leadership dot #2206: quiet

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle at LaGuardia airport, travelers now have the option of a respite. Soundproof cubicles with a writing shelf are available to rent in 15-minute increments (for $30/hr). It reminded me of old-fashioned phone booths, only with an Internet connection and place to sit down.

These booths provide a place to conduct calls, participate by video or just get work done without distraction. They bill it as “a workspace to think, create, connect and recharge.” I could use one of them in my home!

In a world of open office spaces and community gathering points, there is still something to be said for quiet. The Jabbrrbox vendor found a way to conveniently make it available at LaGuardia through rental of personal booths. Perhaps you should do a noise audit at your organization and create your own quiet boxes if necessary. Providing a silent option can golden to some employees.

leadership dot #2205: mixed messages

In a move that I will never understand, the Iowa state legislature approved the sale of fireworks but left it up to individual municipalities to decide whether or not it was legal to shoot the devices. In the city where I live, it is illegal to light off fireworks, but very legal to sell them. Thus, in several parking lots throughout town, we have big tents of vendors selling the pyrotechnics that are forbidden to be (legally) used.

Of course, the vendors have no incentive to clarify the distinction to customers, and buyers assume that they are legal because they are being sold everywhere. The police have been trying to spread the word that a $250 fine awaits those who shoot them within the city, but by then the damage will have been done.

Think about whether your organization has a policy with an incongruity similar to the fireworks debacle. Does your business office preach stewardship yet deny employees opportunities to get a warehouse membership or purchase from a cheaper vendor? Does it claim to put customers first yet cut the support it gives to the call center? Or does your organization officially claim that flextime is available but shuns those who take advantage of it?

Whether through a mismatched set of laws, inconsistent policies or conflicting norms, no one benefits when there are mixed messages about whether something is appropriate or not. It’s fine to lay down the law but only if you are prepared to make everyone follow it.

leadership dot #2204: aligned

I have a new neighbor – who is installing a new pool – which requires the installation of a new section of fence to replace my adjoining chain link with a regulation height barrier. The men who were here yesterday to do the job not only installed the new fence section but spent a considerable amount of time realigning the existing fencing so that it all was even.

Their company did not install the original fence, but they took the time to improve it. No one remembers who did the initial work, but the current contractor’s reputation is what would be tarnished if the new work looked shoddy for whatever reason. One section installed correctly becomes invisible if the surrounding sections are out of kilter — so they did the entire fence as it should be done.

Do you have similar pride in your work or do you focus only on the piece that is “yours”? Take a lesson from the fence installers and embrace a larger view of your duties. Even if you technically only have responsibility for a section, your integrity is judged on the whole.

leadership dot #2203: baggage

Air travel, something that used to be a luxury for the affluent, has become a chaotic experience for the multitudes. I was just in O’Hare and LaGuardia where oversold flights, insufficient airport seating and understaffed ticket counters contributed to a harried boarding process for all.

But what really made it mayhem was the illogical policy airlines have regarding checked baggage. It makes no sense to me that airlines charge people to check their bags – thus encouraging carry-ons – but have inadequate space to accommodate them. On several legs of my trip, the final boarding group was mandated to check their roller-boards at the gate, thus doing for free what would have cost $25 if the passenger had done it in a timely fashion, but now doing it at the worst possible time and place from an efficiency perspective. It seems crazy that airlines push a practice that delays the process and requires much more manual work by the airline without generating revenue. The last-minute free checking further discourages people from checking their bags for their next trip when they are guaranteed to pay to do so; instead, many people will take their chances that they’ll get a free pass at the gate.

Wouldn’t airlines rather have people check their bags? It would expedite the boarding and deplaning processes and avoid all the last-minute gate checks. It seems to me that they are incentivizing the wrong thing: checked bags should be free and carry-ons that don’t fit under the seat should incur a charge.

The next time you implement a policy, think through what would happen if it worked. What if your policy to encourage one set of behavior was wildly successful: what implications would that have? What are the downsides to a shift in practice and how can you mitigate them? All policies have inherent baggage inherent in their implementation. Your job is to check the negatives and carry on with the positives instead of doing the reverse by default.

leadership dot #2202: pearls

In my work with organizations, I often encounter people with lofty goals who want to develop the next big thing for their group. There is a focus on “add, add, add” and creating something new. I liken it to someone making a necklace by focusing on the baubles rather than the string.

I think a more pragmatic and productive approach is to begin by assessing the pearls that already exist in an organization. By pearls, I mean the strengths, existing programs, signature services, events or the brand assets that are in place and that connect to the goal. Next, consider how these can be assembled into a more powerful and cohesive whole to increase the impact without further taxing the resources to produce them. By identifying the “loose pearls” you already have that could be strung together into a “necklace”, it allows for more rapid evidence of progress and more clearly identifies the gaps that, if filled, could make the impact more robust.

The temptation is to “think big” so focusing on existing pearls often feels insignificant. However, tying a ribbon around current components or “stringing the pearls” doesn’t have to be the end point, just the starting one.

Remember that the classic pearl choker makes an impact without being flashy. No one ever said: “Oh, the pearls on that necklace are too small.”

leadership dot #2201: tracking

I recently learned about a new service called Bookshout, a company that provides audiobook codes to corporations so, in turn, they can distribute “books” to clients, prospective clients or employees. It creates a simple method of distribution, either allowing the recipient to choose which book they read or making it easy to get a required reading into the hands of everyone throughout the company. They claim that through Bookshout, people have read 8,400,820,497 words!

