leadership dot #2464: under the hood

I recently attended a new car show where consumers were free to roam the exhibit hall and inspect a large selection of new vehicles. There were sales staff present, but unlike the stereotypical car dealer, these sellers were remarkably low key and almost invisible. Potential customers could “kick the tires”, look under the hood and generally do anything but test drive without interruption from staff.

I am not sure that any sales resulted during the event, but I’m sure it has long-term effectiveness. People like having the freedom to check things out in depth and at their own pace – to look beyond the glossy exterior to see what something is really like. Most people who look under the hood have little idea of what they are actually looking at but feel better having seen inside anyway.

While your enterprise may not lend itself to a fancy show in the exhibit hall, think about whether there is a way you could allow your clients to do the equivalent of looking under your hood. Can you host an open house where people are free to see your facilities or resources? Is there a way to offer a tour or show behind-the-scenes? Can you provide samples or short-term services to allow people to experience your enterprise without a commitment?

Affording potential clients closer look at what you offer provides congruency between what they can see and what they usually can’t. What can you do today to open your “hood” to others?

leadership dot #2461: extinguish

Sometimes your most significant accomplishment of the day is when something doesn’t happen.

Think of all the energy that goes into preventing a crisis or proactively problem solving: correcting false information so that misinformation doesn’t become an issue, double checking processes to prevent an error, maintaining equipment so it won’t break down, or even driving defensively to avert an accident.

It is easy to take satisfaction in the tangible outcomes of what we do, but it’s also important to celebrate the work that no one sees. Some of your biggest wins may come from extinguishing that spark so it never bursts into flames.

Thanks, Mike!

leadership dot #2457: bananas

When I worked in college admissions, the admissions counselors internally described applications like bananas. If a student applied without scores or transcripts, it was like a green banana that could sit for a few days before follow-up. On the other end of the spectrum, the longer an incomplete application sat, the more rotten it became until, like an overly-aged banana, it reached a point that it was useless. This classification system allowed us to prioritize and target follow up with appropriate messages for each group.

Think about the process components in your organization that operate like bananas. Maybe you have a job platform where candidates submit partial credentials as they apply for employment. Perhaps your organization is seeking new members and those who show initial interest without follow-through may become “overly ripe”. Or it could be that your organization has people who start a registration without completing it, putting them in various stages that parallel banana maturation.

The term “banana” served as a shorthand for everyone to track the all-important completed application rate in a way that was actionable. It simplified the classification categories and aligned with strategies and priorities. It also allowed the counselors to focus their efforts on applicants that were still viable – or to ignore or to attempt a different strategy to “make banana bread” out of those that weren’t.

Maybe your organization could benefit from “going bananas” with one of your key processes. Just as with the fruit, timing is everything.

leadership dot #2451: on the road

An entrepreneurial Girl Scout (and her parents) recently took to the road to sell more cookies. She decorated the family van in can’t-miss messaging and then sat in the parking lot near a busy intersection at lunchtime. It was a novel approach to appeal to new customers and to meet them – literally – where they were at.

I think of selling Girl Scout cookies through door-to-door, a sheet passed around the office or a phone call from family or friends – not in the Cookiemobile, but it seemed to work.

How can you think about your organization’s offerings in a different light? Maybe you, too, can go on the road and fill your customer’s needs in the moment.

leadership dot #2450: sustain

A recent article in the New York Times asked: “Can America Still Build Big?” and raised questions as to whether the country still has the ability to complete big infrastructure plans. Part of the challenge comes from big projects being complex – thus requiring intra-agency/bipartisan cooperation, long term funding, extended constituent support, and most vexing, the willingness to wait before seeing results from the investment.

California’s attempt at building a high-speed rail has faced legal challenges, environmental protests, waning support and extensive delays. Its viability is threatened even though the state has the funds and had initial backing for the project from voters.

The stalling of the rail project reminded me of another scene from the I am Jane Doe movie on human trafficking (see dot #2449). The U.S. Senate began investigating the primary clearinghouse website and went so far as to take legal action against its owner when he failed to show up for a Congressional subpoena. But three of the primary members of that Senate committee are no longer in office, so again, a resolution languishes.

Part of your change effort needs to include intentional strategies on how to sustain the process. While you likely are tempted to dedicate your resources to create change, you can’t forget about garnering support over and over and over throughout the work. It’s not enough to have an initial victory; you must be vigilant in keeping that support over the length of the project, whether or not you remain in charge.

Big things take time. Invest big time in building your coalition to help you achieve big goals.

leadership dot #2446: jigsaw

I worked on a jigsaw puzzle and was struck at all the parallels to organizational change:

  • Even when you have a vision (the box) and know all the pieces are there, it is still sometimes difficult to believe that it will all come together.
  • It is challenging to know what to do next after finishing the frame – you often believe there is a “right” answer when really the next thing to do is just to begin somewhere.
  • There are many pieces required to realize the vision (in this case, 1000 of them) and all are equally important.
  • When you get stuck –as you will – it’s best to move on to another piece of the puzzle and keep making progress elsewhere. I didn’t work on all the sections simultaneously, rather finished one image at a time.
  • Oftentimes, moving around to view the pieces from a different perspective helps immensely, as does walking away from it and coming back later. I was able to easily find several pieces in the morning that eluded me the night before.
  • Small details often seem insignificant at first but then later prove to be just what you needed to make a connection.
  • I was convinced that a piece was missing – which it wasn’t – but, like change, it sometimes seems like the task is impossible.
  • Change takes time. Even with the vision set and all the pieces assembled – which of course never happens in real life – it took several days to finish.

Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can be a good change exercise for your staff. Leave a puzzle out on in a common space and then ask people to reflect on the lessons learned after it is assembled. The fact that a simple exercise is challenging could give them some perspective on how to persevere and give you shared language to use in your change journey.

Anyone find the piece with blue sky and a red tab on top?

Just begin!
The missing piece — that wasn’t missing
Keep making progress where you can
The end is in sight!


leadership dot #2443: life cycles

While we celebrated President’s Day on Monday, the anniversary of George Washington’s birth is actually today (born February 22, 1732). Washington is a man who understood the importance of stepping aside (see dot 2442) and did so with grace after two terms. He could have easily retained the position and power for many more years but realized the value of transitioning to another.

Washington also understood life cycles of organizations and knew himself well enough to realize that he was best suited to lead in the developmental stage of the country. Organizations all rotate through various stages – startup, growth, maturity, aging – and matching your leadership strengths with the appropriate time in the organization’s cycle allows for peak effectiveness.

Maybe you should become involved in a new venture where you would find much ambiguity and creation. Or perhaps you are better suited for an organization that comes with some structure but has a focus on change vs. an organization that is established and functions with a fair amount of policy and routine.

Life cycles may not be top of mind when you are selecting a committee assignment or new position, but alignment with them will greatly influence your happiness and success. Follow the lead of George Washington and reflect on when it is best to say “yes” and also when it’s time to say “no”.