January 23, 2016

How to Deliver Influence

Over the last week I have been wondering about what we learn and how we make use of this knowledge in our lives.  Much of my thoughts have centred on whether our approach to education is in fact giving us the knowledge we need in our daily lives.  Are we really gaining knowledge?  Are we simply being told how to accomplish a given task?  Are we being educated on the possible conclusions or just the one conclusion of the lesson - the educator's conclusion?  In other words are we learning to come to our own conclusions?  Are we able to, with what we are being taught, to really make the material our own, to synthesize it and to assimilate it into a true understanding?  To take all of this data and understand.  To come up with our own way and our own conclusion.  Are we always being asked to conform?  Do we need conformity?

I have had many such conversations at work over the last days and, coincidentally, I came across some TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson two days ago.  Those conversations and videos have solidified in my mind the importance of changing how we educate people so that we can make education as individualistic as possible.   So that the students not only learn a process, steps or method but truly understand why to follow the process, steps, method and how to make those things as real to them based on their own strengths and weaknesses.

Let me be specific.  I work in an organization that is evolving from being one that has delivered basic, simple and generic remote services to its customers to one that now delivers more complex product and sales help.  We are in the midst of moving from being measured on what we deliver and the quantity of delivery to being measured on the business result - not the steps along the way.  The process, steps, method matter less.

The issue is that in life, whether in primary and secondary schools or in corporate education, we are generally taught what the steps are and not what the objective is.  We are given presentations and scripts and dates to memorize and follow.  Rarely are alternative methods shared.  Are we ever told to solve a problem using whatever methods or tools we can come up with?  This only happens in special workshops when outside help is brought in to show us an alternative approach.  No, in school we are told there is one way to do it.  The supposed best, most efficient, tried and tested way developed over the years.  As a result many assume there is no better way and follow the given steps.

If, rather, we educated on the desired result and, in addition to learning the tried and tested way we were shown how different people have synthesized and assimilated the information and made it their own, we would find a way that is more authentic to our own abilities.  If the learning involved trying one's own methods first and allowed failure and iteration would we come out with a better understanding of the problem at hand?  It would promote problem solving using methods which come naturally to the individual.  The point is that you could follow whatever path you are comfortable with and therefore more likely to comprehend and later explain.  Rather we are told to get in line and follow.

Of course, as we age, we eventually do start developing our own different steps and methods.  Our confidence grows.  But businesses can't wait for careers and life to teach employees.  They need to adapt quickly.  So we create process and steps.

There are some tasks where clearly conformity is required.  When you build a product every single one of those needs to be identical, of the same quality.  They are built to specifications and purchased based on those specifications.  However when the job is delivering a service which is meant to influence human behaviour conformity loses importance.  Each interaction is unique because we are dealing with human beings who each have their unique specifications.  The listener and person you are influencing are complex.  They have changing moods from one conversation to the next and one day to the next.  They have different ways of interpreting information.  Their daily context varies.  We each have different ways of approaching problem solving and getting stuff done.

The most effective human to human interactions can't be taught and there is no right way to go about them.  The best communication is when both parties connect, adapt to each other - nevertheless remaining authentic - accept their differences and create a way that is unique to that specific conversation on that specific day.  It means constant adapting - like the tightrope walker making constant modifications as the wind shifts.  If that happens then real influence occurs and the service has a much greater chance of success.

In conclusion, the more varied the set of shared steps and processes are, the more open we are to various ways of achieving the objective, the less structured the processes are, the more we will be able to create our own, authentic and comfortable approach to reaching our objective and, in the case of business, the impacts we are looking for.

So let's complement training with coaching, mentoring, shadowing and flexibility in approach and give people the opportunity to create their own approach that will, in the longer-term, possibly positively impact the so called tried and tested approach!

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 12, 2016

Look A Stranger in the Eye (Pupil)

This post is about attitude and how it makes all the difference in the world.  Specifically this is about the attitude we bring to our daily routines and is based on three different men I have come across during my daily commute and one whom I have never met.  Each one made or makes the day just a tad bit better than it was - and they do it so simply.

