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Building Your Conversational Capacity

I went to an excellent Vistage Chair Group meeting and was treated to the presentation Conversational Capacity by Craig Weber. Craig comes from an organizational design and psychology background and has presented to Vistage groups more than a thousand times. He works with large teams trying to improve their performance under pressure.

Craig asked the question “do really smart people in your company get to use their smarts?” The problem is often they don’t. That reality crystalizes when a group is under pressure.

Craig uses the term “the sweet spot” where one’s position is clearly identified, supported by facts and analysis, and is put to the test by asking for feedback in an open manner. Likewise when considering a divergent idea, seek to understand the basis for their position, facts, and analysis.

Engaging in such a dialogue makes common sense but… emotionally we tend to be driven towards either a “weak” position or a “win” position. Craig suggests that to move from a position of weakness we have to do a better job of identifying our position and providing our supporting facts and analysis. Conversely, if we are win-oriented we can suppress our smart people unless we engage in invitation and inquiry.

Craig brings a unique languaging to the concept of leadership based on his experience. All authors do this, yours truly included. David Bohm, the late quantum physicist, in his treatise On Dialogue said his experience in understanding quantum physics helps him to define dialogue as a safe place for communicating. He said the truth does not emerge from an opinion but only through dialogue. In Good to Great Jim Collins language a similar concept as the humble level 5 leader.

Craig suggests that we keep a “trigger” journal that helps us to gain awareness of when our energy can become too strong.

One thing I love about Vistage meetings is they are built on this belief in Conversational Capacity. We not only get to interact with presenter experts but then have the afternoon devoted to encouraging each other and holding each other accountable…throughout a dialogue.

How can you build the Conversational Capacity at your company?

Maybe leadership should do something about HR… like supporting it.

I’ve been around the HR and leadership block. For decades it seems like I’ve read a dozen articles in business publications blasting HR for every article that praises it.

There is great opportunity in great HR. The results of Great HR practices fall directly to the bottom line.

I’ve coached dozens of HR executives and spoken to thousands of CEOs. Most leadership does a poor job of supporting HR executives. Most CEO’s don’t want to manage the HR executive. So they pass it off to a CFO or COO, who are not exactly enamored with the HR function either. How many CEO’s, CFO’s or COO’s do you know who got into their careers so they could manage an HR executive? Answer: none.

Yes… there are the outliers …and they are exactly that – the owners who value HR and have it report directly to them.

Instead of talking about splitting HR in half or abolishing it all together perhaps it should be viewed as a strategic objective for the long term success of your company.

Here are a few ideas of how you might support your HR executives:

  1. Hire great HR executives. As with any position, half of the employees in it are better than the other half. And then there is the top 10%. It makes a world of difference when you hire that top 10%, whether you do so in a full time or part time basis. Simply they can see things about the HR opportunity that most people can’t. And they are prone to action.
  2. Help them understand your strategic objectives. Then work with them to align their practices towards those objectives.
  3. Have a monthly meeting where you go over a report identify progress on KPI’s and a summary of the latest HR related data.
  4. Encourage them to shed low value duties. When they ask for administrative help- give it to them. I want none of my HR executives doing $10-$20 work.
  5. Include them in your critical meetings and decisions. Encourage their contribution.
  6. Support their career growth. Get them into a Vistage group or remote coaching from Don.
  7. Acknowledge when they add value and motivate them further by giving them a raise.

A mentioned in the email I encourage you to take advantage of the free ZeroRiskHR assessment you can put to use today. Have your HR executive complete it and gain insight into how to better manage them.

It’s All About Work

Today’s Political Turmoil- It’s All About Work

When I step back from this current election and crazy world events, it strikes me that there are a lot of angry, fearful people. In a recent quiet moment I had an epiphany- I believe all has to do with work and the most basic of human needs.

The first two rungs of Maslow’s needs ladder are survival and security.  Very simply in order to survive, humans have to do work. If you can’t work what use are you? Why do we even want you in this tribe? When I look around the globe I see few people with jobs shooting, rioting or blowing things up. With rare exception it’s usually the people without jobs doing these things. Without work we lose a part of our soul and can lose the capacity for caring. Useless people are dangerous people.

When I speak to my friends who don’t have jobs…or can only get menial work, their fears are very immediate. About getting enough money today to stop going backwards. To take some pressure off, at least for a short time. To keep the wolf away from the door. They are fearful, angry and see little hope on the horizon.

Knowing how employment numbers relate directly to political turmoil I think the current administration has been disingenuous with how it tallies unemployed. 5% unemployment? Does that seem like reality to you? How’s about more like 10%. When you kick in the eventual impact of advanced robotics and AI, that number may never get any lower. Ever.

To address the need for security humans attempt to keep the benefits of their labor. You survive longer that way. I think we are seeing an equally fearful and angry group of people who do work…but don’t think they get to keep enough of it. Russian serfs rioted because they worked…but kept no fruits of their labor. Middle class workers came out in droves to vote because they felt the administration wouldn’t let them keep a fair share of their fruits. It created a security crisis in them as well.

When we can’t do work or secure the benefits of labor then “the system” feels unfair. No matter where you live in the world. Makes no difference whether you’re a millionaire or working minimum wage or you are out of work. I have met few people who get an opportunity to work and keep the fruits of their labor that are discontented.

