leadership dot #2306: for the birds

An eagle’s nest is an impressive site. It can weigh up to 200 pounds and is quite imposing up in a tree. But instead of causing awe, one eagle’s nest caused dismay to county officials who are insistent that a new road to the landfill be located in that precise location.

The plan is to relocate the nest so the chosen path can be cleared for the road. Relocating a nest has been done —  in 2014 in Texas — but that was due to the nest being located near high voltage power lines and not just for human convenience.

Before anyone can relocate or possess any part of a nest, they must obtain a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The job in Texas involved 50 agencies and took two days. And yet the county still believes it is better to move the nest than to reroute the proposed road.

Sometimes organizations come across the equivalent of an eagle’s nest. While the job of the leader is usually to reduce barriers to allow people to complete a project as planned, it’s also worth evaluating whether boldly forging ahead is for the birds.

Thanks, Curt!


leadership dot #2303: multipurpose

Another building that I saw on the architectural tour was the Fischer Building – an 8-story structure that was the tallest building in Iowa when it was constructed in 1894. Because of its height, fire safety was a real concern as firetrucks were not yet equipped to reach “skyscrapers”.

As a result, the architects took extra precautions to make the building as fireproof as possible, relying heavily on the use of terra cotta. Not only does this material allow for decorative accents on the outside, but it also serves as a flame retardant. Terra cotta covered the exterior of the building and was used as part of the interior flooring and column coverings.

You may not be in the construction business or have to worry about fire-resistant materials, but everyone can learn from the multi-faceted aspect of the Fischer building’s construction. How are you creating content, services or materials that can serve a dual purpose for your organization? Can you create beauty out of something that needs to be functional? Have you put extra effort into your product so that it endures for almost a century?

I am sure there were cheaper and easier ways for the Fischer’s construction, but fortunately for us, the architect avoided them. Infuse the same pride in whatever you are building today.

leadership dot #2301: crazytown

Alia Innovations (a nonprofit seeking to create an “unsystem” to drive transformative change in the child welfare world) shared a model with its Innovation Cohort that is relevant to all organizations undergoing a change process. (Download the diagram here.)

The process of change occurs over time. At the start of a change effort, an organization has the majority of its processes and policies from the current (or what will become old) way of doing things. Eventually, as the transformation progresses, new ways of behavior will be infused, but a total change has not yet occurred. This leaves the organization coping with old and new simultaneously – a transitional period affectionately referred to as “crazytown.” Those involved with the change must deal with ambiguity and sometimes conflicting processes until the new way of doing becomes the norm.

As part of a transformation effort, organizations must decide what to let go of to move beyond the “old way” and to consider what to add in order to establish the “new way.” It can be a time of awkwardness and vulnerability as the change process evolves but being aware of the transition (and acknowledging this with all those involved) can help normalize the confusing time during the middle of the process when the old and new overlap.

Change is never smooth or linear. By using Alia’s Organizational Change model, it may help your organization recalibrate its expectations and have the fortitude to survive the “crazytown” heart of the process.

Thanks, Amy for permission to share!



leadership dot #2299: nickels and dimes

If you ever needed proof that a little adds up to be a lot, the Transportation Security Administration can provide it for you. In 2016, the agency collected $867,800 just from loose change that hurried travelers left behind in the screening process. It doesn’t seem like a handful of coins here and there would amount to much, but since TSA’s inception, it has collected over $5 million dollars in forgotten money!

TSA is able to keep all those funds thanks to a regulation that says all unclaimed goods are able to be used to support security operations. I would bet that when the bill was crafted no one guessed that their take would come anywhere near the size it does now, but each year the collection keeps growing.

For TSA, this drip by drip accumulation has added up to quite the windfall. While it is doubtful that your organization is so lucky, I’ll bet that you have some practice that is going unnoticed but is nonetheless aggregating its impact, probably in a negative direction. Have you recently checked if your auto-orders are still the best deal? Is a scheduling fluke that caused overtime continuing long after the need was present? Do you have the best financing rate or are you just using the same credit card that you’ve had for years?

