leadership dot #2135: integration

I bought a new computer and was so excited when it arrived yesterday. When I took it out of the box, it struck me that the hardware itself is nothing without the software to run it.

The impact of components beyond the hardware even more apparent when I had my first conference call on my shiny new machine. Even though the most up-to-date software was installed on a brand-new computer at the particular moment of my call, the internet connection was unstable. Thus, my picture only transmitted as a static shot, not video, and my voice kept cutting out for them. Grr!!!

Think about the equivalent of the hardware/software/connection in your organization. You need doctors, nurses and administrators to run a hospital. You need faculty, professional staff and support staff to run a college. You need management, front-line workers and facilities staff to operate a plant. The spotlight may be on the doctors/faculty/managers, but none of it works without the other components working well.

We often forget about the support in the background and focus instead on only one aspect of the operation, but it is actually the integration of elements that creates the power.

leadership dot #2118: bridge

Part of my construction detour involves back roads with a one-lane bridge. I imagine that the bridge was initially installed for tractors or even horses with buggies and no one has felt it warranted the expense of upgrading it after all these years.

Bridges are the trickiest part of building a road. They cost the most to construct and present the greatest design challenges for engineers as it is difficult to span a gap and create a seamless interface with two opposing sides.

I think the same is true in organizations. Bridge-building among colleagues is often the most stressful and time-consuming part of a task. Creating relationships when there are opposing views necessitates delicate maneuvering and often requires great energy and patience. But just as a highway bridge can save miles of driving, a solid work connection can make things much easier on the organizational journey.

Building a one-lane bridge is an economical solution for a low traffic road, but it doesn’t work for organizations. Bridges need to allow for two-way communication and mutual understanding. On-going attention must be paid to ensure their stability.

Think about the organizational road on which you are traveling. Does it have a modern bridge, a one-lane crossing or are you just staying on your own side without reaching out to others? Bridge building may not be easy, but the benefits of a two-lane exchange span the entire organization.

leadership dot #2105: unraveled

On a whim of hopeful optimism, I took my winter coat, hat and scarf to the dry cleaners for the end-of-season cleansing. What I got back was a coat, a scarf and an unraveled pile of yarn.

The once-was-a-hat was hanging in the plastic just like the other items, with no note or acknowledgment that the item was no longer functional. When I pointed the damage out to the attendant, she offered no apology. Instead, she took it back and said that they would send it to the tailor and if it could not be fixed then I could come back in and file a claim to receive pro-rated damages.

I am sure that this is not the first article to be damaged, making me wonder why there is not a process in place to address it in a way that preserves the customer relationship. It’s bad enough to ruin an item, but why make the client come back at least once, and only offer a partial settlement instead of replacing it? I wonder if I am going to get a refund on the dry cleaning cost!

Mistakes do happen, but I would have felt much better if they had said: “We want to let you know that the machine damaged your hat. We are so sorry! We sent it to the tailor who could not repair it, so here is a refund as well as no charge on your order.”

Every organization has processes that go wrong but don’t let your reputation unravel because of them. Customer service ratings are highest for organizations that effectively respond to service failures. You’d be wise to proactively prepare for missteps so you can wow your customers instead of losing them.

leadership dot #2099: test run

Yesterday I went to a meeting to learn about new regulations for a grant I am writing. There is a substantially new financial reporting form, and within minutes of reading it, many of the attendees had questions about what information was needed. The administrator did not know the answers; the financial reviewer was not available, and we left the meeting with more questions than answers.

I think of how many times we are all guilty of preparing a new form or policy that makes perfect sense to us but ends up being confusing for the user. Wouldn’t we be better off if we made it a part of the process to test our products or process with those who will be using it before implementing them?

Prototyping is precisely the final stage in Human-Centered Design, where a model or draft of your concept is shared with those who will be engaged in the solution. The goal is to get feedback from the end users early in the process to reduce your risk, learn what is/isn’t working, and make iterations to change the design for the better.

It may feel like it takes more time to prototype and field test, but in the end, you’ll save yourself time and gain allies as you create a better process. What idea do you have that needs to go out for a test run before it’s final?

leadership dot #2098: hybrid

While waiting for a recent meeting to begin, the participants began discussing their dogs. My four-month-old is a cross between an English Cream Retriever and a Golden Retriever – and she was the most common of the bunch. Others had recently acquired a Bernadoodle (Bernese Mountain Dog/Poodle), a Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle) and Goldador (Golden Retriever/Labrador). What happened to the generic Beagle?

It seems that genetic engineering is prevalent in the dog world these days. Science has made it possible to take positive traits from one breed (i.e.: no shedding) and blend it with desired traits from another lineage (i.e. great personality). It has resulted in a robust market for all kinds of hybrids and “boutique dogs.”

It got me wondering why the same principle couldn’t be applied in organizations – taking the positive aspects of one service and crossing it with desired characteristics of another. It already happens in many online professional development courses – mixing low cost (online learning) with relevant material (formal education). Planet Fitness combines the best of gyms (equipment) with a casual user model instead of bodybuilding (free training). Southwest took the self-serve aspects of bus travel and the speed of air travel to create its model.

Ask yourself the “if only” question. If only…retrievers didn’t shed so much. If only fitness trainers were included in membership so people actually kept going. If only affordable education was offered on topics that adults really wanted to learn…Then create a new hybrid combination of your own that gets your client’s tails wagging.


leadership dot #2097: extended

Instead of utilizing an outside contractor for the administrative office renovation, a local organization opted to deploy the services of their company’s in-house facility crew. The decision was made primarily to save money, but it yielded unexpected benefits that are even more enduring than the new walls and furniture.

Members of the facilities staff, who normally do their work outside of the headquarters area, were suddenly face-to-face with the organization’s leadership for an extended period of time. Administrators interacted with facility staff – and gained an appreciation for the quality of work being accomplished. More than that, the interaction led to humanizing of both teams – it was no longer “THE Administration” or “Facilities”, and instead became Joe, Tammy, George and Ann.

The renovation project provided an opportunity for two groups to collaborate in ways they had not previously done and resulted in cost savings, connections and a source of pride in the new space.

Think about how you can utilize in-house groups to work together in ways that do not normally overlap. Can the front-line staff work together with the senior leadership on a process re-design? Is there a way for middle managers to attend an interactive workshop with the board and humanize the other team? Can community members or neighbors be invited to serve on a task force that impacts how they interface with your organization?

Having an annual meeting or holiday social is better than doing nothing to cultivate camaraderie, but it is in the extended interactions that the real magic occurs. Try to overlap your disparate groups in ways that allow them to get to know each other instead of just meet each other. Even if it results in expenditures instead of savings, it’ll be worth it.

leadership dot #2088: retrofit

When the Hynes Convention Center was built in 1988, none of the architects could have anticipated that there would be a great demand by delegates for power outlets. The same is true for airports and most public spaces. Even with the relatively low cost and ease of attaining supplemental batteries, everyone seems to want to plug in their device and access wi-fi on demand.

Hynes has retrofitted its public spaces to incorporate charging stations in each of the planters in the lobby. During the convention I attended, these gathering points were in frequent use as people sat around watching the battery on their phone turn green. They are so popular that directions to “charging stations” even have been added to the master signage in the building.

Think about your product and what you might need to modernize to meet consumer demand. Cars have added USB ports as a standard feature. New shopping carts come with cup holders. Buildings come with Family restrooms. Businesses have added scanners for Apple Pay and Google Pay to accommodate electronic funds. What can you retrofit in your organization to retrofit your services for modern times?