Too many young men and women across the world don’t have work to do. When they can’t fulfill that basic human need, all they have left to do is rebel against the system that puts them in that spot. If we want to end inner city shootings and global terrorism then we have to provide young people with work to do.

When it comes to those of us who are working, we want to make sure government isn’t designed to see how much of our hard earned money it can inefficiently spend. The bell has rung that we will take no more of that.

It’s all about work…and keeping the fruits of our labor.

Here’s hoping you get to meet your survival and security needs, Don

Designing Your Ideal Career Plan

The beautiful Mary Kay had it right when she said “Most people plan their vacations better than their careers.” I find this an accurate statement. On the occasions when I’ve asked a group of employees how many have a career plan it is rare to have more than one out of ten respond they do.

Everyone else spends more time planning their escapes than their career.

This business about career planning is true no matter your level at the company. Business plan, department plan, marketing plan…of course. Personal career plan…probably not.

Q: Why bother making a career plan?

A:  You get what you ask for.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Here is an excellent opportunity to work on your career plan…think about the all of it…and encourage others at your company to do the same.

What goes into a good career plan? Consideration of all the wants and needs that must be addressed in the diagram.

Give yourself the time and space to venture into your amazing future. Meditate on it. Journal on it. Talk to experts about it. And get super clear about it.

The schematic above shows how interrelated your career plan is. Let’s break down each one of these subjects… none of which are “in order”.

Personal situation – Your career plan will be different if you are 20 or 60. If you are single or married. If you love your job or hate your job. I can tell you that your career aspirations can cause damage to your personal life if they are not in alignment. I litigated cases for over 70 hours a week and sat on non-profit boards at the same time. The people who paid the price for those heroics were the people who mattered most, my wife and children. Hence the divorce. And a lot of pain.

Never forget the impacts your career choices have on the people you love most in your life…including you.

Career Goals- it seems as if career planning is much easier once we are clear on our goals. You may have the goal of running a successful law firm or get that V.P. role…only to find yourself exhausted and divorced and bankrupt…just like I was. Because I didn’t think about the all of it and have a career plan in alignment with it.

To do it right you begin with the end in mind. Both short term and long term. Think of how you would like to see your career in a year or two from now. Then think about your ideal long term career aspirations. A plan may be to land a steady job at a law firm right out of school, be on a partner track in five years and eventually be a top partner at one of the top law firms in the city. Or a plan could be to be a great barista within three months, manage the place within a year and own a franchise within three years. Just make sure if you get it…it’s want you really want and not somebody else’s idea for your life.

See the document I did Visualization Techniques for Success to help with this process.

Market demand – Your value in the market place depends on numerous factors including the industry you are in, your location, availability of skilled labor, competition, economy, etc. It is always helpful to know how you can increase your value in the market place and if you can’t then what market place will be best for your career? If your goal is to be in hospitality but you intend to stay in South Dakota I guarantee you’ll have limited career opportunities.

One way to get past assumptions and find out your value in the marketplace is to pay a recruiter for an assessment of that value…even if you are not looking.

Job description – This document defines who you are… whether you like it or not. And if you don’t like it then change it. Seriously. A lot of job descriptions are out of date and non-sense. Bottom line is to create a job description in alignment with the work you are doing. PS a good place to see job descriptions, career paths and more is https://www.onetonline.org

Company plans – Is it company on a growth path? How does it expect to continue to grow the bottom line? Can you see them doing well for another five years? What have they told you about the company finances or direction? If you work at a public company this information is readily available. At a private company you owe to yourself to find out what you can.

Career ladder – Assuming there is one, does the career ladder do a good job of defining the opportunities at your company and how does it align with your career planning? If the company has no formal career ladder process then understand what the informal process is. Don’t assume anything. Ask until you are clear.

Succession planning – Excellent companies do this and the poor ones don’t. There’s a natural flow of employees through any organization and managing it is either random and chaotic, or organized and well managed. Either way, find out where you fit in the scheme.

Performance management – Our career is greatly influenced by how we are managed. Are you 100% clear about expectations, tasks, goals, etc.? Do your performance management conversations come frequently enough? Are they focused on helping you to improve performance? Are you asking for the resources and support you need to perform at your best?

Your skill sets – Nobody’s going to hire me to manage their Excel spreadsheets. I can hardly drag myself to manage my own. Therefore it would not make sense for me to engage in a career path as a CPA. It’s important for you to understand what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing best. A simple exercise: write down the five things you think you do best from a skills standpoint and then circle those two things you enjoy doing most. Those two items are your sweet spot and you should try doing it more than half the day.

Compensation structures – How does the money line up with your career plan? One way to get compensated more is to stop doing low value work. For example if you are paid $100,000 per year you are paid roughly $50 per hour. You disservice yourself every time you do $25 per hour work. Even if you’re good at it. And can do it in your sleep. And won’t mess it up. And you won’t really have the time to train or show somebody else how to do it. And on and on and on.

You can’t become more valuable more until you stop doing low value work. Figure out how to automate it, outsource it, delegate it or eliminate it all together.

So there you have it. A diagram and a checklist to consider. I’m sure I missed something on the list but this is a good place to start.

Here’s to you great career, Don