One is a Montreal cop who I used to see regularly in the Griffintown area of the city.  The second is a parking attendant at the Bell Centre.  The third is a train conductor who used to work the line I ride to and from the city every day.  The last is a singer in a band.  They are all examples of how easy it is to build a short human connection with a stranger and make the world that much more united.

In every case they manage to, during a few seconds of interaction with fellow citizens, make a connection and put a smile on someone's face - well mine at least.

The cop's job, during the extremely busy construction season this past summer, was to direct traffic at intersections.  He brought life to his job and a smile.  As he let bus after bus through the intersection he'd make eye contact with the drivers, point at them, give then the thumbs up and a smile.  The drivers would return with a friendly wave or short honk of the horn.  He did not just sleeplessly guide vehicles around, he led drivers and pedestrians safely across the busy intersection and made a connection for a brief few seconds.

The parking attendant I am referring to directs cars in and out of the St-Antoine Street Bell Centre lot.  With a long "woooooo, wooooooo" scream he gets our attention and directs cars to stop to let others in or out, stops traffic to let pedestrians cross the entrance and greets most of us with a "Bonsoir monsieur/madame.  Merci!" lifting his Montreal Canadiens' ball cap off his head.  Again a connection.  Pedestrians, drivers all greet him as they walk and drive by.

The conductor also managed to make a positive connection in a few seconds by reminding us all to keep smiling when he called out the last station or greeted us at the first.  He'd constantly walk the length of the train, saying hi and making eye contact with riders - smiling.  Most of us said "Hi" and smiled back.  Another easy connection made.

On the Live 2012 Coldplay concert video, Chris Martin makes a great point.  He talks about how the band has matured, grown confident and how they are no longer apologetic for their sound or music.  He states that they have outgrown the English upbringing they had which somehow reinforced this behaviour of apology and fear.  He states that on the 2012 tour they had finally gained the confidence so that, while on stage, he now looks into the eyes of hundreds of people every night - directly in their eyes during the show - and states that for that moment, for that second, a connection is made between him and that specific spectator.  Something magical happens.  Indeed....  And it is felt by both.

It seems does seem to take a certain amount of self-confidence to say "hi" to a total stranger.  We should all do it more often.  Look at someone in the eye, directly into the black of their pupils, and say "Hi!".

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 11, 2016

Bowie - Planet Earth is Blue.....

This is a quick memory about my childhood spurred on by the news of David Bowie's death.

I spent a good part of my elementary school years in my cousin's basement bedroom playing chess and listening to his records.  He was (still is!) nine years older than I and those formative years opened my eyes.  He had hundreds of albums.  The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant, Genesis, The Rolling Stones and so many other great artists and bands.  One of them was Bowie.

Of the first ten album I ever bought two of them were Bowie's.  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was one I bought new at either Sam the Record Man on Ste-Catherine or Phantasmagoria on Parc near Sherbrooke.  Cellophane wrapped with a 3.99 of 4.99 written in black marker across the cover.  The second was Diamond Dogs - I bought that one used at Cheap Thrills (can't remember if that store was on Mountain, Stanley, or Drummond....one of those three anyway).  That one likely cost a buck or so and seemed to be in good enough shape.

I clearly remember listening to them both lying on my bed face up staring at textured popcorn ceiling.  There was no need of meditation in those days.  It was music that carried me away and made me conscious of the moment - oblivious to past or future.

Future Legend opens up Diamond Dogs....

His music, his look, his eyes, his makeup, his sound, his weirdness.  I did not realize it when I was young but it was his uniqueness that made him special.  Provoking, passionate, insanely human and not afraid to show it.


Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 9, 2016

That Dreaded Time of the Year - Evaluations!

We are in the midst of one of the most dreaded periods of the year in corporate life - end of year evaluations.  I have been reading more reports lately of companies dropping these reviews altogether and opting for continuous conversations and evaluations.  The last article I read was from The Economist World in 2016.  It states that Deloitte had calculated it wasted 2 million hours a year evaluating its 65000 employees.  At a relatively cheap $100 an hour that is $200 million of wasted time and money.  Wow.  This huge number of hours may not take into account the stress, uncertainty, escalations, debates and resulting sick leave and reduced productivity that might arise from the process - one that definitely does not generate any real benefits to either managers or employees.

