leadership dot #3379: belonging

In addition to sparking my curiosity about minimalism, the movie Nomadland shed a light on the modern-day transience of a group of people — and reinforced the importance of belonging. You may think that those who live in a van or RV roam aimlessly and alone, but the movie portrayed much more intentionality and structure to their movement and highlighted the communities they create along the way.

Many of today’s nomads go from seasonal-job to seasonal-job, working in such places as warehouses during the holidays and in hospitality during the summer tourist season. They have a routine where they return to the same locations — thus know others and have friends. Nomads often rotate between designated RV parks, again where they build community and rekindle relationships, creating a neighborhood complete with entertainment (e.g. outdoor movies or campfires) and camaraderie. While they do not have houses the modern-day nomads depicted in the film certainly have homes.

I thought about this lifestyle as many organizations wrestle with the question of remote work. It may seem that the employee is requesting to detach from the culture that is built in person but there may be a way to create routines and protocols that create community even from a fluctuating base.

The need to belong is powerful. Capitalize on that desire to create opportunities for those with less anchoring to still feel the connection to the whole.

leadership dot #3373: old house

You hear a lot about a cultural revolution or an organizational transformation, but Kevin Oakes has a different take on how to frame your efforts. The author of The Culture Renovation suggests that you will lessen the resistance to the change if you speak about it in terms of a renovation instead, likening it to bringing a historic house up to code with technology, electrical power, etc. You still keep what gives the house its character, but you make it better.

In a podcast with Brené Brown, Oakes talks about the essential strategy of figuring out what to keep. It can be a tough call to know what to let go of and what to carry forward, but ascertaining the good and reminding people of what you are preserving helps the organization make progress. As in a renovation, we typically focus on what is new, but for a change effort to be successful you need to explicitly point out what will remain the same.

Oakes outlines 18 researched strategies that can serve as a handbook for those involved in a change effort (and who isn’t these days?). They follow a structure of Plan, Build, and Maintain — and whether you read the book or not, the renovation analogy can be a useful framework for any innovation. Too often, the Maintain element is forgotten, and “this old house” falls into disrepair again.

The next time you want to make changes, set out to implement a renovation. More people can agree that updating is a good thing — whether it be a new coat of paint, faster wifi, or a whole new kitchen — and you’re apt to get more buy-in than if you trigger their fears of losing everything they know.

The Culture Renovation by Kevin Oakes, 2020
Dare to Lead podcast — Brené Brown with Kevin Oakes, January 11, 2021

leadership dot #3368: not brilliant

Several people sent me a copy of the Inc. magazine news story that carried the headline: “Customer discovered their $350 Lego set was missing pieces. The company’s response was brilliant.” You may have seen it as it was tagged as a top story and featured on several consolidation sites.

In short, the customer purchased a rare and coveted $350 Star Wars Lego set and it was missing a bag of pieces. The story is getting all the buzz because when Lego replied they said “…This must be the work of Lord Vader. Fear not, for I have hired Han to get that bag right out to you…”

While admittedly clever, the rest of the email is what caught my eye: “Your order number is XXX and will be arriving in the next 7-10 days.” To me, Lego’s response was not only not brilliant, and certainly not newsworthy, but I don’t even classify it as acceptable. The guy paid $350 for a defective product and they put the replacement in regular mail? No additional special product included compensating for his delay and disappointment? Just wait a week or so and you’ll be right back to where you should have been from the start.

To me, it seems like Lego forgot that their focus should be on service, not on witty banter. You can do better.

leadership dot #3367: to do

Have you noticed that when you are working on an important project that your task list expands with every step instead of contracting?

If you’re doing dishes, filing an expense report, or stocking shelves when you’re done, you’re finished.

But if you’re working with a financial planner, when you leave the appointment you have several more tasks to complete: see a lawyer, update the beneficiaries, contribute to your IRA, etc. At the start of a new committee, one meeting leads to setting up communication infrastructure, creating a logic model, and scheduling meetings for the upcoming term. When teaching a class, as soon as the syllabus is finished it triggers setting up the learning management system, creating the grade book, and gathering the materials for the first class.

Often, it seems that the more you do, the more you have to do. When that is the case, remind yourself that it’s a sign you’re working on the big stuff. As this type of list grows, so does your impact.

leadership dot #3361: surcharge

When the restaurant bill came, I was surprised to see that they added 3.3% if you used a credit card to pay. This wasn’t an inexpensive place, not to mention that many people operate cashless these days, so I would imagine that the majority of their clients would prefer to settle their bill with plastic.