And they would know. Beyond promoting its distribution system, Bookshout also brags about its ability to track the use of the e-reader codes. For individuals, it allows people to set reading goals and track their progress against friends (or strangers) – in short, adding gamification to the leisure reading process. You can see how you rank in total words read vs. others in your social circle if you care to know that information.

For companies, Bookshout will “gather critical data to verify who is actually reading” – sharing with the company the code user’s reading habits and total words read. They promote it as “audio with accountability.” So much for skimming the summary before your corporate retreat!

For some individuals, the tracking feature may be appealing, but in the company realm, it feels too intrusive for me. What kind of a culture does the corporation have if they have to monitor reading habits? And if you don’t trust your employees to read a book, how do you trust them with your product or service? Any goodwill that could be garnered by providing professional development or a common reading experience seems to be lost in the data collection.

Technology allows us to easily capture and report an increased level of detail and data. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In my mind, that goes for Bookshout, too.


leadership dot #2200: cultivate

Some of the interests cultivated as children last for a lifetime. Or so The National Park Service hopes.

Though their Every Kid in a Park program, the National Park Service is working to engage children at an early age and expose them to the wonders of the National Parks – presumably to make them life-long lovers of America’s beauty.

The NPS offers all fourth-graders an Annual 4th Grade Pass that allows the child – and their accompanying family – free admission to federal recreation sites during their entire fourth-grade year. “Free” is an irresistible word to many, and the hope is that school groups or families will capitalize on the opportunity to visit national sites without charge.

Every Kid in a Park program is a great way to develop a pipeline of supporters and future customers. The free pass may be enough of an incentive to plan a visit, and the sheer beauty of the national parks themselves should be enough to keep people coming back.

Like the Mariners Bark at the Park program described in yesterday’s dot, this program has little direct cost and lots of potential upsides. If it doesn’t feel right for your organization to attract pups, maybe it can focus its efforts on cultivating tots instead.

Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #2199: gone to the dogs

People in the United States are crazy about their dogs – all 90 million of them — so it is no surprise that companies and organizations try to capitalize on that to earn their piece of the multi-billion-dollar pet industry.

One of the most clever events in this category is the Bark at the Park promotion at Safeco Field in Seattle. On four special nights this season, you can purchase a $50 Dog Pack which includes “a human ticket, dog ticket, Mariners dog giveaway and postgame walk around the bases”. Giveaways include a Mariners dog food bowl, tennis ball launcher and water bowl. If I lived in Seattle, I would be there!

Except for the giveaways (which undoubtedly have a sponsor) and the “waste disposable management team”, this event costs them nothing, yet I would guess that it will go a long way to boost attendance on otherwise uneventful weekday nights.

What can your organization do to earn the goodwill and greenbacks of the many dog lovers that you serve? It doesn’t have to be every day but creating a special occasion that includes the pups will have you wagging all the way to the bank.

Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #2198: paper

I know several people who are trying to go “paperless” as an organizational strategy. There is certainly something to be said for the ease of access for documents in the cloud, the weightlessness of toting your entire filing system with you and the ability to let an algorithm to instantly find a document from several years ago.

But I like paper.

I think about my dissertation – stored on a floppy disc – that would be essentially lost to me if I did not have a hard copy. I have hundreds of slides from my childhood that I have seen a few dozen times, but every day I see the printed photos that I have framed. I have files with articles that are older than the audience I am using them for, but that I am able to locate and reference almost as quickly as Siri. I know that countless PowerPoints and computer files have been abandoned in between job transitions, but the valuable work I have done is still with me on paper. I have handwritten notes from decades ago, but few of the nice emails I received before this year.

Beyond my own personal love affair with print, I wonder what the archivists and historians will use to tell the story of our era. I have read the letters between John and Abigail Adams that give such a poignant glimpse into life in the early days of our country – and I doubt someone will be able to access the computer files or phone texts of recent presidents and their wives to replicate that insight in the future. Old Moleskins, sketchbooks and journals have told the story of countless inventors and scientists and given a glimpse into emotion beyond what could be conveyed in a typed word. Would the Ann Frank story have even survived if it was written on a computer?

Don’t let technology cloud your thinking against keeping some of your treasures in print.

leadership dot #2197: barrage

I think time management is harder these days because people have so many different sources of input. It used to be that everything came to us via the mail or by phone, but now we have content coming from multiple social media platforms, voice mail, messaging, texts, email, shared sites like Slack, etc. It is hard to keep track of it all.

I know there are apps out there like Evernote that serve as a collection point for the barrage, but there is still not a way to synthesize electronic and paper. I need a system for quickly finding what I read in a magazine that relates to something I saw on LinkedIn and ties in with a photo I took. I find myself with imperfect methods to do so, and, as a result, spend more time that I would like to retrieve all the inputs I am trying to integrate.

As a time management technique, it is hard to beat the trusty manila file folder that can instantly group together disparate sources of input and the invaluable spiral notebook that can serve as a repository for all the ideas swirling in my brain, but even these are lacking in their ability to be searched or easily shared. So we all move forward with methods that work for us, compensating for the deficiencies by what we gain in familiarity and the efficiencies that come from repeated use.

I think the lesson to be learned is to minimize the clutter of inputs in the first place. If you routinely don’t apply or share information from a magazine, perhaps you should consider canceling the subscription. If your social media feeds are filled with posts from people with whom you have no other contact, maybe a culling of your groups is in order. If you receive regular email feeds that you routinely delete, it may be worth the time to unsubscribe.

Even with all the productivity apps that are available and the advances in communication and technology, we still need to rely on our brain to connect the dots and make meaning of what comes in. Be wise about what (and how much) input that is.