I am thinking that this rigmarole that is followed by millions really has seen its day.  It may have been needed in the old days where managers never spoke to employees because a boss was a distant, suit wearing, chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking white man who ruled by fear and awe in an office with a door that was regularly shut.  He did not want to speak to employees and employees sure did not want to speak to him!  It required a Human Resource imposed structure that forced them to speak to once or twice a year.

Now that we live in a world where communication rules maybe it is no longer needed.  We now measure how someone does their job with as much weighting as what they are doing.  Emotional quotients (EQ), employee brand and employee engagement are spoken about regularly.  Conversations between employees and supervisors happen regularly, if not daily for some.  There is no need to catch-up once a year.  The stereotypical old bossman picture has been blown to bits by the world of the 21st century.

Let's have the courage and confidence to provide regular two-way feedback all year.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 4, 2016

Is Our #Passion the Solution?

I just finished watching the first of a series of videos on a TED playlist entitled "Talks to watch when you don't know what to do with your life".  I have embedded the video below if you are interested in watching.

Larry Smith makes a pretty straightforward and simple point.  One that is painfully obvious but one that seems so impossible to achieve, live by or even simply attempt to pursue given the constraints and constructs which we all inject into our lives as individuals and as a group.  We fear being embarrassed by pursuing it, we fear losing everything we have, we think of "buts" and "if onlys".  We therefore so rarely pursue it.  It....is our PASSION.

In Avoiding the Blues I talk about the project being the monster.  The context is that when you are assigned to a project at work it can easily take over your every minute of every day for its duration unless you learn to manage your time and your effort.  It is so easy to lose ourselves in the job and forget about the bigger picture.  Similarly Larry talks about the "bloodsucking, soul destroying types of jobs".  We lose sense of who we are as we become engrossed by a project, employer or job that is convenient and "good enough".  If we don't nourish our brains on a regular basis.

The best many of us seem able to accomplish is to schedule time for our passions.  Is that good enough?  Or maybe is it that our passions are misguided?  Maybe we misconstrue our passions?  That'll be for another entry.....


Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 3, 2016

#ActOnClimate Requires an Organizational Skill We Generally Lack

In my mind the next twelve months are critical for all organizations who were involved in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNCCC) to show each other, and the world in general, that all the talk and negotiation which took place in Paris in December at the UNCCC were not a waste of time.  They have their work cut out.

I have spent my twenty-eight years of employment working for massive global corporations and have experienced firsthand how talking and planning is cheap and easy.  We humans are great at having meetings and chatting about how wonderful things could be if we all just worked together with a common objective.  After all, we convince ourselves, we work for the same organization and so working towards a common goal just makes sense!  A conclusion so painfully obvious yet so hard to achieve.  After the talk we take the next step and have workshops where we gather in a common location to make good use use of colourful sticky notes, markers and whiteboards to brainstorm, get out ideas and then narrow them down to those considered most attainable (by the way so much for great leaps forward and risk taking).  The last half-day of a workshop will then be about ensuring that action items have owners - so critical we believe.  We all agree that we'll work hard on the ideas, set up some sub-teams and have conference calls to follow-up and make it all happen!  We then go for a piss on the town to celebrate the end of a successful session.

I've been to so many of these types of workshops that have not delivered on their promises.  The reality is we get back to our local offices, get overwhelmed by the daily routines and issues and realize that we just don't have the time to implement all the great ideas that were agreed upon.  A subset might in fact get complete but the whole fails regardless.

While a company with tens of thousands of employees in hundreds of countries is complex it pales in comparison to the complexity that the participants of the UNCCC face.  Different levels of government, non profits, citizen groups, corporations, small and medium businesses spanning all industries, cultures, climates, languages - all the amazing diversity of Earth!  This makes the frustrations I have felt so petty in comparison.

So all the talk is now over.  The UNCCC agreements are signed.  How many action items have been doled out to how many individuals?  How many follow-up conference call are there scheduled?  How many pints or, more likely given the location, glasses of wine were drunk on that last night of the conference on December 11th?