It seems counterintuitive to me to penalize the masses. Why not calculate the transaction charge as part of the menu price instead? Or offer a discount for those who pay with cash?

Before you enact a policy, consider it from your customer’s perspective. It’s always better to help people feel as if they are getting a discount instead of a surcharge.

leadership dot #3358: lines

I recently went to a local restaurant and waited 45 minutes to receive my burger, as did most others. During this time, a line formed outside with a couple of people waiting to get a table.

The current employees clearly could not handle the volume even though the restaurant is very small. However, the owners seem to have misinterpreted “lines outside” as a sign of demand and not understaffing and are proceeding to open a second location. I won’t be one of their customers.

Be cautious before interpreting one piece of evidence without considering the whole picture. You may see what you want to see and tell yourself that it signifies something great when the opposite may be true in reality. A few people in line outside a restaurant could mean you are slow, not popular.

leadership dot #3322: layers

A local church is fortunate enough to have the fifth largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world. The church displays 108 Tiffany windows — and inexplicably, one that isn’t by the master.

The windows are stunning and provide a level of detail that is so unusual in glass: reflections in water, shadows, multiple dimensions, folds in garments, and waves in water. It only requires looking at a Tiffany and the non-Tiffany side-by-side to instantly appreciate the difference.

One of the keys to Tiffany’s success was his layering of the glass. You can see sections with up to seven panes that were fused together to create the desired effect, while others attempted to create their look using only single pieces. Layering requires significant extra work, but it is impossible to create texture and depth without it.

I think everyone’s projects could benefit from layering. If you just use the equivalent of one panel of glass it can be good, but adding in multiple dimensions will only enhance the final project. For example, writing a plain report may suffice, but adding in design, graphics, and hyperlinks may make the report more persuasive. Teaching a class by reading PowerPoint is equivalent to one layer while adding interactive activities, visuals, and materials can layer in learning.

Think about layering on your next project that matters. Distinctiveness can come in stages rather than all at once.

Note the difference in dimension and detail with Tiffany’s window (L)

leadership dot #3321: uncover

Most mornings I start my day by working on “7 Little Words” — a quick word puzzle that provides clues to utilize an attached set of letters. On many days, there is a clue that initially stumps me, but when I get down to the final set of available letters I am usually able to figure it out.

I think the puzzle is a good reminder that all of us have more knowledge than we give ourselves credit for. We may not see the solution right away, but we can piece together clues to deduce an answer if we look at the question from another perspective.

The next time you’re faced with a situation that puzzles you, continue moving forward as far as you can go. You may be surprised to learn that you have uncovered the answer along the way.

leadership dot #3301: trajectory

It is tempting — and natural — to look at past behavior as a guide for what will happen next. Professionals pour over data to ascertain trends, scientists make predictions based on replication of experiments, and businesses rely on cyclical behavior to guide ordering. That all makes sense when behavior follows a standard pattern but as we enter a post-pandemic era everyone is grappling with fundamental shifts in how the world works.

It’s no longer reliable to use historical information as a guide for the future. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said: “This is an extraordinarily unusual time. And we really don’t have a template or any experience of a situation like this. We have to be humble about our ability to understand the data.”

Taking circumstances into account is a wise strategy at any time, but even more important in this time of transition. Don’t just block out your 2020 data and act as if everything will return to 2019 levels. We’ve been given a rare opportunity to start a new page of data collection, allowing you to consider what metrics are important to attain and what to measure. What opportunity have the shifts in behavior created (or could) and how can you chart a new trajectory toward success? The path is yours to define with the future unburdened by the past.

leadership dot #3300: lag

Have you noticed that the same pandemic-related items that were in hot demand a few months ago are now being sold at bargain-basement prices? Masks and face shields are on closeout sales. Wipes are plentiful. Home desks are on clearance. Sanitizer is readily available and is so reduced that one store will even give you a rebate of $1 more than you paid!

Companies back-ordered as much as they could get of products that were impossible to stock — without accounting for the delay in arrival. So now, box loads sit idle with demand dried up and the businesses are going to have a negative return on their overzealous inventory acquisition.

It’s all a visible reminder of the interrelatedness of a system and the influence of time. If you make a change to one component (i.e. ordering far more than ever before), you need to account for a lag in the rest of the system to adjust to the change. If you adjust one policy, you should allow enough time for the implications of the alteration to show up. If you implement new initiatives too quickly, you may end up with a backlog of resentment before the positive effects of the change appear.

Those boxes of sanitizer were liquid gold when they were produced and now they are nearly worthless. When you are changing your behavior, don’t go crazy on the front end without accounting for the gap in implementation timing on the back end. How you manage the lag can determine your overall success.