Small fees, unnoticed price increases, or minor changes in terms can all add up to take funds out of your operation just as easily as the forgotten coins put funds into TSA’s. Those nickels and dimes do add up – to a lot. It’s worth your time to try and save a few of the recurring ones for your organization.

Source: Consumer Reports Consumerist newsletter, 6/20/17

Thanks, Brian!

leadership dot #2096: extractive

I attended a racial equity training yesterday where local leaders learned engagement strategies to pilot projects about race. As you would expect, one of the six steps in the process was community engagement. For this section, the presenter really pushed us to outline a process that was an on-going partnership rather than a one-time encounter.

“It is key that you develop a relationship that is not extractive,” cautioned our Race Forward facilitator – with extractive meaning that you go into a community, extract feedback, then go away only to come back claiming to have the answer. Community members who are impacted need to be involved beyond just providing feedback to become engaged in developing the solutions.

I think extractive encounters occur throughout many organizations. Companies run focus groups and made subsequent decisions based upon the one-time opinions of a few. Leaders conduct town hall meetings and take action based on that slice of feedback rather than cultivating on-going communication with employees. Politicians seek input around election time but seem to disappear the remaining portion of their term.

As you seek to learn from your stakeholders, design your process to be an exchange rather than an extraction. Your community engagement will be far richer for it.

leadership dot #2288: designated survivor

I’m late to the party but have recently gotten hooked on the television show Designated Survivor. In real life, a Cabinet member is sent to an undisclosed location during the State of the Union “in case” something happens at the Capital. In the show, a bombing does occur, and the former Housing and Urban Development secretary finds himself thrust into the presidency of the United States with no warning or preparation.

In addition to the suspense and intrigue that the fictional account entails, it has also has me thinking about situations like this that actually do occur in other settings. Recently, leaders of two major organizations in town have resigned without notice, leaving someone on their staff or board to assume leadership of a complex situation. I know of someone who had an injury and was unexpectedly out of the office for several weeks and another who had a family emergency that took her out of town for an extended period.

In the show, amidst all the chaos of trying to figure out what is going on, one of the fictional staffers makes the comment: “Why don’t they prepare for this?” and the new president says: “They did. That’s why there’s a Designated Survivor.”

While the one who inexplicably is placed in charge undoubtedly feels overwhelmed, at least it is clear who has the power and authority to start making the multitude of decisions that must be handled. Every organization should have a “designated survivor” or person-in-charge should something happen to the current leader. And it would behoove the number-twos to pay some attention to the inner workings of the organization – know where the passcodes are and the key data that would be beneficial if the leader was no longer available to share them.

Being thrust into leadership without preparation may make for good television, but it makes for lousy real life.

leadership dot #2283: prize

In its literal form, “crackerjack” means exceptionally good, but most people think of the snack product when they hear that term. I wanted some Cracker Jack for a baseball-themed meeting and had to resort to ordering it online since I could not find it in a store. Cracker Jack – a staple of every Christmas stocking, camping trip and of course baseball game of my childhood, has become very difficult to find.

It may not be prevalent in stores, but it’s still available, as it has been since 1896. Some consider it to be the original junk food! What has kept Cracker Jack around this long, in my opinion, is the famous line in the “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” song that first came out in 1908. For over a decade, this immortal tune has kept Cracker Jack in the public consciousness.

When I was a frequent consumer, Cracker Jack consisted of “candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize” (sung to a catchy jingle), but today it is caramel-coated popcorn and a download to a free game. Since 2016, there has been no prize inside. Maybe it isn’t nostalgia or its links to baseball that have created its longevity, rather a willingness to evolve with the times.

A plastic ring used to be coveted, but now would be tossed aside as trivial. Better to engage consumers with a link to a digital experience and foster ongoing engagement with the brand. So today, after finishing your snack, you can “blipp a surprise” and play any of several augmented reality games that appear in the app after you scan the Cracker Jack icon.

How can you take a lesson from Cracker Jack and keep your eye on the real prize? Their aim is 120 more years of making popcorn snacks, not of distributing plastic tokens. You can let go of anything, even something as integral to your product as the “prize inside.” Don’t let the past prevent you from having a future.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cracker_Jack