leadership dot #3411: notifications

Why, in 2021, are we still crouching in front of public restroom stalls to check if they are occupied? Or guessing whether the dishwasher is “dirty or clean”? Or interrupting meetings because we did not know someone was using the room? Or making unnecessary trips to the community mailbox on the corner only to discover the mail has not yet come?

It would seem that a mainstream notification solution for ordinary, frequent inquiries would have been developed by now — whether yet another app, an electronic monitor to display the status, or even the low-tech solution of “vacant/occupied” that some enlightened designers have incorporated. If the US Postal Service can email me a scan of the mail I’m getting, surely they can find a way to ping me when the mail is actually here.

If you are able to provide notification for a mundane but repetitive inquiry about the status of something in your organization, please do it. Rid us of the equivalent of checking for feet in the restroom stall. While we tolerate it, there has to be a better way.

leadership dot #3410: bosses

I recently presented a two-day workshop on supervision and the refrain I heard over and over was: “I wish I had known this earlier in my career.” As we acknowledge National Bosses Day today, I encourage you to provide supervision training to those who have that function as part of their role.

Far too often, we promote someone who is good at their job into a new position that involves supervision. But those responsibilities bring with it a need for a substantial mindset shift — from being an independent producer to succeeding through facilitation and the success of others. It’s not something that happens intuitively — or easily — and many times the new supervisor was without both formal training and even informal mentoring to use as an example. It’s a collision waiting to happen.

A solid supervision framework can provide the mental shift and functional structure to realign expectations and set the new supervisor up for success. If you’re a supervisor, become a great one by giving those who have people responsibilities under you the resources necessary to make it a happy day for bosses every day.

leadership dot #3409: Honeycrisp

We think that apples come from trees, but they also come from scientists. At the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center, they don’t just grow things, they develop them. Their star product is the Honeycrisp apple, but they also have engineered the Zestar and several other branded apples and grow 316 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds.

In apple development, horticulturalists are striving for a winning combination of three factors: 1) the flavor (which includes color, crispness, sweet/tart, juicy, firmness, etc.); 2) the shelf life (where Honeycrisp shines), and the growing season. Scientists have been able to extend the harvest for apples in Minnesota from August to October, allowing farmers to maximize the use of the equipment and labor rather than having their entire crop condensed into a short window.

It reminded me of the metaphorical “three-legged stool” that we attempted to balance in college admissions: the number of students, their academic profile, and the net revenue that each contributed after scholarships. We could easily achieve two of the criteria, but achieving all three proved challenging. I imagine the same is true of apple grafting.

Organizations often focus on one or two metrics, but the secret is in the elusive blending of attributes. What is the flavorful combination of characteristics you are seeking to attain? Identify the trifecta your organization needs to create its own winning “Honeycrisp.”

leadership dot #3408: payment

I’ve recently seen the juxtaposition of old-fashioned payments and the innovative uses of modern ones.

A friend got a new car loan and received a paper coupon book in the mail, presumably to tear off a page to mail with a monthly payment. Other friends receive paper envelopes to make weekly donations to their church — even though they send an annual check. Residents of Hudson, Iowa are lamenting the purchase of their local utility in part because they “won’t be able to walk or bike down the road to pay in person.” All these situations are carryovers from a previous era when the paper check was the primary mode of payment.

Today, more and more vendors are taking advantage of Venmo or Square that allows almost everyone to accept credit. A church in New Mexico had an iPad anchored at the entrance to accept electronic contributions from tourists. Native Americans were selling their handmade crafts from a blanket, but you could pay with a credit card. A farmer with a pumpkin stand on the side of the road listed her Venmo account for payment. Even a man who was begging for money on the street corner had a Venmo address on his cardboard sign!

Consider the temperament and comfort level of your audience. Are you able to give people a choice of payment method (e.g. one church asks parishioners if they want the envelopes before automatically sending them)? Are you able to accommodate both paper and electronic technologies? Have you incorporated enough options to handle the multitude of options available today? As cash fades from everyday use, it may be time to revisit what is king in your payment system.

Thanks, Amy!

leadership dot #3407: visibility

It’s standard practice at a two-day meeting that I attend regularly to have a spread of snacks out during the gathering. It’s a veritable buffet of goodies and all of us partake liberally in the treats. We finally met again in person after a long pandemic hiatus, and to help slow the spread of Covid, all of the snacks were in individual packaging. We hardly ate anything.

