering a higher starting salary to recruit a new employee without adjusting other staff salaries for like positions. The problem is that even if current staff salaries are economically fair (from an entirely objective perspective), the salary differential will be perceived as unfair when (not if) the details become known. This is because humans are tightly bound to relativistic thinking. Watch this great YouTube video by Dan Ariely from his work, Predictably Irrational, Ch.1, to demonstrate the point.
How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.
The question that my friend and I discussed is the WHY would anyone advocate for such a scenario? I think that the biggest issue is that organizational policy-makers may not believe that negatives resulting from relativistic thinking are real. Concerns are dismissed by otherwise thoughtful and well-educated policy-makers because they want to believe that we should not behave that way *and* because they don’t “feel” it themselves. They are more likely to be insulated from accumulating these negatives, because their own (more senior) staff better model ideal behavior. Thus, their mental models, based upon their current experience, allow them to apply idealized logic to the expected behavior of more junior staff when assessing positives/negatives.
Intentions are good, vis-à-vis accruing an immediate (short view) positive for the single/group (improve employment competitiveness by recruiting new employee at higher salary). However, as noted by Jeffery Pfeffer in his book What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom about Management, pg.117, “…executives [can be] hopelessly out of touch and unable to empathize with or even understand the situation faced by front-line staff…,” underscoring the reality that long view negatives can be dismissed. The situation is more acute if policy-makers believe that that actions/policies will inculcate ideal behavior – it won’t! Humans are wired relativistically.
It is much better to avoid the conflicts than to have to deal with the unintended negative consequences. Thus, what is needed is for policy-makers to understand the effects that they are not currently considering. My advice:
- Teach Concepts: show the video clip to demonstrate the global concepts – Ariely has done excellent work to unequivocally demonstrate that relative thinking is universal and unavoidable,
- Explain Specifics: describe the specific logical effects of the proposal under scrutiny, and
- Gain Acceptance: get agreement that relativistic thinking causes significant negatives before you begin to discuss a direction for solution.
Are you taking time to teach concepts, explain specifics, and gain acceptance to those who do not “feel” them directly?
June 7, 2009
The urgency began when my son began looking rather haggard after a night of sleep. After inquiring, I learned that a loud scratching sound from under the floor in his room was keeping him awake. I knew immediately that the roof rats, (endemic to our area) had found a new ingress point to our crawl space under the house. Being way past the stigma of having rats, I knew that they must be excluded immediately and proceeded to take action!
So, how does this relate to the Long View?
As I noted in “About the Long View”, “Although [we] sometimes struggle to make (or coach) “long view” choices because “near term” gets in the way….[it] is not to say that there is no place for short-term actions, to the contrary. Sometimes you have to plug the hole in the dike right now in order to protect the dike for the future.”
- Rat intrusion is a clear example of the Urgent/Important – stuff needing to be fixed immediately or it will get worse quickly!
- In the time-management matrix that most technologists abide, it is acceptable to shift priorities to accommodate the Urgent/Important (1st quadrant).
After interviewing several local pest control companies (several wasted my time – they didn’t actually offer needed services!), I settled on a local company that was willing to enter the crawl space to assess integrity, seal potential ingress areas, and trap the critters out. Once the technician arrived, he immediately identified several potential ingress points that had to be fixed (some in the roof area – which needed a specialist) and several at the baseline. We worked together to fix the exterior baseline ingress points (where the scratching was heard). Then it was time to “house dive.” Miguel (the pest control pro) was able to assess the north-side crawl space, but the south-side was too narrow for him to access. So, being both action-oriented and small-framed, I put on my coveralls, my headlamp (all self-respecting gadget queens have one!), safety glasses, mask, gloves, and squeezed into the south-side crawl space.
I quickly discovered a single well-evidenced ingress point (many rat turds!) and evidence of excessive scratching. In a second “dive,” I hauled camera, metal screen, nails, and a hammer to the spot and dutifully sealed the ingress.
Over the next several days, my son slept on the couch because the previously loud wood scratching amplified/progressed to metal scratching. The enclosed rats were desperately in search of food, allowing Miguel to trap the critters out. The final score is 3-1.
Miguel captured/killed three rats in the snap traps, and I caught one in an untethered glue trap. Although the fourth rat touched the glue trap, it was able to scurry away with the trap. In a third “dive” to retrieve the trap/rat(carcass?), I found the trap wedged at a pipe penetration – the rat had leveraged the trap off and escaped to another part of the crawl space. Smart! I have yet to find the carcass, but hopefully I will not need to.
The scratching has stopped, my son’s sleep is restored, and only the painter needs to come to polish up the roof work. Whew, back to the Important/NOT Urgent (2nd quadrant)!
Are you working to the Important/NOT Urgent routinely?
June 4, 2009
The long view advice when faced with pettiness is to take the high road. No durable happiness is ever derived from succumbing to pettiness in others. Revenge is fleeting and often filled with long-term negative consequences. It is okay to channel the bumper sticker that reads, “Mean People Suck” to sum up our emotions and feelings from being taken advantage, but keeping negativity appropriately directed (safely venting only!) is the best course. I share this wisdom as I face down my own challenge with a backyard fence:
The shared fence between my neighbor’s home and my home is in severe disrepair. It has been that way for about ten (10) years. Five years ago, when a significant portion fell, our neighbor did not want to replace the fence and because we planned to redo our backyard in a few years time, waiting seemed like an acceptable option. We agreed to an unaesthetic functional repair. A few years later, when we redid our backyard and approached our neighbor to replace the fence, it became clear to us that he was an obstructionist. Unfortunately, what before seemed reasonable became precedent. With the fence failing again and the homeowner’s association notifying us that it needs to be replaced/repaired (to maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood), we still cannot get our neighbor to agree to replace the fence!
Recently, my husband and I decided that life is too short to not enjoy our backyard more and have decided that we will shoulder 90% of the cost of the fence replacement (the neighbor would pay 10%, which is equivalent to half the cost of another unaesthetic repair). Shockingly, our neighbor is still obstructing by demanding terms of the contractor, timing, and more, before giving approval for the work to proceed. Aaarrgghhh…..
- The high road, the high road, the high road, the high road….my mantra to get me through those emergent thoughts of effigy burning.
- What else works is laughter to ease the frustration. Jim, my fence guy (who has quoted this job many times over 10 years, but never been given the go ahead to do the work), regales me with tales of much worse neighbors. He makes me laugh and it never seems so bad after I talk to Jim.
- Lastly, perhaps there is prayer? Yesterday, I attended a special occasion prayer service and learned that the psalm for Wednesday is a prayer for spiritual retribution: “…Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their deserts…destroy them with their own evil…”
Although I continue to take the high road, I concurrently pine for more Wednesdays!
Do you take the high road or pine for more Wednesdays?