If there is one workshop where a commitment to completing assigned action items is important it was the UNCCC.  While Earth may continue to orbit the sun long after we human beings disappear, I think that as a species we are trying to spend as much time on it as we can, no?  Our species' longevity is at risk due to our past behaviour and ignorance.  The good news is that we seem to have learned from our mistakes, or at least acknowledged them.

What makes this problem so ridiculously complex however is that we, as human beings, are terrible at working in teams even when we have quarterly measurable targets in place that directly influence our take home pay (i.e. the typical corporation).  We could do so much more and generate so much more profit if we actually worked together in our relatively small companies.  Only in rare cases do companies actually seem to get it done and realize all the possible benefits of cooperation.

This climate change problem is one that is hard to measure, does not have quarterly targets (at least not yet), involves people that do not share the same targets and include a result that is decades or more away and so just does not have the same kind of pressing attention that we give corporate targets.  If Wall Street was hounding all the UNCCC participants in the same fashion that they hounded traded corporations it might be very different.  Who will hold the participants of this greatest monstrosity of a workshop accountable for their action items?

It boils down to all of us reminding ourselves, our neighbours, our employers, our mayors, our presidents and prime ministers that we are holding them accountable.  It also boils down to all of us acting and behaving and talking climate on a daily and continuous basis.

Gosh, we have the technologies and the brains to solve this....but do we have the will and organizational skills to make it happen??  So, again, this year is key.  We need to start closing some of those action items now so that in December of this year we can proudly show progress.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 2, 2016

Reducing Your Energy Usage

There is a certain hypocrisy to this post given the fact that I live in a suburb in a detached house that give us more personal space than most inhabitants of Earth.  In and of itself one could argue that I live a wasteful life beyond my needs.  Most of us in Canada do.  So talking about energy conservation while sitting in my home office seems, again, hypocritical.  Having said that, even in our suburban houses there is much that we could do to reduce our footprint.

When we moved into our house in 2009 the previous owners left us their utility bills.  It has allowed me to make a comparison between the energy consumption of our family of four compared to the previous owners who were either four or five.

Our average use of water, electricity and natural gas when compared to the previous owners compares as follows.

Water 0.58 vs 1.13 m3 per day (51% of previous owners' usage)
Electricity 12.78 vs 39.45 kWh per day (32%)
Natural Gas 7.58 vs 10.125 m3 per day (75%)

The obvious question is "What changed?".  Structurally we replaced all of the 1st floor windows (they had already done the 2nd floor).  We can assume that this has helped save on heating and cooling.  The old gas furnace was replaced with a more economical unit - that likely has saved us some natural gas usage.  We use gas for our stove/oven whereas the previous residents used electricity - so that would lead us to use more gas and they more electricity for cooking.  Finally our dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer are also newer models so we can assume some efficiencies in water and energy consumption.

I haven't gone through calculating how much the differences impact our usage but my gut tells me that they do not, on their own, account for the totality of the differences I listed above.  Some of it must boil down to habits!

A few simple things we have always done follow.  We switch off lights when not in a room.  We don't ever turn on the twenty-five ceiling pot lights that were installed by the previous owners in the kitchen, den and living room as the floor and other lighting that exists more than suffices.  We never turn on the exterior pot lights in the eaves of the roof meant to light up our house and give it curb appeal.  We water our lawn only when needed and have turned off the automatic sprinklers.  During the winter we heat to 19 degrees Celsius in the daytime, 20 in the evenings and 16 during the night.  In the summer we cool down to 24.

So what do 51% of water, 32% of electricity and 75% of natural gas usage work out to in terms of energy saved in a year?  Well quite a bit...specifically:

201 m3 of water in a year
9735 kWh of electricity
929 m3 of natural gas

How about dollars saved in a year??

$202 in water
$1020 in electricity
$691 in natural gas

Just over $1913 a year of savings.....not bad at all.

I know that none of this is scientific.  Weather, time spent in the home, age of children all have impacts.  Regardless.....it does show that we can make a difference to our energy consumption by taking some small actions.

Check out http://shrinkthatfootprint.com and also https://www.wec-indicators.enerdata.eu/household-electricity-use.html for some interesting data.

Happy savings and New Year!

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!