It truly was “out of sight, out of mind.” The principle applies not only to food but to all kinds of behavior. If our colleagues are out of sight, it’s easier to forget about making the connections. If we aren’t having social engagements with friends, we too often fail to call to sustain the relationship. If the warning light doesn’t pop up on the car, we don’t think about getting an oil change. If there aren’t automatic withdrawals from our paycheck, retirement planning fades.

If you want to change behavior about something, visibility matters. Treats in the dish look appealing and make it easy to enjoy. Snacks in a package require effort and intentionality and are far easier to ignore. Make that which you wish to encourage visible and put that which you hope to forget one step away from being seen. That thin layer makes all the difference in action.

leadership dot #3406: streaks

I was driving and my windshield looked fine — until I turned and was facing the sun. Then, the glass appeared to be full of streaks. I used the windshield washer and wipers with no effect. I washed the glass again when I got gas and even wiped the inside. Better, but still streaky.

I think that toxic people are like the streaks of organizational culture. Many times you don’t even notice them, but then you turn into the sun and their presence becomes disruptive. When you see them, you may try to remove them, but it is difficult to do. Their residue frequently remains whether they are visible to you or not.

What are the “streaks” in your organization? Consider how you can shine some sunlight to learn what clouds your culture.

leadership dot #3405: almost

I have been looking for a new tote for quite some time. While I was in New Mexico, I saw one that was very close to the ideal but it had a quirk that I knew would drive me crazy so I left it behind. Now, I measure all the other options against that one, and the more time that elapses, the more perfect the one that got away becomes.

But when I really think about it, I know that if I had made the purchase, I would not be happy with it and would have been annoyed the whole time I had it. Right now, I’d likely be writing about how one small flaw can ruin the perception of the whole!

When we make a decision, it’s easy to second-guess or only remember the “pro” side of the equation. Unless we’re really intentional about it, we block from our memory the negative analysis that led us to the conclusion we reached and only remember the good aspects that we forfeited. It’s a sure path to unnecessary regret.

Give your decision due diligence — whether that is regarding a relationship, purchase, project, or life transition — and then don’t look back. Trust that you truly made the right choice, not that you “almost” did.

leadership dot #3404: trouble

My sister’s motto is “Why be plain?” and it applies to websites as well as signage like I wrote about yesterday (dot 3403).

We’ve all had the dreaded “this page is not available” pop up on our screen, but why does it have to be boring and simply give a 404 Error message? Companies have created a host of more creative options, allowing them to communicate the same message but in a way that is entertaining instead of annoying.

Invest the effort in making all your communication cohesive and intentional. Don’t waste the opportunity to build your brand — even when you’re having temporary trouble with your website.

Thanks, Emily!

leadership dot #3403: communicate

When you think of signs with company branding, often that simply involves having the organization’s logo on display. Companies may give attention to the main marquee or prominent signs, but few pay attention to the details on tangential signage. That’s unfortunate because it is where you can really bring your logo and values alive.

One great example of this comes from the disabled vehicle sign in the Hurt’s Donuts parking lot. Instead of the generic blue, they were able to get their message — and their personality — across in the same sheet of metal.

Are your signs generic — or do they communicate “you”? Don’t waste an opportunity to express something besides information in every sign you post.

leadership dot #3402: battles

The Rise Above exhibit about the Tuskegee Airmen (dot 3401) was in town partially to raise awareness for a fund-raising campaign to commemorate a local Airman. Robert L. Martin is a hometown boy who joined the elite Red Tail Squadron, and there is an effort underway to rename the airport terminal in his honor.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? You just change the name. But — like with the Squadron itself — nothing is ever easy. The FAA and the Federal government were involved. The Regional Airport Commission and City Council had to pass motions. Federal funds cannot be used so IRS a petition for non-profit recognition was filed.

It became more than just a name change. You need an impressive outdoor sign. That requires architectural design fees and sign construction. You need indoor signs and an educational video (or what’s the point if no one knows about him?). It has turned into a big project with many grassroots fundraising efforts.

I am confident those involved will “triumph over adversity” as the Red Tails themselves did but use their experience as an example in your own work. Turning a “great idea” into reality isn’t easy to do. If the idea is worth pursuing (as this one is), you need to commit to it for the long haul and take satisfaction from the wins at each stage. Stay focused on the individual battles and don’t let complexity win the war.

Captain Robert L. Martin’s daughters in town as part of a fundraising effort in conjunction with the Rise Above exhibit